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Postmodern Influence

The Influence of Postmodernism, Part 1


Postmodernism is at the root of manyattacks on the authority of God’s Word today. Many people do not realize thatthey and their children are being quietly indoctrinated into postmodernphilosophies. While these ideas promise liberation and tolerance, they runentirely counter to Scripture and produce enslavement to the world and death.Deconstruction, the new historicism, feminism, queer theory, and gender theoryhave had a profound impact on how many Christians read the Bible, and theirinfluences can be seen in many churches, Christian colleges, and seminariestoday. Believers must not be taken in by hollow and deceptive philosophies.Rather, Christians must view every philosophy through the lens of Scripture.


George Orwell’s 1984, a novel about the dangers of totalitarian government,depicts a society dominated by a government that attempts to control the verythoughts of its people. One of the agencies in the novel, the Ministry ofTruth, publishes what is called “truth,” although the majority of theinformation that originates from the ministry is actually falsified history,meant to make the social situation look as good or bad as the governmentintends. “Truth” in the novel becomes an object that can be created anddestroyed, altered and reclaimed at will, depending on the current agenda. Anynotion of objectivity virtually disappears. 

Many people today attempt to drawcomparisons between the US government and George Orwell’s 1984, but there is a more compelling and legitimate comparison tobe made. For many years, I have been fascinated by the use of language andknowledge in 1984 as a method of control in Orwell’stotalitarian society. Words are powerful, and, as the adage goes, ideas haveconsequences. It matters what we call “truth.”

While the obvious replacement of truthwith lies in Orwell’s Ministry of Truth is a scary thought, what is trulyfrightening is the far more subtle approach the secular world has adopted indispensing with objective truth. Society has turned the notion of truth on itshead altogether, claiming that no one has a monopoly on it—therefore (almost)everyone’s “truth” is truth. Secularists and even some professing Christiansare attempting to redefine truth in more obvious ways than ever before.

Most people do not realize that theyand their children are being quietly indoctrinated into a philosophy that runsentirely counter to Scripture. In our schools, our colleges, even ourchurches—places which tend to resemble “Ministries of Truth” in surprisingways—this philosophy makes an empty promise of happiness through freedom fromall boundaries and authorities, convincing believers and unbelievers alike thatboundaries are simply the invention of authority figures who wish to “oppress”those with less power. This philosophy preaches “liberation,” “tolerance,” and“equality,” and calls all beliefs it considers to be in line with those values“truth.” In short, this philosophy is known as postmodernism, andit has been at the root of many attacks on the authority of God’s Word and theresulting decline of society.1

Spearheaded by our universities, therise of postmodern theories has given way to a denial of objective biblicaltruths—along with the ability to critique any truth claims—and the castigationof anyone who adheres to a biblical moral code. In this article series, I wantto examine some of the major theories to come out of postmodernism and how theyhave influenced not only secular ways of thinking but also biblicalinterpretation by many Christian leaders and in many Christian colleges andseminaries.

  Hollow and Deceptive Philosophy

As indicated above, at the heart ofpostmodernism is a war for the definition of truth andfor the authority to determine what is truth. It is important to note thatwhile the logical extreme of postmodern thought is a world with no governingsystem, no boundaries, and no ultimate truth, many postmodernists today,believers and unbelievers alike, are not advocating that type of a world. Theyhave a moral code (which typically consists of treating one another “nicely”),even though they are looking for freedom from biblical strictures on marriage,gender roles, and other issues.2 However, the subtle ways in which someChristians have adopted postmodern ideals do a great deal of harm. Thesebelievers have given up certain parts of the ultimate truth of Scripture.

As Christians, we should deriveultimate, objective truth from the Bible. Second Timothy 3:16–17says that Scripture is our authority:

All Scripture is given by inspirationof God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, forinstruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughlyequipped for every good work.

Without the Bible as the source of truth,believers leave themselves open to the influence of any philosophy the secularworld has to offer. Paul in Colossians warns believers against following afterany philosophy not firmly grounded in God’s Word:

Beware lest anyone cheat you throughphilosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according tothe basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.(Colossians 2:8)

If there were ever a set of philosophiesbased on the “principles of the world,” they are those under the umbrella ofpostmodernism. Postmodern ideas challenge virtually every truth of Scripture aswell as every route to confirming those truths. The advocates of postmodernismwill even go as far as denying the validity of history in their bid tooverthrow authority, because the realities history presents are often at oddswith the assertions of postmodernism.

R. Albert Mohler, president of SouthernBaptist Theological Seminary, offered an excellent summary of postmodernism:

Postmodernists reject both theseapproaches, arguing that neither revelation nor the scientific method is areliable source for truth. According to postmodern theory, truth is notobjective or absolute at all, nor can it be determined by any commonly acceptedmethod. Instead, postmodernists argue that truth is socially constructed,plural, and inaccessible to universal reason, which itself does not existanyway. As postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty asserts, “Truth is made ratherthan found.”3

In other words, truth is whatever thepostmodern adherent wants it to be. If postmodern philosophy is followed to itslogical conclusion, even two conflicting truths in many cases can be true atthe same time.

  What Will Be Covered?

What follows is a list of the theoriesthat seem to be affecting evangelical Christianity in highly profound waystoday. These will each be discussed in turn in separate articles with examplesof their natural outworking in the church. Because of how intertwined thefollowing theories are, it is very hard to adequately separate and describeeach of them. Readers should be aware that these categories and descriptionsare simplified for ease of reading.

Deconstruction has had perhaps the greatest influence on postmoderntheories and on social thought in general. The deconstructionist viewpointargues that binaries must be criticized and often overthrown. A binary is arelationship between two parts, where one of the parts is typically dominant orin authority over the other (e.g., employer/employee). An authorityrelationship implies “oppression” in some way, something the deconstructionistcannot stand. Deconstruction assumes an oppressive hierarchy among things in relationship.Dr. Mohler described the end goal of deconstructionists well when he wrote,“According to the postmodern interpretive grid, every text must bedeconstructed because every text contains a subtext of oppressive intentions onthe part of the author.”4

New historicism isdifferent from most postmodern theories because it will sometimes engage thepast and the cultural context of a text. However, the new historicist viewsevery text as an ideological statement and uses history selectively to makethat point. For the new historicist, history is not about names and dates—it isabout social agendas and marginalized groups. Those who advocate this viewargue that history can never truly be known, but at the same time they claim tohave discovered within texts and art the ideological issues a particularsociety was struggling with at any given period in time. The new historicistapproaches any work with the idea that it is somehow commenting on the supposed“oppressed” of society (e.g., women, homosexuals, and others), and so thescholars’ presuppositions drive their conclusions.

Feminism proposesto “liberate” women from their God-given roles as wives, mothers, and helpersto their husbands.5 Feminists in the secular worldcharacterize the Bible as oppressive to women, while evangelical feminists(i.e., professing Christians who believe feminist ideals are compatible withScripture) claim that the passages on male headship are simply misunderstood.

Queer theory, founded on deconstruction, deals with identity, particularlyin the context of sexuality and gender. Queer theory seeks, at its root, todeconstruct categories of sexual orientation, which it views as restrictive.Those who embrace queer theory look for examples of so-called homophobia andheterosexism in texts, history, and society. They argue that society should notlabel people as “heterosexual” or “homosexual,” because a person’s “sexualidentity” cannot be categorized. Some professing Christians have adopted amodel of queer theory in order to justify homosexual behavior, making the casethat Scripture’s emphasis is on a couple’s commitment and love for one anotherrather than any sexual misbehavior.

Gender theory, whichsometimes includes queer theory under its umbrella, also deals with identityand has challenged biblical definitions of masculinity and femininity. Thosewho look at the world through the lens of gender theory claim that society hasforced men and women into “social constructs” of gender; in other words, allsocial categories of what distinguish men and women from each other have nobasis in reality. Gender theory typically promotes an anarchic view of genderand sexuality; that is, everything from clothing to sexuality should be subjectto each individual’s experience. The idea of androgyny (meaning the combinationof masculine and feminine characteristics) plays a prominent role in gendertheory.

  True Freedom and Joy

As believers, we know that our singlehope for true joy lies in salvation through Jesus Christ. After warning theColossian believers against following worldly philosophies, Paul went on toremind them of the freedom found in the crucified and risen Christ, theauthority who cannot be overthrown:

For in Him dwells all the fullness ofthe Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of allprincipality and power. . . . And you, being dead in your trespasses and theuncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, havingforgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirementsthat was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of theway, having nailed it to the cross.(Colossians 2:9–1013–14)

In spite of the message of freedom thatthese and other postmodern theories carry, those who follow them willexperience only enslavement to sin and death. And as we will see in the comingarticles in this series, any believer who looks to postmodern ideals as asource of truth or happiness is fundamentally misguided.




