Referential Revelation: Why Modern Understandings of Knowledge and Language Produce Inadequate Doctrine

The ability of religions to make claims that correspond with T/truth has seemed to fall further and further into jeopardy over the last half century. Developments in both science and philosophy have given rise to doubt among many that religion, specifically Christianity, can provide any useful account of truth and reality. In response, many theologians turn to one of two extremes for an argument regarding revelation of the authority of Scripture—either that Scripture is the provable and authoritative Word of God and that it is possible to have access to the literal and original meaning of the text or that it is secondary to or can merely describe religious experience and that the truth of religion is located in said experience. Both sides of this debate are, however, making certain assumptions that are worth noting.

First, there are some underlying epistemological claims that I hope to help quell in this paper; namely, the claim that we have an inner self to which we turn to determine truth, the metaphor of true knowledge as a reflection of what we “see” inside ourselves, and the claim that this knowledge must be based upon an indubitable foundation in order to be valid. Second is the erroneous assumption that language, if it is to correspond to truth, must acquire its meaning referentially. Following the logical atomists of the early twentieth century, if language does not correspond to physical reality, then it can only describe subjective experience, not objective fact. For theologians, referentialism entails a belief that the language of the Bible corresponds directly to external reality—Scripture must be literal in order to be true. Those who agree that religious language can only be a description of experience run with that, arguing that it is within experience that truth must lie. For the purposes of maintaining a narrow scope in this paper, I will focus on the primarily Evangelical position: a referentialist theory of revelation.

This will also be important for a number of other reasons as well. Theologians tend to encounter a great difficulty when speaking of the authority of Scripture. They have come to understand that the Holy Spirit plays a vital role in our apprehension of the Biblical text and that Scripture is illuminated for us through the work of the Spirit. That is, we must interpret Scripture through the power of the Spirit enabling us to do so. Coupled with this act is God’s act of revelation—His “divine act of self-disclosure which reveals ultimate truth, namely, the triune God himself.”[1] This revelation, along with tradition, is what informs our doctrine. It makes up part of the authority upon which we make theological and doctrinal claims. Yet, when theologians speak of the authority of Scripture, they tend to mean the authority of their particular understanding of Scripture, without recognizing it belongs to them and their community, their tradition or sub-tradition. There is a claim of objectivity—of direct connection to revelation without interpretation. However, as alluded to above, since the time of the Enlightenment, this authority has been questioned, and now in contemporary theology, the critique of authority comes from someplace else: postmodern understandings of epistemology and the philosophy of language.

A further, perhaps secondary issue, which will be developed through the course of the paper, is the unclear or sometimes incomplete relationship between theology and philosophy. Fergus Kerr writes:

Philosophers who are interested in theology, and theologians who go in for philosophy [. . .] tend to devote their energies to arguing for or against the hypothesis that there is a deity. Once that issue is settled, they are free either to give up theology or get on with it. In the latter case, interestingly, they often show no sign of having any further theological problems. Philosophy, that is to say, concerns theologians only at the threshold. Once the foundations of the theological enterprise have been secured, it is often thought that no further philosophical assistance is required.[2]

This poses a severe problem for theology because the assumption, as Kerr points out, is that one does not need to continue to develop an understanding of theology once one comes to the belief that the foundations have been established. Such enquiry would be extraneous and, worse yet, potentially threatening to the security of the foundation in the mind of such a theologian. It is necessary then to demonstrate why philosophy is vitally important for the continuation of theology.

My aim here will be to produce a coherent understanding of revelation in scripture that departs from the referentialist view so dominant in Evangelical theology—an understanding that has vital implications for Christianity’s relationship to other worldviews and one that directly informs the way we should operate as theologians. Abandoning referentialist understandings and claims of special access to the absolute is important not only because they do nothing to help Christianity in the face of its opponents, but they also do nothing to help us move forward within our own tradition. Instead, referentialism leads to a vastly erroneous understanding of our relationship to Scripture: an onto-theology.[3] My thesis, therefore, is that modern assumptions that our knowledge comes from within as something we picture, is set upon an indubitable foundation and that our language must reflect this real knowledge or else by relegated to a mere description of experience has negatively affected our understanding of revelation in Scripture resulting in theological misdirection and metaphysical violence;[4] theological investigation must instead shift to understand truth as derived communally in conversation with other traditions and convictions which requires a rejection of claims to absolute knowledge of Scripture as well as an upholding of Scripture as the Word of God.

