Everyone’s personal beliefs about God come from three sources: scripture, tradition, and experience. Some fellowships and denominations emphasize one of these or the other. Some may emphasize tradition over Scripture. Others may emphasize experience over tradition. While many people, especially in my fellowship, emphasize Scripture over tradition and experience to the point of denying tradition or experience. But do not be misled; you do not ride a unicycle of Scripture! While that is ideal, it is almost impossible to read the Bible in a vacuum. Therefore, instead of being blinded by some idea that you are not affected by presuppositions, it is better to admit that you have presuppositions; that is, admit that you are affected by your experience and tradition, so that when presuppositions arise in your own personal study you can deal with them effectively.
Nobody reads the Bible in a vacuum. The faster you are willing to admit that, the better you will be able to read the scripture with an open heart and open mind. What is interesting though is that when I use the word Scripture, I do not necessarily mean what does Scripture teaches. What I mean by that is your understanding of Scripture which, like mine, is flawed. None of us have 100% understanding of everything in the Bible. Not only that, but the way that we view scripture and approach Scripture comes to us from tradition. For example, my view of the infallibility of the Bible and the method of inspiration that I subscribe to was instilled in me from a very young age. Whereas others may have different definitions of the Bible’s fallibility, infallibility, or inspiration. Some may have been taught growing up that they were contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible and that those do not take away from its inspiration, but I was taught that if they were any contradictions or any discrepancies, the Bible can’t be inspired by God.
So, when I talk about tradition, experience, and Scripture, what I really mean is your view of Scripture. You must keep this in mind. You must keep your humanity in mind otherwise you will not treat others with the patience that they deserve. It is critical for us to be aware of our own potential for error as well as the potential and reality of error in our preachers, elders, teachers, friends, and family. At the same time, this responsibility we bear to be aware of the potential that others and ourselves have for error is not for the purpose of disfellowshipping them or judging them as Paul talks about in Romans 14. Instead, we recognize each other’s humanity so that we will be patient, kind, and graceful when we engage others in religious discussions.
Going back to the tricycle analogy, 99% of Christians have the front wheel – the driving wheel – of tradition. Even if they say that the front wheel is Scripture, most people have the front wheel as tradition. In fact, their tradition may be to say that the front wheel or, more likely, the only wheel is Scripture. The truth is, though, that most Christians stay within the fellowship in which they were raised without ever questioning its teachings or principles. If they were raised among a specific group of Christians, they will stay within that group. For example, if they were raised with one cup and no Sunday school then they will most likely stay in that group. If they stay in a noninstitutional church of Christ, they will most likely stay in that group. There is very little moving around when it comes to people’s faith. So, most people have tradition as the front wheel of the tricycle. Our goal is to have Scripture as a front wheel, but we must never trick ourselves into thinking that is the only wheel otherwise we will fall back into the same cycle – no pun intended – of things as everybody else. Evaluate yourself. Evaluate how your wheels are arranged. Then, you will be able to study the Bible more effectively.