Scriptural Pragmatism: A Response to the Roots and Hopes of Scriptural Reasoning

Editor’s Note: In this article, Ochs adopts a commentary format in which he quotes passages from other articles in this issue as well as Issue 8.2 (The Roots of Scriptural Reasoning). These passages are not cited in the footnotes, but interested readers may follow up by referring to the Table of Contents of the current or previous issue. Ochs provides the name of the relevant author in his text.

Peter Ochs,
University of Virginia

Jason Byassee and Jacob Goodson have assembled a wonderful pair of journal issues that will contribute significantly to our understanding and performance of SR. My deep thanks to them and to each of the writers.

“Roots and Fruits” are apt tropes for a study of SR. As articulated in the first journal issue, the intellectual work of SR tends to be pragmatic, reparative, and genealogical. To be clarified in this essay, “pragmatic inquiry” means something like “inquiry stimulated by attention to some publicly visible problematic situation or case or event of suffering or woundedness; the success and meaning of this inquiry are judged by how well the inquiry contributes to the possibility of repairing these problems or sufferings.” “Reparative inquiry” is in part a synonym for pragmatic inquiry, but in part I believe it indicates inquiry that is itself “an activity of repair,” while pragmatic inquiry could refer to research that generates possibilities for repair but is not itself a performance of repair per se . I may be drawing too thin a distinction, but for now I will read “reparative inquiry” to be considered or experienced as a healing performance, and this may connote “healing the performer” as well as healing another or a situation. In these terms, reparative inquiry is always explicitly relational and illocutionary. “Genealogical inquiry” refers in this context to an instrument of pragmatic inquiry: an effort to recommend avenues of repair by framing a problematic situation as if it were the fruit of an errant practice whose historical and logical antecedents could be located. The genealogist attempts to locate an antecedent rule or pattern of practice that appears free of the “error” displayed in the problematic situation. The goal of pragmatic genealogical inquiry is, then, to propose a way of re-applying this rule as a rule for repairing this particular situation by enacting the antecedent rule in a potentially non-errant way (that is, a way that would not generate this kind of problem).

The first journal issue, on “Roots,” offers intellectually intense and detailed explorations of how scriptural studies could be performed as activities of pragmatic, reparative, genealogical inquiry. The issue operates on at least three levels, offering genealogical insights into the antecedents of SR per se ; into how SR operates in a genealogical, reparative and pragmatic way; and into how some specific problems may be repaired through SR practice. The issue includes a challenge to the adequacy of some aspects of SR, which may also be read as proposals for how to repair SR if and when repairs are needed. My responses to the first set of essays are laughably long. My inadequate excuse is that the detailed, creative and subtle questions raised by these essays merit detailed and careful consideration and response. I believe, moreover, that these studies recommend a way for at least a sub-community of scriptural reasoners to achieve a level of agreement on the basic terms of SR and a set of basic rules of inquiry.

While it would be against the goals of SR to over-define its terms and rules and to gather too homogenous a community of inquiry, I will argue that SR can generate concrete projects of repair only when and where any particular sub-group of scriptural reasoners agrees to a finite set of practices and, on that basis, moves beyond preparatory study to concrete lines of reparative work. I fear that groups currently practicing SR feel either too cautious or too unprepared to move past scriptural study per se to the next stage of concrete reparative action. Because SR emerges, for one, out of a critique of coherentist or conceptualist models of academic and of performative inquiry, many experienced scriptural reasoners may fear seeking prior agreement about how to repair as well as how to study. My response is that repair requires a degree of agreement and that this agreement is unproblematic because it is specific to a particular context for repair. One agrees only that a specific set of practices is appropriate for seeking to repair a spatially and temporally specific situation; there is no presumption that this set of practices will apply in this way to another situation. As I read them, the essays by Isra Yazicioglu, Jacob Goodson, Peter Kang and perhaps William Danaher recommend a potentially finite set of practices to be applied to a finite range of possible problems. I felt inspired to seek the authors’ agreement on some primary features of this set of practices and, thereby, to propose that reasoners who might, today, share in this agreement could then push to a second stage of SR work: proposing specific rules or patterns of reparative practice in relation to specific sets of contemporary problems. It will take a lot of discussion to develop and refine even a single set of reparative practices, and I believe it is high time for scriptural reasoners to turn to that task.

Reasoners need not start with the agreement I am proposing in this essay; the point is simply to gather some finite group of scriptural reasoners, achieve some agreement about basic SR practice and then move on to what remains the largely unexplored domain of SR practices for concrete repair. The first journal issue concludes with a lively set of challenges to SR, as Chris Hackett asks what scholars of Radical Orthodoxy might say in response to specific features and goals of SR. My response to Hackett’s essay is by far the wordiest, because he opened up so much new ground that I am obliged to traverse, for better or for worse. I do so as a way of exercising and testing this proposal for a single, finite model of SR inquiry – pragmatic, genealogical, and reparative.

The second journal issue, the one to which my response is attached, addresses itself to the hopes of SR, a term I use to name the positive “fruits.” Where the essays of “Roots” reasoned rigorously “backwards” or regressively from effect (the practice of SR to potential cause), essays in “Fruits” imagine proleptically what SR disciples might find themselves doing and uncovering in the future. Walter Brueggemann and Daniel Smith both focus on the fruits of SR for future work in biblical studies. Samuel Wells reflects on the kinds of inter-religious study – including SR – that would contribute to his work as chaplain in the context of a major university. The fact that I have written much more briefly in response to the “Fruits” than the “Roots” occasions deep reflection on the difference between being stimulated to envision and being stimulated to repair. Like an alarm bell, the latter stimulates something like the “flight or fight response,” and I find it hard to judge when the flight or fight is over. The former gives rise to wonderment that calls more for waiting (a “wait and see”) than worrying: waiting seems to take fewer words.

I. Roots

A. Against Uprooting: An Overview

Earlier presentations of SR tended to recommend SR as a corrective response to some of the failings of “modernist and anti-modernist” approaches to religion and theology. The Goodson/Byassee collection marks another phase in the development of SR. Presupposing the earlier presentations, essays in the “Roots” collection tend to respond, not to modernist/anti-modernist failings, but to criticisms of SR that seem to replay aspects of those failings. The result is a more refined, and less broadly-brushed account, of SR than offered in the earlier years. It is a remarkable contribution to the work of SR.

Yazicioglu, Goodson, and Kang ground SR in an account of Charles Peirce’s pragmaticism. For them, it is a reparative practice of philosophy designed to correct conceptually abstract and reductive theoretical inquiries by asking what cases of actual suffering – or problems in everyday practice – causes stimulation so that truth or falsity can be tested by measuring successes or failures in helping repair problems or suffering. Pragmaticism’s method of repair is thereby grounded in a consequentialist epistemology and a performative account of inquiry. In short, inquiry designates a human – and generally social – activity of interaction with and in the world, and what we know of the world is measured and tested by identifiable forms of behavior (or interaction) that we believe correspond with what we claim to know. Hence, we know them “by their fruit.” Overall, I will attribute to these first three essays a potentially coherent model of SR as what I will call “scriptural pragmatism.” This model represents the kind of “agreement” I mentioned earlier. My effort will be to clarify and extend the basic elements of this agreement so that it could serve as the basis for a finite practice of concrete repair.

I will read the essays by Danaher and Hackett as two different ways of testing the fruit of scriptural pragmatism (not necessarily the “fruit” of SR) as a model of scripturally grounded repair. On the one hand, Danaher applies something very close to scriptural pragmatism as a model for evaluating the reparative power of Jonathan Edwards’ study of Ezekiel. On the other hand, Hackett applies Radical Orthodoxy’s practice of theological inquiry as a model for testing the strengths and weaknesses of SR as understood along the lines of scriptural pragmatism. Hackett presents a unique approach to these matters. He measures consequences only with respect to the Christian eschaton and, therefore, only in relation to ultimate consequences. In this way, he has returned Peirce’s pragmatism to its genealogical roots – for one – in Kant, purposefully or effectively re-classifying “consequence” as a transcendental category (the obverse of “causality”) and pragmatic consequentialism as comparable to an ontological deployment of reason. This would be Reason’s effort to apply the category of consequence indefinitely to disclose the ultimate limit of any series of lived consequences (or the eschaton). If evaluated within the limits of Kant’s First Critique , this deployment would represent what Kant explicitly criticizes as metaphysical error: Reason’s temptation to adopt the categories of the Understanding as its own instrument. Judged in this way, consequentialism displays the antinomies of reason and the obverse of casual reduction: one way to creation, the other way to the eschaton. To repair consequentialism would be to re-situate judgments of consequence within the Understanding, comparable to scientific hypotheses – for example, about the causes of some thing. This is where Peirce placed his pragmatic judgments. If, however, we referred Hackett’s claim to the measure of Kant’s Third Critique , then it might be analogous to Kant’s account of teleological judgment: aesthetic judgments or judgments of the sublime. In this case, Reason would be observed as judging its own kind: “consequentialism” as a species of eschatological judgment. This is not an effort to reason from the everyday to the eschaton but a practice of reasoning from the Christian eschaton to the everyday. It displays to us the everyday meaning and consequence of living in the eschaton, of measuring the sufferings and problems of everyday practice sub species eternae . If this describes Hackett’s preference between the two Kantian options, then his study might be considered a practice of pragmatic theological idealism.

My goal in this commentary is to take these authors’ lead in “getting down to the business SR.” For scriptural reasoners, this involves moving beyond the first stage (and generation) of the work and entering into a second stage. The result is articulating several models of SR so that, gathering around their preferred models, multiple circles of reasoners can stop worrying about “what is SR?” and get down to the business of specific projects of repair. In these terms, the third stage would call for another kind of technical theory: problem- and context-specific studies of how reparative judgments may be made. Working groups for stage three would have to be even more specialized and distinct: sharing observations and strategies about how to repair specific conventions in historical-critical Biblical or Qur’anic studies, in contemporary phenomenological theologies, or in “inter-faith” education.

B. A Peircean critique of binarism in Cartesian traditions of modern academic inquiry

1. Peirce’s Consequentialism

In the words of Byassee’s and Goodson’s “Introduction,” “Isra Yazicioglu begins this special issue with an introduction to Charles Peirce’s pragmatism and its application to questions within Qur’anic hermeneutics.” In her contribution, Yazicioglu writes,

In one of his early articles, “What Pragmatism Is,” Peirce notes that he first coined the term as a man of science who had been reflecting on the task of philosophy.

…[ as a “man of laboratory,” I] framed the theory that a conception , that is, the rational purport of a word or other expression, lies exclusively in its conceivable bearing upon the conduct of life; so that, since obviously nothing that might not result from experiment can have any direct bearing upon conduct, if one can define accurately all the conceivable experimental phenomena which the affirmation or denial of a concept could imply, one will have therein a complete definition of the concept, and there is absolutely nothing more in it . (5.412, 1905, underline added.)

…Two clarifications about the pragmatic maxim are in order. First, by insisting on the consequences, Peirce does not mean to reduce all conception to action. (5.429)….Second, it should be noted that with his emphasis on experiment, Peirce does not simply mean the experience of an isolated event; rather, he means experimentation as part of a larger project of discerning a general pattern in the world through manipulating and modifying given conditions. Thus, Peirce’s emphasis on action and experimentation should be understood as the background of his regard for generals and overall tendencies:

That everything is to be tested by its practical results was the great text of my early papers…In my later papers, I have seen more thoroughly…that it is not mere action as brute exercise of strength that is the purpose of all, but say generalization, such action as tends toward regularization, and the actualization of the thought which without action remains unthought. (8.250; 1897, italics added.)

In sum, the pragmatic maxim attends to two things in its analysis of the meaning of a concept: (1) the practical and conceivable consequences of the concept, and (2) the ways in which these consequences instantiate general tendencies.

2. Peirce’s Critique of Binarism

I am embarrassed that I have written so often about the pragmatic critique of modern binarism. I would rather not repeat this yet again, but I am equally astonished to see generation after generation of academics replay the same tendencies of over-generalization and dichotomous reasoning that pragmatists, post-modernists, Wittgenstinians, and others are supposed to have beaten out of us. As demonstrated by our journal authors, critics of pragmatic SR are a case in point. Their resistance to the critique of binarism suggests that the academy may provide strong incentives or conditions for binary thinking: too strong to be met by mere logical criticism. [1] In his earliest critique of Descartes, for example, Peirce examined the logical form of Descartes’ epistemology and criticized his unwarranted intuitionism. [2] A decade later, Peirce offered his pragmatic maxim partly to repair weaknesses remaining in his previous critique. He observed that a strictly logical critique fails to expose the behavioral root of the problem: the conditions of action, belief, and sociality that spawned Descartes’ need and desire to over-rely on intellectual intuitions. The scholar of pragmatism, Richard Bernstein, labeled this desire and need as a form of “Cartesian anxiety”:

Reading the Meditations as a journey of the soul helps us to appreciate that Descartes’ search for a foundation…is more than a device to solve metaphysical and epistemological problems. It is the quest for some fixed point, some stable rock upon which we can secure our lives against the vicissitudes that constantly threaten us. The specter that hovers in the background is…the dread of madness and chaos where nothing is fixed…With a chilling clarity Descartes leads us with an apparent and ineluctable necessity to a grand and seductive Either/Or. Either there is some support for our being…, or we cannot escape the forces of darkness that envelope us with madness . [3]

Until now I have focused primarily on logical studies of binarism, because I wanted to find some simple procedure I could use to locate marks of persistently binary thinking in writings that may purport to fix binarism or unwarranted dualisms. There is, however, no simple procedure for repairing such thinking! I imagine that further reflections on the roots of the practice of SR ought to follow Bernstein’s lead in examining the societal conditions and personal practices that may spawn or accompany such thinking.

I do not believe we are wholly naïve about such things. We have developed SR purposefully to introduce contexts for non-binary thinking into our academic as well as extra-academic environments of study and fellowship. We simply have not yet devoted significant energies to producing general accounts of the psychological, social, institutional, and religious/spiritual contexts of SR and of the binarism it aims, in part, to repair. For now, however, let me return to the level of formal analysis we may be able to declare finished!

Kang suggests correctly that my writing is not as clear as it could be. In this case, the lack of clarity concerns what I mean by “dyad,” “binary,” and related diagnoses. He generates what I consider a fully satisfying account:

  • Ochs’s critique of binarism does not entail the rejection of all uses of dyads and binaries….Statements such as “that hurts, stop it,”…are all valid and important forms of dyadic statements that use a binary logic that Ochs wants to keep. Likewise, when I get caught in the rain and reach for my umbrella I do so according to the dyadic reasoning that this thing (my umbrella) is for stopping what I don’t like (getting wet).
  • A dyad refers to a kind of two-part proposition or judgment. For example, “X is Y” or “Bill is tall.” [There is nothing problematic about such dyads.]
  • The term binary can be used in a “weak” and a “strong” sense. [4]
    • In the weak sense, it refers to a relationship of contrariety between two possible predicates of a dyadic judgment. For example,…”Bill is tall” also means that “Bill is not short” where both “tall” and “short” are understood to be incompatible predicates.
    • In the strong sense, binary refers to a contradictory relationship of two terms taken to be the only possible predicates of a dyadic judgment. For example,…”the light is on” means that “the light is not off” where “on” and “off” are the only possible descriptions for the light.
    • Binarism names the errant tendency to over-generalize a binary distinction beyond its proper domain and use, or of misrepresenting some things as binaries when they are not. For example, “If you do not laugh at my jokes, then you must hate me” is misrepresenting a relation as a binary when it is not.

3. Peirce’s pragmaticist repair of binarism

Kang describes two different kinds of judgment that, for Peirce, are each appropriate to its own domain. One kind, as noted above, includes everyday judgments about matters of fact. These are appropriately expressed in “dyadic statements” such as “Bill is tall.” Ideally, each term in such a statement should be clear and distinct. Kang notes a second kind of judgment, offered about “irremediably vague” things, such as quantum physicists’ observations about the position and velocity of sub-atomic particles or scriptural interpretations of specific verses that may display different meanings when addressed to different contexts of reading and practice. He notes that, for Peirce, this second kind of judgment is expressed in statements whose terms cannot be rendered fully clear and distinct, since at least one term will refer to some meaning as holding only with respect to a given context (“interpretant”) but not otherwise. But which of these judgments serve as purposes of repair? Kang’s key move in his essay is noting that reparative judgments remain of this second kind.

Jacob Goodson’s study of William James provides a helpful lesson on why reparative judgments include irremediably vague terms. William James draws a distinction between “empirical thinking” and “reasoning,” where “empirical thinking is only reproductive, (while) reasoning is productive.” Other words we might use for “reproductive” thinking are “representational” and “imitative,” and other words for “productive” are “transformational” and “interpretive.” For our purposes, James’s descriptions of “empirical thinking” parallels Peirce’s understanding of everyday judgments; James’s employment of the word “reasoning” corresponds well to Peirce’s judgments about things that are vague. Goodson writes,

  • Reasoning is what we use to find our way through and get “out of unprecedented situations.” …The ” ability to deal with novel data [is] the technical differentia of reasoning ….” In short, then, for William James, the ability to reason is the ability “to deal with novel data.”
  • Reasoning, for James, is defined further ” as the substitution of parts and their implications or consequences for wholes .” The art of reasoning, then, consists of “two stages”: “First, sagacity , or the ability to discover what part”; and “Second, learning , or the ability to recall promptly “consequences….” What James calls ” learning ” here refers to “the ability to seize fresh aspects in concrete things [which is] rarer than the ability to learn old rules. …Moreover, we have not genuinely or truly learned if we have not applied or used that information toward some end or good.”
  • [On the topic of “sagacity,” James adds that:] All our knowledge at first is vague. When we say that a thing is vague, we mean that is has no subdivisions ab intra , nor precise limitations ab extra ; but still all the forms of thought may apply to it.

