This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
By Ben Wulpi Spring 2010
“What is truth?” asked Pilate to the Lord on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion.1 The question applies today just as much as it did 2000 years ago. People are still asking the same questions, searching for meaning in what they find to be true. This is a question that seems even more prevalent today, as people seek truth in all forms of religion, spirituality or philosophy. In a society that is increasingly relativistic, truth is becoming more difficult to grasp on to, when many are saying that their truth is not the same as your truth. Postmodernism is a philosophical position that many Christians fear is advocating this sort of relativism. It seems to threaten our understanding of truth and interpretation, and be profoundly anti-religious. We don’t want anyone or any philosophy telling us that ours is not the only form of truth, because, as we know, our way of truth is God’s way of truth, and no cultural philosophy can tell us otherwise. Postmodernism’s claim is that there is no absolute truth, so it cannot be compatible with Christianity and we must reject it. Or rather, this is the claim of postmodernism as expressed by many Christians fearful of its changes. Along with the extreme modern reaction from Christians, some Christians are embracing postmodernism full-out, and take it to the extreme and create churches that do embrace relativism and present a watered-down version of the gospel. The key is to understand what postmodernism really is in order to find the proper balance of how to do Christianity while engaging with our culture. As this paper will show, I believe that these radical fears and radical embracings of postmodernism result from misconceptions about what postmodernism really is. I will show that postmodernism is not damaging to our
1 John 18:38
Christian faith, but rather, that it is conducive to a life of biblically-grounded faith. Postmodernism is in fact a philosophy in which Christianity can grow and thrive. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the paradigm of postmodernism and how it relates to Christians, specifically in the areas of truth and interpretation of Scripture. The paper is split into three main sections. The first deals with the philosophy of postmodernism and what it truly is, first trying to submit it to definition, which is no easy task. Then I move on to postmodernism’s foundations, primarily as a reaction against modernity and the foundationalism of Enlightenment epistemology. This involves looking into the foundations of modernism as well, which I can in no way do justice to in a paper of this size. From there I discuss certain characteristics that constitute postmodernism, from the specific ways in which it rejects modernism to Derrida’s deconstruction and Lyotard’s incredulity toward metanarratives, drawing special attention to postmodernity’s relation to premodernity. This is a fascinating connection to make, especially when we realize the suppression of epistemology of the Middle Ages by the emerging modern thought of the Enlightenment. The connections between postmodern and pre-modern are especially strong in regards to how they read texts, which is the primary direction of this paper. The second section focuses on truth and interpretation in regards to postmodern thought. I begin this by looking in to the philosophy of Jacques Derrida known as deconstruction. Derrida, who was the key figure focus of my research, has much to say about how we read texts and employ our language. The philosophy of language is one of the key elements in postmodern thought, and the use of our language has a great deal to do with how we view our world. A key part here is the 3
comparison between the philosophies of Derrida and Hans-Georg Gadamer in regards to language. I then look into the objectivity/subjectivity question. One thing characteristic of postmodernism is that it denies the possibility of objective interpretation, which is a big deal for many people who rely on scientific objectivity for their interpretations of truth. I explore this question and how it relates to our finding meaning in the world, as well as the question of whether or not subjectivity leads us into relativism. I then turn to focus on the key theories supporting the connection between our interpretations and reality, and the distinctions between modern and postmodern in that regard. Then I will continue to look at a couple of the different theories and means of interpretation that are done today. For postmodernism, the element of our context is vastly important to how we do our interpretation, and for modernism, the elements of form and intent are the key factors that give authority to a text. The main question in interpretation here is where the authority of a text lies, so I will go through three different modes of interpretation and how they view authority. The final major section of the paper applied our investigation to the reading of Scripture. I explore the differences in modern and postmodern readings of Scripture, especially drawing from the theological postconservative approach of Stanley Grenz and John Franke. The main issue at question here is how Scripture is the inspired word of God. Did the Holy Spirit inspire the authors as they wrote, or does He appropriate the written text after the fact and use it to speak to us today? Again, the question of subjectivity arises, as postmodernism asserts that a community reading of Scripture must be the basis for our theology.
In the end, I propose that Christians appropriate postmodernism, although with a due measure of caution. If we are to engage with our culture for the sake of the culture, we have to know how to be able to speak to them on their level, which entails us being culturally aware. But more than this, I believe postmodernism is a bed of fertile soil in which the church can grow and even thrive. By applying its critique of modernity, the church can be free of the constraints which they have unknowingly allowed modernity to thrust upon their understanding and expression of faith. Postmodernism can help a church that is struggling to reach the culture around it. What is Postmodernism? “Postmodernism” is a term that has many connotations associated with it but is often found lacking in measureable definitions. It is a notoriously difficult philosophy to define or contain to a few easily understandable sentences. And that, in a sense, is what it aims for. Postmodernism shuns quick-fix answers and quotable axioms that modernism tends to exalt, preferring dialogue over sound-bites and stories over bullet points. Most often postmodernism can only be delineated in terms of its relation to modernism. Take the definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for example: [Postmodernism] can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.2 To define it as employing concepts for the purpose of destabilizing other concepts is one of the hallmarks of trying to describe postmodernism. These “other” concepts
2 Gayle Aylesworth, comp. "Postmodernism." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/>
are typically rooted in modern foundationalism and the supremacy of science and reason. Or, as Smith suggests, “Postmodernism can be understood as the erosion of confidence in the rational as sole guarantor and deliverer of truth, coupled with a deep suspicion of science—particularly modern science’s pretentious claims to an ultimate theory of everything.”3 It is also necessary for my purposes here to distinguish between the terms “postmodernism” and “postmodernity.” Postmodernism is a philosophical position taking a critical stance toward modernism, although not necessarily an iconoclastic stance. Postmodernity is a period concept, and is used as a description of certain cultural conditions pertaining to Western countries especially in the 1970s and 80s. According to Ward, this is an important distinction to make, for while the philosophical ideals of postmodernism lead to a societal skepticism with the worldview of modernity and can lead to a period we might call ‘postmodernity,’ “there are indications which suggest ‘postmodernity’ as a particular cultural emphasis is over,” while many believe the philosophy of postmodernism will always be with us.4
Foundations of Postmodernism We can’t really get a sense of what postmodernism is without taking at least a cursory look at modernism, since the modern critique would not exist apart from its context of modernism. For the sake of space, I will briefly outline modernity’s foundations and core values. It’s easiest to point to the Enlightenment, the period of
3 James K.A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 62 4 Graham Ward, ed. The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), xxv.
