December 17, 2017

I Have a Bias

biasI have read quite a bit about bias recently. Lifeway Research responded to a charge that they were biased. My facebook feed told me of the bias against Obama. This post is not about either of those two articles (so let’s not go there in the comments) but it did get me thinking about my own writing and how I response to issues that arise. To put it frankly:

I have a bias.

This blog has a bias too. We describe ourselves as being “post-evangelical”. That might be best described as being “post-evangelicalism” for we all have a heart for the good news of Jesus Christ, and desire a “Jesus shaped spirituality.”

We get accused of being biased all the time. Some of it founded, but much of it not. Invariably when we/I report something negative we are accused here or elsewhere of being anti-___________ (evangelical/christian/church/faith). If we don’t agree with someone’s version of creationism, we are said to be denying that God is creator. If we don’t agree with the way that someone interprets their bible, we are told that we don’t believe the bible. When I wrote about the relative IQs of Christians and non-Christians I was accused of not being a Christian. If we expect that the evangelical church will decline, we are accused of wishing it to be so.

It is very hard to see your own biases. We have a tendency to project our own cultural standards on the biblical text. I saw how easy that was to do when my brother moved to Japan, and talked about some of the anti-Christian practices he had to deal with. I had to laugh. The practices that he described were not anti-Christian, but were contrary to the American culture that he had been immersed in. I experienced the same thing as a teenager growing up in Rhodesia. By North American standards our family would have been right wing racists. But, because we were immersed in it we couldn’t really see who we were. We were just being us.

I do try to see my own biases. As I sit in my living room I see our digital piano and my daughters racing bike. These are items that most of the world couldn’t dream of owning. Speaking of Rhodesia, our cost of racing this year was equivalent to the average family income in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). How can I truly understand what Jesus is saying when he speaks of the poor?

When it comes to evangelicalism it is a little easier to see our own bias. We have stood within it, and we have also seen it from an outsiders perspective as well as our views can make us persona non grata. I attend an evangelical church and have done so for my entire life. I don’t want evangelical expressions of Christianity to fail. If anything I am biased towards evangelical expressions of faith. More than anything though, I want to be a follower of Jesus. I know evangelicalism best, and when there are things within evangelicalism that detract or distract me, or even more importantly others, from following Jesus, then those things are going to come under criticism. To quote Jesus (badly and out of context): “Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen.”

This is what I do. I speak of what I know. Sometimes it isn’t pretty. When I hold up a mirror in the morning it encourages me to shave and brush my hair. Perhaps some of my writing at Internet Monk will encourage some change as well.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. “I don’t want evangelical expressions of Christianity to fail.”

    I’m biased in that I DO want some of those evangelical expressions of Christianity to fail. Such as “free-will”, which I (and many others) view as one of the biggest problems in the Christian faith today.

    You know, Mike, I’ve known you (in these blogs) for a long time, and I consider you a brother in Christ. It’s just that we non believers in “free-will” (where the things of God are concerned) must defend the gospel as being God’s decision for us, into our lostness and unbelief. And we want evangelicals to experience the freedom and assurance that we, more orthodox Christians, have because of that external Word that Christ gives us in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

  2. I don’t want “free will” to fail, for that means I’m nothing but God’s pawn, and He’s my puppet master (to mix my metaphors). And I’m a semi-evangelical who thinks I experience the same freedom and assurance that you, more orthodox Christians, do.

    Ah, but I’m biased, too.

    Good article, Mike!

    • (This should’ve been a reply to Steve Martin.)

      • Do you see any strings on yourself? I don’t see any on myself.

        We are not God’s puppets.

        But we are IN BONDAGE TO SIN.

        Jesus told them, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.” We are NOT free.

        If one starts with the assumption of freedom…they’ll end up in bondage. If one starts with the knowledge that we are bound to sin…then one can be freed…by Christ.

        It’s just not Biblical (our freedom)…apart from God decision to make us alive in Christ.

        “Who were born not of the flesh, nor of blood, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN…but of God.” Gospel of John. Chapter 1.

        There it is.

        What do you do with that one?

        • “If one starts with the assumption of freedom…they’ll end up in bondage. If one starts with the knowledge that we are bound to sin…then one can be freed…by Christ.”

          Great. So are we free to choose where we start?

