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Understanding for postmoderns is always contextual, never universal. Postmodernity does not mean the end of all authority, however, only of universal norms; local norms remain in force. Interpretation is always “from below,” shaped by the reader’s contextually conditioned context and regulated by the authority of community-based norms. Hence, if interpretation is indeed a form of power reading, it remains to be seen whose power it is and whether its force is liberating. For while truth has been described as a force that sets one free (John 8:32), postmoderns see truth as a rhetorical device used by the strong to justify their power over the weak. This leads us to a crucial problem for the postmodern critic: To what do we appeal when the context rather than the text is the oppressor? …

If the community’s interest and experience—the present context—provide the framework for interpreting Scripture, what happens when the framework itself is corrupt? To assign priority to the reader’s context and interest is to immunize one’s interpretive community from the very possibility of criticism by the text. Reading the text on these terms is like projecting one’s image onto the mirror of the text, a hermeneutic strategy that sentences the interpretive community to stare at its own reflection. Such a narcissistic hermeneutics stands little chance of expanding one’s self-knowledge, or for that matter, of achieving genuine liberation.

—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?

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