Western civilization in the 17th-18th century in which reason and science were upheld as the final legitimating authorities for all philosophy and culture. The Age of Enlightenment was an optimistic one, fueled by the belief that “a scientific application of human reason to the natural order (for economic and technological development) as well as to the human order (for social and political reform) would produce the best of all possible rational worlds.”5 One of modernity’s key aspects is the emphasis on foundationalism. With its root in Cartesian philosophy, foundationalism holds that certain beliefs are basic, that is, they are the basis for many other beliefs and are self-evident and selfjustifiable. This is the key to modernist epistemology, that we can know some things with all certainty because they are basic. And those beliefs serve as the foundation for more derivative beliefs which build and build on each other to create an epistemological tower that (supposedly) cannot be shaken. Another key factor of modernism is what’s called “correspondence theory.” This theory of truth claims that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of the world. It is this trust in a corresponding metaphysical realism that gives modernists epistemological confidence—we know that what we know is backed up by actual reality. This epistemological confidence leads to a modern cultural sense of confidence in its own progress. Postmodernism would make it its goal to destabilize this confidence by shaking the very foundations upon which modernism stands, questioning the very ideas of epistemic certainty, foundationalism, and corresponding metaphysical realism, among others. Historically, it can be said that postmodernism started
5 Joseph P. Huffman, “Faith, Reason, and the Text: The Return of the Middle Ages in Postmodern Scholarship,” Christian Scholar’s Review 29:2 (Winter 1999): 282.
emerging as far back as the late 19th century, but most would say it really gained momentum in the latter half of the 20th century. Some look to the end of modernity to find the genesis of postmodernity. For instance, some say the philosophy of Martin Heidegger announced (but did not accomplish) the end of modernity.6 Some suggest that certain events pronounced the end of modernity and birth of postmodernity, such as the student riots in Paris of May 1968 or the demolition of a Le Corbusier-inspired housing development in St. Louis on July 15, 1972.7 All this goes to say that the advent of postmodernism is by no means certain or clear in many people’s minds. The primary point to emphasize is that postmodernity came about as a result of the disappointment in modernity’s failings. Optimism was replaced with skepticism, and the foundations of modernity began to come under question.
Characteristics of Postmodernism To begin to describe some of the key characteristics of postmodernism, we must look at it in its relation to modernism. Functionally, it is post-modern, a reaction to the values and ideals of modernism. But some suggest that postmodernism is often in actuality more of a hyper-modernism, an extension or intensification of modernism.8 But primarily it stands as a critique of modernism, calling out the many faults inherent in modernist thought. I will touch on a few of these key critiques, elaborating on some later.
6 Ward, The Postmodern God, xxxii. 7 Ibid., xxiii 8 Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 26.
The first, which I have already mentioned, is a rejection of modernist foundationalism. Postmodernism rejects this idea that we can have basic beliefs, maintaining the position that we cannot have epistemic access to the real world. Foundationalism presupposes exactly what postmodernists deny, namely, an ability to know things as they really are, apart from our language use. Postmodernists hold that our language, rather than revealing the truth of the real world to us, stand between us and reality, such that “we do not inhabit the ‘world-in-itself’; instead, we live in a linguistic world of our own making.”9 Postmodernists would say that foundationalism has led us astray, leading us to believe that we can have objective, unmediated observations of the real, objective world. But this simply cannot happen, they say. Another key element of postmodern thought is drawn primarily from the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard, and that is his claim that postmodernism is “incredulity toward metanarratives.” Lyotard has a suspicion toward the very nature of metanarratives, which he says are a distinctly modern phenomenon. Metanarratives are stories that not only tell a grand story, but also claim to be able to legitimate or prove the story’s claim by an appeal to universal reason.10 Rationality makes this universal claim in modernity, using itself as a source of legitimation. Using the idea that everything is ultimately a narrative that requires legitimation, Lyotard calls out modernity for claiming rationality as self-legitimating. While not crucial for the
9 R. Scott Smith, "Language, Theological Knowledge, and the Postmodern Paradigm," in Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern times, ed. Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 110. 10 Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 65.
direction of this paper, this “incredulity toward metanarratives” is a large part of the postmodern critique. At the heart of what the postmodern critique attempts to accomplish in tearing down foundations is the philosophy of deconstruction, of which the French philosopher Jacques Derrida is the author and founder. Derrida’s famous claim is that “there is nothing outside the text,” claiming that everything requires interpretation, and we must interpret the “texts” of the world in order to truly experience reality. This pulls strongly at the foundations of epistemic certainty that modernity holds so dear. I will speak much more about Derrida and deconstruction later.
The Middle Ages and Textual Authority One standard that postmodernism attempts to recover is the values of the medieval paradigm that modernism shoved under the rug for the sake of progress, seeing them as unenlightened or mythic (subsequently labeling that time period the “Dark Ages” as a foil for modern cultural self-identity). This project of the Enlightenment exulted in its own progress from ignorance to knowledge and reveled in the optimism given it by science and reason to continue making our world better. The modern negative views of the Middle Ages are called medievalisms, which serve as culturally constructed “truths” about the past not based on detailed study of the surviving evidence, but on the needs of the given culture. Postmodernism has in some significant respects returned to the Middle Ages for its deconstruction of modernist epistemology. “Just as the Middle Ages had been used previously by modernists as a foil for extolling the virtues of Enlightenment modernity, the
medieval world is currently being employed by postmodernists to critique modernism.”11 The most important connection between postmodern and pre-modern (and the key focus for this paper), is their approach to reading texts, in contrast to the modern approach. The crucial aspect of interpreting texts is in assigning authority to them. With the Renaissance, a tradition of humanist philological scholarship emerged, becoming more secularized with the Enlightenment. A critical textual basis for truth and knowledge became the backbone for historical truth. Using the scientific method, modern scholars considered a document true or false based on whether or not it contains the formal authenticity it claims to possess. Truth is based in the “pure” authenticity of texts, and authenticity is judged by the external form of the text. For example, since the Middle Ages produced a plethora of forgeries of historical documents (e.g. the Donation of Constantine), the modern historical scholars saw the Middle Ages as morally dim and lacking in critical sensibilities—hence, the “Dark Ages.”12 This critical approach had other cultural consequences, according to Huffman: Not only did it undermine traditional religious authority substantially, but replaced it with a new ‘scientific’ (or positivist) approach to truth for the humanities mirroring the natural sciences. The ‘truth’ discovered by this scientific approach to texts—that is, that so many medieval texts were not formally authentic—gave as much cultural authority to modern philology as the seventeenth-century discoveries about false notions of the universe’s form had given to the scientific method.13