The Mirror Within

The concept of the inner self has existed since the time of the ancient Greeks, yet it was not until Augustine that it became cemented in Christian thought as the location of all truth. Through the development of Augustine’s thought, he comes to deny the divinity of the soul itself and instead conceive of the divine as something within oneself that can be found by turning inward and searching. We find God within the soul but also above it as its Creator. The problem, according to Augustine, is that our inner selves have been clouded by sin and a love of our bodily existence. Thus we cannot find God within unless we first have grace and the vision that grace provides us. This is not to suggest, however, that the soul is not capable of an elevated rationality. Although tainted by sin, Augustine maintains that the soul does have the ability to perceive the immutable and infinite—that if one were able to turn him or herself completely over to God, one would be able to see Him. Yet through our striving to reach this point, we do encounter moments of inspired rationality where we “see” the truth.[5]

What Phillip Cary points out in his study of the development of Augustine’s thought is that even though Augustine rejected the soul as divine, he maintained a Platonist conception of it, a belief that its rationality could transcend to truth, effectively melding Christianity with Greek philosophy, the consequences of which are still widely felt today. He writes that Augustine conceives of the relationship between truth and soul semiotically “in which signs are understood as outward expressions of what lies within” and that this understanding is Platonic in that “the most important use of signs is to signify intelligible things.”[6] In other words, one receives information from the external world and upon reflection within is able to discern the truth-value of what is seen.

This metaphor of vision, of containing an internal mirror or viewing space in which reality is reflected and understood, has dominated Western philosophy for the better part of a millennium. This metaphor assumes that as sensory beings, we take in sense data, bring it before our internal mirror, and analyze it in order to gain knowledge. It is this process which has given rise to many problems in philosophy such as the mind/body distinction as well as the quest to find an objective foundation upon which to build a system of knowledge. Richard Rorty, in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, provides us with an explanation of the problem as well as an argument for why understanding epistemology using this metaphor is optional, not absolute. For Rorty, the very notion of knowledge presenting a problem about which we ought to have a theory is the result of viewing knowledge as a series of representations.[7] This arose primarily in the modern era as philosophers such as Locke and Kant continually confused knowledge as a person-object rather than a person-proposition relationship. In other words, truth had to correspond to a physical reality, external to the mind but made internal once converted into knowledge by being brought before the mirror of the mind.

The search of the modern philosopher was dominated by the idea of “valid criteria”—that one had to find criteria that could stand as a foundation upon which to build a system of knowledge: something beyond the veil of ideas. However, Rorty points out that this notion is only made necessary by the ocular metaphor. If knowledge is created through judging objects we take into our minds and hold up to the mirror, then finding an objective criteria is necessary in order to make sure the judgment is true universally and not just to us. In this understanding, there is a synthesis that occurs in the mind of various perceptions.[8] However, Rorty imagines how this understanding, of Kant’s primarily, would have been different if he “had gone straight from the insight that ‘the singular proposition’ is not to be identified with ‘the singularity of presentation to sense’ [. . .] to a view of knowledge as a relation between persons and propositions.”[9] The problem here is one of a misplaced importance on our “inner” perception of an “external” world. For Rorty, justification is a matter of relating propositions to other propositions because that is the most “objectivity” we are ever going to get—consensus that a proposition is true because its relationship to other propositions suggests strongly that it is.

The effect that these two developments, inner space and the ocular metaphor, have had on theology is tremendous. I would like to take them in reverse order. First, while the ocular metaphor itself is perhaps not used explicitly in justifying theological claims, its side effects can be clearly seen. Namely, the ocular metaphor is, as Rorty points out and as explained above, what gave rise to the claim that one need an indubitable foundation upon which to make truth claims. In theology, this foundation usually manifests itself not as God, but as Scripture. The question of foundation, however, presents a particularly difficult, if not impossible, situation for theology, exemplified in the following question: How do we gain an indubitable understanding of an infinite being such as God through what seems to be a finite text? We need not even go as far as God—How do we gain an indubitable understanding of something as complex as a religion? These questions are complicated further by the appeal to the authority of Scriptural revelation.

