Thursday, October 27, 2016

Language Is Constitutive of Reality - The Presence-Driven Church

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In my doctoral work on metaphor theory and my long interest in philosophy of language (Wittgenstein, J.L. Austin, John Searle, et. al.) I became familiar with the Sapir-Whorff hypothesis. The idea is that the language we use affects the ways we think and shapes our perception of the world. One's language changes one's view of reality.

Take, for example, the term "marriage equality." This term was virtually nonexistent a few years ago. Now, it is commonly heard, and it changes our way of looking at marriage. The term itself covertly redefines "marriage," without justification. It has become acceptable, thoughtlessly. This is the power of words as propaganda, the intent of which is to get people to see reality differently.

The Sapir-Whorff hypothesis is not only about how terms shape experience. The semantic structure of a language shapes or limits the ways in which we form conceptions of the world. More recently, Stanford neo-Whorffian cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky has been arguing for the effects of language on cognitive processes. (She does not believe, as Noam Chomsky does, that all languages share the same deep structure of thought.) 

The semantic structures and the words we use frame how we see things. Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, in his recent book The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity, argues for language as constitutive of reality. He writes: This "gives us a picture of language as making possible new purposes, new levels of behavior, new meanings, and hence is not explicable within a framework picture of human life conceived without language." (The "framework picture" of language holds that words enframe or capture reality as it is, rather than constitute reality.)

Language, writes Taylor, is constitutive of the reality, is essential to its being the kind of reality that it is. Thus, the language we speak is important. To understand a culture's language is to understand how that culture sees and experiences reality.

This applies to church culture; e.g., the Entertainment Church. Words like "program" and "stage" are lifted from the theater and employed in church. "Church" then becomes an event that is timed and predetermined. The controlling metaphor is Sunday morning is a production, and the terms that fit within this language game are utilized. When the words and phrases generated by the controlling metaphor become the deep, embedded social imaginary of the people, the people become an audience, and say things like, "The service went too long," "I didn't like the music," "I did like the music," "I like his preaching," and so on.

In transitioning from an Entertainment Church to a Presence-Driven Church the language must change. The vocabulary of the Presence-Driven Church is different from the Entertainment Church.

Instead of the word “success,” speak words like “connectedness” and “obedience.” If “success” is used at all, redefine it in terms of connectedness and obedience, not in terms of numbers, size, and finances.

In the Presence-Driven Church use...

“disciple” rather than “decider,"

“influence” rather than “numbers” (of attendees) and “size” (of the church budget and building), 

“abiding” before you use “doing,” 

“being instruments of righteousness” rather than “getting tools for ministry,” 

“discernment,” not “decision-making” (“What is God saying to us?” rather than “What do we think we should do?” and “Let’s vote on this”),

“God-seeking” rather than “brainstorming”), 

“listening” before you use “speaking,” and “relationship” (with God), not “rules of order.” 

Words create. (See my post "God's Commands are Authoritative Words That Have Illocutionary Force.")

(To be further developed in my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)