When one decides to become a believer, a follower of Jesus, they are essentially releasing a degree of certainty in favor of faith (believing what one cannot see). This is actually true across most religions and faith traditions. Ironically, what I notice happening within Christianity—the American strain, in particular–is people don’t actually do this. They don’t release certainty upon “conversion.” They simply transfer it to whatever denomination or doctrine they signed on to. Which, I believe, keeps them from being open to the move and work of God (see: all the outrage over Lauren Daigle’s very reasonable comments on the LGBTQ communities and faith).
I’m not sure that we can avoid personal experience shaping how we think about God. If we believe that historical and cultural context matters, then those things, those events, don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen TO people and show up as personal experiences. And it’s very important, even good, as long as we are conscious that it is our personal experiences shaping our theology. That we are not calling that influence absolute truth.
My experience as a little brown girl growing up in Kentucky in a Black Baptist church very much informs my perspective of God…even when I wish it didn’t. But I think the critical piece here is that, I’m aware that it does. And so I can “check myself” when I make certain assumptions rooted in my experience and not necessarily in anything God has done or is doing. Beliefs aren’t ever objective and I don’t think they need to be. I don’t think we should want it to be. Thinking that it is, keeps you locked in to this desperate need for certainty. And if you are soooo certain, then even God won’t be able to tell you any different about what you “believe.”
I find that terribly problematic in light of the fact that faith in the mystery and sovereignty of God is/should be a core components of our belief system.