Category Archives: Hermeneutics

For Your Reading Pleasure…

I (Joel) have been invited to participate in a new blogging community called Flux of Thought. There you can find brief discussions on theology, philosophy, political theory among other related things.

You can read here: Flux of Thought

You can follow the blog on Twitter here: @fluxofthought

I’ll still be writing and posting at A Church Unbound as well since FoT is going to be made up of much shorter posts, and I can’t help but be long-winded sometimes.

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A Brief Note on the Nature of truth

A friend of mine on Facebook shared this post from Mark Driscoll yesterday:

“In a society where there is no truth, the greatest ‘sin’ is saying someone is wrong.”

Pastor Mark has seen his fair share of beatdown over the last month, so I’m not looking to contribute to that. The post itself, which expresses a sentiment that could belong to any conservative Christian, is what I’m interested in. Normally, I don’t think that such a weak, late 20th century banality would have caught my attention. I’m sure Mark Driscoll is posting this kind of superficial garbage parading as insight multiple times a day, but it appeared just below a post by Bo Sanders of Homebrewed Christianity responding to Roger Olson’s recent blog that has caused a bit of controversy where he describes what he sees as the problem with liberal and progressive theology (two terms that he conflates.)

There are similar sentiments at work in both the Driscoll post and the Olson blog: There is such a thing as Truth, and they have it. Olson makes the following two points (which Bo objects to very nicely in his post) that I find to be completely incoherent:

“I look at their approach to “doing theology.” How do they approach knowing God? Do they begin with and recognize the authority of special revelation? Or do they begin with and give norming authority to human experience, culture, science, philosophy, “the best of contemporary thought?” That is, do they “do” theology “from above” or “from below?” Insofar as they do theology “from below” I tend to think they are liberal theologically.”

and

“If I ever wake up and find that I think like a true theological liberal, I hope I will be honest enough to stop calling myself ‘Christian.’ ”

I’ve written many, many posts that deal with the sort of complaint that Olson is raising. In the first point, he’s assuming that there’s no mediation between special revelation and an articulate knowledge or theology–no interpretive work. That is, if one is doing “correct” theology, one is simply the mouthpiece of God. Whereas the theology of the liberal “Christian” is based upon the contingent, immanent, imperfect disciplines he lists, Olson’s theology is somehow not based on anything except the authority of special revelation. His own contingency, personal experiences, education, etc. don’t play into his theology. In the second point, he’s stating explicitly what Driscoll does implicitly: “There is such a thing as Truth, and I have it, so don’t be mad when I tell you you’re wrong (and not a Christian.)” Frankly, I’m just so tired of hearing this sort of arrogance come out of the mouths of people who profess the love of Jesus Christ.

Listen:

Put aside what you think about postmodern notions of truth, whether or not you think any relativity in truth is absolute relativity, etc. for a moment. Christians simply cannot continue to hold the positions that Driscoll and Olson espouse anymore. The history of the church from the very outset is marked with accepting radically different beliefs and practices (or lack of practices) into the church community. That doesn’t mean there should be no attempt to talk about normative practice or belief. But that normative activity is fluid, not solid. It has to be able to flex, to grow in order to account for human history, for new cultural contexts. When Roger Olson or Mark Driscoll place a boundary around what it is to be Christian, around what truth is, they are actually placing limits around what the gospel can do more than what it should be. You, me, Driscoll, and Olson are human beings. We are thrown into a particular time and place from which we must think and write. We may believe that the gospel message transcends that, can speak across history and culture, and that’s great, but don’t for one second believe that you do.

(audio and notes) Merold Westphal’s Philosophical Hermeneutics

For the last two weeks, I took an intensive on philosophical hermeneutics at Fuller by visiting professor Dr. Merold Westphal.  I was so excited to get to study under a philosopher of his caliber (who has devoted a great deal of his career to exploring hermeneutics), having read several of his books before.  The class exceeded all expectations, and I suspect when I look back at my time at Fuller, it will be the class that shaped me the most.  And a shout out to all the guys in my class whose conversations together on the material we covered made the class even better!  I only wish we had more than a day and a half at the end to cover the distanciation found via the hermeneutics of suspicion in Neitzsche, Marx, and Freud.

Also, we got Dr. Westphal to sit down and ruminate on the current interaction of theology within Continental philosophy for the Homebrewed Christianity podcast!  I’ll be sure to update you when the interview posts.

As for the material itself, we started with the developement of Romantic era hermeneutics at the time of Schleiermacher.  This era prized deregionalization, the Schleiermachean hermeneutical circle, psychologism, and objectivism.  From there, we traced the past two centuries of hermeneutical and linguistic development through Dilthey, Hirsch, Wolterstorff, Gadamer, Derrida, Ricoeur, and others.  We arrive at the “death of the author.”  Gadamer’s thesis is not that the author has no role in determining the meaning of the text, but that we have no definitive access to what the author intented (nor, ultimately, does the author herself know exactly what she meant by the text she wrote, since there are always factors outside our awareness that find themselves in our text).  In practice, this means that any interpretation/application of the text involves the reader inserting his/her own meaning into the text.  We never “just see” what the text “plainly says.”  Neither do we even have the option of simply returning to “the original intent of the author.”

