The Language Gap and God: Religious Language and Christian Education by Randolph Crump Miller
Dr. Miller is Horace Bushnell professor of Christian nurture at Yale University divinity school. He is the author of The American Spirit in Theology (Pilgrim, 1974.) Published by Pilgrim Press, Philadelphia and Boston, 1970. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 10: Religious Language and Christian Education
The proper use of the analytic tools of language may help us greatly in rethinking the ways and purposes of Christian education. The language of the Bible is not straightforward or descriptive when its purpose is specifically religious. If Christianity is thought of as a speech-event, giving birth to the new literary form of gospel and making use of myth, parable, story, and epistle in a distinctive way, we need to be aware of such uses in our teaching.
However, some of the early studies in language analysis warn us against too easy talk about God. The demand for verification opens up a question with which we have been concerned throughout the book. What is the empirical anchor for our beliefs? If "belief that" must precede "belief in," how do we get that way? If a disclosure is evoked, how do we distinguish it from wish-fulfillment or hallucination caused by drugs? If we can no longer think in terms of first-century mythology and world views, is there an existential or metaphysical language into which it can be translated?
We are helped here by the suggestion that there are many kinds of language-games. This can be a dangerous concept, for we may decide that astrology, spiritual mediums, insane bliks, or onlooks that are identified with God’s onlook have their own validity. But the language-game concept is helpful as we try to understand ways of thinking in other cultures, not only primitive ones or those foreign to us but also the subcultures in our own country.
When we look at the language-games among the sciences, we find a methodology that is akin to metaphysical and theological thinking. The uses and meanings of words in mathematical physics, for example, begin with imageless concepts which are verified deductively in experience, although not in terms of a specific experiment. Here is a language-game which provides an accurate empirical fit to send a man to the moon or to blow up the world, and yet it is not based on sense experience and inductive logic. It is similar to metaphysics and theology in that it needs to take account of many elements in human experience by means of generalized concepts.
There is another language-game which is more dangerous because it is open to criticism on the basis of subjectivism, privacy, and wish-fulfillment. In one form, it is so private that for Whitehead religion is said to begin with what a man does with his solitariness. For Northrop, the experience of the "undifferentiated aesthetic continuum" is private, operating on the fringes of consciousness, and yet it is universally prevalent. But this is not far different from any birth of insight.
When these two language-games are brought together, as in Whitehead’s way of looking on the world, we have a basis for what Ramsey calls a "cosmic disclosure." Thus we have grounds for talking about God not only in terms of what the concept of God means but in terms of God as objective reality. We have tried to clarify this kind of thinking at both the religious and metaphysical levels.
Primarily, however, we are concerned with the use of the tools of linguistic analysis to help us in Christian education. That is why the last half of each chapter points to its educational significance. It is at this point that the suggestions of Ramsey, Bushnell, Drinkwater, and Evans are significant, with additional help from van Buren, Whitehead, Belth, and Peters. We have been seeking to understand how Christians, in terms of our twentieth-century Western, scientific, secular culture, may speak meaningfully, communicate ideas, and evoke, hopefully, disclosures of God that may lead to commitment. This specifically religious dimension of Christian education, however, needs always to be supplemented by a theological and metaphysical framework or onlook, and this leads us from the logically odd, poetic-simple forms of discourse to more complex critical analysis.
As Christian educators, our purpose is that the gospel be heard and responded to. We are concerned with what God has done, does, and hopefully will do. Much of this activity is in the form of words, words which do things. The tools provided by the logic of self-involvement, showing how language is per-formative in terms of onlooks, are essential for the church school teacher or catechist, who also needs to be alerted to the existence of both open and closed bliks. There is a gap between the secular and Christian onlooks, and although the proclamation of Jesus as the Christ and God as the Creator may be helpful, this does not provide a basis for crossing the gap unless there is a disclosure such as Ramsey proposes. Only then can we say, "We are as certain of God as we are of ourselves and other selves."(Dallas M. High, Language, Persons and Belief [New York: Oxford University Press, 1967], p. 182.)
