Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dismal Prospect

I reckon this version of Once In Royal David's City could do with a rather better eschatological finale than some endless cosmic bus queue:

Not in that poor lowly stable,
with the oxen standing round,
we shall see him; but in heaven,
set at God's right hand on high;
when like stars his children crowned,
all in white shall wait around.

Mission Praise has the rather better: "there His children gathered round, / bright like stars, with glory crowned."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Uncomfortable Words

Today we knelt in chapel for the Confession and afterwards so that the Comfortable words were actually quite uncomfortable.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Vanhoozer on Word & Sacrament

The church participates in and continues Jesus’ communicative actions through the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments.

The anologia communication [analogy of communication] need not always be verbal: To the extent that the liturgy as a whole unfolds the narrative which identifies Jesus, the whole liturgy is ‘gospel.’” [Marshall, Bruce D., Trinity and Truth (Cambridge, CUP, 2000), p31] The sacraments are verba visibilia (visible words), a felicitous phrase that rightly signals the continuity between words and acts…. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper represent key scenes in the theo-drama. They, too, are communicative actions, less speech-acts than acts that speak, but acts that communicate something all the same…. The sacraments, like the spoken word, have prepositional content (e.g., both refer to the death of Jesus), yet they also require to be performed (embodied, enacted) ever anew….

… the sharing of the body and blood of Jesus draws us into the theodrama. The Last Supper is a complex communicative act whose similarities with the Passover blend the story of Israel (looking back to the exodus and forward to the return from exile) into the story of Jesus (the lamb whose death would redeem not only Israel but the whole world). The supper also hints at the future messianic banquet in heaven – a complex communicative action indeed! Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are deliberate "double dramas” [Wright, N. T., Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1996) 2:554 – referring to the Lord’s Supper] whose purpose is not merely to convey information but to draw us into the action. Indeed, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are means of grace precisely because they are able to draw us into the pattern of Jesus’ own communicative action.

The ministry of the Word and sacrament: each contributes in its own way to the transmissio of the gospel, and thus to the mission of the church.

(Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, pp74-75)

Vanhoozer on Scripture as Sacramental

The question to be asked of Barth concerns the relationship of the Bible’s quasi-sacramental mediation of Jesus’ real presence to the verbal meaning of the text itself. While some of his early critics accused Barth of emphasizing the subjective event of revelation to the detriment of the objective text, it is surely significant that Barth expected the Spirit to use just these words to disclose Jesus Christ. Just as propositionalists would not want to deny the personal element in revelation, so Barth would not want to deny the role of propositions. (The Drama of Doctrine, p5)

I’m more nervous about Barth’s doctrine of the Bible than Vanhoozer sounds here.

Many acknowledge Scripture’s life-giving, sacramental power… : “[T]he church must come to understand Scripture as a sacramental, poetic-like word, not as proposition truths, an expression of human experience, or mere information for practical living.” [Burgess, John, Why Scripture Matters: Reading the Bible in a Time of Church Conflict (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), xvi.] An even happier scenario would be one in which we did not have to choose between the Bible’s truth and its affective power! (p12, 'God's Mighty Speech Acts')

Vanhoozer also notes Donald G. Bloesch’s attempt at a more dynamic spiritual evangelical view of revelation with the Bible as “the divinely prepared medium or channel of divine revelation rather than revelation itself”. [Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation (Carlisle, Paternoster, 1994), p18 – quoted p158.]

Vanhoozer says:

Blosech espouses a sacramental model which sees revelation as God in action and Scripture as the means for encountering God. (p159)

Vanhoozer, Kevin, ‘God’s Mighty Speech-Acts: The Doctrine of Scripture Today’ Chapter 6, pp143-181 in Satterthwaite, Philip E. & Wright, David F. (ed.s), A Pathway into the Holy Scripture (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1994)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What we need is Doctrine

I'm very excited by the prospect of Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A canonical linguistic approach to Christian theology (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2005) .

