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I heard a lecture today in Theological Hermeneutics that articulated precisely some of my recent musings.

If Wittgenstein is right, then language is simply a mode of being in the world, a particular way in which we inhabit our reality.  This opposes the view that our language really gets at some objective essence of the things being discussed.

This intersects with some of my recent thinking in that if the likes of Barth and Kierkegaard are right, that is, if God really is “wholly Other” and “an infinite qualitative distinction” exists between Him and us, then what is the ontological status of our talk about God?  To make this more concrete, I’ll frame the discussion in terms of something uncontroversial: perhaps, the Trinity.

God is revealed in Scripture as Father, Son, and Spirit.  But whence do these concepts come?  If Wittgenstein’s critique of Augustine is correct, then we don’t possess some intrinsic ability to divide reality using some private language (a priori concepts of the mind) before we learn a public language (English, German, etc.).  (An important assumption I’m making is that these categories are not essential, but accidental.  In other words, God could have created another world without the categories of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Some sort of world without the reproductive processes and family dynamics that obtain in this world.)

This immediately calls into question the ontological status of our God-talk (really, of other kinds of talk as well; I’m only interested in theological speech here).  If our language isn’t actually getting to some metaphysical essence, but is really just some sort of useful analogy, then it may be the case that our Trinitarian language doesn’t pick out (describe, articulate) the ontological nature of God in Himself, but rather provides some conceptualization of what this “wholly Other” being is like.  God’s accommodation of Himself to human categories through his revelation in Scripture is an inherently self-limiting process, that is to say, (and this is really the heart of my question) if there is no way in which our language can inscribe the essence of God in Himself (and I understand this is an assumption itself, and perhaps overly Kantian), then none of our God-talk actually describes what God is ontologically; rather, it provides humanity with some understanding of what this Being is like, framed in terms which they comprehend.  In another world, perhaps, God the inconceivable might reveal Himself in completely other concepts, for the concepts of Father, Son, and Spirit (which make sense in our world) would communicate nothing comprehensible in that one.

I know that there are certainly holes within this brief survey of my current mindscape.  I’m okay with that.  This isn’t meant to be a thorough defense of this way of thinking.  I’m merely in the process of working these things out in my own mind: theology, hermeneutics, biblical studies coming together in some (I hope) coherent way.  Please accept these few paragraphs with the humility by which they are attended, and I look forward to the insights of any thoughtful person who reads this.

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