Horton: The Christian Faith 2: The Character of Theology – Seeing and Hearing

In Chapter Two of The Christian Faith: The Character of Theology: A Theoretical or a Practical Science Horton begins by discussing the five intellectual habits that Aristotle uses in Nicomachean Ethics. This piqued my interest as my Omnibus class reads this book. The five habits are techné: used in making things; phronésis: used in doing things; epistémé: characteristic of acquired knowledge; nous: intuitive (innate)knowledge and sophia: knowledge of highest objects. There is obviously leeward in these but most occupations tend to involve one of these much more than others. Horton gives the example of engineer which would use techné. Theology uses all of these habits but sophia the most. This creates a problem as a theologian understands that sophia is wisdom from heaven unlike what the Ancient Greeks thought. Looking back at the Greeks, they thought that wisdom can only come through contemplation, coming from the Latin word meaning “to see/behold.” In Western thought, knowing is tied up with seeing, “knowing is an act of a subject seizing, grasping, dissecting, comprehending, mastering and possessing its object.” (p.81)

Horton proceeds to discuss the concept of seeing and hearing. This was eye-opening for me. “On the biblical creation account, the word comes before the light.”(p. 83) Think about that, hearing before seeing. Light was created first. “Unlike thinking and seeing, communicating is an inherently social activity. Some things changed with Descartes’, as we saw this “contemplating without conversing.” This led to the Enlightenment and the deism where God was the “architect rather than an actor and communicator in history.” (p. 84) I love this. Sometimes there are subtle changes in thinking but look where they lead us. Think about our visually saturated society: television and the internet “treating knowledge as a kind of spatial-visual mapping… words are less trusted (and often less trustworthy) while we are perpetually tantalized by the icons that are ‘pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.’ ”

God has a different perspective. Hear, O Israel. “It is not only that human beings are created with the capacity for speech; they exist as those whom God has called into being and “worded” as his covenant creatures.” (p. 85) God worded me to be! That is powerful. “In the process of summoning us, the covenant Lord renarrates our lives, calling us away from our dead-end plots and casting us in his unfolding drama.”  Again Horton, brings it back to the idea of story. There are folks who want to be in a play, a television show or a movie and yet they are already part of the greatest story. Unlike so many of the shows we watch, this story does not have dead-end plots. This is different from the other religions. “Israel derives meaning not ‘from introspection, but from a consideration of the public testimony to God.’” (p. 86 quoting Jon D. Levenson).

Horton says that we are internalizing the history, there are “particulars of time and place”, which reminds me of Francis Schaeffer’s writings. This all then comes back to what Horton said in Chapter One that “theology is the lived, social and embodied integration of drama(story), doctrine, doxology, and discipleship.” He states, “I am suggesting that hearing the covenantal Word of our Lord is the source of that dethronement of the supposedly sovereign self and of the integration that subverts the disintegrating logic of Western dualism and individualism.” (p. 86) Think how our culture is so visually oriented. And churches have bought into that.  He again goes to Levenson, making me want to read more from him that “Greeks thought with the eye, the Hebrews thought with the ear”.

If “nothing conveys personal presence and the command-response pattern of a covenantal relationship more than speech” (p. 88) what does that mean for us? For instance, think of how we teach our children, at home and at church. Have we been too depend on visual aids? What about in our evangelism efforts? “Speech is also more accessible to every class.” There is a common bond when there is a common language.

It is questions like these that Horton makes me think about and why I think this is a great book to read with someone – a friend, a spouse, a small group, a Sunday School class. He brings together things that make you think. I recently wrote a post about the lost art of writing but this also makes me think about the lost art of conversation. We text, twitter, Facebook, and email but do we really talk. Words are important and maybe spoken words are even more important than written words.

What insights about speaking and hearing the word does this give you?

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One Response to Horton: The Christian Faith 2: The Character of Theology – Seeing and Hearing

  1. Pingback: Horton: The Christian Faith 2 Hearing is Believing | Drawing the Line Somewhere

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