I guess I’m not postmodern enough.
I struggle with the idea that the meaning of a story, text, play, poem, Scripture passage resides in ourselves and not in the author’s original intention, or in the context of the author’s original audience.
Take Margaret Wente’s article in the Globe and Mail about the re-imagining of the Robin Hood story. Now granted, Wente starts by skewering the new Russell Crowe Braveheart meets Gladiator take on Robin Hood:
What explains the enduring appeal of Robin Hood? I’m not talking about the new Russell Crowe movie, which in my view is a waste of time and $12.99. I’m talking about the Robin Hood of my childhood – a handsome outlaw-hero who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, and hung out in Sherwood Forest with his gang of Merrie Men.
She then talks about current trends in Robin Hood literary criticism:
In 1999, the world’s leading Robin Hood scholar, Stephen Knight, wrote a paper mischievously called “The Forest Queen.” (There are entire conferences devoted to Robin Hood.) Although the paper was actually about Maid Marian, it prompted a call from a curious reporter for the Times of London, who thought there might be a gay angle. Were those Merrie Men, he asked, even merrier than we think? The answer was maybe. As Mr. Knight tells it, “I gave my opinion that one of the political meanings of the story was to read Robin’s resistance to authority as being the resistance of the gay to the straight.”
Would Mr. Knight’s thesis been understood by the original author of the Robin Hood legend? By it’s original audience?
We do the same thing with Jesus. Jesus becomes a hippy-republican-pacificist-warrior-’manly man’-androgynous-revolutionary-libertarian guru, depending on how we “feel” about him. It’s not about the original audience. It’s not about the author’s original intention. It’s about us. We know best. We are the hermeneutical centre of everything.
As I gear up for my Gospels class with Dr. Olmstead next week, and I read some of the literature of scholars (see: Jesus Seminar) who know for sure that Jesus could not have said what he said, or did what he did, or meant what he meant, I can see why I tend to avoid studying Jesus. As bad as that sounds for a pastor and seminary student, it is true.
I don’t want to reduce Jesus to an historical person who didn’t actually do what he did. Nor do I want to impose my ideal image of Jesus on the Gospels when my ideal image is not what the Gospel writers envisioned as they wrote their accounts of the life of Jesus. But it means that I’ve kept the Jesus of the Gospels at a distance, afraid to come in contact with Him. I have kept him wholly-other, and I think I need a correcting vision of Jesus being indeed “God with Us.”
Thankfully, N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God has helped me immensely. He concludes the book with this:
We come to him as ones unknown, crawling back from the far country, where we had wasted our substance on riotous but ruinous historicism. But the swinehusks — the ‘assured results of modern criticism’ — reminded us of that knowledge which arrogance had all but obliterated, and we began the journey home. But when we approached…we found him running to us as one well known, whom we had spurned in the name of scholarship or even of faith, but who was still patiently waiting to be sought and found once more. And the ring on our finger and the shoes on our feet assure us that…we shall discover again and again not only who he is but who we ourselves are: as unknown and yet well known, as dying and behold we live. (pg 662)