An Old Testament Theological Critique of Postmodern Thoughts

By. Dr. Joseph Shao

Living today in the 21st century is exciting! There are many choices and conveniences. In the postmodern world, there is a shift from the enlightenment of modernity to the multifaceted post-modernity. The shift is, of course, relative because we continue to live as Christians in both the modern and post-modern world.

In the case of postmodern thoughts, the basic underlining presupposition is that there is no on methodology that can validly express and interpret the Christian beliefs. There is a fundamental shift in the use of hermeneutics in postmodern thoughts. With historical-grammatical method, we normally can have an interpretation which is normative. Between the Western and Eastern interpreters, we will end up with similar, if not, the same concluding interpretation. But now with many hermeneutical possibilities, there seems to be too many choices for the interpreters to use. Even if one scholar uses one particular methodology such as literary genre in the interpretation of narratives, different scholars will come up with various suggestive methodologies.

The Old Testament is both theologically-centered and people-centered. Although we may struggle to keep these two poles together, the Old Testament is demonstrably integrated. Through stories in the Old Testament, it expresses the true theology and right doctrine. In the teaching environment, the Torah (Law) gives us the lessons to learn. We shall focus on some salient “calls” of the Old Testament and its message as a critique to postmodern thoughts.

Call to Listen (Deut 6:4-9)

“Hear, O Israel…” the call to shama (listen) is an important reminder to listen. In postmodern thoughts, there are too many voices to listen to. With a shift from rational analysis to intuitive feelings and mystical synthesis in postmodern thoughts, it is imperative we listen to the Lord who created and redeems the world.

Shama allow us to go back to the biblical tradition of waiting before God, listening to His guidance. With metanarratives, which are accepted as normative by postmodern thoughts, we need to go back to the text and listen carefully to what the biblical narratives would want us to learn. We need to listen to didactic passage in the prophetic corpus. It is by carefully listening to the text and carefully reading the biblical narratives that we can derive the message for the modern world.

Call to Commit (Josh 24)

In postmodern thoughts, with its basic philosophy of accepting all theories as truth, and its shift from the authority of science to the relativity of all truth, there seems to be nothing for us to hold on to. In our historic theological theorems accepting revelation is the essential key to understanding the fundamentals of our faith, whereas, postmodern thoughts are basically pluralistic in its interpretative foundation.

In the discussion of the faith of the patriarchs and the people of Israel, Joshua has presented a call to commit to follow and serve the Lord (Josh 24:15). The text clearly reveals that the Lord is unquestionably the object of our faith commitment. The people may choose other gods, such as the gods beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, but a call to commit to follow is a good rejoinder to the pluralistic tendencies of postmodern interpreters int he interpreting faith in the Old Testament and New Testament. For some, listening to the various beliefs of the common people in the countryside, especially with its syncretistic beliefs of even pagan beliefs may bring a fresh meaning to the situation of the biblical world. There are tendencies for some interpreters to enjoin too many social and cultural exceptional values of the old days, wherein one wonders whether such “creative” findings represent the biblical norms. The call to commit to the Lord, and not to other gods, is a noble and foundational call.

Call to Obey (1 Sam 12)

In the finale of Samuel’s ministry during the time of Saul, he has challenged the people of God to obey the Lord. It is a good theological critique to postmodern thoughts. Changing from theocratic way of life to monarchic way of life is not proper. By living without God in their life, it is definitely not pleasing to God. Obedience has always has been a call of the biblical God to His chosen people. In postmodern thoughts, there is a shift from ethical authority to tolerance and inclusiveness.Tolerance and inclusiveness have become the rule of the day. ?

Samuel’s great message is for the people of God to follow and obey Him. God, the ethical authority, is the author and perfecter of our faith. Whereas, postmodern thoughts are deconstructive in its nature, the biblical redemptive message that builds up the biblical theology is constructive. Moreover, the shift from obedience to law to self-centeredness and to lawlessness, is foreign to the biblical message.

Call to Know (Hos 4:1; 6:1-6)

Hosea the prophet challenges the people of God to know God. Postmodern thoughts have made a shift from ideas to experience. It also has a tendency to dichotomize knowledge and experience. Hosea stands as the best prophet to call the people of God to integrate both poles of knowledge and experience. In his writings, he would integrate both ideas and experience. Knowing God, for Hosea, means experiencing and practising our faith together.

Whereas postmodern thoughts shifted from enlightenment justice to sentimental love, Hosea would call the people of God to respond to God’s love by being faithful to him. Knowing God also means we have a desire to be faithful and be responsive to his love.

Summarizing, postmodern thoughts would like us to listen to various voices, but the Old Testament calls us to listen to the Lord. Postmodern thoughts, with its new methodology of searching for truth, may end up with not truth, yet the Old Testament calls us to commit to the Lord. Postmodern thoughts may lead us not believe in the norm, the Old Testament challenges us to obey the Lord. Whereas, postmodern thoughts may want us to rely on experience, the Old Testament idea of integration of ideas and experience is to know God and let him be known.