          • It would seem if we are made in an image of, that the one who chose to love out of His own will and has given us the same. It gets blurry when we look at it through our own lense which is biased to what we know which we constantly make the point Mike wrote about. Our thoughts are not His but we so like to put words in His mouth. We weren’t design for sin but goodness and love so we would find it the place of in filling. Sin by its very nature ends up being the punishment as it never fills us and becomes our master as to a slave on;y not a good master. Some would have us still be a slave but to a new master. This good master says I want you to be as my brother and a son as I am setting you free to know my ways out of love which happens to be the best we could ever hope to be and beyond. I have the freedom to love even those that are wrong or biased as I am too. Sometimes I wish there was a book to describe Jesus’s innermost thoughts and not second hand information from a bunch of fellows who thought they should’ve brought bread. Still I would have to say He knew what He was doing as I look real hard to know Him. I tire of debate but yet in the expressions of it I still learn. Mostly what I want is truth not partials and I see the whole of the Gospel at times and see how it all fits together not just pieces taken out to prove a point I am trying to make which probably is biasedly wrong and incomplete. I so love Him, my Lord, my love, my life.

          • Because of our fall (it’s really a’ rising’) into sin…we are all “dead in our sins and trespasses”.

            “No one seeks for God.” St. Paul writes. We do not have the ability to “choose Jesus”. In fact, Jesus said, “No man can come to me…except that he be compelled (that is the best translation for the word “drawn”) by the Holy Spirit.”

            We are in bondage to sin (so we are not free) and we cannot free ourselves. We say that each Sunday in our liturgy.

          • Here are some great classes on “free-will”:

            http://theoldadam.com/?s=Free-will

            They make these ideas clearer than I can.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Just the website title — “The Old Adam” — sounds like a clobber site.

            You’ve never been hammered into the ground by “GAWD! GAWD! GAWD!”, have you?

          • “No one seeks for God.” Another statement that I’m wondering is meant to be taken literally. English 101, Paul uses hyperbole. It may not be a concrete statement, just like ALL doesn’t always mean ALL all the time.

          • In fact, Jesus said, “No man can come to me…except that he be compelled (that is the best translation for the word “drawn”) by the Holy Spirit.”

            Steve, I hate to be picky, and this is for a different discussion—one on the Trinity—but, rather than the Holy Spirit drawing people to Jesus, it’s the Father drawing them, assuming you’re referring to John 6.

            There’s a lot of overlap and redundancy within the Trinity. For example, the paraclete (advocate, or counselor in John 14, John 16, and also in 1 John 2) clearly means the Holy Spirit in one context, yet Jesus in the other. And as well as Jesus saying that no one can come to him unless the Father draw him, he also says that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). This is really cool stuff and right up there with science fiction, ‘cept it’s real.

            And I’m OK with free will too, as well as with God’s election of believers. I think it turns into a heresy to insist upon one over the other. Paradox. Again, like sci-fi only better.

        • Sorry Steve, I was being tongue-in-cheek. My point is that you say there’s no free will, and then you put a choice in front of us (I’m a programmer, so I can recognize a conditional a mile away). I appreciate the effort, but I’ve spent many hours, weeks, months on the whole Calvinism/Arminian debate, free-will, monergism vs synergism, etc. and I’m definitely not Calvinist and I don’t think I’ll ever be.

          My recommendation to you would be to read Austin Fischer’s new book “Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed”. It might at least give you a fresh perspective and food for thought.

          • The only real choice is to realize that we have no choice…when it comes to choosing God.

            This is a hard sell in today’s America which is drunk on the notion of a free will with respect to everything.

            • I’m not sure I could even formulate what I believe in this regard anymore, and I’m not sure it’s all that important. The fact is, I experience myself as both free and bound, and the Scriptures speak of God as both sovereign and giving great freedom to his creation. He both acts and reacts with regard to humans in the biblical testimony. I’m not sure our theological imagination is up to defining all of this satisfactorily.

          • “This is a hard sell in today’s America which is drunk on the notion of a free will with respect to everything.”

            You are free to believe as you wish.

          • In Judaism, the rabbis have always taught BOTH
            that God is sovereign AND that He permits choice.

          • The rabbis are very wise.

        • “There it is.

          What do you do with that one?”

          One more thing. I am done with proof-texting and clobber passages. IMO there’s no depth behind it and there is almost always bias.

        • Jesus told them, “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.” We are NOT free.

          If one starts with the assumption of freedom…they’ll end up in bondage. If one starts with the knowledge that we are bound to sin…then one can be freed…by Christ.

          It’s just not Biblical (our freedom)…apart from God decision to make us alive in Christ.

          “Who were born not of the flesh, nor of blood, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN…but of God.” Gospel of John. Chapter 1.

          For starters, John 1 is highly poetic and probably should be taken as literally as Genesis 1…lol.