11 Huffman, “Faith, Reason, and the Text,” 287. 12 Ibid., 288-289 13 Ibid., 290.
The “literal truth” of form had become superior to the traditional medieval mode of identifying truth in the content of a text. In other words, those elements of a text that deemed it “authentic” or not became the arbiters of truth, rather than any truth that might be found within the text. “Historical truth now meant only the ‘facts.’”14 One form of identifying truth was exalted above the other, and the distinction was drawn between objective “facts” and the value or truth of a text. Postmodern scholarship has been raising doubts about this traditional modernist approach to textual authority. They assert that the Enlightenment-based modern definitions of and the distinctions between fact and falsity are culturally constructed and thus limiting factors in doing history, or any other of the human sciences. Some postmoderns think that “facts” are actually a 17th-century invention.15 For postmodernists, the external form of any given text is no more important than the internal content of the text, and in fact, the heart of the matter is located within the discourse contained within the text. This postmodern method emphasizes the content of a text over its formal concerns, and allows the text to speak on its own terms. This serves to reject the modernist polarity between absolutely true and false texts. Like the medieval understanding of texts, postmodernism “emphasizes the meaning of a text as a marker of social and cultural practice rather than as a mere record of historical facts.”16 Postmodernism claims that “form” is something merely designed for its social and cultural usefulness, and does not have a total claim to the truth of any given text. Postmodernism reminds us that the task of comprehending human history must
14 Ibid. 15 Smith, R. Scott. "Language…” in Reclaiming the Center, 112. 16 Ibid., 296
incorporate both the literal, historical meaning of the text as well as the metaphorical and allegorical, which is something the medieval exegetes knew long ago. How does all this make a difference for how we view truth today in a postmodern context? This question of textual authority will prove to be vastly important for understanding the postmodern critique in regards to truth, and how we interpret that truth.
Postmodernism and Truth In this section we will explore how postmodernism impacts what we see as “truth,” and how we approach that truth. This is a strong point of contention between moderns and postmoderns, and rightly so, since truth is an important aspect of how we live our lives. Many moderns fear the lengths to which postmodernism goes in interpreting truth, for in some cases postmoderns can move beyond a “hermeneutic of suspicion” to a far more damaging “suspicion of hermeneutics.” Indeed, a generalized statement of the postmodern attitude toward interpretation is “incredulity toward meaning.” In this section I will begin by examining the philosophy of deconstruction, which will set the stage for the rest of the section. Moving on into the concept of language, we see just how much our language impacts our philosophy and has a bearing on truth. I then look into the
question of objectivity and subjectivity, and how truth relates to these. Then I discuss the different theories in regard to the reality of truth, comparing the modern idea of correspondence theory with the postmodern coherence theory. After looking at all these points, I dive into the topic of interpretation, or hermeneutics, and see how these concepts impact our actual understanding of truth.
Derrida and Deconstruction First, a look into the philosophy of deconstruction, borne from the mind of Jacques Derrida, a controversial French philosopher who was at his peak in the 1970s and 80s. To define deconstruction is even more difficult than defining postmodernism, for deconstruction sees concepts like “meaning” and “mission” as restricting and containing. “The very meaning and mission of deconstruction is to show that things—texts, institutions, traditions, societies, beliefs, and practices of whatever size and sort you need—do not have definable meanings and determinable missions, that they are always more than any mission would impose, that they exceed the boundaries they currently occupy.”17 Deconstruction strives to push beyond these boundaries to interrupt and disunify. There is a tendency to misunderstand deconstruction to say that it promotes a relativism in which anything goes, and texts can mean anything the reader wants them to mean, and many other terrible things. Because of this, Derrida and deconstruction have been blamed for just about everything, and therefore, it is not uncommon to portray Derrida as the devil himself, a street-corner anarchist, a relativist, or subjectivist, or nihilist, out to destroy our traditions and institutions, our beliefs and values, to mock philosophy
17 John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: a Conversation with Jacques Derrida. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 31.
and truth itself, and to undo everything the Enlightenment has done—and to replace this with wild nonsense and irresponsible play.18 According to Caputo, the way out of these misunderstandings is to realize that deconstruction, by critically undoing all philosophies and language games and social structures, is setting out to get to the core of what is “undeconstructible,” affirming that which is to come.19 The motive behind Derrida’s strategy of undoing stems from his alarm over illegitimate appeals to authority and exercises of power. In this, he challenges the pretention of the philosopher and the exegete to have arrived at a fixed or correct view of things. To Derrida, this is a bluff that must be deconstructed.20 The business of deconstruction is to open and loosen things up, and to allow space for questioning. At its root is ethics—giving voice to the interpretations that have been marginalized and silenced by those dominant interpretations that create the status quo, silencing those who see things differently. Thus, we are free to interpret the world differently. At the core of deconstruction is the hope of justice and freedom, and a looking forward to a future that is good. According to the commentary by Caputo, everything in deconstruction is pointed toward a “democracy to come,” which tackles the current forms of democracy (which Derrida says are not really democratic at all) in order to open them up to a future democracy that will fulfill democracy’s own promise. For one party to claim the authority and the “correct” way to do things is not democracy, and deconstruction sets out to give other interpretations a voice.21 Derrida insists that deconstruction is good news for our
18 Ibid., 36. 19 Ibid., 41-42 20 Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: the Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1998), 21-22. 21 Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, 43-44.
