The Problem of Perspective

These days, people make a big deal about having diverse perspectives and experiences in the church. At first glance, this sounds pretty harmless; after all, Jesus is redeeming people from every tribe, tongue and nation and people from different backgrounds will have different experiences, and thus different perspectives on things. Where it starts to get weird is when people say we need to have ‘diverse perspectives’ in order to understand the Bible. The people who hold to his idea stress the alleged necessity of having a ‘black perspective’ or an ‘immigrant perspective’ or a ‘female perspective’ or a ‘black female perspective’ or, if they’re really woke, a ‘queer perspective’, when interpreting Scripture. They like to point to the fact that people have different experiences and biases because of different backgrounds as a justification for their demand for ‘diverse perspectives’ in the interpretation of Scripture. This, they claim, means that we need to bring in ‘diverse perspectives’ to make up for our biases. The problem with this approach is that’s not actually how communication works. Allow me to get technical for a moment to show how the wokesters are doing words wrong.

The meaning of a word is not intrinsic to the word itself. There is nothing about a flat piece of furniture one puts stuff on that dictates it must be called a ‘table’. What an English speaker refers to as a ‘table’ a German would call a ‘tabelle’, while a Russian would call it a ‘stol’ and an Armenian would call it a ‘seghan’, and none of them would be wrong. The meaning of a word is dependent on what the person speaking or writing the word means by that word. Without an intelligent agent to impart meaning to a set of sounds or symbols, they are nothing but noise or scribbles. What a language is, in essence, is a set of sounds and symbols that a group of people have agreed to ascribe a set meaning to. A hammer could just as easily be referred to as a ‘nail-pounder’, a ‘bonk-bonk’, or a ‘cat’, if enough people agreed to refer to it as such. 

The purpose of language is to convey information from one person to another. The person trying to convey the information ‘encodes’ that information by putting it into language, which the person receiving the communication then ‘decodes’ to understand the information being conveyed. We do this instinctively, without thinking through the steps. This process fails if the receiver doesn’t decode the information the sender sent correctly.

One way this can happen is if the receiver cares more about what they think the sender is communicating than they care about  what the sender intended to communicate. For example, if Bob tell Jim “I don’t feel like ice cream”, and Jim takes this to mean that Bob does not think that he is a frozen dairy confection, this is a possible meaning of what Bob said. It could also mean that Bob does not want to eat ice cream at present. How is Jim to know which one Bob meant? He certainly could ask Bob, although this approach would get to be pretty tedious if he adopted it every time Bob said something that could have multiple meanings. Jim could also look at the context in which Bob made the statement “I don’t feel like ice cream”. If Jim and Bob are buddies, and Jim just asked Bob if he wanted ice cream, it’s most reasonable to assume the second meaning, Bob doesn’t want ice cream, for Bob’s statement. If, however, Jim is a psychiatrist and Bob is his patient who suffers from a persistent belief that he is, in fact, ice cream, then the first meaning, Bob does not believe himself to be ice cream, makes more sense. The meaning in this example is not determined by Jim’s perspective on what Bob is saying, but what Bob means when he says ‘I don’t feel like ice cream’. If, because of his background, Jim takes away a different meaning than what Bob intended, he’s not bringing a ‘diverse perspective’, he’s misunderstanding what Bob is saying. The solution is not for Jim to go around asking different people what Bob meant, but to look at the context in which Bob said ‘I don’t feel like ice cream’ to determine what he most likely meant.

The Bible works just like any other piece of communication; the meaning is not determined by what us, but by God. The question we ought to ask when approaching scripture is not ‘what does this mean from a (insert intersectional identity group here) perspective?’ but rather ‘What did the author mean when he wrote this passage?’

Advocates of the ‘diverse perspectives’ approach will say this is why we need to bring people from different backgrounds, because looking at the Scripture through different ‘lenses’ will help better interpret what the Bible says. The thing about a colored lens is that stuff that’s the same color as that lens becomes a lot harder to see through that lens. The problem with that is that you’ll still miss stuff, just different stuff. Being wrong in a different way is still wrong. Instead, what we should do is replace the colored lens of our experiences with the clear lens of Scripture.

In other words, we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. This requires an understanding of historical and grammatical context; in other words, what it meant as written when it was written. If what you learn using this method contradicts your perspective of an issue, you shouldn’t re-interpret what the Bible says using your background and experiences, you must change your perspective, and re-interpret your background and experiences using the Bible.

To do the opposite, and rely on certain intersectionally-favored experiences to interpret the Bible, is to set up a new class of special interpreters, above the un-woke laity, without whom you cannot understand Scripture. To take the woke idea to its logical conclusion, how am I, a white guy, supposed to properly understand scripture without having a black lady on hand to explain what it means? If we need a ‘black’ perspective and a ‘female’ perspective, I can’t know what the Bible actually means without a black lady explaining it to me; it’s not possible for me to understand God’s word on my own, because I can’t have a ‘black female’ perspective. This is just like the Roman Catholic teaching on priests; you can’t understand what the Bible says by yourself, you need the Church to tell you.

It boils down to one question: does God know how to communicate His word clearly, or is His word as muddled and confused as me talking to women? Christians have held throughout church history, and the Bible testifies of itself, that the Scriptures are clear. God wrote so that we could understand; He did not hide His word in some secret cypher, discernible only by special people. Sadly, the opposite view is taking hold throughout brand-name evangelicalism. A whole lot of people are getting woke, and they have a lot of power and money. As bleak as it may look, God doesn’t need power and money. He has vindicated His gospel over against powerful forces who sought to destroy it, and He can do it again.

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