Furthermore: if “reasoning is what we use to find our way through and get ‘out of unprecedented situations’,” then the prototypical stimulus to “reasoning” will be confronting what Dewey calls “problematic situations,” Peirce calls “doubt,” and what Nicholas Adams and I call “suffering.” Words, signs, gestures, and diagrams of doubt or suffering are necessarily vague because they all leave undefined what the reparable problem is and how to repair it. The purpose of reparative reasoning is to render the problem and its potential repair sufficiently non-vague (definite) that we can test out whether or not the potential repair works to remove its stimulus. The signs of suffering or doubt remain irremediably vague to the extent that we may never know if and when a repair will fail in the future. We may say, instead, that these signs are rendered functionally clear when a repair lasts long enough that we cease to worry about or even remember it. In these terms, we might say also that the elements of everyday or empirical or reproductive thinking are at best functionally clear because our trust in them is only a sign that we have not yet had reason to worry about them: that is, they serve our purposes.

4. Peirce’s Reparative Reasoning

How then does reasoning repair? One lesson of the previous section is that, for these pragmatists, repairing problems or sufferings is a species of bringing definition to what is irremediably vague; more poetically, we may also say that “defining the vague” is a species of “repair.” Kang writes of repair as bringing the binary to the “triad” or mediating semiosis. Even before considering scriptural analogues and sources, it is significant to note how this simple diagram of repair excludes “supersessionist” models of repair. To repair a dyad in a supersessionist mode would be to replace it with another dyad, while to repair triadically means to bring both poles of the dyad into a mediating or interpretive process. It is important for us not to read these numerical labels literally. The dyad is not literally a “two,” but a separation, of which a “two” is a convenient indexical marker but not a literal icon. The triad is not literally a three but an activity of interpretive, communicative, and reparative relation of which “three” is a convenient indexical marker. I note this because taking the three literally would be, in fact, to reduce a “triad” to its marker – what Peirce calls a “second of a third” or a “degenerate third.” This reduction has a practical expression: any effort to repair a dyad by “replacing” it with a triad. Reparative or interpretive reasoning cannot be performed as a kind of replacement. To attempt, for example, to replace some either/or practice of Jewish legal opinion (say, judgments made recently by the Israeli Chief Rabbi) with a “triadic” practice (say from some rabbinic school such as the “Brisker”) would, in fact, place this rabbinate and a written model of the Brisker approach in a dyadic relation: a vs. b. The only ways to make “triadic” use of the Brisker method would be: (a) to find that the Brisker approach is in the earlier history of the current rabbinate, in which case the current dyadic practice could be repaired through that pattern of triadic reasoning it broke from at some previous time; (b) to refer both the Brisker and the rabbinate’s practice back to earlier traditions of Talmudic reasoning that both endorse and then repair the rabbinate’s practice by way of these earlier traditions of practice. Either way, one could say: “triadic repair begins at home,” by retrieving and then re-enacting and refining antecedent practices in relation to current conditions of practice.

Kang clarifies my use of Peirce’s “A and B” reasonings in a way that speaks to this discussion of reparative reasoning. In the terms we have just introduced, we could call the source of reparative reasonings “A-reasonings” that become “B-reasonings” the moment we characterize or map them as explicit guidelines for repair. Peirce refers to these “A’s and B’s” only as a thought experiment to help us imagine how it is possible for a practice or tradition of inquiry to be self-corrective. He says we might imagine that the tradition or practice is multi-dimensional. Some reasonings operate in the open, so to speak, at once visible and thus relatively non-vague, subject to self-control and prone to error. Some reasonings operate “behind” these as it were: maximally vague, which means visible only through their effects. To bring such reasonings to the light of day is to reason from effect to cause: regressive reasoning, as illustrated in Kant’s transcendental reasoning from the judgments we make to what we imagine to be the conditions for possibly making such judgments. Peirce’s pragmatic inquiry is a species of transcendental reasoning from our conscious beliefs – each a B-reasoning – to the habits of conduct that, we imagine, are the conditions for possibly holding such beliefs. Like Pascal’s wager or any scientific theory, the products of such reasonings are hypotheses – which are distinguished by their relative degree of probability, to the quality of information we may or may not have to test, and thereby either strengthen or weaken our trust in them. In the terms of Goodson’s fine analysis, these reasonings introduce “novelty” into our practices of reasoning: novelty not of mere chance but of thinking in relation to probabilities that include chance. Furthermore, this novelty is not one of amusement undertaken for its own sake; rather, it is of musement – the sport of imagination that is lived as if it is for its own sake but instead prompted by the desire to repair and heal. Such musement is reasoning-as-abduction: reasoning that allows itself to be “abducted” or “taken away” by whatever is placed before it, so that this reasoning may be led to see possibilities it had not previously entertained. The reparative reasoner is one who will grasp or “hold onto” ( greifen ) those newly considered possibilities that appear – with some degree of likelihood – to lend some degree of conceptual clarity ( Begriff ) to the reparative work of seeing what the problem or suffering is and uncovering what practice (including practices of reasoning) might actually help repair it. If this seeing proves useful in this way, then it is as if it rendered some previously recondite A-reasoning(s) into a source of reparative B-reasonings: some deep-set habits of knowing-and-healing into malleable guidelines for repair.

Extending Peirce’s thought experiment, we might imagine that sufferings and problems of “greater severity” are those whose repair requires exposing the inadequacies of “deeper” or more recondite habits of knowing-and-healing. In these terms, Peirce’s “Neglected Argument” (NA) narrates the singular kind of musement that – like Descartes’ “Meditation” or, perhaps, even more like Job’s complaint – reveals the inadequacies of all human or finite or creaturely habits of knowing-and-healing. I am unsatisfied by one aspect of Peirce’s narrative: that, in this sense too much like Descartes or the Eleatics, he fails or neglects to acknowledge the species of suffering or doubt that stimulates his “musement on the phenomenon of growth in and among the three universes of possibility.” His narrative comes too close to suggesting that musement on something like the wonder of the starry heavens might give rise to our deepest possible abductions about “the reality of God.” This is one illustration of how at times his Eleatic-and-modern heritage speaks louder than his Biblical heritage. I mention this now because, as I will reiterate below, I believe Peirce’s reparative reasoning rests in an elemental musement on the phenomenon of healing (or active care) rather than of growth: that this healing is not visible in the universes of firsts and seconds but in the relation of the universe of thirds to the other two and that the healing dimension of the third universe (and thus of all the created universes together) is itself made visible only when the divine word – God’s creating and redeeming hand – is displayed as author of these universes and their inter-relations. If inquiry rests in the work of repair, then it is not sufficient to speak of “the reality of God.” One must be led to speak of the agency of God’s creating and redeeming hand or word. In these terms, the A-reasoning of all A-reasonings is divine speech alone. It is utterly vague, but disclosed to us through its effects. “Word” and “Scripture” are elemental names for the effects that lead us more probably to abductions of (or events of being “taken away” by) the proximity of God’s hand. Each abduction of this type is elementally novel. Such novelty is not, however, something we should yearn for everyday but only when the cries of those who suffer exceed our yearnings and we have reason to pray that He hear their cries.

5. Scriptural Pragmatism

“Scriptural pragmatism” draws on Peirce but not Peirce alone. For the reasons suggested here, it is a pragmatism that finds the source of reparative reasoning and reparative science in Scripture. I turn now to detailed reviews of how each of our authors present and analyze what I call scriptural pragmatism.

C. Yazicioglu’s Qur’anic Pragmatism

Yazicioglu asks, “What would this pragmatic approach mean in the realm of religion and more specifically in the realm of scriptural hermeneutics?” As I read it, her answer is “by way of a scriptural and Qur’anic consequentialism.”

1. Scriptural Consequentialism: Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matt.7:16)

Yazicioglu offers us such a concise and clear account that I can do no better than to cite her words:

[Peirce] noted that once the question of the actual or potential consequence of a concept is brought up, all the “meaningless gibberish” in ontology would be exposed and disposed of. (5.423, 1905) He also noted that his approach is a form of “prope-positivism,” that is, it is similar to a positivistic approach, but is different from it in that it does leave room for “properly executed metaphysics.” (5.423, 1905). Thus, Peirce’s pragmatism defines the meaning of religious/ metaphysical discourse by its practical or conceivable consequences, without precluding its possibility a priori .

Applying the pragmatic maxim to scriptural hermeneutics means reading the text by paying attention to its suggestions for the practice of the reader. Pragmatic hermeneutics in itself does not guarantee that any scriptural text will be meaningful in pragmatic terms. Rather, this method of reading gives the text the opportunity to be interpreted meaningfully if the text’s pragmatic purport makes sense.

2. Qur’anic Consequentialism: You shall know the significance of challenging passages through their fruit in conduct and faith.

Once again, Yazicioglu’s words need no further clarification:

To start with, Qur’anic discourse in general seems friendly toward Peirce’s pragmaticism. At the heart of Qur’anic discourse lies two main claims: there is only one God (the concept of tawhid ), and there is life after death. It is significant that both of these key themes are discussed with an emphasis on their practical consequences. For instance, the Qur’anic criticisms of idolatry are often couched in pragmatic terms. The Qur’an claims repeatedly that the idolater worships that which can “neither harm nor benefit” him. Thus, the emptiness of idolatry is suggested on the basis of its being inconsequential for the life of the person.

On a deeper level, we see that the pragmatic definition of meaning may allow better readings of apparently puzzling passages in the Qur’an. One such puzzle is the Qur’anic narrative of miracles. On the one hand, the Qur’an narrates many miracle stories, most of which involve biblical figures such as Noah, Abraham, Jonah, Moses, David, and Jesus. On the other hand, the Qur’an repeatedly rebukes those who demand miracles and instead repeatedly calls the reader to reflect on the world around her, insisting that the normal course of nature is a miracle itself. Hence, miracle stories about ancient prophets seem to be in tension with the more frequent Qur’anic emphasis on the ordinary course of nature. Apart from this tension between miracle stories and emphasis on ordinary events, the very miracle stories themselves seem problematic. Traditionally, these texts were read as proving God’s power, but it is unclear how the story itself constitutes evidence for readers, since the readers do not actually witness the miracles themselves. Thus the miracle stories seem meaningless, at least to a current reader. I argue that bringing the pragmatic maxim to bear on these texts is promising in that it can clarify what is at stake and help us discern empty talk from meaningful readings of these texts, if the latter are at all possible.

Yazicioglu offers a pragmatic study of virgin birth stories that parallels James’s pragmatic studies of theological claims like transubstantiation, echoing his principle that “there is no difference that makes no difference.” I shall note only Yazicioglu’s conclusion:

From this new perspective, the virgin birth narrative indicates a practical consequence that can be relevant for the reader: the reformation of the reader’s habit of interpreting the world around her. In her uninterrupted state of mind, she may take the regularity in the world around her as something that is not worthy of wonder or attention. When the story portrays an interruption of order, it serves to break this inattentiveness to the very order itself, calling the reader to rethink what she assumes to be ‘normal.’ All creation is, in fact, wonderful.

To summarize, the miracle narratives in the Qur’an can have two useful consequences in practice: (1) to reform the reader’s habits of thinking about the regular patterns she sees in the world and enable her to receive the order as a gift rather than being blind to its everyday wonderfulness; (2) to encourage the reader to think and experiment for further possibilities in nature.

3. The Next Step: How about Qur’anic Value-Concepts?

Yazicioglu’s study is worthy indeed of the pragmatic tradition of Peirce and James. It appears she may also be one of the first to bring Peirce’s pragmatism to Qur’anic reasoning. [5] Yazicioglu’s work also parallels the rabbinic studies of Max Kadushin, who wrote The Rabbinic Mind and Worship and Ethics . [6] Influenced by Peirce as well as Alfred North Whitehead, Kadushin read the classical rabbinic literature as a “living system” (his Whiteheadian perspective) each part of which, each literary unit, has meaning in the way it contributes to the life of the whole (his Peircean perspective). He thus identified the meaning of each rabbinic scriptural interpretation, or midrash, with its intended effect on the conduct of its readers or listeners. He labeled each unit of meaning a “value concept”: what he took to be the rabbinic sages’ understanding (“concept”) of a given verse of scripture as a lesson or guideline (“value”) for behaving a certain way in a certain situation. [7] This seems close to Yazicioglu’s approach to reading Qur’anic miracle stories. If so, how might Yazicioglu identify something like “Qur’anic value-concepts” among the meanings of Qur’anic commentaries?

D. Goodson’s Scriptural Pragmatism of a Jamesian Stripe

If Yazicioglu’s scriptural pragmatism heals perplexed or misdirected readings of the Qur’an, Goodson repairs perplexed or misguided readings of scriptural pragmatism: in this case, readings that attempt to limit pragmatic claims to the either/or terms of the modern binarism the classical pragmatists sought to repair. Goodson brings James to our midst as pragmatic healer and, in the process, introduces us to a scriptural James many of us have not previously encountered.

Goodson responds to David Lamberth’s suspicion that SR [8] may underplay pragmatism’s attention to “novelty” and “concreteness” in favor of undue and perhaps “foundationalist” attention to specific language-based traditions – scriptural traditions in particular. Goodson’s reparative argument is that this suspicion operates only within the terms of a particular binary: assuming that “novelty” and “linguistic [or scriptural or tradition-based] hermeneutics” are mutually exclusive. Goodson argues in depth that SR specifically works against this assumption: (a) that SR introduces notions of novelty, of hermeneutics, and of scripture that contribute in complementary ways to SR’s model of interpretation; (b) that this model is fully consistent with Peirce’s semiotic; and, most surprisingly, (c) that it is consistent, as well, with James’s pragmatism.

1. Hermeneutics is not just humanistic Geisteswissenschaften

This heading is my label for Goodson’s defense of scriptural pragmatism’s practice of hermeneutical science. He writes (quoting my own work in the first paragraph cited here [9] ),

Peirce is, perhaps uniquely, both “experimentalist” and “reflexive philosopher” or “logician.” [T]his logic will entail some reflection on actual practices of scientific behavior. Logic may play a normative role, but it is not foundational: it is an interpretive science, or a hermeneutical science . In Peirce’s terms, a hermeneutical science is a semiotic activity that displays the immediate interpretants of certain symbols; Peirce’s semiotics provides precise and thus a helpful vocabulary for this science….

[Peirce’s science] is scriptural or textual because of the emphasis on the limits of knowing a metaphysical reality “beyond the experimental result.” …Hence Ochs’s hermeneutics is not at the expense of Peirce’s emphasis on experimentalism (as Lamberth asserts), but rather works as both an enhancement to and outpouring of such an emphasis.

In sum, SR’s hermeneutics is not simply “language-based” and “tradition-based” as opposed to the “concrete world” – as if empiricists engaged the world without speaking, as if scriptural and other traditions of wisdom were not about the world and our behavior in it. SR’s hermeneutics is as experimental as the practices of laboratory science are; laboratory science is as hermeneutical as SR!

2. Novelty is an irreducible ingredient of SR’s hermeneutics

Goodson’s primary corrective is to show that novelty is integral to SR’s hermeneutics, as well as novelty having pragmatic meaning only in the context of some interpretive process. Goodson argues this, furthermore, on the basis of James’s pragmatism as well as Peirce’s:

For James, …unity comes as a result of what he calls “the reality of relations.” It is a posteriori and is a product of the relation between knower and known, subject and object. We might say that unity is always “in the making.” …It is in the reality of relations where novelty becomes possible. Novelty is possible when neither the subject nor object over-determine the relationship. James is a realist about objects, and he remains a realist about subjects too. The two cannot be separated, as rationalism argues, but that inseparability is a result of relations and not the premise for relations. While both subjects and objects exist prior to relations, they are not fully real until they encounter one another. It is in this encounter that they not only become fully real but also where novelty happens and remains possible….

In these terms, binarism may also be characterized as an effort to define subjects and objects as they purportedly pre-existed before the relations where they are later be found. SR assumes that we know and refer to subjects and objects always already within and with respect to specific relations. Furthermore, that we posit subjects and objects only as selective aspects or poles of those relations. For scriptural pragmatists, the occasion for positing subjects and objects is some problematic situation or suffering – which interrupts some relation and brings some aspect of it into question or what Peirce calls ” doubt .” [10]

In this case, the two conditions of novelty are the interruption of some relation (which includes some “tradition” or “linguistic convention”) and the effort to repair it. Scriptural traditions are traditions formed, in part, and strengthened by one dimension of scriptural study and repaired by another dimension of scriptural study. Modern liberal critics of SR tend to assimilate these two forms, as if “turning to Scripture” always means something like “reasserting tradition or convention.” We might say, however, that the “owl” of scriptural wisdom flies only at night: the reparative dimension of Scripture appears visibly only against the darkness of confusion, suffering, and doubt, “it answers only when we call or cry.” This dimension may, in fact, destroy as well as repair; it is not in the business, in neither case, of reproduction, repetition, or foundation building. Goodson examines this dimension in great technical detail, and I will signal this technical detail only with a brief citation:

Within [the tradition of scriptural pragmatists], Scripture serves as a “narrative” for how “musers” [such as “prophets”] diagram and correct suffering in the world. Ultimately, it is God who repairs the world; the role of the muser, then, is to tell communities what that repair entails and involves on their part. That is, the role of the muser is to be a pragmatic interpreter for communities that experience the suffering.

