Divine Discourse (Wolterstorff)

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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the claim that God speaks. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Wolterstorff takes the findings in current speech-act theory and applies them to the claim that God speaks. He insists that his project is not another treatment on theological revelation, but that discourse is different from revelation. For revelation to occur, not only must must the actor speak, but the actee must receive the propositional content of the speech (29). However, promises and commands are not (primarily) intended to reveal the unknown to us, but to show us our duties, etc.

This leads to the basics of speech-act theory. The locution is a meaningful sentence uttered. Moreover, as Wolterstorff notes, “Acts of asserting, commanding, promising, and asking...are all illocutionary acts; by contrast, acts of communicating knowledge, when brought about by illocutionary acts, are all perlocutionary acts” (32; emphasis original).

The Rules of the Speaking Game

Speaking, especially speaking one between another, assumes certain rules that are “given.” Thus, there is a new relation between the speakers. This relationship has “built-in” rules. Wolterstorff explains, “If I say ‘I saw Jim drive off with your car’...I have not simply transmitted information” (84). He goes on to say that if you understood what I said--assuming I am not lying--you are now obligated to take me at my word.

It is not that the words themselves are binding, but the conditions attached to them. The conditions yield consequences of the words being uttered or not uttered (87).

Can God Speak?

Nota Bene: Illocutionary acts are related to locutionary acts by way of the counting as relation; perlocutionary acts are related to illocutionary acts by causality.

NB, 2: Could the conditions attending the “Rules of the Speaking Game” shed light on the nature of imputation in justification? I think so. If God declares me just on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, is it a legal fiction? The Reformed can answer no on two counts:

If God says something it’s probably best that we not argue with him on that point.
But assuming with the objection that God’s words aren’t good enough, we can go a step further: God’s speech-act “You are righteous on account of Christ” is a real phenomenon because it met real conditions in speech-act theory. The relations that govern the laws of discourse are real, not legal fictions. God himself is the author of all reality. When I speak in mundane affairs I can create a new relation (I pronounce you man and wife; you’re fired, etc). If this is true and easy for me to do, why is it suddenly hard for God to do? Because of his speech I have a new relation to him: loving Father. (see p. 97 for more technical details)

Discussions of Barth and Derrida

NW gives the standard criticisms of Barth. He gives a very careful and clear discussion of what Barth means by Jesus being the Word-as-Revelation of God. For Barth, Jesus is the medium of God’s revelation, but it is important to note that Barth does not see any revelation of God as being “speech.” God does not speak, per Barth. NW hovers around the main criticism of Barth but never delivers it: Barth cannot see God as speaking because God, being wholly other, cannot enter the realm of the phenomenal. In short, Barth is an Origenist. (The only theologian to really make this observation was the fellow-gnostic Hans urs von Balthasar).

I enjoyed the section on Derrida. NW rightly points out that not everything Derrida said is wrong. While we must appreciate (and employ!) Derrida’s criticisms of Plato, at the end of the day we must part with Derrida. If everything is a “trace” of something else, “and meaning is not anterior to signification, but a creature of ‘our’ signification,” then the Bible as God’s speech has no original meaning (Wolterstorff 161). We must destroy Plato to the hilt, but this is too high a price to pay, pace Derrida.

Towards an Ethics of Belief

At the end of the book Wolterstorff hints towards a future project: the ethics of belief. Considering that God can speak, are Christians warranted in holding that God speaks? Yes. It seems a rather simple question, but Wolterstorff uses it to explain how epistemology can work.

Many times true beliefs are formed by “doxastic practice” (269).

Criticisms and Evaluation

As Reformed Christians we should rejoice in any work that champions God’s word as speech, as speech-act. Many chapters in this volume are pure gold. The section on John Locke at the end of the book is almost worth the price of the book.

I have some criticisms, though. This book is not as clear as later works (Horton, Vanhoozer) on the differences between locutions, illocutionary acts, and perlocutionary acts. Further, and as is often the case with analytic philosophy, some pages tend to go on without any clear purpose.

NB 3: Token-type language ontology: in straight-forward language (Common Sense Realism?) words can be “tokened,” some enduring and some perishing in character (135ff).

NB 4: “Performance interpretation” is analogous to Frei/Lindbeck school.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thankyou, Jacob. It is helpful to have a step-ladder to reach these lofty branches. Philosophers would do well to come down from their heights and meet the Word of God on the common ground of human life which the Word has assumed. If philosophers returned to a common sense perspective they might also make more sense.

I think true beliefs would have to be reinterpreted to include impressions in order for "doxastic practice" to be formative. This kind of theory leads straight to the liturgical merry-go-round. The belief itself might be true enough so far as genuine experience is concerned, but that does not make it a belief of something true.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thankyou, Jacob. It is helpful to have a step-ladder to reach these lofty branches. Philosophers would do well to come down from their heights and meet the Word of God on the common ground of human life which the Word has assumed. If philosophers returned to a common sense perspective they might also make more sense.

