Drama in the Courtroom...

Costas Douzinas, professor of law at Birkbeck University in London, comments in his inaugural lecture, The Legality of the Image,

The Reformation and the ascendancy of print turned the legal ritual from total into restricted theatre, from trial by ordeal into trial by argument and persuasion. Law took a predominantly textual form, although its insistence on oral as against written procedure indicates its unceasing hostility towards anything that may detract from immediate communication or lead to semantic uncertainty.

Imagine a courtroom where instead of written legal code providing the foundation for sworn verbal testimony marshalled by attorneys seeking to persuade jurors, trials consisted of opposed theatrical productions designed to win the hearts of jurors.

We would call it a sham, nonsense, a travesty to truth.

Yet hasn't this happened in many Protestant churches over the last half century? Aren't sermons and services increasingly viewed as narrative, departing the realm of propositional truth for the subjective realm of story? Even theatre proper enters the church when we seek to win the lost not through the sharp knife of the Word but through the rusty sickle of sentimental drama.

We would be outraged, I think, at any such rejection of propositional truth in the courtroom. Is the Church less based on propositional truth than the average municipal court?

Comments

Whoa, David! I think you are mislocating the problem. TheBible and story, Christian Gospel and story are indissolubly wedded. We do indeed "have a story to tell to the nations." But the problem is some people are telling a story that they themselves believe and say is not true. Therefore they think themselves free to articulate propositions which do not derive from and even contradict the story or to distort the story in order to illustrate some propositions which they get from other sources. True stories beget true propositions and the two are not in conflict or competition.

David,
I know where you're coming from, and having been there myself once, I know the lay of the land. When I arrived as a green freshman at Wheaton College, many years ago, I was a big fan of Dr Spock, in the original series, please! I was convinced that it was illogic that had the world in such a mess, why the Middle East was a perfect example of irrationality. So I took Philosophy my first semester, with a fine prof C. Stephen Evans, who was later to move to Baylor University. I was warned by my academic advisor, whom I cannot remember even a face anymore, that Philosophy was a tough course and maybe freshman shouldn't take it. At the time, I thought this very condescending, but as I read about Greenville, it occurs to me that it was his way of trying to save my faith. Thankfully, Stephen Evans wasn't that sort of prof, though he also didn't last too long at Wheaton.

So I understand, David, your love for logic, your feeling that somehow we have lost our way since the Reformation, and that if we could only regain the clarity of Knox, perhaps we could eliminate this rot, this decay that infected PCUSA and perhaps all our "seeker-friendly" worship services. Maybe even it will stem the tide of those "crossing the Tiber", people like Tom Howard, (Bob Webber?) who started out evangelical and have drifted into that wishy-washy iconistic smells-and-bells flim-flammery characterized by The Episcopal church.

But I don't know. I'm raising 18-year old twins today, and bless their hearts, they've been homeschooled all their life and don't know they're not supposed to "trust anyone over 30". So they ask me, "What should we believe, Dad, tell us who is right?" And I don't know what to say. I was the son of a PCUSA minister, "truly reformed" OP in college and seminary, Anglican while in Europe, Episcopalian (briefly) back in the US, and I'm now a spanking new member of the PCA today.

So I said. "Look, what was it Susan Wise Bauer said was the classic educational Trivium? Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric? Grammar in elementary school, Logic in high school, Rhetoric in college. You should be Arminian in high school, Calvinist in college, but if you're still a Calvinist in graduate school, there's something wrong."

The "wrongness" is easier to identify than the "rightness". Fowler, who seems to be popular at Greenville College, had his ideas on what was "rightness", something similar to the Episcopal House of Bishops, evidently. But Fowler's data didn't lie to him, there really were these "stages of faith" that people went through. The problem, as I see it, was that he made "faith" an abstract noun, when it should be something like "my relationship to Jesus". Once you put it that way, the nonsense of talking about raising your maturity by moving you to a higher stage of faith, becomes not just ludicrous, but blasphemous.

So lets not call it faith, but something else. Jerry called it "Fowler faith", we'll conflate it to "fowth". It's a real thing, and it really does change, and it really is related to how we see the world.

You, David, are a stage 4 Fowth. And Fowth 4's have problems with both Fowth 3's and Fowth 5's. The Catholic Church argued this very passionately, loudly and consistently. They said (from their Fowth 5 standpoint) that the failures of PCUSA and ECUSA today are precisely the problem with Fowth 4 types. And that, I believe, is the problem with your fondness for the Reformation.

Pastor Reuter,

I suspect you know what I mean. Meanwhile, rest assured that I'm not employing my own terms in speaking this way. At times I call sections of Scripture narrative just like you. But in this post I'm simply echoing terms employed by some who dichotomize narrative and propositional truth. It's also true that Scripture routinely shies away from calling itself "story". We may have a "story to tell the nations," but it's logical and empirical fact, not merely emotive narrative or personal journey.

Respectfully,

David

Mr Sheldon,

Huh?

I don't know you and am very willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but that sounds an awful lot like, "truth is whatever it is perceived to be through your life stage." A wee bit condescending too.

David: no argument from me.
-Dan R.

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