3. Jamesian SR

If applied to the practice of scriptural reading, James’s distinction between “empirical thinking” and “reasoning” corresponds to what we are calling the conventional and reparative dimensions of scriptural reading. Goodson provides good reason to suppose that James would not mind our applying his distinction in this way. I will isolate just four elements of his thoroughly original and significant argument: [11]

  • Within a scriptural tradition, the reparative study of Scripture uncovers those indubitable beliefs that empower reparative reasoning. To refer to these beliefs is not “foundationalism,” however, since they are irremediably vague (“A-reasonings,” in Peirce’s terms), brought to definition only in the context of concrete and fallible judgments of repair (“B-reasonings”). “The indubitable beliefs are redescribed as a dialogic relation between divine activities of correction…and of revelation.”
  • “Because Scripture has been over-determined by both biblical scholars and the religious traditions, it has lost its qualities of indeterminacy or vagueness. In Jamesian terms, the (religious) ‘authorities’ and (academic) ‘professionals’ need to reinstate the vague to its proper place in the study of Scripture. Hence, there needs to be some kind of reasoning that (a) encourages the possibility for a ‘new experience’…in ‘this vague way’…but (b) does so without…assuming that the…skills that are gained from being an academic biblical scholar or a member of a religious tradition need to be ignored or thrown out…Herein lies the trick.”
  • “The question remains, though, whether James’s philosophy can be read hermeneutically or even scripturally. James himself seems to think so. In his introductory lecture entitled ‘Religion and Neurology’ in The Varieties of Religious Experience …he devotes three paragraphs to biblical interpretation, [drawing]…a logical distinction between two orders of inquiry: an ‘ existential judgment ‘ or proposition and ‘a spiritual judgment ‘ or ‘a proposition of value .'”
  • The first corresponds to what we called the “conventional” or “traditional” dimension of scriptural study. As Goodson reports, it addresses such questions as “what is the nature of it [the Bible]? How did it come about? What are its constitution, origin, and history?” The second corresponds to what we called the reparative dimension of scriptural study. As Goodson reports, it “addresses the question of what the importance , meaning, and significance of the Bible is for us today . Existential judgments cannot account for the Bible as revelation; only the logic of spiritual judgments can do that, because revelation is not a proposition in and for itself but rather ‘a proposition of value ,’ according to James.” In this regard, James is a scriptural pragmatist!

E. Kang on the Reparative Setting for Christian Doctrine and other Sometimes-Useful Binaries

Kang concludes his essay with a series of guidelines for doctrinally grounded Christian reparative reasoning. In this section, I examine what precedes the guidelines: Kang’s brilliant effort, in response to Batnitzky, to clarify when binary reasoning contributes to Christian scriptural theology and when it does not.

Batnitzky/Levenson offer what we might call a modern conservative approach to religion. It is not a traditional approach in the pre-modern sense, since the categories of rabbinic tradition tend to reflect what we call the “vagueness” of traditional scriptural hermeneutics. Like Jewish neo-Orthodoxy in the 19th century, the modern conservative approach tends to reframe traditional hermeneutics with the conceptual clarity more characteristic of post-Enlightenment philosophic and doctrinal theology. In this way, the conservative critique of SR both complements and contradicts the modern liberal critique Goodson examines within Lamberth’s essay. The latter over-protects against such perceived threats to novelty and individual freedom as the over-determined and over-defined authority of non-universal traditions of language and tradition. The former over-protects against perceived threats to standards of truth, authority, and traditional or communal identity, and it tends to read such threats into the modern liberal critique of language-specific traditions of truth, authority and identity. Goodson’s essay suggests that liberal critics of SR may misread SR as if it were another expression of modern conservatism. Complementing Goodson’s suggestion, Kang’s essay shows that conservative critics of SR may misread SR as if it were another expression of modern liberalism. For Kang, like Goodson and Yazicioglu, SR represents neither liberalism nor conservatism but a third-something that I call scriptural pragmatism.

As introduced in part earlier, Kang’s response to the conservative critique displays the following elemental claims:

1. Clarifying remediable vagueness in SR arguments

Kang’s work exhibits for one, the difference between two kinds of vagueness. The vagueness he corrects in my writing is remediable: a case perhaps of pragmatic writing that becomes unclear, in part, because it fails carefully to define and distinguish its vocabulary from the binary pairs of modern English and related usages.

2. Recognizing irremediable vagueness in scripture

The vagueness Kang defends is irremediable: the intrinsic vagueness of scriptural words and verses, which religious liberals and conservatives alike seek to reduce to an unwarranted clarity:

Simply put, …modern modalities of binary thinking have led us to believe that scripture has only one “sense” or meaning that is readily available to any and all educated readers….

This interpretive tendency can arise from two different types of errant assumptions. The first is to assume that certain parts of scripture have only one possible meaning. An example of this would be to claim that “Hagar” clearly refers to a woman, Sarai’s slave-girl given to Abram as a wife (Gen 16:3), and there are no other possible readings. …The second kind of error is the assumption that, while a passage may have several possible meanings, only one of them is true and the truth of that one meaning necessarily excludes the possibility of others being true. An example of this, which has generated countless debates over interpretation, is the revelation of the Tetragrammaton in Exodus 3.

3. Why it is misleading to refer to what is “internal” or “external” to scriptural tradition

One way to criticize binarism is to say that it imposes “external” standards for reading Scripture. Kang’s study clarifies the dangers in introducing binary distinctions such as “internal/external.” Justifiably associating my arguments with the approaches of recent postliberal Christian theologians, Batnitzky assumes that if George Lindbeck and others employ such distinctions then I do as well. Whatever I have written previously, I now avoid such distinctions because they tend to reintroduce precisely what we are trying to repair. We should not, therefore, say that binarisms introduce “external” standards or that we seek to “let scripture speak for itself.” Who is to say what is “internal” or “external” to a given tradition of reading God’s word? It remains better for us to say that classical Abrahamic scriptural commentaries tend not to speak in these terms; they lend themselves more readily to Peirce’s account of how we read genuine symbols:

A symbol influences the way its interpretant attributes meaning to it. The symbol therefore engages its interpretant in some practice, or what we may call a tradition of meaning. Transferring agency to the interpreter, the symbol also grants the interpreter some freedom to transform the way in which that meaning will be retransmitted. [12]

In such terms, Scripture “engages its interpretant in some practice….” Of course, critics may choose to misread our use of the term “symbol,” as if we were employing it in un-Peircean ways: as a conventional sign, metaphoric trope, and so on. But there is no ready cure for willful misreading.

4. Over-determination for the sake of repair

Examined from the perspective of SR, Kang shows how Lindbeck’s theory of doctrine is a theory of reparative reasoning as well:

Doctrine, in Lindbeck’s sense, functions much in the way that the interpretant does in relation to the symbol. It is a formulation of the unstated grammar which regulates the “first-order” discourse of the church…. [However,] we only call our unstated rules of meaning into question when something breaks down in our ability to do those things.

The articulation of doctrine marks such occasions within the Christian community, according to Lindbeck. As he writes, “for the most part, only when disputes arise about what it is permissible to teach or practice does a community make up its collective mind and formally make a doctrinal decision.” In this sense, the formulation of doctrine is best understood as a corrective rather than a constructive project. As Lindbeck writes, doctrines “must be understood in terms of what they oppose….”

Thus the return to scripture does not mean a back-to-the-basics form of interpretation ex nihilo ; it means re-reading scripture in relation to a community’s tradition of interpretation with the intention of repairing that community’s present system of practices. When this happens, in Ochs’s sense, scripture begins to function as a genuine symbol….

I use the term “over-determination” to refer to Kang’s description that ruptures within a tradition occasion appropriately binary thinking during the time of repair: there either is or is not a problem in the tradition at a certain time; there is or is not a need for a given repair. Kang shows how to read Lindbeck’s theory of doctrine as an account of this occasion-specific use of binary thinking: doctrines are over-determinations of scriptural tradition, introduced for the sake of repairing specific threats to that tradition; they are meaningful in relation to those threats but can be misinterpreted if their over-determination is generalized far outside the contexts of such corrective activity.

5. When and when not to over-determine religious identities and communal borders

Kang’s study offers a helpful lesson about conservative suspicions of SR’s pluralism. We could say that efforts to define identities and borders are like efforts to define religious doctrine. Appropriately binary responses to explicit threats, they are tested by their capacities to stimulate appropriate repairs. When extended beyond the contexts of a given threat, however, efforts to define religious identities and communal borders become efforts to overly humanize the divine word: reducing its awe-ful vagueness to the conventional language of some single way that a given community of practitioners has lived that word. To define a religious border or identity is to determine it over-against some other explicitly human and finite way of living God’s word. Religious liberals justifiably fear this kind of over-determination; scriptural pragmatists are justified in seeking to repair it.

F. Scripture in the Elemental Abductions of Reparative Reasoning

As a supplement to Yazicioglu-Goodson-Kang’s account of scriptural pragmatism, and in the interest of our working to complete a Stage #2 of SR theory, with apologies I would like to appeal to my own recent essay in Modern Theology : “Reparative Reasoning from Augustine to Peirce.” [13] Kang has rightly told me, with a sigh, that this may be my worst writing yet – judged by clarity and style – but I confess I still believe in the underlying argument. It is that the best warrant for scriptural pragmatism may be that Peirce’s pragmatic philosophy of science draws its elemental rule of inquiry from an antecedent tradition of reparative reasoning that reaches back, through Kant and Descartes to scholastic sources and thence to Augustine’s semiotics of scripture. In other words, that there is genealogical warrant for identifying Peirce’s pragmatic philosophy of science with a traditional version of scriptural reasoning. Through this section, I want to ask Yazicioglu-Goodson-Kang (and any scholars who believe they share their scriptural pragmatism) if they would endorse some version of my argument. If so, then this sub-group of SR might declare we have completed Stage #2 of our inquiry and can move on to Stage #3 (as outlined above).

Offered as a hopefully clearer commentary on that Modern Theology essay, this section sketches two conceivable models of the abduction that may (remaining consistent with my argument in that Modern Theology essay) be said to “ground” scriptural pragmatism. [14] I do not yet have an adequately complete outline of each model, but I hope to say enough that respondents could choose which model they believe works best and then help some group of us refine and complete the model. In the endnotes below, I cite selected sections from the Modern Theology essay that flesh out (with less clarity) what I am trying to do in a given portion of a given model. I assume the following aspects of the previous essay: that I seek a genealogical account of the elemental abduction that may ground scriptural pragmatism, tracing Peirce’s pragmatic reasoning to sources in Patristic scriptural theology. In the essay, I offer an account that moves, genealogically, from Peirce’s critique of J.S. Mill’s empiricism to Cartesian intuitionism and thence (by way of scholastic sources I do not examine in the essay) to Augustine’s scriptural semiotics. In this section, I ask how we may conceive of the elemental act of “en-scripting” or scriptural reading and reasoning that could possibly generate scriptural semiotics as an antecedent to pragmatic reparative reasoning.

1. Model #1:

According to this model, this elemental act is one that identifies “script” with an elemental abduction of the logic of reparative reasoning. In this context, “script” is a practice of elemental writing that includes but is not necessarily limited to what our traditions call “scripture.” I get the idea, in part, from Peirce’s “Apology for Pragmaticism” where he envisions the “Ur-act” of generating existential graphs with instructions offered by a “graphist” to a “grapheus” or one who “scribes” what is instructed. I assume that, in these different versions, Peirce is stimulated by the image of the revealer: God’s instructing Moses to write words on the tablets and/or by the creator God’s speaking words into existence in this material world. Like the Renaissance neo-Platonists, I assume Peirce includes in his model the conduct of both the God of Israel and what we might call the divine mathematician: one of whose scribes inscribes some variety of verbal signs while the other inscribes mathematical signs. In the words of one version:

Come on, my Reader, and let us construct a diagram to illustrate the general course of thought; I mean a system of diagrammatization by means of which any course of thought can be represented with exactitude….

Convention the First: Of the Agency of the Scripture . We are to imagine that two parties collaborate in composing a Pheme and in operating upon this so as to develop a Delome. (Pro-vision shall be made in these Conventions for expressing every kind of Pheme as a Graph; and it is certain that the Method could be applied to aid the development and analysis of any kind of purposive thought. But hitherto no Graphs have been studied but such as are Propositions; so that, in the resulting uncertainty as to what modifications of the Conventions might be required for other applications, they have mostly been here stated as if they were only applicable to the expression of Phemes and the working out of necessary conclusions.)

The two collaborating parties shall be called the Graphist and the Interpreter. The Graphist shall responsibly scribe each original Graph and each addition to it, with the proper indications of the Modality to be attached to it, the relative Quality of its position, and every particular of its dependence on and connections with other graphs. The Interpreter is to make such erasures and insertions of the Graph delivered to him by the Graphist as may accord with the “General Permissions” deducible from the Conventions and with his own purposes. [15]

According to this model,

  • What is inscribed, or “scripture,” displays a three-part communication, in which (a) God or redeemer or graphist; (b) sends a revelation or writing or sign/graph/script; (c) to prophet or grapheus or writer.
  • Here, a script scribes/marks the logic of repair (offered as an ultimately vague directive, or A-reasoning, which is determined and defined as a series of B-reasonings when applied in actual social life).

2. Model #2:

This model represents a specific case of Model #1, as displayed in the Peircean-Augustinian genealogy per se . Here, what we conventionally call “Scripture” appears as the content of scriptural pragmatism’s elemental abduction. Scripture makes its appearance in the following manner (I offer some symbolic marks in order to suggest ways that the account could be simplified and brought into direct comparison and relation to various models of logic, including Peirce’s graphs):

  • (P1) = An index of problematic event/practice med/modern inquiry ? (Read regressively/transcendentally by way of abduction as) Indexical sign of a problematic B-reasoning that serves as logica utens for the problematic event/practice:
  • (is(P1) » Bp1) [? means “is sign of”]. This B-reasoning is then read through a series of regressions = genealogical reasonings whose initial end point is a non-problematic B-reasoning, i.e. one that is identified as the last non-problematic B or 3rd in the tradition/series. This genealogical series may be mapped this way, where each abducted product is a possible Bp-reasoning read subsequently as index (effect) of successively antecedent B-reasoning:
  • [is(Bp1)?Bp2, is(Bp2)?Bp3, …is(Bpn)?Bo? is(Abpn)]. In other words, what is abducted to be the final problematic B-reasoning in the series is taken as index of a non-problematic B, which may serve as index of the A-reasoning or logica utens that governs this series and whose proximate product is the problematic B reasoning in question. The defining set of abductions in pragmaticist (or reparative genealogical) reasoning is one that proposes Bpn as limit of the series, i.e. as Initial or beginning B-reasoning in the series; that then proposes this as index of the A-reasoning or logica utens governing the series (serving as its Source – or Ursprung vs. Anfang); and that then proposes (and imagines the possibility of) adopting this A-reasoning as the logica docens of the sought-after pragmatic repair of the given problem. In this last step, the graphist/reparative reasoner adopts a reparative B-reasoning (Br1) as indexical sign of the A-reasoning, and the goal of this pragmatic inquiry is to re-enact the problematic practice as what would when successful be a non-problematic index of the Ur-A-reasoning successfully applied to the conditions of actions that define the problematic practice – i.e. a repair! If the repair fails in practice, then the process is repeated until successful.
  • [is (Br2) ?(Br1)]; [is (B~p) ?(Br2)]…. That is, the repaired practice is defined by a now non-problematic (~p) B-reasoning. The crux of the repair is how the initial problematic practice Bp1 is transformed into a non-problematic one, B~p, by way of the reparative reasoning Br1. We could seek out many prototypes, for example, in social theory or the logic of science. But the case in question is how Peirce’s pragmatic repair landed him in the lap of Scripture and scriptural repair. So we shall look for a prototype in scriptural reading and reasoning. Our genealogy will have historical tests since forms of the model should appear in the formal work of thinkers in the Augustinian-Peircean tradition.

2b. Model #2b

Here, by way of illustration, is a brief form of the Modern Theology genealogy: drawing Model #2 into the entire genealogy of Peirce’s pragmatic philosophy of science.

  1. Peirce observes problematic behavior in the laboratory: P1.
  2. Abduction #1: is (P1) ? Bp1. He searches for a model of the errant reasoning that he assumes generates P1. For example, he sees errors as exhibited in J.S. Mill’s theory of induction. He constructs models of these errant reasonings and judges them to exhibit the binarism, Cartesianism, and so forth that we label “modernist.” But how can this reasoning be repaired?
  3. Abduction #2: i+s (Bpn) ? Bpcartesian. Peirce traces Mill’s logic, genealogically, back to Cartesianism, and he adopts Cartesianism as a limit case. [16] Since Descartes is a critic and repairer of one tradition of religious philosophy, Peirce’s abduction #3 is that Br is to be found in that tradition of medieval religious philosophy. This tradition still operates, however, in Descartes; while Descartes has reason to repair this tradition, he fails to correct correlative errors in his own reasoning.
  4. Abduction #3: From “Questions”: is (B~ pcartesian) ?A1; is(Bschol) ?A1; is(Brschol)?Bschol. Peirce will locate in scholastic inquiry an indexical mark of the A-reasoning that serves as logica utens for both scholastic and Cartesian inquiry and that may be adopted as logica docens to repair contemporary Cartesian-like logic of science. Among the characteristics of this model of reparative reasoning are the contents of several essays, “Questions,” “How to Make,” up through the early anticipations of “What Pragmatism is.” I cannot review all these here, except for the bottom line with respect to our discussion: That models of thirdness are indices of reparative reasonings. Peirce offers empirical and genealogical studies of the persistent error in Cartesian reasoning, and he offers abductions about how to correct this error. His abductions include a program for mathematical, phenomenological, logical (semiotic), social-scientific and pragmatic dimensions of a reparative inquiry. A theme of my own work is that Peirce’s pragmatic model is wonderfully useful but one touch incomplete, since his genealogy does not uncover the apparent source of his reparative inquiry. I find that he comes closest in his studies of Musement in the “Neglected Argument” and of the relation of grapheus and graphist in the “Apology,” but his insight can be recovered only by reading these two essays as one essay, re-integrating his oblique reference to the Creator/Revealer in the “Apology” with his explicit logic of science in the NA.
  5. My thesis is that these two references are integrated in a logic of scripture that stands as the unexplored end-point of Peirce’s Cartesian genealogy. Since I introduce this end-point in the Modern Theology essay, I will not reiterate the claim here with the exception of drawing from it a way of diagramming the final stage of genealogical inquiry in the scriptural pragmatism of “Roots”:
    1. That the limit case of Bo is an index of A-reasoning, identified with what may be named, variously, the Divine Word, Scripture, the Ultimate Reparative Law of the Creator, and so on. In these terms, the end of Musement is not only the reality of God but of God as author of reparative reasoning. The source of this elemental musement cannot be identified only with a musement on the phenomenological universes of possibility. It must include musement on the reality of the God who creates all possible worlds, including, specifically, the logical and semiotically possible universes of scripture, which means what may be read out of the scripture accounts as an index of divine A-reasonings. This elemental musement ends not only with an idea of the reality of God but also and necessarily with an idea of the God who redeems Israel (with analogues in the other Abrahamic scriptures): that is, the God whose Word not only Creates but also Mends what He creates, or may mend with the aid of his creatures. This abduction cannot be “proven” any more than Peirce’s NA, except: (a) in the meaning that Peirce applies to his method for proving pragmatism. This is to “prove” the completeness (or beauty) of a model of pragmatism as a model of real possibility and the strength of this model as a model of really possible action on earth; and b) within each finite world that ends in this act of repair. The finite and concrete meaning of a given model of pragmatism is proven by its success or failure in recommending modes of reparative action.
    2. Therefore the place of scripture in our genealogy is that it specifies – much more than Peirce is able to do – precisely what kind of reasoning goes on in each of the two defining moments of pragmatic genealogy. These are the moments that distinguish reparative from constative reasoning and that specify concrete patterns of reparative reasoning in relation to concrete, problematic situations. [17]

G. William Danaher’s Tests for Genealogical Reparative Reasoning

Danaher’s study of Jonathan Edwards offers two significant supplements to our study of scriptural pragmatism. The first is to apply and test a model for genealogical studies of reparative reasoning . Presupposing something close to Model #2b-f, in the preceding section, Danaher fills in a case study of one of the reparative theologians within the genealogy that links Peirce to Augustine. The second supplement is to consider the reparative force of theological ideas for the sake of ideas – in Hackett’s case, what I come to label as “pragmatic idealism.” Danaher appears to judge ideational repairs incomplete when there is no evident consequence for this-wordly behavior, and the attention he pays to such repairs provides a transition between Yazicioglu-Goodson-Kang’s predominant focus on conduct and Hackett’s predominant focus on ideas.

