In his monograph, To Know and Love God, David Clark distinguishes two kinds of “objectivity.” The first is kind is the sense in which we say that a theological truth is “objective.” When we want to say, for example, with “objectivity”, that God is holy. The second kind of objectivity is when we say that we study something with “objectivity,” i.e., in a manner in which we are not affecting the study. This is the manner in which many evangelicals and fundamentalists who have been greatly influenced by modernity say that they study the Scriptures. If they have any influence over the study itself, they believe it is negligible and can be set aside. Clark argues that both “objectivities” should be approached “modestly.” He wants to embrace what he calls a “modest objectivity.” This modest objectivity, Clark explains, when applied to the second form of “objectivity,” looks like this:
“An Enlightenment model of objectivity posits that we are completely neutral and dispassionate scholars viewing God from an ahistorical, God’s eye perspective. I do not defend that artificial sort of objectivity. I say it is impossible. A more modest model of objectivity recognizes that we see from our place in history. Yet our knowledge puts us in touch with God, not simply with our mental pictures of God. So God himself, the object of our knowledge, decisively shapes genuine knowledge of God. The predispositions or desires of the knowing subject need not decisively control genuine knowledge of God and thus obscure God. As theologians, we can allow the subject of investigation–a reality that is outside the knower–to exert a dominant influence on our knowing process” (217).
I think Clark is on to something here. We do not want to say that we are kind of “blank slate” when it comes to our investigations. As Gadamer says, “[The real meaning of a text] is always codetermined by the historical situation of the interpreter.” At the same time, though, we do not want to say that we cannot know anything meaningfully outside of ourselves (how’s that for a double-negative). No, we can understand with “objectivity.” But we always want to approach this objectivity “modestly”, acknowledging that we do “read into” texts, even in ways of which we are not aware.