16 February 2006

Propositions and the Scriptures

On page 15 of New Testament Exposition, Liefeld says, "The best communication of divine truth is not always through propositions." This statement prodded me into a couple of thoughts:

(1) All communication is inherently propositional.

McCune notes that even general revelation is propositional in content though it is not always propositional in form. Piper agrees stating that all of nature is shouting to believer and unbeliever alike, "God is glorious! God is glorious!" Nature may communicate unpropositionally, but it still communicates propositions.

But Liefeld is not referencing nature anyway. He is referencing written communication, and, other than perhaps some of the works of some modern poets (e.g. e. e. cummings), written communication is not only propositional in content, it is also propositional in form. It is difficult to imagine written communication that is not organized into subjects and predicates. Such a strange form of writing certainly does not find its place in the Scriptures, so on one level Liefeld’s s words refer to an impossible situation. He references narratives as non-propositional, but surely he does not think of them as gobbledygook. They are historical propositions arranged in a (chrono)logical sequence which is intelligible to rational beings familiar with the language in which they are written or translated.

So Liefeld’s statements about the relationship between "the communication of divine truth" and "propositions" may evidence a deficient understanding of the flexibility of propositional communication. But, then again, I'm probably just being picky.

(2) Now on whether the style of Romans, which perhaps resembles formal, logical discourse more than any other work in the Scriptures, is the best vehicle for the communication of all divine truth the answer is obvious: no. I think this is what Liefeld is getting at. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in many genres and styles, and we have no choice but ascribe to him all wisdom in doing so. Granted, systematic theologians may find Romans more helpful for their task than Proverbs [I'm in the middle of a good blog series on the interpretation of Proverbs starting which starts here.] or Numbers. But this fact does not imply that Numbers does not communicate any material for systematic theology. It does not imply that Numbers does not communicate propositionally. And it does not imply that Numbers is somehow a lesser style of communication. It is a different style to be sure with particular strengths and limitations, but it is a necessary like Romans' style is necessary. Both Numbers and Romans are written in the best form for their respective functions and content.

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