1. Jonathan Edwards’s Reparative Reasoning

Taking up a model of reparative reasoning that some of us have offered in the context of SR, Danaher seeks to test to what degree that model may help clarify Jonathan Edwards’s scriptural interpretation of Ezekiel’s Merkabah (Ezek. 1:4-28). In the process, Danaher attempts to locate in Edwards a model of early modern Christianity’s “logic of repair” or deep-set rules (A-reasonings) for repairing what will become the errant, binary tendencies of modern Christianity’s Enlightenment. At the same time, he suspects that “Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah demonstrates that there is no precritical tradition that can be easily retrieved to address the challenges faced by post-critical Scriptural interpretation.”

The illustration involves Edwards’s fascination with the “fire enfolding itself” in Ezek.1:4. In his “Notes on Scripture,” Edwards identifies this fire with the Shekhinah revealed: the divine essence displayed in its triunity. But, asks Danaher, will Edwards’s account of this theophany also protect doctrinal traditions of divine hiddenness? Danaher reads Edwards’s Patristic forbears as identifying such divine fire only with signs and anticipations of the One who would be revealed elsewhere – since no creature can see God’s essence. For Danaher, Edwards in one sense returns to a reading close to the early Fathers: the fire is a direct display of God’s triune natures. In another sense, however, Edwards’s reading is unique: less cautious than his forebears, he appears unconcerned to protect divine incomprehensibility and argues instead that the fire directly displays “the Son’s light, the Spirit’s love, and thus God’s triune essence evident in worldly existence.” From the perspective of scriptural pragmatism, the question becomes whether the test for divine incomprehensibility is a test of behavioral consequences or of doctrinal coherence? If the answer is doctrinal coherence, then Danaher’s model of SR tends more toward a “scriptural idealism” (or at least an ideational pragmatism) rather than a scriptural pragmatism. This is a reasonable model for SR, but we should distinguish it from the pragmatic model.

Reparative reasoning in Edwards. Danaher’s first claim is that Edwards’s bold reasoning serves a reparative purpose: “For Edwards, the problem was the reliability of the text as a means of revelation.” In the face of emergent practices of historical criticism, Edwards’s reparative move reads Ezekiel’s text as evidence of a “doctrine that could serve as a unifying framework that would reconcile and maintain [the various epistemological and hermeneutical challenges of historical science].” Danaher cites, amongst other evidence, Edwards’s reading of the “wheels” of the Merkabah as signs that “dynamic revolutions lay at the heart of all things.” As cycles of life, each turn of the wheels emanates from God and acknowledges the reality of dynamism; moreover, its unity is found in the triune presence: that “in God’s economy, the Alpha and the Omega meet, …all things go out and come back to the Triune God.” In the process, Danaher introduces a pragmatic way of reading what might otherwise appear as Edwards’s extremely cataphatic and strictly doctrinal understanding of Ezekiel. In this context, however, Scripture acknowledges the epistemological challenges of an Age of Reason – the apparently multidimensional character of nature and also of Scripture itself – all the while reassuring its readers that the God who speaks in manifold ways remains One. It is as if Edwards read Ezekiel’s vision as a reparative Ur-text in which – analogous to our reading of Peirce’s musement on God’s reality – the repairer of all repairs displays his presence:

The Merkabah revealed that “all the various dispensations of the Trinity do conspire and all the various dispensations that belong to it are united, as the several wheels in one machine to accomplish the glory of the blessed Trinity in an exceeding degree.” In this way, “as ’tis represented in Ezekiel’s vision,” everything comes “from God” and “its return has been to God again.”

…In the Merkabah , then, Edwards found a Trinitarian hermeneutic through which to reconcile the truth revealed in the Scriptures with the truths delivered through historical and scientific enquiry.

Danaher’s reading is comparable to Yazicioglu’s pragmatic reading of the Qur’an: that miracle stories acknowledge the continual novelty of this creation all the while reassuring readers that God the creator is author of this novelty. Danaher takes an additional step, however, offering a critique of tendencies that weaken a repair like Edwards’s: in particular, a tendency to what we may call “ideational repair.” [18]

2. Testing Reparative Reasoning: The limits of ideational pragmatism

Danaher argues there is a telling weakness in Edwards’s effort to adjust scriptural reasoning to the concerns of an Age of Reason: the epistemology that emboldened him to have scripture speak, at once, to Christology and to science also tended to press several modern binaries into his scriptural hermeneutic. Danaher argues that, as a result, Edwards’s repair tends (if stated in Hans Frei’s terms) to “break” rather than “stretch” the inherent vagueness – mystery or polyvalence – of the scriptural word. Danaher discerns several symptoms of this potential breakage, some specific to Christian Trinitarian reasoning and some also applying to reparative reasoning in general.

  • Symptoms of binarism in Edwards’s Trinitarian reasoning
    Danaher’s significant contribution is a reminder of the differences between SR and tradition-specific TR (Textual Reasoning). He cautions us to discern rules for repair within Christian TR that may vary from more general rules within Abrahamic SR. Danaher adds another caution: that a move to Trinitarian reasoning may not necessarily mean a move to reparatively “triadic” reasoning. He warns that a given practice of Trinitarian reasoning may, to varying degrees, be weakened by sub-tendencies to binarism. I believe a third concern remains implicit in his argument as well: that practices of theology, including practices of reparative SR, should not be judged as “either reparative or not”; instead, they will tend to contribute more or less – weaker or stronger – to reparative work. Danaher seeks to portray both the stronger and the weaker tendencies in Edwards’s scriptural reasoning. Among symptoms of the latter are:

    • Privileging psychological analogies :
      Underlying Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah was his use of the psychological analogy. …[But] the psychological analogy tends to generate epistemologies and hermeneutical rules that are insufficiently grounded in the economy of salvation….
      The direct and unmediated connection Edwards drew between God and humanity led him to treat his Trinitarian analogies as permanent fixtures rather than as heuristic devices. Remarkably, rather than seeing the soul as an analogy for the infinite relations in the Godhead, he believed that the relations he perceived in the Godhead provided an analogy that revealed the presence of faculties in the soul.
    • Privileging immanent over economic concerns :
      Although economic considerations are certainly present in Edwards’s interpretation of the Merkabah as a whole, the mode of revelation that he defended was largely inspirational and individual rather than communal, pragmatic, or prophetic.
    • Privileging ideational over behavioral concerns :
      Edwards was too fine a theologian to fall prey to the interpretive traps set during the eighteenth century, where, as others have noted, theologians attempted to mediate between the extremes of dogmatism and skepticism by referring to a world of “meaning” behind the text that the original “author” had in mind. …However, if Edwards avoids this common error, his account fails precisely as an exercise in Trinitarian reflection. …In the Merkabah , Edwards ascribed doctrinal content to the fire enfolding itself and described the vision as the unmediated revelation of the divine essence. In doing so, he departed from Patristic commentators, who were careful to describe the vision as the manifestation of the divine existence rather than the unknowable divine essence.
    • Assuming the only two choices are substantialism or some form of idealism and choosing the latter.
      The distinction between essence and existence depends, in part, on the belief that a being is composed of a substance…that is distinct from the properties, accidents, and relations it upholds. In adopting this belief, the Patristic commentators accepted the metaphysics that predominated in their time period and, more importantly, maintained the ontological divide between the Creator and creation. Edwards, however, considered this belief untenable. “Men are wont,” he wrote, “…to suppose that there is some latent substance…that upholds the properties of bodies.” But in reality, the only true “substance” is God “by whom all things consist.” But if God is the only true substance, such a description stymied meaningful Christian thought. Thus, …Edwards argued that it is better to speak of the “increated Spirit” of God in terms of the comprehensiveness of idea” and not as “a sort of unknown thing that we call substance.” Accordingly, in…his “Miscellanies” notebooks, Edwards crossed out the phrase “spiritual substance” and in its place wrote “mind.”
  • Symptoms of binarism in Edwards’s reparative reasoning.
    While they appear specifically within Edwards’s Trinitarian reasoning, Danaher suggests that the following symptoms of binarism are of concern to scriptural reasoners more generally:

    • Individualistic epistemology
      “To use the terms and concepts of reparative reasoning, the ‘problem’ that Edwards identified was largely framed in terms of those faced by an individual interpreter rather than as that faced by an interpretive community whose habits and virtues are being disrupted by a problem it does not have the immediate resources to solve.”
    • Loss of equivocation, provisionality, and productive vagueness
      “Idealism…enabled [Edwards] to describe the unity of the divine persons in terms of identity rather than simplicity, an identity that offered a fuller depiction of the plurality, relation, and personhood of the Trinity. However, the univocity entailed in this idealism created other problems. Of these, the most important is that when our language about God loses a sense of equivocation, the provisional quality of our own doctrinal constructions disappears…. Texts like the Merkabah exert their own pressure on theological interpreters, demanding recognition of the productive vagueness that attends any seriously theological affirmation of the Incarnation. As noted, Edwards lost this sense of vagueness in his theology, and, as a result, his interpretation lost something of the logic of repair.”
    • Loss of scripture
      “While Edwards used the text as a point of departure for constructing a sweeping vision of the creation, redemption, and consummation of all things by the Triune God, the text of the Merkabah itself no longer exerted its own pressure on his interpretation, as it did with Patristic commentators. Indeed, despite the intricacy of the vision of fire enfolding itself, at the end of the day the Merkabah represented for Edwards a point of theological departure rather than an inexhaustible revelation of the word of God.”
  • And now to gather guidelines for pragmatic tests of reparative reasoning?
    I am not qualified to evaluate how strongly or weakly Edwards’s writings display modern binarism, but I am indeed prepared to add Danaher’s list of the symptoms of binarism to my Model #2b of genealogical reparative reasoning:

    • A tendency to identify “errant ideas” (doctrines, theologies, belief) as warrant for pragmatic repair without also indicating how these ideas display tendencies to problematic behaviors or sufferings .
    • A tendency to draw either/or conclusions about “all of a thinker” or “all of a given practice of theology.”
    • A tendency to reduce epistemology to a study of conditions for individual cognition (the cogito ): privileging individual over relational or communal models of reasoning and knowledge.
    • A tendency to privilege propositional models of knowledge and, thus, to impose standards of clarity and distinctness on the reception of irremediably vague or equivocal texts and phenomena.
    • A tendency to “read” scriptural sources or commentaries through fixed measures of meaning that do not vary with respect to both intra- and extra-literary contexts of reading.
    • A tendency to privilege strictly “inner” or “psychological” measures of knowledge; or, to the contrary to privilege strictly “outer” or impersonal measures. And, of course, to privilege any comparable binaries.
    • Another, perhaps final step for Model #2b would be to add “pragmatic tests” for identifying the potential behavioral consequences of these binary tendencies . Historians of American philosophy often number Edwards among the early precursors of American pragmatism; his study of the “signs of affection” may also anticipate aspects of Peirce’s pragmatic semeiotic. If so, one might read Edwards’s account of signs as a mark of his stronger reparative tendency: his attentiveness to how our otherwise recondite beliefs are displayed in visible patterns of action and affect. If this attentiveness competes, in his work, with a contrasting interest in “the comprehensiveness of idea,” then Edwards’s inner drama may parallel the drama I believe is evident in the reparative work of Augustine, before him, and of Peirce, after him. The oeuvres of reparative reasoners may be stages on and over which these dramas may be played: instructing us not to imitate them but to help heal them and, in the process, sharing in these wounds.

H. Chris Hackett’s Critique of Scriptural Pragmatism

Chris Hackett’s essay rounds out a journal issue that is remarkable, both in the quality of each essay and in the way each essay contributes to an overall examination of SR. We have the trio of essays that articulates a new generation’s take on scriptural pragmatism; we have Danaher’s effort to test the limits of pragmatism’s tolerance for ideational reasoning; and we have Hackett’s contrasting effort to test how SR would succeed if tested by Radical Orthodoxy’s (RO) standards for repairing modern secularism and binarism. I understand Hackett’s essay to be an exercise, and experiment, in what we might call comparative reparative reasoning . He asks: since both SR and RO purport to repair modern binarisms, [19] how would SR fare if it were tested by RO’s contrasting approach to repair? Hackett then assumes (“puts on”) RO’s position for the remainder of the essay. The result is an intense and detailed study of great worth to SR, particularly in relation to SR’s capacity to serve the interests of its orthodox participants. My response is comparably long and detailed, probably because Hackett raises so many issues that remain subjects of debate among participants in RO and SR. I do not respond to Hackett per se , but to what I call “Hackett’s RO theologian,” since I understand Hackett to be trying on the voice of RO rather than simply identifying his voice with RO.

Like Kang, Hackett explores a case of pre-modern Christian TR in significant detail; like Danaher, he reminds Christian practitioners within SR that Christian reparative reasoning must be explored through tradition-specific TR and not only through Abrahamic SR; unlike the other contributors, Hackett explores an ideational rather than consequentialist (and in that sense pragmatic) model of Christian reparative reasoning. Hackett examines the possibility that this model – a variety of RO – might be consequentialist in the fullest sense, since it measures reparative reasoning by the light of the Christian eschaton. However, I suggest that – from the perspective of scriptural pragmatism – eschatological measures would, if scripturally grounded, be vague and achieve clarity only in relation to concrete and specific and this-worldly contexts of action. Since RO seeks to offer non-vague and universal truth-claims by way of its eschatology, in pragmatic terms I would classify its models of repair as ideational and therefore non-consequentialist. The end is given the way the scriptural Word is given and, for that matter, the way Creation is given: in ways that are indefinitely vague to us and that warrant only context-specific judgments – precluding the kinds of clear-and-universal judgments RO wants to offer on behalf of its orthodoxy. Is scriptural pragmatism therefore incompatible with orthodoxy within Abrahamic traditions? Not if the test of orthodoxy is relational rather than conceptual, participatory (liturgical and performative) rather than propositional. In no way is this a critique of Christian orthodoxy but only of the presumption that propositional statements of one’s orthodoxy offer adequate bases for public argumentation : that is, for making truth-conditional claims to persons outside this orthodoxy. I am not denying that such claims can be made and tested within orthodoxy. Nor am I denying that orthodoxy can be argued and defended publicly. I am denying that RO has shown us how this can be done.

My response to Hackett’s reflections comes in two parts: in the first part, I outline my overall critique of the RO argument against SR; in the second part, I illustrate the main points of my critique through commentaries on selected passages from Hackett’s essay. Throughout both parts, I remain deeply indebted to Hackett for his probing. Most of all, I am grateful for his transcendental model of theological reasoning.

