“Epoché” – is in essence a philosophical term for becoming aware of one’s own presuppositions. Like it or not, it is impossible to be totally objective. Nobody engages a subject without a preconceived concept.
Whether you are considering what the best 4×4 or the better economical order is – or what “truths” to hold onto regarding God and His word – all of us arrive with biases that influence our reasoning.
Michael Licona for instance, refers to a presupposition as your “horizon”. He says that we are all influenced by our culture, race, nationality, gender and ethics; political, philosophical and religious convictions; life experiences; the academic institutions we attended, and the particular community from which we covet respect and acceptance. Nobody is exempt from this.
Our biases are like sunglasses and it colours the way we see the world. It affects how we measure and weigh information, personal experiences, people that cross our paths – and in short – everything that happens to us.
Because of the fact that it is impossible to look truly 100% objective at your reality, it cannot be considered wrong to have biases. A bias only becomes wrong, when you are unwilling or unable to recognize and acknowledge its influence on your understanding. In that case, a bias becomes not only wrong but dangerous.
Biases when engaging the Bible
The question thus arises, with what preunderstanding do I engage the Bible? What is my bias about God? It may sound very noble to say that I am supposed to read my Bible, “impartially”. But only the very naïve would try to portray this impossibility.
In fact, the mere phenomenon of me taking up a Bible and reading it – discloses the very first of my biases. It shows that I assume there is a God. It further reveals that I think He has something relevant to say to me today – through this book I call a Bible.
It reveals my preunderstanding that the Bible is actually the living Word of God. Many millions of people do not share this very basic preunderstanding of mine. To be sure, all of them have their reasons – all of which are formed by their own biases. For it is not only Christians who have biases, but also people of other faith orientations, as well as agnostics and atheists.
My own presupposition is not only that the Bible is truly the Word of God, but also that the God it reveals, has very specific characteristics. I want to be upfront and totally honest about these beliefs of mine. I want to perform “epoché” by surfacing these subconscious, unspoken concepts. I want to put all my cards on the table and hope to become increasingly aware of my own “horizons”. Hopefully you too will benefit when you are aware of my preunderstanding. I hope that it will help you to understand me and the angle from which I reason, a bit better.
I believe for instance in the beauty of the fatherheart of God. I believe that Jesus is a perfect mirror image of how the Father operates in this world.
I never have to fear the Father. I never have to be uncertain about what the Father thinks, feels or wills for me – or the people around me. I believe Jesus perfectly revealed the fatherheart of the Lord: The Father is sincere. He is loving and kind. He is not out to hurt me or my family. In fact, I can count on Him to protect and provide for us.
I not only believe that Jesus disclosed the true character of the Father, but also that His death brought about a permanent change in how the Father deals with me. Jesus not only changed the way we see the Father – but also the way the Father sees us.
Yes, I truly believe that something very mysterious happened on Calvary. I don’t believe that the death of Jesus was an accident. I believe He was (and is) God. And I don’t believe He would die a death like He did, for nothing. I truly believe His death was a substitutionary death and that in the process, our sins were transferred onto Him – and we were clothed with His righteousness. In the past, Christians have named this concept “double imputation”. I believe that Jesus’ perfect sacrifice does not lack in anything. It was more than enough to make me acceptable for the Father’s holiness. I can add nothing to this work of atonement and reconciliation. I thus believe in the finished work of Christ.
I believe that because of the marvellous magnitude of Christ’s death, we were made worthy to receive the Holy Spirit. In contrast to the old covenant, the Spirit was poured out in His fullness and now permanently resides in us. I believe this brought restoration to our previous broken relationship with the Father.
I also believe that the Spirit equips and empowers willing believers, to bring about change in this still very broken world. Sometimes this change will take place instantly. So yes, I believe in the gifts of the Spirit and that all of them are still functioning today.
However, I don’t believe that miracles in the traditional sense will happen in all of life’s circumstances. Not because of a lack of faith. Nor because it is not the will of the Father. Simply because of an eschatological tension between this world and the world to come. Sometimes the perfect will of the Father manifests and sometimes it does not. This is the reality of living in the “already . . . but not yet” times.
In the meantime, I believe we are called to bring change simply by leaving the fingerprints of Jesus on all the people we encounter. We do this through what we say and do – and how we say and do it. We need to live as if God’s perfect world has already arrived in all its majesty. A world free from prejudice, abuse and injustices.
This is my presupposition on life. It colours the way I look upon everything I encounter.
Obviously one could protest that I am silly – that my sunglasses are not just colouring my perspective but that it is in actual fact blinding me. I admit that it may be very true from your perspective. But James White rightly remarks that if our convictions never influence our interpretations, we can hardly call them convictions.
I thus find myself, holding on to truths as I perceive them in the Word of God. I cannot abandon my beliefs just because my culture finds them inconceivable. These truly are the convictions of my heart.