Regarding the death of the author, I remember several years ago when it first occurred to me how odd it is that we so confidently reinforce doctrinal conclusions from one Biblical writer by supporting it with verses written by another.  It is not that the whole cannot ever be used to support the part (and vice versa), but this should always be done with a fair amount of skepticism and a great amount of care.  I had realized it should be patently obvious that the writers were not all working from the same theology (indeed, what two people ever agree on everything), and from there, the obvious question is “how much of that disagreement gets recorded in the text?”  An easy example of this is the recent debate that has played out in Evangelicalism over the unpopularity of Hell; many have retorted “what does the Bible say?” as if the text has a unified doctrine of afterlife.  The clear problem is that an afterlife did not begin to really develop within Israelite-Jewish thought until the 6th century BCE, meaning Abraham, Isaaac, Jacob, and Moses would have differed with Ezra and Nehemiah (who would have differed with Paul, and so forth).  This gets resolved in one of three ways.  1) you can acknowledge the ambiguity and dissonance in the text (which is the position I take). 2) You may claim God-as-author overrides all human influence/difference/ambiguity in the text. 3) Westphal notes that the doctrine of perspecuity in the Reformed tradition emerged to deal with this.  Perspecuity essentially claims that if you interpret the text correctly, you are “just seeing” the plain meaning of the text.  Option 2 is a properly theological claim (if speculative, unsubstantiated, and a priori), and option 3 is more a hermeneutical method that, inevitably, retreats from all modern progress in hermeneutics.

I cannot tell you how helpful this has been and how much I wish more people grappled with these concepts.  Psychologism is the term for the intent of the author in his/her own mind.  Psychologism, along with objectivism, was a staple of hermeneutics two centuries ago, but has since been demonstated to be impossible.  But you wouldn’t know that from popular discourse in religion and politics.  We naturally tend to submerge into the illusion that a theological conclusion can be derived only from “what the text plainly says” and “what the original author plainly meant.”  Hermeneutics since Schleiermacher has progressively dismantled this, resulting in the complete deconstruction of the text with Jacques Derrida.  In other words, there is a giant chasm between the hermeneutics taught at the academy and the naive realism reinforced by pulpits and pundits.  That lead me to ask Dr. Westphal a question during our last Q/A session about the role of hermeneutics in theology: if the so much of theological discourse essentially ignores the progress made in hermeneutics over the last two centuries, what hope do we have for dialogue with those who admit no need for hermeneutics?  His answer was that there may be none at all.  I’m hoping there is a better way forward.

Several friends asked for the audio of the class.  I hope the ordering is clear enough (1a is day one, session one.  2d is day two, session 4, and so forth). Here it is, all 30+ hours of Westphal’s hermeneutics:

Week 1

Westphal 1a Intro and Schleiermacher

Westphal 1b Intro and Schleiermacher

Westphal 1c Intro and Schleiermacher 

Westphal 1d Intro and Schleiermacher 

Westphal 2a Speech Act and Heidegger

Westphal 2b Speech Act and Heidegger

Westphal 2c Speech Act and Heidegger

Westphal 2d Speech Act and Heidegger

Westphal 3a Wolterstorff and Speech Act

Westphal 3b Wolterstorff and Speech Act

Westphal 3c Wolterstorff and Speech Act

Westphal 3d Wolterstorff and Speech Act

Westphal 4a Gadamer

Westphal 4b Gadamer

Westphal 4c Gadamer

Week 2

Westphal 5a review

Westphal 5b Gadamer

Westphal 5c Gadamer

Westphal 6a Art

Westphal 6b art

Westphal 6c art

Westphal 6d art

Westphal 7a Gadamer

Westphal 7b Gadamer and power

Westphal 7c hermeneutics of suspicion

Westphal 7d legality and perspicuity

Westphal 8a Gadamer

Westphal 8b Conversation

Westphal 8c habermas

Westphal 8d Hermeneutics of Suspicion

Westphal 9a QA

Westphal 9b Freud

Westphal 9c Hermeneutics of Suspicion

by Tad DeLay

taddelay.com

Border Breaking

I can’t take full credit for the basis of this post, since it came from an insight a friend offered up during a group discussion in our Matthew book study this summer at Fuller. We were discussing Matthew 16:21-23, where Peter, who had just been named the rock upon which Jesus would build his church, suddenly finds himself as the stumbling block, failing to understand Jesus’ declaration of his own death. The friend pointed out that the disciples, being ancient Jews, had no category for understanding resurrection. That was not part of the Jews’ understanding of death. When one died, one was simply dead.

It is sometimes difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples, to try to remember that they, being first century Jews, thought of things differently than we do today. It’s one thing to talk about the fact that the Messiah defied expectations. History tells us that the Jews were expecting their Messiah to come and liberate them from imperial rule, to overthrow their oppressors, once and for all, to put the power back into their hands—olam. This is demonstrated by the [disastrous] revolts led by Judas Maccabaeus (167-160 BCE) and Simon bar Giora (70 CE). This is why Jesus waits to reveal his death explicitly; he needs the disciples to come to their own conclusion that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Had he told the disciples from the beginning that he must die and be raised again, there’s a good chance they simply would not have followed him. Who wants to follow a dead Messiah? What good can a dead Messiah be in a revolution to seize power back from the Gentile oppressors for the nation of Israel?

We tend to rebuke Peter with Jesus at this point, saying, “Didn’t he hear what Jesus said? He’ll be raised again! C’mon, Peter. You’re smarter than that.” Peter’s response is borne out of two things we have difficulty understanding. First, is his expectation for who the Messiah is—and it is not at all what Jesus has just revealed to them. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the exact subversive act of humility that destroys the satanic vision of the Messiah (remember Matthew 4?) that Peter and so many other children of Israel have in mind without ever seeing it as such. Peter is expecting the sword. He’s expecting Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on a warhorse, to lead a horde against the oppressors, to obliterate them of the face of the earth. Peter is looking to win no matter what the cost. This is the way Satan offers Jesus—use your power to bring the world under your feet—which is what elicits Jesus’ response to Peter. In this moment, Jesus is requiring what we call today a Gestalt switch—a change in worldview—with regard to his belief in the Messiah.

