Not By Bread Alone: An Ontology of Christian Proclamation in Theological Perspective
TABLE OF CONTENTS IV 1. Introduction 1 1.1 The Confessional Impetus 4 1.2 The Theological Context 11 1.3 Special Terms 30 1.4 A Note on Method 45 1.5 The Course Ahead 48 2. In the Beginning was the Word and Breath... 51 2.1 Trinity 52 2.2 Silence, Speech, and Trinity 69 2.3 Trinity, Speech, and Creation 74 2.4 Creation as Text 84 2.5 Word and Kenosis 93 2.6 Observations and Conclusion 95 3. And God Said... 103 3.1 Creatio ex nihilo 104 3.2 Creatio ex verbum 108 3.3 Creatura Verbi 119 3.4 Observations and Conclusion 134 4. Language: The House of Being 140 4.1 Language, Word, Dialogue 141 4.2 Language and World 160 4.3 Linguisticality 164
4.4 Observations and Conclusion 177 5. The One Who Hears You Hears Me 187 5.1 Introduction: Summative Synthesis 188 5.2 Spirit, Speech, and Language 193 5.3 Preaching as Re-creation 209 5.4 Preaching as Hermeneutic and Kenotic Word-Event 215 5.5 Preaching as In-between 231 5.6 Conclusion 242 6. The Unsaid 245 6.1 Charitable Conversation 246 6.2 Sympathetic Suasion 249 6.3 A Brief Note on Bad Sermons 256 6.4 Conclusion 263 Bibliography 265
VI ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Two personal anecdotes help frame the following theological exploration into Christian proclamation. Typically when I return home after working all day I am encountered by my children hiding behind the door who then jump out and greet me with exuberant hugs (one of God's dearest gifts to me). One day several years ago, however, I entered an unusually quiet home except for my wife's tidying of the kitchen. As I called out while approaching my wife, I heard Samuel's voice - he was 4 at the time - and he said, "Daddy, is that you?" I entered the room where he was and greeted him and he continued, "I knew you were home because I heard your voice." Notice the profound connections he made in his simple observations: he knew (epistemological certainty) that I was home (ontological presence) because he heard (phenomenological encounter) my voice. My personal presence was for him established by his hearing my voice. A second anecdote involves my two other children, Melody and Christopher. Just about a year ago, my wife challenged Christopher - our oldest child who talks incessantly - to remain quiet for one hour, and, upon successful compliance, would receive monetary reward. He accepted the challenge and prepared for his assignment by placing headphones on his ears to listen to music. My wife insisted that he remain social, that he interact with the rest of the family; no isolation was permissible. Melody complained, "Mom, how can he be social—he can't talk?" My daughter's simple comment, like Samuel's, uncovered a profound intuition: sociality implies speech and speech implies sociality.
VII These episodes reveal what lies at the heart of the thesis below: listening to the preaching of the Word of God implicates one in a personal encounter with the Lord of history who is present in and as the eternal Word. This preaching event is underwritten by the divine breath who enables all communicative events. In other words, the preaching event is an ontological event, an event in and during which one relates to a (divine) person. As I near the completion of this process, I am mindful of so many others who have contributed to who I am. I bear sole responsibility for my literary actions, but I could not have achieved them without considerable assistance from many kind and generous people. I wish, first, to offer thanks to my dissertation committee. I met Michael Palmer thirteen years ago while taking an ethics course in my master's program. He taught the course just months after a personal tragedy; his lectures in that term were transparent and deeply human and I still feel their impact whenever I lecture or preach. Estrelda Alexander is a down-to-earth theologian whose no- nonsense style is a breath of fresh air in an all too often overly stuffy setting. Doug Oss was my professor in Bible College twenty years ago and has been a good friend ever since. One of the best preachers I know he cares intensely about preaching the presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am grateful also to several others: to Amos Yong, a creative theologian who has taught me that one can learn from just about any source; to Stan Burgess who made available my first opportunities to publish; to Peter Grabe who first introduced me to Gadamer; to Dale Irvin who first introduced me to Rosenstock-Huessy; to Graham Twelftree, a superb New Testament scholar who is more like Jesus than just about anyone else I know; and to Jim Railey who always displays an infectious theological humility and fairness that glorifies God.
