Monday, May 14, 2007

Interpretation is Today's World

In his book, "Is There a Meaning in this Text," Kevin Vanhoozer says that postmodernity is "a culture of interpretation." By this, he characterizes a major part of both the philosophy and methodology that is at the center of postmodern thinking. Everything is open to interpretation. And that is true. But does that mean that everything is open to endless speculation as to the meaning of what is being interpreted. Let's narrow our scope for now, to the interpretation of texts.

With the rise of "reader-oriented interpretation" of literature, where it is the reader herself that brings the meaning to the text, we have seen many people think that there are as many meanings of text as there are readers. Everyone has there own interpretation. Again, while that may be true, does that signify that the meaning of a text changes with the reader who reads it? This question is important to anyone of faith in Christ who approaches the Bible to learn of God and his ways.

Is is possible that, as Vanhoozer thinks, "meaning is independent of our attempts to interpret it?" I have always understood that, if "all scripture is God-breathed" as the Apostle Paul told his protegée Timothy, then the meaning lies with God who inspired the text. Our job is then to discover the meaning and not establish it. But in the postmodern way of thinking, "The purpose of interpretation is no longer to recover and relate a message from one who is other than ourselves, but precisely to evade a confrontation. The business of interpretation is busyness: constantly to produce readings in order to avoid having to respond to the text."(p. 16)

In some circles, this is what I hear being done with scripture today. Since, so the argument goes, there are many church traditions, and each has it's own interpretation of the scriptures, then each reading and interpretation is valid. So, if you come upon a section of scripture that you find uncomfortable or unpalatable, then you simply look for a church tradition or theologian or any private reader of the scripture who has something to say, and remark, "there are other interpretations." What Vanhoozer says seems to ring true, people appeal to a constant process of readings, re-readings and deconstructions, to "avoid having to respond to the text."

So if one doesn't like having to say that sin is one the roots of the human problem, don't worry, there's another interpretation. If you don't like the idea the people who don't live with God in this life won't live with God in the next life but will be in a hellish place where all evil is gathered together in one place, don't worry, there's another interpretation.

But, what if the meaning of the texts of the Bible have a transcendent nature to them, one that transcends all efforts we make to read into the text? What if God's message really is that we need to be saved from the evil that ensnares us and that pulls us to where there is "weeping and gnashing" of teeth. What if through God's love he did sent his son as a sacrifice of atonement for us so that we would not have to pay the penalty of sin? What if we really do need to respond to God's message before we die, so that when we are held accountable for our life on Earth by God, he will be able to forgive us based on that faith in God's message Jesus great act on a cross, and experience the completion of redemption that God promises to all who believe his message.

I believe that a limited use of deconstruction theory is quite helpful because it keeps going back to the text to see what it really means. But a deconstruction that arrives at an endless process of deconstruction with no solid reconstruction, leaves us with no Word of God respond to, to guide us and shape us. It seems that the Good News as is plainly read in Scripture, is a lot better than any attempts to deconstruct it into a something that is not reality and will not save us.

Vanhoozer says that "We need to examine the theory and practice of contemporary interpretation to see if it is "in the faith" for some readers contrive to deprive the Bible of it's authority through interpretation." Does the purpose of the current practice of interpretation as practiced by some, follow Soren Kierkegaard's cynical insight when he says, "Look more closely, and you will see that it [the practice of contemporary interpretation] is to defend itself against Gods Word."

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1 Comments:

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous YFCJD said...

Hey Paul:
Very insightful and very helpful.
Keep bending your mind to stuff like this.

Blessings.
JD

 

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