Postmodernism--first part

XXX...wanted to get back to you on this (somewhat) and give some response and solicit some info from you...see my comments below in []..

First, I must say I'm impressed with your Think Tank.... Impressive and very much needed.

[thanks for the feedback and encouragement!]

Second, I noticed while reading your "slow-paced" argument for Faith, that you casually brush aside the issue you raise in #15, viz. the interpretation of the Bible.

Wouldn't you agree that the question of interpretation is a serious one, demanding our full attention--particularly at a time when various critical theory schools (post- structuralism, deconstruction, etc) are becoming more & more prominent & influential in the academic disciplines as well as 'everyday' public life?

The fact is that many non-Christians I know are reluctant to entertain Christian propositions precisely because of issues related to hermeneutics...traditional Christianity, past & present, has assumed an absolutist stance, reading the Bible with the implicit modernist belief that language is stable & neutral and that a text has one clear & intended meaning that can be grasped by all intelligent individuals who share the text's language.

[the question of hermeneutix is a question of starting points, to my way of thinking. In my original research interest in theological method, I quickly fell into the question of hermeneutics...and discovered the methodological questions related to language, semantics, and the cultural dimension.

There were a couple of hermen-issues that came up BEFORE the deconstructionist and/or postmodernist views of language became known to me...

  1. when we look at the NT as a reasonably accurate portrayal of the words of Christ, one sees that he SEEMED to understand the OT references to His life, words, works, mission etc. in a VERY stable, 'absolutist', fixed way...His arguments from single words in passages demonstrate this quite clearly (cf John 10:34; Mark 12:35ff)...

  2. In many of His OT references, He argued about the authorial INTENT of the original author (a total irrelevancy in postmodern thought--as I understand it): cf. Mt 9.13; 12.7; Luk 20:17; Mt 13.14 et. al.

  3. His OWN language (even parables) had a meaning He could explain:

    Mt 13.18:"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:

  4. Now, as soon as I use Jesus for the paradigm case, I am open to the criticism that I have begged the question. In other words, I have used a 'modernist' understanding of language (in my exegesis of the above NT passages) to demonstrate that Jesus held a similar view...a bit circular, one might say?

    But the response hits the very heart issue...the starting point of ALL LANGUAGE IS 'absolutist'--this is the point of my piece on self-stultifying arguments. In other words, it is nonsensical to use language to 'prove' that language has no fixed/stable/normative/controlling meaning...

    So, for Derrida to write a book arguing that books cannot have a determinative meaning, is less than weak--it is nonsensical altogether. He hasn't said anything in the process; it seems to be one gigantic Zen koan!

    We KNOW from psycholinguistics that we have to 'process' language at a literal level FIRST, to detect collocational clashes, that tip us off to 'higher' and/or metaphorical semantic levels in the text...our ENTIRE language processing apparatus is BUILT around the very structures that the deconstructionist argue cannot be there...(omitting for the moment their points about the politicization of the process and the oppressive marginalization of others produced thereby).

  5. I am convinced that the view that a text has a 'stable' meaning is NOT a "modernist" perspective at all, but one held too by ALL interpretive communities in historical continuity. In other words, Moses approached his materials in the same 'modernist' approach as did David and Solomon and Ezra and Jesus and Paul and Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas and Luther. They all struggled to get back to the 'original meaning' (even the Allegorists attempted this; very few held that the meanings they derived were NOT in the author's general conscious or mnemetic processes at the time of writing.)

  6. It is obvious that people have different responses to a text, in most cases differing because of background, educ. level, linguistic competency, etc. But if I understand a nursery rhyme to be the voice of God in Stygian Hieroglyphs or something, and I have an emotional experience therby, THIS IS NO WAY indicates that the 'text' of the nursery rhyme 'meant' something different to me!]

Postmodern theories, however, have practically if not theoretically thrown a monkey-wrench into the grinding wheels of modernism. And damnit, they often make a good case!

[This is where you might be of REAL service to me...might you summarize for me the 'good case they make'? I honestly would REALLY, REALLY appreciate it...I am NOT confident that the 3-5 hours of reading I have done in the area of 'postmodernism proper' reflects the true position, so some help from you would be GREATLY appreciated!]

Thanks for your consideration.]

It would seem to me, then, that if Christians are to effectively bring the gospel to the world, particularly the intellectual world, we have to address these issues that are so prominent in the secular intellectual arena.

[I would LOVE to, but the methodological problem virtually emasculates the effort--if their arguments cannot be taken as 'fixed' for analysis and response, how do we proceed? Do we out shame one other? Out metaphor one another? How does the response go forward?]

Just a thought....(perhaps I've not seen a page in which you deal with this!! :-])

[no, as I mentioned I have a small example in the Self-Reflexive piece on it, I think...]

[editors note--I AM starting to gather/research materials in this subject.]
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