A Comment from Grammar and Salvation [8/28/13]


Dear Friends:

In response to any writing I have posted on my web site, a reader is invited to submit a response. If a response is submitted, then my web site automatically informs me that it has been submitted. But it does not post the response automatically. I first have to review it and determine whether it can in fact appear as a response about some writing on my site. It works this way because I receive about 50 responses a week that have been submitted by those web-trawlers that are simply wanting to get into my site. I regularly have to delete them by hand. So, in practice I seldom try to edit a response that has been legitimately submitted; I usually just post it. And by the way, if a reader sends a note directly to my email address, then it will not appear on the site, even though I might respond to it by another email.

Out of the blue a few weeks ago I was notified that a response had been received about a blog I posted on 2/5/11 on Robin Meyers. It said it was from! Well, as I suspected, a return email to Mr. Doe was undeliverable. Yet, what was Mr. Doe’s concern in writing a response? While I did not post the response, I want herein to consider it:

Joe -- I love reading your blogs/posts/et. al. You are clearly an intelligent, studied, and gifted writer. I also believe that you are a true "believer" and that you uphold your beliefs in ways that many do not.

To that end, I wanted to pose a question to you, a question that I have *never* had answered in a meaningful way before:

I do not believe in God or any god. I do, however, recognize the value of the Bible and the Ten Commandments and uphold them with great clarity. I have associates and neighbors who violate the Commandments on a regular basis, but believe in God and Jesus. They state, while they are sinning and I am not, that I am doomed for eternal Hell.

Is it not the belief but the action that is more important? Or, can I go ahead and believe yet violate the Commandment and be better off if there was an afterlife?

Thank you.

I do not doubt that his question and concerns are sincere, but it is conceptually hopeless to try to answer on his terms. It is hopeless in the way much of our human talk about religion, ethics, life, and destiny are mired in ambiguity—or, as Plato’s Socrates said: “words get up and walk around us.” Hence, in trying to help us get to the bottom of our concerns and questions, I have been proposing that we talk about ‘the grammar of our talk.’

And I suggest that a concern about ‘grammar’ might help us track what the issues are for us from time to time. I suggest that it might help if we distinguish between a ‘token’ and a ‘sign.’ In Doe’s use, the word ‘afterlife’ is first just a token that has many uses and those various uses we can call ‘signs.’ Doe is concerned that some “Christians” say they “believe in God and Jesus” and yet they violate the Ten Commandments regularly. But accordingly to Doe, these “Christians” say he—Doe—is “doomed for eternal Hell” because he does not “believe in God.”

Doe’s concern is that it appears that for these “Christians” a person can have a belief about God and get to heaven thereby, while one who might act to keep the Commandments but not believe in God would surely nevertheless go to Hell.

While I sympathize with Doe and have some recognition of the sort of concerns he is expressing, it is hopeless to proceed on the terms given. It gives me a mental cramp, but it is a cramp that is a cousin to a host of other mental cramps that arise when I listen to how people talk about similar issues these days.

In the background of my comments is my own recognition that folks claiming to be Christians often speak in superficial and undisciplined ways. I have spent many a thought, many a day, and many a year thinking about just how undisciplined Christian language has become in the mouths and volumes of folk who claim to be ‘Christian.’

But it is not an exaggeration to say that I have spent much of my adult lifetime trying to develop some diagnostic considerations about Christian discourses and their practices that will keep us mindful of just how confusing and chaotic much of the actual talk by and about Christian language is.

Hence, after many years of teaching theology in seminaries, I finally publish in 2002 a two-volume work entitled: A Grammar of Christian Faith: Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine. The emphasis on grammar herein is that Christian faith itself lives only in the midst of both discourses—acts of speaking—but always amidst practices—those repetitious actions that give life concreteness and intelligibility. In aiming to clarify the talk—the language, the discourses—I am hoping that it might thereby become clearer to some reader just what kind of person might talk this talk and live the disciplines congruent with this sort of talk.

Of course, over many centuries, the grammar of Christian discourse about salvation has been and is quite contested. I have proposed that the grammar cannot be explored just by itself, but bears on the virtual totality of how Christians talk about God, faith, and hope.

If John Doe is reading this blog, he might take a look at two writings posted on this web site that aim to clarify some aspects of Christian talk about salvation. Other readers are, of course, invited to look too.

Salvation: Mapping the Salvific Themes in Christian Faith

Hell is Ultimately Empty.




Comments welcomed.

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