VI I I In addition to teachers and mentors, a handful of fellow students and friends have been a source of strength and encouragement. Skip Horton-Parker is a good friend and able scholar and I have appreciated our intense dialogues over the last eight years; Scott Lewis, David Massey, and Brian Onken were my closest friends in the Ph.D. program at Regent University - our many fruitful discussions and debates over many lunches taught me as much as any of the lectures we all endured in the program. Thanks also to my friend Phil Hanegan who has helped me clarify and sharpen my theology through countless conversations since Bible College. I am most grateful for my family. The children, as I've mentioned above, have taught me simple lessons and contributed immeasurable joy to my journey thus far. Thanks to my oldest brother Buddy who read portions of the manuscript and offered helpful suggestions. To my parents: your love for and commitment to each other is an astonishing display of selflessness and charity which I can only hope will be manifest in my marriage also - 1 love you both. To my sweet wife Michele, I love you more. And finally, this dissertation is dedicated to the memory of Margaret B. Keller (1929-2004) - my Aunt Pippy - respected nursing educator and faithful Sunday school teacher: your voice still reverberates in mine.
1 1. INTRODUCTION Was in Deiner Sprache das Seyn ist, mochte ich lieber das Wort nennen (What is labeled 'being' in your language, I would prefer to call 'word') - Johann Georg Hamann, Letter to F. H. Jacobi1 ...one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD - Deuteronomy 8.3b (NRSV) The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life - John 6.63b (NRSV) The following study owes its genesis to sustained reflection upon the enigmatic statement from chapter one of the Second Helvetic Confession (1566): Praedicatio verbi Dei est verbum Dei - "The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God."2 The Westminster Shorter Catechism adds that "the Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith unto salvation." 1 Quoted in Harold Stahmer, Speak That I May See Thee!: The Religious Significance of Language (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 63, 68. Stahmer's English translations read as follows: "What you refer to as Being, I prefer to call the Word" (63), and "What in your language is being, I should prefer to call the Word" (68). 2 From The Book of Confessions, 2nd ed. (New York: Office of the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1970), 5.004. 3 Ibid., 7.089, italics added; from the answer to Q 89: How is the Word made effectual to salvation? Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, ed. G. I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2002), comments on the parallel passage in the Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 155: "The first five words are: 'The Spirit of God maketh...' These words teach us that the Bible or the Word of God does not have any inherent power of its own, apart from the inward work of the Holy Spirit in a person's heart, to accomplish anything toward a person's salvation. It is of course not impossible for the Spirit, in special cases, to work apart from the Word (see Confession of Faith 10.3). But the Word by itself alone, without the inward, saving work of the Holy Spirit, can never bring about any step in the salvation of a person. The Spirit is not helpless without the Word, but the Word is useless for salvation without the Spirit" (436, emphasis original). First of all, notice how pneumatocentric this quote sounds. For all the criticism (some of it justified) the Reformed tradition receives related to its alleged underdeveloped pneumatology and its concomitant christocentricism, this quote reveals a rather robust
2 In the essay below, I will unpack the significance of these profound declarations in theological and philosophical perspective. More specifically, I initiate a dialogue between Oliver Davies, David Bentley Hart, and Hans-Georg Gadamer drawing from their con vers ation(s) insights which illuminate the divine-human encounter active in the preaching event. Other voices enter the dialogue at various points but these primary interlocutors guide the proposal toward this conclusion: Christian proclamation is a singular site of God's kenotic performance4 of divine being and presence in and through human speaking - and this speaking happens in the embodied orality and aurality of the proclaimed word. Rather than contrast this perspective with some others, I offer it as a complement to them. Some contrast is inevitable but my goal is to enter a mutually enriching dialogue. Mine is another voice in the conversation engaging others in constructing an ontology of Christian proclamation. The dialogue that unfolds below is confined in at least the following ways. First, the partners are primarily theological and philosophical; they are not experts in homiletical method and practice. This does not mean that there is no benefit for regular ministers of the word.51 draw some conclusions which (hopefully) view which actually makes the Word dependent on the Spirit and not the other way around. I can agree with this perspective as far as it goes, but I want to push a little; is it possible that we divide too sharply the Word and the Spirit as if they're somehow separable? On my account, the Word is always already Spirited; the Word is not the Word without the Spirit—which means that it is inherently full of the Spirit whose presence signals (at least) the possibility of transformation and renewal. There is no "Word by itself alone" - the Word is always sustained by and in the breath of the Spirit. Hence, there is a sense in which one can affirm that the Word (or the Bible) is inherently powerful to save, to heal, to transform, to enlighten. 4 Brief definitions for special terms (i.e., kenotic) are included below (in §1.4) and given more detail and context in later chapters. 5 Those preaching regularly will benefit from the phenomenological perspective herein which posits that God's presence obtains in the proclaimed word of the gospel of grace and peace. This, however, may do little to aid in the composition of an actual sermon, since (echoing Gadamer) what I attempt to
