Logocentrism is Good

(What does it mean for sacerdotalism?)

. . . this short list will identify some reasons for words’ preeminence throughout time as the highest form of communication:

#1. The ability to communicate through words makes us human.

Any monkey can take a picture with a smartphone. Point and click. But the ability to encapsulate a moment in nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs – only a human can do that. It is the height of linguistic and cognizant evolution to the evolutionist, the sacredness of humanity to the Christian (“In the beginning was the Word”).

#2. Words give expression to the abstract in a way that image cannot.

“To be or not to be – that is the question.” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)

The moment you can take an Instagram photo that captures this sentence, with all its philosophy, anguish, and transcendence, perhaps you will convince me that an image can properly replace words.

#3. Word gives us the full story: its context, background, beginning and ending.

Humans love story. We always have. It enchants the two-year-old and 70-year-old, binds the angst-ridden teenager and wizened professor. While pictures can capture a beautiful moment in story, they cannot capture narrative in its entirety. Story at its best includes words.

#4. Words connect us to the other.

In story, we lose ourselves to the beauty of another’s story. We explore the memories and thoughts of people long dead. Words open our souls to human thought and feeling beyond our own, in a way that an image cannot. They connect us to human nature and to an entire history.

#5. Words awaken our imagination.

Taking a picture of a waterfall or a sunset is a good thing. Writing a Facebook status about your wonderful evening with friends is good. But read these words:

Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries. (Jack Kerouac)

When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun. (Shakespeare)

Precious are the dead that lie there, every stone over them speaks of such burning life in the past, of such passionate faith in their work, their truth, their struggle and their science, that I know I shall fall on the ground and kiss those stones and weep over them; though I’m convinced in my heart that it’s long been nothing but a graveyard. And I shall not weep from despair, but simply because I shall be happy in my tears, I shall steep my soul in emotion. I love the sticky leaves in spring, the blue sky — that’s all it is. It’s not a matter of intellect or logic, it’s loving with one’s inside, with one’s stomach. (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

And he knew, also, what the old man was thinking as his tears flowed, and he, Rieux, thought it too: that a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart. (Albert Camus)

Reading such words, one cannot help feeling a connection beyond the sensory to timeless truths explored, forgotten, and explored again. Eteraz’s article references Stendhal, who once said writing holds a mirror to the world. Eteraz surmises this “is no longer appropriate (especially as smartphone screens reflect better).”

But perhaps we have merely been entranced looking in one mirror – a fun, but rather pixelated one. And with time, perhaps our imaginations will seek out those inky, mysterious, beautiful word mirrors once again.

11 thoughts on “Logocentrism is Good

  1. Ellul (The Humiliation of the Word)– In itself the image supplies no fundamental basis for judgment, decision or commitment. Only the word can be also the agent and the locus of differentiation, thus leading to a judgment. In its relations with images, the word is called on to criticize the image, not in the sense of accusing it, but in the more basic sense of separation and discernment of true and false

    Click to access notes-on-the-humiliation-of-the-word.pdf


  2. Robert Gundry: Jesus the Word according to John the Sectarian,

    1) Jesus is the Word to the world in spite of the world

    2) The Gospel of John is primarily for the elect, all of whom will believe the gospel.

    3) The love of God is not universal. John’s vision of the Christian community flows from a view of Christ that is separatist toward the world.The Fourth Gospel is unalterably countercultural and sectarian.


  3. “The entrance of thy word gives light” — Psalm 119:130.

    “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” — Ephesians 6:17.

    “Is not my word like as fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer, that breaks the rock in pieces?” — Jeremiah 23:29.

    “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” –John 6:63.

    “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” — 1 Corinthians 4:15.

    “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures” — James 1:18.

    “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever” — 1 Peter 1:23.

    “He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” — 2 Thessalonians 2:14.

    “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” — John 15:3.

    “Sanctify them through your truth. Your word is truth” — John 17:17.

    “That they also might be sanctified through the truth” — John 17:19.

    “God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed, from the heart, the model of doctrine into which ye were delivered” — Romans 6:17.

    “The word of God, which effectually works in you that believe” — 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

    “The gospel of Christ — is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believes” — Romans 1:16.

    “The gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved” — 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2.

    “The doctrine of the cross is to us who are saved the power of God” — 1 Corinthians 1:18.


  4. I know Gundry is an Arminian who thinks God counts faith as the righteousness, but this is a very very good book, not only in its chapter on the gospel of John, but also on the changing sociology of “evangelicalism”. Gundry confesses himself to have been guilty in the past of participating in anti-sectarian (and anti-biblicist) quests for respectability in the academy.

    Gundry: “Nor does Christian Smith’s appeal to the late Barth’s christological reading of Scripture cut ice, at least not with me. For in Basel during the fall of 1960 I regularly climbed out of the basement of biblical studies to attend the theological seminars held by Barth upstairs, only to hear him repeatedly engage in subjective judgments on what in the Bible carries authority and what therein does not. Dismissively, for example: “Oh, that’s just a bit of Jewish apocalyptic that crept into Scripture.”