          But my main question is this: If it’s true that whoever sins is a slave to sin, than is every believer who has sin post-conversion still a slave to sin? Because it looks like a fork here: either sinless perfection, or you were never saved to begin with. If you sin, you ARE a slave to sin. Simple, period, literal, rigid. The believer that sins is a slave to sin. There is no wiggle room.

          Is that true?

          • LOL. I was just about to post that at times I still feel like a slave to sin, even as I follow Jesus. How many times does one have to “surrender all” before they are completely free, eh? Seems to me that even the person who thinks they’re completely free probably isn’t, not as long as we walk in the world full of tempting trees of knowledge, with pretty fruit, garlic fries and old-fashioned donuts.

          • As I’m always learning more and more nuanced perspective on Law vs. Gospel and the position of the human will, I’m not qualified to issue statements on this, but the concept of Simul Justus et Peccator sounds relevant to this topic.

            Also, Rick, I would pay any amount of money for a tree that bears pretty fruit, garlic fries, and old-fashioned donuts.

        • The corollary to that one is that the majority of humans were chosen from the foundations of the earth to suffer the fires of hell, where their smoke ascends forever.

    • 1. It’s not clear that any particular position on “free will” can claim to whole of “orthodox” Christianity. Don’t let other people take your word, Rick. It is hard to get back.

      2. I think it is honest, and useful, to admit that we are attracted to theological ideas because they do something for us. It helps us to understand our own biases, and it also helps us to understand something about the ideas, too. A person deeply enamored with predestination is a person for whom the idea is “solving” a salient problem. I have had friends who could practically descend into rhapsody while contemplating it, and were quite sure all those not so affected simply needed it explained again with some choice quotes from the Puritan divines. I, on the other hand, find the same ideas troubling—to the point of triggering all my melancholic capacity for depression and general brooding. My flight from the dark sends me straight to Wesleys, or to any other strain of thought that will shield me.

      • Thank you Danielle, great points.

      • I’m currently frustrated at theologies of all kinds, because people seem so sold-out to whatever their belief system is. I’ve tried hard to put myself in a Calvinist’s shoes and see what’s so attractive about TULIP and predestination and being the “elect,” to see what “need” is being met by those concepts. I don’t see why God would intentionally create a child, only to cast her into hell. Would any of us parents intentionally cast any of our children to hell, just to prove a point? Would you want me to worship you because of your awesome display of sovereignty and power in doing that? Frankly, I don’t get it.

        That said, and being primarily a “free-will” guy, I do understand how Calvinism gets at some qualities and aspects of God that are described in the Bible. It seems to me that all theologies are exactly wrong and are imperfect human attempts at describing God’s sovereignty and character. To put all your eggs in an imperfect theology is completely baffling to me.

        • Rick: Your post is pretty close to the truth. We all want to be so correct and so right But every church, group, or denomination has some funky doctrine they believe in. They all have some belief that they will defend to the death. Sometimes the phrase, “they will fight to the death to defend their own dunghill” sounds stupid but is sometimes true. Your quote about putting all your eggs in an imperfect theology is baffling to me also. But, Gene Scotts’ favorite saying was “everyone has the right to be wrong”.

        • When confronted with TULIP, my line of questioning takes the same tact as yours. My questions get a bit more disturbing, if that is possible; but if I go there, it will sound like I am spoiling for a fight, which I am not. It will also require me to leave the realms of rational discussion and stir something deeper. I have learned not to disturb that water, except when I am sure I want it stirred.

          Where theology is concerned, I do understand the impulse to “put all your eggs in an imperfect theology [basket]’.” The allure is to control the chaos of experience; to quell anxiety; to delight in knowing; to gain the tools to act in the world; and to obtain that power of being “right.” I like ideas, and I like to build systems for managing unruly things, and control is always nice, so everything on that list appeals to me. The temptation, then, is to make ideas and systems into the goals-in-themselves. I have at times done this.

          I’m now convinced that is a mistake: God appears to Job as a whirlwind, and I am pretty sure that Whirlwind defies systems, and certainly doesn’t fit inside of baskets. An idea is merely a tool for trying to see something beyond it, very imperfectly. That, in turn, brings up a second point – the idea is there to serve people. God cannot be made subordinate to any system, nor should be people made to serve it.

        • Rick, I am beginning to wonder if the theology we extrapolate from the scriptures today is entirely in keeping with the way that the original writers meant them to be taken. For the most part they were NOT literal thinkers, but depended a lot on allusions, parallels and fore shadowings in interpreting the Old Testament scriptures. That was the typical Jewish mindset in the first century, but when the age of enlightenment was beginning to dawn rational thinking became the modus operandi in understanding the world.