This means that Christian educators will seek to enable the learner to say, "I believe," not as a ritual act or as an intellectual exercise but as the assertion of trust in another "I." (See ibid., p. 168.) This is not just believing that God exists; it is more like asserting that I trust my wife and that I will back this assertion both with empirical evidence and active defense. (See Ian T. Ramsey, Religious Language [London: SCM Press, 1957; New York: Macmillan Paperback, 1963], p. 53.) So when I say, "I believe in you, God," I am willing to stand behind my statement.
What is clear, I hope, is that study of language analysis from a philosophical point of view enables us to speak more effectively and accurately, on the basis of a carefully worked out theology and metaphysics, of God as existing, who in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, and who through the community of the Spirit is drawing all men unto him, that they by and through their faith may be recipients of his grace. Of this God, we say, "I believe in . . ." There will be continuing disclosure and commitment, and the resulting action will be the ministry of the church in the world.
The various language-games which are suitable to Christian education are used most effectively within situations and relationships that are provided in the classroom or the community. The key concepts of dialogue, engagement, and kerygma may prove helpful at this point.
We have already referred to the biblical use of dialogue, but we need to look again at its educational significance. Reuel L. Howe pictures dialogue as an interchange of meanings between persons, in which the proper relationship tends to break down the barriers so that meaning can flow in two directions. He builds this interpretation on the basis of Martin Buber’s interpersonal relationship philosophy of "I-Thou," in which only adequate trust can be the basis for genuine dialogue between pupil and teacher. The important element is the overcoming of obstacles. The key to this understanding of dialogue is not mastering a methodology but achieving a relationship. Almost any method will work when the relationship has been established.(See Reuel L. Howe, The Miracle of Dialogue [New York: Seabury Press, 1962], pp. 37 f.)
A theory of language is related to this interpretation. Meanings of words are derived from the experience of prior relationships. One cannot even talk about dialogue until a relationship of dialogue has been established. Such basic Christian concepts as love, fellowship, forgiveness, justice, trust, and grace cannot be understood religiously unless there has been prior experience of these relationships on a purely human level, which can then be interpreted theologically. Therefore, to talk about God meaningfully we need experience of God at work in these relationships. When we have had these experiences in terms of a human onlook, we may be helped by the proper direction of attention to discern God at work in our midst.
This relationship of dialogue is essential to Christian education because it offers the situation in which many of the goals of Christian education may be achieved. We have just referred to an altered onlook. Because dialogue offers the opportunity for self-involvement, it makes possible a deeper probing of the person’s key question of "Who am I?" Therefore, in some instances, dialogue becomes the opportunity for a changed onlook, especially when one member of the group develops a special concern and ministers to the other. This can be observed as the pattern in some specialized groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, in which the knowledge that someone is so concerned that he can be phoned at any time of the day or night when temptation is the greatest becomes the resource for a new way of behaving. A similar group, operating as a cell within the larger body of the congregation, provides the opportunity for the exchange of stories which increase in depth as mutual trust grows within the group, leading perhaps to what Bultmann means by "authentic existence."
Dialogue may go on in almost any circumstances. The attitudes and atmosphere are what is most important. It is a sharing of stories, of onlooks, of bliks, by which profounder onlooks may be evoked, but never for the purpose of winning a victory over another. The imperialism of the teacher is effectively destroyed by this approach, although the teacher may still be the expert, leader, or coach with the right to evaluate the process. Bushnell made a similar point when he said that all one could ever do was to stimulate another’s thinking; we never put our thoughts into his head.
