Defining The Idea
The title of this post is admittedly on the deep end of the pool of terminology. “Standpoint epistemology” is not a phrase we all use, though I would contend it is something we should all become familiar with and be ready to contend against. Epistemology is the study of the theory of knowledge. It seeks to understand how you know what you know. As a Christian, I hold to revelational epistemology. I believe everything that humanity knows has been revealed by God both through the general means of creation and the specific means of Scripture. All of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, so this concept of revelation epistemology fits with biblical teaching (see Colossians 2:3).
However, many in our day and age are seeking to take a theory of knowledge which asserts we need a “diversity” of viewpoints in order to have true knowledge and understanding. Diversity and truth walk hand in hand according to this view. You must know the “standpoint” of others who are “oppressed” if you are going to be able to understand truth. The higher up the mountain of “oppression” you are the greater access to truth you possess. This idea arose in feminist circles during the 1970s and 80s with its proponents claiming its root in Marxism but ultimately it seems to have stemmed from work undertaken by George Hegel.1 One of the central claims of standpoint epistemology is that “Marginalized groups are socially situated in ways that make it more possible for them to be aware of things and ask questions than it is for the non-marginalized.”2 According to this viewpoint, the more “oppressed” a person is the more knowledge they will have to give to society. Of course, the reverse is true, if you are not oppressed at all, then you need the voices of the oppressed in order to know truth.
A New Kind of Gnosticism
One of the central tenets of Gnosticism is a “claim to possess a higher knowledge, not from the Bible, but acquired on some mystical higher plane of existence.”3 Ultimately, standpoint epistemology is nothing more than Gnosticism being driven in a Marxist vehicle with Postmodern tires. Interestingly, even an atheist like Dr. James Lindsay sees the similarities between standpoint epistemology and Gnosticism.4 Dr. Voddie Baucham has termed the phrase Ethnic Gnosticism to discuss the heavily-promoted idea in our culture that individuals of different ethnicities have greater access to truth.5 So, you can take two individuals who have been raised in the same neighborhood, but if one person has a darker shade of skin color then they have greater access to truth. Dr. Baucham has pointed out one of the many faulty assumptions within this viewpoint is that it presumes all black people share the same experience.6 This idea is inherently incorrect, just sit Ibram X. Kendi and Voddie Baucham in a room together and see how much agreement they possess within their viewpoints!
However, in this particular theory, we see an idea that certain people have special access to truth which is where the danger creeps into play. This creeps into everyday conversation where people feel like they have to hear certain voices in order to be able to understand things such as racism or sexism. Instead of seeking to just know the truth by reading Scripture, they call all of the minority voices they know and listen. Well, maybe not all of the minority voices they know. The standpoint of minorities like Dr. Baucham and Candace Owens doesn’t seem to hold as much weight with these individuals!
Analyzing The Viewpoint
Certainly, we can learn when engaging others in conversation and we should value conversation with other people. Human beings learn much from each other. I have learned from reading men like Dr. Baucham, I am not trying to devalue the human conversation, rather I am trying to elevate it. The reason we as human beings can have meaningful conversations is precisely because we are not the arbiters of truth, rather truth transcends us. It is rooted in the God of the universe who created us in His image. Thus, when we make individuals of a certain standpoint the foundation for what we understand to be true, we are trying to place them in a divine position for which they were never intended. We should see each other as image-bearers of God seeking to know the truth as revealed by Him. However, according to standpoint epistemology, we need to try to know the truth as revealed by specific groups of people. It damages any meaningful place for dialogue, conversation, and objective truth.
As Christians, we affirm the Bible is the clear, authoritative, sufficient, infallible, inerrant, and inspired revelation from God. Ultimate truth is not determined by my interpretation, but rather God’s revelation. 2 Peter 1:19-21 says:
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The prophetic word of Scripture is not confirmed based on someone’s personal opinion, but rather because it was revealed by the Holy Spirit. If you disagree with what it says you are wrong. It does not matter what your standpoint is if it is unbiblical then it is incorrect. Thus, Scripture does not command us to gather people from all around the globe in order to know truth. Rather, it says we need to submit to the revelation of God in the Bible and know its truth for it has been revealed by the God of truth. So, please reject standpoint epistemology and don’t adhere to any of its deceptive schemes. Hold fast to revelation epistemology anchored in God’s Word!
5 Voddie Baucham, Fault Lines, p. 91.
6 Voddie Baucham, Fault Lines, p. 93-94.