But there is something else in Peter’s way, and this is where my friend’s point becomes so vital. Peter did hear, but he was incapable of understanding at that precise moment, not only because of his worldview and lifelong expectations regarding the Messiah but because Peter had no category with which to understand the resurrection Jesus is talking about. It’s not as though resurrection didn’t happen before Jesus—it did. There are three occurrences in the Old Testament: one involving Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24), another Elisha (2 Kings 4:32-37), and the third Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21.) The account of Matthew 16 also appears in Mark 8, both of which occur before Jesus begins brining the dead back to life. The common thread between all of these resurrections is the intervention of someone else—someone great. The moment Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection, the bit about coming back to life is most likely immediately dismissed by not just Peter but the rest of the disciples as well. Which one of them could perform such a task—raising the supposed Messiah from the dead? This is why we can say that Peter had no category, no way to comprehend what Jesus was talking about. All he knew in that moment was that the man he had been following, who he believed was the Messiah is now telling him that he must die. Jesus, however, is demanding through his rebuke that this border of Peter’s be broken.

This leads us to consider a vitally important, potentially terrifying point for us today: What categories do we lack? What borders is Christ calling us to break? Do we ever even recognize that we are lacking categories of understanding?

The answer is no. We don’t. Unfortunately, we tend to think that because we have the Bible and have had it for nearly two thousand years now, we are already given all of the categories we need. I wonder though about something like human sexuality. Is this a category we fully understand? I think that the typical Christian response to something like gay marriage demonstrates that it is not. Many tend to read Romans 1:26-32 as very explicitly talking about homosexuality as we know it today, in general. To be homosexual is to be an abomination, given up to lustful passion. However, one only needs to make a few gay friends to suddenly be confused about how this could be the case. Christians tend to find it surprising (sometimes terrifying) that members of the homosexual community are people, just like them, possibly sharing the same interests, hopes, dreams—even the same faith. Certainly immorality exists in that community. Immorality exists in all communities.

Exegeting Romans 1 is beside the point here though. What we need to understand is that there’s a good chance that particular categories, whether they be general (personhood, human sexuality) or more theologically specific (sacrament, revelation) are not fixed, which is how we tend to think of them in the everyday.

We see what happens to Peter in this process of unfixing. Once Jesus is arrested, he and the rest of the disciples scatter—right after Peter (according to John) draws his sword and cuts of the ear of the slave to the high priest. He’s not there yet. His Messiah is still the satanic messiah who would utterly destroy his enemies at any cost. In his defeat, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. He thinks that his side has lost. He’s not prepared to deny Jesus when he still believes Jesus is the all-powerful Son of God who is preparing to lead Israel to war in which victory is assured. Once Jesus is arrested and sentenced to crucifixion, Peter is certain they’ve lost, and if he doesn’t forget Jesus and move on, he’ll be next.

He’s missed the most important part of Jesus teaching: to gain all, one must lose all—that the only way of the Messiah is through the cross. That is the way of Israel’s future. That the coming of the Son of Man is not a one-time event—it is eternal. Yet even though Peter was badly mistaken, once he realized his mistake (following the resurrection), he was empowered and became a champion for the church. Why, then, do we fear being wrong about something like human sexuality? It’s because we take that part of the story for granted. We’re already reading Peter as the father of the church from the very beginning. We don’t let the story come to us. Avid readers know that there’s something to be said for allowing a narrative to unfold for you again and again—that even if we are anticipating what happens next, we allow ourselves to get lost in the story. We forget to do that with the gospels.

I’m not calling for an oversimplification here. It would be really easy for me to say: “The answer is we just love each other, just like Jesus loved everyone” or “Hey, be humble!” or “Take up your cross daily.” But those kind of pastoral platitudes have little meaning to us anymore. We have to look beyond these commands to what their implications are and to what they mean in the context of a world that is all around us screaming things that sound very similar or are identical—we become messianic, in solidarity with Christ, when we die to ourselves. We usher in God’s kingdom to the here and now. That’s probably a good starting place. However, all of this points to something very important: love and humility, even the cross, are not categories we fully understand either. The problem then is bigger than an inability to understand something like human sexuality because once we understand those who are other than us, what do we do with that if we don’t understand how to love?

But this is jumping ahead too far. Jesus didn’t ask Peter what he was going to do in the face of the resurrection or how he was going to make his own disciples while Peter was still struggling with the reality that his Messiah had to die. What we need to do first is recognize that we have some horizons which need unfixing. We don’t know what love, humility, or the cross is in totality. And that’s okay. Paradoxically, it’s that recognition that allows us to pick up our cross and do those things better.

by Joel Harrison

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.

The Rapture: A Biblical Examination

Many of the responses to Tad’s last post were an appeal to an examination of the biblical text for scriptural proof of a literal Rapture. My aim here is to dispel some (mis)understandings of scripture and to make a biblical argument for why we should not read the text as supporting a Rapture not only because of these erroneous readings but also based upon a scriptural analysis of the eschatological nature of personhood and ecclesiology.

Before we dive in though, I want to briefly make a distinction between Second Coming and Rapture. Often times, when I say I don’t believe the Bible supports a doctrine of the Rapture, people will look at me in horror and say, “You don’t believe Jesus is coming back?!” Let’s be clear: Jesus is coming back. He says he will explicitly. What happens when He returns is, however, up for debate. And we can debate it until we’re blue in the face; we’re not going to know for sure until it happens. Yet that does not protect the Rapture from criticism, because as I just stated, there are important implications for personhood and ecclesiology at stake here.

Revelation and Dispensationalism

Let’s begin with the book of Revelation and a discussion of dispensational theology in general. First, in order to understand how Revelation relates to eschatology, we must understand the nature of the genre it falls under. Revelation is unique in that it is the only apocalyptic text in the New Testament. The Gospels and Acts are narratives. Everything between Acts and Revelation is epistolary  (letters addressed to someone specific that together give us a picture; in this case, a picture of the early church, its structure, struggles, etc.) Revelation is, as mentioned, apocalyptic. Going to a dictionary definition of that word, the one that we’re all most familiar with (describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world) is actually not going to be helpful in coming to understand the original Greek meaning of the word, ᾿αποκάλυψις, which is actually where the English title of the book comes from. The word means “to reveal that which was hidden, to make something fully known.” Before we jump on the second half of that definition, we still need to understand this genre in an ancient context.

