Darryl Tippens has rendered a service to the churches of Christ.
He has done so by introducing the name of Jacques Derrida (b.
1930). He is a major world figure in philosophy and literary criticism
at the Ecole Normale Superieur in Paris. His theories are
best known as deconstructionism and poststructuralism.
Derrida is the "godfather" of deconstructionism, which
is now the current craze of postmodern theology. Derrida maintains
that the meaning of language is hidden and elusive, and that no
interpretation can be established from the written text by exposing
the linguistic and philosophical presuppositions concealed therein.
In Derrida's scheme for the deconstructionist, language is a social
construct with no fixed "meaning outside the text, nor in
the text." There are no "praxis," no "parameters"
with fixed boundaries, and no hypothetical "paradigm"
which are proposed.
The average "run of the mill" change agents such as
Lynn Anderson are way in over their "philosophical"
heads in Derridean deconstructionism. Deconstructionism has lost
its bid to replace "existentialism" as the philosophical
buzz word of the '9Os. However, the influence of Derrida in postmodern
theology is deep and destructive as it reaches into our schools
through postmodern theologians who are securely positioned in
the Bible departments.
Derrida maintains that no definite interpretation can be established
for a written text (including Scripture). His method is to deconstruct
a text by exposing the linguistic and philosophical presuppositions
concealed within the text. Tippens phrases this concept best for
us: "For Derrida, language is nonreferential; we can
never be sure if it matches up to anything 'out there,' whether
being, God truth, reality, and so forth; all readings are constantly
The strangest twist of all has been the acknowledgment by our
liberal avantgarde brethren of the significance of the postmodern
theological concept of deconstructionism/poststructuralism. Deconstruction's
project is to relativize the meaning of a biblical text by showing
that the Bible has many other interpretations than that conveyed
by the surface "meaning" in the text. Deconstruction's
radical hermeneutics strikes mortal blows at the integrity of
the Bible's claim to divine truth.
Derridean "Deconstructionism" Addressed
Tippens could not have been aware of the implications of his 1987
and 1990 Christian Scholars Conference papers in introducing the
philosophical and literary concepts of Jacques Derrida. The papers
are titled "The Ethics of Interpretation: Jacques Derrida
and Christian Values" and "Postmodern Theories of Interpretation:
What They Say to Restorationists."
Darryl Tippens has the scholarly credentials of an English scholar.
This means that he has an adequate command of literary criticism
and an adequate knowledge of philosophy which relates to literary
criticism. There is an especially provocative statement in his
CSC paper with questions which demand answering.
Just as 1859 is forever established as a critical date in European
civilization marking Darwin's Origin of the Species - so
in our time we may well look back upon 1967 as the date of
momentous change in our civilization, for in that year Jacques
Derrida published three philosophical works in the United States:
Speech Phenomena, Writings and Differences, and Of Grammatology.
Dr. Tippens will have continuing cause to regret this statement
because of a 1992 London Times article and a letter signed
by 19 scholars around the world. It seems that Cambridge dons
and worldclass scholars do not show this enthusiasm for
Derrida's importance as a man of letters. But they do recognize
his notoriety in the world community of scholars.
And it is just at this point that "suspicion" of Dr.
Tippens' analysis of Derridean philosophy kicks in. He is fully
aware that deconstruction's radical hermeneutics strikes lethal
blows at both conservative and liberal traditional exegeses of
Dr. Tippens makes a most provocative statement: "reconstruction
is maddening, but it is worth considering." Just what does
Tippens mean that deconstruction is worth considering in light
of the fact that Derrida regards Scripture as man-made religious
documents - not the Word of God?
Then this puzzling statement: "In the academy, we need to
answer Derrida (or reconcile Derrida) on philosophical grounds.
This is the task for Christian scholars." How could this
be so! Derrida does not need answering, but exposing.