1.     Andrew Fabich makes a compelling case for why the termpostmodern should be replaced with antimodern and neomodern, depending on thespecific philosophy. However, for the purposes of this series, postmodern willserve as a catch-all term for ease of reading. For more of Fabich’s argument,see “Time to Abandon Postmodernism,” Answers ResearchJournal 4 (2011): 171–183, Back

2.     Michael De Dora, the director of the Office of Public Policyat the Center for Inquiry and a professing atheist, provides an example of thesecular moral code: “Each human being has the duty and the obligation to treattheir fellow creatures as best and as nicely as possible.” Liz Essley, “Credo:Michael De Dora,” Washington Examiner, October 27,2012, Back

3.     R. Albert Mohler, “What Is Truth? Truth and ContemporaryCulture,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48,no. 1 (March 2005): 66. Back

4.     Ibid., 67. Back

5.     The term feminism in this series does not include most ofwhat is commonly known as “women’s suffrage,” or first-wave feminism. That is,this author is not challenging women’s right to vote or other opportunitiesprovided women during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second-wavefeminism, which began in the 1960s and ran until the 90s, and third-wavefeminism, which began in the 1990s, have both caused incredible damage to theinstitution of marriage, the family, and biblical gender roles. The third waveespecially has been driven by postmodern ideals.


    bySteve Golden, AiG–U.S.

Starting Points  (Part 2)

The philosophies of postmodernism are founded on three basic ideas: there is no ultimate truth; language is not extremely effective for communication, especially with time and cultural distance; and the meaning of words is determined primarily by the reader of the text. The effect that these principles have on biblical hermeneutics is to render them useless. Bible scholars can simply redefine words and choose the meaning they find most agreeable. Man’s word becomes the starting point for biblical interpretation.


Before diving in to the specific theories of postmodernism and their effects on how believers view the Bible and the world around them, it is important to have a grasp on exactly how these secular ideals subtly influence our thinking.1

Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University, and Bradford Mullen, a professor at Columbia Biblical Seminary, outline three key areas in which postmodernism has challenged biblical hermeneutics:

  1. Unchanging, ultimate truth does not exist.
  2. Language cannot accurately communicate through to another person’s mind, and with time and culture distance the attempt becomes ever more futile.
  3. The inadequacy of language is not necessarily bad because meaning is constituted of a combination of what is out there (objects and events, including the words of others) and what is in here (my own subjective sense). Though the words of others play a formative role, the controlling element is what I bring to the text.2 [emphasis added]

That first challenge relates to whether there is a standard of truth to which every thought and philosophy is held. Anyone who has spent time studying postmodernism has almost certainly heard the phrase, “Truth is relative.” This common self-contradictory phrase refers directly to that first challenge. Ultimate truth is also the very concept that deconstruction seeks to dethrone (deconstruction will be discussed in detail in part 3 of this series).

The second challenge is related to communication. Postmodernism often comes down to a game of words—that words do not mean what they clearly do, or that our culture simply cannot understand them the way an ancient culture could. Admittedly, our understanding of any text is furthered by an understanding of the culture in and for which it was written. That is why it is so important to know the historical and cultural background of the text one is studying.

However, it is now common to hear Bible scholars carry such a view too far, claiming, “Well, that culture would not have understood these concepts, so we must learn how they thought and not impose our own, more developed thinking on them.” The obvious problem with this argument in relation to Scripture is that it assumes most other cultures and times are less intelligent than the present one. In this case, these scholars have fallen prey to the faulty notion that time inherently equals progress. There are, of course, many variations on the idea of cultural distance, depending on the person making the claim.

Furthermore, some Bible scholars are especially guilty of assuming that God could not communicate a literal, timeless truth to man, that He was somehow bound by cultural understanding. This runs counter to the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture is, by God’s intention, understandable in all times.

The final challenge concerns meaning in general. Can man find an ultimate meaning outside himself in what he reads and sees? While the believer can confidently answer “yes” based on God’s Word, the person who views the world through the lens of postmodernism would be constrained to say no.

Unfortunately, the mindset that claims that the text has little or no meaning itself, but that it is the person who brings the meaning, has pervaded our churches, too. How many times has the question been asked in a Bible study, “What does this Bible verse mean to you?” The practice of collecting each participant’s ideas on a Bible verse while avoiding dealing directly with what the verse says outside of one’s own subjective sense is often a pooling of ignorance and is directly in line with postmodern ideas.3

Man-Centered Theology

What is at the heart of these postmodern views that invade our thinking, arguing for a different “truth” than what the Bible teaches? A man-centered theology. Just as Adam and Eve in their bid for autonomy chose to disbelieve God’s Word and disobey His commands, so we too cast aside the more “disagreeable” parts of the Bible and live as though we know better.

At Answers in Genesis (AiG), we often say that in this battle with the culture, it is God’s Word versus man’s word. We would say that postmodern ideas are the fruit of a secular worldview, which makes it all the more egregious that professing Christians, whether they realize it or not, are adopting these ideas. For instance, one of the many areas scholars attack is the meaning of the word literal. The definition of the word literal is, “adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression.”4 At AiG, we accept that definition ofliteral; and in relation to hermeneutics, we would say that we take the text “naturally.” The Bible should be read and understood according to the appropriate principles for the genre of the passage.5

BioLogos, an organization that actively promotes “the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith,” often engages in a type of postmodern thinking when they insist that a young-earth creationist understanding of Genesis is too literal. Greg Boyd, senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota, explains in a BioLogos video the “dangers of an ultra-literal perspective.”6 Using a couple of fallacious examples, Boyd attempts to make a case against an “all or nothing” approach to reading the Bible literally:

The reality is that no one really takes all of the Bible literally. They might say they do, but they don't. They don't believe that the earth is held up by pillars—the Bible says that—or that it is surrounded by a bunch of water.6

Of course, Boyd has merely created a straw man to knock down. That is, in an effort to dispense with the word literal, he painted an inaccurate picture of biblical creationists as people who cannot distinguish between metaphor and history. And that is really what it comes down to for BioLogos. The word literal, with its accepted definition, constrains them to read Genesis as though it is historical. Whereas, if they were able to alter the definition of that word, they could argue for a reading that is mythical and promote evolutionary ideas as the best understanding of the universe’s origin. Whether or not Boyd would identify as postmodern, he is actively engaged in the game of distorting biblical truth (and misrepresenting those who disagree with him) to push his agenda.

Postmodern Language Games

Scholars through the redefinition of words often promote distortions of biblical truth. Indeed, N.T. Wright, in another BioLogos video, plays with the meaning of the word literal. Like Boyd, Wright may not identify as postmodern, but his academic arguments show the clear influence of these ideas.

Wright first claims that young-earth creationists who take a literal reading of Scripture are forced also to view parables as historical events.7 His assertion is clearly absurd, as he either doubts the abilities of readers to distinguish between genres for themselves, or he has carried the definition of literal to an extreme that no reasonable person ever would. Finally, he redefinesliteral outright, saying that he is more concerned with how the writer of Genesis intended it to be understood, rather than with what the words in the text clearly say. By itself, the desire to understand the author’s intended meaning is not wrong. However, when this is juxtaposed against what the words of Genesis clearly state, Wright is essentially claiming that the writer was not able to properly communicate with us, leaving it up to us to determine the meaning.

Wright’s argument demonstrates two major postmodern influences: first, following his logic to its conclusion, the meaning of words becomes totally unreliable; and second, if readers are to dismiss the meaning of words and instead look for a supposed overarching theme that the author “intended” to communicate to that particular culture, the range of possible themes widens greatly because present-day readers are no longer connected with ancient Israel or the personal thought process of Moses. The assumption with cultural distance is that the culture’s understanding had to be far different from ours today; thus, readers cannot interpret Genesis 1–11 as actual history, either because ancient Israel supposedly would not have, or even if they did, it was because they did not have access to the science (i.e. evolutionary ideas) society does today.8

Of course, nowhere in Wright’s argument does he make a solid case for why Genesis 1–11 should not be read as historical narrative. Rather, he reduces the meaning of a word to something completely dependent on the person using it (see 2 and 3 of McQuilkin and Mullen’s list above) and then sums up Genesis 1 as a strictly theological “story” likely written in “bits and pieces” by many people. Wright has brought evolution to the text, and made it the hinge on which the creation account is to be interpreted.9

Wright’s assertions beg the question, if readers cannot trust the word literal to mean exactly that, what can they trust when it comes to words, especially those on the pages of Scripture? Is God not capable of communicating a timeless message to a people whose ability to use language came from Him? To paraphrase a friend on the absurdity of the postmodern word game,literal may as well mean “pancakes,” if that is how the hearer chooses to understand it.

While Boyd and Wright are scholars in their fields, what they are engaging in here is not honest scholarship. Unwittingly or not, they have allowed postmodern ideas on language and time to become part of their hermeneutic. Their thoughts on Genesis do not serve to further our understanding of God’s Word; rather, these arguments simply reposition portions of Scripture into a place where meaning is fluid and man’s changing ideas can hold a place of prominence. As a result, the clear words of Genesis, words that were intended to be taken literally (in the genre of historical narrative), are made out to be nothing more than a dusty story with some compelling theology behind it.


