Since not much has been going on lately, I thought I’d pop up this quote that I got from another Sitter a few weeks back. I don’t have time to clean it up, it’s a rather literal transcription from a lecture, so you’ll have to read it as such. But the point of putting it up is because it has some good stuff to say about recent discussions of the preeminence of the preached word.
Are visual metaphors causing us to dominate whereas the aural ones lead us to being receptive — submission, trust. Is it because of the types of metaphors? I think — and again, Ong, Stephen Webb, Hans Blumenberg lots of these folks who don’t really show much interest in the theological implications nevertheless have made the case, at least convincingly to me that it is inherent in the metaphors themselves and not just in the way they are used. Seeing is incomparable. You have to have that sense and I would argue, I will argue later, that it’s not the eye versus the ear in principle, it’s that the ear corresponds to faith and faith corresponds to how we are supposed to live in this present age. Seeing corresponds to possessing. And we won’t need to hear in the age to come because we will see God face to face. But for now we live by faith not by sight. For now faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Faith and hearing are – Luther and Calvin emphasized this. Luther says the church is an ear house not a pen house. He even thought — here he is translating the Bible into German, he thought everybody should read the Bible, and yet he was nervous that over time people may read the Bible instead of hearing sermons. And they would become visual again. They would become protestant idolaters. And a good thing that hasn’t come to pass [laughs]. It’s really true. I think that when people talk about protestant bibliolotry, it’s not because of a high view of God’s word, it’s because of a tendency to lock our gaze onto either statues or words. And there’s something that happens in preaching, in aural address, that is less susceptible to idolatry. Because it is less susceptible to mastery. Right now you are not in charge. If I were sitting there and you were talking, I would not be in charge. Right now I happen to be in charge because I am speaking and you are passively receiving or hearing. That’s not the same as seeing. If you were in a museum looking at pictures, paintings or sculptures, you would be taking it in. You would be in a sense in charge of the experience to an extent that you are not in charge when you are hearing something. A promise is different from a possession. Hearing about the promise of the land of Canaan is different from walking into the land flowing with milk and honey. You no longer need a promise. You are in the land. And one day, that’s why Paul says in 1 Cor 13 one day we’re not going to need faith, or hope. All that will remain is love.
This is the part where they usually say “you know the drill, no Googling…” but I’m not sure it matters in this case…
Addendum: I was going to put some more quotes into a comment, but it got kinda long, so I decided instead to add it to this Guess the Good Guy. The above quote reminds me (once again!) of Jacques Ellul’s brilliant Humiliation of the Word. In his Prolegomena he discusses the radically different natures of Seeing…:
I look out in front of me, and perceive the sea lit up out to the horizon. I look around me: to my left and right, I see the limitless straight line of the beach, and behind it, the dunes — all in space. With my gaze I make the space my own. … I am at the center of this universe by means of my gaze, which sweeps across this space and lets me know everything in it…
I hear noises. The wind is blowing through these pine trees. In the distance the sea roars. … Sounds come to me, and I receive them when they are produced. … Noise overwhelms me with uncertainty, because of the very fact of its sequence. Where is it coming from? What does it herald? I cannot avoid asking these temporal questions. A sound is never clear and plain by itself. It always brings questions with it.
And in particular, the significance of Speaking:
Alone among all other sounds there is one that is particularly important for us: the spoken word. It ushers us into another dimension: relationship with other living beings, with persons. The Word is the particularly human sound which differentiates us from everything else. In this connection a fundamental difference between seeing and hearing is immediately apparent. In seeing, the living being is one form among many. A human being has a special shape and color, but he is included with all the rest as a part of the landscape: a discrete, moving speck. When I hear speech, however, the human being becomes qualitatively different from everything else.
Amazing stuff. Read this book (the Google Books preview includes most of the best stuff for free)!
[Update: as indicated in the comment trail below, the quote on the top is by OHS Michael Horton, from a student recording of one of his Christian Mind lectures from about 2006.]