Identifying Historical/Cultural Blind Spots

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by jpfrench81, Jan 29, 2012.

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  1. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore

    How does one "get out" of their historical/cultural setting to discover theological blind spots? e.g., I presume everyone on PB would condemn the racial slavery existing in early America. When we look back on Christians who defended the practice, we are aghast.

    And what about beliefs that we accept today that are clearly out of sync with the early church? e.g., the early church almost universally condemned the practice of contraception. It is now the accepted practice in the Christian community (and of course the larger culture). Many would look back and say that the early church was merely a product of their time in their view of the issue. However, how do we know it isn't us who are blinded by the larger culture?

    Ultimately, it boils down to discerning what God says on a matter. But how do we identify biases introduced by our culture, tradition, time period, etc., so as to rightly divide the word of God?
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2012
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Yes, I believe that in heaven, looking back on this current era, we will marvel at the cultural blindness in regards to:

    (1) the ready acceptance of contraception,

    (2) the immodesty of the culture, and even little girls in commercials and on tv that are dressed inappropriately,

    (3) the compromise of the church in regards to evolution, falsely believing that there is a way to accept both the bible and any form of Darwinianism,

    (4) The ready acceptance of homosexuality,

    (5) The materialism and the unhappiness despite the poor in this era living better than noblemen of centuries past.
  3. Pilgrim's Progeny

    Pilgrim's Progeny Puritan Board Sophomore

    the ready acceptance of lawless deeds and activities as a innocent source entertainment and amusement (i.e. the TV, internet, movies, and some sports that portay these things)
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2012
  4. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks for your replies. Does anyone have thoughts on how to identify biases introduced by our culture, tradition, time period, etc., so as to rightly divide the word of God?
  5. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    To be honest, a lot of it has to do with simply getting more into the Scriptures and allowing them to shape us properly. Where Scripture speaks, we must listen.

    At the same time however, we need to differentiate with care, because some issues are "meat offered to idol" issues that are a matter of conscience. While there are many culturally acceptable things that are clear violations of the Christian faith, there are also some that are not.
  6. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    You can (by reading) try to really get inside the mindset of another culture or another time. But even that is of limited utility, not only because it is imperfectly realized, but also because they didn’t necessarily speak to the areas of blindness here and now.
    I think many of our ancestors would be genuinely shocked and horrified at the egalitarianism that is so pervasive it hardly occurs to notice it. For us
    When Adam delved and Eve span
    Who then was a gentleman?

    is no longer a radical question.
  7. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I think that we will be shocked at the extent to which we (Americans) bought unquestioningly into classical liberalism, the language of "rights" rather than responsibilities, and a general mentality of sola bootstrapsa.
  8. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    R.C. Sproul made this point at a conference once and said that we are all saved while still stained to a degree with our culture's paganism.

    All I can say is thank God for grace on those "blind spots."
  9. JS116

    JS116 Puritan Board Freshman

    I think I get the question,but honestly as of right now I don't have an answer.

    I will say in history,it has never been and never will be beneficial for the church to know the possibility of potential blind spots and not try to find them or weed out issues biblically.We slide down a slippery slope if we embrace anything because it's acceptable in our culture,we should keep in mind this world is pushing away from God and not towards him.If we get too comfortable we compromise,so we have to constantly be willing to examine our thoughts and hearts if we want to continue to reform and not conform.

    My :2cents:
  10. Pilgrim Standard

    Pilgrim Standard Puritan Board Sophomore

    It is rather shocking to see such anti-womanhood-anti-maternal substance deemed feminine or (feminist) in our day.
    It is just as odd to see the masculine male attributes (even fatherhood) debased and overshadowed with effiminate tones.
    This seems to be a day which stands on its head.
  11. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    It helps to spend time living among believers of a different culture. Not a cure-all, but it can help.
  12. rbcbob

    rbcbob Puritan Board Graduate

    Jack, I think you have made an important point. Each of us are born into a culture which serves as our baseline. We naturally assume that what is, is what ought to be. I would argue that with a solid grounding in the Scriptures one could then study widely different peoples and cultures (including our own) holding them all to the scrutiny of the Word of God. Couple this with a broad understanding of human history and we might just begin to have the objectivity to critique culture.
  13. Miss Marple

    Miss Marple Puritan Board Junior

    Our American prison system comes to mind. I'd rather be arrested in the USA than anywhere else I know of in the world, don't get me wrong. The jury system, the presumption of innocence, habaeus (sp?) corpus, the right of appeal, the ability of a spouse not to testify, no torture allowed, the need for supporting evidence, even a free press are all very helpful.

    However, prison rape seems to be an object of casual mockery. I find it appalling. It seems to me people in prisons should be in single cells so as to avoid abuse. Some are innocent. Those who are guilty are not (biblically) to be subject to being tortured by fellow inmates.

    Also, the whole concept of prison is head-scratching. Aside from a (safe) place to keep someone for trial, I don't see a biblical warrant. I'd favor restitution (or death), which is more humane for the guilty, the victim, and society at large in my view. But aside from civil trials (where the "restitution" gets beyond all proportion), there seems to be no concept of restitution in our current American culture. It seems to me the most obvious of justice.
  14. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    The American mindset of spirituality seems to be private bible study, alone, whereas many cultures are more communal. I believe this is a cultural blindspot on our part.

    Also, historically, I believe past centuries held to a historical blindspot concerning their views on church and state.
  15. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Do you not see the inconsistency of what you wrote? You condemn slavery because it is out of touch with modern views, but would have been accepted in the early church, but then use the early church to attack the modern views of contraception.

