In the post Thoughts on Terminology I’ve written about the thinking behind some of the terminology. In this post I would like to go into more detail about one of the terms. In part this is a response to a forum discussion at Logos.com about the Orthotomeo Project and Bible Tech 2011.
In theological discourse the term proposition is used frequently. The definition of proposition that has always stuck in my mind goes something like this: a proposition is a sentence which states something that can be affirmed or denied. Much is also made of the term propositionalism, which has recently fallen into disrepute. Propositionalism is way of approaching theology and Christian living, which places a strong emphasis on logical constructs of propositional knowledge. Many critics see shortcomings in this in that it drowns out other forms of knowledge and/or Christian experience.
The Orthotomeo Project has much in common with propositions and propositionalism. However, as I contemplated how to represent theological structures I felt a strict use of propositions would be limiting. In my opinion propositions do not represent completely the way that theological knowledge can be transmitted. Much information is transmitted in a manner going beyond propositions. For example the simple metaphor “God is a rock” draws its meaning from the reality which is a product of the two propositions “God is not a rock” – for we know this to be the case - and the straight forward statement “God is a rock”. We understand the meaning of this metaphor to be that God has qualities of a rock, stability, an unchanging nature etc.
Information can also be transmitted in ways which go beyond texts: liturgy, spiritual exercises such as prayer and meditation, experience, art and music. Even if one is a strict propositionalist, one must admit that events such as these can and do play a role in the broader theological landscape. One may be moved by a spiritual vision, a special experience, a moving sermon or a concert. All of these can be integrated into ones theological perspective.
Another area which I felt needed to be included in theological discourse are historical events and physical realities. How does one respond to the resurrection of Christ, Luther’s posting of the 95 theses or the existence of stars in the heavens. These too are often the objects of theological interpretation but are not propositions in and of themselves.
For these reasons I felt that the Orthotomeo Project should go beyond the limitations of propositions and include the broadest possible category for things that can be interpreted. Propositional statements are included and will likely make up the majority of all the statements included within it. But I also want to make room for other means for transmitting theological knowledge. Therefore, for the time being, I’ve settled on the term statement to represent all forms of objects which can be interpreted and thus integrated into a theological argument. Of the types of things that I can name this would include: propositional statements, narrative and poetic statements, artwork, music, historical events and natural occurrences. I may have overlooked some possibilities. At this time the working definition UI have for a statement within the Orthotomeo Project is “something that can be interpreted.” This is one of the cornerstones of the Orthotomeo Project, The Statement.
-  See for example The conditions for propositional knowledge ↩
-  For example see also Propositionalism’s failure and its impact on the church ↩
-  The theoretical nature of metaphors as it relates to the transmission of meaning has been a big topic among theologians and philosophers including Derrida and Ricouer. Kevin Vanhoozer has written about this topic in Is there a meaning in this text? Pages 128ff. ↩