I finished Kevin Vanhoozer's book Is There a Meaning in This Text? I made a note in the beginning of the book when I began it: late November 2012. Yes, it took me a while. That is because not only did I read slowly, but it was not an easy read. There were mornings when I read and concluded at the end of my time: Kim, you really are stupid. Sometimes, feeling stupid is good.
This book is one of the best books I have ever read. As the title suggests, it is a book which deals with a very big question. Some might think it is an unneccessary question, but it is very necessary because postmodern literary approaches influence how we read Scripture. To put it simply, postmodern literary theory does not teach that there is an objective meaning; the meaning lies within the judgment of the reader.
Vanhoozer spends the first part examining what the postmodern theorists say and how it affects the reading of Scripture, and then in the second half he presents his position. As I read, I was led to think of things I had perhaps not thought of before: what is meaning? what is understanding? what is knowledge? what is communication? how do we understand? what is the role of my context in reading? what is the difference between reading Scripture and other texts?
I've been reading for forty-three years; I've never really thought about some of these issues. When we ask "what does this mean?" we could be asking many different things. I think it's good to ask ourselves these questions at times. I learned a lot about my own misunderstanding of what meaning and knowledge are.
One thing I really liked about this book was Vanhoozer's regular call for humility. Reading any text requires humility. We are not capable of absolute knowledge as human beings. We won't get the most out of any book, especially Scripture, with an attitude devoid of humility. We do not stand over the text; we stand underneath it.
This was one of my favourite passages:
To follow the Word is to grow in understanding. Growth demands endurance, the prime requirement of the test of time. Understanding God's word is a vocation: a call to mission and discipleship. To follow this Word may become a matter of death; it certainly is a matter of life and living.
I love that: understanding God's word is a vocation.
This book also had lots of "footnote finds," and my Amazon wish list grew substantially.