snubnosed in alpha

Christian reflections on the way the world is and ways the world might be

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

wrangling over words

While I had not really intended to, it seems I have entered into a blogging slump over the past month or so. There are many reasons for this brief hiatus, not least of which was just that I felt no compulsion to write anything. After the emotionally, spiritually and intellectually draining finale of last semester I and several of my fellow WTS bloggers have entered a sort of lull.
That said, this month I’m going to be doing research on hermeneutics, linguistics, philosophy of language and philosophical theology in an effort to put together a paper impressive enough to serve as a writing sample when I start sending out applications to philosophy programs in the next year. As I’m still trying to narrow down my research to some sort of thesis, I figured I’d post some of my findings and initial thoughts to clear my head and to see if any of y’all had any suggestions for directions I could fruitfully take my paper in.
But as many of you have not got much of a background in the study of language, I thought I’d attach the following interview to serve as a sort of primer.


Some of the ideas I'm kicking around for my paper concern questions such as:

1. What is the relationship between "worldviews" and Biblical interpretation? Dr. McCartney argues in his essay on the NT's use of the OT that in order to be able to employ (not necessarily to understand) the Bible our worldview must be compatible with, although not necessarily identical with, the worldviews of the Biblical writers. One of the questions I would be trying to address is 'What constitutes compatibility between two worldviews?'

2. What is "Christian fundamentalism" and how does it affect the study of the Bible? I may just use my reflections on this question as a case study for working through question 1 above. Here I will try to interact with some of the major definitions of fundamentalism on offer (notably George Marsden's definition, "An evangelical who is angry about something," and Alvin Plantinga's definition, "A stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine" (I find both of these definitions somewhat wanting)), try to hammer out a definition of my own and attempt an analysis of the common patterns in fundamentalist Biblical interpretation using models from the philosophy of science (namely, the models offered by Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn and Pierre Duhem).

3. What is the proper relationship between theology, Biblical scholarship and Christian Apologetics? This question too is connected with questions 1 and 2. This matter seems pressing to me because there is certainly a time for apologists to take up arms in defense of the faith against the deliverances of certain sectors of Biblical scholarship (e.g., the Jesus Seminar). But it is equally certain that at times apologists have taken up arms under the banner of defending the faith against genuine developments in understanding the Bible and have inadvertently done a disservice to the Church. Can these sorts of developments be avoided or are they just necessary growing pains?

4. Could God have given us an Bible written in a "perfect language" (i.e., a language that requires no context to be understood, is free of vagueness and ambiguity) and that could serve as an epistemic criterion or foundation (in the classical foundationalist sense)? I would want to run through some history of ideas and some thought-experiments to try to flesh some of my ideas on this question. Could an Edenic language have been a "perfect language"?

Let me know if you have any other ideas or if you think one of the above questions deserves more attention than the others.

11 Comments:

Blogger A Sojourner said...

I would say the first three are SUMAMENTE IMPORTANTE

10:44 AM  
Blogger A Sojourner said...

...woops, i didn't really finish that thought before publishing it. anyway, i was saying i think the first three would be extremely valuable even if only to set up criterion for evaluation. it seems the 4th question is kind of distinct and relatively disconnected from the others, and I would probably shy away from it anyway. I guess it's valuable to muse over questions like #4, but the fact of the matter is the Bible wasn't written in a perfect language, so more important than speculating on "what if it was" is "what do we do with it as it is" which is what the first three questions address. Just my opinion.

10:48 AM  
Blogger Lew said...

As usual brother, I have no idea what you're talking about! Hahaha! I'm just very simple as you know! Perhaps there would be less wrangling over words if we (well not I!) started speaking like normal human beings instead of giant brains connected to vocal chords!!! David, as usual, although I'm not clever enough to understand what you're saying, I trust that this is profitable to you now...and can't wait to discover how it will be profitable to the cause of Christ in the future! You're great. god bless you brother. In Christ. lew

11:44 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Thanks, Lew. I think you give me too much credit though, brother.
Soj (aka MVG), I guess the benefit I see in addressing question 4 is in that fundamentalists (and some Reformed and many evangelicals) treat the Bible precisely AS IF IT WERE written in a "perfect language." What I want to do is to expose the myth of even the possibility of such a language. Much of the sort of stuff we see folks doing with the Bible derives precisely from misunderstandings of what language is and how it functions.
But you're right, questions 1-3 seem to be a lot more immediately pressing.

12:13 PM  
Blogger shelah said...

wow. as I read these I started thinking about my Constitutional law class during law school (yes, I went to law school, too)... there was a lot of talk during that class about using the "spirit" behind the words to help interpret the words... we used letters, congress hearings, and other forms of communication around the time that the constitution was written to determine that spirit...one could reasonably infer that the rest of the bible would define that same "spirit" for a particular text... it might be worth it to check into constitutional interpretation a little as you're prepping this and see if you can make any fresh correlations, since two entirely different groups were working on each... yeah - just as I'm looking at my review book here I'm seeing some links between limiting the scope of judcicial review and your point #2 and #4... just a thought.

9:58 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Shelah,
You know, it's funny that you should mention legal interpretation as being a place to look for ideas about hermeneutics because I've been kicking around the concept of "precedent" as perhaps being a way of thinking about the ways theological traditions have handled the Bible. For example, one might say that John Calvin's saying of certain passages that God accomodated His speech to the linguistic conventions of the day set a precedent within the Reformed tradition. With this idea in place, we might say that Pete Enns' description of various and sundry passages in basically the same way is simply following Calvin's precedent. Although Enns uses the "incarnational analogy" as his model instead of the language of "accommodation," the ideas pretty much come to the same thing. In this way, folks belonging to a particular theological tradition could look to the exegtical methods and conclusions of great figures (who are generally acknowledged as being "within the tradition") as setting precedents analogous to those set by the Supreme Court for lesser courts. There's still a lot I'd like to think through for this model though.
Thanks, Shelah.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Any one of those could be very interesting....but after reading your blog for a while now I've decided that you are a stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine, so I can no longer pay any attention to you.

12:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

After watching the video in your post, I hope that you will be incorporating cunnilinguistic theories into you paper as well.

12:42 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Mark, I hope that you will not completely write me off. You sound like an evangelical who is angry about something.
Related to your second comment, I will not be incorporating cunnilinguistic theories into my paper as I've recently been informed as to what sort of research that would probably entail.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

I'm giving you another chance, since just today I decided to have your best life now (not mine, yours) and put the "fun" back in fundamentalist.

3:53 PM  
Blogger shelah said...

I think that precedent analogy is a great connection - understanding the basis for precedent and ascribing to or overturning that precedent and what the basis should be for each. Given each individual's tendency toward prideful blindness there would probably need to be some pretty strong prereq's.

4:55 PM  

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