Sunday, March 31, 2013

Word and Language: The Heart of a Theology of Christian Writing - Part 1

Word and language are at the heart of a theology of Christian writing for the obvious reason it is the heart of writing itself. In my first article, I stressed that our theology of writing must be biblically based, and it may seem to make such a proposition like this misses that point. But we will see that word and language are divine traits serving as the paradigm for human language and as such have a very profound impact on a theology of Christian writing.

But first, in this article, I want to consider what word and language are. I have consulted dictionaries on my shelf as well as some online ones, and the best definition of what I mean by ‘word’ is “a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.”

Word as a principal carrier of meaning is the significant idea. A survey of the word meaning in online dictionaries and discussions (see, for example, Exploration Into the Meaning of the Word ‘Meaning’) explain meaning in terms of significance, value, and purpose, which are themselves interrelated. For something to have meaning, it must have significance, that is, it must point to something recognizable and discernable to our understanding. The value we discern of that which is pointed to is directly related to its significance; if it has a special or high value in our estimation, we may say it is very significant. Part of the value of anything is its purpose, especially as that purpose relates to me. Discovering the purpose of something is to discover something of its significance and value, and therefore of its meaning.

For the Christian, whose understanding of the nature of things is informed by the scriptures, these three - the significance, value, and purpose of something - do not come as an accident. As Cornelius Van Til proposed, there are no such things as brute facts, that is, there is no fact that comes of its own accord and exists in a vacuum. A fact is not simply just there without relation to other facts. If that were possible, it would not be a fact – it would have no meaning and incapable of interpretation. Every fact has a context in which it contributes to the meaning of everything it is related to in that context.

Now, here is the import of this: a theistic understanding of fact and its meaning is that God created both. Nothing has a meaning except that which God built into it according to his own good pleasure (cf Eph 1:5,9,11). Hence, the meaning of anything in terms of its significance, value, and purpose are by the design of the Creator.

This encourages the Christian writer because he knows that words and their interrelation to each other according to the rules of syntax and grammar have the capacity to say something meaningful. They can say something that has a significance, value, and purpose that has been built into it by a holy, sovereign, wise, and prudent God who has set his love on him or her.

We may draw from this a point for our theology of Christian writing: Words, in accordance with the syntax and grammar of the language that we write in, give us the capacity to glorify God by expositing truth and reality accurately – as it really is. Through words, the meaning of this world which points back to the Author of that meaning, may be unearthed.

What bearing this principle has for fiction and non-fiction requires separate treatment, but it implies that truth and meaning, or saying something about the ways things really are, or how things ought to be, can be mediated through both since the medium of both is human language.

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