  1. As noted in the introductory article to this series, Andrew Fabich makes a compelling case for why the term postmodern should be replaced with antimodern and neomodern,depending on the specific philosophy. However, for the purposes of this series, postmodernwill serve as a catch-all term for ease of reading. For more of Fabich’s argument, see “Time to Abandon Postmodernism: Living a New Way,” Answers Research Journal 4 (2011): 171–183, Back
  2. Robertson McQuilkin and Bradford Mullen, “The Impact of Postmodern Thinking on Evangelical Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40, no. 1 (1997): 69–82. Back
  3. Of course, in the arena of application, we might ask, “How does this passage apply to us?” That question requires us to deal with the content of the passage and is the appropriate and expected conclusion of any study of Scripture. Back
  4. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, s.v. “Literal,”
  5. In hermeneutics, this is known as the historical-grammatical approach. For more on the historical-grammatical approach to scriptural interpretation, see Tim Chaffey, “How Should We Interpret the Bible, Part 1: Principles for Understanding God’s Word,” Answers in Genesis, and “How Should We Interpret the Bible, Part 2: Is Genesis 1–11 Historical Narrative?” Back
  6. Greg Boyd, “Dangers of an Ultra-Literal Perspective,” BioLogos, Back (1) Back (2)
  7. N.T. Wright, “What Do You Mean by ‘Literal’?” BioLogos,
  8. N. T. Wright argues that ancient Israel would have understood Genesis 1–3 to be a greater metaphor for their own history of turning from God and being exiled. For more, see “Genesis with N. T. Wright,” BioLogos, Back
  9. The inconsistencies in Wright’s view of Genesis are highlighted in another BioLogos interview, where he explains the distinctions between parables and history. He then performs a leap in logic to say that while he affirms that God created in some way, he wants the “whole investment of the theological stuff” (the implication being that it’s lost when readers focus on taking the creation account literally). For more, see “Understanding Ancient Texts with N.T. Wright,” BioLogos, 

Deconstruction - (Part 3)


Jacques Derrida’s philosophy of deconstruction has become the foundation of many postmodern ideas today. Deconstruction centers on the idea that texts contain oppositional relationships, where one part is dominant over and entirely different than another (e.g., male/female). It is the deconstructionist’s goal to examine those binary oppositions and overthrow them. However, this philosophy is nothing new; elements of it are found even in the account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Deconstruction has found its way into the thinking of many Bible scholars and Christian leaders today.


The unbelieving world continues to advance its agenda using academia as a platform. In this series, the influence that various postmodern philosophies have had on many churches, Christian colleges, and seminaries is being fleshed out and discussed. Biblical hermeneutics especially has been negatively affected by postmodernism, as a plain reading of Scripture is challenged regularly by some leading Bible scholars using postmodern principles of understanding the text. Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University, and Bradford Mullen, a professor at Columbia Biblical Seminary, summed up the result of postmodernism when taken to its logical extreme—and it should be alarming to us all:

The result is radical relativism. The role of the interpreter, the knowing subject, is being redefined not merely for how meaning is to be understood and communicated but actually for how the interpreter participates in the creation of meaning and even, for some, the creation of whatever reality there is. . . . Added to these complications is the fact that postmodernism, as most describe it, is an antiphilosophy, radically relativistic, holding no creed and espousing no particular methodology.1

As mentioned in the earlier articles in this series, those who espouse a postmodern worldview are not seeking to establish a world free from all morality. In a recent interview, Michael De Dora, the director of the Office of Public Policy at the Center for Inquiry and a professing atheist, said, “Each human being has the duty and the obligation to treat their fellow creatures as best and as nicely as possible.”2 De Dora, logically, should not be able to claim that humans have any “duty” to be even the least bit moral, because his worldview technically does not account for any type of absolute morality. However, he and others who do not share a biblical worldview still hold to some sort of moral code (further evidence of how God has revealed Himself to us per Romans 1).

McQuilkin and Mullen’s statement that postmodernism has “no particular methodology,” in the formal sense, is true. Deconstruction, the theory this article is examining, does not claim to be a methodology. However, the thought behind many of the theories and ideas in postmodernism centers on a specific theme: injustice. But it is not “injustice” based on scriptural moral codes; rather, the injustice is defined purely by what society and individuals in that society see as just or unjust. Literally, man is left to create, or “construct,” the meaning of justice.

How is this carried out? In the process of interpreting Scripture, those who espouse a postmodern view often read Scripture not to discover what it says, but to either point out the injustices present (as a reason why the Bible should not be trusted) and/or to make the Bible stand for something it does not (often to justify a sinful behavior). Whether or not that was ever the goal of deconstruction, what this theory did was set the stage for the serious questioning of morality, gender roles, and authority in Scripture.

Deconstruction: Another Manifestation of Man’s Rebellion

Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) was the founder of deconstruction. Derrida was born in Algeria and studied philosophy in Paris. He introduced his philosophy in three books, all published in 1967:Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena, and Of Grammatology. It is in these works that he uses the word “deconstruction,” and it remains today as a description of his philosophy.3

Like any philosophy, Derridean deconstruction is complex and nuanced, far too much to give it a full treatment here. However, deconstruction was the basis of some later theories, particularly gender theory, which makes it worth examining. Deconstruction primarily looks at relationships between opposing words or ideas, highlights the injustices present, and attempts to “overturn” them. Derrida presents some exceptions to this rule of overturning authority structures, particularly in the area of justice.4 Following that, deconstruction criticizes those relationships and examines their differences. The concept of “difference” (différance, as Derrida wrote) is very important in deconstruction.

Derrida’s explanation of “the principle of difference” may be confusing to those unfamiliar with his terminology, so I will explain it below. He wrote the following:

This principle compels us not only not to privilege one substance—here the phonic, so called temporal, substance—while excluding another—for example, the graphic, so called spatial, substance—but even to consider every process of signification as a formal play of difference. That is, of traces.5

While Derrida was originally dealing with language in this passage, he has highlighted a common topic in postmodern works: the tendency of man to privilege one person/trait/position to the detriment or exclusion of another. Some theorists propose that the thing excluded is “Other”; that is, those doing the excluding somehow fear that thing or have a strong desire for power and want to subordinate the Other. A classic example of this is seen when the term homophobic is applied to all those who state that homosexual behavior is sinful.

The primary goal of deconstruction is to examine binary oppositions (i.e., a relationship between two parts that are opposite in meaning) and contrast their differences. These terms are typically considered mutually exclusive (e.g., man and woman) and in the Western mindset, there is often an authority relationship associated with them.

The deconstructionist will look at a binary opposition, such as husband and wife, and see not a biblically ordained relationship between coequals with certain assigned roles and responsibilities, but rather a situation where one person (e.g., the wife) is being “subordinated” by another (e.g., the husband) because one truth (e.g., Scripture) is being held up in authority over all other claims. Since this appears to be an injustice to the deconstructionist, he would seek to “deconstruct” that binary, which would likely consist of redefining the categories and terms surrounding the marriage relationship, leading to a “liberation” of women from the supposed shackles of biblical authority.

While the above example is admittedly simplistic, it well demonstrates where theorists have taken postmodern thought. Everything comes down to social structures and who is being oppressed. Scholars can take the idea of deconstruction and dress it up with technical terms and definitions, but it still looks all too familiar. In fact, there are even elements of the thinking behind deconstruction present in the account of the Fall.

The Biblical Viewpoint on Deconstruction

Scripture tells us that man’s natural bent is toward sin and deceit—he is rebellious in his very nature:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their choice resulted in sin, death, disease, and suffering coming into the world. A natural consequence of that was a darkening of the mind, so that man does evil more readily than he does good.

Scripture presents some binary oppositions that cannot be deconstructed without consequence. In the Genesis account alone, there are at least three binary oppositions: God/man, good/evil, and male/female. Would deconstruction challenge these? Absolutely.

Moving from the last to the first, the male/female binary is challenged through feminist, queer, and gender theories on a regular basis in both secular and Christian institutions. Egalitarian Bible scholars like Gilbert Bilezikian reinterpret the plain meaning of Scripture regularly in an effort to find support for their view that there is no distinction between men and women when it comes to gender roles. Furthermore, organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality (C.B.E.) play the postmodern language game by branding their egalitarian ideas as “biblical equality,” thus implying that the conservative Christian perspective (called complementarianism) is inherently unequal and unjust.6 (These arguments will be discussed in more detail in a forthcoming article.)

Secondly, man in his sinfulness has been pushing the boundaries on good and evil since the Fall. In fact, Scripture comments on the danger of embracing evil over good:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

Deconstruction’s subtle influence on society’s thinking can be seen in the acceptance of homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage, particularly in the church. Some Christian leaders are either ambiguous about whether homosexual behavior is sinful, or they support homosexuality outright.