world, and it’s on our side, continually exposing our structures to a “certain revolution in a self-perpetuation auto-revolution.”22 Deconstruction has a great impact on the implications of our hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is relevant not only to interpretation of texts, but to all life, insofar as everything from a theater performance to a baby’s crying is a “text,” that is, an expression of human life that requires interpretation. Everything requires interpretation, according to Derrida. And with that reality, there will always be conflict of interpretation or at least differences in interpretation, which leads us into somewhat of a hermeneutical pluralism that points out the falsity of objectivity. This pluralism though, is not something we should run from, says James Smith, but is rather a reality we cannot escape and is something we should actually embrace. “A kind of deep ‘directional’ pluralism is endemic to our postlapsarian condition; that is, there is a level of interpretive difference that concerns fundamental issues such as what it means to be authentically human and how we fit into the cosmos.”23 Because we are fallen creatures, interpretation is always necessary as a disruption of the immediacy of understanding. Because everything is a text, we come to Derrida’s claim that “there is nothing outside the text.” This means that everything must be interpreted in order to be experienced. “Texts that require interpretation are not things that are inserted between me and the world; rather, the world is a kind of text requiring interpretation.”24 For our interpretations we must have a mediating lens through which to see, and that lens is language.
22 Ibid., 37. 23 Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 50. 24 Ibid., 39.
The Importance of Language As mentioned in the previous section, postmodern thought claims that it is language that stands between us and the world. We cannot experience the world but through the mediation of language. It is the key to our interpretation. Our words are simply symbols for the meaning behind them. And, argues Derrida, Western philosophy supposes that when we write our words down, we are, in effect, translating them once again, so our written words are symbols of symbols—twice removed from reality. Thus, voice is given privilege over writing, because voice gives immediate access to full presence, “where presence is linked to comprehension and the denial of mystery.”25 Writing is seen as a contamination and a corruption of the purity of speech, in some sense a violence against speech. Writing is derivative because it is re-presentative—presenting the concept of a word in a symbol on top of what has already been presented. Derrida argues that, rather than writing being a violence against language, all language is violence. “His deconstruction sets out to disturb the myth of a pure voice—a speech uninhibited by interpretation and mediation—by unveiling the interpretedness of all human discourse.”26 According to Derrida, all language is violence because language is, at first, writing. There is a “writing” that precedes speech, which he describes as “arche-writing,” a writing of which all language is composed. “Writing, rather than being exterior to a pure speech, is always already interior to language, essentially rather than accidentally, as its very possibility.”27 Thus, the violence against pure meaning does not just stop at language, but goes
25 James K.A. Smith, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000), 116. 26 Ibid., 118. 27 Ibid., 119.
down to the signifiers behind our language. This is even more support for Derrida’s claim that “there is nothing outside the text.” Interpretation is a structural matter, and everything must be interpreted. And rather than “presence” in language, Derrida insists that “absence” is essential to writing. All writing, in order to be what it is, must be able to function in the radical absence of its context. This idea is called iterability, or the possibility of repeating, and therefore identifying, certain marks that make writing legible, making it communicable and transmittable in different contexts for any possible user in general. Writing must be able to be decontextualized. And, Derrida concludes, these traits must be characteristic not only of writing, but of all language, and ultimately in the totality of our experience, since experience itself is constituted by a system of marks, spacing, and deferral.28 For Derrida, everything is a text, and our experience of the world lies in interpretation. One opposing view of language is given to us by the German continental philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, who was one of the most important voices in philosophical hermeneutics in the 20th century. For Gadamer, language is not an insurmountable barrier to truth, but rather a medium of truth. He views language as an image of the reality, and the function of an image is to make the thing apparent of which it is an image, thus having a revelatory function. It is not just a copy, but it is a disclosure of the thing itself that shows us the thing in a way in which it was not available to us before. In this way, the presentation of the thing does not experience a diminution of its reality, but actually acquires a richer intelligibility by being made manifest. “Language does not simply re-present a preexisting
28 Ibid., 119-121.
intelligible order, but actually develops over time the intelligibility of reality.”29 Gadamer uses the example of the Christian idea of the self-presentation of God in the Incarnation. God, by being made manifest, became more intelligible to us, the interpreters of God’s nature. Jesus Christ was a revelation of God Himself, an Incarnation in which all the fullness of the Deity was pleased to dwell.30 With this example, language serves an incarnational function, and dispels the notion of a dualism between the noumenal reality in itself and the phenomenal reality which we experience. There is a unity in language that makes meaning all the more intelligible for us. And for Gadamer, the grounds for understanding lie in “dialogue,” i.e. the search for agreement on some issue carried out in the trust that we can understand each other and the world. It is through such dialogue that intellectual traditions are formed and advanced.31 Language has become the preeminent problem of 20th century philosophy, and there are many different ideas other than these two I have presented here. But how does this philosophy of language apply to actual texts in order to show us meaning? If Derrida and other postmoderns are right, then it could lead to the conclusion that everything is a human construct—an interpretation—and what we take to be determinate reality is actually an effect of our linguistic practices. Interpretation actually produces the text themselves, and thus the meaning. But if Gadamer is correct, then the texts themselves could actually contain more meaning than we think. So do texts really have any authority in and of themselves? These are questions I will come back to later.
29 Brice R. Wachterhauser, ed. Hermeneutics and Truth. Evanston, Ill. (Northwestern University Press, 1994), 16. 30 Cf. Colossians 1:19 31 Wachterhauser, Hermeneutics and Truth, 14.
Objectivity and Subjectivity One of the primary concerns of moderns in regards to postmodern philosophy is the issue of objectivity. Many see Derrida’s claims that everything must be interpreted and fear that interpretation is a wholly arbitrary endeavor, in which the reader is lord. Because of these fears, deconstruction signals the impossibility of communication. Can we really know if anything is objectively true? One thing that postmodernism suggests is that objectivity might simply be a modern ideal. Richard Rorty suggests that humans try to give sense to their lives by placing them in a larger context in two ways. Firstly, we can find meaning by telling a story of their contribution to a community, exemplifying a desire for solidarity within that community. Secondly, we can try to find meaning by describing ourselves as standing in immediate relation to a nonhuman reality, distancing ourselves from persons around us in order to find objectivity without reference to any particular human beings. In the Western culture, tradition has shown to seek meaning by turning away from solidarity to seek meaning in objectivity. Truth is to be pursued for its own sake, not for the good of oneself or one’s community. We want to be able to examine our communities in light of something that transcends it, seeking to find that which is common with every other community. 32 This agenda has been pushed further by the exaltation of science and the search for objective truth. Postmodernism attempts to reduce this distinction between objectivity and the search for solidarity (which one might see as subjective).