3 benefit the wider church and her preachers. However, my interest is not in preaching as a methodical practice - building supporting points around a thematic statement - but rather in the experience occurring within the event of proclamation, the encounter with the Triune presence of God in the preached word. The benefits, thus, are less fruitful for the composition, mechanics, and delivery of sermons and more profitable for discovering afresh the communion with God nurtured by and sustained in the articulation of the word. That preachers' words participate in the divine utterance and transposition of life and peace means much more than the pursuit of relevance and respectability for which so many preachers clamor. Second, some voices are primary which means others are secondary, and as such are heard from less. This limitation expresses the finitude of any human endeavor: one simply cannot entertain all relevant material and research for a given project. I selected Davies, Hart, and Gadamer because I hear insights from them that magnify preaching in a new way, a way that invites possibilities and new perspectives that others do not. This admission says as much about my contextual perspective as it does about the contributions of these thinkers. Third, while the project is sensitive to the historic tradition of Christian theology and continental philosophy, the three primary interlocutors are contemporary. Each one is in his own way a postmodern voice. Writing in an earlier generation, Gerhard Ebeling spoke of a shift (still occurring today) from a metaphysical perspective to an historical perspective on reality. He asserts, "All the difficulties which face proclamation today approach is that which happens above and beyond (and sometimes contrary to) our sermonic willing and doing.
4 have in some way to do with the transition to a radically historical way of thought."6 One can view this transition as a moving from modernity to postmodernity, from foundationalism to persectivalism, from metaphysical structuralism7 to historical contextualism. While not entirely post-metaphysical, Davies, Hart, and Gadamer do contribute to this movement by retrieving from the pre-modern tradition the constructive sapience necessary to embody this shift. And they do this in ways that accent the so- called linguistic turn in postmodern philosophy.8 The remainder of this introduction focuses attention on the confessional impetus for the study, the theological context into which this conversation is inserted, a glossary of some special terms used, and a concluding note on method. § 1.1 The Confessional Impetus When the Second Helvetic Confession professes an identity between the Word of God and preaching, what precisely is meant by it? First, and at the very least, it means that "No other Word of God is to be expected by Christians, and this Word, as preached, 6 Gerhard Ebeling, Theology and Preaching, trans. John Riches (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 15. 7 By this term I mean the enterprise by which through reason alone one constructs the metaphysical framework that impinges upon the material world. In Kantian terms, metaphysical structuralism is the project of detailing the noumenal realm through reason alone. It is, in the end, an effort funded by a profound elevation of the human capacity for rational thought and the concomitant belief that the realm above and beyond human experience can be adequately described without sensorial contact. 8 The linguistic turn is a term describing the shift away from metaphysical and epistemological theories about reality toward theories involving the structure and use of language. For orientation, see Richard M. Rorty, ed., The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967); and Cristina Lafont, The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy, trans. Jose Medina (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).
5 is to be regarded as authoritative despite limitations inherent in the means."9 This suggests that preaching carries or transfers the authority of scripture into a living event: the embodied spoken delivery and audible reception of proclamation. Second, in their understanding of scripture, the early Reformed leaders confessed that, "the Word signified and expressed in" the "external characters" is the genuine "foundation of the church until the end of the age."10 Words are finite carriers and as such are incapable of sustaining the infinity of the subject11 they seek to express and unfold. The true foundation of the church is the letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs of the Bible insofar as they faithfully and authoritatively convey the infinite Word of God. Likewise, preaching is the Word of God inasmuch as it conveys the presence and power of God despite the finitude of human address which is the form of preaching. Third, the confession communicates a permanent relation between preaching and Word of God. It is certainly "not the intention," Muller adds, "of the confession to claim either that every sermon ought to be regarded as divine Word or that the moment of revelation that produced the words of the text was somehow automatically re-presented in the pulpit through the activity of the clergy."12 The Word of God in the preached word is not an automatic occurrence; it is a divine decision of grace. When God promises to be 9 Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725: Vol. 2: Holy Scripture, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 83, italics added. 10 Ibid., 158. 11 What I mean by the "infinity of the subject" will become clearer below. Briefly, it refers to the infinite qualities of what Gadamer calls die Sache, subject matters transmitted by and though tradition(s). Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 2:187.