1. My overall response

  • My first claim is to divide Hackett’s presentation into dimensions: a) a presentation of RO as a language- and tradition-specific, orthodox philosophic theology; b) an effort to offer a critique of SR warranted by propositions drawn directly from this theology. I praise the philosophical theology as a beautiful construction. I praise Hackett’s success in voicing RO’s criticism. But I criticize the critique itself as premature, since RO’s language- and tradition-specific construction speaks only inwardly, to participants in its orthodoxy. I suggest that it should, indeed, be possible to nurture another, outward-looking orthodox discourse. Such a discourse cannot be constructed top-down, however, but must emerge out of attentive study of the traditions about which RO wants to make critical claims. That study, furthermore, must include direct encounter and dialogue with participants from those traditions.
  • Clarity and Vagueness . Hackett voices RO’s effort to offer a system of clear, true, and universal theological propositions. All these attributes are attributes of what I would call a “language-specific” theology, meaning a theology addressed to a certain community and tradition of believers at a certain time and place in history. My claim draws, for one, on the logic of vagueness that Kang and Goodson elucidate in their essays. We receive the divine word – with respect to creation, revelation, and the eschaton – as indefinitely vague. The clarity of a systematic theology is the mark of context-specific readings and judgments made in relation to that word. I claim that it is an error – of logic, of mixed-categories, of theological attribution, of humanism – to over-generalize such readings and judgments, as if the theologian were granted direct, clear-and-distinct intuitions of God’s will and word in general rather than for this specific context of judgment. The generalization is a mark of human desire, not of divine will.
  • Abductive, genealogical reasoning . Hackett’s RO theologian grounds his theological construction in a transcendental regress. This places his work in the company of our four scriptural pragmatists’ genealogical inquiry, reasoning from effect to cause, within both the history of scriptural reception and the logic of theological interpretation. Hackett’s construction illustrates an attractive way that Christian and other textual reasoners might display the theological system that grounds their language- and context-specific reasonings. In the language of scriptural pragmatism, each stage of genealogical regress terminates in an abductive proposal about what enactment of the divine word may inform a given chain in the theological genealogy. Hackett’s construction differs from that of the scriptural pragmatists in the way he receives his abductions as if they were clear-and-distinct truth claims rather than probable judgments. Once again, I cannot locate a logical warrant for this practice, unless it were offered only for a particular time and place. He practices his transcendental regress as if it disclosed actual or necessary rather than possible or probable accounts of the conditions of possibility of a given practice or belief.
  • “Agreeable to Reason”: Measures of mathematical and poetic construction mis-applied to language-based and behaviorally normative constructions. Among the virtues of Hackett’s RO theological construction are its beauty and inner coherence. Drawing on the logic of vagueness and related inquiries, I argue that these are virtues appropriate to poetic and mathematical constructions – in both cases, practices of the cogito or I-think as the subject of an extensive, yet ultimately finite series of abductions. The constructions are beautiful and coherent to this subject (whether empirically singular or transcendentally formal and in that sense general). The alternative would, I believe, render Kant into a dogmatic metaphysician. What if, however, beauty and coherence were adopted as measures of theological construction – as they appear to be in Hackett’s practice of RO? Two potential consequences of this practice concern me. (1) According to scriptural pragmatism’s sources, this practice would place theology in the category of poetry/mathematics (and perhaps Hackett identifies “phenomenology” precisely in this category). If so, theology would serve as a reasonable source of “possible world” ontologies. But RO presents itself as universal and true, and these are attributes not of any possible world but only of the one true world. (2) In Hackett’s construction, RO offers its theology as scripturally and thus doctrinally as well as ontologically warranted. If so, he would – according to the logical disciplines I have summoned – apply his transcendental regress to this-worldly practices of speech, writing and action: displayed, for example, in the life of the church. Because speech, writing and action are informed by grammar and logic, such a regress would have to be informed by measures of grammar and logic as well as mathematical beauty. These measures are empirical, in the sense that they guide empirical judgments about the way actual persons acted and spoke. However, Hackett does not apply logical, grammatical, or other empirical measures in his regress. A final note: having qualified my arguments as grounded in “scriptural pragmatism’s sources,” I fear that Hackett’s RO theologian would reply that “Christian theology is not limited to such sources.” But I offered this qualification out of a practice of logical self-limitation, an effort to disclose any limiting influences. Hackett’s RO theologian does not display that kind of logical self-limitation, so the reply I imagine would not be commensurate with my disclaimer. As I argue elsewhere, I also fail to find such self-limitation in John Milbank’s writings. [20] Peirce uses the phrase “agreeable to reason” (hereafter AR) as a label for efforts to measure judgments of truth-and-falsity by standards specific to the finite mind. I shall apply this label each time Hackett’s RO theologian identifies a proposition as “universal and true,” because it appears to belong to what is beautiful and coherent – that is, to what is agreeable to his reason (and to the reason of other participants of RO). As I use it, the label AR means “fine as a contribution to our appreciation of possible worlds, but necessarily true only within your finite world.” In other words, to identify a display of the possible as, thereby, a self-evident demonstration of the true or necessary.
  • Eschato-logic as AR . In an apparent challenge to the logical claims of scriptural pragmatism, Hackett’s RO theologian offers “eschato-logic” as a warranted practice of “logic.” I find the effort troubling, since it appears to disclaim any non-confession-specific source of logical measures. The effort bears a superficial similarity to my own claims that standard modern logics tend to be offered as if independent of any language-specific practices and that these logics are incapable of capturing “the logic of scripture.” But my first claim is that modern logicians tend to veil the subjective or local warrant for their preference for two-valued logics. I view any logical practice as at least “tri-dimensional,” in the sense that it displays (a) a measure that is (b) adopted by some community of inquirers as (c) reliable or authoritative for all of a certain class of actions or reasonings. This means that there is a local or subjective element (b) in any logic. But this does not mean that the logic is itself subjective: it is, in the terms of this illustration, a practice of “abc,” a pattern of relation among three or more elements of which at least one is context-specific in space-time. This pattern can be displayed and measured publicly, outside the bounds of any community “b.” Hackett’s RO theologian offers eschato-logic as, to the contrary, “true” universally, yet at the same time disclosed to a community (of orthodox Christians) who offer judgments that, as far as I can see, could not be made by those outside the community, since they would not share the specific measure (Christ) that appears in terms specific to this orthodoxy (or, in my terms, in a way that is agreeable only to the reason of community members). I do not believe that this eschato-logic should be termed “logic” in the way in which “the logic of vagueness” is logic. I examine the “logic of scripture” as comparable to the latter, exceptional only for modern logicians who preclude the possibility of such a 3+ dimensional logic.
  • Misreading SR : In a manner true to John Milbank’s practice, Hackett’s RO theologian criticizes SR on the basis of brief citations of selected sentences from SR writings. A refrain in my critique is that, in order to debate another theology or other practice publicly – that is, beyond the bounds of an inward-directed orthodoxy – one needs to encounter the other through direct conversation and careful text study. [21] Lest I be accused of the same, I offer a recent chapter on Milbank’s work as an illustration of what I mean by encountering the other through conversation and careful text study. I do not presume that such an encounter validates the critique as therefore “true,” only that it warrants the critique as “worthy of public debate.” The issue is not to secure truth but to secure the possibility of understanding, and therefore disagreement, by nurturing an inter-active language of encounter. SR is interactive to a degree that disturbs participants in RO. I maintain that they are disturbed because they seek to reduce what should be two or more practices of their own theological discourse to only one: that is, to some single language of orthodox theology, which they press to both its appropriate function (clarifying an inward-directed system of theology) and an inappropriate function (public debates in favor of RO and against “other contenders”).

2. Illustrating My Critique through Comments on Selective Passages from Hackett’s Essay

  • We must dig with as little violence as possible in order to leave the transcendental root intact.
    Here the RO theologian (in Hackett’s voice) launches his transcendental regress. As noted earlier, he seeks a beautiful and coherent system, which I praise in its community-specific applications. If the theologian replied that I sound like a relativist, my response would be that it is his language-specificity that is community-specific, not his devotion to God and Spirit.
  • I address the end first. Christianity’s triadic thought form, according to St. Augustine, first involves an historical Person, the divine Logic made flesh. This simple commitment to an incarnate Logos is inseparably tied to the exegetical distinction between letter and spirit that Augustine inherits (from St. Paul), and the mode of theological reasoning that develops from it, all of which has first an eschatological provenance.
    Signs of the context or community-specificity of the RO theologian’s system are his attachment to this particular move of Augustine’s. I offer no criticism of this here, only another reason for a less public and “universal” form of debate. [22]
  • Thus for Augustine the referent of the text is incarnate in the sense of the text. However, this distinction, fundamental to Christian exegesis, is not collapsed precisely because it is the eschatological distinction which founds it (but much more on this below). Paradoxically, it is only from this fixed, absolute point of the Word, not merely as Idea, but in the flesh, that its irreducibly triadic, that is, hermeneutic and mediatory character, derives.
    Once again, I appreciate the RO theologian’s reading as applied to a specific or local theological construction (AR), but I do not understand why he would assume this reading warrants generalized truth claims. I am, furthermore, wary of Western claims about paradox, even when the otherwise wonderful Kierkegaard engages in such claims. To refer to paradox is, as I understand it, to presume some common standard of “reasoning,” and then to observe that a certain claim that one wants to make appears paradoxical if articulated within the common practice of reasoning. Since the complainant evidently wants to communicate with someone, we might suppose he or she has the following in mind: (a) to appeal to a sub-society of speakers, who speak the common language but also speak in argot within which the special claims are no longer paradoxical. In this case, the claimant is announcing that certain claims will appear paradoxical to common speakers; they are addressed, however, only to members of the specialized community; (b) or perhaps the complainant is addressing the society of speakers in general and claiming that he or she has come across a truth that is worthy of the title “truth,” but that its identification might appear nonsensical in everyday language. To declare something is “paradoxical” is, therefore, to plead for patience. In different terms, it is to appeal to what the linguist Paul Grice labeled “conversational implicature.” He drew our attention to times when we may say something that we know sounds nonsensical but that may, according to conventions understood by certain listeners, have a clear meaning. “Implicature” is a theory about when a speaker will say something that, if heard in terms of our conventions of speech, would sound weird or without sense. Grice’s theory is that on many of these occasions, a speaker will be signaling that his phrase is to be taken in a way that has a recognizable meaning when heard according to some secondary convention that are understood by at least most of his listeners. Grice labels this secondary and usually unstated convention “implicature.” In the case of the RO theologian’s claim, the complainant has uttered a phrase that appears paradoxical to most folks but appears clear to those who have learned the convention of implicature that renders it meaningful; (c) to refer to a truth that simply cannot be articulated in any language—conventional or esoteric. In this case the complainant has, through some extraordinary means learned that there is this truth, or perhaps, in some manner even some features of what this truth is. The complainant claims, nevertheless, that this truth cannot be apprehended discursively. In this case, the paradox is a sign that the truth is available only in some other, extra-linguistic, non-discursive realm.I am uneasy about claims of Type (a). If the speaker wants to refer to some claim, truth, or experience that is particular to some specialized community of inquirers, then it makes more sense simply to say that. “Specialized knowledge” need not imply “better knowledge.” Not all of us, for example, want to learn the intricacies of mathematical game-theory, and we don’t lose face when we are told that a certain claim would make sense only if we understood the technicalities of that field. To call an esoteric claim a “paradoxical one,” however, may imply that the speaker does seek to refer to a “better knowledge” of some kind. If so, I am not sure why we all need to be told about this.

    I have no trouble with Type (b) provided the speaker is prepared to indicate to us how to go about learning the necessary conventions of implicature. I am also uneasy about Type (c) either because it is a somewhat veiled way of expressing Type (a), or because the speaker is presuming that only he or she or some elect could ever possibly recognize that truth. In the latter case, the speaker presumes that the “truth” is “in” the extra-linguistic experience. In the terms I introduced earlier, this would be another case of Peirce labeled claims about “what is agreeable to reason.” The speaker makes reference to a purported “experience,” but is un-self-critical about the relation of this experience but has no warrant for assuming that the experience is unique. Within the limits of this claim, there is no way to distinguish between an intriguing opening to some form of knowing we have yet to understand, and a case of self-delusion.

    The RO theologian’s reference to paradox appears to be of Type (a) and the sub-society in question appears to be some account of “the Christian community.” In this case the claim of “paradox” is for non-Christians, including in this case “Christians” who in some way do not “know Christ.” John Milbank offers comparable claims. In my remaining commentaries, I will use the acronym PP to indicate that I read a subsequent claim of the RO theologian’s as once again asserting a paradox of Type (a). This means that I would apply the same critique there.