With the dependence upon scriptural foundationalism in order to justify doctrinal claims, the question becomes, as Nancey Murphy states it, “[H]ow is one to know that sentences accurately represent invisible, supernatural realities?”[10] The aim of many Evangelical theologians is to come to just such an understanding of God and then the whole of Christianity primarily through a “proper” reading of scripture—an accurate understanding of how the words of Scripture, through revelation, accurately reflect an invisible reality. That understanding, that foundation, is worked out in “inner space,” the carry over from Augustine that God can be found by searching within, using our own rationality. This has also contributed to the claim of some to have an absolute understanding of doctrine because of a sincere belief that one has access to the literal, actual, original meaning behind God’s revelation in Scripture. The suggestion that such access is impossible, that we cannot in fact have access to an absolute understanding of God’s revelation in Scripture is typically taken as a refutation of the truth of the Bible altogether. This fear is a result not only of the belief in foundation and inner self but of a referential understanding of language as well.

The Use of Language

The referential theory of language owes about as much to the ocular metaphor of knowledge as foundational epistemology does. It arose in part from Locke’s belief that when objects were translated into words in the mind, those words stood for or referred to ideas in the mind, which in turn referred back to the objects in question. Philosophers of language, such as Gottlob Frege, eliminated the “middle step” of words representing ideas in the mind before objects to argue simply that words refer to objects in the external world. Frege made a distinction between “sense” and “reference” with the former being the “primary meaning of ‘meaning.’ ”[11] It is important to note, however, that Frege “understood the sense of a word in terms of the contribution it makes to the truth of sentences, and the truth of sentences, for Frege, depended only on its reference.”[12]

Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein (in his early work) continued Frege’s thought, arguing that propositional sentences can be reduced to their most basic (atomic) components—that each word of a proposition must be said to refer directly to an external reality in order to be considered true.

However, in his later work, Wittgenstein began to move away from an atomic understanding of language to a more holistic, meaning-as-use understanding. Wittgenstein’s argument as a whole is lengthy and complex, but it will suffice to use one of his illustrations from The Blue Book in order to demonstrate why the meaning of language cannot be reduced to atomic reference. Wittgenstein points out that there are certain verbs, wishing or expecting for example, around which a sharp boundary of meaning cannot be drawn. In other words, there is not one singular referent for these words. Wittgenstein provides the following scenario:

If for instance I expect B to come to tea, what happens may be this: At four o’clock I look at my diary and see the name ‘B’ against to-day’s (sic) date; I prepare tea for two; I think for a moment ‘does B smoke?’ and put out cigarettes; towards 4.30 I begin to feel impatient; I imagine B as he will look when he comes into my room. All this is called ‘expecting B from 4 to 4.30.’ And there are endless variations to this process which we all describe by the same expression.[13]

We can see that to claim a single referent for a word like expecting is not just difficult but impossible. One could not even claim a group of cases, a set of examples, to use as a referent for such words. Wittgenstein writes with regard to ‘wishing’ that “If we study the grammar [of wishing] we shall not be dissatisfied when we have described various cases of wishing. [. . .] If someone said ‘surely this is not all that one calls “wishing,” ’ we should answer ‘certainly not, but you can build up more complicated cases if you like.’ ”[14] This demonstrates that there is no class or set of cases, experiences, descriptions, etc., which would constitute a referential understanding of a word like “wishing” or “expecting.” Furthermore, as Wittgenstein points out, we do not seem to be inherently troubled by this fact either. We are satisfied by a few descriptions, which can give us a detailed understanding of what these verbs mean. What all of this points to is that the meaning of language is in its use.

The implications of Wittgenstein for theology are far-reaching. The referentialist theologian assumes that God’s revelation through the language of Scripture comes to us through a literal, precise understanding of that language. This typically begins with a return to the Biblical languages, ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek, which is not necessarily a fruitless or problematic endeavor. It can become such, however, if one is studying those languages carefully in order to come to an absolute understanding of how the Biblical text must be translated. From a study of original language in this absolute mode, referentialists will move to an attempt to understand what the words in their own language refer to in God’s invisible realm. Finally, from this point, doctrine can be developed which, since it is apparently based upon an absolute understanding of God’s word, must be irrefutable. This level of appeal to the authority of Scripture leaves its proponents with little other choice than to condemn those who strongly disagree with them as heretics. This is not to say that such theologians suffer from personality disorders or are necessary caustic in their interactions with others, only that this conclusion, that dissention must be heresy, is what logically follows from a claim to have access to an absolute understanding of Scripture and can very easily, as described in the introduction, lead to metaphysical violence if pushed too far.

