November 24, 2004

Is There MEANING in This TEXT?

     If you've read any books about hermeneutics in the last few years, you've probably encountered a fair ammount of philosophy. Philosophical systems influence the way we think, the way we measure, and the way we act. One of the most recent philosophical climes to work itself over to the biblical realm is postmodernism. The effects of postmodernism can be felt everywhere in our post-modern culture. The lack of absolute authorities, the breakdown of objective meaning, and the pluralistic attitudes to life, logic, and reality. D.A. Carson wrote a rather large tome on the current theological trends called, The Gagging of God. I would recomend it to anyone who is interested in postmodern hermeneutics. However, that book only deals with the problems, and really does not point a way out of the miasma.

However, Carson states about book by Kevin Vanhoozer:

What starts off as a contemporary hermeneutics to justify the move from the biblical text to systematic theology becomes a full-blown, highly sofisticated, theological hermeneutics. Vanhoozer is one of the few contemporary scholars who take a balanced measure of postmodern thought within an unflinching Christian confessionalism. Here you will find neither mere traditionalism nor faddishness. This book points the way forward-the Christian way forward- out of the contemporary hermeneutical morass.    

And Carson gives a fair appraisal of the importance of this book. This book shows the approaches of various postmodern interpreters, and demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of these apporaches. Then, he points the way forward with a call to persue Speech Act philosophy in our hermeneutical approaches. This is the breakthrough in pushing beyond mind numbing pluralism, and the death of the author.
      Vanhoozer gives a scholarly philosophical overdose to reader, which may well mean that the book would have to be read a few times. Vanhoozer calls biblical interpreters to hermeneutical humility; acknowledging the reality that all interpreters interpret with a systemic approach.
     Probably the most influential concept is the introduction of Speech Act philosophy into hermeneutics, and the differentiation between illocution, and perlocution. Illocution being the knowledge of the text, but perlocution being the author's intended result of the text. Kindof along the lines of significance and meaning. This gives a weight to truth beyond just propositions, but in action and reality. T.F. Torrence observes that is at the point where we feel ourselves most under attack from the Scripture (where our reason is most offended) that genuine interpretation can take place. For it is here "that we can let ourselves be told something which we cannot tell ourselves, and really learn something new which we cannot think up for ourselves." (Pg. 407)
     If you an interested in hermeneutics, especially in today's world, this book is something pivotal to understanding where post-modernists are going, and where biblical interpreters need to go. Overall, while i do not agree with all of the conclusions and the exact way that speech act should be implemented (a little too much Trinitarian emphasis), this book is a landmark by which to navigate out of the fog of subjectivism.

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