Although I considered writing a separate article for each of the four points listed below, I think it may be in the best interest of time (mine, anyway!) to simply list them in summary form in a single post. It should be obvious by now that my own answers to the questions posed in my first post are "no", "no", "no" and "no". Exegetes do not operate with methodological objectivity, nor should they. Furthermore neither the apostles nor early church fathers paid much attention to the kind of procedures and criteria foisted upon seminary students in their quest for an unbiased reading of Scripture. What may not be clear, though, is how I might answer the last question - that is, are there interpretive options that repudiate the false ideal of Enlightenment objectivity and at the same time avoid relativistic nihilism? I believe that there are. Below are listed four resources that Christians should draw upon in developing a hermeneutical bridge from the text to the reader. But before I list them, there are some general comments I think germane to the topic of theological methodology and the interpretation of Scripture.
Firstly, while the postmodern critical theories of Derrida, Rorty, and Fish may be helpful in their chastisement of an overstated modernism as "too big for its breeches", I think they are ultimately bankrupt in providing sensible alternatives for what counts as textual meaning, literary knowledge and the ethical treatment of texts. While I understand that misconceptions and caricature abound in portraying the true import of these theories (particularly that of Derrida), it seems to me that the fundamental failure to see texts as truly communicative in some meaningful way hamstrings the entire discussion.
Related to this is a second observation about method, and that is the issue of intuition. Doubtless, our perceptions of the world are often misguided and sometimes even downright mistaken - but any theory which utterly disregards our pre-critical impressions, especially of those features of the world with which we interact so often (like speech, writing and reading) is, in my view, a failure. Theory is an attempt to elucidate existing objects and practices, and one criteria of a theory's success should be the degree to which it explains phenomena adduced by pre-critical intuition. Please don't mistake this comment as an appeal to common sense - Aristotle spoke of how appearances prove to be much more complex and counter-intuitive upon investigation, and I agree with him - but these complexities have explanatory power only to the degree to which they elucidate our initial impressions. The more radical doubt a theory casts on our intuitions the more explanation and evidence we ought to demand from it - and it's here that I find the arguments of many poststructural strategies sorely lacking. In all of the claims to the author's death I haven't seen why I should believe this is so; I've yet to see an intelligible reconstruction of the crime scene much less the presentation of the body. But I'm not nearly as well-read as I ought to be on the subject - maybe some commenters can help.
Finally, I must say that the above observation has given me a gross distaste for the global claims made by literary critics about not only the nature of texts, reading and interpretation but with the nature of knowledge, ethics and (of course) God. Here, in my judgment, is where postmodern literary critics need some chastisment with no less fervor than they dish out to the modernist tradition of Western philosophy. The uneasy sense with which they never seem to "show me the money" (as mentioned above) grows into disgust when at the same time the claims made about metaphysics and epistemology are so sweeping and self-assured. I can't help but see them as "too big for their breeches". Even with my paltry knowledge of subjects philosophical (I have an undergraduate degree in history alongside my divinity degree), I can see that parallel observations about the limits and nature of language have grown alongside literary criticism in the analytic tradition. What's more, the subject of epistemology seem to have grown past many postmodern objections without the absurdly grandiose pronouncements, and with (instead) tightly reasoned attempts to answer objections, inconsistencies and explanatory failure. Postmodernism, not least postmodern literary theories, seems strangely immune to criticism by those who tout them. Does that make you suspicious? It should. With that said, here are some ways forward (note that the pictures are resource links):
1) Reformed epistemology: Knowing how to interpret a text depends upon how and how much you think a person can know. Reformed epistemology has, in my mind, has given the strongest account for what knowledge is and how it works without succumbing to the criticisms of postmodernist anxiety. The moderate correspondence theory of William P. Alston and the moderate foundationalism of Alvin Plantinga not only resonate philosophically, but theologically in that they promote a "faith seeking understanding" (i.e. a dependence upon Christian starting points). They are fundamentally presuppositional, eliminating the notion of "neutral common ground", which takes into account the most basic postmodern sensibility (there's a topic for discussion!). They imply the notion of covenant loyalty as a necessary part of what it means "to know", and know truly. Applied to Scripture this means that we should come to the text Christianly, without the apologetic pressure to prove our readings to be "objectively verifiable" to those who don't display a commitment to the Christian worldview. This requires seeing the text as not only the work of human hands, but as divine discourse (a phrase used by another Reformed philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff). The divine intention is made most clear when we see texts in their canonical setting, and divine discourse can only take place when the reader has personal knowledge of the Author.