For instance, Brian McLaren, a former pastor and a self-proclaimed “public theologian,” recently affirmed his son’s “marriage” to his same-sex partner and even performed a “commitment ceremony” between them.7 When he was interviewed about his son’s homosexuality, McLaren explained how he came to see homosexual behavior as acceptable:

I was a good kid, I believed what I'd been told. And as a pastor, I started having gay people come out to me and what became clearer and clearer to me is that their experience was not explained by the theology I inherited. . . . And that it would be unjust to continue to uphold what I'd been taught. Maybe I could say it like this: My call to love God and love my neighbor was in conflict with what I'd been taught the Bible required me to say and do.7

Additionally, McLaren has published a number of writings on homosexuality, but the following quote (written in response to a home schooling mother) from his website is telling:

I think that both gay and straight folks have two moral options—celibacy and fidelity in the context of a committed relationship. (I'd call it marriage, but others would rather not call it that for gay folks.) . . . I'd make sure to welcome gay folks in our home so our kids can get to know them as family friends. I'd tell them how some people tease and make fun of gay people, and I'd urge them always to stand up for people who get teased . . . because God loves everyone and wants everyone to be safe and respected.8

Sadly, McLaren does identify himself as a postmodernist, and his response above fits well within the postmodern worldview. He does not take the words of Scripture literally when homosexual behavior is condemned; rather, he redefines the biblical definition of love. First Corinthians 13:5tells us that love “does not seek its own,” meaning that those who are truly loving seek the best for others. McLaren’s embrace of homosexual behavior, however, is the exact opposite of the biblical definition of love.

Encouraging others to continue in sin is not seeking the best for them; rather, it is a hateful and neglectful disposition toward one’s neighbor. For example, imagine that your neighbor’s house is on fire. Would you alert him to it? Or would you refuse to tell him, claiming that it would not be loving because it might hurt his feelings or upset him? So it is with McLaren’s view of homosexuality. Believers have a responsibility to kindly speak truth into the lives of others. McLaren's refusal to speak the truth about homosexual behavior is unloving and unhelpful to those lost in that lifestyle

McLaren, like numerous others in the church, has constructed a new meaning for love, one that fits better with his own view of what is just and unjust. Operating on that definition, he has deconstructed the biblical definition of good and evil and exchanged the truth for a lie.

Finally, the God/man relationship was challenged in the Garden of Eden. God is not man, and man is not God; and insofar as authority is concerned, without God, man does not exist. Satan, however, as the serpent in the Garden of Eden, challenged this relationship:

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

After leveling that first criticism of the God/man relationship, the serpent continues, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Essentially, the serpent has promised that Eve could cross that boundary and become “like God.” The serpent performed the first deconstruction in the garden, Adam and Eve disobeyed God in a bid for autonomy, and the consequences are still felt today.

In our culture, the authority of God’s Word continues to be eroded as people exchange good for evil and light for dark. The impact of worldly philosophies such as Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction is felt even now as new ideas are presented, founded not on the Bible, but on deconstruction, relativism, and atheism. Undoubtedly, Derrida was a highly intelligent and gifted man, but his contribution to philosophy has been utilized to oppose the clear teachings of Scripture. The similarities between Satan’s attack on God’s authority and the deconstructionist critique of the Bible’s authority today are uncanny.

When deconstruction enters the arena of biblical interpretation, the plain meaning of Scripture is easily lost. As believers, our foundation when examining any philosophical system must be the ultimate truth found in the pages of God’s Word. The Creator has revealed Himself through Scripture—and Christians have a responsibility to stand against that slippery slope of doubting any part of what God has said.

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  1. Robertson McQuilkin and Bradford Mullen, “The Impact of Postmodern Thinking on Evangelical Hermeneutics,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40, no. 1 (1997): 69–82. David Noebel, founder of Summit Ministries (which specializes in worldviews and apologetics), writes, “Such is the essence of mainstream Postmodernism—a worldview that claims there are no worldviews. We like to think of it as an ‘anti-worldview’ worldview.”Understanding the Times, 2nd ed. (Manitou Springs, Colorado: Summit Press, 2006), p. 28.Back
  2. Liz Essley, “Credo: Michael De Dora,” Washington Examiner, Back
  3. For a full biography of Jacques Derrida and a detailed explanation of his views, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Jacques Derrida,”
  4. Derrida’s exception related to justice, however, is riddled with logical problems. Jack Balkin maps out the contradiction, writing, “Derrida insisted simultaneously that (1) justice is impossible; (2) justice is not deconstructible, (3) law is deconstructible; (4) the undeconstructibility of justice and the deconstructibility of law ensure the possibility of deconstruction; and (5) deconstruction is justice. Taken together, these statements yield a contradiction.” For more, see “Being Just with Deconstruction,” Social and Legal Studies393 (1994), Back
  5. Jacques Derrida, “Semiology and Grammatology: Interview with Julia Kristeva,” Positions(London: Continuum, 2004), p. 23. Back
  6. For a more detailed explanation of the complementarian view of male and female roles, see Steve Golden, “Feedback: Is Male Headship a “Curse”?” Answers in Genesis, Back
  7. Audrey Barrack, “Brian McLaren’s Son Marries Same-Sex Partner,” Christian Post, Back (1) Back (2)
  8. Brian McLaren, “Q & R: Gay and Christian?” 

NewHistoricism – (Part 4)


Can we trust historical “facts,” atleast as we understand them? That’s the question dealt with by the school ofthought known as the new historicism. The new historicism professes to be ableto reconstruct a more accurate past that includes whatever or whomever wasbeing repressed in the histories on the books today. This idea is concernedwith those supposedly “marginalized” groups. While new historicists and thosewho hold to similar ideals may have a passion for those they consider to bemarginalized, sadly, sin has marred what man views as worthy of protecting andjustifying. Believers must look to Scripture to discover what is worthy ofprotection in this world.


The new historicism arose in the 1980s, and the term itself tendsto be an umbrella category for a couple of theories, including one known ascultural materialism. Both the new historicism and cultural materialism cameabout at the same time, and the work of critics in both fields examines issuesof race, class, gender, and sexuality, the ways in which institutions thatwield power (e.g., the church, the monarchy, and so on) enforced certainideologies on society, and how those influences affect our reading of a texttoday. For the purposes of this article, the termnew historicism will be used to represent both schools of thought.

The new historicism is different from most postmodern theoriesbecause it will engage the past and the cultural context of a text. However,the way these critics treat history should give pause to anyone placing theirtrust in a new historicist’s analysis. Bedford/St. Martin’s, a popular collegetextbook publisher, explains how the new historicists approach history:

They are less fact- and event-oriented than historical criticsused to be, perhaps because they have come to wonder whether the truth aboutwhat really happened can ever be purely or objectively known. They are lesslikely to see history as linear and progressive, as something developing towardthe present, and they are also less likely to think of it in terms of specificeras, each with a definite, persistent, and consistent zeitgeist (spirit of thetimes). Hence they are unlikely to suggest that a literary text has a single oreasily identifiable historical context.1

In essence, the new historicist mistrusts history—at least as mostreaders today know it. And their mistrust stems primarily from the view thatsociety today has been “conditioned” to believe certain things were so inparticular time periods: “New historicists remind us that it is treacherous toreconstruct the past as it really was—rather than as we have been conditioned byour own place and time to believe that it was.”2 The newhistoricism professes to be able to reconstruct a more accurate past thatincludes whatever or whomever was being repressed in the histories on the bookstoday.

MichelFoucault’s Tormented Life

A major figure in postmodernism is the French philosopher andhistorian, Michel Foucault (1926–1984). Having attended university at a timewhen French philosophy was considered to be at its height, Foucault’s thoughtswere greatly influenced by major figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche. Later,Foucault’s ideas would have a major influence on the development of the newhistoricism. Foucault grew up in France and studied philosophy during hisuniversity years, ultimately studying for a doctorate in the philosophy ofpsychology.3

Foucault, however, lived a tormented life. Dr. John Coffey, alecturer in history at Leicester University, England, summarizes Foucault’slife:

In 1948 Michel Foucault attempted to commit suicide. He was at thetime a student at the elite Parisian university, the École Normale. . . .Foucault appeared to be racked with guilt over his frequent nocturnal visits tothe illegal gay bars of the French capital. His father, a strict disciplinarianwho had previously sent his son to the most regimented Catholic school he couldfind, arranged for him to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.Yet Foucault remained obsessed with death, joked about hanging himself and madefurther attempts to end his own life. This youthful experience of himself ashomosexual, suicidal and mentally disturbed proved decisive for Foucault’sintellectual development. The subject matter of many of his later books arosefrom his own experience . . . Foucault’sintellectual career was to be a lifelong crusade on behalf of those whomsociety labelled, marginalised, incarcerated and suppressed. [emphasis added]

The parallels between Foucault’s “crusade” and what the newhistoricism seeks to do will be fleshed out below. But first, it is worthmentioning Foucault’s end.