Dialogue, precisely because it lacks the formality of the traditional classroom, offers the opportunity to analyze the language of faith. Because of the interchange, the teacher and pupils can be more certain about the meanings of the words used, can ascertain the logically odd disclosure language of the Bible, and can try as many models and qualifiers as are necessary to make possible the evoking of a disclosure, turning to as many myths, parables, stories, and poetry as needed to aid in the process. Within the dialogue situation, the class can ignore the timetable of a syllabus and spend time enough, for example, on studying a myth to take account of its truth-value or to demythologize it and translate it into current existentialism or some other modern form of thinking. When this is achieved, as Howe suggests, with a flow of meaning in various directions, the chances of fresh onlooks occurring are very great.
Another key concept for Christian education is engagement. David R. Hunter has made use of it to deepen the usual meaning of "encounter" or "meeting." Two trains "encounter" one another on a bridge, with disastrous results. Two automobiles "meet" at an intersection. This language reflects a theology that conceives of God as "wholly other," as transcendent in the sense of being beyond man. Thus, Emil Brunner speaks of a "divine-human encounter." This is almost at the opposite pole from the mystics, who speak of "meeting" in terms of "union." Both views may merit similar psychological descriptions.
Engagement, in contrast to encounter, is especially helpful in avoiding both extremes of interpretation. The word carries the implication of intertwining, involvement, and response in which there is give-and-take in both directions. This engagement, like Jacob’s wrestling with an angel, may seem violent, or, like Jeremiah’s experience, it may be a call to obedience, or, like Pentecost, it may be the opening of good news to others.(See David R. Hunter, Christian Education as Engagement [New York: Seabury Press, 1963]).
It seems to me that we need to look at the concept of engagement from two directions as we seek to talk about God. First, if we have been correct in our estimate of the place of relationships in the meaning of language and the framework of communication, we can carry over what we have just said about dialogue. There is, here, a way of looking on God as working through his grace in our midst; he is immanent. As we participate in experiences within a group, family, class, or congregation, and note that people seem to change their onlooks and are, in the language of the New Testament, new creations or born anew or transformed or made new in Christ, we look on this as the work of God in our midst. Here then is interpersonal engagement which is human and more.
The second direction from which to look at engagement is from our belief in God who is directly known. If we believe that our metaphysical concepts include God as a reality, on grounds similar to those proposed by Northrop, Whitehead, and Hartshorne, then we can take seriously talk about engagement with God through the experience of the "undifferentiated aesthetic continuum," which means that on the fringes of our consciousness there is the experience of what William James called the "divine more," (See William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience [New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1902], p. 508.) and this disclosure is correlated with our concept of God as postulated in our abstract thinking.
Our study of religious language allows for both uses of the word engagement. Ramsey’s emphasis on disclosure language, the logically odd assertions that lead to the evoking of discernment or insight, which he calls a cosmic disclosure, comes close to what we have just said about engagement with God. The "language of the heart" about which Drinkwater speaks is the same type of usage. If, with Evans, we are to look on God’s glory, this again is the onlook that makes such language possible. If it is the experience of men in their solitude, as Whitehead suggests, it still has to be worked out in language in the community of believers.
Both dialogue and engagement point linguistically to the proclamation of the gospel, which is the source of Christian belief in God and in the meaning of life. Unless the kerygma stands at the center of the Christian revelation, we are not being true to a tradition that stands on the Bible, tradition, and human experience.
Christian teaching finds its source in the kerygma, that proclamation or story of what God has done in history and uniquely in Jesus Christ, leading to the establishing of a community centering in Christ. Attempts have been made to distinguish between kerygma as telling the story and didache as moral teaching based on the story, with C. H. Dodd as a key scholar,(See C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching [New York: Harper & Bros., 1936], pp. 3-6.) but for Christian education the distinction is difficult to maintain (if indeed it is valid).
For a brief time, the phrase "kerygmatic catechetics" was popular among Roman Catholic educators.(See Gerard S. Sloyan, ed., Modern Catechetics [New York: Macmillan, 1963]) It served its purpose in its emphasis on kerygma as a means for getting away from didactic teaching, making room for the proper mapping of religious language in teaching. If poetic-simple is a clue to religious teaching, then the catechism properly belongs in the hands of the teacher, as a summary in scientific-simple of what is proclaimed. The Bible is understood as a story of God’s mighty acts, a record of the ways in which God has revealed himself and men have appropriated the revelation. It is important, therefore, that this story be told not only in parts but in its completeness, and in such a way that it opens up to the student the possibility of response in terms of decision, commitment, and faith.
