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Postmodern Influence

The Influence of Postmodernism, Part 1


Postmodernism is at the root of many attacks on the authority of God’s Word today. Many people do not realize that they and their children are being quietly indoctrinated into postmodern philosophies. While these ideas promise liberation and tolerance, they run entirely counter to Scripture and produce enslavement to the world and death. Deconstruction, the new historicism, feminism, queer theory, and gender theory have had a profound impact on how many Christians read the Bible, and their influences can be seen in many churches, Christian colleges, and seminaries today. 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 very thoughts of its people. One of the agencies in the novel, the Ministry of Truth, publishes what is called “truth,” although the majority of the information that originates from the ministry is actually falsified history, meant to make the social situation look as good or bad as the government intends. “Truth” in the novel becomes an object that can be created and destroyed, altered and reclaimed at will, depending on the current agenda. Any notion of objectivity virtually disappears. 

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

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

Most people do not realize that they and their children are being quietly indoctrinated into a philosophy that runs entirely counter to Scripture. In our schools, our colleges, even our churches—places which tend to resemble “Ministries of Truth” in surprising ways—this philosophy makes an empty promise of happiness through freedom from all boundaries and authorities, convincing believers and unbelievers alike that boundaries 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, and it has been at the root of many attacks on the authority of God’s Word and the resulting decline of society.1

Spearheaded by our universities, the rise of postmodern theories has given way to a denial of objective biblical truths—along with the ability to critique any truth claims—and the castigation of anyone who adheres to a biblical moral code. In this article series, I want to examine some of the major theories to come out of postmodernism and how they have influenced not only secular ways of thinking but also biblical interpretation by many Christian leaders and in many Christian colleges and seminaries.

  Hollow and Deceptive Philosophy

As indicated above, at the heart of postmodernism is a war for the definition of truth and for the authority to determine what is truth. It is important to note that while the logical extreme of postmodern thought is a world with no governing system, no boundaries, and no ultimate truth, many postmodernists today, believers and unbelievers alike, are not advocating that type of a world. They have 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 some Christians have adopted postmodern ideals do a great deal of harm. These believers have given up certain parts of the ultimate truth of Scripture.

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

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

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

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

If there were ever a set of philosophies based on the “principles of the world,” they are those under the umbrella of postmodernism. Postmodern ideas challenge virtually every truth of Scripture as well as every route to confirming those truths. The advocates of postmodernism will even go as far as denying the validity of history in their bid to overthrow authority, because the realities history presents are often at odds with the assertions of postmodernism.

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

Postmodernists reject both these approaches, arguing that neither revelation nor the scientific method is a reliable source for truth. According to postmodern theory, truth is not objective or absolute at all, nor can it be determined by any commonly accepted method. Instead, postmodernists argue that truth is socially constructed, plural, and inaccessible to universal reason, which itself does not exist anyway. As postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty asserts, “Truth is made rather than found.”3

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

  What Will Be Covered?

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

Deconstruction has had perhaps the greatest influence on postmodern theories and on social thought in general. The deconstructionist viewpoint argues that binaries must be criticized and often overthrown. A binary is a relationship between two parts, where one of the parts is typically dominant or in authority over the other (e.g., employer/employee). An authority relationship implies “oppression” in some way, something the deconstructionist cannot 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 be deconstructed because every text contains a subtext of oppressive intentions on the part of the author.”4

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

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

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

Gender theory, which sometimes includes queer theory under its umbrella, also deals with identity and has challenged biblical definitions of masculinity and femininity. Those who look at the world through the lens of gender theory claim that society has forced men and women into “social constructs” of gender; in other words, all social categories of what distinguish men and women from each other have no basis in reality. Gender theory typically promotes an anarchic view of gender and sexuality; that is, everything from clothing to sexuality should be subject to each individual’s experience. The idea of androgyny (meaning the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics) plays a prominent role in gender theory.

  True Freedom and Joy

As believers, we know that our single hope for true joy lies in salvation through Jesus Christ. After warning the Colossian believers against following worldly philosophies, Paul went on to remind them of the freedom found in the crucified and risen Christ, the authority who cannot be overthrown:

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

In spite of the message of freedom that these and other postmodern theories carry, those who follow them will experience only enslavement to sin and death. And as we will see in the coming articles in this series, any believer who looks to postmodern ideals as a source of truth or happiness is fundamentally misguided.