32 Richard Rorty. Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 21-22.
It does this by emphasizing the vast importance of the context of our communities in the process of interpretation. According to Derrida, context “goes all the way down,” is limitless, and is never absolutely determinable. So what is called “objective” is in fact, determined by context—just a vast, very old one.33 It is our communities that fix contexts, and contexts which determine meanings. It is this that we call “objective,” when in reality our meaning is determined by our context and worldviews. No matter how hard we try to be “objective,” we cannot read or listen or interact or live apart from the contexts of our communities and worldviews. When we attempt to apply scientific objectivity to our moral and political lives, we end up living pointless fantasies about our own objective knowledge. “There is nothing wrong with science, there is only something wrong with the attempt to divinize it.”34 With the questioning of objectivity comes accusations of relativism. The contextualization of our truth-claims is not a threat to their truth value—it only appears so, because we tend to implicitly think of the rational subject as separable from the interpretive context in which it finds itself. But we can find no context-less subject. Contextualization does not preclude having a shared, common reality—it actually presupposes a common world. All differences of perspective or point of view nevertheless presuppose that they are different perspectives on one and the same world or reality. 35 For postmoderns, epistemological justifications must be holistic—encompassing the reality of our contexts and worldviews and discontinuing
33 James K.A. Smith, “Limited Inc/arnation: Revisiting the Searle/Derrida Debate in Christian Context,” in Hermeneutics at the Crossroads, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, James K.A. Smith, and Bruce Ellis Benson. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2006), 120-121. 34 Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, 33-34. 35 Wachtterhauser, Hermeneutics and Truth, 6.
the fruitless search for true objectivity. This simply recognizes that our communities and contexts are inseparable from our ability to interpret, and this is something that postmodernism wants us to recognize.
Correspondence and Coherence Theories These questions of language and objectivity raise more questions about what exactly the relationship is between our language, perceptions, and ideas and the actual reality. Generally speaking, the principle difference here between modern and postmodern is the difference between two theories of truth: correspondence theory and coherence theory. Correspondence theory, which is the modern ideal, is the idea that fact x is true if and only if it corresponds to some fact of reality. To give an overly simplistic example, if I say that my shirt is red, then that statement directly corresponds with my shirt having the actual quality “red.” Correspondence theory is strongly associated with metaphysical realism, the idea that there is a noumenal reality directly corresponding to our observations of the phenomenal. The truth or falsity of a statement is determined by how it directly relates to the world.36 With coherence theory of truth, which is often claimed by postmoderns, truth is coherence with a specified set of sentences, propositions, or beliefs. The truth of any proposition is determined by its relation with another set of propositions (“propositions” here being used not in any technical sense, but simply as a bearer of truth value, whatever that may be). According to coherence theory, the truth conditions of propositions consist in other propositions. In contrast, the correspondence theory says that the truth conditions for propositions are not other propositions, but rather objective features of the world. Whereas the issue in
36 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. <plato.stanford.edu>
correspondence theory is having a foundation in metaphysical reality, the issue with coherence theory is consistency among propositions.37 It should be clear how correspondence theory fits in with other modern concepts, especially epistemological foundationalism. Ideas must have their foundation in reality, and those realities must have their foundation as well. Beliefs are justified by looking to their foundation. And coherence theory works well with postmodern ideas, because truth doesn’t have much value outside its context, and beliefs are justified by looking to the other beliefs it is connected with, creating a sort of web or mosaic of knowledge, “each belief interdependent and supported by its relationship to other beliefs within the mosaic, and justified, not by a belief’s correspondence to reality, but in its overall fit with other held beliefs.”38 One could view the distinction in characteristics between these two as vertical and horizontal. Correspondence theory has a vertical aspect to it, an idea being built on the foundation of its corresponding reality, and that reality being built on another foundational truth, and so on. Coherence theory can be seen as more horizontal, with ideas or beliefs looking to other ideas or beliefs around them for justification. A lot of the ways in which we view truth and reality have to do, again, with our language. Many postmodern philosophers and theologians see what we call reality as merely “language games,” in which meaning is not a function of a connection of language to reality, but of language to more language. In other words, meaning and truth have no direct external connection to “facts” waiting to
37 Ibid. 38 Stephen J. Wellum, “Postconservatism, Biblical Authority, and Recent Proposals for ReDoing Evangelical Theology: A Critical Analysis,” in Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern times, ed. Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 169.
be apprehended, but meaning and truth are rather an internal function of language. This obviously entails the abandonment of the correspondence theory. These language games come about as a natural part of our communities to develop rules and social mores.39 This linguistic turn in philosophy entails that “language is no longer viewed in a realist way, that is, as ‘mirroring’ or ‘picturing’ reality, but is viewed as a social affair governed by various ‘language-games.’”40
Interpretation Now that we’ve explored some postmodern elements of what truth is and its relation to reality, we must look at how exactly we can interpret that truth. If Derrida is even close to right in saying that everything is a text and requires interpretation, then our interpretations and hermeneutics are incredibly important not only to such things as how we read Scripture, but also to how we live our lives. “Interpretation is an inescapable part of being human and experiencing the world.”41 In the next few pages, I will go through different basic theories of interpretation, modern and postmodern means of interpretation, and then discuss how this applies to authority and understanding, with the goal of discovering if there is actually any meaning or truth after interpretation. First, to outline two differing theories of interpretation. A normative approach to interpretation tends to give rules, methodological procedures, and criteria for “correct” interpretation. In contrast, descriptive theories treat understanding as a mode of being, as something that happens to interpreters above their wanting and
39 A.B. Caneday, “Is Theological Truth Functional or Propositional?” in Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern times. Ed. Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 145 40 Wellum, “Postconservatism…” in Reclaiming the Center, 169. 41 Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 38.