          The rock ribbed, confident, reasonings of the Calvinists today are, in MY mind, suspect, being rooted in cultural understandings of what words mean as we understand them TODAY. Sure, Augustine was a proponent of the beginnings of what we call Calvinist theology, but a house of cards is begun one card at a time..

          All that being said, they may ultimately be correct! It’s just their un-nerving confidence that makes me stand off a bit.

      • Good insights, Danielle.
        The essential problem is that we just can’t really see from God’s perspective. Scripture (if read carefullly) can get us in the ball park on most of the basics. But on something so convoluted and paradox-ridden as the age-old free will/predestination debate, scripture will say yes, no, neither, and both, depending on what passages your looking at and how you interpret them.
        Calvinsim and Armenianism are just two ways of looking at transcendent truths that we can’t fully wrap our brains around. One might be closer to what God knows to be true than the other, but to go around pretending that a manmade doctrinal construct really covers all the bases and stuffs the mind of God into a nutshell — that’s either dellusion or arrogance.
        My memories contain numerous instances where it certainly seemed like I was chosing to obey and surrender to God as a free agent. But, looking back, I can also see the many ways in which he has upheld and carried me beyond my own strength, understanding, or capacity to choose. Is it really necessary that one perception be false for the other to be true? His choosing me makes to able to choose Him … and to continue to choose Him on a daily basis.
        Could I stop choosing Him? Knowing some of the depths of my own wretchedness, I suspect that I could. But I don’t really know, and I’d rather not start punching holes in that boat just to see if it’s possible to sink it.

      • I, on the other hand, find the same ideas troubling—to the point of triggering all my melancholic capacity for depression and general brooding. My flight from the dark sends me straight to Wesleys, or to any other strain of thought that will shield me.

        I have found it the same totally sad and to the point of tears wondering why I would want anything to do with the church. Then on the other hand totally controlled by its thoughts consuming my entire day with which I was brooding over how to make the point how wrong it is only to HAVE TO LAY IT DOWN AGAIN AND ASK FOR FORGIVENESS AND MERCY TO LEARN HOW TO LOVE. I didn’t know I hit caps till I looked up, maybe its appropriate.

  3. Well, at least you’re aware that you see fundamentalist Christians as the bogeyman and the Johnathan Merritt’s as the new enlightenment. Some people look in the mirror and flat-out deny what they see, you’re showing us how to give it all one big hug. Kuddos. Rhodesia, huh? Yeah, Zimbabwe…they really awesomed-up that place.

  4. Seems confessing our biases are gonna provoke other people to critique ’em.

    It’s like my old journalism professor pointed out on our first day: Everyone is biased. If you didn’t think a story had merit, you wouldn’t write it. If you didn’t think one story had more merit than another, it wouldn’t matter which one went on the front page. The trick is to recognize your biases, and be fair to the other side. Don’t automatically demonize them.

    And as a Christian, I would add: Even if they are demons. The most clever thing the devil does is present 99 good points, one blatantly obvious bad one, get us to dismiss the whole because of the one, and get us to call this “logic.” Hence a thousand denominations of Christendom, instead of one filled with grace.

    • Yes, but Proctor and Gamble sells several brands of toothpaste and laundry soap etc. Why not multiple brands of Christianity? One for every personality type or interest? What’s actually wrong with that? As long as the churches act together to do the works of the Spirit etc. aren’t they acting as a body?

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        re: traditional faith expression (liturgical/apostolic) along with the myriad expressions of Evangelical Protestantism, I would wager a guess that very few of any practitioners of said faith expressions are completely free of doctrinal biases…

        there will be agreement and disagreement within any Christian camp. some issues my seem to be minor: the ‘non-disputable’ matters vs. the bigger ‘essentials’. no matter the degree of acceptance there will be subjective understanding of them.

        I would hope that any sincere Christian approaches their faith with intellectual honesty. enough to accept differences with a deliberate effort to examine alternate viewpoints without fear of being ‘deceived’ by mere argument.

      • Proctor & Gamble, isn’t that the one with demons?

      • Nobody said we can’t have mutliple expressions of the same faith. Note the Catholics and their orders.

        You’re right: So long that we work together, we’re acting as a body. But we don’t, so we aren’t.