In June of 1984, Foucault succumbed to AIDS. Dr. Coffey concludes,“By throwing himself with reckless abandon into the bathhouse scene when thespectre of AIDS was becoming clear, therefore, Foucault may have been trying toachieve a fitting climax to his life, one which fused his great obsessions:madness, perversion, torture and death.”3 In otherwords, it is very likely that Foucault actually desired to contract AIDS andintentionally placed himself in a situation where he would, all to fulfill adepraved sense of what makes life meaningful. Foucault was a man without Christand therefore without hope.

Foucaultand the New Historicism

While Foucault’s influences and personal choices were unfortunate,the primary influence on the new historicism is not much better. The newhistoricism owes a great deal to Marxist thought. Marxism is a system ofpolitical thought concerned primarily with economics and class relations. Whenimplemented, it leads to socialism and eventually, by Karl Marx’s ownadmission, to communism. While Marxist ideas have failed time and again whenput into practice, the school of Marxist literary theory lives on in Englishdepartments across the United States.

In reading literature and history, Marxist theory focuses oneconomics and social class, and how those elements affect the balance of powerin a text. Like Marxist theory, the new historicism also focuses on theexercise of power. However, new historicist critics prefer to examine socialissues, marginalized groups, and institutions that wielded power (e.g., thechurch) in the time period.

This is where Foucault’s ideas come into play. In his book Discipline and Punish, Foucault argues that,contrary to what many people think, the replacement of torture and publicexecution with modern prisons is anything but positive. Dr. Coffey sums it upthis way:

The modern prison, [Foucault] suggested, does not simply work onpeople’s bodies; it attempts to control their minds. Prisoners are categorisedby experts, placed under surveillance, scrutinised and manipulated.Furthermore, he argued, the prison is a microcosm of modern society; we are allunder surveillance, labelled and pigeon-holed by bureaucracies, and locked awayif we are found to be deviant or abnormal.3

Foucault was especially critical of a building design known as thePanopticon. Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century created the Panopticon as a wayof keeping order in schools, prisons, and other institutions. Bentham designeda prison for the English government based on the Panopticon whereby a guardcould watch all the prisoners being held there without the prisoners knowingwhether they were being watched at that moment or not. He was, however,unsuccessful in completing the project.

The prison, had it ever been built, would have been circular. Allthe cells were to face into the circle, toward each other, with a window at theother end of each cell, allowing light in so prisoners would be easier to see.A watchtower was placed in the center of the cylinder, and a guard was hiddeninside the tower, unseen by the prisoners even in his coming and going. Benthambelieved that in theory the prisoners could be entirely unwatched at times,because they would never know if a guard was present or not. They would beforced to act (or “perform,” as many postmodernists prefer to say) as thoughthey were being watched at all times.

This, for Foucault, symbolized a form of oppression that could beseen in other aspects of society: “Foucault claimed to unmask the universalnorm as nothing more than a tool of oppression being wielded by the powerful.”3 The newhistoricists, seizing this idea, examine history looking for forms of oppressionwhereby people are allegedly forced to act out an ideology whether or not theyagree with it, because the powers that be are always watching. Everything fornew historicists comes down to authority.

Who’sthe Authority?

Remember, for the new historicist, authority is key. But it is not always authority in the way we would expect.To illustrate, imagine that you received a letter from a friend. Let’s ask somequestions: Who wrote the letter? Your friend did, making him the “authority”over the letter. Would you trust that the contents of that letter are accurate?Most likely, unless you had compelling reasons to believe otherwise. Would yousearch for hidden meanings in the letter? Probably not. Generally speaking, themeaning of the letter would be apparent; you would not need a scholar todecipher it for you. Sometimes there are exceptions to that rule. We know thatthere are times when people have to communicate in code in letters, because ofgovernment powers or other reasons.

Now let’s say that your friend wrote the letter from a prison,where all the mail is read by guards and censored before it leaves thebuilding. Again, who wrote the letter? Your friend did—but he was writing itknowing that he could not share certain information with you. He was beingwatched and had to “perform” the part of a prisoner well. Knowing that, wouldyou trust that all the information in the letter was accurate? Probably not.Would you search for hidden meanings in the text? Almost certainly. If a newhistoricist were reading this, he would say that the “authority” over theletter was not your friend, but the institution of the prison, because they hadcontrol over what he communicated.

In the latter example, a new historicist reading is beneficial tounderstanding the letter. But this is a rare exception in the new historicism,because the new historicist will read virtually any text—a play, a book, and so on—and argue that there is a meaningor history that has escaped humanity until now. He would say that the circumstancesunder which the text was written created a situation where the authority wasnot the author but some institution with power. And in most cases, the newhistoricist is driven to do this by his own sympathies for certain groups ofpeople, rather than by any reasonable evidence that the author’s words are notentirely trustworthy.

D. G. Myers, a literary historian and associate professor ofliterature at the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at The Ohio StateUniversity, summarizes the real motivation of the new historicism:

. . . the aim of scholarship is to square the artist’s intentionswith the scholar’s own sympathy. . . . The sympathy is treated as a fact ofequal importance (and comparable ontological status) with the design. No effortis made to ascertain whether the design really is at odds with anything; it issimply treated as a donnée of interpretation that it must be. The critic knowsbecause of the way he feels.4

Essentially, the new historicist is driven by feelings, which isnot, as Myers correctly points out, conducive to objectively assessing history.

NewHistoricism and Biblical Hermeneutics

In relation to biblical interpretation, some Bible scholars andChristian leaders, whether or not they realize it, have embraced a view ofhistory similar to that of the new historicists. One baseline fact everybeliever needs to accept is that the Bible is inerrant in its originalmanuscripts (and what we have today is incredibly accurate), so no amount ofreinterpreting history can change the meaning or force of the clear words ofScripture.

In one obvious example of one’s personal beliefs drivinginterpretation, John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Episcopal Church anda somewhat prolific author, attempts to reread the history presented in thePauline epistles based on his own support for same-sex relationships. His goalin his analysis seems to be to show that the religious institution in power atthe time (i.e., the scribes, who were experts in the law, and some of thePharisees who were part of the ruling authority) was oppressing homosexuals.Furthermore, Spong makes the claim that Paul himself was homosexual but repressinghis desires; therefore, Paul was forced to speak out in opposition tohomosexual behavior:

Yes, I am convinced that Paul of Tarsus was a gay man, deeplyrepressed, self-loathing, rigid in denial, bound by the law that he hoped couldkeep this thing, that he judged to be so unacceptable, totally under control, acontrol so profound that even Paul did not have to face this fact abouthimself. But repression kills. It kills the repressed one and sometimes thedefensive anger found in the repressed one also kills those who challenge,threaten or live out the thing that this repressed person so deeply fears.5

Spong has adopted, unwittingly or not, a Foucauldian view ofScripture (see the Panopticon scheme above): the Apostle Paul spoke outforcefully against homosexual behavior; homosexual behavior was condemned bythe law, which was overseen by the Pharisees and scribes; therefore, Paul wasvery likely homosexual himself but was over-“performing” the part of theheterosexual because he was being “watched” by the religious authorities.

There is no textual evidence for Spong’s claim that the ApostlePaul was homosexual or that Paul had any sympathy for those participating inhomosexual behavior. In fact, there is even some indication that Paul wasmarried at one time.6 However,just as Myers fleshed out above, Spong “knows” because of the way he “feels”about practicing homosexuals today. What’s more, Spong admits he does notbelieve the Bible is the Word of God: “I don’t see the Bible as the Word ofGod. I see the Word of God as that which I hear through the words of the Bible.There’s a very big difference.”7 Spong’sfeelings-driven interpretation of the Bible makes the words of Pauluntrustworthy, apparently to favor an allegedly “marginalized” group today:practicing homosexuals.

A final example that also demonstrates a great similarity to a newhistoricist reading is the movement to show that the creation account inGenesis is nothing more than the product of ancient Near Eastern (ANE)cosmology. While an understanding of the history and surrounding culture of theancient Israelites is undoubtedly helpful to any reader of Scripture, the ANEmethod of interpretation is often carried too far.

For instance, John Walton, professor of Old Testament at WheatonCollege, looks at Isaiah 53, an oft-referenced prophecy ofChrist, from the ANE perspective. Richard Averbeck, professor of Old Testamentand Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, summarizesWalton’s claim as follows:

Christian interpreter John Walton, however, has recently arguedthat the Babylonian background for Isaiah 53 and its application to Jesus canbe drawn from certain motifs found in the substitute king ritual . . .According to this Babylonian practice, when a king received a bad omen that puthim in danger, another person would assume the throne as a substitute until theomen was resolved. . . . According to Walton, Jesus is our substitute whosuffers on our behalf according to some elements of the pattern found in thesubstitute king ritual. Unfortunately, the parallels drawn in these kinds ofinterpretations are often dubious at best in terms of basic method and content.The contrasts are ignored in favor of the comparisons. In too many cases, theapplications are forced and stretched beyond recognition.8

If Walton’s handling of Isaiah 53 is any indicator, it would notbe unreasonable to expect him to sacrifice the historical trustworthiness ofGenesis on the altar of ancient Near Eastern mythologies, just as he has donehere with one of the most well-known prophecies of the Messiah.