6 present in the preaching of the Word, it is not proper to demand a fulfillment, for God always remains the sovereign Lord above his promise and covenant.13 God's promises are certain and believers may have great confidence in them, but they are not to be used as a means to confine God's freedom or sovereignty in relation to his creation. Fourth, the confession implies that the content of preaching should be carefully monitored by scripture itself. Barth comments, "This high estimation of churchly preaching is obviously inseparable from its biblical regulation. The statement, 'the preaching of the Word is the Word of God,' refers solely to preaching in accordance with Scripture."14 While this point is critical and deserving of attention, my concern is to investigate the experience of the verbal, audible encounter in the preaching event. Moreover, the confession allows that neither the minister proclaiming the Word nor the content of the sermon may ultimately inhibit the Spirit from presenting his presence in this event.15 Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, trans. G. W. Bromiley, eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 25, who writes that "Yahweh...accepts an obligation [in his covenant with Israel] but he does so on his own free initiative.... Yahweh does not stand above the covenant, but in it, yet he is also not under it." 14 Karl Barth, The Theology of the Reformed Confessions, trans. Darrell L. and Judith A. Guder (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 54, italics original. Cf. Jan Rohls, Reformed Confessions: Theology from Zurich to Barmen, trans. John Hoffmeyer (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 179, "The validity of the proclamation of the word depends solely on its content: that is, it depends on whether or not the sermon does in fact give expression to God's word." This seems to make its efficacy dependent on how well a preacher expresses the Word in the content of the sermon. I do not emphasize the content of the sermon as much as Barth and Rohls though I am sympathetic to their efforts. The effectiveness of sermonic address is both outside (Word and Spirit as ontologically other) and inside in the uttering of Word in Spirit. 15 Admittedly, the confession addresses only the former (i.e., the moral fitness of the minster) without addressing the latter (sermonic content) specifically. However, I am carefully extending it in this way: it does not seem to me that the confession proposes some sort of assessment criteria for sermons such that those with "more" biblical content are better representations of the Word, than those with "less" biblical content. I take the general Reformed approach that God may speak without means if he should
7 Indeed, there is a mystery put forth in the confession's identification of preaching and the Word, which mystery is probed further in the construction of the theological context.16 Before getting to this, though, I round out the confessional impetus with historical anecdotes from the broader Protestant theological tradition which show the profound impact of worded, verbal, vocal encounters with God. The claims of the two confessional documents quoted at the outset did not emerge from a vacuum. The theological and cultural ferment of the sixteenth century produced a number of advancements that still affect us today. Of interest here is the return of preaching to a central place in the worship of the church. Doubtlessly all Christians affirm in some way that "preaching is indispensable to Christianity."17 However, the Reformed tradition elevates the importance of preaching in the life and faith of worshippers of God.18 The Reformed tradition began formally in the ecclesial and theological renovations in the ministries and theologies of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. There were, however, antecedents in the ancient church, most notably in St. Augustine. The great bishop of Hippo wrote of his conversion to Christianity after a life of reckless licentiousness and excess in his Confessions. In book eight, he shares his choose to do so, to mean in this instance that God may speak his Word through poor sermons, i.e., sermons whose biblical content is thin (however one might measure this). 16 This identification cannot be "tangible," for that would result in a sort of "Monophysitism." On this point see Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, Vol. 2, trans. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 572. 17 John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 15. See Stephen H. Webb, The Divine Voice: Christian Proclamation and the Theology of Sound (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004), 103-63, who argues that the Reformation was an "event within the history of sound."
8 moment of crisis and turning to God: "I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or girl - 1 know not which - coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, 'Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.'"19 He understood this to mean to take up the scriptures and read the passage upon which his eyes fell. Doing this, he read from Paul's letter to the Romans (13.13-14) and immediately became enlightened and transposed into a life of righteousness, service, and devotion to God. The key component in this episode is the vocal and worded quality of the experience: Augustine heard a voice and read the scriptures. Vaught explains that though the moment was characterized by oral and aural phenomena, Augustine's first move was to internalize the event and think intently about the voice. Rooted in a Neoplatonic preference for rational thinking and abstraction, Augustine ponders the voice and its meaning. After concluding reasonably that the voice is not explicable in some other way, Augustine considers it the voice of God and proceeds to obey. From a certain perspective, one can say that Augustine's entrance into a life of theological and ministerial service to God and church was initiated by the sounding of the word, the proclamation of a command to read, that is, to listen.21 Augustine, Confessions, 8.12.29. Cited from Augustine: Confessions and Enchiridion, trans, and ed. Albert C. Outler, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955), 175-76. 20 Carl G. Vaught, Encounters with God in Augustine's Confessions: Books VII-IX (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), 91. In one sense, Augustine's reaction (internalizing reasoning) to the 'voice' betrays his experience of it. 21 Augustine did not hear a sermon in the sense we are accustomed to in the contemporary world. The point I wish to make is that his was an oral and aural experience in the same way that preaching today is.
