Philosopher, scholar, and quasi-theologian, Nicholas Wolterstorff is quickly becoming one of my favorite (and even “go to”) contemporary philosophers.  In recent months, I’ve read his books, Justice and Art in Action, and I have now began reading a third: Divine Discourse, wherein Wolterstorff reflects (philosophically) on the claim that God speaks.  I thought I’d share a bit of what I’ve read thus far.

Firstly, Wolterstorff is adamant about distinguishing God’s speech from God’s revelation.  According to him, many (scholars, theologians, and critics alike) have erroneously conflated the two.  His indictment is easily verified.  For one need only read a recent work of systematic theology to see that theologians still treat the subject of God’s revelation as the all encompassing paradigm for understanding the word of God.  God-speech is rarely (if ever) mentioned, though some might say that God-speech is a species of God’s revelation (although, Wolterstorff is even reticent to say that).

Anyway, Wolterstorff starts his “reflections” by introducing the concept of speech-action theory (as advanced by John L. Austin).  He aims to use speech-action theory as a guiding principle (of sorts) in order to unfold his understanding of God-speech.  The distinction between locutionary, illocutionary, and perlocutionary acts contained in speech-action theory help one build a better imagination of the speech of God.

Wolterstorff writes,

Fundamental to [speech-action] theory is the distinction between locutionary acts and illocutionary acts.  Locutionary acts are acts of uttering or inscribing words.  Il-locutionary acts are acts performed by way of locutionary acts, acts such as asking, asserting, commanding, promising, and so forth.  Once illocutionary acts are thus distinguished from locutionary acts, then [it is easy to see] that though [one can very well assert, command, and promise things by way of uttering or inscribing], they can [also] be performed in many other ways. – Divine Discourse, 13

With this distinction in hand, we can see that though the written word of God may certainly reveal certain things about God, these revelatory words aren’t necessarily the (illocutionary) speech of God.  For the inscription, “Love your neighbor!” is not itself the command.  No, instead, the command is altogether different and distinct.  The command is the speech of God that rests behind and within the mere inscription, which is where Wolterstorff wants to direct our attention.  

What are the philosophical and theological possibilities and implications that come with the notion of God-speech (i.e. as opposed to God-revelation)? Based on what you know so far, do you think there is a real distinction between the two?  Or is Wolterstorff nit-picking?

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