The longer I live, the more I study the Word of God, the more I observe what goes on in the Christian community, the more convinced I become that one of the primary reasons for misinterpretation of Scripture is positional bias or positional contentment. We believe what we want to believe. We want what we want. We’re happy where we’re at. We like things the way they are. So why look any further?
Thus, if we learn something in the Bible that doesn’t sit well with us, we look for scriptures that tend to conform to our personal belief system—even if that means taking them out of context or explaining them away with whatever skill we possess. We can work very hard to explain the Scriptures in a way that is in harmony with what we want to be the truth. However, such a mindset, such an approach to the Bible, leads to doctrinal error. Positional bias or contentment is a controlling hindrance to the truth. It leads us according to the desires of our hearts and the experiences of our lives, which leads to misinterpretation of God’s Word.
To know the truth, to understand the truth as it actually is, we must be willing to genuinely and sincerely set aside our personal preferences of “truth.” If we honestly want to know the truth of God’s Word, then we must be willing to follow truth where it leads—no matter how much it may initially affect us, no matter how much it may oppose the inner beliefs of our heart. Our hearts can deceive us so badly. Therefore, what we must rely on is honest and careful and responsible exegesis. However, hermeneutics is a subject for a separate article. The point I’m making in this particular article is that we must be careful not to allow the desires and preferences and the background of our lives dictate how we understand what the Bible teaches.
I think we can spend too much time focusing on the doctrinal positions that we hold to, while not giving enough attention to those which we don’t agree with. This is often reinforced by staying in our own group of like-minded Christians. We tend to seek groups that share our particular belief system, where we all generally understand the doctrines the same way, where we’re constantly feeding off one another and encouraging one another in those beliefs. I’m not suggesting that like-minded theology groups are a bad thing, because we can obviously learn from one another (iron sharpens iron). However, if we’re so locked into our particular theology and into our particular theology group, it could actually serve as a hindrance to true understanding, blocking exposure to other points of biblical view.
Therefore, we must be careful to approach Scripture with a proper balance, where we’re always open to learning other doctrinal positions that other Christians hold to. We must not assume that the other side is always wrong. Likewise, we must not assume that we’re always right. Growing in the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word takes many years of study. It’s a lifelong process, where one truth builds upon another over the course of our lives. Even where we may be wrong or off a little in our understanding, everything we learn leads us onward to a more accurate understanding. It’s a journey, so let us enjoy the journey.
Underlying positional bias is often pride. Indeed, at the root of all sin, at the root of all hindrance to Christian growth, is pride. It’s also a leading hindrance to learning what the Bible actually teaches. Therefore, we must be sure that we’re approaching God’s Word in true humility, where we seek only to understand the truth as it is. This is especially important for those who teach the Bible, because I think we can sometimes be too smart and too skillful with God’s Word for our own good. We have to make sure that we’re practicing genuine and honest exegesis, rather than simply being clever—because we all know the saying, “we can make the Bible say anything we want it to.” To avoid that type of error, we have to maintain a spirit of humility, being careful to follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. We must always be aware that we could be wrong about a particular doctrine of the Bible. We must be willing to see and acknowledge what’s really there. Pride is a terrible thing. It always leads us down the wrong path. That applies to every area of our lives, which includes Bible study.
In conclusion, we must always be seeking the truth in the sphere of humility, always reevaluating what we believe and why we believe it. We must reject the notion that “we’ve arrived.” We must be willing to learn from others, realizing that God uses other people in our lives to aid us in our understanding and to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Humility allows and leads us along a path of growing understanding. Stubborn positional bias, characterized by pride, prevents growth. Pride blinds and enslaves, and it could enslave us to an erroneous belief system. Humility opens our eyes to the truth. It gives us the opportunity to develop in our understanding, to discover new insights — for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).