Postmodernism undercuts the very possibility of interpreting and applying the Bible. Throughout church history, followers of Christ have believed that the Bible is God’s Word—God’s revealed truth about Himself and His works in written form. Postmodernism destroys the concept of objective truth and undermines the interpretive process. The church needs vigilance to promote a high view of Scripture and to handle the Word of God correctly.
The hermeneutics of postmodernism are very diverse and difficult to understand.13 Written communication has three components: the author, the text, and the reader. As already noted, premodern and modern interpreters tried to uncover the intention of the author as expressed in the text. What is consistent in postmodern approaches of interpretation is that the author no longer controls the meaning of the text. Authorial intention is irrelevant in postmodern interpretation. Further, the text itself does not control meaning. The text is devoid of meaning altogether. In postmodern thinking, the reader not only controls the meaning but actually creates it. The text is merely an opportunity to explore the reader’s own perspectives. Vanhoozer explains: “Postmodernity is the triumph of situatedness—in race, gender, class—over detached objectivity… . Postmoderns typically think of interpretation as a political act, a means of colonizing and capturing texts and whole fields of discourse.”14
The autonomy of the reader is seen in the field of poststructuralism, for example. Poststructuralists see a text as a web of signs with infinite possible meanings—a playground for playing semantic games. Language is open-ended and detached from historical references. Another common postmodern approach is reader-response, as promoted by Stanley Fish.15 Fish argues that since it is impossible to recover the authorial intent, interpretive communities should read texts for their own benefit. So interpretive communities should legitimately read their own meanings into texts. Perhaps the most radical school of thought within postmodernism is deconstruction. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida, also known as the father of philosophic postmodernism, developed deconstruction to free the reader from philosophic restraints to find meaning.16 Following Friedrich Nietzsche, he attacked Western philosophy and especially traditional views on epistemology—the theory of knowledge and truth. In order to better grasp postmodernism, one must begin to wade into the quagmire of epistemology, metaphysics, and theories of truth.17 Adu-Gyamfi summarizes this well: “Postmodernism permits the reader unlimited freedom in reading, complete autonomy, the liberty or license to interpret the text without restraint. Once the text is empty of any objective content, it is open to any number of readings. So the postmodern reader, critical and creative, takes on an unprecedented significance by subjectively constructing meaning.”18
Postmodernism and Christianity
Postmodern theology is very diverse and varied.19 Many of its forms are extensions of liberal theology within a postmodern worldview. What postmodern theologians share is a rejection of any kind of universal metanarratives, or absolute truths. Consequently, they resist systematic approaches to theology and the Bible. For postmodern theologians, theological systems exclude and marginalize to make things fit the system, and therefore, repress ideas and other interpreters. Instead they use the Bible to affirm their own situation or cause.20 Interpreting the Bible is about contextualizing it for their respective context.