Fergus Kerr helps us connect our earlier discussion of the soul to our current one about language with reference to Wittgenstein’s influence on theology. What seems to be at stake in bringing a Wittgensteinian understanding of language to the theological table is “a reluctance to acknowledge that the myth of the soul, even after all these centuries of official ecclesiastical rejection, has as strong a grip on our imagination as it ever had on Origen or his monkish followers. [. . .] [Wittgenstein’s] games are designed precisely to overcome that antipathy to the body which marks the metaphysical way of thinking.”[15] He alludes here to Augustine’s insistence that it is love of the body, which prevents the soul from achieving its true rational potential. Yet, this metaphysical way of thinking does not refer strictly to the soul; rather, Kerr is also suggesting that many modern theologians are looking for a way to transcend human understanding through their commitment to the inner self, foundational epistemology, and a referential philosophy of language. Wittgenstein’s conception of language, brings us “back to Earth” so to speak in that it demonstrates that there is not only no inner self, no way to establish a foundation, and no way to get “behind” language to its literal meaning but that none of those things are even necessary in the understanding of truth. The question then becomes: If those are no longer necessary, what is, and what constitutes truth?

Doctrine, Conviction and Community in Practice

The argument so far has been to demonstrate the origins and shortcomings of a referentialist understanding of God’s revelation through Scripture, and to describe more adequate philosophical underpinnings for developing a better understanding of revelation. The task now is to sketch a picture of what this understanding will look like in practice and what the implications are for the discipline of theology. We begin by surveying the cultural landscape with regard to religion. The current milieu is dominated by both religious pluralism as well as (though paradoxically) a New Atheism, which is really a dogmatic revival of scientific naturalism. In the middle somewhere are Christians, both liberals, Evangelicals and others, trying to carve their own way. What this landscape tells us is that it is difficult to make a claim of special access to Truth based solely upon internal criteria which we tell ourselves is in fact universal without being willing or able to demonstrate, philosophically, why one should adhere to that access rather than what they perhaps see as their own special access to Truth based upon universal criteria. The issue is threefold: How do we now develop doctrine? How do we speak about that doctrine? How do we know that our understanding is true over against competing claims of truth?

The answer to the first question has been taking shape since the beginning of the argument, but we shall now draw all the points made together. To begin, we must determine the “location” of truth, which is in fact not spatially or temporally located but arises, as Rorty argues, between the relationships of persons and propositions.  To put it even more simply, truth is consensus through conversation. This may seem like a far-fetched, oversimplified proposition, so let us take a few steps backward to see how this is the case. Wittgenstein and other postmodern philosophers of language understand the meaning of language in terms of how it is used. Wittgenstein’s examples, provided above, demonstrate this very clearly. The meaning of those verbs is not derived through reference to a single “entity” but comes from descriptions of those “states” which can vary and be great in number, yet a few descriptions of how those words are used gives us the gist of their meaning. When a religious claim is made, to examine it based upon how well it corresponds to “reality” is an incoherent enterprise because not only because religious claims are perhaps even more complex to understand than the meaning of “expecting” but because, as has been shown, there are no objective criteria by which to judge such a thing. Thus, a new method of developing doctrine must be established.

George Lindbeck argues that religious language be conceived cultural-linguistically, as a framework within which those who know and understand the language operate. He writes “Like a culture or language, it is a communal phenomenon that shapes the subjectivities of individuals rather than being primarily a manifestation of those subjectivities.”[16] Thus, any approach to Scripture is automatically mitigated by the community rather than an objective criterion that is not actually there. Doctrine then, according to Lindbeck, is what is communally authoritative “essential to the identity or welfare of the group in question. [. . .] [T]hey indicate what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.”[17] There will most likely be at least two objections at this point on the part of conservative Evangelical theologians; namely, how can one speak with authority regarding doctrine, and how does one determine validity of competing doctrinal or religious claims?

