The Impact Of Postmodern Thinking On Evangelical Hermeneutics -- By: Robertson Mcquilkin

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 40:1 (Mar 1997)
Article: The Impact Of Postmodern Thinking On Evangelical Hermeneutics
Author: Robertson Mcquilkin

The Impact Of Postmodern Thinking
On Evangelical Hermeneutics

Robertson Mcquilkin

Bradford Mullen*

Historically, evangelicals held that God communicated truth through men in such a way that it could be understood and serve as a divine guide for thought and life. This objective truth was expressed in statements that were to be believed and obeyed by all people. The Bible was given in historic contexts, so some of it, though true and to be believed, was limited in its intended audience for expected obedience, in which case the Bible itself would indicate its intended audience. If people followed reasonable guidelines for getting at the meaning intended by God and expressed in the text, they could understand objective, unchanging truth. Their understanding would bear an adequate and reliable correspondence with ultimate reality. Although Scripture is infallible, one’s interpretation of it is not infallible in every detail because understanding is limited by one’s preunderstanding, spiritual receptivity, level of intellectual acumen, mastery of and faithful adherence to the disciplines of hermeneutics (classically defined) and the amount of hard work invested in the effort.

Recently some evangelicals have said that the older optimism is naive and unwarranted, that we mortals could never be expected to get at the mind of God with accuracy through a written revelation. The best we can hope for is that the most learned and talented among us, at least, with great effort may be able to join successfully the two horizons of their own consciousness and the Biblical text and spiral upward toward closer approximations of truth, which, gratefully, we still believe exists. We are constantly reminded that the intent of the Bible authors, not to mention the intent of God, is forever out of reach because of the limitations of human language, the blinding effect of preunderstanding, and the cultural encapsulation of the text.

I. Understanding The Book

1. Postmodern thinking. Some trace this increasing uncertainty to the influence of postmodernism. But what is postmodernism? It is said by some to be the logical development of modernism toward ever greater relativity, not only in our perception of truth but also of reality itself. On this view

* Robertson McQuilkin is president emeritus of Columbia International University, 7435 Monticello Road, Columbia, SC 29230–3122. Bradford Mullen is associate professor of theology at Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions, a division of Columbia International University.

postmodernism would be the logical outcome of Enlightenment thinking, the final step of recognizing that me...

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