Is there a meaning in this text? (Vanhoozer)

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Puritanboard Clerk
Kevin Vanhoozer focuses on the metaphysical implications of “meaning.” His work surveys the collapse of foundationalisms, their postmodern alternatives, and his own speech-act hermeneutics that paves the way forward from the postmodern morass, albeit sympathetic to some of Jacques Derrida’s criticisms.

Risking some oversimplification, Vanhoozer sees the three eras as the Age of the Author (we can know the author’s meaning in a text), the Age of the Text (e.g., late Modernity; we can’t know the author’s psychological intentions, but we can find meaning by focusing on the structure of the text), and the Age of the Reader (there is no transcendent meaning in the text; we create meaning).

Vanhoozer characterizes postmoderns as either “Undoers” (Derrida, deconstruction) or “Users” (Rorty, pragmatism). Vanhoozer goes to great pains to understand postmodernism, even if he doesn’t affirm it. Derrida is correct there is no pure realm of meaning and presence of which we have hermetic access. All such knowings and readings are situated knowings and readings. But that doesn’t mean we can’t know. Derrida himself admits he is not a relativist. He simply says if all meanings are situated meanings and that there is no Transcendental Signifier, what privileges one reading over another?

Vanhoozer’s answer is along the lines of the Trinity. God is first and foremost a communicative agent. Being and Speech is not reduced to a monad. It is indeed deferred. There is differance (though not ontological difference) but not violence in the Trinity. His very being is a self-communicative act. Trinitarian hermeneutics affirms both the One and the Many. There is meaning and unity in the text, but arrived by a plurality of literary methods.

With Paul Ricouer Vanhoozer agrees that metaphor is not simply literary window-dressing. It has ontological significance. The goal of Matthew is not to get to Romans. Metaphors can actually “break” deconstruction: they are determinate enough to convey stable meaning without being exhaustively specifiable (130). With Derrida we agree that all language is ultimately metaphorical (and thus problematic for metaphysics). But with Ricoeur and against Derrida, we believe that metaphors are meaningful and do communicate truth, even if they don’t exhaust the truth.


This book is magnificent. I sing its praises. Aside from the brilliant crash course in continental philosophy, Vanhoozer introduces readers to speech-act philosophy. He has a sensitive reading of sola scriptura which nicely rebuts communitarian claims.


Many of the chapters were excessively long (several were 300+ endnotes).


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Vanhoozer goes to great pains to understand postmodernism, even if he doesn’t affirm it.

This comes out in his introduction to the Cambridge volume on Postmodern theology. I come away with a sense that he has not sufficiently discerned the dangers of postmodernism, and that he is inclined to utlilise its "insights."

His very being is a self-communicative act.

I can't tell whether this accurately expresses the author's view, but if it does, it confuses the doctrine by failing to speak of plurality in terms of person. We see this confusion alot in modern theologies, especially in those seeking a social Trinity or an inherently covenanting Trinity.
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