This emphasis on a biblical onlook centering in the kerygma fits in with most of the approaches we have considered. The central factor in this approach is the story, told in such a way, with the proper mapping of language, that there may be a response, even a change in onlook. David Hunter places the emphasis on the story as a way of opening up the religious issues in the lives of the students and their problems in decision-making, and these are correlated with stories that will help them grasp the meaning of these issues in terms of the Christian faith. The story comes first, and then the interpretations, and finally the propositions. The possibility of a disclosure lies in the story and not in the propositions.
From the point of view of some of the linguistic philosophers, this conclusion seems too pat. It is too much like a slightly stepped-up Bible class. It places the responsibility for the story on the teacher and the source in the Bible. If Ramsey is right, the logically odd phrases which make a disclosure possible may come from all kinds of theological discourse. The words to point to God, such as "infinitely good" or "all powerful" or "creator ex nihilo," are found in propositions and not in Bible stories. The stories may help to make the "ice break," but so may a consideration of the logically odd qualifiers, or even, as Braithwaite suggests, stories from almost any source.
If we consider dialogue, engagement, and kerygma in this manner, we are led to conclude that the curriculum is broader than any formal course of study. If we move in an existential direction, we may agree with David Hunter that religious issues provide the organizing principle; or, if we follow Schubert Ogden, we may seek an existential understanding of "authentic existence" and also look on God and his world as objective and worth metaphysical consideration; or, if we follow Marc Belth, we may be "concerned with the development of the powers of thinking, symbol manipulation, and the identification of theoretical bases for acting and speaking . . ."; in any case, we have a story to tell. The concern of the educator is that a biblical onlook should be a live option, no matter how it is demythologized or adapted so that assertions about the biblical faith have currency in today’s world. This will lead to self-involving, performative language that does not misfire.
Insofar as discernment is evoked and commitment results, the student comes to an understanding of the church’s mission. He becomes an apostle, one who is sent forth, wherever he is, to speak out and to act out his insight and his commitment. His own sphere of influence is his mission. H. Richard Niebuhr wrote that the major task of the church is "the increase of the love of God and neighbor,"(H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry (New York: Harper and Row, 1956), p. 31. See 1 John 4:20-21, NEB: "But if a man says, ‘I love God,’ while hating his brother, he is a liar. If he does not love his brother whom he has seen, it cannot be that he loves God whom he has not seen. And indeed this command comes to us from Christ himself: that he who loves God must also love his brother.") and from some points of view these commands may be identical rather than equal. We do not select our neighbor, for he is whoever we happen to meet. We are to be in dialogue with our neighbor, to enter into engagement with him, and to share in such a way that the kerygma may be noted and responded to.
This leads us to take seriously the idea that Jesus Christ came to save the world. "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19)." There is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, for the doctrine of creation stresses that it is world-creation that we are talking about. This is the locale of the church at work. Robert Clyde Johnson writes that "the unavoidable, primal fact is that the church is in the world and the world is in the church." (Robert Clyde Johnson, ed., The Church and Its Changing Ministry [Philadelphia: United Presbyterian Church, 1961], p. 9.) This is where we believe God located his church and where we must be if we are to fulfill our discipleship. The religious issues in our lives come alive in the work and play of our life in the world.
This summary of the significance of dialogue, engagement, and kerygma as they relate to curriculum, mission, and world leads to the following as a possible statement about Christian education: It means, then, telling the story of God’s mighty acts in such a way that the listener participates in the dialogue by telling his own story, and he comes into an engagement with God and his fellows in his daily life, and therefore the meaning of his life is disclosed to him in a new way, and through commitment to God in Christ he is reborn daily as he lives as a Christian in community in the world.