I think true beliefs would have to be reinterpreted to include impressions in order for "doxastic practice" to be formative. This kind of theory leads straight to the liturgical merry-go-round. The belief itself might be true enough so far as genuine experience is concerned, but that does not make it a belief of something true.

Wolterstorff didn't mention it, but I see what you mean by "liturgical merry-go round." Much of the book was quite good, but it could have been 30 pages shorter.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
If philosophers returned to a common sense perspective they might also make more sense.

If I might push back here, Rev. Winzer, that's exactly what speech-act theory is: a common-sense view of language. It looks at language not a series of statements which are either verifiable or else meaningless emoting, but as a complex web of interpersonal communication which is used to do all kinds of things. I can promise, console, pronounce, opine, or perform without saying anything that is true or false in a logical sense. What speech-act theory does when applied too Scripture is to point out that God does all of these things too.


I think true beliefs would have to be reinterpreted to include impressions in order for "doxastic practice" to be formative.

A doxastic practice is simply a practice intended to form or reinforce belief. Saying creeds or learning the catechism would be examples of doxastic practice. In addition, many doxastic practices have an element of declaration to them (1 Cor 11:26).

Another excellent book which deals with these subjects is Richard Lints's The Fabric of Theology.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Philip,

If we desire to explore the nature of revelation then some theory of communication will have to be adopted. I can see that speech-act theory is as good as any other, so I do not object to it merely as a means of analysing language.

The difficulty is when it starts to create new contours for specific theological topics. E.g., the doctrine of justification. Or when it becomes a meta-theory for biblical theology in general, as when history is posited as the vehicle for revelation. At this point philosophy has ceased to be an handmaid to the queen, and has taken the role of a nurse-maid to the ailing.

Concerning doxastic practice, I don't believe the practice is formative for the belief, but is merely the expression of it. Other human characteristics and virtues are built up around the practice because the belief already exists. If it were otherwise it would be impossible to prove all things. Conversely, the idea that practice is formative of belief fits well with the biblical description of ignorance and vain tradition.

When the Catechism benefits any person it is owing to the fact that (1) the Catechism teaches what is true, and (2) the person comes to believe the truth.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
The difficulty is when it starts to create new contours for specific theological topics.

Right. Philosophical categories are good for what they are good for.

Concerning doxastic practice, I don't believe the practice is formative for the belief, but is merely the expression of it. Other human characteristics and virtues are built up around the practice because the belief already exists.

This seems to be a central question here. How does one learn how to learn? The trouble is that while practices, presuppose beliefs, they also create beliefs. Why were many of the reformers opposed (for example) to kneeling at communion? Was it because they had an objection to taking communion prayerfully? No, it was because the practice reinforced false understandings of the Lord's Supper and had caused many to fall into idolatry.

I remember a professor anecdotally relating to me that when a student would walk into his office to discuss Catholicism and his struggles with it, nine times out of ten they were dating someone who was Catholic. Lex orandi, lex credendi. The way you worship is the way you will end up believing.

When the Catechism benefits any person it is owing to the fact that (1) the Catechism teaches what is true, and (2) the person comes to believe the truth.

I don't doubt either of these things. But I would add that the repetition helps to reinforce the true belief. Similarly, sabbath-keeping is another way in which, by Divine command no less, we are able to organize our time to reinforce belief in Christ. The liturgies of the world are a strong pull, so God, in his gracious condescension, has established a different pattern of life that is in the world but not of it.

If it were otherwise it would be impossible to prove all things.

I don't think it's possible to prove all things, and certainly not to those who are unwilling to listen. If my lifestyle is inconsistent with the Christian way of life, it is all the harder for me to really hear the Gospel. The spirit of unthankfulness described in Romans 1 reveals that ignorance of God is willful and due to the stubbornness of those who prefer creatures to the creator.

In other words, what I am attempting to say is that belief-formation is an incredibly tricky kind of thing in which there are multiple factors. Doxastic practice and belief (or unbelief!) are mutually reinforcing.
 

Wayne

Tempus faciendi, Domine.
At the risk of having misunderstood the above thread, and for those bears of little mind, like myself, Richard Sibbes comes surprisingly close to this discussion, yet at a level that the average Christian can use to great profit. Having just read this sermon this evening, and then reading this thread, I was struck by the apparent correspondence of the following passage.