doing. To give a rough generalization, normative accounts tend to be epistemological, and descriptive accounts tend to be ontological. This raises the question then, is “understanding” an active occurrence, one that we cause to come about, or is it passive, where understanding happens to us? The modern methods of interpretation have strong methodological roots and focus primarily on authenticity, as described above. The issue, as we’ve moved throughout history, is in what the standard for authenticity is, and where authority lies. Here I will focus on three different modes of interpretation, focusing on three different paradigms of authority, adapted from VanHoozer’s Is There a Meaning in this Text? The first is on author-oriented hermeneutics. A text is understood when we recover the author’s consciousness. “The goal of interpretation is to understand the text as well as or better than its author.”42 With this hermeneutic lies a problem with the metaphysics of meaning, raising questions such as What is an author? and What is an intention?, questions which seem clear-cut initially but become foggier when held up to the postmodern critique. A “hermeneutical realist” would hold that there is something prior to interpretation, something there in the text, which can be known, and to which the interpreter is accountable. On the other hand, a hermeneutical nonrealist denies that meaning precedes interpretive activity; the truth of an interpretation depends on the response of the reader.43 The second mode of interpretation is text-oriented. This aims at describing the immanent sense of the text—its formal features, or linguistic and literary conventions, rather than the intentions of the author or historical context. “The goal here is to explain the text’s form and structure (e.g. knowledge about the text)
42 Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text?, 25. 43 Ibid., 25-26.
rather than to understand its reference (e.g. knowledge of what the text is about).”44 The risk here is with falling into hermeneutic relativism, in which everyone can have a different method for interpreting the text and finding meaning based on their own methods. There must be a norm for governing interpretation, making sure that the interpretation process is governed by certain rational procedures, though these must be modified to take account of the variety of literary genres.45 The third mode of interpretation is based on the reader, a method that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, when many critics rejected textual positivism, where the text is the object of scientific study, beginning instead to examine the role of the reader. Reader response criticism stresses the incompleteness of the text until it is constructed (or deconstructed) by the reader. These criticisms also observe that we always read from within a tradition, from within a clearly circumscribed set of social and cultural practices. Readers can’t help but read from this perspective. This raises the problem of the ethics of meaning. A more radical reader response critic might go as far as to give the reader initiative to use the texts for their own aims and purposes, where the text is simply an opportunity for the reader to pursue his own agenda. Here in this view, the text is inactive and it is the reader who is the producer of meaning. This view denies that interpretations are constrained by the text.46 The primary thrust of a modern attitude toward interpretation is in asking what the author is trying to communicate. A postmodern approach, on the other
44 Ibid., 26. 45 Ibid., 26-27. 46 Ibid., 27-28.
hand, emphasizes more of the internal content of the text, and the context of the reader. This allows the text to speak on its own terms, and interpretation involves dialogue between author, text, and reader. With this approach, the truth of any given text is not bound up or contained by its form, which postmoderns say is something merely designed for its social and cultural usefulness. Postmodernism emphasizes the meaning of a text as a marker of social and cultural practice rather than as a mere record of historical facts.47 Gadamer, again, is one thinker who proposed we reorient our hermeneutics away from epistemology (i.e. interpreting to know the author’s mind) toward ontology (interpreting for self-understanding). “Understanding for Gadamer does not come about by following some method for correct interpretation but through a disclosure of truth that bears a resemblance to how we experience art or the playing of a game.”48 For Gadamer the emphasis lies in the “event” of understanding, as it happens to us. Understanding happens when we participate not in the underlying meaning but in a conversation about that meaning. Understanding is a matter of agreement with another about a certain subject matter, and to understand it is to be seized by the truth of the matter. With this understanding, the interpreter is not at the end of the line of communication, but rather in the middle, in the midst of conversation. “Understanding is to be thought of less as a subjective act than as participating in an event of tradition.”49 And it is language that is the medium through which the thing in itself (what Gadamer calls the sache) makes itself known. Understanding happens when the sache comes to language. But
47 Huffman, “Faith, Reason, and the Text,” 296. 48 Vanhoozeer, et al. Hermeneutics at the Crossroads, 13. 49 Ibid., 15.
Gadamer says that the interpreting subject (you and me) is not merely a passive recipient, because understanding takes participation—opening oneself to what speaks to us, so as to correspond to it. We can take place in the discourse, and hermeneutics is ultimately about discerning this discourse.
The Context of Community Community is critical for a postmodern hermeneutic. Our context functions as the framework that determines how a thing is seen or understood, and it is the community that fixes that context. The community determines the rules of the language games within which we interpret our world. One thing that Derrida emphasizes strongly is that There are important, legitimate determinations of context; in particular, the context for understanding a text, thing, or event is established by a community of interpreters who come to an agreement about what constitutes the true interpretation of a text, thing, or event. Given the goals and purposes of a given community, it establishes a consensus regarding the rules that will govern good interpretation.50 Postmodernism pushes us to recapture the central role of community not only for biblical interpretation but also for how we make our way in the world. With the postmodern hermeneutic emphasizing so strongly the elements of context and dialogue, the modern evangelical might (and often does) see straight past the details and declare that postmodernism is preaching a gospel of relativism, that there really is no absolute truth and everyone is right, no matter how wrong they are. The point they are missing though, is the difference between relativism and pluralism. Postmodernism encourages us to embrace pluralism—the idea that
50 Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 53.
the truth turns out to be “many” rather than “one,” understood by realizing that the object of hermeneutical truth is ontologically rich in complex meaning, far too rich to be understood merely in one context.51 There are so many different communities, all with different perceptions and interpretations, and you can’t say that one is right over the other. There is still truth after interpretation is all said and done, but no one person or community has the claim to the totality of this truth. We should embrace this pluralism and learn from it—learn from each other. When our hermeneutics really come down to it, the issue that’s up for debate is where authority lies. Does authority lie within the form of the text, and with the intent of the author, as modernists would suppose? Or does authority lie in the content of the text and the context of the reader, as postmodernists assert? As Christians we need to think about these things theologically, which means we must include the authority of God in our interpretations. And for this, we will turn and examine the hermeneutics of Scripture, and how postmodernism views the text of the Bible to see what happens when we throw Divine authority into the mix.