The key words in the above statement are performatives, and the new onlook is a gift of disclosure or insight, made possible because a blik or onlook has been renewed or transformed. With the discernment that leads to a new or renewed commitment must go understanding. A transformed or renewed onlook must be undergirded by empirical fit and rational concepts, resulting in theological and metaphysical thinking, either at an elementary or more advanced level.
For this result to occur in a Christian context, the empirical anchor, as Ramsey suggests, may be found in worship, and worship, like other forms of religious language, has its own language-game. To that problem we turn.
Little has been done by anyone on the language of worship, beyond the claim that it is the empirical anchor for some religious assertions. Liturgical language is encrusted with tradition and often fails to speak even to the remnant of the faithful, much less to anyone else (except possibly to God himself). Not only is there obsolescence, but there is failure to provide those occasions for disclosure, discernment, and insight which are essential for renewed commitment and obedience.
One of the problems is that many liturgical phrases, although quite properly biblical in intent, are based on the King James or earlier versions of the Bible, and therefore they have an archaic or quaint or awkward quality that makes any meaningful participation difficult. Many key phrases of traditional prayers are either misleading or unintelligible. Take the familiar phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." It has been translated, "Do not bring us to the test (NEB)," "Keep us clear of temptation (P)," "Do not bring us to hard testing (TEV)." If this phrase is taken literally against the background of the coming of the kingdom, how can we demythologize it so that it makes any sense in today’s world with its sense of continuity? If we believe that the time of testing will be the end of the world, when God brings in his kingdom, we can say the words without difficulty. No literal translation can bring out the meaning for the modern man. Should we then make our own paraphrase in terms of a different view of history? Should we say: "Keep us from losing our faith in you"?(See John C. Kirby, Word and Action [New York: Seabury Press, 1969], pp. xiv-xviii.)
We have the same kind of problem with "Do this in remembrance of me." Is the Holy Communion service simply a meeting of the "Jesus Memorial Society"? Or can we state more effectively what was meant: "When you do this, I will be present"? Is there here, as Schubert Ogden would say, an act of representation? If so, our liturgical phrases do not say so.
Does blood still suggest cleansing properties? Are we "washed in the blood of the lamb?" Or what does it mean when the priest quotes Jesus: "This is my blood"? What potency do we believe that blood has today, except as plasma? Does eating the body suggest a form of spiritual cannibalism?
Traditionalists may respond to such criticisms with the comment that only the initiated can understand the biblical symbolism of worship, and the problem of education is to help people learn this liturgical language. This has been the position of most liturgical scholars and of the churches. Children are exposed to traditional worship and nurtured in it until it becomes second nature to them, or they rebel against the whole system.
Attempts have been made to update the various liturgies, not always with much success. When the Roman Church began to translate the Mass from Latin to English, what surprised many people was the flatness of the translation. What might be called the "liturgical tone" was lacking, somewhat as an opera translated from Italian or German into English loses its "style." A comparison of recent English mass texts with the Book of Common Prayer suggests one of the major difficulties. When Cranmer translated from the Latin in the sixteenth century, he had available in the common language of the people a kind of rhythmic prose that could be read aloud to evoke a worshipful response. When this prose is analyzed, as it has been by John Suter, it is seen to be a form similar to what Canon Drinkwater calls poetic-simple. This rhythmic prose, carefully balanced in its cadences, with a specific format especially in those prayers called "collects," is meant to be read aloud. Many of Cranmer’s prayers are now archaic, but they can serve as a model of the wax’ in which modern prayers might be written. What is needed is the genius of a Cranmer! (See John W. Suter, The Book of English Collects [New York: Harper & Bros., 1940], pp. xxvii-xxxvi.)