And indeed, Walton makes a case for why Genesis cannot be takenseriously as a creation account, in light of the “current scientific consensus.”While Walton says he does not seek to promote any one set of scientific ideasover another, he is clearly sympathetic to evolutionary ideas and thoseprofessing Christians who promote them (i.e., theistic evolutionists orevolutionary creationists). Indeed, his book The LostWorld of Genesis One (2009)is not just an argument for Genesis as ancient cosmology; it also seems to bean argument for harmonizing evolutionary beliefs with Scripture. In a way, itis theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists who function as the“marginalized” group in Walton’s theory (and more broadly, those who followafter something other than the biblical creation view).

Walton examines Genesis 1 and determines that, based on thecosmologies of surrounding areas (Egypt, Babylon, and Sumeria), readers havemisunderstood the meaning of the word create as it is used in Genesis. (See part 2 of this series for more on postmodern redefinitions of words.)Rather than Genesis 1 describing the material origin of the universe, Waltonargues that it merely describes a “functional” origin. Based on this, hewrites, “I propose that the solution is to modify what we consider creationactivities based on what we find in the literature.”9 What isodd about Walton’s assertion is that it is not a conclusion the typical readerwould come to by simply reading the text. Indeed, God did not see fit to revealthe idea of “functional” creation or the influence of ancient Near Easterncosmologies to His immediate audience, or even to those for the next few millennia,so how is it that a minority of scholars today have suddenly unearthed asupposedly more accurate reading? It is always possible that new meanings willcome to light as we learn more, but when a scholar proposes an idea that is notonly new but also dramatically alters the plain reading of Scripture, itdeserves to be seriously questioned.

One of the primary assumptions Walton operates on is thatevolutionary ideas are valid—and this is telling, as there is no scripturalevidence to support that claim. In fact, he admits that his view of sciencedirectly colors his interpretation of Scripture when he writes, “We gainnothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. Incontrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated His revelation to Hisimmediate audience in terms they understood.”10 In otherwords, Walton believes that God is not the “authority” over His own words inGenesis—modern popular scientific/cosmological understanding among the ancientIsraelites is.

In Walton’s view, what God revealed in Genesis 1 was supposedlydictated by the people’s ability to understand. Walton’s assertion makes Genesis1 untrustworthy. What’s more, Walton’s premise that readers have to understandGenesis in the same way the ancient Israelites did sets him apart as one of thefew enlightened enough to tease out some sort of hidden meaning in Genesis thatwas unknown to anyone prior to perhaps Darwin’s day. If he can demonstrate thatthe ancient Israelites did not understand Genesis to be literal, he can easilyfit evolutionary ideas into Scripture. As he pushes his redefined history ofGenesis, he writes, “If Genesis 1 does not require a young earth and if divinefiat does not preclude a long process, then Genesis 1 offers no objections tobiological evolution.”11

In sum, because of Walton’s sympathy for the ancient Near Easternunderstanding of Scripture and for evolutionary ideas, he argues that God isessentially constrained by the understanding of a people at a given time,assuming the ancient Israelites were not capable of understanding scientificideas, which is a common fallacy among many academics. Therefore, for Walton,God could not have intended to reveal a timeless history of creation. Instead,despite all appearances to the contrary, Genesis does not mean what it says (itis not literal history), but contains a meaning (i.e., “functional” creation)that can seemingly only be discovered by those with evolutionary beliefs today.

A final question to ask, in light of the goals of the newhistoricism, is what group stands to benefit from Walton’s reading of Genesis?For Spong in the above example, it was homosexuals. For Walton, it is mostobviously those who wish to mix evolutionary ideas with Scripture, or those whodeny the authority of Scripture on creation. They are certainly “marginalized”by churches that accept Scripture’s authority in every area. Sadly, Walton’ssympathy for evolutionary ideas compels him to look for wisdom in thecosmologies of civilizations that followed other gods, as he argues hard for areading of Genesis that simply does not find support.


C.S. Lewis, writing long before the new historicism had become anaccepted school of literary criticism, insightfully detailed the consequencesof taking Christ’s words in the “unqualified sense” that many with an agendademand:

. . . we shall then be forced to the conclusion that Christ’s truemeaning, concealed from those who lived in the same time and spoke the samelanguage, and who He Himself chose to be His messengers to the world, as wellas from all their successors, has at last been discovered in our own time. Iknow there are people who will not find this sort of thing difficult tobelieve, just as there are people ready to maintain that the true meaning ofPlato or Shakespeare, oddly concealed from their contemporaries and immediatesuccessors, has preserved its virginity for the daring embraces of one or twomodern professors. But I cannot apply to divine matters a method of exegesiswhich I have already rejected with contempt in my profane studies. Any theorywhich bases itself on a supposed “historical Jesus” to be dug out of theGospels and then set up in opposition to Christian teaching is suspect. Therehave been too many historical Jesuses—a liberal Jesus, a pneumatic Jesus, aBarthian Jesus, a Marxist Jesus. They are the cheap crop of each publisher’slist . . . It is not to such phantoms that I look for my faith and mysalvation.12

While Lewis himself may not have gone as far, the context of hisquote could easily be expanded to include not just Christ’s words, but also thewords of the entire Bible. If the Bible is not handled seriously, with eachpassage being read in its natural context and genre, then there is no hope forthe person reading it to discover truth. With the influence of the newhistoricism and other postmodern ways of thinking, the Bible becomes a playgroundfor misinterpretation because of man’s propensity for reading his own thoughtsinto it.

Elements of the new historicism pervade many other postmodernideas, like queer theory and gender studies. The new historicists and otherslike Michel Foucault may have a passion for those they consider to be“marginalized,” but sadly, sin has marred what man views as worthy ofprotecting and justifying. James tells us some of what is worthy of protectionin this world:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspottedfrom the world. (James 1:27)

Mark 12:30–31 tell usthat we are to love God and to love our neighbors. Offering acceptance ofactions like homosexual behavior, abortion, and so on violates both of thesecommands. People who flagrantly engage in sinful behaviors deserve no specialstatus of “marginalization.” To carry this one step further, would it beappropriate for a serial killer to read his sympathies for mass murder intoScripture in an effort to free his “marginalized” comrades wasting away inprison? True love and sympathy requires that we confront sin and share thegospel with unbelievers. God has given us His Word, and the plain words ofScripture are clear—there is no mistaking the truth of the Bible when it istaken for what it is, without appeal to personal agendas and feelings.

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1.     “Definition of the New Historicism,” Bedford/St. Martin’s, Back

2.     “Definition of the New Historicism,” Bedford–St. Martin’s, Back

3.     For a more detailed biography of Foucault, see StanfordEncyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “MichelFoucault,” Back (1) Back (2) Back (3) Back (4)

4.     D. G. Myers, “The New Historicism in Literary Study,” AcademicQuestions 2 (Winter 1988–89): 27–36; available online at Back

5.     John Shelby Spong, The Sins ofScripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (NewYork: Harper Collins, 2005), p. 140. Back

6.     “Spong on Paul,” YouTube, Back

7.     Richard E. Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah53,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI:Kregel, 2012), p. 42.Back

8.     This is not to make Walton’s argument simplistic. His argumentis nuanced and complex, but for ease of reading, this article will deal onlywith one aspect of it. John Walton, The Lost Worldof Genesis One (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 35. Back

9.     John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (DownersGrove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 35. Back

10.   John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (DownersGrove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 17. Back

11.   John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (DownersGrove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 138. Back

12.   C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (NewYork: HarperCollins, 1980), pp. 87–88. Back

 Postmodern Feminism

The Influence ofPostmodernism,

by Steve Golden, AiG–U.S.

Does history hold a bias against women?Members of the radical feminist movement seem to think so. Radical feminism hashad incredibly destructive effects on marriage and the family—and its influencehas also been felt on the church. Evangelical feminism teaches an egalitarianview of marriage and roles in the church, to the point where passages thatclearly teach male headship are reinterpreted, explained away, or ignored altogether.As a result, many men are abdicating or being forced out of their God-givenroles as heads of their households and as leaders in the church. The negativeeffects of this kind of postmodern thinking have led to serious attacks on theauthority of God’s Word.


Where does true freedom come from? Isit found in the casting off of God-given roles and responsibilities in pursuitof supposedly higher ideals? That seems to be the conclusion of feminism. Theradical feminist movement has caused incredible damage to marriage and thefamily in our culture. Like other prominent postmodern ideas of our day,feminism professes to be about “liberation.” It looks to liberate women fromthe supposed “shackles” of being wives and mothers. Furthermore, feminism restson the assumption that men have written history and that patriarchal societieshave made choices in such a way as to subordinate and exclude women.

It is important to note that the word feminism inthis series does not include most of what is commonly known as “women’ssuffrage,” or first-wave feminism. That is, this author is not challengingwomen’s right to vote or other opportunities afforded women during the latenineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, second-wave feminism, whichbegan in the 1960s and ran until the 1990s, and third-wave feminism, whichbegan in the 1990s, have both caused incredible damage to the institution ofmarriage, the family, and biblical gender roles.