Ancient apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic and metaphorical. We can claim that John, while on the island of Patmos, actually saw the things  he describes, even if only in his mind, with some certainty; however, we can say with equal certainty that he was not intending these descriptions to be read as literal events that would take place at a particular moment in the future dubbed “the end of the world.” The same thing can be said about Daniel 7 and 8 as well. With that in mind, Revelation and Daniel are not about what will literally happen in the end times; rather, both are revealing to us that the ultimate victory and glory belongs to God alone, that his great drama will be brought to a close in a final act that sees all of creation acknowledging His glory, power, honor, and love. We do know how things will turn out: God wins in the end and it is going to be glorious beyond all imagination. How that literally happens is ultimately irrelevant to the Biblical authors. They weren’t interested in trying to pin down exactly what God has in mind. Instead, they are focused on what these events, whatever they look like, mean for us in relation to our infinite God.

Think about it this way: If the Biblical authors were attempting a literal description of the end times, why in the world would they not have had in mind the events of their own day? That is, many will point to certain characters (beasts, whores, dragons) in Revelation and use them to talk about current politics as if John on Patmos had in mind nations like the U.S., Russia, or China, that not only did not exist, but the parts of the world those nations are located were completely unknown to John and every other Biblical author. The claim that these texts must refer to specific, current political events involving nations that neither God nor the Biblical authors have specified interest in just doesn’t make sense and really is pretty arrogant. Why should the United States, over every other nation in history, be the chosen centerpiece of specific apocalyptic (in the contemporary sense) events?

The only way to conceive of describing the meaning of eschatological events in the ancient world was to write a text as vivid as possible in order to describe the truth that would be brought through them. They were attempting to explain the unexplainable. We do the same thing with metaphor in poetry. Sometimes metaphor, which is never a direct, representational description of reality conveys truth to us in ways that we never thought possible. As Tad pointed out in his post, this is how Revelation has been understood by the vast majority of theologians from the early church to the present. Only in the last two centuries has dispensational theology emerged, and it has caught the attention of so many precisely because that’s just what these types of claims do–they sensationalize the future by claiming to be able to provide a fantastic, detailed account of what is to come. However, there really is only one detail that should really concern us: that God keeps his promise to redeem and transform all of creation. More on that a little later.

A Look at Scripture: Matthew 24:40-41, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Revelation 3:10

Let’s turn now to some specific verses that many commonly cite to offer biblical proof of The Rapture. First, we have to acknowledge that the word does not exist in Scripture. Then again, neither does “trinity” in reference to God, so that alone is certainly not enough to disprove a doctrine of The Rapture. We need to exegete each text. Even though the subheading of this section is in order of where these appear in Scripture, we need to look at them out of order so that we can understand how people come to the conclusion that this doctrine is valid.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 reads, “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.” The most important thing to do when trying to understand specific verses is to first put them into their context: chapter, book, author, larger historical context.

Let’s start by going back a few verses to 4:13. In this chapter, Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to reject their pagan pasts. Paul wrote many letters (the letters to the Corinthians, for example) that addressed specific issues these congregations faced in transitioning from pagan to Christian practice. This is one of the reasons many Jews in the early church were fighting for Gentiles to first be converted to Judaism; they were afraid that Gentiles’ pagan practices would too greatly influence their newly adopted Christian ones, and they wanted Christianity to stay true to its Jewish heritage. Much of Paul’s career was spent addressing this issue so that he could insist that Gentiles did not need to be converted to Judaism before Christianity (see Romans.) Back to verse 13. Paul writes: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” This is the immediate context of the verses that follow. Paul is concerned that the Thessalonians will continue to mourn the dead as they had before accepting Christ. This is actually a concern in other parts of Scripture as well. Leviticus 19:28, for example, which many people point to as being a prohibition of tattoos, is actually a specific commandment against tattooing the name of the dead on one’s body. It is not that this practice or the one Paul is addressing (which is not specified) is something borne out of evil or directed by Satan; rather, Scripture is calling God’s people to be set apart, to distinguish themselves from those around them, which was particularly difficult in the ancient world because there were so many religions and variations on religions, including variations on Judaism. Paul is calling the Thessalonians not to mourn their fallen brothers and sisters because what sets them apart now from their still pagan neighbors is the hope they have in God’s promise through Jesus Christ. They should have no fear of death because of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Paul is teaching doctrine here. But it is not the doctrine of The Rapture as popularly understood. Let’s look at the specific phrase in the verse that is commonly used to point to proof of The Rapture: “…will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air.” The word commonly understood as “rapture” is ἁρπάζω (arpazo), which is translated here as “caught up.” It’s dictionary definition is “to be caught or seized by force with the purpose of removing or controlling.” If we leave it there and couple it with the imagery of being in the clouds and meeting the Lord in the air, then we have the perfect equation for understanding this as a literal description of The Rapture. But remember: Biblical authors were not interested in literal descriptions of the eschaton. That means that we need to dig a little deeper. Paul is actually using the imagery of a Greco-Roman practice (Thessalonica, remember, is Northern Greece, so this image would have been very familiar) in which a crowd of people would exit a city to meet their king, and the king would then lead them back into the city. Note, there’s no mention of heaven in verse 17, unless you believe heaven will literally be in the sky above the earth. This is, again, not about a literal description of what will happen. Rather, Paul is offering encouragement to the Thessalonians, reminding them that they will be united with Christ one day and reunited with their loved ones who have died and that this reunion will be accompanied with a feeling of elation and utter, complete joy. It’s Paul’s way of getting across to them why there is no need to mourn. The power that came through Jesus’ death was an end to death as the Thessalonians knew it. That theme is repeated over and over again in Paul’s epistles.