The psalms, as early hymns, also are in poetic-simple. The current generation has been more successful in writing modern psalms than modern prayers. Many of the recent folk songs combine verse and guitar as the early psalms combined Hebrew parallelism and the harp. We are not far off the beam with some of the new hymns, both those that are somewhat traditional and some that are closer to the rhythms of the secular world."( See RISK: New Hymns for a New Day [Geneva: Youth Departments of the World Council of Churches and World Council of Christian Education], II, No. 3,1966.)
Most of the experiments in rewriting the liturgy seek some clarification and more dramatic movement, but they are primarily traditional. One experiment that breaks new ground is by William Birmingham, "An Urban Liturgy of Identity." At the beginning, it reminds us of some of the attempts of linguistic analysts to speak of God:
Priest What is the name of God?
Priest What is the name of God?
The remainder of the service is mostly readings from modern translations of the Gospel of John, with a dramatic sharing of the Holy Communion as the climax. It is a step in the right direction.
The language of address to God has been moving from "thou" to "you." This is to avoid quaintness, and in English the "you" can be singular or plural. In other languages, the equivalent of "thou" is personal and singular, and the equivalent of "you" is more formal. But we are limited to English, and it should he "the language of the heart." We do not use "thou" when speaking to an intimate friend, a spouse, or child. Why should we do so with God? Or maybe we should be more formal with God, and the easy-going "you" fails to catch the element of the holy. But "thou" leads to verbal forms such as "hast" or "wouldst" or "makest" or other awkward and artificial English words. We need more experiments before we decide which kinds of prayer are most useful.(Examples of modern prayers can he found in such hooks as Malcolm Boyd, Are You Running with Me, Jesus? [New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1965], Michel Quoist, Prayers of Life [London: Gill & Son, 1963], Omer Tanghe, Prayers from Life [New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1968]. For an overview on worship and education see Paul H. Vieth, ‘Worship in Christian Education [Philadelphia: United Church Press. 1965]).
Such experiments are sure to multiply the ways in which people worship. This may be a good thing, provided it does not increase the scandals of our divisions. For we need to learn how to use religious language to bring the churches together so that their ministry in the world will be more effective.
One serious reason why the churches have failed to communicate more effectively has been their divided status. Albert van den Heuvel has said that "the ecumenical movement is a laboratory where sick churches try to discover how to get well together."( "Secular Ecumenicity and the Teaching of the Faith," Religious Education, LXII [Mar-Apr. 1967], p. 121.) Even the word ecumenical has many meanings. Some Protestants were misled when the Vatican II Council was called "ecumenical" because they saw the meaning of the word from the perspective of the World Council of Churches. Some people see its meaning in terms of mergers, others in a return to Rome, others in a loose federation, others in terms of social and political action in the world. Much of what is called "ecumenical," such as the study of the positions of other churches or the bringing of people together for mutual understanding, is properly "pre-ecumenical." Sharing in the mission of God in the world is a true ecumenical activity, a kind of "secular ecumenicity" where "only those fully committed to the abolition of hunger may receive communion, only those who are fully committed to unity in the world may work for unity between the churches, only those who are fully committed to real communication between estranged people may pray, and only those willing to die for their fellows may carry the message of the resurrection."(Ibid., pp. 126, 224.) These are strong words, but they communicate a challenge. The ecumaniac is using "ecumenicity" as a performative, and his blik is showing in his careless disregard of the consequences.
The starting point is the development of an attitude, an ecumenical mentality, an onlook in which a person has, says Cardinal Bea, "a constant vision of the whole of Christianity in the whole world and in all confessions, and shapes his work according to this vision. He respects everyone, listens to all, and considers their problems as his own. From such a consideration of all those who are baptized in Christ or at least believe in him, we become more and more conscious of the problems presented by the wounded condition of a divided Christianity."( In Samuel H. Miller and C. Ernest Wright, eds., Ecumenical Dialogue at Harvard: The Roman Catholic-Protestant Colloquiam (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1964), p. 31.)