To answer the first objection, we must remove the notion of relativism from the conversation. The appeal to relativism in light of what has been said about knowledge and the meaning of language is certainly understandable. If we can have no objective foundation and if language does not directly refer to reality, then what is to stop anyone from claiming justification for anything he or she desires? How could we argue against a claim that is clearly erroneous when we cannot be absolutely sure that our own claims are not? Relativism, however, is a self-refuting proposition, for one can never claim that relativism itself constitutes the actual, true state of affairs without contradiction. Given this, we must no long understand justification of belief as “a once-and-for-all yes-or-no achievement but [rather as] an ongoing task of any who have convictions. That task includes attempts to meet current objections and to present evidence to show that the conditions for happiness of one’s convictional speech can be satisfied.”[18] This notion of “convictions” as developed by James McClendon and James Smith informs how we can speak authoritatively about doctrine. A conviction is a belief that will not be easily relinquished and is such that if it were to be relinquished, that act would render the person or community holding it significantly different.[19] Understanding the authority of doctrine as conviction is certainly adequate—what could be more authoritative than a belief that, if removed, would drastically alter the person or community who held it in lieu of objectively derived beliefs? Indeed, convictions are what Evangelicals do hold when they speak of the authority of Scripture. The problem comes in the inability to see those convictions as contingent and the justification for said convictions as dynamic rather than static. The justification of a conviction does not need to be absolutely decided because it is the conviction itself that constitutes the authority of a doctrine as long as said conviction is considered to be “happy.”[20]

In response to the second objection, of determining the validity of competing truth claims, we must turn to Alasdair MacIntyre and the notion of competing traditions through a return to virtue in his ethics. MacIntyre begins with the concept of practice, which is:

[A]ny coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.[21]

Religious practices viz. the disciplines found within a religion constitute practices as defined here. Murphy writes with regard to virtue that “Human qualities required for successful participation in practices are candidates for virtues [. . .] before one can call a quality a virtue, one must see how it and the practice it supports contribute to an individual’s life story from birth to death.”[22] In order to make such a judgment, one must turn to the tradition of the individual in question because traditions are teleological. Thus, one can judge against the telos of a tradition, whether or not someone possesses virtuous qualities. Competing doctrines within a tradition (assuming that we are not calling the whole of Christianity a single tradition for our present purposes) can be evaluated in much the same way by attempting to judge whether or not a doctrine helps us achieve our teleological purposes.[23]

With regard to the question of how the claims of Christianity as a whole can compete with other traditions, whether they are other religions or atheistic worldviews, MacIntyre again offers some helpful insight. MacIntyre argues that when two traditions are competing with one another, the one who ultimately wins is the one who will be able to first answer its own epistemological crises and then not only recognize and describe the problems of the other better than it can itself but be able to solve those problems quite easily.[24] How those crises are solved is ultimately irrelevant; if there is consensus that it has been solved, then the conviction that it has been solved will stand. This, of course, will require consent on the part of the failing tradition as well as, perhaps, recognition from another tradition not in question. Furthermore, the adherents to the failing tradition will likely undergo a loss of convictions causing radical transformation—not necessarily of conversion to the competing tradition, although that is certainly a possibility.

Our relationship to revelation through Scripture is thus understood communally rather than individually. This communal understanding can include all of the same tools in practice before (exegesis, systematic theology, etc.); the difference is in our understanding of how knowledge is gained and its relationship to truth. Rather than believing that we can come to an absolute understanding of the text, knowing exactly what God intended, we recognize that a communal conviction with regard to an interpretation is sufficient to establish doctrine. Furthermore, we recognize that it is possible such convictions could be mistaken or shown not to be virtuous through a comparison of competing traditions of doctrine. This understanding of revelation places theologians in a much better position to continue to wrestle with the Biblical text through dialogue and reminds them of their relationship to God—a point to which we now turn in order to conclude.

Conclusion: Onto-Theology

As mentioned at the beginning of the paper, at the heart of this issue is a question of comprehension: Can one comprehend, even in smallest part, a God whom we believe to be infinite? The answer, based upon my study, has to be no. However, there is one other philosophical reason I would like to raise in order to round out this argument. It is not that the previous arguments are insufficient without this final point; rather, while they focus upon what we can know with regard to not just Scripture but language in general, this final point looks at what can be known with regard to God Himself. Merold Westphal summarizes the modern era conceived of the issue:

