Dan from On Journeying with those in Exile has posted some very interesting musings entitled, 'Communicating Meaning: Speaking Religion with G. Lindbeck, M. Heidegger & U. Eco.'
In this short essay Dan is interested in communication, and how we are able to communicate pragmatically despite the ongoing postmodern anxiety over truth claims. He highlights three different approaches to communication focusing on the views of a theologian, a philosopher, a literary theorist; and attempts to synthesize them.
For the most part I agree with Dan so my dialoging with his ideas will not display any substantive disagreement. Dan highlights one of the biggest questions for those who find themselves in a postmodern context.
'If all truths are contextually understood, how can any communication occur between communities? It seems as though we are forced to accept the postmodern conclusion, so strongly supported by the likes of Eco, that communication is limited to pragmatic purposes and no real or universal truth-value can be expressed across community boundaries.'
Dan offers two ways to approach this problem, the first is by the Christians skillful performance of the language that is the language of the Christian religion. The second is the recognition that Jesus is the truth, Jesus is the word (certainly this statement should give us reason to pause about understanding truth as merely propositions). Here Dan states:
'Therefore, even apart from the living embodiment of the word in the faith community, Christian truth can be conveyed because Jesus himself is the Word. Certainly God works primarily through his Church, but God is not limited to his Church. Of course, as writers like Eco make clear, this assertion cannot be declared in any convincing (or even sensible) manner to those who have not yet encountered the Word made flesh. Yet the inability of all communities to agree upon a universal truth does not mean there is no universal truth, and, as God has made clear over and over again, the inability of communities to agree upon a universal truth does not mean that truth cannot be communicated (through language) across community lines.'
As I have been trying to work through some of these same issues in my own life, I am often caught in a kind of vertigo, a recognition that things are not as stable as I would like them to be, or even as stable as I once thought they were. I think there is a type of humility that transcends Dan's essay, a type of earthy humility that I suspect Dan gets from living out his faith, amid those who have been exiled from society. A kind of humility that starts with the uncertainty of God, rather than with a stable set of foundations that are deemed true about God intrinsically. But I don't know...
The recognition that we can't reduce the bible to a series of bullet points is key. Once we recognize that salvation is a cosmic story about the restoration of relationships, then the bullet points fade into the background, and the unfolding drama of the vindication of God through the Crucified Lord comes to the fore, at least that is the way I see it. The problem with living out the Christian language in skillful performance is that it often goes unnoticed. Or it is confused with some other sort of skillful performance. This happens not only on the individual level but also on the corporate level, because all of us don't live skillfully enough. When we model our language upon Jesus' own faithfulness to God's plan, we end up with a performance akin to Donald Trump as the lead, in Brechts' Three Penny Opera; somewhat less than convincing. But this perhaps is what stuck with me about Dan's essay: that our faithful performance of the Word, is always by the power of the Spirit. And that while we seek to live a life of faithful performance, even when we fail, and our performance gets all muddled up, it is through the power of the Spirit that we are able to offer a glimpse of love to the stranger.