1.     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, postmodern will serve as a catch-all term for ease of reading. For more of Fabich’s argument, see “Time to Abandon Postmodernism,” Answers Research Journal 4 (2011): 171–183, Back

2.     Michael De Dora, the director of the Office of Public Policy at the Center for Inquiry and a professing atheist, provides an example of the secular moral code: “Each human being has the duty and the obligation to treat their 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 Contemporary Culture,” 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 of what 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 opportunities provided women during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Second-wave feminism, which began in the 1960s and ran until the 90s, and third-wave feminism, which began in the 1990s, have both caused incredible damage to the institution of marriage, the family, and biblical gender roles. The third wave especially has been driven by postmodern ideals.


    by Steve 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?” 

New Historicism – (Part 4)


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


The new historicism arose in the 1980s, and the term itself tends to be an umbrella category for a couple of theories, including one known as cultural materialism. Both the new historicism and cultural materialism came about at the same time, and the work of critics in both fields examines issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, the ways in which institutions that wield power (e.g., the church, the monarchy, and so on) enforced certain ideologies on society, and how those influences affect our reading of a text today. 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 theories because 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 their trust in a new historicist’s analysis. Bedford/St. Martin’s, a popular college textbook publisher, explains how the new historicists approach history:

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

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

Michel Foucault’s Tormented Life

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

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

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

The parallels between Foucault’s “crusade” and what the new historicism seeks to do will be fleshed out below. But first, it is worth mentioning 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 the spectre of AIDS was becoming clear, therefore, Foucault may have been trying to achieve a fitting climax to his life, one which fused his great obsessions: madness, perversion, torture and death.”3 In other words, it is very likely that Foucault actually desired to contract AIDS and intentionally placed himself in a situation where he would, all to fulfill a depraved sense of what makes life meaningful. Foucault was a man without Christ and therefore without hope.

Foucault and the New Historicism

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

In reading literature and history, Marxist theory focuses on economics and social class, and how those elements affect the balance of power in a text. Like Marxist theory, the new historicism also focuses on the exercise of power. However, new historicist critics prefer to examine social issues, marginalized groups, and institutions that wielded power (e.g., the church) 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 public execution with modern prisons is anything but positive. Dr. Coffey sums it up this way:

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

Foucault was especially critical of a building design known as the Panopticon. Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century created the Panopticon as a way of keeping order in schools, prisons, and other institutions. Bentham designed a prison for the English government based on the Panopticon whereby a guard could watch all the prisoners being held there without the prisoners knowing whether 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. All the cells were to face into the circle, toward each other, with a window at the other 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 hidden inside the tower, unseen by the prisoners even in his coming and going. Bentham believed 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 be forced to act (or “perform,” as many postmodernists prefer to say) as though they were being watched at all times.

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

Who’s the 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 some questions: 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 you search for hidden meanings in the letter? Probably not. Generally speaking, the meaning of the letter would be apparent; you would not need a scholar to decipher it for you. Sometimes there are exceptions to that rule. We know that there are times when people have to communicate in code in letters, because of government 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 the building. Again, who wrote the letter? Your friend did—but he was writing it knowing that he could not share certain information with you. He was being watched and had to “perform” the part of a prisoner well. Knowing that, would you 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 new historicist were reading this, he would say that the “authority” over the letter was not your friend, but the institution of the prison, because they had control over what he communicated.

In the latter example, a new historicist reading is beneficial to understanding 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 meaning or history that has escaped humanity until now. He would say that the circumstances under which the text was written created a situation where the authority was not the author but some institution with power. And in most cases, the new historicist is driven to do this by his own sympathies for certain groups of people, rather than by any reasonable evidence that the author’s words are not entirely trustworthy.

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

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

Essentially, the new historicist is driven by feelings, which is not, as Myers correctly points out, conducive to objectively assessing history.

