A Look at Postmodernism—Part 7

Postmodernists believe in the “power and poverty” of language, and that leads to subjectivity. Again this is in clear refuation of the modernist belief that reason will reach an objective, verifiable truth.

But to avoid the modernist concept of the evolving Genius or Superman which leads to elitist individuality, the postmodernist sees the subjectivism of the community not of individuals: “Subjectivity for the postmodernist, then, is not individualiastic; it is corporate, reflecting a community’s model of truth”
(How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith, Crystal Downing, IVP, 2006).

While deconstruction acknowledges the existence of objective truth “our knowledge of those truths is always implicated by the models that shape our subject positions.”

Downing goes on to explain the concept of “situatedness” that causes a person to interpret what he sees from his own experience. Her example is what a 17th century New Yorker might have said about his city compared to what a 21st century observer would have said. The difference is in their situation.

And then this:

Christians need to think more earnestly about the cultural construction of knowledge, remembering that followers of Christ in one era used the Bible to “reasonably” argue [against women’s rights] while equally earnest disciples in the next used different verses to “reasonably” argue the opposite.
– p.154

Never mind that her New York City model is flawed because the city actually did change and any accurate reports should reflect those differences. Here’s the crux of the problem as it applies to looking at Scripture.

As I mentioned in a comment recently, some people USE the Bible—as if it was a catalogue of ideas they can rifle through, picking out the ones that support their own beliefs while ignoring or twisting the ones that might shed a different light on whatever the subject might be.

This was never God’s intention. His Word is His revelation of Himself, His work, His ways. We are to learn of Him and how He engaged with people throughout time, how He promised a Messiah and fulfilled that promise.

How Messiah disappointed the expectations of the people in His day because they were looking for a temporal conqueror to ease their lives, heal them, give them the power and independence they craved.

How instead, He came to yield up His life. To pay long term for those who would in turn yield back to Him.

In other words, the Bible is to inform our very lives. It is to color how we see the world.

That the Bible has been misused by people claiming the name of Jesus in no way changes the reality that it does reveal Truth. This is Unchanging Truth—it is about Immutable God. This is authoritative Truth—it is given by Sovereign God.

To infer that the problem is reason or language or the cultural construction of knowledge rather than the misuse of Scripture is missing the trees for the forest.

Published in: on September 12, 2006 at 10:32 am  Comments (4)  


  1. The picking and choosing thing of Biblical principles, verses, conduct, etc. appears to be a bone of contention amongst some of the writers protesting the restrictions of CBA. The argument stripped down gives the impression that those writers want the “privilege” to use the coarse language itself rather than implying or referring to the cussing or swearing of a character and to dissolve the limitations for graphics in sexual and/or violent occurrences, thereby trusting the writer to decide what is an accurate portryal or realism in his language.
    When the church wishes to change the dynamic of Scripture to “make” it culturally relevant, they’ve missed the point. Truth is always culturally relevant, always poignant, and cannot be improved upon by all of man’s wishful thinking and high-minded intellectualizing.


  2. Hmm. Your argument here makes sense to me! Like I’ve said in the comments below, the JWs really USE the Bible the way you describe, with terrible results.

    I think what Downing may be getting at (just to play devil’s advocate once again) is that different communities do have… traditions, or shared opinions when it comes to interpretation. Catholics read and interpret the Bible together in a way different from evangelicals, not to mention Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, etc. Lutherans tend to look for grace vs. law or faith vs. works, for instance. What I’ve noticed is that some communities are aware of their tradition and use it consciously, and others aren’t. The JWs claimed not to be using any tradition or opinion, just to be reading the Bible exactly as it was. Which was nonsense. They had their own presuppositions, and an evangelical who sat down to read the Bible with them would interpret it very differently. But both would claim to be reading the Bible straight.

    I’m not a big fan of deconstruction, but I think parts of it can be useful in pointing our presuppositions – the lenses we put on when interpreting Scripture.


  3. Nicole,

    “Truth is always culturally relevant.” Great line. I believe that with all my heart. Yet something that James, a self-defined fundamentalist, said in Brick by Brick was so helpful to me. He categorizes what we can glean from the Bible as commands, preferences, and convictions. Commands are for all of us and to break them is sin. Preferences are individual choices and differ from person to person. Choosing one or the other is not sin. Convictions also differ from person to person. Breaking my own conviction is sin but my breaking your is not.

    In CBA we have some readers who hold up their convictions as if they were commands. We also have some writers who hold up convictions as if they were preferences. This actually, on both sides, fits the “misuse” of Scripture, in my opinion. It also explains why some writers are arrogantly dismissive and why some readers are arrogantly judgmental.

    Something I haven’t said that needs to be clear is the importance of prayer as we read Scripture. We need to handle “accurately the word of truth,” (2 Tim. 2:15) and that isn’t something we can do alone.



  4. Elliot,

    This is such a good point, I decided to make my answer into a post. Hope that’s OK with you.



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