The local congregation or parish is usually incapable of achieving an ecumenical mentality, much less an approach to ecumenical action. It is irresponsible to get an individual Christian excited about the ecumenical mission to the world and to leave him alone to be crucified. Yet if the individual is not concerned about his neighbors, he does not know that the world for him is his neighborhood. If he does not see the connection between his daily life, which is secular, and his faith, his Christian education is a failure. This support for him must be on a wider basis than the local congregation, for when groups of Christians share their activities they can be more effective. It is no accident that witness against racial discrimination is always more effective when a council of churches is involved or there is an interfaith witness.( See Randolph C. Miller, "The Challenge of the Ecumenical Movement to Church Education," Kendig Brubaker Cully, ed., The Episcopal Church and Education [New York: Morehouse-Barlow Co. , 1966], pp. 227- 40.)
The vocabulary of the ecumenical movement, although often buried in the strange jargon of committee language, is at times a vehicle for communication. More often, everyday language, used by laymen as they face the problems of the world, provides dynamic insight and the possibility of commitment, as we see in the development of lay academies and other specialized lay training centers, where men and women from many occupations and denominations seek together to find out what their responsibilities are as Christians in their work.(See Lee J. Gable, Church and ‘World Encounter [Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964]).
If people are to work together as Christians, the educational process must include study, discussion, worship, and work. The focus needs to be on imagination, for what we need most are new ways to meet new occasions in today’s world. We do not yet know what it is we need to do to fulfill God’s plan for the world. We know that war must cease, populations must be limited in their growth, poverty must be overcome, educational opportunities must be provided on a wider basis, and that people must be free to hear the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, but these are such tremendous and complex problems that we do not know where to start. It has been suggested that unless a new Augustine or Luther emerges to bring about a new reformation, nothing much will happen. But we cannot wait for someone else. The responsibility is ours, and if we lack the stature of an Augustine or a Luther, we have the stature that God gave us.(See the two symposia on "The Ecumenical Revolution and Religious Education," Religious Education, LXI [Sept.-Oct. 1966] and LXII [Mar.- Apr. 1967.])
Why all these Words?
We come now to the end of our study of religious language. We have used a great variety of words, some of them in common use and some of them specialized and even invented for a particular purpose. Some of these words overlap in their meanings and may even be almost synonymous. Word substitution helps one to avoid being caught in a one-word situation, where the defense of the word becomes more important than the meaning to which it may point. Substitution of one word for another is never adequate, but such action may be valid and intelligible in order to communicate, as in the case of faith-decision-trust-commitment-loyalty, etc. There are shades of difference in this series, but if I use faith-know-belief that, I have obviously started with a different use of faith, or I have moved in a direction that distorts the original meaning in favor of my own theological blik.(See James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language [London: Oxford University Press, 1961], pp. 215-16, 256.) This forces us from dependence on definition to a study of use as a basis for meaning. We want to be sure how a word is used in a sentence, preferably in an example (paradigm case) that is clear, and then we can understand its meaning in a more difficult situation. The test of a synonym is whether it can operate in the same or a similar sentence without distortion (See ibid., p. 266.)
We have, for example, used the words blik, onlook, disclosure, discernment, insight, revelation in similar ways. I can say, "I have a blik about my wife’s cooking," or "I look on my wife’s cooking as good for my health," or "My wife’s cooking is a disclosure of her love," or "My wife’s cooking led me to the discernment of tastes I never suspected were possible," or "I had no insight into the delights of French cooking until my wife bought a French cookbook," or "My wife’s latest cooking adventure was a revelation." These words, obviously are not synonyms, and they have not been used with the same grammatical structure, but they belong to a family of words necessary to cover my intellectual and intuitive grasp of the total concept, "my wife’s cooking," and the subject is still far from exhausted.
I can attempt to share this knowledge with another by using language similar to the above, by inviting him to dinner, or by suggesting that he buy his wife a French cookbook, at which point I may run into his blik, onlook, discernment, or insight concerning his wife’s cooking. If I am reduced to a one-word approach to describe my wife’s cooking, I cannot convey the complexity of this relatively simple operation.