In his sermon "The Successful Seeker," [Works, vol. 6, p. 111-132.], Sibbes preaches from the text of Psalm 27:8, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." :--

Obs. 2. God is willing to be known. He is willing to open and discover himself; God delights not to hide himself. God stands not upon state, as some emperors do that think their presence diminisheth respect. God is no such God, but he may be searched into. Man, if any weakness be discovered, we can soon search into the depth of his excellency; but with God it is clean otherwise. The more we know of him, the more we shall admire him. None admire him more than the blessed angels that see most of him, and the blessed spirits that have communion with him. Therefore he hides not himself, nay, he desires to be known; and all those that have his Spirit desire to make him known. Those that suppress the knowledge of God in his will, what he performs for men and what he requires of them, they are enemies to God and of God's people. They suppress the opening of God, clean contrary to God's meaning: 'Seek my face;' I desire to be make known, and lay open myself to you.
Therefore we may observe by the way, that when we are in any dark condition, that a Christian finds not the beams of God shining on him, let him not lay the blame upon God, as if God were a God that delighted to hide himself. Oh no; it is not his delight. He loves not strangeness to his poor creature. No; the fault is altogether in us. We walk not worthy of such a presence; we want humility and preparation. If there be any darkness in the creature, that he finds God doth not so shine on him as in former times, undoubtedly the cause is in himself; for God saith, 'Seek my face.' He desires to open himself. But it is a point that I will not be large in.

Obs. 3. God's goodness is a communicative, spreading goodness.
That is peculiar to God and to those that are led with the Spirit of God, that are like him; they have a communicative, diffusive goodness that loves to spread itself. 'Seek ye my face.' I am good in myself, but I desire to shine on you, to impart my goodness to you.
If God has not a communicative, spreading goodness, he would never have created the world. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were happy in themselves, and enjoyed one another before the world was. But that God delights to communicate and spread his goodness, there had never been a creation nor a redemption. God useth his creatures, not for defect of power, that he can do nothing without them, but for the spreading of his goodness; and thereupon comes all the subordination of one creature to another, and all to him.
&c., &c.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Philip, I don't know any person who repeats the Catechism for the reason you mention. The aim is to learn the words because of the sound doctrine which the Catechism teaches. It is the doctrine which is important to the individual. Once they have learned the Catechism they would only go over the words to keep them fresh in their memory, not because the practice of going over the words has any immediate effect of belief-forming.

Kneeling in communion was opposed because there was a false belief behind it.

Whether one thinks it is possible to prove all things or not, it is a biblical mandate and this obliges us to follow it. No practice should be maintained on the basis that it is belief-forming; the belief that the practice is good must come first, and then the good practice should be observed in faith. What is not of faith is sin.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
I don't know any person who repeats the Catechism for the reason you mention. The aim is to learn the words because of the sound doctrine which the Catechism teaches. It is the doctrine which is important to the individual. Once they have learned the Catechism they would only go over the words to keep them fresh in their memory, not because the practice of going over the words has any immediate effect of belief-forming.

Is memory and the practice of memorizing not belief-forming, then? Why do we encourage our children to memorize Scripture if not to inculcate in them Scriptural thought-patterns?

When I speak of doxastic practice, I speak of practices that teach one how to believe.

No practice should be maintained on the basis that it is belief-forming; the belief that the practice is good must come first, and then the good practice should be observed in faith. What is not of faith is sin.

And practices which are of faith produce faith. From the mustard seed grows the tree, but the tree must be cultivated. In this case, it's a both/and rather than an either/or.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Is memory and the practice of memorizing not belief-forming, then? Why do we encourage our children to memorize Scripture if not to inculcate in them Scriptural thought-patterns?

It is to teach them Scripture truths.

When I speak of doxastic practice, I speak of practices that teach one how to believe.

Scripture teaches us how to believe. Not Scripture patterns, but Scripture truths. If one has learned the Catechism he will know this.

And practices which are of faith produce faith.

Very confusing, and sad to see from an evangelical. This is the high road to ritualism. Scripture teaches us that faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Not to derail the thread, but Wolterstorff himself is an adherent of Common Sense Realism (mediated through Plantinga). He wrote a book on Thomas Reid.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Another thought on doxastic beliefs.

All of our beliefs are em-bodied beliefs. We do not exist in isolation, but in relation-to-others. I think doxastic belief-formation on this point is just a simple truth. Have people abused it very, very badly on high ritualism? Of course.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The reading of Scripture in order to learn the truth would constitute a doxastic practice.

No it doesn't. Faith is not fancy and belief is not bias. To have a true belief it must be something in which the reason assents to the truth and the will chooses the good. A mere practice, even one commended in Scripture and Christian piety, might be engaged for all the wrong reasons and with a distorted view of the good. Hence the necessity of an objective standard by which to judge these things.

Your view of practice is a mere psychological theory; it sounds like a politician who says he is going to follow all the protocols to arrive at the best outcome. It begs the question as to whether the protocols are being used for the right reason.

Are the sacraments not an aid to faith? Are we now Zwinglians?