Two prominent feminists, Sandra M.Gilbert, professor emerita of English at University of California–Davis, andSusan Gubar, professor emerita of English and women’s studies at IndianaUniversity, made what is a common argument from feminists about male authority:

For if the author/father is owner ofhis text and of his reader’s attention, he is also, of course, owner/possessorof the subjects of his text, that is to say of those figures, scenes, andevents—those brain children—he has both incarnated in black and white and“bound” in cloth or leather. Thus, because he is an author, a “man of letters” is simultaneously, like his divinecounterpart, a father, a master or ruler, and an owner: the spiritual type of apatriarch, as we understand that term in Western society.1

Essentially, Gilbert and Gubar, andmany others, argue that because of the masculine roots of even the word author andbecause of the patriarchal structure of many cultures, the voices of women havesuffered or gone unheard. Other well-known feminists have claimed that womenare seen as “Other” in society, as something feared by men. Such a mindset hasdone nothing to strengthen marriage and the family.

More recently, feminist scholars haverealized the error of pitting men against women. But rather than embrace thebiblical guidelines for marriage and leadership, these scholars have advocateda general wiping away of gender distinctions, thus removing the uniquenessinherent in being a woman or a man.

David Noebel, founder of SummitMinistries, sums up well the devastating effects of radical feminism on societyas a whole:

For radical feminists, the ultimategoal became women’s equality with men, which means, among other things, totalsexual freedom. To bring this about, the strategic theory proclaimed children aburden and marriage a form of slavery, counterproductive to a woman’s self-fulfillment.Abortion was declared a political right and women’s only means for sexualequality with men—since men can engage in sexual intercourse without theconsequences of bearing children, women must have the same freedom andpolitical right.2

The effects of feminism run deep—andthe church has not been immune. While the church has not embraced feministideals as quickly as the rest of the culture, feminism has not been without aninfluence on the Christian community. This ideology has even changed the waymany in the church view Scripture. While many feminists in the secular worldcharacterize the Bible as oppressive to women, many evangelical feminists(i.e., professing Christians who believe feminist ideals are compatible withScripture) claim that the passages on male headship are simply misunderstood.

As the feminist movement and feministtheory have risen in prominence, its influence on the church can be seen moreclearly. The evangelical feminist movement, which will be the subject of thisarticle, has led to confusion and a loss of biblical authority in some areas ofthinking in many churches.

Thanks to evangelical feminism,passages of Scripture on male headship in marriage are reinterpreted, explainedaway, or ignored altogether, and men are abdicating or being forced out oftheir God-given roles as heads of their households. Many churches have chosento relegate Scripture that teaches that it is men who are to reside inleadership over the church to a place of “cultural” relevance—teachings thatare outdated today because society has somehow reached a state ofenlightenment. The negative effects of this kind of postmodern thinking haveled to serious attacks on the authority of Scripture and have weakened therelationships and structures in the church and in Christian families as awhole.


Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Authority

As with the other postmodern ideas thisseries has explored, feminist theory operates primarily on assumptions andpersonal agenda. Tremper Longman, professor of biblical studies at WestmontCollege, and Peter Enns, formerly the senior fellow of biblical studies atBioLogos—both of whom do not hold to a literal reading of Genesis—explainfeminist interpretation of Scripture:

By its very nature, feministinterpretation is pluralistic; that is, there are no right or wrong readings.Hence, feminist critics may advocate different and often contradictory readingsof the same text. Further, the starting point of feminist interpretation of theBible is not the biblical text in its own right but rather the concerns offeminism.3

Does this sound familiar? The startingpoint is not Scripture, and “there are no right or wrong readings.” In otherwords, what drives feminist criticism is personal agenda. Longman and Ennsoutline what that agenda is:

Recognizing that in the history ofcivilization women have been marginalized and denied access to positions ofauthority and influence, feminist scholars seek to expose the strategies bywhich men have either justified their control over women or encouraged femalecomplicity in their own subordination. In the particular case of the Bible,there is abundant evidence to show that the Bible was produced mainly by menfor men.3

Indeed, many in the feminist campbelieve that history itself is inherently biased against women. Just as theBible was supposedly written “by men for men,” so was history supposedlywritten by men to benefit men.

While there is some truth to the ideathat history as we know it contains a certain amount of bias (after all, no oneis truly without a bias), it does not logically follow that we can know nothingabout history because of a historian’s bias. When reading an American historytextbook, does the author’s bias prevent us from trusting that names, dates,and places are correct? Likely not, unless there is reasonable evidence thatthe author either does not know what he is talking about or is intentionallydistorting facts to push an agenda. Such are the pitfalls of anything writtenby biased, sinful, fallible humans. With the Word of God, we can be sure thatno such pitfalls are there, as the words are the words of God Himself, who is truthand who created maleand female. Nonetheless, the historicalbias idea has filtered into the interpretations of many Christian leaders andBible scholars, manifesting itself in a variety of forms.

One notable example concerns the use ofmasculine pronouns to describe God.4 Paul R. Smith, an openly homosexual pastor,earned his master’s degree in theology from Midwestern Baptist TheologicalSeminary and now pastors Broadway Church in Kansas City, Missouri. In his book IsIt Okay to Call God “Mother”? Smith argues that the predominantlymale pronouns used for God in Scripture are not the result of divineinspiration, but rather the result of “cultural influences.” He writes, “If wecan recognize cultural influence in the early church practice of addressing oneanother with a holy kiss, why should we not also recognize cultural influencein the New Testament practice of addressing God with almost exclusivelymasculine imagery?”5 In other words, Scripture’s use ofmasculine pronouns and mostly masculine imagery to describe God can be chalkedup to male authors who wrote what was culturally popular—male descriptions ofGod. This idea is, of course, in direct conflict with 2 Timothy3:16–17, which tells us that all Scriptureis breathed out by God.

Smith and others intentionally integratefeminine pronouns and language in reference to God the Father and God the Son.A movement began some years ago to replace masculine pronoun use for God inScripture with feminine pronouns. Some denominations even embraced referring toGod as “mother.” Randy Stinson, a dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminaryin Louisville, Kentucky, and senior fellow with the Council for BiblicalManhood and Womanhood, noted that the United Methodist Hymnal’s supplement, TheFaith We Sing (2000), “includes songs that address God as ‘Strong Mother’and ‘Mothering God.’ In this same hymnal, not only are there songs referring toGod as mother, but there is one song referring to the earth as mother.”6 In other words, not only do the hymnssing of God as mother, but they interchangeably refer to Godand Earthas “mother.”

While it is clear from Scripture thatGod is Spirit (John 4:24)and is therefore beyond the confines of physical gender, what is also clear isthat Scripture intentionally avoids referring to God as “mother” in the sameway that it refers to Him as “father,” “king,” and so on. As Wayne Grudem, aprofessor at Phoenix Seminary and an outspoken critic of evangelical feminism,rightfully notes, “we should not name God with names that the Bible never usesand actually avoids using. God’s name is valued and highly protected inScripture.”7

The trouble with these anti-masculinelanguage arguments is that they rely on the idea that the Bible must remain“culturally relevant.” But this line of thinking not only questions biblicalauthority—it has a tendency to dismiss it altogether. Like the new historicism(see part 4 of this series, The Influence of Postmodernism,Part 4: New Historicism), the above arguments make culture theauthority over Scripture, rather than God.


Evangelical Feminism and Power

Like deconstruction andthe new historicism,feminist theory is also concerned with power and how that relates to the binaryoppositions Jacques Derrida (the founder of deconstruction)8 was concerned with. Indeed, theelements of deconstruction and the new historicism are present in feministideology, likely because Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and other prominentpostmodernists who have influenced many academics over the years all heldpost-structuralist viewpoints in their work.

Post-structuralism was a term applied to many of the French philosophers whorose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, including Derrida and Foucault. Their works shared some similar themes, including the ideathat there is no fixed or intrinsic meanings in words and that binaries likemale/female are nothing more than social constructs (i.e., an idea that hasdeveloped over time but cannot be ascertained from nature) meant to exercisepower over people. These ideas are integral not only to feminist theory, butalso to queer theory and gender studies.

Central to the power issue inevangelical feminism is biblical gender roles in marriage. The binaryhusband/wife is key here, because a feminist would see a social construction presentin Scripture that makes the husband dominant and the wife oppressed. From thestandpoint of a postmodernist, the biblical idea of male headship in the homeis simply a power play.

There are two primary schools ofthought in the debate over biblical gender roles: complementarian andegalitarian. In a basic sense, complementarians are those who agree that whilemen and women are equal before God in matters of salvation and human worth (Galatians 3:28), Godhas given men in the church a special authority to teach and lead, and He hasgiven husbands in the home a special authority and responsibility to lead theirfamilies (Genesis1–2;Ephesians 5:22–33).9

Egalitarians are those who believe thatGod has not necessarily set men apart as leaders, but has rather invited allpeople, men and women, to exercise equal authority in the church and home. Thislatter camp has embraced evangelical feminism in many ways, and the influenceis apparent in how they read Scripture dealing with gender roles in the homeand the church.

