How hard it is to avoid the innate desire that we all have to confirm our prejudices through our studies. Our pursuit of truth, more times than not, resembles an exercise of a passionate search for evidences that fit our presupposed conclusions. In other words, we know what we know, then we seek to confirm what we know.
It is always more comfortable to be than to become.
Becoming involves humility which calls for change. Change is not really on the agenda for most of us. Yes, we may call ourselves sinners and express the need to change, but when change presents its resume, we reject it, contriving a long list of excuses. It does not matter whether it has to do with theology or an argument with your spouse, we believe we are right and we will do everything to present our case in the best possible light. It is a fearful thing to even consider that we might be wrong.
I believe that this methodology is dishonoring to God, no matter what you are trying to defend—even if it is the truth. This methodology is sin. Better: we use this methodology because we are sinners
Last week a dear man and former professor Harold Hoehner died. He was many of the profs at Dallas Theological Seminary who emulated this love for truth. He challenged us in every way, causing us to question our most basic presuppositions in order to truly hold to them. Two years ago a book was written in honor of Dr. Hoehner. The result was one of the best book in New Testament studies available. The following except is taken from Interpreting the New Testament Text [Darrel Bock and Buist Fanning eds. (Crossway, 2006), p. 156]. David Lowery, New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, writes about the importance of validating our studies. I don’t think I have ever read a finer exhortation concerning the integrity that we must possess when pursuing truth. While this is written specifically to exegetes (those who interpret the Scripture), you can also apply it to all those who seek truth in any area of study. Please read it carefully.
“This process may be better understood by clarifying what it is not. It is not a matter of coming to a conclusion about the interpretation in question at the beginning of the process and arguing the case for that point of view by citing the data that seems supportive of it. In other words, an exegete is not an advocate, like a lawyer representing a client. A good lawyer will try to put his client and his case in the best possible light. He knows what conclusion he wants to reach before the trial begins and will seek to discount (or exclude) the relevance of any data that may prove problematic for winning agreement on the point of view he is putting forward.
Most of us would welcome a lawyer like this arguing our case in a trial. However, many biblical interpreters are confused about their proper role, and function for all practical purposes like lawyers arguing a point of view. They decide at the beginning of the process what view they regard as most compatible with their theological or ecclesiastical or personal conviction and then work to demonstrate the reasonableness of this interpretation against all competing interpretations. If certain data are problematic for their interpretation, they are ignored or discounted. It is a regrettable fact that many sincere (though misguided) people carry out research and writing as theological lawyers rather than biblical interpreters. Please do not be one of them
I hesitate to belabor this point but want to say as clearly as possible that manipulating the data of the text to support a particular point of view is not authentic exegesis or interpretation, and it is not validation that has any integrity of method associated with it. When you as a researcher detect this bogus approach to exegesis in the writing you are reading (or the lecture you are hearing), regard it as the wishful thinking of its author that it is. If you own writing of this sort, the only reason to read it is as an example of what not to do (libraries, by virtue of their role, routinely find shelf space for work of this sort and must be excused). Let no one say of you that you made up your mind about your conclusion before you started the process of validation. Instead, aim to follow the data to the most probable conclusion. Practice integrity of method. Your conclusion may be unsettling to you and may create more than a little personal tension (a circumstance that may never be resolved for some issues: welcome to life in an imperfect world). But you (and those you minister to) will be better for it if you treat the data with integrity (and you will not be a phony exegete).”
Can I take some liberties here? Manipulating the data to support your belief, no matter what this belief is, is not authentic Christianity and does not honor God. Christians should be above this.
This is often a problem with Christian apologists (or any type of apologist). Many apologists intent on defending the Christian faith (or their particular version of it) follow an “obscurantist” methodology where all the evidence that supports their conclusions is brought to light while all that which may cast doubt on their conclusions is never revealed or presented in a manipulated light. When their goal becomes to win an argument, truth will more than likely get lost through a polished rhetoric. In other words, truth becomes the servant of their argument rather than their argument the servant of truth. They may persuade those who are not really searching for truth (including themselves), but, in the end, they hurt their cause and dishonor Christ. I have read countless blog posts from Catholics scholars, worked through many apologetics books from (. . . ahem) Calvinists, and seen seminars from marriage apologists who were simply trying to hold marriages together (a good thing) that are guilty of defending their prejudice before defending the truth by manipulating the data.
(Please note that I understand that there are some wonderful exceptions to this in Christian apologetics—Rob Bowman being one of them. But I can also name dozens of apologists of all sorts—those of my tradition and those outside—who, I believe, are doing more harm than good for their cause because they are not honest with the data.)
Let none of us be able to be accused of using twisted, skewed, bent, shadowed, spurious, or in any other way manipulated information to defend your faith. We don’t need this. Christians are advocates of truth, not our prejudices. We must follow the truth wherever it leads, even if it takes us in places we do not want to go. God help us all to stop shaming His name by seeking our truth rather than the truth. In the end, the two might correspond. But it is impossible to know until we have entertained its opposite. Again, we follow truth, not prejudice.
I will be the first to admit that I am bent in this direction. Sadly I can give many illustrations where I was the one “protecting” truth by obscuring the data. I can only hope and pray that I have the courage to do this less tomorrow than I did yesterday. I am sorry when this has not been the case.