    As I wrote shortly afterward to an acquaintance, “For all Barth’s likeableness I must think that Van Til’s harsh judgment on his theology is more grundlich and closer to the truth than the sympathetic attitude which has appeared even in some American evangelical circles …. So far as I can see, Barth is the sole judge of what in the Bible is authoritative for him.” Others disagree, I know; but that was my take.

    Gundry: Christian Smith reaches behind the New Testament to the early church’s “rule of faith,” which existed prior to the canonizing of New Testament books and allegedly helped regulate the process of canonization. This rule of faith consists, it is said, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that books containing it got canonized—hence, a canon behind the canon as well as within the canon.

    How is it that those books which did get canonized can be legitimately interpreted, according to Smith, as disagreeing on the essentials of Christ’s gospel, i.e., on the rule of faith? And why are my suspicions aroused when Smith repeatedly cites the fate of the unevangelized as an open question and refers again and again to the gospel of God’s reconciling the world to himself through Christ but says nary a word about divine judgment and the lostness of unbelievers despite the apostle Paul’s declaring that for their salvation people have to believe in Christ, that to believe in him they have to hear about him, that to hear about him preaching is necessary, and that the preaching requires a sending of preachers (Rom. 10:9-17)? Paul also qualifies “the ministry of reconciliation” by describing himself as “an odor deriving from death, resulting in death” through the preaching of this very gospel to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:15-16; 5:19).


  5. a sacerdotalisst responds to Paul Zahl’s Short Systematic Theology

    First, the sacramental theory: “Christ is present objectively in the ‘elements’ of the eucharist, that is, in the bread and wine, and in the water of baptism” (p. 25). The bread and wine of the Eucharist “become in some real actuality the ‘temple’ of Christ’s presence with us now.” An objective change is effected in their reality. They become the “present location of Christ’s body and blood.” The sacramental theory is denoted by several terms—transubstantiation, consubstantiation, real presence.

    Oddly, Zahl also speaks of an objective change of the water in Holy Baptism. “The water is changed objectively,” Zahl writes, “through the divine power of the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus, activated by precisely correct words and intentions, into the effective channel for the communication of God’s grace on earth. Thus baptized children are regenerated” (pp. 25-26). I know that sometimes one can find the of language of change of the baptismal waters in the Church Fathers and in baptismal liturgies, ancient and modern; but the Church catholic is clear that the transformation of the bread and wine in the Eucharist is completely different from the the sanctification of the water at Holy Baptism. Catholic Christians worship and adore Christ present under the forms of bread and wine. They do not worship and adore the water in the font. I am at a loss to understand why Dr. Zahl does not know this.



  6. The sacerdotalist ends up accusing Zahl of being a “Zwinglian”. A name or a label is always a quick way to exit a conversation. But a few more words, with quotations from Paul Zahl:

    The icon theory: “Christ is represented concretely in the visual, and in particular through the icon” (p. 31). Zahl recognizes that Orthodoxy, for whom the icon is constitutive, is quick to clarify that it is not the wood and paint of the icon that presents the risen Christ; rather, it is the Holy Spirit that carries the divine presence “through the inspired image to the believer who views it in faith” (p. 31).

    But the image, Zahl tells us, cannot sustain the conviction of Christ’s iconic presence. The Holy Spirit cannot be controlled, will not be controlled. For good reasons God prohibited the worship of images. God will not be subjected “to the human word of command” (p. 32).

    The charismatic theory: The risen Christ is made present through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But this theory seeks to objectify that which cannot be objectified. “Pentecostalism is another distinct form of the hunger we have seen all along the spectrum of Christian traditions to locate the presence of the risen Christ within space and time. As if that were possible! It is not possible. It is absolutely impossible if we are to take seriously Jesus’ words about worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) Both the Spirit as the unseen Christ makes it impossible to confine God to any form. Objectification is out! God has never existed in form, save during a short period of time from roughly 4 B.C. to A.D. 29. That period is unique, and it cannot be repeated. Would that it could be! (p. 33)

    I will come back to this point presently, but please note what Dr. Zahl is saying. Objectification is impossible because it contradicts the very nature of God!

    The eschatological theory. When Jesus will return in glory to consummate his kingdom, but we know that he will come. Thisl theory solves the problem of sacred space by eliminating space. “The question is not where is he present now,” Zahl interprets, “but when will he be present then” (p. 34).

    But Zahl does not believe that the eschatological theory can sustain faith. Confronted by our mortality, we need to know if and how Christ can be experienced in the present. A promise of the future is simply too abstract to sustain us over the long haul of life.

    If objectification in all forms is out, then how are we to understand the presence of the risen Christ in our lives? Dr. Zahl’s answer: Christ is present in his absence! All objectifications of the Lord are illusory, idolatrous attempts “to possess God in human terms.” A mature, adult faith acknowledges the experienced absence of the ascended Christ and the sense of the loss that necessarily accompanies that absence. The Christian lives in “the absence of the tangible and the presence of that absence, as in solitude and a continuing state of loss” (p. 36). Zahl cites the Reformed church interiors of the Dutch artist Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665).


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