Posted by: Dan | May 29, 2007

Speech, Silence, and Embodiment: Reflections on Proclamation

On or about “grace given by God,” deconstruction, as such, has nothing to say or to do. If it's given, let's say, to someone in a way that is absolutely improbable, that is, exceeding any proof, in a unique experience, then deconstruction has no lever on this… I am really Kierkegaardian: the experience of faith is something that exceeds language in a certain way, it exceeds ethics, politics, and society. In relation to this experience of faith, deconstruction is totally, totally useless and disarmed.
~ Jacques Derrida in conversation with members of AAR/SBL, as quoted in Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments.

Time and time again, I have found myself struggling with the limits of language as they relate to the verbal and written proclamation of the gospel. This struggle has led me to increasingly question the value of “traditional” apologetics (i.e. I think this type of apologetics only has value to those who already belong to the Christian community of faith), while simultaneously causing me to place increasing value upon the embodiment of proclamation (this, I think, has value, not only to those within the Christian community of faith, but also to those alongside of the Christian community of faith). In this process, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way that Christians can speak convincingly (or even sensibly) about the Christian faith to those who are not Christians.

What I find interesting about the quote I provide from Derrida, is that he takes all of this one step further and suggests that faith is something that we cannot honestly speak about at all — it is that which “exceeds language.”

Now, by making this claim, Derrida sounds very much like Wittgenstein, who reminds us that the language of faith (like the language of philosophy) is non-sensical. However, this is not reason enough to stop speaking of faith, as the later Wittgenstein also concluded. Although Wittgenstein had completed the Tractatus by asserting that “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence” (or, as he summarises the argument of the book in the preface, “what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence”) he later wrote, “Don’t, for heaven’s sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense” (as quoted in Culture and Value). Thus, as Christians we may continue speaking of the Christian faith, but it is important for us to realise that such speech is utterly nonsensical, lest we fall into the trap of trying to make our Christian speech more appealing or comprehensible to those who have not experienced Christian faith (and thereby end up with speech that is not Christian at all!).

Only those who have experienced Christian faith can view talk of Christian faith as convincing or as sensibly meaningful, as other-than-nonsense. Again, this is, I think, an assertion that Witgenstein (and Derrida?) would affirm. Wittgenstein draws the same conclusions about his own philosophical writings — only those who have experienced what he has experienced will likely find his writings comprehensible. Thus, he writes at the opening of his “Preface” to the Tractatus: “Perhaps this book will be understood by someone who has himself already had the thoughts that are expressed in it.”

However, we must also realise, with Derrida, that even when we speak of Christian faith to other Christians, we are speaking of the unspeakable — we are forever stuttering and striving after the Word that cannot be put into words. John's Gospel, however, reminds us that the Word became flesh, and so there is hope that we may be better equipped to embody the gospel proclamation. Perhaps it is the embodied proclamation of the gospel that will make the gospel more sensible (and, perhaps, even convincing) to those who have yet to experience Christian faith.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: