By Paul Koch –
Never assume, you’ll only make an ass out of u and me.
Well sure, but the problem is we simply can’t help making assumptions. We make assumptions in everything we do, from driving down the road to sitting on the couch to turning on the TV, we operate on the basis of certain assumptions. I assume the car next to me will stay in his lane as I blow past on my motorcycle. I assume that when I press the power button on the remote the TV will turn on. All of our reasoning and actions flow from assumptions – assumptions about our society, our world, ourselves and our gods.
However, I imagine that the warning about assumptions doesn’t really mean we shouldn’t ever assume but rather we ought to check or examine our assumptions before we just rush headlong into any further action. Do we even know the assumptions we make as we live our lives? Do we second guess them or try to validate them at all?
Quite a few years ago now a professor of mine put into my hands an article by the eminent scholar, Stanley Fish, titled, “Why We Can’t All Just Get Along“. My world was profoundly shaken. Like most challenging arguments this gave me more questions than answers. But that article caused me to see with new clarity the guiding power of our assumptions. To be sure, Dr. Fish deals with biggest of all assumptions, the “first premise” upon which all of our other assumptions and reasoning’s are based. But his insight is valuable and just might help us from making asses out of ourselves.
A horrible oversimplification of his argument might go as follows: All men operate in this world on the basis of faith. All men, regardless of creed or confession! For there is an assumption, a “first premise”, that is outside of what we can observe by our examination. Whatever that faith is will then guide the reasoning and decisions of the individual. In other words, the atheistic-evolutionist and the Christian believer both begin with faith, with something outside of the visible world. This assumption is the first premise that guides their reasoning and it is this assumption to which we need to pay attention.
Here’s an example from Fish’s article:
“A pro-life advocate sees abortion as a sin against a God who infuses life at the moment of conception; a pro-choice advocate sees abortion as a decision to be made in accordance with the best scientific opinion as to when the beginning of life, as we know it, occurs. No conversation between them can ever get started because each of them starts from a different place and they could never agree as to what they were conversing about. A pro-lifer starts from a belief in the direct agency of a personal God and this belief, this religious conviction, is not incidental to his position; it is his position, and determines its features in all their detail.”
If there is no discussion about the assumptions that we make then all our other arguments are pointless and a waste of time. This is why Presidential debates are never more than a popularity contest because they never discuss the assumptions that shape their policy and ideals. Instead they just talk past each other while safely guarding their assumptions.
But what does any of this have to do with us? Well, I offer you the following quote from Gerhard Forde,
“If you begin with the assumption of freedom, the preoccupation is always how to keep freedom in check, how to bind: But if you begin with the assumption of bondage, the preoccupation is always how to set out the word that frees.”
What do we assume? What does your church assume, what does your pastor assume?
If the assumption is that of freedom, some measure of ability assumed in the human will to live as free creatures, then a reasonable course will be set. Rules and laws will be established to guide and shape such freedom in a God pleasing way. Church will be about advice and exhortation above all things so that the untamed masses will fall in line.
But what if our assumption is bondage? What reasonable course will be set by such an assumption? What might a church look like that believes its central purpose is to set others free?