Let us assume that I invite my friend to dinner. The conversation about my wife’s cooking has only pointed at something, and now he has certain expectations because he has had previous experience with various foods. My language so far has been self-involving and performative about my wife, and my invitation to him is also self-involving and performative. Now he accepts. But I have invited him for three days hence. How do we know that the invitation will still be valid, or that he will respond by showing up? Our language at this point assumes the kind of thinking that provides for continuity and dependable prediction, which is based on the use of imageless postulation.( Says Northrop: "No words can mean or say anything, except as one knows, with inexpressible and unsayable immediacy, what the words are pointing at or showing, independently of the words themselves. Such knowledge is what the word mystical means. . . . The other and quite different species of mysticism is that of imageless intellectual immediacy or intuition, which concept by intellection sentences and their formal syntax self-show, but can neither point at nor say." The former leaves untouched one’s "belief in the constancy of his determinate personality through time or in eternal objects in a public spatiotemporal world. It also leaves meaningless the legal person who is obligated today by a contract he entered into yesterday." This depends on the latter approach. Man, Nature and God (New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1962), pp. 241-43.)
My friend comes to dinner. Afterward he says, "I agree with you. I look on your wife as an excellent cook," and he adds, "and a gracious hostess. You didn’t tell me that." Here is an additional, unexpected disclosure, and he expresses himself in the performative language of self-involvement: "I would like my wife to be able to cook like yours, and to be as gracious." A behavioral-postural attitude is now developing.
This kind of language is perfectly ordinary and normal. Yet it is making use of many of the aspects of language which we use when we speak of God. This dinner illustration, built out of disclosure language and its close relatives among bliks and onlooks, with the self-involving performative element, may lead us to see that we have similar obligations when we invite people to church or to participate in a Christian education program.
What might be called the religious diet of the church will be analogous to my wife’s cooking, and the way it is presented will be in as gracious a manner as she is a hostess. Only in this way will such phrases as "Drink of me" come alive. If the model of Jesus as the water of life is to have currency, this is the kind of approach we must have in mind. If we use the model of "the body and blood of Christ" in the Holy Communion, this disclosure language is essential. But more than words is necessary, for words only point at or show the reality which is the source of our spiritual nourishment. We must be able to say, "Taste and eat."
Talk surrounds both the dinner and the sacraments. Such speaking may add a depth dimension to what is being experienced. Or the talk may seem trivial. Or it may be a conversation in a foreign tongue. However, the language may make possible the appropriating of the meaning of the meal or the sense of community, if it is sufficiently suitable in terms of providing insight through its models and logically odd qualifiers. At some point, it is hoped that the light will dawn and the diner will recognize who is his host.
Just as the guest at the dinner participates in these ways, the guest or student or worshiper in church responds with new discernment and commitment, so that we may speak of intuition, religious experience, God’s grace, or the "undifferentiated aesthetic continuum" as the nourishing element, and the self-involving language of deep caring, commitment, faith, trust, and obedience as response. One’s way of looking on God and the world is either strengthened or changed. So we begin to agree that if the invitation is genuine, if the steak is as promised, if the word is such that the invitation is accepted in fact, and if as a result there are new disclosure and commitment, there is an empirical anchor in such feeding of the flock, an empirical fit that provides verification sufficient to make one return for as many meals as possible, for here is where one finds "the way, the truth, and the life."
After one has been fed, especially when it is the bread of life, he is enabled to fulfill his responsibilities. The church which has gathered for the feast scatters so that its members may live out their vocations, meet their commitments to others, obey their ethical and social obligations wherever they happen to be, and show forth a Christian style of life.
No illustration can be forced to carry the full weight of the argument of this book, just as no parable can reflect the full power of the gospel, and no one word (not even love) can summarize the meaning of God. But we can say with the observers of the early church, "Behold how they love one another." I can say with Paul, "So I fight, and not as a shadow boxer." Just as new occasions teach new duties, so new disclosures mean new commitments, and new onlooks involve one in new performatives.