New Historicism and Biblical Hermeneutics

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

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

Yes, I am convinced that Paul of Tarsus was a gay man, deeply repressed, self-loathing, rigid in denial, bound by the law that he hoped could keep this thing, that he judged to be so unacceptable, totally under control, a control so profound that even Paul did not have to face this fact about himself. But repression kills. It kills the repressed one and sometimes the defensive 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 of Scripture (see the Panopticon scheme above): the Apostle Paul spoke out forcefully against homosexual behavior; homosexual behavior was condemned by the law, which was overseen by the Pharisees and scribes; therefore, Paul was very likely homosexual himself but was over-“performing” the part of the heterosexual because he was being “watched” by the religious authorities.

There is no textual evidence for Spong’s claim that the Apostle Paul was homosexual or that Paul had any sympathy for those participating in homosexual behavior. In fact, there is even some indication that Paul was married 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 not believe the Bible is the Word of God: “I don’t see the Bible as the Word of God. 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’s feelings-driven interpretation of the Bible makes the words of Paul untrustworthy, apparently to favor an allegedly “marginalized” group today: practicing homosexuals.

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

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

Christian interpreter John Walton, however, has recently argued that the Babylonian background for Isaiah 53 and its application to Jesus can be drawn from certain motifs found in the substitute king ritual . . . According to this Babylonian practice, when a king received a bad omen that put him in danger, another person would assume the throne as a substitute until the omen was resolved. . . . According to Walton, Jesus is our substitute who suffers on our behalf according to some elements of the pattern found in the substitute king ritual. Unfortunately, the parallels drawn in these kinds of interpretations 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, the applications are forced and stretched beyond recognition.8

If Walton’s handling of Isaiah 53 is any indicator, it would not be unreasonable to expect him to sacrifice the historical trustworthiness of Genesis on the altar of ancient Near Eastern mythologies, just as he has done here with one of the most well-known prophecies of the Messiah.

And indeed, Walton makes a case for why Genesis cannot be taken seriously 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 ideas over another, he is clearly sympathetic to evolutionary ideas and those professing Christians who promote them (i.e., theistic evolutionists or evolutionary creationists). Indeed, his book The Lost World of Genesis One (2009) is not just an argument for Genesis as ancient cosmology; it also seems to be an argument for harmonizing evolutionary beliefs with Scripture. In a way, it is theistic evolutionists and evolutionary creationists who function as the “marginalized” group in Walton’s theory (and more broadly, those who follow after something other than the biblical creation view).

Walton examines Genesis 1 and determines that, based on the cosmologies of surrounding areas (Egypt, Babylon, and Sumeria), readers have misunderstood 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, Walton argues that it merely describes a “functional” origin. Based on this, he writes, “I propose that the solution is to modify what we consider creation activities based on what we find in the literature.”9 What is odd about Walton’s assertion is that it is not a conclusion the typical reader would come to by simply reading the text. Indeed, God did not see fit to reveal the idea of “functional” creation or the influence of ancient Near Eastern cosmologies 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 a supposedly more accurate reading? It is always possible that new meanings will come to light as we learn more, but when a scholar proposes an idea that is not only new but also dramatically alters the plain reading of Scripture, it deserves to be seriously questioned.

One of the primary assumptions Walton operates on is that evolutionary ideas are valid—and this is telling, as there is no scriptural evidence to support that claim. In fact, he admits that his view of science directly colors his interpretation of Scripture when he writes, “We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated His revelation to His immediate audience in terms they understood.”10 In other words, Walton believes that God is not the “authority” over His own words in Genesis—modern popular scientific/cosmological understanding among the ancient Israelites is.

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

In sum, because of Walton’s sympathy for the ancient Near Eastern understanding of Scripture and for evolutionary ideas, he argues that God is essentially constrained by the understanding of a people at a given time, assuming the ancient Israelites were not capable of understanding scientific ideas, 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 (it is 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 new historicism, 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 most obviously those who wish to mix evolutionary ideas with Scripture, or those who deny the authority of Scripture on creation. They are certainly “marginalized” by churches that accept Scripture’s authority in every area. Sadly, Walton’s sympathy for evolutionary ideas compels him to look for wisdom in the cosmologies of civilizations that followed other gods, as he argues hard for a reading of Genesis that simply does not find support.


