Approaches to and Images of Biblical Authority for the Postmodern Mind -- By: William J. Larkin

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 08:1 (NA 1998)
Article: Approaches to and Images of Biblical Authority for the Postmodern Mind
Author: William J. Larkin


Approaches to and Images of Biblical
Authority for the Postmodern Mind

William J. Larkin

Columbia Biblical Seminary And
Graduate School Of Missions, Columbia, S.C.

Biblical authority is unintelligible, if not inimical, to the postmodern mind. Deconstructive, analytical postmodernists are hostile to any “privileging” of a text. Playful postmoderns, many persons in the broader culture, though technologically sophisticated, live “surface” lives indifferent to authority, biblical or otherwise. Constructivist postmoderns promote “Scripture free” paradigms for constructive living. Through reflection on the Bible as “sword” and “grand mural,” “mirror” and “CD-ROM,” “light for the path” and “map for the journey,” this article seeks to commend Scripture to the postmodern mind of whatever stripe.

Key Words: postmodernism, biblical authority, deconstructionism, constructive postmodernism, stability of meaning

Biblical authority is central to the gospel, but to the postmodern mind unintelligible, if not inimical. When Jesus commissions the disciples in Luke he introduces the message they are to carry with an appeal to the authority of Scripture: “This is what is written” (Luke 24:46). When Paul summarizes his gospel he says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

For the postmodern mind there is, as Henry Giroux observes, “no tradition or story that can speak with authority and certainty for all of humanity.”1 According to Walter Anderson, to appeal to an ancient authority for guidance in contemporary problems “appears utterly ludicrous— [for example, like] trying to find instruction in the Bible for what to do about RU 486.”2 How may we commend

biblical authority to a postmodern who sees the Bible as, in the words of a Jean-François Lyotard fable, “the despotic deposit of the divine utterance”?3 Before we can think about how to respond we must consider in more detail the exact nature of the postmodern’s aversion to authority.

Amid the bewildering variety of postmodern expression we consider three streams: analytical or deconstructive, playful, and metaphoric or constructivist postmodernism. In the academy, deconstructive postmodernists practice a hermeneutic which so analyzes te...

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