“[O]ne of structuralism’s characteristic views is the notion that language does not just reflect or record the world: rather, it shapes it, so that how we see is what we see. The post-structuralist maintains that the consequences of this belief are that we enter a universe of radical uncertainty, since we can have no access to any fixed landmark which is beyond linguistic processing, and hence we have no certain standard by which to measure anything.” Thus explains my Beginning Theory textbook (Peter Barry, 2009). In The Death of the Author, post-structuralist Karl Barthes further explains:
Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.
As I muse over this abstract philosophy, I think back to a conversation I had with a man of God whom I highly respect. “At one point the Bible was an idol to me,” he said. “I had to give up that idol and focus on Jesus Christ.”
I was somewhat mystified by his comments. Can the Bible be an idol?
The Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines an idol as “any thing which usurps the place of God in the hearts of his rational creatures.” Can the Word of God in text usurp the position of the Word of God in Person?
Or, to frame the question differently, can I have too great an affection for the words of Jesus Christ?
Strangely enough, if the post-structuralists are right, the answer is yes. Because if the post-structuralists are right, language is a slippery thing that cannot accurately convey a message from an author to a reader. Thus Barthes’s insistence that in the best reading of a text, the author is dead. Reality is created by the reader as he reads. It varies with every reading. In fact, there is no universal reality outside the text at all.
So from a post-structuralist standpoint, the Bible cannot accurately portray the message of its Author. Therefore, the Author must be sought outside the text. Too great a focus on the text might actually hinder our seeing the Author.
As you may have guessed, I am not a post-structuralist. I believe language (although slippery) can portray—to a large degree of accuracy—the message intended by the author.
However, even as I concede to my post-structuralist friends some slippage in language, I realize that the God who created language made provision against that slippage. He gave us His Holy Spirit to quicken (make alive) the Word as we read it (John 14:26). As we read the Bible, the Author of the text is willing to sit beside us and make His meaning plain. The Word in text, when so enlightened, leads us straight to the Word in Person. To love this Word is to love both the Bible and Jesus Christ.