Let’s move now to Revelation 3:10, which reads: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” This verse is commonly pointed to as evidence for a pre-tribulation Rapture. Again, we need to understand the context. The first few chapters of Revelation are comprised of short epistles to “the seven churches,” and even though they are epistles in form, they are still a part of the larger apocalyptic genre that the whole book fits under. That said, there certainly are a number of ways to interpret chapters 2 and 3. I’d like to offer but one possibility, specifically for 3:7-12.

This letter specifically can be read as a warning against believers doing exactly what dispensationalists today do: predict the particulars of how God will act. That requires some more detailed explanation. The author is alluding to false teaching in the synagogue (verse 9.) Therefore, to read the following verse outside of that context would be a mistake. That false teaching could be many different things. One of the primary “false teachings” warned against in the New Testament, particularly in Jesus’ ministry, was the belief that the Messiah would come to help the Israelites overthrow their Roman oppressors by force. So when the author, in verse 10, says that the church at Philadelphia will be spared the hour of trial that is coming, he could be referring specifically to the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which would more accurately fit the way that prophecy worked in the ancient world (that is, prophecy was expected to be fulfilled immediately, within the initial audience’s lifetime or perhaps the very next generation.) In 70 CE, the Jews, led by Simon Bar Giroa (who also claimed to be the Messiah) rose up against the Romans only to be utterly destroyed by the Roman general, Titus. Some may be wondering now about the fact that verse 10 mentions the whole world and all its inhabitants. Remember: Apocalyptic literature is symbolic, so there’s no reason for us to read that literally. It could just as easily be referring to the “world” of Israel, trying to emphasize Israel’s importance. It’s certainly possible to understand this passage as referring to that specific event rather than an end-of-the-world tribulation.

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not saying this is the way to read this passage. Rather, I want to point out that there is not one way to read these verses. The text is far more complex than that. Limiting ourselves to a “raptural” understanding of Revelation 3:10 prevents us from seeing other things that God may want to reveal to us in the text.

With these two verses as a backdrop, supporters of The Rapture will turn to Matthew 24:40-41 (the earliest text of the three) which reads, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Again–let’s look at context. First, Jesus makes this statement as part of a chronology of responses to a question that the disciples ask about the “end of the age” but in immediate proximity to Jesus’ prediction that the temple would be destroyed at the beginning of the chapter (24:2.) It’s this statement about the temple that frames the rest of the chapter. This prediction can also be understood, with the help of other verses, to be in the context of the Jewish uprising against the Romans. Such a thing would not have been difficult to predict. It would be like someone 10 or 20 years ago with some basic knowledge of history in the Middle East predicting that the United States would eventually enter a conflict with one or more nations in that region. The Jewish uprising against the Romans was all but inevitable, and we can see allusions to it popping up all over the Gospel narrative. Jesus’ primary concern was that his people would see that uprising as the moment, as the consummation of God’s promise, when it wasn’t–Jesus’ death was. God wasn’t fulfilling the promise in a way that any Jew, including the disciples, thought the Messiah would.

When the disciples ask him about “the coming of the end of the age,” they’re most likely not referring to the destruction of the entire universe as they knew it. While we obviously can’t say what they mean by this question absolutely, it’s fairly certain that they have in mind a general bringing in of the final phase of God’s plan. They’re living under God’s promise. They want to know when that promise gets fulfilled. Notice, there’s no direct question about how it’s going to happen or what will specifically happen. In fact, they don’t really seem to suggest that “the end of the age” is going to be a process of any kind–they just want to be able to anticipate it somehow. Jesus’ warnings are for them, in their time. He’s warning them (and he ends up being right) that other Jews will come claiming to be the Messiah (Simon Bar Giroa, as mentioned above. About 200 years before Jesus, Judas Maccabeus led the first Jewish revolt against the Selucids, and many thought that he was the Messiah.) This was common in the Jewish tradition of the time.

Jesus is telling his disciples, essentially, that no one will be on their side, and that it will be very difficult to stay the course. It’s obvious to Jesus from their question that they will be on the lookout for events to interpret as signs. Jesus response? The sign is already here. He talks about enduring all of these things that they would mistake for signs, to not be fooled by them and all of the false prophets who would misinterpret them as signs. Ironically, this is probably the strongest indictment against dispensationalism there is in the Bible. Jesus moves then in verses 27-36 to a much more symbolic, apocalyptic description, again for the same reasons John and Daniel do: The particulars of what God does are just not important. So the “signs” he gives the disciples are frustratingly vague. Verse 34 makes things even more complex. Clearly, the disciples’ generation did pass away. But again, Jesus is still speaking apocalyptically, and the word for generation, γενεά, could really mean a whole host of things including the people of a particular time but also the people of an age (as in the age the disciples are referring to) as well as one’s line of descendants. It’d be tough to definitively say what Jesus meant by that. All of this discussion is really to point to the fact that this is a very difficult passage–one which requires a detailed interpretation and not a literal reading.

Let’s get to the verses in question though. Immediately prior to these statements, Jesus describes what happened in the time of Noah before the flood (by the way, one could say that the flood was the end of an “age” the way the disciples understood it.) People are having a great time, living in sin instead of for God, and without even realizing it, they are swept away. This is really important in understanding verses 40 and 41. Who is it that is taken? If we put those verse in context, it is the wicked person who is taken–the righteous one is left! That seems to make much more sense in the context of what Jesus says immediately prior. Let’s look at verses 39-41 together: “39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” We can only read this as a rapturing of believers in light of a misreading of the previous two passages (1 Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 3) and by ignoring the immediate context of these verses.

Biblical Eschatology

This idea of being “left behind” is at the heart of biblical eschatology but in the exact opposite way that proponents of the Rapture would think. The Rapture is really a doctrine of escape. It is the story of a rescue mission, but it misunderstands what God wants to rescue us from. Peter Rollins tells a great parable illustrating this (thanks to Tad for pointing me to it):

Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at a designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels,

“The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff”

Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice,

“Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying,

“It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to serve the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant”.

