Wednesday, February 02, 2005

"The Spirituality of the Cross" by Gene Edward Veith Jr. meets Communication Studies

I wanted to post this, in part, because it struck me as I'm studying contemporary theories in communication as a graduate course. My instructor, as I was told by someone else, used to be a minister. I'm not sure what denomination he preached in, but he wholeheartedly disagrees with the notion that the Bible is accurate, simply because it wasn't put into print until a few generations after Jesus ascended.

Anyway, now for the quoted text from Mr. Veith (starting at p. 34):

"Central to every level of Lutheran theology and spirituality -- its source, its method, and its practice -- is the insight that God Himself addresses human beings through human language. Other religions look for 'visions' of God; other theologies expect God to manifest Himself through a particular experience. Some Christians assume the Holy Spirit communicates to them directly, as an inner impulse or a personal revelation. For Lutherans, God comes from the outside; the Holy Spirit is to be found objectively. [Erica's note: not to be found subjectively.] God speaks directly and effectually to us in His Word.
All human beings, of every culture, have language, which is the means by which individuals can form relationships with each other. Language enables individuals to communicate themselves with others, to form relationships, from friendships to families to societies. Language makes thought possible, opening up the possiblility of ideas, the accumulation of knowledge, the creation of arts and inventions. Scholars are just now discovering the depths upon depths of human language, how it is innate to the mind, how it shapes culture, how it, in effect, defines what is human. Many scientiests are going further, finding that language seems to be built into existence itself. The genetic codes of DNA, the structures of chemistry, and the laws of physics seem to be analagous to the grammatical structures of language.
No wonder, since God created the whole universe by His Word (Psalm 33:6; John 1:1-3). God is no abstract force, as in many religions, but a Person. As such, He thinks, loves, and expresses Himself, so that He has language. He created human beings in His image, as persons, and so we too have language. The fall marred the gift of language, sin tainting language so that it degenerated into confusion and misunderstanding as we see in the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11); but the Holy Spirit at Pentecost enabled people to understand, once again, each other's tongues (Acts 2).
On the simplest level, it is language -- of some kind, including signs of the deaf [Erica's note: I've also studied ASL extensively] -- that makes possible all relationships. We must communicate or we feel alone. Language enables us to share what we are thinking and feeling -- our very selves -- with someone else. Friends and lovers must talk to each other. The lack of communication wrecks marriages, not to mention businesses and governments.
Why shouldn't God also communicate and establish relationships by means of language? Not by vague intimations or mystical intuitions, but real language, with words and grammar and meanings -- language that is accessible to everyone, that can be written down. The Christian's relationship to God, like all other relationships, thrives on two-way conversations -- the Christian speaks to God by prayer, and God speaks to the Christian who reads His Word.
[And here's where my professor would disagree with us:] Critics of Lutheranism say that, well, the Bible is a human document, written over centuries by many different human authors working in specific cultural and historical contexts. Moreover, through the gospels of Christ's life and the epistles of the apostles date from the very beginnings of the church, the complete canon of Scripture was not even established until the fourth century. Surely, then, the church -- which decided which books would be included in Scripture -- is prior to the Word.
Lutherans insist that the Bible, though written by human beings, is indeed the Word of God. But the Word of God is not the Bible alone. The Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, is described in that Bible as the Word of God, so that Jesus is 'the Word made flesh' (John 1:1-3, 14). What the pastor preaches is the Word of God. Every proclamation of the Gospel, whether in a sermon or in a layperson's informal witnessing to a friend, is a dissemination of God's Word. This oral word, insofar as it is the message of the Bible, is God's Word delivered by a human voice.
It is a Lutheran truism that God generally works through means. Just as God is not ashamed to inspire the utterances of fallen human beings, to have His truths written in human language with paper and ink, He is not ashamed to have His Word communicated by the halting speech of His followers. The main difference between God's Word and merely human words, is that God -- the Holy Spirit -- promises to be at work whenever His Word is spoken. 'My word that goes out from my mouth,' says the Lord, 'will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it' (Isaiah 55:11).
To return to the objections, the Word is, in fact, prior to the church. Even before the Bible was completely written, no one could know about Jesus -- and thus join the church -- unless they heard about Him. The words used to explain who Jesus was, what He did, and the forgiveness He offers, were the Word of God. The early evangelists were proclaiming the Gospel (God's Word), a message which could be traced back to the teachings of the first apostles (who taught God's word), who heard it from Jesus, himself (God's Word made flesh). The apostolic testimony was written down from the beginning, along with the more ancient prophetic writings of the Old Testament, and later the various books were collected and printed together, but it was always the Word that God was using to bring people to Himself.
'How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?' asks St. Paul. 'Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ' (Romans 10:14, 17). And that Word, whether oral or written, enfleshed in Jesus or preached from a modern-day pulpit, is powerful, incisive, and convicting: 'For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart' (Hebrews 4:12)."

Sorry to quote such a large block of information from Mr. Veith's book, but I found this so very interesting as our Lutheran theology intersects with the study of human communication and our acquisition of language and learning. I think it is so interesting that God used/uses language to communicate with us, and that communication is something that we cannot ever be without.

1 comment:

Devona said...

Thanks for posting this.

I love reading this kind of stuff. It makes it seem worth while to study linguistics.