Via Maggi Dawn, I found this great post by Jonathan Evens, a vicar in a church in the UK, which points out how modernist literature and Scripture are similar:
Maggi Dawn has noted in The Writing on the Wall a similarity between the middle style of Dante which moves between different modes of expression and the way "the Bible tells its stories, moving backwards and forwards between primitive and sophisticated forms, and covering a wide range of genres, again conforming to Dante’s ideal of an unmediated accessibility to God." Dawn uses the standard image of a small library to describe the diversity within which this movement occurs: "Its stories are not laid out chronologically, and it is the work of so many different authors, in different genres and from different times, that although it seems like a book it would be more apt to call it a small library."
Similarly, Gabriel Josipovici, in The Book of God, quotes James Barr’s comment "about the Bible needing to be thought of not so much as a book but as a cave or cupboard in which a miscellany of scrolls has been crammed." He notes that "many modernist works might well be described as more like cupboards or caves crammed with scrolls than like carefully plotted nineteenth-century novels or even fairy stories and romances." As a result, a "generation which has experienced Ulysses and The Waste Land[...]" should be to view this image of the Bible positively more easily than would a generation "whose idea of a book and a unity was a novel by Balzac or George Eliot."
Evens points to the "modernist generations’ ability to recognise the diversity of scripture and to note the significance of the movement backwards and forwards within its form..."
Although Evens uses modernist literature as an analogy for Scripture, the backward-and-forward, non-linear descriptions sound postmodern as well. And just like Evens highlighted the modernist generation, I think that many postmoderns can understand the Bible in a unique way.
By postmodernism, I am referring to the idea that the world is a linguistic, social, and cultural construct. Context is important, as is deconstruction of power, authority, authorship, and discourse.
N.T. Wright, in a great example of this construct/context view of the world, employs a metaphor of a five-act Shakespeare play to describe the authority of Scripture (or rather, an alternative to an UN-postmodern notion of authority). The fifth act is unfinished, however, because the church is to act it out for themselves. Wright's metaphor hints at ideas in Evens' post: a backward-and-forward motion, and drawing stories together.
The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand. That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution. This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency.
This model could and perhaps should be adapted further; it offers in fact quite a range of possibilities. Among the detailed moves available within this model [...] is the possibility of seeing the five acts as follows: (1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus. The New Testament would then form the first scene in the fifth act, giving hints as well (Rom 8; 1 Car 15; parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end. The church would then live under the ‘authority’ of the extant story, being required to offer something between an improvisation and an actual performance of the final act.
Chris Ridgeway also discusses the idea of Scripture as a drama in his thesis he has shared on his blog, and acknowledges its postmodern character. Chapter 2, drawing from Kevin J. Vanhoozer, includes the following:
[H]ow then, does the church faithfully perform the script of scripture? Vanhoozer asserts that the actions themselves are generated by Scripture—"canonical practices." Genres of scripture provide much more than a taxonomy, but set directions and rules for fitting participation. Drawing from Russian literature professor Mikhail Bakhtin, he finds that speech genres are actually "life genres"—literature falls into generic types because certain human situations regularly recur. Genres of scripture such as recounting history (narrative), praising God (psalms), cultivating the fear of the Lord (wisdom) are communicative practices that instruct, mentor, and call for participation.
The stories in the Bible reflect our human situation, which is not a carefully-plotted novel. Rather, these stories are part of an ongoing drama that we get to act out. Whether these ways of looking at the Bible are drawn from modernist literature or postmodern philosophy, they seem compelling...