The Danger of Subjectivism in the life of the Christian                    by Jack Kettler

Subjectivity can be defined as judgments that are based on individual experiences and feelings instead of outside facts.

For the Christian, outside facts are as The Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6 says:

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

In subjectivism, individuals are governed by emotions, feelings, intuition and mystical experiences. Subjectivism is often manifested when you hear something along the lines of, “I feel” instead of “I know.” As stated above, the Christian should be governed by the teaching of Scripture. The Christian should always ask, what does God say about this in Scripture? If not using Scripture as the standard, nothing about how the Christian should live can be known for certain. The Christian will be plagued by an inability to make Biblically based decisions if subjectivity is allowed to creep in. We want to know what God's Word says for our lives and act accordingly.

Enter Postmodernism:

Postmodernism is a new expression of subjectivism, that has become theoretical to many disciplines, including literature, art, economics, philosophy, and theology. Similar to subjectivism, postmodernism relies on feelings and experience over objective biblical principles. In postmodern subjectivism, a person's feelings mistakenly define what is thought to be true. Postmodernism can be described as a dressed up sophisticated form of subjectivity. In addition, postmodernism is influenced by relativism. Relativism is the idea that there is no absolute truth. Anytime relativism is attached to a philosophical system, it is only a matter of time until skepticism takes over. Some try to escape this by embracing various forms of mystical irrationalism. Mystical irrationalism is like being lost in a bottomless ocean.

Rather than using the objective standard of Scripture, one manifestation of the guiding principle of the postmodern subjectivist has become the “feeling right about it” approach to arriving at truth for life decisions. Using the “feeling right” approach as the guiding principle is nothing more than emotions or personal feelings influencing decisions. It is not honoring to God to lay at His feet (figuratively) our feelings and emotions and attribute them to Him in the area of guidance and understanding truth. Tragically, the claim of “feeling right” has been used as a pretext for all manner of Biblical miss-interpretation and false applications. For example, many professed Christians “feel” it is all right to have sex outside of marriage. Alternatively, it does not matter where you worship as long as you worship somewhere (like at home watching football or fishing in the mountains).

The Danger of Subjectivity in Bible Interpretation:

Biblical objectivity is undermined when subjective experiences and feelings influence the interpretation of the Scriptures. When letting a subjective experience or feeling influence the understanding of Scripture, it is not surprising that sound doctrine will give way to interpretations of Scripture that are influenced by these self-same experiences and feelings. One can easily see the circular reasoning that plagues this approach. In the area of understanding the biblical truth, for the subjectivist, the Bible is interpreted in such a fashion as to support his experience oriented interpretations of the Bible. Thus, the subjectivist assumes this must be what the Bible teaches since they have felt it, saw it, or experienced it. This is nothing more than a dangerous subjectivist circle of interpretation. The role of Scripture and experience are reversed, experience and feelings thus gaining the upper hand. This is nothing more than reading into Scripture what you want it to say rather than submitting to the teachings of Scripture.

The Inherent Contradiction of Postmodern Subjectivism:

Postmodern subjectivism has a problem with the certainty of knowledge given its dependence on experience and feelings which differ from person to person. An insurmountable problem is that when the subjectivist postmodernist says, “there is no such thing as absolute truth.” A statement like this crumbles because of its internal self-refuting contradiction. “There is no absolute truth” is a statement asserting absolute truth. We can then ask; is your assertions true that there is no “absolute truth?” We can also ask; are your truth claims relative or does it even exist? Is such a concept such as relative truth, true? If truth is relative, all we have are arbitrary social conventions, and it would make no difference if some slime told other slim to sit on the back of the bus. Even the postmodern subjectivist lives in such a way that evidence that they believe in some kind of truth. All human beings talk about right and wrong. Why attempt to find the truth if it does not exist? The non-Christian may very well conclude that riotous living is the best choice. The Christian has a better way.

The Christian believes that biblical truth is the basis for determining right from wrong. If truth does not exist, neither would right or wrong. Talking about evil and morality from a consistent postmodern subjectivist point of view would be nothing more than irrational nonsense. Silence is their only consistent option. This is impossible. Thus, their position is refuted. The subjectivist philosophy rejects the certainty of truth and ends up with internally self-refuting contradictions. Moreover as already alluded to, biblically speaking, holding philosophical beliefs that contain internally self-refuting contradictions is an expression of irrationalism.

How do we protect ourselves against subjectivism?

As Christians, we need to be aware of our world-view. How do we do this? As Christians, we need to be epistemologically self-conscious. Epistemology is the study of how we know things. There are generally understood to be three types of theories of gaining knowledge,

1.      Empiricism (a view that experience, especially the senses is the only source of knowledge),

2.      Rationalism (a view that appeals to man's independent reason as a source of knowledge) and

3.      Dogmatism or scripturalism (all knowledge must be contained within a system and deduced from its starting principles, in the Christian case, the Bible).

It is easy to see that the first position mentioned, empiricism is inherently plagued by subjectivism given its dependence on experience. The second position is nothing more than a fallen man asserting his independence from God’s interpretation of facts. We need to understand and hold to a distinctively Christian theory of knowledge as spelled out in the third position.

The Guiding Principle:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11 (NIV)

Jesus promises we can arrive at a knowledge of the truth in John 7:17. We can “know the truth” if we seek after the truth by searching the Scriptures. See John 8:31-32. We know from Scripture that God reveals the truth. See Pagan Philosophy, Unbelief, and Irrationalism at
http://www.contra-mundum.org/essays/kettler/jk_pagan.pdf   and

The Importance and Necessity of Special Revelation at Contra Mundum. At:
http://www.contra-mundum.org/essays/kettler/jk_pagan2.pdf  

The Bible is our All-Sufficient Rule for Faith and Practice:

For those who challenge us, we should always say, show me that this is what the Scripture teaches, rather than trying to persuade by experience or feelings. Only God and His inspired Word can prevent miss-interpretation, the result of feelings, experiences or hunches.

The principle of Romans 12:2 should always be at work, with our minds being transformed by the Word of God. Additionally, we need to be reminiscent of Acts 17:11 and follow the example of the Bereans, evaluating every new teaching, every new thought, and every new experience with Scripture. We should never let our experiences and feelings interpret Scripture for us. On the contrary, we must change and conform ourselves to Christ; we interpret our experiences and feelings in harmony with Scripture. Following this principle will protect us from the dangers of subjective miss-interpretation of the Bible.

“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

 

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

 

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com