The Judging of Jacques Derrida
The following information is extracted from a news story in the
London Times, May 9, 1992, titled "A Storm in the
Cloisters," and "Letters to the Editor." A campaign
by the dons of Cambridge was underway to deny Derrida an honorary
doctorate from Cambridge. Four dons stood up and cried non
places, "You must be joking!" The dons charged that
Derrida's brand of deconstructionism questions the very notion
of truth and dances playfully on the shifting sands of language.
In the letter to the London Times, 19 scholars from around
the world registered their objections to the tricks and gimmicks
of Derrida which they claimed lacked the vigor and clarity of
AngloSaxon thinking. Barry Smith, one of the signatories,
said the honor would promote Derridean ideas, not least in the
postcommunist world, where the intellectuals were seeking
a new guru to replace their fallen Marxist idiots.
The judgment of the scholars is that Derrida's work is irrational
and nihilistic. Derrida is a charlatan who offers little more
than semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth,
and scholarship. Had this writer inveighed earlier against Derrida
in such a manner before the Cambridge dons, I would have been
summarily dismissed as an uninformed conservative church of Christ
We are confident that Dr. Tippens would not have read his learned
papers on Jacques Derrida could he have known of the concerted
efforts of the Cambridge dons to discredit the scholarship of
Derrida. The CSC papers of Tippens will return to visit him in
that all of his second thoughts cannot cancel out half a line.
Some Questions for Brother Tippens
We isolate particular statements of Tippens in order to raise
pointed questions. We do not expect him to answer, but the reader
will want to know why he does not.
1. You say, "I believe that some versions of post-structuralist
philosophy are a serious threat to Christianity."
Question: Which versions are a threat, and which are not,
and would you enlighten us further?
2. You say, "A fullblown deconstruction may well be
the death of truth (if it exists)."
Question: Would you explain this odd statement in the light
of inerrant Scripture? (Is Dr. Tippens questioning the existence
of truth as, let's say, Pilate did? Just what is Dr. Tippens saying?)
3. You say, "In the academy [our scholars on the cutting
edge of postmodern scholarship], we need to answer Derrida (or
reconcile Derrida) on philosophical grounds. This is a critical
task for Christian scholars today."
Question: Dr. Tippens, take a lesson from the dons. Why
is there a need to reconcile Derridean deconstructionism to the
inerrant Word of God, or to Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or any masterpiece
of world literature? Why do you praise him?
4. You say, "We cannot ignore postmodernism any more than
the church could ignore Galileo, Freud, or Darwin."
Question: We understand what Dr. Tippens implies here.
But are you saying we can not ignore Derrida even after the Cambridge
dons have trashed the validity of deconstructionism?
5. You say, "reconstruction is maddening, but it is worth
Question: What part of deconstruction is worth considering?
My view is that what is worth considering is the exposing of this
nonsense as the Cambridge scholars did in less than genial language.
I can fully appreciate brother Tippens' desire to be and to appear
scholarly before our scholarly brethren who are now writing books
on the "cutting edge" of postmodern theology. This is
how the "paper chase" game is played. What I cannot
stomach, just at that point, is why our liberal brethren start
wallowing in sanctimonious piety right on the heels of their,
less than subtle, deconstruction of Scripture?
Tippens concludes his CSC paper thus:
Ultimately we don't need a new hermeneutic or an old hermeneutic.
We need a Savior, and we need a broken and contrite heart that
confesses, 'I can't figure all this out. God, please rescue me
from this Babel.'
To use a metaphor of Alexander Campbell, Dr. Tippens and his liberal
brethren have rushed past Jerusalem and ended up in Babylon. Their
present salvation is to confess their sins to their gullible brethren
who have swallowed every word they have said and ask God for forgiveness.
Their "glass towers" of postmodern scholarship offer
no hiding places.
Feature Book: Among the Scholars
by David W. Hester
Paperback, 167 pages
$7.99 + shipping and tax if applicable
Click here to order