One of the most well-known proponentsof the egalitarian view of Scripture is the organization Christians forBiblical Equality (C.B.E.). Theorganization’s president is Mimi Haddad, who earned a Ph.D. in historicaltheology from the University of Durham, England and who now teaches formultiple seminaries. The C.B.E. mission statement makes clear that they rejectwhat the Bible has to say about gender roles:

CBE affirms and promotes the biblicaltruth that all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—mustexercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility inchurch, home and world.10

Much of what Haddad and C.B.E. arepromoting is not “biblical.” But byequivocating on the phrase biblical equality,C.B.E. creates a situation whereby those who dissent from an egalitarianreading of Scripture cannot voice their disagreement without seeming as thoughthey reject “biblical equality.”This is yet another example of a postmodern language game—C.B.E. has redefinedthe terms so its definition will be more readily accepted by society, eventhough it no longer reflects what the Bible plainly says about equality.

In a move characteristic of many evangelicalfeminists, Haddad redefines the phrase maleheadship, writing that husbands are only given“cultural authority” and that the Apostle Paul’s onlymention of authority is in 1 Corinthians 7:3–7, a passage about the sexual relationship of a husband andwife. She concludes, “for Paul, male headship is primarily about love,demonstrated by sacrifice and an abandonment of cultural authority.”11 The initial problem here is Haddad’simplication that authority and love cannot operate together in a marriage, thatit is somehow not “biblical” for a husband to exercise authority in a godlymanner over his family. Furthermore, her statement seems to imply that thosewho hold a complementarian view of marriage lack love and sacrifice, or at thevery least are deficient in those areas because of authority. These are boldclaims to make considering their lack of biblical support.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, founder ofWillow Creek Community Church and professor emeritus at Wheaton College, alsohas written for C.B.E. Bilezikian argues, “There is not ahint, not even a whisper about anything like a hierarchical order existingbetween man and woman in the creation account of Genesis.”12 This, despite that in the creationaccount, Adam is made first; he is tasked with naming the animals; he names Eve(Genesis 2:23); he isgiven the instructions regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil;and his name is called when both he and Eve sinned. Additionally, God createsEve to be Adam’s “helper” (Genesis 2:20). The pattern of male headship is clearly evident in the“very good” creation prior to the Fall.

Indeed, male headship is also taught inthe New Testament, after the Fall.The Apostle Paul explains how the godly marriage relationship should look inEphesians 5:

Wives, submit to your own husbands,as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head ofthe church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church issubject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gaveHimself for her . . . So husbands ought to love their own wives as their ownbodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:22–2528)

Taken at face value, Paul seems to beteaching that husbands are to lead their wives, just as Christ leads thechurch.

But Bilezikian, like many who have beeninfluenced by evangelical feminist thinking, argues that words such as head or helper inScripture are misunderstood. Bilezikian says of headship, “Head is nevergiven the meaning of authority, boss or leader. It describes the servantfunction of provider of life, growth and development.”13 In one sense, Bilezikian has itright—the husband absolutely should desire to aid his wife and children intheir spiritual growth. In fact, Ephesians 5:28–33 commands husbands to love their wives as they lovethemselves and as Christ loved the church (i.e., to the point of being willingto die for her).

In relation to Genesis and Eve’s roleas Adam’s “helper,” Bilezikian writes, “In the language of the Old Testament, a‘helper’ is one who rescues others in situations of need. This designation isoften attributed to God as our rescuer. The word denotes not domesticity orsubordination but competency and superior strength.”13 While Bilezikian’s claim may soundplausible, the textual evidence simply does not support it. What’s more, he hasnot leveled the field for men and women; he has sent it to a far extreme byimplying that women are defined by “competency and superior strength.” There isno question that women are competent, strong individuals. Every marriage ismade up of a team, a husband and wife who are both competent and strong intheir own areas. That fact, however, does not negate what God’s Word has to sayabout who is charged with leading the family. Every “team” needs a leader, andScripture clearly places the responsibility for leadership on the husband, bothbefore and after the Fall.

The main concern in the husband/wiferelationship for evangelical feminists (and feminism in general) is power. Radical feminism has done the work attaching enoughnegative connotations to the word submission that it is readily avoided in most circles, includingChristian ones. But feminism’s view that there is no intrinsic meaning in wordsrenders titles like “husband” and “wife” virtually meaningless, thereby makingthe redistribution of power in the home much easier. The influence of this ideathat words cannot be taken at face value is reflected in the hermeneutic ofscholars like those at C.B.E.


Where Does Evangelical Feminism Lead?

Most evangelical feminists wouldprofess to believe in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, setting themapart from many other forms of feminism. However, their method of interpretingand applying Scripture leaves something to be desired. What is at the heart ofa reluctance or even outright refusal to refer to God as “he” and “father”?What drives the redefinition and dismissal of passages of Scripture thatpromote male headship in marriage and leadership in the church? Grudemconcludes, “At the foundation of egalitarianism is a dislike and a rejection ofanything uniquely masculine.”14

The poor state of marriage and thefamily today is an outworking of sin. With the Fall came a marring ofrelationships, and one of the consequences of the Curse in Genesis 3 is thewife’s temptation to usurp her husband’s authority as well as the husband’stemptation to exercise domineering, ungodly authority over his wife or his temptationto abdicate his role altogether. Radical feminism, evangelical feminism, andother branches of the theory that deny the authority of God’s Word are allattempts to justify actions that are not God’s ideal for men and women.

The world is quickly moving toward acomplete rejection of gender differences, with perhaps the exception ofsuperficial biological differences, in favor of a society of men and women whoare simply sexual “beings” that are not to be distinguished by gender. And certainly one of the defining issues of thisgeneration is the acceptance of homosexual behavior and same-sex “marriage.”(These will be discussed in the final two parts of this series.) As the secularculture accepts these ideas, churches that are not founded on the authority ofGod’s Word will undoubtedly not be far behind.

While evangelical feminists do notnecessarily promote or condone the above views of gender and homosexual conduct(unlike many of their more radical counterparts), their hermeneutic ultimatelyleads to those conclusions. After all, ifmale headship or masculine language in Scripture can be attributed to culturalinfluences, why should prohibitions against homosexual behavior be treated anydifferently? And if there are truly no distinctions between men and women inpassages on headship in the home and leadership in the church, why should therebe gender distinctions in general? What does it mean to be distinctly masculineor distinctly feminine in the church, if the examples in Scripture are either reinterpretedor simply are not to be applied to specific genders? Indeed, pro-homosexualBible scholars are already applying these methods of interpretation in anattempt to justify homosexual behavior.

The road to true freedom comes not fromseeking validity through position or power in marriage or the church. Truefreedom comes by obedience to Christ, which means honoring God’s Word in everyarea, including biblical gender roles. Scholars like those at Christians forBiblical Equality, who argue for an egalitarian view of Scripture, may be wellmeaning and gifted individuals who love the Lord. But they are severelymisguided in their teachings. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have aresponsibility to humbly correct error in the church, “speaking the truth inlove” (Ephesians 4:15).That is what we at Answers in Genesis try to practice, and we urge you to dothe same.



1.     Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, TheMadwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century LiteraryImagination (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 7. Back

2.     David Noebel, Understanding the Times (Manitou Springs, Colorado: Summit Press, 2006), p. 350. Back

3.     Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns (Downers Grove,Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2008), s.v. “feminist interpretation.” Back (1) Back (2)

4.     Randy L. Stinson offers a thorough critique of the movementto replace masculine references to God with feminine ones in his article, “OurMother Who Art in Heaven: A Brief Overview and Critique of EvangelicalFeminists and the Use of Feminine God-Language,”Journal of Biblical Manhoodand Womanhood 8, no. 2 (2003): 21–31. Back

5.     Paul R. Smith, Is It Okay toCall God “Mother”? Considering the Feminine Face of God(Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1993), p. 49. Back

6.     Randy Stinson, “Our Mother Who Art in Heaven . . . ”: 21–31. Back

7.     “Our Mission and History,” Christians for Biblical Equality, Back

8.     The Influence of Postmodernism,Part 3: Deconstruction Back

9.     Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004), p. 510. Back

10.   For a fuller look at the complementarian position on maleheadship, see Steve Golden, “Feedback: Is Male Headship a“Curse”?” Answers in Genesis, Back

11.   Mimi Haddad, “What is Male Headship?” Christians forBiblical Equality, Back

12.   Gilbert Bilezikian, “A Challenge for Proponents of FemaleSubmission to Prove Their Case from the Bible,” Christians for BiblicalEquality, Back

13.   Gilbert Bilezikian, “I Believe in Male Headship,” Christiansfor Biblical Equality, Back (1) Back (2)

14.   Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path toLiberalism? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2006), p. 223. Back