Postmodern Theology and the Theory of Deconstruction

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Postmodern Theology – Theory of Deconstruction

If God is dead, the belief that there is no ultimate reality or eternal truth becomes a philosophical necessity. A firm believer in this, Derrida concluded further that words and sentences have no inherent meaning. He insisted that human beings construct reality through their use of language. In other words, as you read this page, you will construct your own meaning shaped by your culture and life experiences. The author’s meaning is thus “deconstructed” or altered by the reader. In other words, the author’s meaning becomes captive to the reader. As Ward says, “Deconstruction is a [literary] method of reading which effectively turns texts against themselves.”1

For example, according to Derrida’s theory of deconstruction, the Bible is merely a book written by men who were locked in their own culture, experiences, and language. Thus, the Biblical authors were writing about their own subjective experiences, not communicating objective or eternal truths about God and humanity. Therefore, when someone reads the Bible today, he or she brings a personal interpretive grid to the text. The theory of deconstruction can thus be used to explain how some cultures can read the Bible and proceed to slaughter another race, while other cultures reading the same Bible build hospitals, schools, orphanages, and homeless shelters.

Postmodern Theology – “The Death of God” Theologians
Derrida’s theory of deconstruction influenced a group of theologians in 1960s England. Bishop John A.T. Robinson in his book Honest to God sought to explain what it meant to be a Christian in the Postmodern world. This group became known as the “Death of God” theologians. According to Graham Ward, these theologians2 saw “the potential of [Derrida’s] deconstruction for furthering their project of announcing the end of theology [the death of God].”3

The “death of God” theologians fastened onto Derrida’s idea that words refer only to other words in a textual setting and cannot be used to describe external realities such as God. They therefore claimed that God is not the Supreme Being who is literally “up there” in heaven somewhere, but instead we should think of God as being “out there” in a spiritual sense. God is “there” when we love another person, and this becomes the main Christian message. In this sense, the traditional concept of God ruling over His Creation is lifeless.4

Alister McGrath in The Twilight of Atheism speaks of the relationship between Postmodernism, atheism, and deconstruction. He says, “Many Postmodern writers are, after all, atheist (at least in the sense of not actively believing in God). The very idea of deconstruction seems to suggest that the idea of God ought to be eliminated from Western culture as a power play on the part of churches and others with vested interests in its survival.”5 Derrida also supposed that the Western powers, because of their belief in the existence of God, went off the edge toward violence. However, this notion is far off base. The three “isms” of the 20th century responsible for the slaughter of tens of millions6 (Communism, Nazism, and Fascism) were not exactly bastions of theism and Christianity. As a matter of fact, all three were grounded in atheism, evolution, and socialism—the very stuff of Postmodernism.

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 See Glen Ward’s Teaching Yourself Postmodernism (Chicago, IL: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 211.
2 Besides Robinson, other “death of God” theologians included William Hamilton, Thomas J. J. Altizer, Mark C. Taylor, Robert Scharlemann, Charles Winquist, Max Meyer, and Carl Raschke.
3 Graham Ward, “Deconstructive Theology.” Cited in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ed., Postmodern Theology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 76.
4 A good example of “Death of God theology” can found in Mark C. Taylor, “A Postmodern Theology,” in Cahoone, From Modernism to Postmodernism, 435–46.
5 Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2004), 227.
6 R. J. Rummel, Death By Government (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994).



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