9 In a way not dissimilar to Augustine's, one can say that the theological and pastoral career of John Calvin began with the audible word. Richard Muller records the incident in which William Farel, whose reputation as a thunder-voiced preacher was well established, prophesied that Calvin was to stay in Geneva and continue the work of the 99 Reformation there or else face divine consequences. Calvin intended to stay only briefly on his way toward what he thought would be a quiet academic career. However, Farel's words proved too much for Calvin, and so apart from a brief three-year period (1538^41), he remained in Geneva the rest of his life. Again, one can debate the significance of the event as such, but the vocal and aural characteristics of it are instructive. Calvin believed he heard God's voice in Farel's voice, in Farel's words. Calvin preached nearly a half dozen times per week for most of his career in Geneva and also noted (along with others) that a true or genuine church included the faithful preaching of the gospel.24 Clearly the word spoken and heard motivated Calvin.25 Richard A. Muller, "The Foundation of Calvin's Theology: Scripture as Revealing God's Word," Duke Divinity School Review 44 (1979): 14-24 (14). 23 As with Augustine, Calvin was motivated not so much by preaching in a modern sense (though I hold that prophecy is a form of preaching), but nonetheless by the sound of the word proclaimed, in an oral and aural event. 24 See the discussion in Rohls, Reformed Confessions, 166-77. In addition to preaching, the marks of a true church involved the right administration of the sacraments and church discipline. Calvin affirms this (i.e., a true church exists where "we see the Word of God purely preached and heard") in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 2:1023 (4.1.9), italics added. William A Dyrness, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture: The Protestant Imagination from Calvin to Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 49-90, admits that for Calvin "the ear is privileged above the eye" as the organ through which the Holy Spirit brings faith and grace (69; italics original). This admission comes despite Calvin's suggestion that no organ is necessary for the reception of the word (cf. the quote from Calvin's Theological Treatises on the same page). Dyrness concludes that for Calvin, images and visions are effective means only insofar as they are forms of the proclaimed word. Thus, in the context of Christian worship, one can 'see' God in the spoken word and the elements of Baptism and the Supper - but nowhere else.
10 John Wesley's conversion is as well known as and more programmatic for contemporary believers than Augustine's. After a disappointing missionary effort in the colony of Georgia in 1735, Wesley returned to England and contemplated his future. Some time later in 1738, attending a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate in the late evening, Wesley heard the reading from Luther's preface to his commentary on Romans. Upon hearing the words, Wesley reports that his heart was "strangely warmed."26 Two things seem crucial here. First, Wesley's experience - like Augustine's and Calvin's - was a vocal and auditory event; he heard the reading, the words.27 Second, though Wesley's theology in many ways entails a significant departure from the early Reformed consensus in the sixteenth century, the content of what he heard was birthed in that crucible of 9R rediscovery of the so-called doctrines of grace. After Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, Karl Barth is the most important theologian in the Reformed tradition. He was educated under the nineteenth century liberalism initiated by Schleiermacher. Upon taking a pastorate in Safenwil, Switzerland, in 1911, Barth experienced the vacuity of the human-centered theology bequeathed to him by the German theological tradition in which he had been educated. Preaching weekly, he recognized the profound importance of the word of God. Impelled by this experience of 26 From Wesley's Journal, entry for 24 May 1738. 27 Wesley heard the reading of a commentary and not a gospel sermon. But he shares with Augustine and Calvin an initiatory event of oral and aural qualities which launched him into a life-long ministry of preaching. 281 mention this second point because my perspective draws from a generously conceived Reformed tradition, which includes both Augustine and Luther. Certainly, many differences exist between Augustine and Luther and the Reformed tradition; however, there are considerable similarities including on the matters of the Trinity, predestination and human freedom, divine sovereignty and initiative in salvation, and biblical hermeneutics.