Scripture, Theology, and the Church The Bible has been affirmed for centuries as the Word of God, the Divine revelation of God’s message to the world. As Christians, we recognize that the Bible contains more than just a divine message; it constitutes a divine method of delivering that message. The Bible doesn’t just contain the gospel; it is the gospel. And it is the bearer of ultimate truth. According to St. Augustine, both qualitatively
51 Wachterhauser, Hermeneutics and Truth, 23-24.
and quantitatively, more of essential truth is to be found in Scripture than in all the learning of the world. 52 The difficulty in interpreting Scripture is in the multiplicity of authors. Ultimately, God is the author of Scripture.53 But God used human authors to write the books of the Bible—human authors with worldviews and contexts and agendas. A religion such as Islam doesn’t have this problem because their doctrine says that the Qur’an is divinely written, an exact replica of the book written in heaven. With Islam, the authority rests purely in the fact that the Qur’an is directly Allah’s word. With Christianity, the authority of the Bible comes from the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and illumination. But the question remains, how does the Holy Spirit inspire?
Modern and Postmodern Views on Authority The traditional modern understanding of Scripture is that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit comes to the biblical authors as they write. In this “deputized discourse” model, God essentially dictates to the authors what to write, every word intentional for God’s purpose. God also uses the intentions of the authors, so that His speaking is tied to the text by the intention of the biblical author. This view supports doctrines such as the inerrancy of Scripture, and leads us into textual critical methods of interpretation—trying to figure out what the author was really trying to say, and thus what God is really trying to say.54 A postmodern approach to Scripture (also known as postconservatism and led by the efforts of Stanley Grenz and John Franke in their book Beyond
52 David J. Hesselgrave, Scripture and Strategy: the Use of the Bible in Postmodern Church and Mission. (Pasadena, Calif.: W. Carey Library, 1994), 9-10. 53 Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16 54 Wellum, “Postconservatism…” in Reclaiming the Center, 178-179.
Foundationalism) looks at our interpretation a bit differently. Instead of God’s dictation in deputizing the biblical authors for His purposes, postconservatism advocates a “textual-sense interpretation,” in which “the meaning of the biblical text is found in the text but not necessarily directly tied to the author’s intent, since once the author creates the text it takes on a life of its own…In a sense, the text has its own intentions, which has its genesis in the author’s intention but is not exhausted by it.”55 With this approach, the Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture by appropriating the biblical text to speak to us. With this, the Spirit’s intention is not simply and completely tied down to the author’s intention in the text. The Spirit’s ‘illocutionary act,’ that is, his act of speaking to us, is connected to the author’s original intention, but not bound by it. Thus, the Bible as a book is not authoritative, but the place of Bible as the instrumentality of the Spirit gives it authority. Because the Spirit chooses to speak through this text, it is to be read authoritatively and with reverence. Because of this, to base our interpretation completely on exegesis and trying to figure out what the author’s intentions is insufficient: “We must never conclude that exegesis alone can exhaust the Spirit’s speaking to us through the text. Although the Spirit’s illocutionary act is to appropriate the text in its internal meaning, the Spirit appropriates the text with the goal of communicating to us in our situation.”56 But the Spirit’s speaking does not come through the text all by itself. We must interpret through the lens of both the theological tradition of which we are recipients, and of the culture in which we are embedded. So for Grenz and Franke, the three sources of theology are Scripture, tradition, and culture. “Since
55 Ibid., 179. 56 Ibid., 180, quoting Grenz and Franke.
the Spirit speaks through all three, we carefully listen for the voice of the Spirit who speaks through Scripture, in light of His speaking through the tradition of the church, and within the particularity of culture.”57 For them, Scripture, tradition, and culture are not three different moments of communication, but rather they are one speaking. They are quick to affirm though that Scripture is more foundational than tradition or culture, affirming it as the “norming norm” of the church. This view narrows the distinction between the inspiration and the illumination of the Spirit, emphasizing the one act of the Holy Spirit in speaking through the biblical authors and speaking to us today.58 For Grenz and Franke, the goal of the Spirit’s speaking through these means is to create a “world,” that is, to project a way of being in the world, a mode of existence and pattern of life. Ultimately, this is God’s eschatological world—that which He intends for His creation. That is why we must read Scripture as a theological text, in order to discern the Spirit’s voice as it is centered in the biblical message as a whole, which then will govern our theology. Postmodernism reduces the distinction between biblical studies and theology and doctrine. The task of theology is to listen to the Scriptures, tradition, and culture in order to seek what ought to be the interpretive framework for how to live in Christian community. In this they essentially deny sola scriptura as the only foundation for the Christian interpretive framework, but rather the foundation is a combination of our experience of redemption in Jesus and being in a community of believers and Scripture. Sola Scriptura is not valid because Scripture has no authority in itself, but is only authoritative given the fact that it is the vehicle through which the Spirit
57 Ibid., 182. 58 Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 380-383.
speaks. Also, they affirm the Catholic tradition, that Scripture is also a product of the community of faith that produced it.59 Rather than being the collection of the writings of individual authors, our Bible is the product of the community of faith that cradled it. The compiling of Scripture occurred within the context of the community, and the writings represent the self-understanding of the community in which they developed.60 This does not, as some might fear, lead to subjectivism, because the Bible is Scripture regardless of whether or not we subjectively acknowledge this status. It is Scripture because it is the book of the church.61
A Shift of Epistemology Grenz and Franke propose an epistemological shift in our theology from foundationalism to a “chastened reality.” Because we humans, within the bounds and limitations of our language, cannot view the world from an objective vantage point, but rather structure our world through the concepts we bring to it, we must transition from a realist to a constructionist view of truth and the world. They deny foundationalism and correspondence theory, claiming that evangelical theology has aligned itself too closely with the project of modernism, adopting the modernist epistemology to the doings of theology. They say that instead of answering the question of truth from an epistemological foundationalism standpoint, theology must answer the question of truth along communitarian and pragmatist lines. The crucial question to Grenz and Franke is how a non-foundationalist theological approach can lead us to statements about a world beyond our formulations. They