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

. . . we shall then be forced to the conclusion that Christ’s true meaning, concealed from those who lived in the same time and spoke the same language, and who He Himself chose to be His messengers to the world, as well as from all their successors, has at last been discovered in our own time. I know there are people who will not find this sort of thing difficult to believe, just as there are people ready to maintain that the true meaning of Plato or Shakespeare, oddly concealed from their contemporaries and immediate successors, has preserved its virginity for the daring embraces of one or two modern professors. But I cannot apply to divine matters a method of exegesis which I have already rejected with contempt in my profane studies. Any theory which bases itself on a supposed “historical Jesus” to be dug out of the Gospels and then set up in opposition to Christian teaching is suspect. There have been too many historical Jesuses—a liberal Jesus, a pneumatic Jesus, a Barthian Jesus, a Marxist Jesus. They are the cheap crop of each publisher’s list . . . It is not to such phantoms that I look for my faith and my salvation.12

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

Elements of the new historicism pervade many other postmodern ideas, like queer theory and gender studies. The new historicists and others like Michel Foucault may have a passion for those they consider to be “marginalized,” but sadly, sin has marred what man views as worthy of protecting and justifying. James tells us some of what is worthy of protection in 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 unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

Mark 12:30–31 tell us that we are to love God and to love our neighbors. Offering acceptance of actions like homosexual behavior, abortion, and so on violates both of these commands. People who flagrantly engage in sinful behaviors deserve no special status of “marginalization.” To carry this one step further, would it be appropriate for a serial killer to read his sympathies for mass murder into Scripture in an effort to free his “marginalized” comrades wasting away in prison? True love and sympathy requires that we confront sin and share the gospel with unbelievers. God has given us His Word, and the plain words of Scripture are clear—there is no mistaking the truth of the Bible when it is taken 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 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Michel Foucault,” Back (1) Back (2) Back (3) Back (4)

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

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

6.     “Spong on Paul,” YouTube, Back

7.     Richard E. Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” 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 argument is nuanced and complex, but for ease of reading, this article will deal only with one aspect of it. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 35. Back

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

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

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

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

 Postmodern Feminism

The Influence of Postmodernism,

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 has had incredibly destructive effects on marriage and the family—and its influence has also been felt on the church. Evangelical feminism teaches an egalitarian view of marriage and roles in the church, to the point where passages that clearly teach male headship are reinterpreted, explained away, or ignored altogether. As a result, many men are abdicating or being forced out of their God-given roles as heads of their households and as leaders in the church. The negative effects of this kind of postmodern thinking have led to serious attacks on the authority of God’s Word.


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

It is important to note that the word feminism in this series does not include most of what 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 opportunities afforded women during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, second-wave feminism, which began in the 1960s and ran until the 1990s, and third-wave feminism, which began in the 1990s, have both caused incredible damage to the institution of marriage, the family, and biblical gender roles.

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

For if the author/father is owner of his text and of his reader’s attention, he is also, of course, owner/possessor of the subjects of his text, that is to say of those figures, scenes, and events—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 divine counterpart, a father, a master or ruler, and an owner: the spiritual type of a patriarch, as we understand that term in Western society.1

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

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

David Noebel, founder of Summit Ministries, sums up well the devastating effects of radical feminism on society as a whole:

For radical feminists, the ultimate goal became women’s equality with men, which means, among other things, total sexual freedom. To bring this about, the strategic theory proclaimed children a burden 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 sexual equality with men—since men can engage in sexual intercourse without the consequences of bearing children, women must have the same freedom and political right.2

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

As the feminist movement and feminist theory have risen in prominence, its influence on the church can be seen more clearly. The evangelical feminist movement, which will be the subject of this article, has led to confusion and a loss of biblical authority in some areas of thinking in many churches.