2) Speech-act theory: While someone might want to debate the success of Vanhoozer's attempt to ground speech-act theory in theological conviction (cg. Is There a Meaning in This Text?) it seems to me that a theory of interpretation must take into account the author as a communicative agent, the text as an account of something the author did, and the distinction between the act of the author and the effects of the text. Seeing language primarily in terms of semiotics, encoded thoughts in need of contexts for decoding, is a classically Cartesian mistake upon which deconstruction depends. Moreover, the notion of a text without authorial intent is nonsense. There, I said it. The difference between noise and speech, tittles and texts, chaos and communication, is intention. Seeing texts as purposeful human actions (just as other human actions, like driving, sneezing and sex) requires the concept of intention. Speech-act theory seems to hold these things together well without reducing intention to some kind of psychologized Schleiermacherian "stepping inside the author's skin". Intention isn't about the mental state of the author, but what the author does in tending to his words with linguistic conventions appropriate to the speech-act.
3) Apostolic interpretation: The apostles (and the church fathers, for that matter) went further than a simple descriptive use of Scripture in its original context. They used it ironically, antithetically, and a number of other creative ways in order to show how God's actions in the present were an outgrowth of something He had done in the past. In his book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Richard Hays shows how Paul's use of the Old Testament was not only more sophisticated than proof-texting, but more careful as well. This involved something more than attending to the historical grammatical context but something less than arbitrary appropriation according to words or phrases which might help his argument. He instead proposes that the quotations display an intertextual melding which brings together the circumstances of his letters with the context of the quote to create new meaning. The constraints he mentions to this use of Scripture (namely 1. God's faithfulness to his promises, 2. the testimony of Jesus' death and resurrection - i.e. the Gospel - and 3. the goal of cruciform church) together with his seven guidelines listed for hearing "echoes" provide an understanding not only of how Paul used the Old Testament, but how Christians might (and in fact do) read Scripture today. Without regurgitating his argument here, I would point out that Paul's practice of reading Scripture not only emphasizes a sensitivity to the historical situation in which they were written, but with one eye to contemporary events in the church "upon whom the ends of the ages has come". This collapses the "what it meant" and "what it means" into a single category, much like Paul himself seems to do in his use of OT texts.
4) Critical realism: I'm not sure what it means to speak of "critical realism" as a full-blown epistemology, but the general attitude is one I think is key not only to doing history (as Wright deftly displays in The New Testament and the People of God) but to the interpretation of Scripture. This involves, firstly, a stance toward the text which sees it as adequately (though not exhaustively) knowable, though in a mediated sense. It also sees the role of explanatory power as an important criteria for faithfulness to the text; in other words, instead of exalting the detailed analysis of exegesis as the most important feature of interpretation it seeks to take into account the larger "narrative world", itself shaped by texts, within which the authors lived, moved and had their being (as do we!). Laying these larger paradigms over the Biblical text to see similarities and differences should be an interpretive priority of equal value as exegesis in getting at the author's intended meaning. More than that, though, critical realism is a disposition which sees that however obscured our vision may be, or however provisional our readings may be, adequate understanding is not only possible, but plausible.
Obviously more could be said. I would have liked to said more about Jewish exegesis in comparison (and contrast) with Paul's use of Scripture with an eye to the issue of "objectivity", but having mentioned these four suggestions, I'll just be content to move on!