59 Wellum, “Postconservatism…” in Reclaiming the Center, 180. 60 Grenz, Theology for the Community…, 386. 61 Ibid., 388.
think that for now, we cannot know the world as it really is, because we are epistemologically limited to our contexts and language games. But God’s (and our) eschatological future is much more (objectively) real than what we experience now. In the present, we must content ourselves with an epistemological and metaphysical nonrealism, but we can anticipate in the future an eschatological realism. And the task of the Christian community is to construct a world that begins to reflect God’s own will for creation, founded and centered in Jesus Christ—in a sense, working in hope for the Kingdom of God that is “already, but not yet.”62 A theological method such as this need not lapse into subjectivism, as some fear. The way to avoid this is to ensure that the individual is not placed ahead of the community. The Bible remains authoritatively Scripture because it is the book of the church. And that is why a theological reading of Scripture must always take place in a communal setting. Our interpretation is governed by our ecclesiology.63
The Church and Postmodernism Postmodernism has become a hot-button issue in the church today (a few decades after the actual occurrence in society). Many people have very strong feelings either for or against it, and some go too far in either direction without really understanding what postmodernism is. Some reject postmodernism out-right, and refuse to allow it to infect their churches. Others embrace it in their churches and take it too far, weakening the message of the gospel into relativistic fluff that often
62 Wellum, “Postconservatism…” in Reclaiming the Center, 175. 63 Ibid., 182.
advocates universalism and doesn’t look much like the historic Christianity. So the issue remains, if we are to appropriate postmodernism, we must learn to appropriate it well. Movements like the Emerging Church and Radical Orthodoxy have been working to bring about a postmodern church, and notable names like Doug Pagitt, Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and others are at the forefront of engaging with a postmodern culture for the sake of the gospel. How well they are doing this is yet to be seen. When postmodernism critiques the values of modernism and Christians get up in arms over it, this shows us a Christian culture that has become far too entrenched in a modernist worldview and has maybe lost sight of the church’s mission in this world. That being said, there are valid reasons why many reject postmodernism. Many Christian thinkers believe that a postmodern approach tends to surrender biblical authority, that in which we ground our beliefs and build our theology. Instead of a secure grounding in Scripture, the Word of God, the burden of theology will be placed upon various community interpretations. “That kind of subjectivity will greatly undercut the very doing of a normative evangelical theology. Ultimately, without the living God who discloses himself in an authoritative and reliable Word-revelation, theology loses both its identity and its integrity as a discipline and is set adrift, forever to be confused with sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and the like.”64 The worry is that if there is no foundation, theology cannot stand, and loses its very identity and purpose. It is this worry over the potential for subjectivity to weaken the strength of biblical theology that causes many Christians to reject postmodernism.
64 Wellum, “Postconservatism…” in Reclaiming the Center, 193.
Postmodernism’s call for a pluralism of truth makes many uncomfortable as well. Aside from the confusion of pluralism with relativism, it sores the ego to realize that one cannot have a claim to the totality of truth, and must rely on others to discern truth in our world. But I think that’s an important lesson for us to realize, and one that helps foster community. As Christians, we should not fully adopt a pluralistic theology, but must be able to embrace a measure of it in order to engage an increasingly pluralistic world. Take Paul, for example, in his evangelism to the philosophers at the Areopagus in Athens as recorded in Acts chapter 17. Surrounded by the idols of a pluralistic philosophical religion, Paul engaged them on their level, telling them of the unknown God that he preached. No matter what, we must always be ready and willing to engage with the culture around us for the sake of the gospel. Regardless of one’s feelings toward postmodernism, one has to admit that there is a great deal we can learn from it. The critique of modernity is something that we should no doubt pay attention to, especially when it points out our own flaws in regards to our relationship with modernity. One of the most important things postmodernism points out is the way modernism (and in many cases, the church) has exalted science and reason to the level of gods. For Christians, to do this is idolatry. Not that these are not important for living in our world, but they do not possess the totality of truth as they claim to do. We must be aware of our epistemology and how we do our theology and subsequently live our lives. Postmodernism suggests that we move away from this narrow epistemology and toward an epistemological holism—one that embraces all forms of knowledge and truth. To refuse this is to remain in ignorance. 36
Modern foundationalism leads us into historical critical methods of interpretation, ones that attempt to formulate the truth from the ground up, through exegesis, textual criticism, and the like. Certainly we need these methods, but they cause us to approach texts, especially Scripture, with skepticism—as if they are false until proven true. It is an attempt to understand in order to believe. Postmodernism takes a more Augustinian approach, in saying “I believe in order to understand.” This is the creedal stance for the believing reader as well as the proper epistemological sense for human beings in general.65 This involves an act of faith, but one that is necessary for true understanding. A postmodern worldview can actually be quite beneficial to the church, for it is one that collapses the dichotomy of secular and sacred, allowing for faith and theology to be acceptable modes of knowledge in society once again. If you are a Christian, the end of the modern world means the collapse of a secular creed, the creed that has dominated university and research centers. The end of the modern world means that Christianity is liberated from the narrow, constricting, asphyxiating stranglehold of the modern world.66 Whereas modernism has marginalized the ideas of Christianity as irrational and superstitious, postmodernism offers a re-legitimation of Christianity as a voice of truth in the world. It is a worldview that opens up new doors for understanding, and one that allows much more for our reliance on the Holy Spirit to speak to us through God’s Word. It produces a society in which people are asking deeper questions in search for meaning—questions outside the realm of science, providing a potentially fruitful mission field for evangelism, if we learn how to do it well in a postmodern culture.
65 Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in this Text?, 30. 66 Huffman, “Faith, Reason, and the Text,” 286 – footnote 16.
In the end, I believe postmodernism is something that the church cannot ignore and should not shrug off. We should embrace it as a philosophy that has a great deal to teach us, and within which Christianity can thrive once again. I am not suggesting that we strive to become a “postmodern church,” any more than we should strive to become a “modern church,” but rather that we simply be the Church and allow the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ be central to all that we say and do.