God is at the beck and call of human understanding, a means to its end of making the whole of being intelligible in keeping with the principle of reason. In order to place the world at the disposal of human theory (and practice), it becomes necessary to place God at our disposal as well. But there is no awe, or singing, or dancing before such a factotum. And if there is any clapping, it will have the form of polite applause. ‘Please join me in welcoming the Ultima Ratio.’ [. . .] In short, calculative-representational thinking is hubris on a world historical scale.[25]

Westphal is alluding here to a concept coined by Martin Heidegger called onto-theology. This is essentially the attempt to contain the totality of God’s being within human reason—a crude fusion of ontology and theology. Such a thing, for Heidegger, was ludicrous, yet it seemed to him the whole of Christendom was bent on accomplishing the task. When theologians claim an absolute understanding of Scripture through revelation, they are essential claiming the revelation they have experienced has been the glory of God in His entirety—something no God-fearing Christian would every claim to be a possibility.

Yet, there is good news. Heidegger tells us “Theology is not speculative knowledge” pointing to the fact that the task of theology is not to “found and secure faith in its legitimacy, nor can it in any way make it easier to accept faith and remain constant in faith. Theology can only render faith more difficult.”[26] This is particularly the case for a theologian who has a conviction that his understanding of doctrine is unquestionably true, only to discover through further theological study that it might not be. I would like to suggest, however, that given the approach to scriptural revelation that I have outlined including holistic understandings of language and knowledge, theology will not render faith more difficult; it can only make it more exciting. If we are convicted in our faith, conceiving of it as a dynamic play of language and dialogue within a community, then we will be compelled to face the challenge of theology head on, always with a sense of purpose, attempting to chase after what really is True, even though we know we won’t discover it until God reveals it to us in the eschaton.

May our work hasten His kingdom.

by Joel Harrison

            [1]. Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994) 512.

            [2] Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1997) 171.

            [3] This a term coined by Martin Heidegger, developed by Merold Westphal, which I will return to and define at the end of the paper.

            [4] This is a term borrowed from Gianni Vattimo and can be briefly explained here. For Vattimo, claim to have special access to the absolute, to some metaphysical, transcendent truth, will ultimately entail violence, verbal or physical, because the person holding that view will have no reason not to defend their absolute belief “to the death” so to speak. He points to the Communist revolutions of the early 20th century as an example. See Gianni Vattimo, After Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002)

            [5] Phillip Cary, Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)

            [6] Ibid., 133.

            [7] Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979) 136.

            [8] Rorty uses the example of “frogs” and “greenness.” One cannot take those two concepts and derive the claim “Frogs are usually green” without synthesis occurring first.

            [9] Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, 152.

            [10] Nancey Murphy, Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion, and Ethics (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997), 11.

            [11] Ibid.

            [12] Ibid. Original emphasis

            [13] Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1958) 20.

            [14] Ibid., 19.

            [15] Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein, 169.

            [16] George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984) 33.

            [17] Ibid., 74.

            [18] James Wm. McClendon, Jr. and James Smith, Convictions: Defusing Religious Relativism (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1994) 154.

            [19] Ibid., 5.

            [20] McClendon and Smith draw heavily upon the speech-act theory of J.L. Austin in addition to Wittgenstein’s understanding of language. In short, a speech-act is rendered happy when a set of criteria is met in performing an utterance. To translate this to the happiness of a conviction requires not only the happiness of an utterance, but the ability to justify the conviction as it corresponds to truth developed within a community.

            [21] Quoted in Murphy, Anglo-American Postmodernity, 28-29.

            [22] Murphy, Anglo-American Postmodernity, 29.

            [23] A good example of this is the doctrine of the Rapture. If compared to the [interpreted] telos of Christianity as found in Scripture—we are to care for the earth as it is God’s creation, God will transform creation in the eschaton, and heaven will be here on Earth—a doctrine which claims Christians will depart the universe to avoid suffering, before God ultimately destroys the cosmos does not seem to hold water. It is important to note that even the telos of a given tradition is perhaps open to interpretation making this type of internal judgment a continual process—it is the justification of a conviction.

            [24] Murphy, Anglo-American Postmodernity, 58.

            [25] Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001) 12.

            [26] Quoted in Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Theology, 15.


One thought on “Referential Revelation: Why Modern Understandings of Knowledge and Language Produce Inadequate Doctrine

  1. […] written many, many posts that deal with the sort of complaint that Olson is raising. In the first point, he’s […]

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