  • So, a first pause with the Christological concentration of Christian logic brings to light the fundamental contours of the eschatological transcendentalism of the New Testament. We may continue by noting that there is a radical humility attached to Christian absolute universalism which is unique.
    PP. Here, again, I would not challenge the intra-Christian claim, but only the presumption of its uniqueness and of the need to refer to it by way of paradoxes. The RO theologian invokes the phrase “eschato-logic,” in the manner I discussed earlier in Section 1. I will add simply a few comments to the critique I offered earlier. While the RO theologian may be trying to challenge the scriptural pragmatists’ use of the term “logic,” I do not think the challenge succeeds. As illustrated in Kang’s discussion of quantum logic, the pragmatists’ claim is simply that the late scholastic and modern tendency to dichotomize “faith” and “logic” made sense if the only model of logic available to us were that of Aristotle cum Port Royal cum Newton. Scriptural pragmatists are claiming that there are logics of scripture that can be articulated by way of post-Newtonian logics and that because of this, we need no longer bifurcate notions of faith and logic. The RO theologian’s “eschato-logic” appears to advance a very different claim: that a mode of cognition internal to Christian eschatological thinking substitutes for any other kind of logic. I take the implication to be that no logic, modern or post-Newtonian would suffice to comprehend this “eschato-logic.” If so, I fear that this is an anti-logical claim of the kind that worries me.
  • “Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of Christians.” Attached to this incredible hubris is a just as incredible humility: the Christian martyr does not fight. Forgive me, valued reader, but I must speak directly!
    The phrase “I must speak directly!” appears to mark a Eureka experience that I would have no reason to doubt or question. It is appropriate, however, for me to examine what it means to cite such an experience in the course of theological argument. I would suggest that the RO theologian’s citing such an experience is symptomatic both of the first-person character of RO and of how this first-person militates against the kinds of clear-and-universal claims the RO theologian also wants to offer. I would have no reason to object to RO’s claims about Christ’s mediating the particular and the universal, but such claims would not warrant a theologian’s drawing universal conclusions from personal experiences, including experiences of this Mediator. The RO theologian speaks within the language of a finite community of discourse, offering claims that remain abstracted from direct relation with other religious traditions and practices. The problem, I must repeat, is not about the doctrinal, creedal, or experiential claims participants in RO may offer. It is only about what I consider the misuse of general discourse, including the errant presumption that one orthodoxy can offer claims about other orthodoxies (or one theology offer claims about another) without evidence of having engaged with and carefully examined these others. I assume that such engagement would generate other kinds of RO discourse that might warrant more fruitful dialogue, for example between SR and RO. [23]
  • The “postfoundationalist” and “postliberal” though quite modern view that arrives at a hermeneutical conception of one spirit, many different letters (i.e., traditions), one final referent, many different adequate historical significations, is, from the vantage of the eschatological-transcendental at least, actually the epitome of binarism…
    The RO theologian misreads SR here as well as misreading postliberal literature more generally. The theologian appears to interpret SR’s version of “the one and the many” in terms of two options. One option is what he might call “liberal,” where plurality is conceived by positing a single concept (“one spirit”) and then imagining each particular tradition is a different embodiment of it. We would of course agree with him that this option is binary, but one would be hard-pressed to locate any of us in SR – or any of the postliberal theologians – who write this way. I am surprised by the claim. In these terms, RO would be perceived as the non-fundamentalist alternative to liberalism. Perhaps the RO theologian shares with Milbank an effort to reason these matters individually, that is, to reach conclusions that will be fully adequate to – or cathected to – the individual cogito . If so, I would agree that the finite “I” most likely thinks of these matters in ways that lead to Kantian-like antinomies, or liberal-or-RO choices. But for SR, and I trust for postliberal theology more generally, scripturally-based reasoning is displayed as such only in the give-and-take of group study and even then only in the give-and-take of concrete societal life. We individual scriptural reasoners speak a ratio or think our individual systems. But, however much the peace of our minds (and prayerful minds, too) depends on the wholeness of these systems, our religious bodies are, I trust, whole only in the body of our worshipping communities or their complements. The reasoning of SR (or each TR) is therefore shared collectively but not distributively. They are shared, that is, through interactions that bind individually diverse logoi together in the presence of the Word, rather than through iterations (however non-identical) of some theo-logic that the best of us would perceive most clearly.
  • It is particularly through St. Gregory that the biblical idea of divine, positive infinity conquered the Greek aversion to it and was injected into the transformed philosophical consciousness at its root: in Christian dogma.
    I cannot account for the RO theologian’s bracketing Second Temple Jewish and early rabbinic accounts of the infinite, which were also made in the face of Hellenic models of the negative infinite. The RO theologian claims uniqueness but does not appear to look for potential parallels. I agree in one sense: every voice of the One God is unique and each display of its infinity is unique, defining a whole universe. But there are indefinitely many universes.
  • From this vantage, it is critical to understand that Christianity transcends civilizational boundaries and that this transcendence is intrinsic to the meaning of Western Christianity.
    PP. AR.
  • The synthesis of analogy is a logic centered on the experience of a deepening encounter with transcendence through initiation in liturgical and cosmic symbols, and through this experience depends on the simultaneous grasping of divine alterity through the “similar dissimilarities” of the symbol. In this vision, the cosmos is seen as a vast objective order of hierarchical mediations saturated with theophanic symbols at every level.
    PP. AR.
    The RO theologian’s reasoning from Gospel to Augustine to Aquinas is indeed a tour de force in the manner of much of Milbank’s writing. The majesty of this work is both fully clear and truth-functional only when spoken within the language community of RO. When read from outside that community, I would reiterate my concerns about partial reading and over-generalization. Simply put, the majestic sweep is a source of beauty but not an instrument for general argument or persuasion.
  • The particular logic of Christianity cannot be reduced to its otherwise fundamental affirmation of a creational monotheism.
    Perhaps the RO theologian means to imply that Christian participants in SR have, as it were, reduced their own traditions to some “generic monotheism.” If so, there is no basis for this supposition in the practice and writings of SR. To reiterate my previous claims, SR is not a theology but an environment of study. Participants return home to their denominations to write their theologies.
  • The kairos, in other words, the awareness that we really are now in the “latter days” of the prophets, means that we must now receive from Scripture the deeper realities toward which it has always been stretching and thereby in which it has been proleptically participating.
    Perhaps the RO theologian is responding to his impression that SR presumes a language-only model of Scripture, which he contrasts with the Fathers’ attention to the Word as literal history, the history of Christ’s life on earth. If so, this would be another misreading of SR. Christian participants in SR spend much more of their time in Christian textual reasoning or its parallels, within which they would encounter Christ in ways that would be in dialogue with Hackett’s writing. During the relatively brief time that they devote to SR, they engage in the exercise of reading Scriptural texts in their plain sense. Plain sense reading begins, indeed, with the language and also the philology of Scripture. But even SR sessions explore historical, spiritual, and other dimensions of reference in Scripture. The critique, if there is one, appears to be misdirected.
  • Just as the literal unity of Scripture rests on the Kingdom, the allegorical unity of Scripture centers on Christ (who is, as Origen first said, the autobasileia, the Kingdom in person). Yet allegory is no less historical than the literal. As already noted, as an incarnation, the deeper senses rest upon the literal sense itself. Allegory is therefore only ever-more historical. This is why allegory is a non-violent mode of interpretation: The literal sense becomes new, bursting with significance.
    Hackett’s work on the section “Eschatology and Scripture,” offers a brilliant exposition of orthodox Christian thought. My only wonderment is why orthodox Christians would offer their inward-directed discourses as languages of conversation with other sorts of believers, for example Jews and Muslims.
  • Christianity must not, in the face of the pressures of modern secularism, prevaricate on its universal, absolute truth claims…This is necessarily neither triumphalist nor romantic, but does ask to be understood as a bold attempt at clear, religious self-understanding that should not be brushed away lightly or castigated as “backwards” or “regressive” or “anachronistic.” For this is to miss the point. RO, then, can be most charitably and deeply understood as an attempt of renewed fidelity to the logic of the eschatological event at the founding of Christianity.
    Hackett continues to unfold his inwardly coherent orthodoxy with great beauty. His use of the word “logic” remains for me a mark of why this is not the kind of beauty an outsider can engage with directly. An analogy would be an orthodox legal argumentation that draws on Talmudic, medieval, and later juridical discourse. There is great beauty in this kind of argumentation. An extra-rabbinic thinker may observe and appreciate the beauty, but it is not really the kind that invites deeper engagement by outsiders. There is simply too much memory, association, and anticipation attached by implicature to each phrase of this argumentation to render it open to almost any but a few outsiders (the few meaning those who had chosen, for some reason, to study inside the community for years and years.) Hackett speaks his orthodoxy in a manner that I would treasure, were I inside it, as much as I do the insides of Talmudic argument. But the language of Talmudic orthodoxy is not the language I would bring to most contexts of inter-Abrahamic conversation. Jewish religiosity generates other kinds of vocabulary for the latter purpose. One of the observations of SR is that, surprisingly enough, scriptural language serves this purpose, probably because of its irremediable vagueness. The more refined Hackett’s discussion gets, the less vague it is. I would not criticize that clarity; I simply take it as a mark of its specificity: speaking of Christian life within the terms of Christian life rather than in the language of conversation. When Hackett’s RO theologian defends the “Christian truth” that has to remain true to certain creedal formulations, he writes as if orthodox Christians had only one language to speak in each venue of their lives, no matter whom they were speaking with, or what time of the day. My argument is that language-specific orthodoxies do not address themselves to other languages of belief, that they are consistent and beyond reproach if they acknowledge this, but that they speak in unwarranted ways if and when they presume that the “universality” they attribute to the “truth” of their beliefs actually speaks beyond the borders of their language communities. Practitioners of SR who consider themselves orthodox also tend to claim that their orthodoxy is not language-specific in the sense I am using the term here. They claim instead that their faith speaks through one vocabulary in prayer, for example, another in systematic theology, another in several forms of conversation.
  • SR endeavors to be a place of encounter, a metaphysical space in which irreducibly different religious traditions (of thought and practice) may co-exist, and develop through exchange (as they always have); RO is (despite its consistent public modality of critique) a constructive theology, articulating an ‘engraced metaphysics’, whose practice is that liturgical dwelling in the world of historical, orthodox Christianity.
    The RO theologian’s comparison of RO and SO begins in potential dialogue with my claim that RO speaks the inward-looking language of a Christian orthodoxy, while “SR endeavors to be a place of encounter.” The RO theologian and I go our different ways, however, when he reads SR as making claims that substitute for tradition-specific claims. He says, for example, that SR refuses the tradition-specific universalism of RO, substituting for it “the empty space of eschatological possibility . This empty space can be filled with the content of any Abrahamic faith tradition.” This is not the claim of SR, however. As the RO theologian correctly states, SR is a “place of encounter.” The assumption of SR is that religious practitioners will write their theologies back home after returning from the SR encounter and only within the concrete details of their individual traditions. I offer sentences like the last one as if I were commenting on several theological traditions from SR as some sort of “neutral space.” For that reason, the RO theologian appears to read me as making a theological claim on behalf of each of these traditions, and therefore, a claim that competes theologically on the same plane as RO. But this is not what I am doing. My comments of this kind are strictly programmatic and formal: observations of what in fact tends to happen after traditional practitioners leave the SR circles and return home. If the RO theologian granted me that, I think the one difference that might still remain is that his language-specific orthodoxy appears to leave no room for a second, strictly programmatic orthodox discourse that entertains practices like inter-religious encounter. If he in fact insists on this exclusion, then I fear there are simply no grounds for rational conversation between members of RO and SR: members of SR would speak two languages (their intra-orthodox discourses and their programmatic SR discourses) while RO would speak only one. The RO theologian might protest that SR folks do engage in direct theological criticism of a kind that does not appear to be simply programmatic, for example my criticisms of RO. Once again, I think the problem is that participants in RO are not granting the possibility of our engaging, without loss of faith, in several different discursive practices. I believe that, for example, I speak a rabbinic liturgical language, an intra-Jewish textual reasoning language, a programmatic SR language, and an SR-grounded language of theological critique. It is probably the last one that the RO theologian finds problematic, identifying it with the language of “my theology.” But my theology has no single language. The language of SR critique is simply that: the way that, drawing on my experience in SR, I have learned to criticize the errant claims that Jewish or Muslim or Christian theologians offer on occasion about other religions. I am surprised that the RO theologian would be troubled by this very specific philosophic-theological practice, since he also writes – beautifully – about phenomenology, for example from Kant to Husserl to Heidegger to Henri. Does he force himself to register each sentence of his phenomenological analyses explicitly “doctrinal” within the language of his Christian orthodoxy? I trust he would agree with me that that would be a very odd and awkward exercise. At the same time, I would not expect him to offer phenomenological analyses that were incompatible with his life as an orthodox Christian. My point would simply be that such an orthodox Christian speaks many languages. Perhaps I should add that I do not believe that there is any single meta-language through which the orthodox practitioner could explicate the hidden schematism that renders each language consistent with the Word to which this practitioner is devoted. I trust that is, in so many words, the work of the spirit. I say this because recognizing the power of the spirit would free us of any need to account precisely for the occult “rule” that renders the One Word present in these many forms of discourse.
  • [RO] believes in an eschatologically induced way in the metaphysical as a description of God’s being; [SR] refuses that judgment as universally binding, rather seeing its form as a certain meta-logic of potentiality undergirding diverse modes of actuality.
    Once again, I think we make headway here since both the RO theologian and I want to account for the different functions of RO and SR, but we also reach a point of sharp difference in our account. In the terms of the RO theologian’s comment, I would add that RO believes in a Christian-tradition-specific metaphysical account of God’s being. SR does not counter this account; it simply throws up its arms in some surprise as if to say to RO: it’s fine that you believe this, but how do you imagine that by speaking, as it were, “Christian Greek,” you are communicating to anyone in the other religions? How do you understand the performance of your speech (its illocutionary force)? It sounds like the performance is to shore up your confidence in this orthodoxy in the face of so many competing theologies. That is fine indeed, but it is an inward-directed speech, not for others. Its complementary and appropriate sparring partner is not SR, but rather the “TR,” or inward-looking text-and-theological practices of Jewish and Muslim orthodoxies. Many participants in SR also, back at home, participate in such orthodoxies and generate inward-looking discourses that are in many ways analogous to RO. The programmatic claim of SR is that if you bring three such sparring partners into the same room – or sometimes onto the same land – you get what we’ve already seen for the first century or two since the birth of Christianity and then Islam. You get either mutual exclusion (the dance of mutual indifference that Davidson responded to philosophically), or you get the war of each against the other, or if one is materially powerful, you get the colonization of two-by-one, or you get the Enlightenment form of colonization: the reduction of all three to the terms of a “purportedly neutral, secular zone.” Practitioners of RO and SR, as the RO theologian notes, all claim to be repairing many of these alternatives. One way to state the difference is that, from the perspective of SR, RO is seeking the fourth option (colonizing all under its banner). From the perspective of RO, SR is effectively seeking either another form of the Enlightenment-option, or perhaps the first practice of indifference, or perhaps SR is simply confused. Most practitioners of SR believe that SR is a sign of an alternative different from all of these: the proclamation, if you will, that it is religiously and theologically possible for each of us to practice orthodoxy, for us to come together on occasion to exercise this SR practice, and for us then to return to our orthodoxies, changed only in ways that God’s presence seeks to change us. After SR sessions, our individual theologies are not “about” all of our traditions; they simply tend to open a space within our several theologies for the possibility that those specific SR encounters could take place. Perhaps members of RO believe that these theological efforts to “leave space” imply that we are also generating some sort of metaphysical account of all the religions or of some kind of Abrahamic religion. But we are not doing this; we leave such work, as it were, to God and the angels.
  • SR is grounded in a religious philosophy that presupposes a theological metaphysics; RO is a theology that is a metaphysics.
    This phrase helps me see how members of RO may re-describe SR within the categories of RO. But, in our own terms, SR is not “grounded,” it is not a “religious philosophy,” and it doesn’t assume some “theological metaphysics.” I think SR folks can presume to make some comments about RO because some members of SR are orthodox Christians as well as phenomenologists, so they know the lingo. But this sentence reminds me of why at least most practitioners of RO are not prepared to offer warranted comments on SR because they may not be prepared to engage in modes of discourse other than their own. Once again, it is a matter of actual conversation with others that generates new discourses.
  • Now the critical element that is behind the scheme of construction of RO is the liberation of religion from its modern “Babylonian captivity,” i.e. religion considered as its fundamental role in the services it must bring to society…for RO, religion is…society’s central good.
    In these terms, RO is a much more polished, focused and conceptually developed entity than SR. While SR practitioners seek to repair certain practices of “Cartesianism” or “modern binarism,” I hope the alternative we seek is not some comparably all-encompassing single “way” for the West to go. The RO theologian’s claim brings to mind the category I mentioned earlier of “one religion colonizing all the others.” SR doesn’t bring that kind of focus and energy and centralization. SR members also don’t have a single reading of questions like this. I for one find the RO model of “liberation” frightening in its totality.
  • [Regarding] Milbank’s sharply critical comments regarding SR…, he suggests that “all attempts to identify a common rational core between different religious faiths, or even to try to isolate a shared method of reading texts and shared criteria for authentic religious practice, to serve the basis of dialogue, paradoxically foment fundamentalism.” This paradox is rooted in the observation that SR is primarily concerned with discovering and articulating the bare rational and transcendental structure undergirding the different manifestations of the Abrahamic faiths.
    Oh dear. As noted several times already, the notion of seeking “a common rational core” appears to be projected onto SR from elsewhere. I offer another “oh dear” because Milbank’s comments are so removed from conversation with SR and from careful commentary on SR writings. There are of course individual sentences by individual authors that could be cited as “proof texts,” but I assume we all share the same distaste for prooftexting. The RO theologian’s own comment about “the bare rational and transcendental structure” might come from reading some of my own exercises on a quasi-Kantian study of scripture as a transcendental activity. But, I write all kinds of things that are not representations of SR. Certainly this particular set of tropes about seeking an undergirding structure have nothing to do with the general practice of SR nor with the theoretical practices of most members of SR.
  • Eschatological transcendentalism, as a mode of collective reasoning…
    Hackett’s concluding words revisit and extend the beautiful construction he has offered of a transcendental language for articulating Christian orthodoxy. As stated before, I appreciate this from afar. As for its pertinence to SR, I will reiterate my refrain in a different way. Within a given theological tradition, Hackett’s construction is analogous to a beautiful Talmudic argumentation offered in Aramaic. For those in the rabbinic tradition, this argumentation may indeed be a beautiful sign of divine presence. But that sign is not offered for others, nor will the argumentation by itself communicate outside rabbinic tradition, nor would I presume that its beauty were itself some demonstration of its universal warrant.
II. Fruits: A Response to the Hopes of SR

This delightful second issue serves a different purpose and speaks in a different voice than “Roots.” As is obvious from the title, “Fruits” asks not where SR came from but what good it may do in the future. The essays are therefore of a different kind. Where the essays of “Roots” reasoned rigorously “backwards” or regressively from effect (the practice of SR) to potential cause, essays describing the hopes proleptically imagine what – given the disciplines and nature of the practice – SR disciples might find themselves doing and uncovering in the future. As evident in Kant’s First Critique , regressive reasoning is difficult labor, and its reward often comes in very technical and multi-leveled packets. Proleptic or consequentialist imagining, however, leaves room for more breathing and greater play: reasoning deductively from a given belief to its apparent implication as well as reasoning abductively that given certain problems in some discipline or denomination and provided what we know of SR, the latter might provide a significant repair to the former. I confess I will be able to breathe a little easier, as well, as I respond to these fine essays. I will also be able to write more briefly since I will not have to struggle as hard to make clear what I think I am reading or to defend what I hope I have been articulating. Instead, I am afforded the opportunity to celebrate how the collective work of SR over these many years may bear new and sometimes unexpected fruit in various disciplines of inquiry. Walter Brueggemann and Daniel Smith offer one of our first accounts of what faculties of biblical studies might do if they engaged in some of the academic practices of SR. Samuel Wells reflects on how university chaplains and campus ministers might draw on SR and other approaches to inter-religious study. [24]

A. Walter Brueggemann’s Exodus Model for SR

Brueggemann offers a unique introduction to SR as a practice for enriching both everyday life and academic inquiry. In the process, he crafts a biblical figure for SR’s reparative, scriptural hermeneutic: the Exodus images of Israel’s escape from Pharaoh and pursuit of Torah. And he isolates these six marks of SR performance:

  • Attention to the specificity of the text.
  • Attention to the communal context of reading.
  • Moving between ancient memory and contemporary appropriation.
  • A summons to reparation.
  • Sustained liturgical performance.
  • Habits of practice that push beyond the Abrahamic to the Adamic.

I find this list definitional for the practice of SR as a reparative reasoning that repairs by way of specific relations among these three Abrahamic scriptures and their congregations of readers and that opens beyond these to illimitable reaches of caring relation.

If we ask about the departure from Pharaoh’s land, surely Scriptural Reasoning intends departure from a system of reason that can bring order and even security, but that cannot bring life. Scriptural Reasoning, with texts like this one, is itself a practice of departure.

Brueggemann offers a postmodern figure for SR: fleeing the Pharaoh of modernist inquiry for the sake of returning the promised land of “home,” but a promised home also fraught with dangers. Among the dangers for SR will be persistent desires to return, in subtle ways, to the practices of modernity, which include conceptual inquiry and individual autonomy. SR participants will not be immune to cravings for the “water” of self-serving knowledge; to overcome these, they will need to be obedient to their “commandments” of working hard through textual study and reparative inquiry.

[They are yet to arrive] in the land of milk and honey. Indeed, there will not be an arrival for a very long time; and even when there finally is an arrival, it will be a contested, disputatious, even violent arrival that waits.

Amidst the enthusiasms of SR, here is a stunning reminder that the circle of SR study is not “home,” but may itself be fraught with the tendencies to violence and self-interest that mark the world it seeks to repair. SR seeks to repair a wounded text and wounded world, but the text of its own inquiry will display wounds as well. There are therefore several levels of wound and “cry” within as well as behind the work of SR: the textual wounds and societal cries that stimulate SR’s reparative activity (Israel’s cries of bondage), but also wounded practices within the work of SR (in Ex 15:22, Israel’s complaint that “there is no water”). For Brueggemann, SR’s pattern of cry-answer corresponds to the more traditional Christian model of call-and-response.

The first word is “if” that anticipates the first utterance at Sinai in 19:5. It is a condition, that is, the truth of YHWH’s offer depends upon the practice of Israel. Truth comes in and with and under practice.

The work of SR remains under divine scrutiny, guided by an as yet inexplicit law, and successful only through the contingencies of God’s grace and created life.

Pharaoh had in mind only senseless productivity, and did not care about the possibility of hearing. But departure from Pharaoh’s rule makes dialogic engagement possible…

Brueggemann’s figure is remarkably close to that of Aryeh Cohen. In a recent SR-related essay, “Hearing the Cry of the Poor,” Cohen writes:

“And the Lord continued, ‘I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt….'” God articulates the explicit causality between being attentive to – hearing – the cries of the oppressed, and doing something about it – acting on it. Exod. 5 presents an opposite paradigm. In Moses’ first confrontation with Pharaoh, Pharaoh is completely recalcitrant…Pharaoh does not hear….

The redemption from Egypt is inscribed in many of the Torah’s laws…. On the one hand, God heard the cry of the Israelites and this led to redemption. On the other hand, Pharaoh did not hear the cry and this led to the devastation of Egypt. The ethical choice is between imitatio dei and imitatio pharaoh …. Choosing to be like God leads to redemption while choosing to be like Pharaoh leads to death.

For Cohen, the laws of Sinai display the lessons of Exodus history as imperatives for action: Israel should be like the God who redeems, not the Pharaoh who oppresses. In his complementary account, Brueggemann reads out the consequences of Israel’s making the right or wrong choice:

“I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians” (v. 26).But the intent is self-evident in the utterance itself. The diseases that smite Egypt are alienation, oppression, death to human possibility…. The promise that follows obedience is an alternative to Egypt. The “logic of repair” is that obedience to the alternative commands of Sinai makes new life…. Failure to obey Sinai portends the killing fields of Pharaoh every time.

For Brueggemann, Israel’s purpose is not only to seek to avoid such negative consequences, but also to work pro-actively as potential agents of good consequences. This is the reparative or healing work of SR:

Nicholas Adams can write of the image of the medical…. The leading metaphor that runs throughout the model of reparative reason is that of medicine….

The primary voice of instruction in this reparative activity is liturgical:

The narrative and the divine declaration are available for us in many liturgical performances…. Thus we may imagine that these five brief verses were (and are) the script for reperformance, always again from bitter to sweet, always again from disease to healing…. And because it is “always again,” we may anticipate that the performance will issue in new habits for the freshly healed community: [prototypically, habits of care for] orphans and immigrants and the poor (Deut 14:29; 16:14; 24:17-22).

Brueggemann has offered us a trope for enacting SR as a religious-and-ethical discipline: SR as a perfection term for ever-renewed activities of attention, care, and repair. The care begins in each House, extends to the Children of Abraham, but then extends beyond to the Children of Adam:

It is Israel who thirsts and who is addressed. This is an Abrahamic enterprise, albeit featuring Moses and not Abraham. It is the God of Abraham who hears Israel (Ex 2:24) and who addresses Moses (Ex 3:6). But Scriptural Reasoning summons us through and beyond the Jewish read to ask how the text may be read amid other children of Abraham, and beyond to the community of Adam.

