I’m working my way through a very good book: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer). So, I’m learning a whole lot more about this postmodern business. The essays are by some really smart people, and are on topics such as Anglo-American Postmodernity, Postliberal theology, Postmetaphysical theology, Deconstructive theology, Reconstructive theology, and Radical orthodoxy. It covers more topics than you can shake a post at. One of the great things about it is how it does not simply promote postmodern theology, but rather explores and critiques it, giving credit in some places and caution in others.
The essay I worked through this Saturday over a pastry and cup of joe was “Deconstructive Theology” by Graham Ward (a priest of the Church of England and professor of lots of philosophical and religious concepts that you and I would probably have a hard time understanding at the University of Manchester). He gives a history of deconstructive theology and hermeneutic concluding with his own appraisal of such methods. Discussing Jacques Derrida’s ideas, he notes that Derrida only became academically interested in theology when theologians began using his methods to interpret the scriptures.
Derrida’s approach to the text was nihilistic. It seems he believed that any given text was a platform upon which a reader constructs meaning. I think there is some truth in that, but I’m not entirely convinced. I grew up interpreting the Bible a certain way. I interpreted it the best way I could based on what I knew. When I went to seminary, I learned a lot and so interpreted the Bible differently based on my new-found theological education. I have more tools and knowledge of the text now. Some bothersome questions arise now: Can God speak to me more clearly through the Bible now that I have a theological education? If God uses the Bible to speak to me, can he speak to me better now that I’m “educated”? Are my interpretations of his message more legitimate now than they were in the past?
And here is my “ah-ha!” My engagement with the Bible is a divine interaction, and the Holy Spirit can and does use these readings to speak directly to me. When I read the text, in a way, I construct the meaning of that text and I expect that the Holy Spirit is involved in that process. It’s mysterious, and cannot be entirely measured or regulated. My education may give me the tools and skill to have a more critical reading of the Bible, but not necessarily a more devotional and thus a more meaningful reading of the Bible. I can now see the significance of Karl Barth’s approach to the Biblical text. A Bible laying on a desk is the Word of God. But an open Bible that I am reading to a church audience behaves differently. In which instance is the Word “living and active”?–while it sits on the desk or while I actively engage it? The Holy Spirit works in me while I read it. I may not always get it “right,” but I have faith that it will affect me positively.
Now, I still believe there must be regulation in reading. If the text is “God is Love” interpretations like “My cat is red” would be delusional, illogical, or dishonest. How does all of this work together–well…this is just an ‘ah ha!’ not a full exposition.