You are not reading the Bible from a place of neutrality. AND THAT’S OKAY!

In fact, I’d argue that acknowledging that fact is the first step in being kinda good at reading the Bible.

Here is an established, undeniable, incontrovertible fact: Christians have done some messed up things throughout history. In fact… we don’t even have to mine history. There are self-identified Christians who say and do objectively terrible things today. In almost all of these cases, at least some of them are reading their Bibles. Many of them even got a few scriptures standing at the ready to tell you how what they are saying or doing is actually “Biblical.”

What we often fail to acknowledge is that we all bring certain assumptions to any and every text (whether that be Biblical or otherwise). For instance, some people read the words “woke” or “social justice warrior” and view them as pejoratives. They’d wince at being described as such. That’s a perfectly legitimate reading of those words. There are other people who read those same words and view them as badges of honor. That is also a perfectly legitimate reading of those words. Neither of those interpretations says much about the person being described by those words. They reveal plenty about the reader, though.

Assuming that you are reading the Bible objectively, that each of your assumptions are valid and that none of them could lead you to accept as truth that which was not intended by the author, is a great way to end up sounding foolish. Sounding that kind of foolish in this 2020th year of our Lord (especially with the prospect of having it crystallized and archived on Al Gore’s internet) is a bold strategy, but I don’t see it paying off for you in the way that you think it will. You might solidify your position with those who already agree with you. In the process, you will also burn credibility with anyone with any modicum of critical thinking skills.

I do not read any text objectively. I read the text as a citizen of the United States of America: one of the most financially prosperous empires in modern history, one in which identifying as a Christian is actually popular, and one in which our individuality is prized above all. I read the text as a man, who has never had to deal with whether or not my gender was limiting my access to opportunity. I read the text as a heterosexual, who has never had the legitimacy or godliness of my attractions questioned by any society in history of which I’m immediately aware. Each of these realities impacts the way I read the Bible and the meaning I extract from the text.

Because each of those aspects is considered “normal” in my context, many of the conclusions I draw are considered foregone in my particular society. However, that people are willing to accept those conclusions uncritically does not mean that the reading was objective. That those conclusions are so readily accepted says more about who we value as a society than it does about what the actual text is communicating.

At the same time that I identify as a heterosexual American male, I’m also Black as hell. And that matters. There is a history I carry with me that the majority of the people in this country do not. Not because it is not real to them, but because they have been allowed to ignore that history. It is often an ugly history that laughs in the face of many of the things we’ve been led to believe about what makes America so great. Though this history I carry with me is uniquely American, it is also often ignored. It is at times relegated to the margins of the shortest month of the year as something foreign instead of central to who we are as a society. So I proudly carry this history to the table each time I read the text. It is not objective.

I carry that history with me because God placed me in this particular social context, at this particular point in human history, and gave me the same Holy Spirit as everyone else saved by Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on purpose. It is not a coincidence or a footnote. It was an intentional decision. To ignore this fact would be an affront to God’s sovereignty.

But it does not give me some supernatural ability to read the text objectively. If any of us had that ability, we would not need community.

God’s design has always been for community. That life would be done together. It’s no coincidence that, in the story of creation, the first thing God describes as not good was the lonely man. (Genesis 2:18) I could assert here that the first community describes no hierarchy. That everyone was held accountable for their actions, and that Cain’s failure to check his personal sin resulted in a societal issue when he murdered his own brother. But that would not be a completely objective reading. It is colored by the fact that I have lived my entire life as a member of a socially constructed “race” that has often been viewed as second class, and that people often mistake racism as a personal issue while ignoring its greater societal implications.

That my reading is not objective does not make it wrong. In fact, I would argue that that is an important contribution to the discussion. The Bible was written almost entirely by people on the margins of society, under Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Assyrian, and Roman oppression. There are things that people who are used to living closer to society’s power centers might struggle to see. My point isn’t that my non-objective reading is better than their subjective reading. It is that, in community, we might develop a more complete picture of a God that each of us knows only in part.

We should celebrate the fact that an objective reading doesn’t exist. It shows us the beautiful diversity and complexity of God’s creation. Anytime we deny that complexity and diversity, we rob ourselves of an opportunity to see God a bit more fully. If I only listen to the readings of people who look or think or sound one way, what I end up with is a picture of a God in part of their own making.

And I refuse to believe God is that small.

The only solution is a community knit together by the Spirit of God, where the constitution is one of love and humility. We have to be willing to be wrong in front of each other so that God can be right over all. Because anything else is sin. Anything short of that is not God.

So, no. You are not reading the Bible objectively. And that is okay. That’s why we need each other. Because our best attempt at getting it right will always do a disservice by someone. That’s why we need God.