B. Daniel Smith’s Pauline Model for SR

Smith essay offers a remarkable complement to Brueggemann’s, introducing the grounds for SR’s engagement with academic biblical and scriptural studies and vice versa. In the process, he crafts a Pauline figure for SR’s hermeneutic of hospitality.

Jesus’s debates with others on topics like dining partners and Sabbath observance (Mark 2:15-17; 3:1-5) were, in their religious culture, part of a lively…conversation about how sacred texts [25] exert their defining influence on questions about behaviour and boundaries.

Brueggemann introduced a biblical figure for SR’s reparative, scriptural hermeneutic. Complementing Brueggemann’s offering, Smith introduces a biblical figure for SR’s performative and also critical study of how scriptural reading may engender religious and communal identity for better or for worse: as a source of philadelphia (practices of care for the other) or of philoxenia (practices of excluding the other). Once again, my account comes by way of commentary on selected passages from Smith’s essay.

As Nicholas Adams remarks, “Scriptural reasoning is a practice of ‘publicising’ deep reasonings, so that others may learn to understand them and discover why particular trains of reasoning, and not just particular assumptions, are attractive or problematic.” [26]

Smith alerts us to the dual perspective of SR’s study of religion and community identity. “Publicizing deep reasonings,” SR introduces the depth of scriptural tradition into the public square for instruction and debate.

Schottroff [brings]…sensitivity to how practitioners of biblical studies can learn to avoid complicity in ideological work when it introduces…ethically or socially undesirable dynamics.

Drawing on the work of L. Schottroff, Smith examines how biblical studies may publicize scripture’s deep reasonings for either benevolent or uncharitable ends.

In conversation with Hebrews 13:1-2, a text which grounds hospitality to strangers in mutual love within the community and connects it with the reception of divine messengers, I discuss ways that the practice of Scriptural Reasoning can contribute to the (Christian) biblical scholar’s awareness of the ethical contours of biblical interpretation.

In other words, SR makes a significant contribution to biblical studies: contributing a model for repairing potentially negative ideological dimensions of the traditions of biblical interpretation while preserving benevolent dimensions.

In the Parable of the Vineyard Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46), for instance, Schottroff sees first of all a story which “speaks of the hatred that arose from economic exploitation at the hands of foreign property owners, of the counter violence of the victims, and of Roman dominance.” [27]

For Smith, Schottroff’s critical biblical scholarship anticipates and sets a standard for the reparative contribution SR could make to biblical studies. Among the prime elements of the standard are: (i) Socio-historical or contextual reading . Drawing on historical-critical methods, the first step is to situate potentially problematic scriptural texts in the context of their redaction and reception history to the degree that these are identifiable; (ii) Non-dualistic reading . Schottroff situates her reading in the context of her scholarly inquiry itself. This inquiry should be “non-dualistic,” meaning that it should avoid the “condescending” interpretative paradigm that opposes the “good” of our own reading community with the “bad” (or lesser) value of other communities, both scholarly and religious; iii) Eschatological reading . Schottroff then reads the text in question eschatologically, which means examining how the text invites its communities of reception into the activity of God. In these terms, Smith is recommending SR’s capacity to bring historical, critical, and eschatological modes of reading together in its reparative work.

If the story is to be taken allegorically as being “about” Israel, as the intertext with Isaiah 5:1-2 (Matthew 21:33) suggests, then the story is an allegory of how Israel was in the ownership of foreigners (the Romans) and how the exploitation which ensued would give rise to violent reaction and counter-reaction (the First Jewish War of 66-73 CE)…This approach to the parables…attends carefully to how “meaning” is constructed through the approach the reader takes to the text…It [therefore] reads the parables against received or traditional readings, some of which have proven problematic…. It attempts to read the parables in the direction of God’s justice by inviting the hearers to participate in it…. [And it]does not fail to appreciate the contribution [of] historical-critical research.

In this citation, Smith illustrates the three levels of reparative reading we noted in our previous comment. For our purposes, perhaps the most significant aspect of Smith’s reading is his emphasis on the integration of historical-critical and eschatological reading. On the one hand, the scriptural reasoner is reminded to attend to historical-critical research as a direct contribution to the goals of SR as well as what may remain a missing dimension of SR’s relationship to academic biblical studies. On the other hand, scholars of biblical studies are encouraged to attend to eschatological dimensions of their source texts as not merely objects of study but also sources of instruction for how these particular texts should be examined. Following Schottroff and Smith, this eschatological reading would not be a “confessional” or “subjective” reading but an effort to interpret the text with respect to its indigenous – or to use the ethnographer’s language – emic categories of meaning. This is a profound step in Smith’s recommendation for both SR and biblical studies. It means that biblical scholarship, like confessional reading, becomes a performative activity. Unlike confessional reading, however, this scholarship appeals to the community of all potential biblical scholars to evaluate and warrant its performative reading. In the case of Matthew 21:33, for example, Smith would appear to claim that a supersessionist reading fails to find warrant in the performative character of the text. If the text offers itself eschatologically, then its defining issue concerns economic exploitation rather than the communal identity of any historically specific exploiters. Both of Smith’s emphases address what I would consider the most sensitive issues presently dividing, but hopefully some day uniting, SR and academic biblical studies. Like Schottroff, Smith seeks to read non-dualistically, identifying a place for performative reading in the academy and historical critical reading in SR.

The ecclesiological approach renders invisible the suffering of the parable’s characters (first century tenant farmers and slaves of an absentee landlord), and precludes the engagement of the listening community in the activity of God in the present by eclipsing the social dynamics which would have been heard in the historical settings of the parable’s various deployments (in Jesus’ original utterance, in Mark, in Matthew and Luke, and in Thomas). Authentic engagement with the text on its own terms must take these dynamics into account.

In Smith’s terms, the “ecclesiological approach” is one whose performative reading is “confessional” in a way that is now external to his non-dualistic inquiry. Ecclesiological readings are offered only on behalf of an historically specific religious identity, which identity is then read into the biblical source text. Reading independently of such a religious identity, Smith offers a model of performative reading that can serve both religious and academic communities at the same time. It is a remarkable move and worthy of attention in SR. As Smith concludes, “I see these moves in some respects as attempts to rescue the text from complicity in the sins of its interpreters, particularly where the interest has been in validating one religious (or cultural, or ethnic) group by invalidating others.”

“Let mutual care [Greek: philadelphia] continue; and do not neglect the care of strangers [Greek: philoxenia ], for by doing so, some extended hospitality to angels without knowing….” First, philadelphia (“love of siblings”) is presented as something of a given, and yet its continued observance does not go without saying…. Second, the text warns that philoxenia must not be overlooked. The applicability of this text to SR is obvious…. As Daniel Hardy observes, the particular interaction of SR creates a space for hospitality that is not based on a “predefined ownership” of the space. [28] Philoxenia becomes philadelphia even while the particularity of each reader is retained…. Thus the New Testament writings can, in the practice of SR, become strange and alien even to the Christian biblical scholar. …By participating in SR, the biblical studies practitioner allows members of other faiths to read the text which otherwise is the focus of his academic specialization…. These ideals of cooperation and solidarity can also be situated, in a best-case scenario, in a collegial environment such as a religion department at a university or a community service group, but in SR they may be engaged in direct conversation about and over sacred texts.

I quote Smith at length here, because his words (along with Brueggemann’s) offer the boldest and most encouraging recommendation we have yet received about how to employ SR’s reparative reasoning within the academic work of biblical studies. Here the New Testament’s contrast between philadelphia and philoxenia becomes a performative model for SR’s power to discriminate between one and the other as guidelines for academic scholarship. Smith has crafted a non-dualistic model of both the hermeneutical and collegial dimensions of SR inspired-work in the academy.

A particular concern arises at this point: What happens in SR when readers who are accustomed to reading hospitably encounter texts which are resistant to such hospitable readings…. “[H]ospitable” readings of “inhospitable” texts can occur given SR’s basic assumption that all scriptural texts can be read as mediating revelation…. There may be a positive benefit to confronting such texts in SR, for this could lead to a greater understanding of how the texts themselves have contributed to patterns of reading and of the formation of religious identity within the traditions of the three faiths.

Smith completes his reparative model of SR by recommending how SR-inspired bible scholars may read inhospitable (or wounded) tests hospitably (or reparatively) without tending toward eisegesis. Smith illustrates his recommendation with a hospitable and non-supersessionist reading of Luke 3:7-9 that also serves, no less, as another model for SR practice:

So John was saying to the crowds who were coming out to be baptized by him: “Offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath about to take place? Produce (Greek: “do”) therefore fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say among yourselves: ‘We have Abraham as father.’ For I tell you: God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Already the axe lies at the root of the trees, so that every tree not producing good fruit is being cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9) This text is redolent with the apocalyptic rhetoric of separation and judgment, which is engaged using the imagery of chopping down non-yielding trees and burning them…. Little wonder that this material has often been read by Christian interpreters as John’s threat against the shallow piety of his fellow Jews, about to be replaced by Gentiles receptive to the message of Jesus about the reign of God. The response John imputes to his hearers, “We have Abraham as father,” is in this way often read as indicating an empty reliance on religious ancestry…. Yet Luke also offers a challenge to hear these words as “good news,” for this is how the narrator characterizes John’s exhortations (Luke 3:18). This part of John’s proclamation invites the hearers of the text – not only the hearers in the text – to ask, “So what should we do?” (Luke 3:10, 12, 14). The agricultural imagery of trees yielding appropriate fruit provides the answer: make like a tree, and yield fruit “in keeping with repentance,” that is, in keeping with a life oriented to God’s purposes, and in keeping with one’s own lot in life. For John’s advice is tailored to the contexts of his hearers…. John’s saying about “children from Abraham from stones” is an allusion to Isaiah, who used the imagery of rocks hewn from a quarry to describe the heritage of Abraham and Sarah (Isaiah 51:1-2). With this intertext in view it becomes difficult to maintain an inhospitable reading: the stones are people who seek the Lord, those who pursue righteousness (Isaiah 51:1). …Thus John’s reference to the “children of Abraham” becomes rather straightforwardly a call to a common commitment to hospitality – to being at once both host and guest – over the Scriptures.

What a stunning interpretation! Smith transforms an apparently inhospitable text into one that contributes two scriptural symbols of SR’s reparative reasoning: “children from Abraham from stones” who “do the fruit of Abraham.”

C. Fruits for Biblical Studies

Brueggemann and Smith have broken new ground for planting SR within biblical studies as well as within scriptural studies more broadly. It is time, indeed, that SR drew historical-critical work into its academic energies and that, at the same time, SR found a place within the disciplines of biblical and scriptural studies. [29] Thanks to these two essays, we have also gained powerful scriptural tropes that will help characterize and guide SR’s scriptural pragmatism:

From Brueggemann:

  • “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army, he has hurled into the sea” (Ex. 15): SR’s exodus from imperialistic uses of reason.
  • “I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings” (Ex. 3:7). SR’s exodus is prompted by cries.
  • SR’s hope for a scholarly Promised Land. But SR’s recognition that, in this meantime, the Land will remain contested and disputatious: SR will remain a troubled albeit hopeful trip to the Promised Land.
  • SR’s worldly wisdoms for hopeful, reparative work in contested lands.
    • That each project of SR will be stimulated by cries newly heard in specific places.
    • That SR responds to each cry by way of its reading of specific scriptural texts out of specific traditions of reading and response: each cry is a summons to reparation received in the context of specific communities of repair.
    • That, on this journey, “there is no water” (Ex. 15:22): that this work of reparation will itself be tested by the temptations of imperialist, individualist and self-serving uses of reason. The test will remain that of choosing between Pharaoh’s voice and God’s voice.
    • “There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test…” (15:25b); “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Ex. 19:8): that facing these tests will require continual vigilance, the “torah” of reparative scriptural study.
    • That the scriptural texts that guide repair may also appear wounded, calling for repair. These calls will present new tests, of literalism or discouragement, and require new levels of vigilance.
    • That, ultimately, the work of each reparative community may lead to the recognition of other communities of repair working out of other sources of scriptural guidance: plural voices, Children of Abraham and, as Brueggemann adds, Children of Adam.

From Smith:

  • Hospitality is the ultimate rule of SR: “Do let mutual care [ philadelphia ] continue; and do not neglect the care of strangers [ philoxenia ], for by doing so, some extended hospitality to angels without knowing” (Hebr. 13:1-2).
  • SR faces texts that challenge as well as guide. When they do, it is time to employ historical-critical and inter-textual reading in the service of hospitable reading: retrieving good fruit where the soil had yielded only bad. “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard…. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit” (Matt. 21:33). “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines…. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit” (Isa. 5: 1-2).
  • SR draws from deep within the sense of scriptures and the communities of readers the balm that heals its and their wounds: “For I tell you: God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Already the axe lies at the root of the trees, so that every tree not producing good fruit is being cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9) “Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn” (Isa. 51:2).

D. SR in Society: Samuel Wells on the Centrality of Chaplaincy

In our various SR teaching gigs around the eastern USA, Homayra Ziad and I have begun to speak of the university chaplaincy – and campus ministries – as potentially the central teaching resource for bringing SR into society at large. Campus ministries, alone, work directly with at least some participants in each potential constituency for SR: local houses of worship and ministries and, through these, the local adult and school communities and local institutions; college and university faculty, staff and students at all levels. At the invitation of NACUC (National Association of College and University Chaplains) Executive Council members Paul Sorrentino and Ian Oliver, [30] we offered an SR workshop at the annual meeting of the NACUC in 2010. Accompanied by several grad-student and faculty practitioners of SR, [31] we gathered approximately twelve study tables of nine people each to examine texts from the Tanakh and the Qur’an on “Commanding Love/Obedience to God,” a sub-focus of texts we like to teach on “Teaching and Learning” scripture (or revelation). [32] I mention all this because the energy and ideas generated by table discussion strengthened our sense that campus ministers show significant capacities to “get” SR and to teach it. But do university chaplains and ministers have the time and energy, as well as the interest, to join the work of SR? That question is yet to be answered, but Wells essay offers us a first insight into such possibilities.

An Anglican pastor, Wells serves as Dean of the Chapel at Duke Divinity School. As he notes, Duke Chapel is interdenominational in its function. But Duke University is historically Methodist and houses a Methodist Divinity School within the life of the University. Durham, N.C. sports mostly Baptist churches but also contains a broad range of churches in other denominations, as well as some synagogues, mosques, and ashrams. Perhaps to provide some sense of order amidst such differences, the Religious Life Council at Duke historically has treated “liberal Protestantism…as the default neutral territory for religious life to occupy on a campus such as this.” Displaying what we might call the dispositions of a postliberal Christian theologian, as he reports Wells was not thrilled to arrive as the Dean of such an allegedly neutral space. He adds, however, that after nine months – aided by his colleague Craig Kocher, the Director of Religious Life – he found ways to manage these complex issues and relationships that comprise religious life at Duke University and in Durham.

His way in began – in true Anglican fashion, I might add – with a review of the history of American universities like Duke. [33] They were shaped, before the 20th century, by major American denominations. During the early twentieth century, they saw their ecclesial identities wrested away by secular faculties. According to university memory, these faculties were opened after the 1960s to multi-cultural, ethnic and other forms of pluralism. Now, Wells reports, some argue for the recovery of an earlier cohesiveness and order – perhaps that of the founding traditions, perhaps something else. Wells’s choice is different: it begins with a faith council for the campus ministers encouraging a plurality of religious voices but making those voices coherent, not by some single gathering tradition or some single gathering concept of religion, but instead

[t]he purpose of the Faith Council at Duke is to foster and model profound conversations across faith traditions in order to deepen participants’ practice of their own faith, understanding of other faiths, and relationships across religious and cultural divides, and to facilitate such conversations within the university and beyond.

Wells identifies these objectives of the Faith Council:

  • For the various campus ministers to meet together regularly, sharing food and discussing “significant topical and perennial global and campus issues,” all in “a spirit of humility and good humor, seeking not to elide particularities but to anticipate reasoned disagreement, and to exhibit a general willingness to be deepened by one’s growing understanding of one’s own tradition as well as others.”
  • “To foster models of engagement in the midst of diversity and disagreement.” The idea is for the faith council to experience and practice modes of conversation that could serve as models for “other members of the university…concerned with conversations across social and cultural divides.” The goal is then “to network with similar initiatives on other university campuses” and to “organize…student interfaith pilgrimages to places of religious diversity and significance around the world.”
  • The Council would also offer “a program of significant public events” and “inter-religious leadership” across the university.

Wells notes that his experiences with scriptural reasoning have contributed to his vision of the faith council, but that there were several reasons why the council could not limit itself to scriptural reasoning practices per se :

  • SR has addressed itself specifically to Abrahamic traditions, and Duke’s faith council would include Hindu and Buddhist chaplains and perhaps others as well.
  • SR requires the kind of intense focus and sustained membership that would be incompatible with the limited time for study and the range and varied interests of the faith council participants. The primary mode of study would therefore have to be comparative textual reasoning: where participants teach and illustrate from out of their “own” traditions of study.
  • The council would also apply itself to a variety of activities related to its counseling and teaching missions: public lectures, visitations, and so forth.