You did not say an "aid" to faith. You said they "produce" faith.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Let me give a simple example of a doxastic practice, which came up this afternoon. I was engaged in a discussion with an individual who is somewhat liberal in his theology over the sacrifice of Isaac. I mentioned that I look at plain readings, which he countered by citing scholarship and rabbinic tradition. And then I realized that I was taking for granted that when I say "plain reading" I include the principle of "Scripture interprets Scripture" in that, and so I countered: "You're right. I read this through the (inspired) lens of Hebrews 11." When we talk about doxastic practice we are talking simply about reading Scripture as the reformers did, by looking to Scripture itself, but this reading is, and must be, embedded in the life of the Church and in the life of the world.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
No it doesn't.

Doxastic practice has been defined as belief-producing practice, so unless we are occasionalists, like Barth and Clark, then reading Scripture would qualify.

You did not say an "aid" to faith. You said they "produce" faith.

If you do something in faith, then it strengthens the belief and produces more of it (in a sense). Again, we practice what we believe, but also start believing what we practice.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Not to derail the thread, but Wolterstorff himself is an adherent of Common Sense Realism (mediated through Plantinga). He wrote a book on Thomas Reid.

Plantinga states of Alston's theory, "It makes a certain rough sense to think of Alston as judiciously blending Reid with Wittgenstein." Warranted Christian Belief, 118. I am familiar with Reid's work and there is nothing in his realism which approaches this theory. Whilst Reformed Epistemology drew on him for its model of "basic beliefs" it ran well. But now something has hindered its course. By this theory IS justifies OUGHT, which is foreign to Reid's system.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Let me give a simple example of a doxastic practice, which came up this afternoon. I was engaged in a discussion with an individual who is somewhat liberal in his theology over the sacrifice of Isaac. I mentioned that I look at plain readings, which he countered by citing scholarship and rabbinic tradition. And then I realized that I was taking for granted that when I say "plain reading" I include the principle of "Scripture interprets Scripture" in that, and so I countered: "You're right. I read this through the (inspired) lens of Hebrews 11." When we talk about doxastic practice we are talking simply about reading Scripture as the reformers did, by looking to Scripture itself, but this reading is, and must be, embedded in the life of the Church and in the life of the world.

You have misconstrued doxastic practice. Even for your Scripture interprets Scripture illustration you must have thought you had a correct belief of the Scripture in the first place. There was nothing in the mere practice of reading which formed your original belief by which you would compare your later reading.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If you do something in faith, then it strengthens the belief and produces more of it (in a sense). Again, we practice what we believe, but also start believing what we practice.

Now you are just playing word games. I was probably at fault for taking you seriously.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thomas Reid (Works 2:647):

Morality requires, not only that a man should act according to his judgment, but that he should use the best means in his power that his judgment be according to truth. If he fail in either of these points, he is worthy of blame; but, if he fail in neither, I see not wherein he can be blamed.

When a man must act, and has no longer time to deliberate, he ought to act according to the light of his conscience, even when he is in an error. But, when he has time to deliberate, he ought surely to use all the means in his power to be rightly informed. When he has done so, he may still be in an error; but it is an invincible error, and cannot justly be imputed to him as a fault.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
You have misconstrued doxastic practice. Even for your Scripture interprets Scripture illustration you must have thought you had a correct belief of the Scripture in the first place.

Correct. But you are mistaken in thinking that there was a second reading. All I did was to realize that I had tacitly used the New Testament in the reading of the Old, which was precisely why my initial interpretation was correct. Calvin compares Scripture to a pair of glasses which help one to see the world correctly. All I do is to acknowledge that we are wearing them.

I do like Reid's philosophy, but his flaw is in minimizing the effects of the fall. In our sinfulness, we like to invent practices and devices that distort the truth. You are right that beliefs inform practice, but more often than not, beliefs of this sort are tacit rather than explicitly acknowledged. Few of us readily admit to worshipping idols, yet our actions reveal that our hearts are idol factories.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I do like Reid's philosophy, but his flaw is in minimizing the effects of the fall. In our sinfulness, we like to invent practices and devices that distort the truth. You are right that beliefs inform practice, but more often than not, beliefs of this sort are tacit rather than explicitly acknowledged. Few of us readily admit to worshipping idols, yet our actions reveal that our hearts are idol factories.

The idol factories are sinful and in need of being restored in the image of God. Creating a theory whereby the idol factory becomes normative for human life is only going to subvert the process of restoration.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Creating a theory whereby the idol factory becomes normative for human life is only going to subvert the process of restoration.

And what is normative is the renewal of the heart, soul, mind, and strength through the love of God which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. The renewal of the mind and the circumcision of the heart are one and the same action, and both are lifelong works of the Spirit which are usually conveyed through the ordinary means of Grace, namely the ministries of word and sacrament.
 
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