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


Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Authority

As with the other postmodern ideas this series has explored, feminist theory operates primarily on assumptions and personal agenda. Tremper Longman, professor of biblical studies at Westmont College, and Peter Enns, formerly the senior fellow of biblical studies at BioLogos—both of whom do not hold to a literal reading of Genesis—explain feminist interpretation of Scripture:

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

Does this sound familiar? The starting point is not Scripture, and “there are no right or wrong readings.” In other words, what drives feminist criticism is personal agenda. Longman and Enns outline what that agenda is:

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

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

While there is some truth to the idea that history as we know it contains a certain amount of bias (after all, no one is truly without a bias), it does not logically follow that we can know nothing about history because of a historian’s bias. When reading an American history textbook, does the author’s bias prevent us from trusting that names, dates, and places are correct? Likely not, unless there is reasonable evidence that the author either does not know what he is talking about or is intentionally distorting facts to push an agenda. Such are the pitfalls of anything written by biased, sinful, fallible humans. With the Word of God, we can be sure that no such pitfalls are there, as the words are the words of God Himself, who is truth and who created maleand female. Nonetheless, the historical bias idea has filtered into the interpretations of many Christian leaders and Bible scholars, manifesting itself in a variety of forms.

One notable example concerns the use of masculine pronouns to describe God.4 Paul R. Smith, an openly homosexual pastor, earned his master’s degree in theology from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and now pastors Broadway Church in Kansas City, Missouri. In his book Is It Okay to Call God “Mother”? Smith argues that the predominantly male pronouns used for God in Scripture are not the result of divine inspiration, but rather the result of “cultural influences.” He writes, “If we can recognize cultural influence in the early church practice of addressing one another with a holy kiss, why should we not also recognize cultural influence in the New Testament practice of addressing God with almost exclusively masculine imagery?”5 In other words, Scripture’s use of masculine pronouns and mostly masculine imagery to describe God can be chalked up to male authors who wrote what was culturally popular—male descriptions of God. This idea is, of course, in direct conflict with 2 Timothy 3:16–17, which tells us that all Scripture is breathed out by God.

Smith and others intentionally integrate feminine 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 in Scripture with feminine pronouns. Some denominations even embraced referring to God as “mother.” Randy Stinson, a dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and senior fellow with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, noted that the United Methodist Hymnal’s supplement, The Faith We Sing (2000), “includes songs that address God as ‘Strong Mother’ and ‘Mothering God.’ In this same hymnal, not only are there songs referring to God as mother, but there is one song referring to the earth as mother.”6 In other words, not only do the hymns sing of God as mother, but they interchangeably refer to Godand Earth as “mother.”

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

The trouble with these anti-masculine language arguments is that they rely on the idea that the Bible must remain “culturally relevant.” But this line of thinking not only questions biblical authority—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 the authority over Scripture, rather than God.


Evangelical Feminism and Power

Like deconstruction and the new historicism, feminist theory is also concerned with power and how that relates to the binary oppositions Jacques Derrida (the founder of deconstruction)8 was concerned with. Indeed, the elements of deconstruction and the new historicism are present in feminist ideology, likely because Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and other prominent postmodernists who have influenced many academics over the years all held post-structuralist viewpoints in their work.

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

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

There are two primary schools of thought in the debate over biblical gender roles: complementarian and egalitarian. In a basic sense, complementarians are those who agree that while men and women are equal before God in matters of salvation and human worth (Galatians 3:28), God has given men in the church a special authority to teach and lead, and He has given husbands in the home a special authority and responsibility to lead their families (Genesis 1–2;Ephesians 5:22–33).9

Egalitarians are those who believe that God has not necessarily set men apart as leaders, but has rather invited all people, men and women, to exercise equal authority in the church and home. This latter camp has embraced evangelical feminism in many ways, and the influence is apparent in how they read Scripture dealing with gender roles in the home and the church.

One of the most well-known proponents of the egalitarian view of Scripture is the organization Christians for Biblical Equality (C.B.E.). The organization’s president is Mimi Haddad, who earned a Ph.D. in historical theology from the University of Durham, England and who now teaches for multiple seminaries. The C.B.E. mission statement makes clear that they reject what the Bible has to say about gender roles:

CBE affirms and promotes the biblical truth that all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.10

