Witnessing the Word Erotic: A Philosophical Theology of Proclamation Open Access

Myers, Jacob Daniel (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/ws859g13h?locale=en


This dissertation offers a new theology of proclamation in light of Jacques Derrida's "reading" of foundational texts in Western philosophical discourse. My thesis is that the theological crisis for proclamation--that which threatens theology from within--is that the words (logoi) we use in reference to God (theos) are always already encumbered by a certain rationality (logos) and unless we expose this feature of theo-logy and experience the features that simultaneously structure the possibility and impossibility of theology, our quest will never quite reach its intended destination; it will never quite be theological. The solution that I propose for the contemporary crisis of preaching is to proclaim God's Word free from--if not at least cognizant of--the Western epistemological presuppositions that always already encumbers it. Such an approach I label witnessing the Word erotic.

Following an examination of the best attempts from the last thirty years at a theological articulation of Christian proclamation, I expose several of the most troubling philosophical concerns that frustrate theologies of proclamation. I focus on three indisputable components of Christian proclamation: language, speech, and sermons: preaching is impossible without language; preaching is manifested (most often) through speech; and preaching takes on the peculiar form of a sermon when it participates in the Word of God. The remainder of the dissertation builds a case for a new (philosophical) theology of proclamation that takes Derrida's critiques seriously.

In this, I attempt three tasks. The first task of this dissertation is to expose, or better, to show how Christian proclamation is always already exposed to certain philosophical issues that trouble preaching from within. These features are necessary conditions for the possibility of preaching, or they have at least functioned as such through the Church's history. First, preaching is impossible without language. Second, preaching has tended to favor the human voice as the ideal medium for preaching. Third, preaching happens in and as a sermon. The second chapter of this dissertation exposes these aspects of preaching to those features at work within them that trouble their foundational status within Christian proclamation. This I do in conversation with the early writings of Jacques Derrida.

The second task of this dissertation is to challenge the best theologies of proclamation according to these troubling philosophical features that underwrite theologies of proclamation, which I offer in chapter one. This task is not intended to supplant or subvert the work of these scholars whom I hold in such high esteem. Rather, as we become aware of the less-than-theological aspects of their respective theologies, and having experienced those philosophical aspects of their work that works against their declared intentions, we will be able to lift their thinking to a higher level. This level, I will argue, is more in line with their aims than that which they currently present.

The third task of this dissertation makes up the bulk of the work. Chapters three through five build a new theology of proclamation that takes seriously the philosophical issues Derrida helps us see in his early work. The theology of proclamation I am suggesting need not begin again from scratch, however. The Christian tradition is replete with helpful contributions from thinkers who have thought through--or at least started to think through--some of the philosophical issues that vex proclamatory speech. I enlist Karl Barth, Paul Ricoeur, and Jean-Luc Marion as conversation partners that lend their work to the kind of philosophically informed theology necessary for the current cultural epistime. In my final chapter, I articulate a (philosophical) theology of proclamation I am calling Witnessing the Word Erotic. There I revisit the work of my homiletical interlocutors to suggest points of convergence and dissonance as well as implications for homiletical theory and practice.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction 1

a. The Contemporary Crisis of Preaching 5

b. Thesis and Methodology 9

c. A Word About Style 14

d. A Word About Approach 17

II. Chapter One: Theologies of the Proclaimed Word 20

a. Today's Theological Crisis for Proclamation 22

b. Contemporary Theologies of Proclamation 24

i. Richard Lischer's A Theology of Preaching 26

ii. Charles L. Bartow's God's Human Speech 32

iii. William H. Willimon's Theology and Proclamation 40

iv. James F. Kay's Preaching and Theology 48

v. Rebecca Chopp's The Power to Speak 54

c. Conclusion 61

III. Chapter Two: Deconstructing the Homiletical Foundations 64

a. Sign Language 67

i. Saussure on Signification 70

1. The Linguistic Sign 72

2. Arbitrary and Differential Signification 74

3. Derrida's "Reading" of Saussure 77

4. God's Word; Human Words 81

a. The Trace as Mark of Originary Otherness 82

b. Différance and Proclamatory Signification 83

c. La Brisure 85

b. That Dangerous (Biblical) Supplement 86

i. Plato on That Dangerous Phantom (of) Speech 87

1. Recipe/Remedy for Patricide 91

2. The Poison that Heals 93

ii. Rousseau: Master of Absence, Master of Death 96

1. Supplementing the Supplément 104

2. "The Logos Was God" (John 1:1) 109

c. Stage Fright 112

i. How to Do Things with Words 113

1. Context 107

2. Unhappy Performatives 117

ii. Performative Paralysis 124

d. A Différant Kind of Preaching 127

i. Embracing the Trace 129

ii. The Hinge of/in Speech 131

iii. Playful Proclamation 133

e. Conclusion (As Beginning) 136

IV. Chapter Three: The Word Proclaimed 137

a. The (Philosophical) Theology of Karl Barth 141

b. Barth as Resource 148

i. Clearing the Ground 149

ii. A Different Approach to Barth 153

c. The Epistle to the Romans II: A Close Reading 166

i. Knowledge of God 169

1. Experience of God 179

2. History and God 188

ii. Conclusion 197

d. The Word Erotic 200

V. Chapter Four: Proclamation as Witness 206

a. Homiletics of Testimony 210

i. The Witness of Preaching 211

ii. Preaching as Testimony 213

b. The Hermeneutics of Testimony 216

i. The Original/Primary Affirmation 219

ii. Dépouillement 221

c. Philosophy of Testimony/Theology of Testimony 225

i. Creating Tension 228

ii. Ricoeur Following Nabert 230

iii. Conclusion 233

d. Transcending Testimony 234

i. Beyond the Limits of Experience: Trauma 238

ii. Beyond the Limits of History: Shoah 245

e. Conclusion: Witnessing Beyond Witness 252

i. Amphibolous Testimony, Absolute Testimony 254

ii. Testimony as (Self)Attestation 258

iii. The Summoned Self 260

VI. Chapter Five: The Word Erotic 265

a. Marion's Third Phenomenological Reduction 267

i. Phenomenology of Givenness 272

ii. The Gift Given 279

1. Beyond Economics 280

2. Beyond Metaphysics 283

3. Beyond the Ego Cogito 286

iii. The Saturated Phenomenon 288

iv. Revelation Given 292

b. The Erotic Approach 295

i. Defining Love: Eros/Agape 299

ii. Love's Partners 303

1. The Self 303

2. The Other 306

3. The Force of Love: Yearning/Desire 309

iii. Conclusion: The Intentionality of Love 313

c. An Erotic Epistemology of the Word 316

VII. Conclusion: Witnessing the Word Erotic 323

a. In Sum: The Word Erotic 323

b. The Erotic Witness 340

i. The World of Erotic Preaching 343

ii. The Congregation and Erotic Preaching 345

iii. The Preacher as Erotic Witness 347

iv. The Text as Erotic Witness 348

v. The Sermon as Erotic Witness 350

VIII. Works Cited 354

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