Posts in the category “Hermeneutics.”

November, 2007

Is There A Meaning in This Text

Kevin Vanhoozer

Posted Friday, November 02, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Hermeneutics   Comments: None
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Hermeneutics is a very important issue for us today in light of the rise of postmodernism. I got the feeling from the Christian attacks on modernism over the years that if modernism would just be shown to be false, then Christianity would be the victor. Instead, what we get is modernism dying and postmodernism rising to take its place, with Christianity still on the sidelines. How does the Christian respond to postmodernism? Is it good? Is it bad? Is it relevant? From what I hear, postmodernism is already passe in the French university system where it had its "point of birth". But I think that it is still alive and well here in the States and it has points to teach us. For the uninitiated, Vanhoozer's work is an excllent place to start. I've written a short review here, but clink the link to slog through a more detailed critique of the work.

 Vanhoozer divides the book into two: the first part is a study of modernism and postmodernism, while the second is a constructive study of how he thinks the author, the text and the reader should be viewed. If you want a helpful starting point for the thought of Derrida or the flaws of postmodern thinking, this is a good place to read. Here are just a few of the helpful thoughts from the book.

1. While Vanhoozer rejects postmodernism as a system, he accepts part of the postmodern critique, especially in the area of certainty. He says that Cartesian certainty is neither possible nor Christian. Hence, we should be more humble and tenative in our claims. But he says that while certainty is impossible, we can still be reasonably sure about claims to live by them.

2. He argues for a basic level of theological interpretation, in which one's theological beliefs affect one's reading of the text. The key point here is theism: whether one is a theist or not will dictate where you find meaning or if you think there is meaning at all. If you kill off God, you end up killing the human author of any work of literature and locate the meaning in the reader. He actually argues for a trinitarian reader, but I do not find myself as convinced of that, although that might just be due to my own inability of a reader of Vanhoozer's argument.

3. In contrast to the emphasis of Hirsch (and most of evangelicalism) on authorial intention, he places the focus on authorial action, a model that I think works better. This is built on the ideas of speech act theory. So we look not at what the author intended, trying to get behind the text and into the psychology of the author, but we look at the action of the author in what the author actually did.

Should you read this book? Well, it depends. It is the book about hermeneutics today. If you want to be a part of the discussion at all, you need to read it. Everyone quotes it and refers to it in some way when the topic is discussed. But, it is quite the book to get through. I only got through it on my second try and I had to read it for a class. It is dense writing and it is a big book. But it is so big because he takes his conversation partners so seriously.  

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