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Christianity and Literature 546 Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief. By Roger Lundin. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. ISBN 0-801-02726-8. Pp x + 272. $24.99. I am asked on a fairly regular basis whether I think postmodernism is good for the church. My answer is always a confident “yes and no.” Yes, because postmodernism has helped to break us out of the modernist box (or structure); no, because it inevitably leaves us stranded in a relativistic, doctrine-less world without certainties or absolutes. At the root of modernism (or structuralism) is the desire to erect a rigorous, scientific system that will account for all the data we experience. The Darwinian structure reduces all things to the unguided forces of natural selection. The Marxian structure reduces all things to the means and modes of economic production, out of which rise politics, religion, culture, and consciousness itself. The Freudian structure reduces all things to dark subconscious urges; it is the sublimation of these urges, and not the I AM of the Bible that represents the true origin of our psyche. Alas, the modernist mania for structure has not left the church unaffected. In fundamentalism (with its commitment to reading the Bible strictly literally, often as a scientific textbook), dispensationalism (with its precise historical charts that confidently include a complex itinerary for the future), and hyper-Calvinism (with its rigidly systematic theology that borders on divine determinism), we encounter a desire to squeeze Christianity into a rational, logical system that leaves little room, or role, for emotion and intuition and that downplays the narrative, poetic, and mythic elements of the Bible. In reaction to modernism, postmodernism (or poststructuralism) has questioned the ability of monolithic structures to account for reality. Rejecting the one-to-one correspondence between a word (signifier) and the meaning of that word (signified) upon which rests not only scientific discourse but the authority of scripture and the integrity of the creeds and dogmas of the church, deconstructionists have set the signifier free from systems that would strip it of its personal, cultural, and metaphorical resonances. For deconstructionists like Derrida all such systems, whether sacred or secular, are guilty of logocentrism. Although Roger Lundin does not make use of the word logocentrism in his well-researched and lucidly written book, Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief, he does argue effectively for a literature centered on the Logos (Word). Rather than speak in terms of logocentrism, he defends the existence and value of the Christian metanarrative, something which postmodernist have been equally eager to deconstruct. To be more precise, Lundin explores the relationship between words and stories and establishes both in the Incarnation. 547 Book Reviews Lundin, Arthur F. Holmes Professor of Faith and Learning at Wheaton College, begins his search for the Word with Juliet’s heartfelt assertion that Romeo’s name is no part of himself. Juliet, writes Lundin, “sounds like a dutiful graduate student wending her way through the labyrinthine paths of contemporary theories of language and interpretation. To her, a name is an arbitrary sign. It may point to a real person or an actual state of affairs, but it should never be accepted as a sufficient substitute for the real thing” (15). For Lundin, Juliet’s rebellion against the essentialistic power of names has affinities with William of Ockham’s attempt to ground “natural law solely on the arbitrary, unobliged will of God” (15). According to the nominalism of Ockham, words are not names pointing back to eternal realities but arbitrary signs pointing to particular, individual concepts. With the help of such critics as Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, Paul Ricoeur, and Erich Auerbach, Lundin draws a line from Ockham’s nominalism, which was guided by God, even if God’s will was obscure to human understanding, to the naturalisticlinguisticstructuralismofFerdinanddeSaussure.Justasman,according to Darwin, is a product of biological forces working within a closed system, so “the total system of language,” what Saussure called langue, is a “historically generated social product that makes possible every individual act of speech we write or utter” (49). Truth ceases to be something we discover in an open...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 546-549
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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