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

In a move characteristic of many evangelical feminists, Haddad redefines the phrase male headship, writing that husbands are only given “cultural authority” and that the Apostle Paul’s only mention of authority is in 1 Corinthians 7:3–7, a passage about the sexual relationship of a husband and wife. 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’s implication that authority and love cannot operate together in a marriage, that it is somehow not “biblical” for a husband to exercise authority in a godly manner over his family. Furthermore, her statement seems to imply that those who hold a complementarian view of marriage lack love and sacrifice, or at the very least are deficient in those areas because of authority. These are bold claims to make considering their lack of biblical support.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, founder of Willow Creek Community Church and professor emeritus at Wheaton College, also has written for C.B.E. Bilezikian argues, “There is not a hint, not even a whisper about anything like a hierarchical order existing between man and woman in the creation account of Genesis.”12 This, despite that in the creation account, Adam is made first; he is tasked with naming the animals; he names Eve (Genesis 2:23); he is given 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 creates Eve 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 in the New Testament, after the Fall. The Apostle Paul explains how the godly marriage relationship should look in Ephesians 5:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject 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 gave Himself for her . . . So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:22–2528)

Taken at face value, Paul seems to be teaching that husbands are to lead their wives, just as Christ leads the church.

But Bilezikian, like many who have been influenced by evangelical feminist thinking, argues that words such as head or helper in Scripture are misunderstood. Bilezikian says of headship, “Head is never given the meaning of authority, boss or leader. It describes the servant function of provider of life, growth and development.”13 In one sense, Bilezikian has it right—the husband absolutely should desire to aid his wife and children in their spiritual growth. In fact, Ephesians 5:28–33 commands husbands to love their wives as they love themselves and as Christ loved the church (i.e., to the point of being willing to die for her).

In relation to Genesis and Eve’s role as 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 is often attributed to God as our rescuer. The word denotes not domesticity or subordination but competency and superior strength.”13 While Bilezikian’s claim may sound plausible, the textual evidence simply does not support it. What’s more, he has not leveled the field for men and women; he has sent it to a far extreme by implying that women are defined by “competency and superior strength.” There is no question that women are competent, strong individuals. Every marriage is made up of a team, a husband and wife who are both competent and strong in their own areas. That fact, however, does not negate what God’s Word has to say about who is charged with leading the family. Every “team” needs a leader, and Scripture clearly places the responsibility for leadership on the husband, both before and after the Fall.

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


Where Does Evangelical Feminism Lead?

Most evangelical feminists would profess to believe in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, setting them apart from many other forms of feminism. However, their method of interpreting and applying Scripture leaves something to be desired. What is at the heart of a reluctance or even outright refusal to refer to God as “he” and “father”? What drives the redefinition and dismissal of passages of Scripture that promote male headship in marriage and leadership in the church? Grudem concludes, “At the foundation of egalitarianism is a dislike and a rejection of anything uniquely masculine.”14

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

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

While evangelical feminists do not necessarily promote or condone the above views of gender and homosexual conduct (unlike many of their more radical counterparts), their hermeneutic ultimately leads to those conclusions. After all, if male headship or masculine language in Scripture can be attributed to cultural influences, why should prohibitions against homosexual behavior be treated any differently? And if there are truly no distinctions between men and women in passages on headship in the home and leadership in the church, why should there be gender distinctions in general? What does it mean to be distinctly masculine or distinctly feminine in the church, if the examples in Scripture are either reinterpreted or simply are not to be applied to specific genders? Indeed, pro-homosexual Bible scholars are already applying these methods of interpretation in an attempt to justify homosexual behavior.

The road to true freedom comes not from seeking validity through position or power in marriage or the church. True freedom comes by obedience to Christ, which means honoring God’s Word in every area, including biblical gender roles. Scholars like those at Christians for Biblical Equality, who argue for an egalitarian view of Scripture, may be well meaning and gifted individuals who love the Lord. But they are severely misguided in their teachings. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a responsibility to humbly correct error in the church, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). That is what we at Answers in Genesis try to practice, and we urge you to do the same.



1.     Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (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 movement to replace masculine references to God with feminine ones in his article, “Our Mother Who Art in Heaven: A Brief Overview and Critique of Evangelical Feminists and the Use of Feminine God-Language,”Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 8, no. 2 (2003): 21–31. Back

5.     Paul R. Smith, Is It Okay to Call 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 male headship, see Steve Golden, “Feedback: Is Male Headship a “Curse”?” Answers in Genesis, Back

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

12.   Gilbert Bilezikian, “A Challenge for Proponents of Female Submission to Prove Their Case from the Bible,” Christians for Biblical Equality, Back

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

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