D.A. Carson on the Pros and Cons of the Postmodern Hermeneutic

I was finishing up D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies this afternoon (I’m writing this on 2.1.16); and I came across a section in which Carson evaluates what he calls “The New Hermeneutic.” It reminded me of another place in Carson’s writings where he tackles the same issue. And I decided these were worth sharing here.

I appreciate Carson’s even-handed approach, noting both the cons as well as the pros. I find this refreshing because, while there are obvious issues with the postmodern hermeneutic (or “The New Hermeneutic,” or deconstructionism, or whatever else you want to call it) that we, as evangelical Christians, should find troublesome when taken to an extreme, postmodernity is not all bad. (I mean, we’re a bit naive if we want to reject all that postmodernity has brought to our attention in favor of clinging to modernity as if its ideas were pristinely Christian!)

But I digress. Let me share the two excerpts.

None of us interprets anything from an entirely neutral stance. One would have to enjoy the attribute of omniscience to be entirely objective. Insofar as it reminds us that we are finite, and that our findings, at some level, must always be qualified by our limitations, postmodernism has been a salutary advance. It has been especially useful in checking the arrogance of modernist claims. The problem is that in the hands of many interpreters, postmodernism demands a nasty antithesis: either we claim we can know objective truth exhaustively, or we insist that our finitude means we cannot know objective truth and therefore cannot truly “know” reality. Since finite human beings can never know anything omnisciently, only the second alternative is defensible. In that case, all our “knowledge” is a social or a personal construct; the only “reality” we can know is the one we construct.

There is a sense, of course, in which this latter claim is transparently obvious: the only “reality” we can know is the one we construct. But the crucial issue is this: Can this “reality” that we ourselves “know” be tightly aligned with objective reality? In other words, even though we finite human beings can never enjoy omniscient knowledge, can we not legitimately claim to know some objective things truly, even if we do not know them perfectly, exhaustively?

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