And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.

This parable is a play on our earlier distinction between Second Coming and Rapture. Just as I do, Rollins believes Christ will return. His narrative demonstrates, however, that it may not happen the way proponents of the Rapture envision. Rollins’ story is not just an alternative imagined at random though. It is an attempt to accurately reflect, in a symbolic not literal way, what God envisions when he brings his drama to a close.

Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller, where I attend seminary, offers some really helpful insight that will help explain what Rollins is doing from a Biblical standpoint. His book When the Kings Come Marching In offers a prophetic reading of Isaiah and Revelation that speaks to the ways in which God will use and transform culture to his glory in the end times. Mouw’s central point seems to be that the traditional understanding of how Christians relate to culture needs to change—that Christ is not against culture; rather, he will transform it and use it in a way that brings glory to God and ultimately fulfills God’s divine plan for Creation. Mouw uses four main illustrations taken from Isaiah 60 in order to demonstrate in general the ways in which God will transform culture in the end: the material, the political, the human, and transforming light.

I want to briefly describe the first illustration to get a sense of Mouw’s point; then I’ll explain how this relates to Rollins’ parable. The first illustration, the Ships of Tarshish, represent the “stuff” of the world—all the things of culture, nature, and society that fill the Earth. Mouw is careful to point out the places in the Bible where these ships—which metaphorically refer to the things of industry, economy, and culture—are detrimental to God’s divine plan. But he also argues that the “fire” that is referred to again and again in the Bible, which will consume the ships, is not a destructive fire but a purifying one. The things man has brought into the Earth, that man has filled the Earth with as God instructed him to in Genesis are all things that have the potential to glorify God. In their sinful state, they cannot. But once purified by God’s holy fire, they will be fit to enter the City and help to fill it. The difficulty is that some artifacts of man—weapons, pornography, etc.—do not seem to be able to serve any function in the City; however, the Bible says these things will be completely transformed into something different. The Christian then does not need to look around at culture and ask herself what things are holy now in God’s sight. Certainly, there is very little in the world that would be worthy right now, in its current state. A Christian in contemporary culture should be focused upon the ways in which God will completely transform the artifacts of culture and is currently working in those things now to begin the process of that transformation. We are looking for the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the world–right now.

This is what Rollins’ parable is pointing to. This is what the Bible is pointing to. God wants to redeem all creation not individual people. Both Mouw and Rollins understand the Second Coming as a call to care about the world we live in. As I mentioned in the beginning, the problem with the Rapture is that it is an escape plan. An easy way out. But Jesus doesn’t promise an easy way out. Remember Matthew 24? Jesus tells his disciples that they will be put to death for what they believe in–specifically, for not believing the religious leaders of the day who were preaching false prophecy. He’s warning them that the road they’re being called to walk is really difficult.

A Closing Word

The bottom line is that issues like this are never easily resolved by appealing to a handful of verses taken out of context. They require serious biblical study, which is what God wants us to do. He wants to reveal Himself through the Word. He didn’t call people to be bystanders, not participating in the kingdom. He called people to be engaged and to care about seeking after Him at the expense of their comfort, pride, and human desires.

by Joel Harrison

Distinguishing What is True and true: Toward a Postmodern Understanding of Revelation and Authority in Scripture

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, that tends to mean the authority of their particular understanding of Scripture, without recognizing it belongs to them and their context. There is a claim of objectivity—of direct connection to revelation without interpretation. However, 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 number of developments, both in science and philosophy, have called into question the validity of a claim to be able to derive an ultimate truth or absolute authority from the pages of a text whose origins, opponents would claim, are dubious at best.[2] This raises a problem for theologians—not one of how to refute these objections directly, but of discovering how these objections actually inform our understanding of how we can derive a form of authority from the Bible. That is, they direct us toward a collection of truths coming in contact with Truth as opposed to attempt to discover Truth in its entirety. Certain objections have forced us not to examine whether or not we are wrong altogether, as the science of new atheism would like, but to reframe the objections as questions about our method with regard to the limits of our knowledge when it comes to God and his revelation through Scripture. Theologians must distinguish what they can know from what only God can know without sacrificing the validity and importance of rigorous theological investigation.

The purpose of this paper is to outline the modern theological problematic: an adherence to foundationalism and propositionalism and the claim to be able to access the absolute meaning of the Biblical text, thereby going from revelation to doctrine without acknowledging the step of interpretation. Second a case must be made for why a claim of access to whole Truth in scriptural revelation can actually hinder our ability to move closer to God’s truth. When we become caught up in problems of knowing absolute Truth, we tend to see all other competing claims of Truth as dangerous to our faith when they can in fact act as a supplement to it. Reading scripture in the way that I will argue here frees us to interpret revelation through scripture as moments of truth, which touch God’s Truth—that is, God is able to work through our incomplete understanding, transforming our lives without revealing everything to us. This understanding of the interpretation of revelation frees us from being drawn into debate with other, competing claims of truth, such as those of modern science and philosophy, because we are no longer committed to an absolute understanding of truth the way those disciplines tend to be. Thus, I argue that because our language is not fixed, because we have no need for a foundational conception of epistemology, and because God is, by definition infinite and mysterious, we need not conceive of revelation as revealing whole Truth (absolute understandings) to us because such a conception can actually limit our understanding of God and even lead to the idolatry of human, onto-theological[3] understandings.

1. Philosophical and Theological Problems

It will be important to first outline some key differences in how the disciplines of philosophy and theology each approach major problems within their traditions so that we can better understand the specific issue this paper addresses. Developments in 20th century philosophy have proven quite useful to theological study because they break us from certain assumptions that, although may have been helpful at one time, actually hinder our understanding of Scripture. There are two issues with contemporary theology that are intimately tied together. First, is the tendency to be unaware of the philosophical underpinnings of certain theological claims.[4] Second is the mistaken understanding of certain claims as nothing short of God-ordained. This second issue has to do with a misunderstanding of revelation, which will be addressed later in the paper.