  5. Thank you Michael!
    I would sum your message up in one sentence:

    Be self aware

    I needed that today

  6. I think the way that many of the comments have gone show that we do have our biases.

    Interestingly enough I came from the “eternal security/perseverance of the believer” camp. I started finding it harder and harder to square that with what I read from scripture, and as a result ended up in the Arminian camp.

    I want to emphasize that it was scripture that led me there, not some desire of my own to have free will.

    • How about those of us who’ve begged God to let us go but somehow still seem to persevere and stick around?

      • I think there is enough scripture to support both sides of the argument. To try to make it all one way or the other does violence to the text.

        • I think either/or is one of the most damaging concepts in theology (not necessarily because it deteriorates our relationship with God, but mostly because it does that to our relationships with others). If we believe in a God that can do (approximately?) anything, there’s no reason to believe that we can’t have both free will and predestination. Sure, to us they’re completely incompatible. Probably God is quite a bit cleverer than that. Or, for that matter, we’d love to think that either everyone is predestined, or no one. Again, maybe some are, some aren’t. Christians should be experts at believing that two impossible states can coexist (God/Man, in one being, Three-in-One, etc.) and yet some of these theological debates show that we really want God to work in very human ways.

    • Same with myself and the Real Presence. I was (and, in the spirit of the article, still am!) basically an incarnate bias, absolutely CERTAIN that the Baptistic view I’d been taught was the one the Bible taught, with many thanks to Chick tracts for their convincing (to my teenage mind) arguments. However, upon actually reading the Bible, I found nothing of the sort: in fact, 1 Corinthians 10 told me otherwise and would not be silenced. Thank God for continually breaking me out of my shells, which as life goes on appear to be nested fractally. The Good Shepherd will not stop till he brings me home, alleluia.

  7. Randy Thompson says:

    For some time now, I have been praying regularly that God would set me free from my own opinions. I increasingly value praying this way, as it helps me see how much of what fills my head is distorted by my very, very limited perspective, general ignorance, and biases. As I pray this way, more and more becomes unimportant, and what is important is knowing Christ and what encourages knowing Christ better. The more I pray in this way, the less I care about being “right.”

    As I’ve recently come to see, being “right” usually comes with the cost of being wrong on a deeper level, as being “right” usually is accompanied by pride, judgment and contempt for the poor fool whom you think is wrong. When I started praying to be set free from my opinions, I came to see that the “poor fool” in these opinion-based interactions is me.

    From what I can see, growing in love in Christ makes it possible to speak the truth without there being “winners” and “losers.” Opinions clutter the mind; love simplifies it.

    • I am in a similar place….Thanks for sharing Randy.

    • Completely agree. We massively over-value being right, as if God was mostly interested in finely honed theology/culture, etc.

      Especially when it comes to salvation I keep coming back to one of the only REALLY clear incidents of personal salvation being received.

      Two thieves on a cross. One says, “Let us down if you’re really that great!” The other says “We deserve to be here, he doesn’t.”

      And the latter is told he’ll be in paradise. It’s not a very systematic theology, but apparently it was complete.

  8. Its a funny thing this bias thing isn’t it?

    at root it says my view is right and i’ve got it righter than you

    without any sense of irony of an imperfect being claiming perfection in terms of a viewpoint

    i can’t claim any great wisdom on this – but i do know that the discipline of following and viewing posts I fundamentally disagree with can – sometimes – cause me to see my own bias more clearly

    and maybe realise that god’s unconditional love is – well – unconditional

    :¬)

  9. Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is also very helpful.

    Jesus is quite clear with Nicodemus that one can’t be” born again” themselves…just as they had nothing to do with their being born in the first place.

    • Steve, respectfully, you putting more into that passage than what is really there.

      • Really?

        Then what did Jesus mean, in your opinion, when he told Nicodemus that he couldn’t be born again of his own doing, but that it had to come from above?

        • “Of his own doing…” Steve, he doesn’t SAY that! At least not in the way you are implying. Even after reading a number of different translations it is clear to ME that Jesus is saying that it is ridiculous to think that you can be born from your mother’s womb a second time, but that the rebirth He was speaking of was one of the Spirit, and NOT the flesh.

          Maybe you can persuade me if you can cite some acceptable authorities that take this passage as a exhortation of Calvinistic theology, but I surely don’t know of one.

  10. This might be the best sermon that I have ever heard on the subject:

    http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/i-believe-that-i-cannot-believe.mp3

    Give it 4 min.

    I think it may clarify some of this controversy. Or at least explain the Lutheran party line, so that you’ll have a better understanding of why we believe that when it comes to the things of God, our wills are bound…to sin.