Here's a taste of the agenda:

The Drama of Doctrine argues that there is no more urgent task in the church than to demonstrate faith’s understanding by living truthfully with others before God. ... doctrine is an indispensable aid to understanding and to truthful living. Doctrine is a vital ingredient in the well-being of the church, a vital aid to its public witness. ... doctrine, far from being unrelated to life, serves the church by directing its members in the project of wise living, to the glory of God. It [this book] sets out to convince ministers and laypeople alike not to dismiss doctrine as irrelevant, and to encourage theologians not to neglect the needs of the church. It aims to make the pastoral lamb lie down with the theological lion. Its goal is to refute, once and for all, the all-too-common dichotomy between doctrine and real life. Christian doctrine directs us in the way of truth and life and is therefore no less than a prescription for reality. (p xii)

… he who is tired of doctrine is tired of life, for doctrine is the stuff of life. Christian doctrine is necessary for human flourishing: only doctrine shows us who we are, why we are here, and what we are to do. The stereotype of doctrine as dry and dusty cuts a flimsy caricature next to the real thing, which is brave and bracing. Doctrine deals with energies and events that are as real and powerful as anything known in chemistry or physics, energies and events that can turn the world we know upside down, energies and events into which we are grafted as participants with speaking and acting parts. (p xiii)


I’ve just finished reading George Yule’s little book, Pragmatics Oxford Introductions to Language Study (Oxford, OUP, 1996).

Useful, clear survey, readings, glossary, further reading.

It’s been quite interesting – if not always strictly relevant to The Great Task.

Yule describes pragmatics thus:

“Pragmatics is concerned with the study of meaning as communicated by a speaker (or writer) and interpreted by a listener (or reader)…. Pragmatics is the study of speaker meaning…. Pragmatics is the study of contextual meaning…. We might say that it is the investigation of invisible meaning. Pragmatics is the study of how more gets communicated than is said…. Pragmatics is the study of the expression of relative distance.” (p3)

At times I’ve felt, “yeah, yeah… this is just stating the obvious” – and giving it a fancy label - but there’ve been some insights and it’s raised a few smiles. It’s the kind of book where the author can have some fun with making up the examples. And Yule hasn’t gone too mad on all the p&q (+>p) business.

I particularly liked the diagram on p66, Figure 7.1, How to get a pen from someone else [if you’ve forgotten to bring one to a lecture] (following Brown and Levison 1987) which distinguishes: (a) saying something or saying nothing (and looking in bag); (b) on record or off record (‘I forgot my pen’); (c) face saving act or bald request (d) positive politeness or negative politeness. These stratergies are not meant to be exhaustive: creating a diversion and making a grab for it is an option this short introduction overlooks.

The conversational maxims (p37) aren’t rocket science and might be quibbleable but I shall be on the lookout for offenders:

The cooperative principle: Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged.

The maxims


1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).

2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

Quality Try to make your contribution one that is true.

1. Do not say what you believe to be false.

2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Relation Be relevant.

Manner Be perspicuous.

1. Avoid obscurity of expression.

2. Avoid ambiguity.

3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).

4. Be orderly.

Following Grice 1975

There’s also some good stuff on politeness and a table showing ‘how to do a disprefered’, that is, how to say something people wont want or expect to hear, such as saying “no” to a request (p81).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Speech Act Theory Bibliography

Though it probably wont be of interest or use to anyone, I thought I'd post this bibliography of speech act theory (especially including some works that might possibly have some vague relevance to the doctrines of scripture and the Lord's Supper) I've been working on. I probably wont consult many of these 40 odd titles but having made a list creates some illusion of work achieved.

ATLA reveals there are further articles and books on speech act and particular biblical texts (e.g. Botha on John 4; Neufeld on 1 John) I haven't bothered too include.

Those who can't get enough of this stuff may want to consult:

Nuyts, Jan and Verschurenen (eds.), A Comprehensive Bibliography of Pragmatics volumes 1-4 (John Benjamins, 1987)

Or perhaps even more useful (!):

Dufon, Kasper, Takahashi, Yoshinaga, 'Bibliography on Linguistic Politeness' in Journal of Pragmatics 21, 1994, pp527-78