Theology has often been concerned about being “too” connected to or influenced by philosophy, and indeed, there must be a distinction between the two. Rather, however, than attempt to shake off philosophy all together and attempt to proceed as if it had no influence on theological investigation, one must identify the connecting points and the ways in which philosophy can inform theology. This will help us to avoid the second problem mentioned above. Part of this second problem is that, unlike secular disciplines, which are not supposed to have any specific metaphysical, eschatological, or ideological commitments (though they certainly have and still sometimes do), theology must have those commitments. When a paradigm shift occurs in philosophy, there is nothing except perhaps one’s own stubborn ideology to chain oneself to an old paradigm. Many happily make the transition. However, because of the requirement of those commitments in theology, beliefs which once were contingent become “of God” once they are cemented in our tradition.[5] Revelation moves directly to doctrine without the recognition of the processes of illumination and interpretation. That is, when a paradigm shift occurs in theology, the violence of metaphysics[6] tends to erupt. Scholars are afraid to abandon old paradigms for fear that they are actually turning away from God’s specially revealed Truth, and will, therefore, identify what are actually interpretations as revelations of Scripture which support these paradigms as Truth descended from God. However, once we see that the philosophical underpinnings behind such a belief are actually false and in fact unnecessary, we will be free to move forward.

1.1 Against Foundationalism

The desire to ground doctrine in an all-revealing understanding of scriptural revelation that corresponds to Truth arises from an epistemological belief of the seventeenth century that we need an indubitable foundation on which we can build the system of knowledge. The majority of scholars trace the beginnings of foundationalism to René Descartes and his [in]famous Meditations on First Philosophy published in 1641. It is here that Descartes sets for himself a project of radical doubt in which he attempts to doubt everything that he previously had held to be true since he recognizes that, over time, his beliefs have changed—things he had held to be true in his youth may have turned out to be false once he had gained new evidence or further developed his reasoning ability. In his course of radical doubt, he sought a foundation, at least one thing he could know for certain was indubitable and universally known by all.

What his specific foundation selection was (that he is a thinking thing) is not important here. Rather, we must focus our attention on the metaphor of foundation as the beginning of knowledge. The wave that this metaphor has sent through every scholastic discipline is rather large and has put theology at odds with other disciplines, which claim to have found a different, provable indubitable foundation. Theologians, following Descartes, developed a sharp distinction between natural theology—“those beliefs that were seemingly demonstrable by reason”—and revealed theology—“the more particular doctrines taught by specific religious communities.”[7] As the grip of the Enlightenment grew, revealed theology was questioned more and more, and a reasoned approach to theology was taken up.

The problem with foundationalism is two-fold. First, it does not meet its own criteria. That is, foundationalism requires that foundations be indubitable and intuited a priori, yet foundationalism itself is neither of those; it is self-referentially refuting. Second, one cannot remove oneself from all context and knowledge and, as Descartes attempted to do, forget all one knows. If Descartes had actually forgotten everything, how did he know how to proceed from there in a line of questioning? The answer is that he actually could not doubt everything. Objectivity is not possible. Therefore, the project of making a case for why Scripture is the foundation of our faith is unnecessary since foundationalism does not in fact bring us closer to Truth.

1.2 Against Propositionalism

Some of the primary sources for the argument of revelation-to-doctrine theology are referential (known as propositional in theology) theories of the philosophy of language. These theories, most widely associated with Bertrand Russell and later A.J. Ayer and the logical positivists, argue that language can be analyzed into its simplest parts and that individual atomic words and statements correspond directly to the reality they describe. In theology, “propositional theories of religious language assume that the primary function of religious language is to describe God and God’s relation to the world and to humankind; for example, the doctrine of creation is stating a fact about how the universe came into being, namely, that it was created by God.”[8] Therefore, the propositional approach to religious language attempts to remove the necessity of interpretation altogether, positing that once we have identified the facts that revelation refers to, there is nothing to interpret—they’re just there.

This may seem to work for some words, however, if we examine others, we find ourselves at a loss to see how they could possibly refer to one atomic fact. Ludwig Wittgenstein, the father of ordinary language philosophy, presents the following case:

If we study the grammar, say, of the words “wishing,” “thinking,” “understanding,” “meaning,” we shall not be dissatisfied when we have described various cases of wishing, thinking, etc. 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.” And after all, there is not one definite class of features which characterize all cases of wishing [. . .] If on the other hand you wish to give a definition of wishing, i.e., to draw a sharp boundary, then you are free to draw it as you like; and this boundary will never entirely coincide with the actual usage, as this usage has no sharp boundary.[9]

Wittgenstein’s point is that when it comes to these verbs, there is not one “inner act” which absolutely defines them. Rather, we have a number of scenarios which, to use an explicitly Biblical example, can be called “giving” that bear a family resemblance to the each other. This phenomenon points us to the necessity of interpretation, since the meaning of language is understood through its ostensive definitions—its use.

2. Onto-theology and the Mystery of God

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, writes: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known,”[10] suggesting that our understanding of Scripture and, for that matter, of God is somehow incomplete. As shown above, this uncertainty is unacceptable for foundationalist epistemology and propositional philosophy of language, which attempt to posit an absolute understanding of Scripture through revelation without interpretation. Apart from the philosophical arguments I have laid out which refute such approaches to Scripture, it is important to also describe, in a larger sense, what those projects manifested in theology are actually attempting to do and what the consequences of such projects are; namely, when one claims access to the absolute understanding of revelation without interpretation, one is attempting an onto-theological understanding of God and ignoring His mystery.