    Do not test against a time; test against scripture.
  16. RobertPGH1981

    RobertPGH1981 Puritan Board Freshman

    Humanism in many forms. Anybody ever read the book, "How Should We Then Live?" by Francis A. Schaeffer? It is basically about highlighting key moments in history that helped shape our modern day culture. Basically, we took very simple issues and made them more intricate.
  17. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    It seems to me that you have mostly answered your own question by this appeal to history. Looking back into history and having an awareness of our development from it certainly provides an helpful looking glass.
  18. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore


    If you read what I wrote again, I do not state a reason for why I believe racial slavery is to be condemned. It would be a travesty to hold that something is morally wrong (or right) simply because the culture one lives in finds it acceptable. I certainly do not believe slavery is wrong because it goes against our modern sensibilities. I was simply using this as an illustration of a cultural blind spot.
  19. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    I'll add the high divorce-rate indicative of divorce being an easy-out when marriage isn't all roses.
  20. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    You certainly can't think it can be condemned based upon the early church, which you then appeal to as your standard. If you want to look to the early church, you should advocate for slavery, not against it.
  21. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    You think that the early church would have approved of race-based chattel slavery?
  22. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Just so, Philip, there's no clear race-based slavery until later in the Middle Ages, coming into Western consciousness with the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Classic works by David Brion Davis, Winthrop Jordan, et al. point this out. So do a number of more recent works, incuding one of Covenant's professors, Ken Stewart, in the last of the myths that he discusses in his Ten Myths about Calvinism.

  23. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Thanks...I would love to read those works if you have more specific links to where to buy or read these works or the specific titles of such works. Thanks.
  24. Andres

    Andres Puritan Board Doctor

    Let me Google that for you...

    Sorry Perg, couldn't resist. :D
  25. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior


    Ken Stewart's book is a new one and can be obtained at Amazon. Those other fellows were some of the leading scholars of earlier years: I vividly remember meeting David Brion Davis in 1984 when I was doing a Masters in Colonial American History at William and Mary. He was quite amazing. He was Sterling Professor of History at Yale for many years. Perhaps his most well known work is The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture.

    And Winthrop Jordan's White over Black is worth perusing. Recently, I have also found quite interesting David M. Whitford's Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era: The Bible and Justifications for Slavery (Ashgate, 2009). I do not necessarily agree, obviously, with everything in these books (or any book, but the Bible).

    I don't want simply to keep adding authors and titles but Eugene Genovese just comes to mind. Google him and see some of the magnificent books that he has on slavery and allied topics (he is a Roman Catholic convert from Marxism).

  26. jpfrench81

    jpfrench81 Puritan Board Sophomore


    Where did I appeal to the early church as my standard regarding the morality of slavery? I referenced it in relation to the issue of contraception (in terms of what has been historically believed), but not slavery unless I am misreading myself. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your posts, but you seem to think I am advocating a position regarding slavery and contraception. I am not (though I have opinions about both based on my understanding of Scripture). I am simply pointing out that the overall Christian church has had different opinions on these issues at various times, and I am wondering how we work to get outside of our time/tradition to discern what the Bible actually teaches.
  27. chuckd

    chuckd Puritan Board Sophomore

    Although, of course, we should allow Scripture to shape our understanding of the world, we will always read it with a certain bias. This goes for any book for that matter. I think it has been suggested, but to [begin] to identify biases would be to read works that are immune to it. For example, we live in a postmodern world. If you want to identify any biases this philosophy has on our understanding, read works that predate postmodernism. Or modernism. Or the Enlightenment. James K.A. Smith devotes a few chapters to this in his book Introducing Radical Orthodoxy.

    Another bias would be feminism. Many Scriptures today are interpreted in a way that allow for feminism. Head coverings (1 Cor. 11), for example, are largely interpreted as cultural and do not need to be observed. However, most works that are immune/predate feminism will interpret that the tradition of head coverings should be observed.

    Culturally, read other culture's theology. For example, there is work on a sino-theology (Chinese). Today, Enoch Wan from Western Seminary devotes much of his time considering Chinese thoughts, culture, tradition, philosophy, and shaping a theology that makes sense to them.

    Now, once the biases are identified, how to rightly divide which is right or wrong, or if there a right or wrong on every issue, is much more complicated and way over my pay grade. We have to keep in mind though that we are all looking through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12) and this thread points it out.
  28. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Thank you for your tireless work on my behalf......."SOMEONE GET THAT MAN A MEDAL!"

    ---------- Post added at 12:51 AM ---------- Previous post was at 12:47 AM ----------

    Thanks. I am looking into that Curse of Ham book now.
  29. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Josh, if you go back and reread what you wrote in the OP the topic of the paragraph moves in such a way that I read it the same way Edward did. A paragraph is supposed to be topical and seems to run a thought process that I believe is supposed to be tied all together.
    The above was your connecting sentence of what you desired to be transitive. It did transfer but maybe not the way you wanted it to.

    To answer the OP I would suggest that scripture is the way to help us recognize our blind spots. The scripture's addressing cultural issues in light of God's will has always been key to causing revival of truth and stirring the hearts of men for change. William Wilberforce, Martin Luther, St. Augustine, St. Paul, and our prime head Jesus Christ all addressed cultural issues in light of God's word and changed the world. Sure we can all distort the word of God for our own purposes as Satan tried to do with Jesus Christ in Matthew 4. But our LORD is capable of revealing truth and overcoming all sin by His Spirit and Word.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012
  30. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    You raise two issues - slavery and contraception. You look to the early church for authority on how to deal with one, but ignore it as to how to deal with the other. Either you should use the Roman Catholic standards of using the traditions of the church to set your standards, or you should use the Biblical standards of the reformed faith. But you shouldn't pick and choose between the two approaches to get the result mandated by the current culture as to one, but not the other.
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