The Dangers in our Presuppositions

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Every one of us has presuppositions and those presuppositions exist in our thinking all the time. The word presupposition derives from the verb “presuppose,” meaning, “to suppose or assume beforehand; take for granted in advance” (see dictionary.com).

Recently the debate over the “Wall” in America turned to interesting discourse. ***Please note, I am not making any commentary on whether or not there should be a wall *** But, it revealed presuppositions. Some people said, “Trump is holding America hostage over this wall.” This is a reference to him not signing the budget failing to include the “wall” funding. However, note, this is rhetoric that presupposes there should be no wall built and he should “work with Pelosi.” This discourse reveals their presupposition. What if someone presupposes a wall should be built? Perhaps this can be noted in different rhetoric, “Pelosi is holding America hostage.” See the difference? (Both lines are extremely rhetorical and I pray those who used this rhetoric did so just for hyperbole sake)?

Theological Exposure

Presuppositions exist in theology. Over time the Bible will confront our presuppositions and we have a choice, either change my presuppositions to match biblical theology or get an unbiblical theology.

Whenever sitting down to read Scripture, before deriving a conclusion, include one simple question, “Does this text really say what I think it says?” Or, another way to ask it, “Am I trying to make this text say what I want it to say?” One way to determine a presupposition exists comes when the reader tries to make the text mean what it doesn’t appear to mean. The interpreter will have to say, “Yes, on the surface it appears to mean this . . . even in its context. But since the author can’t think that way, it can’t mean that.”

I remember struggling through Hebrews 3 before finally realizing the lexical, grammar, and context demanded I drop my presupposition. I wrestled a long time to make the text nuance some other theological position I held too. I tried to reconcile my doctrine with it. Finally, there was no way around it, there is tension in the text I must account for in my understanding of God’s will, believers will persevere and this does not deny preservation.

Acts 15:36-40

One of the most common errors heard however comes from Acts 15:36-40.

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.

Most interpretations on this passage assume Mark did something wrong and Paul correctly did not want him present. But this presupposes Paul accurately discerns the issue and responds accordingly. To say Mark should not be with him also requires Barnabas erring when defending him. Verse 38 says Mark, “deserted them in Pamphylia not going with them to the work.” This allows us to believe Mark erred enough for him to not be worthy of proceeding with Paul. If the reader presupposes Paul acts righteously in all he does, then yes, this interpretation fits. However, if the reader presupposes Paul lacks grace here, then this account also makes sense revealing Barnabas to be the more gracious missionary and Mark fit for ministry.

In reality both options legitimately explain the text. There is one truth and in this case we may not know this answer. Why? Because the text is about something else. But reading this passage in light of 2 Timothy 4:11, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” we can be assured that good men sometimes separate and yet it does not mean they have to divide for life. Whatever happened, Paul and Mark worked together later in life.

Who knows, maybe Paul confessed a lack of grace and sought forgiveness? Luke doesn’t tell us. Paul doesn’t tell us. Mark doesn’t tell us. After all, why air our dirty laundry? Especially when we do know there is reconciliation and the men grow to work together (2 Tim 4:11).

Perhaps when we come to the text, ask yourself, “What do I believe the text says?” Knowing this beforehand can help expose presuppositions. Then, read in such a way to let the text shape you. If you resist what the text says ask, “why?” If it’s your systematic theology, maybe it’s time to shift your systematic understanding and gain nuance? Obviously if you believe something no one else has ever seen, you probably are out to lunch . . . but how often does that really happen?

Other People

There are so many areas presuppositions can destroy us, even in the way we treat other people. Assuming evil and false motives in others reveals our own presupposition more so than reality. My boys are notorious for assuming their brother, in the other room, has some false motive regarding a Lego building. I kind of laugh (and weep sometimes). “Brother, this would assume your brother is in there thinking about you specifically. I have news for you, other people don’t think about you as often as you think about you.” The presupposition from them, “He did this in slight of me.” When in reality he just want to play or build something, that brother wasn’t in his thoughts!

Assuming false motives reveals our own heart. Often what we project onto other people really indicates our own way of thinking. Every person lives in this world, every day the world is interpreted and acted in through the person’s own eyes and thinking. We come to see things as logical, normal, or the right way to do something. And then we assume others would think like I think, right, I mean, doesn’t everyone understand Starbucks is overrated and not really coffee?

Every where I go, there I am, thinking about me in some way: best parking, best bacon in the buffet, best meal offering, and / or best for me at this moment. Doesn’t everyone else think like this? About me all the time? “Why would SHE cut me off?!? Can’t she see I’m driving in this lane, doesn’t she know it’s me?!?” This is the danger of me, I think me is normal and everyone else is like me. So then I presuppose others are like me, think like me, and want to act like me. When they don’t, anger, bitterness, and malice. (This is often why people think the other political party is “idiots”).

Why? Because James 4:1, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.” Our presuppositions expect from others and others don’t deliver because often, they are in their own world asking you the same questions. Presuppositions lead to expectations, often unilateral, unagreed upon, expectations. Expectations in this way are unfair and unloving to others. Kill your expectations. Tell yourself this over and over again, “Expectations lead to false hope, Lord, let me love them.”  What if we presupposed others are more naive and innocuous and just chose to love them? What actions would derive if we presupposed God wants us to love others? 

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Jason Vaughn

About Jason Vaughn

Jason is a graduate of the Master's Seminary and the pastor of Cornerstone Las Vegas, a Grace Advance church plant. He loves Christ, his wife Kyla, sometimes his kids :), the church, missions, people, and coffee. You can also follow him on his personal blog at shepherdthesheep.com.