It’s not often I’ll be able to offer a “How-To” guide for everyone. This post is for people who are living in this age of postmodernity and want to read the Bible in light of the general cultural climate. And, this is for people who are living in the age of postmodernity and don’t want to read the Bible in light of the general cultural climate. In other words, what follows below is the general approach you should follow if you’re fan of postmodern philosophy and want to harness its insights into your personal Bible reading. It is also the things you should not do if you don’t want to read the Bible like a postmodern.
Thanks to Eerdmans, I was sent a copy of All Roads Lead To The Text: Eight Methods of Inquiry Into The Bible and this is adapted from a chart in that book. As I said in my review, you’ve got a chance to win a copy for yourself. To give you more insights from this book, here’s how Dean Deppe suggests a postmodern would read the Bible (all quotes from 263-264). We’ll start with 3 presuppositions and then move out to how that would actually play itself out in practice.
View of Truth
First off, think of truth as relative. Since “truth only makes sense within a particular universe of meaning” there is therefore “no final and ultimate truth.” Truth is what you make it, or as Richard Rorty said once, “Truth is what your friends will let you get away with saying.”
View of Self
The relationship of reader to text is a symbiotic one, and each influences the reality of the other. You as the reader are not just a subject acting upon an object (the Bible) but are yourself an object acted upon by the text. Together, you can create new meanings and reality.
View of Language
All language is “a metaphor with a quasi-physical power,” and is no longer just a tool but master. However, you can be the master too. You use language to create meaning, but then that language may take on a life of its own beyond what you intended. You can write down your thoughts, but the person who reads them can take those words and put them to other ends.
Function of the Reader
As a reader, your context is important because you need to act “upon the text to create meaning for the contemporary situation.” And like most creative works, you’re most likely going to create a meaning in your own interpretive image. The result will meet your needs and reflect your values and ideas.
When it comes to reading Scripture specifically, the Bible is primarily literature (in an ahistorical sense) and should “function in helping readers create worlds of meaning for themselves intellectually and behaviorally.” The Bible then is a tool for your own agenda, whatever that might be. If it’s your best life now, then by all means create that world of meaning.
Given this view of the text, you might gather a similar creativity in authorship comes as well. “The reader collaborates with the text in producing a new work, so that the identity and circumstances of the original author are no longer important.” Historical context is not really that important to interpreting the Bible. What’s really important is your context.
Given all this, the goal of postmodern reading is “a contemporary meaning relevant to the reader.” While we want to read the Bible for application, this approach is all about pragmatics. If you read the Bible solely for practical application, congratulations, you’re reading like a postmodern.
In terms of interpreting the text itself, all you have to do is prove that way you’re reading the text is consistent with your interpretive community. Your community may be your church, it may be your small group Bible study or it may be yourself. As long as the interpretation you come up with is consistent with the community’s value system, then that’s a valid reading.
“Meaning must be created by the reader, resulting in a multiplicity of meanings.” So, if you have a small group Bible study, everyone can share what the passage means to them, and the everyone is basically right. I would suspect there are far more postmodern small group Bible studies going on than we think.
In short, reading the Bible like a postmodern is not hard. All you have to do is focus on yourself and recreated the Bible in your postmodern image. In our culture, I would almost imagine this is just the default setting. This isn’t to say there aren’t some insights to glean from a postmodern approach, but hopefully the above shows it is not something that you probably would want to use uncritically.
For more from Deppe’s book, read yesterday’s review, and remember to share it if you want an opportunity to get a free copy for yourself!