DKG Questions 3 (Language)

  1. While wanting to avoid “anti-abstractionism” in theology, theologians shouldmake use of one of the most important theological words there is–merely. While God is a God of mercy, he is also a God of justice. He is not merely a loving God, but also a just One.

 

  1. The dualism critique often becomes…a word-level rather than a sentence-level critique. Critiques of dualism usually are arbitrary critiques of terminology that an author does not himself employ. If the critique is engaged on the sentence-level and is forced to deal with the content of the propositions then the possibility of arbitrary critiques is lessened. In other words, it is a critique of the author’s vocabulary and not of his ideas.

 

  1. How are non-orthodox positions “systematically vague?” Can you give a example? Non-orthodox (and non-Christian, for that matter) positions cannot balance or account for truths or doctrines that do not fit their own paradigm. For example, non-orthodox positions cannot simultaneously account for transcendence/immanence and in honing in on one, they miss the other. Practically speaking, this means that if the positions takes an immanence view of God, for example, they will take a rationalistic view of the world. In doing so, they cannot account for patterns or facts that do not fit their own (usually arbitrary) paradigms.

 

  1. Discuss values, dangers in labeling. Labels allow one to state a position succinctly. Theologians do not always have the time to outline the uniqueness of x position. If we understand that labels are descriptive nouns then our very act of describing this theological position or that theologian’s beliefs is “labeling.” However, labeling can often degenerate into judging a theologian on the merits of what others in his “group” rather than in what he is saying. Furthermore, labeling often does not do justice to one’s position. One might be a “fundamentalist,” broadly defined, but there is more to the position that was not said, etc.

 

  1. Thus we may think we have a clear idea of the meaning of the term, when all we really have is a feeling.” Discuss, Try to think of an example. We often make judgments based on what we think a word or phrase means without knowing its proper biblical and historical context. Words and phrases, furthermore, have “fuzzy boundaries.” Placed in context a doctrine x certainly sounds wrong, but the doctrine x is not always wrong. Orthodox theologians wince at God repenting, but seen in the covenantal context at Sinai it is then biblically correct to say that in a way God did repent. We rightly feel that making this an absolute truth about God’s immutability is wrong, but if we see the biblical and covenantal context that it is in, then it is correct.

 

  1. What methods will help us to recognize ambiguities? Young theological students are encouraged to make theological lists of what a word or phrase can and cannot mean. This will help interpret the author fairly if one examines all that a phrase can mean and then decide, in the best light, what the author probably means by it. Then, one must point out what that language is not air-tight. As language is not air-tight, the systems that are made up of language are not air-tight, either. A sentence is not necessarily always true or false. Knowing this will keep the theologian from passing judgment until he has seen the best of what could be meant by a phrase.

 

  1. Why the linguistic turn in recent philosophy and theology? As philosophy continues to search the deep questions of life, it will (most likely) keep asking the same questions, with little progress. To counteract this weariness, philosophers have begun to wonder if their lack of progress is due to a lack of clarity in language. Many philosophers are seeing language as the key to reality. This is true, but it is not the only key. However, language does describe the world and the better the use of language, generally, the more useful one will be in describing reality.

 

  1. Language is an indispensable element of the image of God. Expound. God communicates to man by his word. God created the world by “word of his power.” Jesus is the Word of God. Man’s cultural mandate involves the use of language to describe and dominate reality. Conversely, sins of the tongue are sternly warned against in the Bible.

DKG questions: 2 (Precision and Metaphor)

  1. “We should not seek to impose upon church officers a form of creedal subscription intended to be maximally precise.”

Again, Scripture’s vagueness disallows ultimate maximum precision and secondarily, it makes unwise to force subscription to a document that implicitly seeks to be more precise than the standards God Himself set. Thirdly, such maximum precision and subscription unconsciously makes the Confession irreformable and canonical.

  1. Sometimes, metaphors come to our rescue in theology.

 

Metaphors, especially controlling ones, state thorny theological concepts in a s ccinct manner. This presupposes, of course, that vagueness is not only in Scripture, but vague statements about Scriptural truths are allowed. For example, how does one view the relationship between Adam’s sin and the human race? The best example, although one in need of qualification, is the “Federal Headship” of Adam. Adam represented the human race as a Federal head.

 

  1. Often, in fact, figurative language says more, and says it more clearly, than corresponding literal language would do.

 

Figurative language allows one to use popular concepts on the lay level to express truths. For example, it is clearer to say “God is like a mountain, unmoved” than to say “God is immutable.” The latter is more precise, whereas the former is able to communicate the same truth on the lay level.

 

  1. Use of a metaphor may be helpful in one context, misleading in another. Discuss, using examples.

 

Frame suggests that it is best not to use metaphor unless its purposes can be clearly expressed and limited. An example is the Dooyeweerdian definition of law as the boundary between God and the Cosmos. This is good in one sense but raises the question as to what degree does law limit or not limit God. In what sense, then, it is a boundary?

 

  1. Discuss possible cases in which there is danger in using metaphors when more literal language is necessary.

 

Either certain metaphors must be “unpacked” or more technical terms must be used. In other words, uninterpreted metaphors must not be used in philosophical, legal, or scientific discourse.

  1. Everything is comparable to God. Compare

 

Everything is analogous to God to the degree that all creation bears God’s imprint on it. God is like a “fire,” “wind,” “Lion of Judah,” “king,” “love,” etc. But for every analogy there is a disanalogy. God is analogous to evil men (or rather, they to him being created imago dei) but not in the same way that he is analogous to righteous men. That is, there are degrees of analogy between God and creation.

 

  1. Do we need special technical terms to refer to God’s transcendence? Discuss.

 

Technical terminologies concerning God’s transcendence are helpful but their uses ought not to be pressed. It is helpful to know the “qualitative difference” between God and men, for example. The same principle applies to God’s omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. These terms are true as far as they go, but Scripture does not describe God in this way, preferring human referents: Lord, King, Saviour.

 

  1. The History of Doctrine, too, has progressed very largely by negation. Explain

 

Many doctrines have been formulated by way of contrast with heresies. Negation, like Scripture, seeks to contrast truth with error. Many doctrines, such as creation ex nihilo, seem to be most meaningful as an exclusion of contrary heretical positions. The nature of negation in theological formulation, however, is limited. Negation seeks only to show why or for what purpose doctrine x serves. Examples are, as Frame points out, the Reformation Confessions against sectarianism and Romanism, Nicene Trinitarianism against Sabellianism and Arianism, etc.

 

  1. …some doctrines have very little meaning except for their negative function of exclusion.

 

The denial of various heresies constitutes the meaning of a said doctrine. Given tough, philosophically vague concepts like substance, nothingness, hypostasis, it is difficult for the theologian to state a doctrine positively from Scripture. However, a Scriptural case can be built inferentially from negation.

 

  1. Everything is a matter of everything else. Discuss.

 

We must be aware of using “historical disjunctions” to deny other theological truths. For example, while doctrine x is true, it does not necessarily follow that doctrine y must be false. There are degrees to which each doctrine is related and not related to the other doctrine, to be sure, and these degrees of relation ought to form a framework in which to evaluate those doctrines.