2.1 Onto-theology as Idolatry

The term onto-theology originally comes from Martin Heidegger and his critique of it in Identity and Difference. Heidegger is referring to the attempt on the part of philosophers to construct a god of which they could contain the idea of its being in their minds—a fully comprehensible god. Heidegger writes, “[W]e can neither pray nor sacrifice to this god. Before the causa sui, man can neither fall to his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance before this god.” [11] Heidegger’s argument is valid when applied to our God as an object of theological study: If we claim to serve an infinite God, how can we claim absolute knowledge of His revelation without the mediation of our interpretations, which would render our knowledge finite because we are finite beings? It seems to Heidegger that such a claim would negate the possibility of God’s infinite nature—and that would not be a God worth worshipping any more than any human idol.

There is a danger, then, in any theological system that claims direct access to whole Truth through revelation without the aid of interpretation—an objective, complete understanding of a doctrine. In philosophical terms, this is called an ideology. In biblical terms, it is idolatry. However, we certainly must be very careful in using this word so as not to become judge and jury, delivering verdicts of idolatry upon particular theologies. Rather, we must understand what would make the adherence to a particular theological system idolatrous. Peter Rollins, speaking on this subject, writes that “the only significant difference between the aesthetic idol [the Golden Calf] and the conceptual idol lies in the fact that the former reduces God to a physical object while the latter reduces God to an intellectual object.”[12] It is important to remember that idolatry is not the identification of a problem with a particular object; rather, it is our response to and use of that object which will make it idolatrous or not. Onto-theological understandings of revelation can become idolatrous when they claim to represent God in His totality—to make God completely visible. That is the very definition of idolatry.

2.2 Revelation and Mystery

The mistaken understanding of revelation outlined above becomes idolatrous because it misses a central piece of the nature of God and His revelation. Stanley Grentz writes, “In Scripture, the term ‘revelation’ occurs primarily in the verb form and generally refers to the act of uncovering or unveiling what is hidden. Only secondarily does it mean what is uncovered in the act—the static deposit produced by the revelatory action.”[13] Grenz’s definition raises two important points about revelation: 1) There is discovery of the hidden and 2) What is discovered is not as important as the act itself. If we accept the latter point, then we are acknowledging that what is important to us is the fact that God reveals himself—a point that is illuminated by the first, which needs further definition.

Following Barth, we must understand that “even the revealed side of God is a mystery.”[14] It is in these two points that the arguments presented thus far converge: Because what God reveals to us is a mystery, because we cannot arrive at an indubitable foundation for our knowledge, because our language is defined by use not reference, because onto-theology is idolatry, the importance of revelation cannot lie in what is uncovered. What is uncovered is always rendered incomplete by our human interpretations. The importance of revelation lay in the act—that our infinite God would make his Truth incarnate for us in the Word both as Jesus Christ and Scripture. Revelation, rather than uncover the absolute Truth of God, reveals His infinite nature—His mystery. In other words, “[R]evelation ought not to be thought of either as that which makes God known or as that which leaves God unknown, but rather as the overpowering light that renders God known as unknown.”[15] Revelation shows that we can and do worship an infinite God.

Conclusion: Working Toward truth

Some valid objections are no doubt raised against such an understanding of scriptural revelation, most common, the fear of relativism. While it is certainly possible for the belief in the impossibility of an authoritative understanding of Scripture to lead to an “anything goes” sort of theology, the claims of such a belief will, fortunately, not allow for radical relativism. This is because Scripture still acts as the guiding light of theology. It is not as though this view were claiming that one may go anywhere outside of Scripture to any text or experience in order to discover God’s revelation. That is not to say that God does not reveal himself in ways outside of Scripture, but that outside revelations are always mediated against Scripture. Our particular communities also dictate what is acceptable and what is not. Grenz writes that we avoid relativism “as we remember that our declaration of the inspiration of the Bible asserts that this book is objectively divine Scripture; the Bible is Scripture regardless of whether or not we subjectively acknowledge this status.”[16] Therefore, rather than claiming access to Truth, theology must work toward the truths which connect to Truth. These are not fixed; they are highly contextual. Yet, they are chasing after God, constantly pursuing the mystery he has revealed.

Part of this journey requires, as I argued at the start of the paper, the careful examination of new developments not only in theology, but in other fields as well. Theology’s focus must remain the Christian faith; however, that does not necessitate the irrelevance of other disciplines to theology’s goals. As demonstrated, such developments can supplement theological study and help it move beyond some of the major problems it has encountered. If we run from such developments because of the possibility that they may destroy our current understanding, then we have turned that understanding into an idol and our God into a god.

by Joel Harrison


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

            [2]. The specific reasons behind these objections such as seeing these claims as directly competing with scientific ones, etc. are not important for the purposes of this paper and will not be addressed here.

            [3]. I will revisit this term later in the paper. I am drawing upon Merold Westphal’s use of Martin Heidegger’s term, “onto-theology.” See Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001).

            [4]. Fergus Kerr makes an excellent case for this in the first chapter of Theology After Wittgenstein. See Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein (London, The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge: 1997).

            [5]. The current debate surrounding hell provides a perfect example.

            [6]. This need not entail physical violence, although the slaughter of Anabaptists was certainly an example of the metaphysical violence I am describing. Verbal dogmatism would be another. We must be clear, however, that this certainly does not apply to all theologians and religious scholars. The ability for fruitful dialogue among differing views has been possible for quite sometime. This paper seeks to address those specific claims of special access to absolute Truth through scriptural revelation, whether they actually result in dogmatism or not.

            [7] Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 32-33.

            [8]. Nancey Murphy, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism: How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2007), 43.

            [9]. Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Books (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1958), 19.

            [10]. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV).

            [11]. Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1969).

            [12]. Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God (Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2006), 12.

            [13]. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 512.

            [14]. Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God, 18.

            [15]. Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God, 17.

            [16]. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 506.