My reflections on Wells’s contribution comes after just returning from the 2010 SR Training Session, held this summer at Huron University in London Ontario. Along with ten co-teachers, working with 43 participant-learners, I enjoyed a wonderful three days of study. I observed there what Homayra and I previously noted: university chaplains make wonderful SR participants and teachers, and SR works for them; however, on campus, the chaplains will also need to draw on other complementary practices. Wells’s Faith Council appears to offer a helpful resource, enabling chaplains to engage with one another and with university members through a variety of study practices and of other forms of inter-religious experience and learning. The 2010 staff of SR teachers agreed that, in future SR Training Sessions, we should provide sessions on the variety of on-campus activities that might complement scriptural and textual reasoning – which should include the Faith Council model. At the same time, we (as well as a variety of university chaplains sharing in this SR Session) agreed that SR would make a significant contribution to the life and work of chaplains and campus ministries. [34] Our shared observations include the following:

  • SR would serve as a practice for shaping and anchoring the leadership of a campus ministry and chaplaincy rather than for drawing together a broad public, including broad and loose associations of campus ministers. Therefore, we would agree with Wells that SR would not serve as a single method for gathering a broad and complex board of campus ministers. Wells’s vision of a faith council speaks well to the need for a varied and malleable model for such a board. We might, in fact, have even a more decentralized vision.
  • SR names a specific practice of study, and it also names a more general wisdom about “study across differences” that emerges out of this practice. Speaking first of the specific practice, SR is not for casual, everyday encounter or informal monthly encounters. It is an intense mode of engagement appropriate for times of study that can be carefully planned and that can be practiced “for its own sake” in a setting of relatively undistracted attention to the texts and to one another. The space-time of SR study needs to be one that allows for sensitive receptivity to both the relatively personal voices of memory, insight and spirit as well as the relatively inter-personal voices of another’s insight, memory, and spirit. There may be moments when participants find the identities of “personal” and “inter-personal” voices blur, as participants “try on” other viewpoints, and when the group as a whole hears itself voice some unexpected readings of the texts and reasonings about the texts’ implications for social and religious life. The space-time of SR practice is purposefully limited, however, so that the experience of study-across-differences may stimulate, extend, and enrich each participant’s habits of belief and judgment without assaulting those habits or in any way challenging the integrity of each participant’s tradition of belief and practice. Over years of SR practice, the large majority of participants have reported that, after study, they experience both a deeper appreciation for and insight into their own scriptures and traditions of study and a surprisingly new appreciation for and understanding of their fellow participants’ scriptural traditions. This experience nurtures more general wisdoms that may be applied, for one, to the topic of campus ministries.
  • On this topic, our discussion at Huron tended to nurture a somewhat decentralized model of interaction among campus ministers, integrating a “faith council” type of organization with provisions for decentralized SR study. Chaplains were attracted to the idea of first seeking a small SR circle of study for themselves: a monthly study with a small group of interested colleagues, not for any administrative purposes but solely for what we might call spiritual and textual formation. They were attracted to the possibility that, over time, other members of the campus ministry might want to join similar small groups of study. This way, sub-groups of campus ministries might study together, perhaps three or four members in each, perhaps once every two months, generating decentralized orbits of study and fellowship. SR would not necessarily be practiced at regular meetings of the entire campus ministry, but the consequences of SR experience could be felt and discussed. Larger meetings might follow more of the model recommended by Wells, with comparative text-reasoning or other forms of inter-religious sharing in addition to the campus business at hand. Over time, the experience of decentralized SR study might stimulate additional sub-models for larger group discussion or study.
  • What of Abrahamic vs. non-Abrahamic study? We may want to complicate Wells’s observation that SR is for Abrahamic study alone. SR is a practice of study across difference, for which our initial prototype has been inter-Abrahamic study, or what we might label Abrahamic SR. Because SR practice emerges from the ground up, we who have first experimented with it have not wanted to generalize beyond the inter-Abrahamic study that first drew us together. If SR has worked well on the model of “a table, three chairs, three short selections of verses,” we have not presumed that the model would work the same way for study across the borders of other traditions. At the same time, we have no reason to assume that different forms of SR could be generated, from the ground up, through extended experiences among other traditions of study. The founding participants in SR already experienced intra-traditional TR (textual reasoning) within Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, so we have also nurtured models of intra-traditional study across differences of denominations or sub-communities. The models are different in details (SR for example, attends only to plain sense, but TR groups attend to traditions of commentary as well as scripture), but comparable in their attention to study-across-difference. We therefore imagine that new forms of study-across-difference would also contribute to various forms of Abrahamic-non-Abrahamic study, as long as these studies were built from the ground up. Some of us have already, for example, experimented with Abrahamic-Hindu study (scriptures and Upanishads), Christian-Buddhist study and so on. For now – before we gain more collective experience with such studies – we would recommend a decentralized model for more-than-Abrahamic study. One sub-group of campus ministers might, for example, pursue occasional small-group study in a form of Christian-Buddhist SR, another in Muslim-Hindu, another in Abrahamic-Asian more broadly, and so on. In this case, groups might begin, cautiously, with the “one table three sets of verses” prototype but be prepared to revise this manner of study in ways that appear most appropriate to encounters with non-Abrahamic textuality and conversation. Participants may also discover that other forms of difference generate additional types of study: such as study across ethnic or gender or age differences within a given tradition or, finally, study over different types of “texts.” Beyond scriptural texts, small groups may want to experiment with shared study and discussion over sets of ritual or customary practices; over compositions or performances of music or dance or drawing; and who knows. Our wisdom is that participants should listen and attend carefully to the kinds of study and sharing that are recommended by each type of study and each group of participants from the ground up.


[1] Within the Tent of SR, perhaps at least one group of us can complete “stage two” of our work by agreeing to something like Peter Kang’s clarification of the logical form of this critique. In stage three, we may then proceed to more concretely pragmatic forms of this critique.

[2] Trying to avoid too much technical detail here, I am using the term “intuitionism” to mark one central type of what many postmodern critics call “foundationalism”: it is the effort to privilege certain cognitions (or intellectual intuitions), available either to everyone or to a gifted few, as self-legitimating ad, therefore, indubitable and reliable as foundations for knowledge.

[3] Richard J. Bernstein is recognized as having coined the term in his 1983 book Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983).

[4] These are Kang’s distinctions, drawn from McCall, who uses them to distinguish between types of Contraries. Cf. S. McCall, “Contrariety” in Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 8 (1967): 121-32.

[5] On an initial search of previous pragmatic studies in the Qur’an, I have come up only with several studies of linguistic pragmatics applied to Qur’anic discourse:

  • Abdul Karim Bangura, Surah Al-Fatihah: A Linguistic Exploration of Its Meanings (iUniverse, 2004).
  • Abdul-Raof Hussein, Arabic Rhetoric: A Pragmatic Analysis (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
  • Abdul-Raof Hussein, Qur’an Translation: Discourse, Texture and Exegesis (Surrey: Curzon 2001).
  • Ayman Nazzal, “The Pragmatic Functions Of The Recitation Of Qur’anic Verses By Muslims In Their Oral Genre: The Case Of Insha’ Allah, ‘God’s Willing'” Pragmatics 15:2/3.251-273 (2005).
  • Ar-Rahm?n Romadhani Wulandari, “A Pragmatic Analysis of Interrogative Sentences in The Noble Qur’an” (Prospectus for a BA Thesis, School Of Teacher Training And Education Muhammadiyah University Of Surakarta, 2009).
  • Sugiyanti, “A Pragmatic Analysis on Forbidden Utterance in the English Translation of Al-Qur’an” (2007).
  • Anis Tri Hatmini, “A Pragmatic Analysis of Commissive Utterances in English Translation of Prophetic Tradition Related by BUKHORI” (2008).
  • Margaret Pettygrove, “Conceptions of War in Islamic Legal Theory and Practice,” Macalester Islam Journal Vol. 2, Issue 3 2007 Article 6.[v].

I will comment only on the first item, by Abdul Bangura, an impressive application of speech act theory and pragmatics to the study of Qur’anic discourse. “Pragmatics” is a sub-field of philosophic linguistics, evidently first conceived by Charles Morris (1908) as a science of what students of Austin have since called illocutionary discourse: speech or writing whose meaning is specific to some context of hearing or reading and cannot therefore be designed a priori or independent of an account of who receives the discourse, where, and when.[v] The most important recent scholar of pragmatics is Grice, best known for his notion of conversational implicature: the social conventions by which speakers signal that their words may appear to break rules of syntax of meaning, but that they are thereby attempting to say something that listeners “in the know” and in that context may understand.[v] Overall, pragmatics displays what linguists learned from the classical pragmatists but which often falls outside the purview of philosophic pragmatists. Bangura and these other authors show how fruitful it may be for pragmatists to look at this linguistic side of things: in this case showing, through rather technical analyses, how Qur’anic discourse displays its meaning performatively and with respect to context. Yazicioglu offers another level of pragmaticist study: showing how religious claims expressed through Qur’anic discourse may display their meanings by way of their anticipated effect on future conduct (what Austin would have called “illocutionary” force). Since Islamic Studies scholars have already invested in the study of Qur’anic pragmatics, it would be good as a next step to introduce them to Yazicioglu’s pragmaticist theology. The resulting conversation might contribute significantly to the next phase of SR inquiry.

[6] Max Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (Binghamton: Global Publications, 2001) and Worship and Ethics: A Study in Rabbinic Judaism (Binghamton: Global Publications, 2001).

[7] In the terms of pragmatics, the sages read scriptural verses as displaying their value-concepts in an illocutionary manner, to be read in manner of a conversational implicature.

[8] At least in my account of it.

[9] Peter Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , (New York, NY: Cambridge University, Press, 1998), 166

[10] We can sample the following passages from Goodson’s essay: [For Peirce,] novelty [is indeed] the occasion for doubt…, because…real doubts arise only from “irritation.” This is why, returning to rationalism, Peirce calls Cartesian doubts “paper doubts”: they are not real doubts because they do not arise from actual problems. Th[is] “sour” version of novelty, the kind that gives rise to doubt, is both built into and added onto in Ochs’s reading of Peirce. …Nicholas Adams provides such a description of this part of Ochs’s argument: “The classic Peircean pattern begins with irritation. Irritation gives rise to doubt. Doubt motivates thinking. Thinking produces belief, which alleviate[s] the doubt. Belief issues in habit. The scheme undergoes a significant modification in Ochs’ work, however. The two terms which change are “irritation” and “thinking.” They become “suffering” and “scriptural interpretation.” The habits in question are specifically historical: they are habits of a religious community. Faced with suffering, the community’s habits of reading scripture are interrupted. The “plain sense” of scripture is no longer satisfying. To address its suffering, the community seeks increasingly more imaginative interpretations of its texts, so as to find in them some wisdom for changing its habits….” So, yes, newness or novelty as suffering occasions doubt. But, also, one way to resolve that doubt is through novelty: seeking “more imaginative interpretations.” …While newness is responsible for causing “doubt” by way of “irritation” or “suffering,” it also incites concreteness through pragmatic readings in which new interpretations arise.”

[11] In my words; the citations refer to his words.

[12] Ochs, Peter. “Reparative Reasoning: From Peirce’s Pragmatism to Augustine’s Scriptural Semiotic” in Modern Theology 25:2 (April 2009), p. 191.

[13] Modern Theology , 25.2 (April 2009), 187-215. In the following discussion, I will occasionally cite passages from this essay that may clarify my responses to “Roots.” My citations will be made in this form: MT + reference to the numbering system I used to outline the MT essay + a given claim of mine in MT.

[14] Following Goodson’s fine clarification above, I put “ground” in quotes to distinguish it from “foundation” (in the foundationalist sense).

[15] Charles Peirce, “Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism,” (1906). In Charles Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce , vol. 4:530-572 (530, 532), 1931–1935, eds. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

[16] MT: 2.2: Peirce’s critique of Cartesianism is not a critique of any constative claim but a critique of the (Cartesian or modern) tendency to treat reparative claims as if they were constative claims and, therefore, to offer a set of inadequate reparative claims…. 2.5: A reparative claim is a complex series of symbols offered not to represent any object of meaning but to display a sign-object-interpretant relation that is itself the subject of the claim. The purpose of the claim is to draw the listener’s attention to this three-part relation rather than to any object of meaning. If the symbol is designed correctly, the listener will be drawn to imitate the claim or take action in response to it, rather than to observe and interpret what it may represent. Peirce’s defining thesis, in this context, is that our habits of action may adequately be represented as three part relations according to which certain stimuli in the world function as signs whose objects are certain ends of action and whose interpretants are certain reflex arcs. An associated thesis is that habits may be communicated and taught through such representations. Reparative claims may therefore be represented as actions (of signification or communication) whose objects are repairs (and thus changes) in certain interpretants (the interpretants of certain habits of action whose apparent failings have stimulated the reparative claims). 2.5.1. Habit-change is the intended interpretant of a reparative claim…. 4.1 In these terms, genealogical inquiry may be characterized as an effort to situate a reparative inquiry within a communal chain of transmission. “Community” refers here to an overlapping set of habits or a set of habits shared (non-identically) by several entities (activities or persons).[xiv] The term “Cartesianism” refers to a community of habits of inquiry, and Peirce’s genealogical study of Cartesianism is an effort to see if the Cartesians may represent a sub-grouping within a larger community, in particular one that reaches back in time. Adding Peirce as pragmatist to the community of Cartesians means adding both to a larger community that inherits the larger set of habits that collectively ground, warrant, and repair Cartesian criticisms. For the remainder of this essay, “the Cartesian community” will refer to this larger set of habits. Genealogical examination of the roots of Cartesian inquiry imitates the stages of Peirce’s genealogical examination of the roots of empiricism. Reasoning regressively from the practices of Cartesian criticism to their possible conditions, the first stage generates a typology of the elemental habits of Cartesian inquiry. The second stage culls evidence of comparable habits of inquiry among antecedent communities of inquiry. In the third stage, one early prototype is selected that most clearly displays these habits and that adds otherwise unavailable evidence about their possible provenance. 5:2 The second stage of genealogical inquiry culls evidence of comparable habits of inquiry among antecedent communities of inquiry. Work on this stage should include studies of medieval, Patristic, rabbinic, Greco-Roman, and biblical communities. With limited space, this essay focuses its attention on a single, Patristic prototype. 5:2:1: Peirce attended to the scholastic and earlier medieval contexts of Cartesian inquiry and criticism. While his studies display prototypes for various elements of Cartesian and pragmatic inquiry, they do not uncover prototypes for the entire community of Cartesian inquiry: to account, in other words, for contexts that might give rise to such a community of inquiry, including its intra-communal dialectic.

[17] MT: 2.1.3. Reparative or contested claims are offered to change or repair specific conventions for formulating claims in either everyday or specialized communities. …The business of Peirce’s pragmatism was two-fold: to introduce the category of “reparative claims” as distinct from the more recognizable category of constative claims, and to urge a specific set of reparative claims about the modern logic of inquiry.

[18] At the same time, as noted earlier, Danaher also appears at times to favor a pragmatic test for ideational coherence, perhaps an ideational rather than behavioral pragmatism.

[19] RO focuses on “secularism” as a product of modern binarisms.

[20] In Peter Ochs, Another Reformation (forthcoming, Brazos Press).

[21] In Peter Ochs, Another Reformation (forthcoming, Brazos Press).

[22] Robert Markus’s reading of Augustine would point more to the Scriptural pragmatists’ approach. Markus reads the semiotic of De Trinitate as anticipating Peirce’s triadic semiotic but incomplete as yet. Markus, that is, reads Augustine’s effort as one step more abstractive than he believes Augustine would or should have wanted. See Robert Markus, “Augustine on Signs” in Robert Markus, Signs and meanings: world and text in ancient Christianity (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1996), 71-104. I also discuss this in the Modern Theology essay on Peirce and Augustine. Phillip Carey offers a challenging reading of Augustine, most recently in Inner Grace: Augustine in the Traditions of Plato and Paul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Carey argues that Augustine offers an inward-looking theology of the Trinity that remains overly invested in the psychological analogy. Although Carey challenges a couple of Markus’s readings, Carey’s overall account strengthens Markus’s concern, since, even more than Markus, Carey would be concerned about the abstractive, and in that sense, egological focus of Augustine’s work.

[23] This discourse would emanate from the same pious hearts and minds as the inward-looking one, but out of a different context of experience and reflection. It would be the experience of direct interaction with members of the traditions about which this orthodoxy wants to make claims and a posteriori reflection on the unpredictable consequences of these interactions. My claim about the inadequacy of an inward-looking discourse is not a critique of the orthodoxy itself, but only of the presumption that an orthodoxy has only one theological discourse to offer. I trust that not only God, but also his disciples can speak in many voices. In saying this, I assume that a voice is itself a relational activity: not some “a” that relates after the fact to some listener “b,” but an “ab” from the start. This means that each voice is inseparable from a particular relation and, unless an orthodox practitioner relates in exactly the same way to every other person in every other context, then I trust this practitioner will have many voices to speak. All of them, to be sure, should be voices of the one Word. But I assume that only angels speak the single language of that Word; no, I don’t even think angels do that since each angel tends to enact a single command and purpose, which means a single relational voice. My conclusion, in short, is that RO is simply not yet prepared to engage in conversation with SR or with earnest practitioners of other traditions. I am not at all saying that the faith professed by participants in RO is incapable of speaking to and also criticizing practices of SR and other religions. I am saying only that I have not seen evidence of attempts by RO to hear how their own faith would speak if it were earnestly engaged with other traditions of practice.

[24] I only discuss these three contributions, and not Eklund’s or Fodor’s, because I take Brueggemann’s, Smith’s, and Well’s essays to be representative of the upshot of the hopes of SR.

[25] Jesus and his dialogue partners, I assume, were conversant with the biblical and traditional prescriptions on such issues; these are in the background of these conversations, even though often they remain subtexts.

[26] Nicholas Adams, Habermas and Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 242.

[27] Ibid., 21. The parable is also found in Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19, and Thomas 65–66.

[28] Daniel W. Hardy, “The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning,” in eds. David F. Ford and C. C. Pecknold, The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 185-207; citation from 187.

[29] Rebekah Eklund’s essay achieves this as well, and her work promises much for reflecting on SR’s relation to historical-critical scholarship.

[30] Rev. Sorrentino is Director of Religious Life at Amherst College; Rev. Oliver is Associate University Chaplain at Yale University.

[31] The National conference was held at Duke University and hosted by Duke University Chaplain Sam Wells. Along with Dr. Ziad and me, our SR study-group leaders were SR members Tehseen Thaver, Rizwan Zamir, Rebecca Rine, Emily Wilson-Hauger, Tom Greggs, Deborah Galaski, Jason Byassee, Tommy Givens, and Rebekah Eklund, along with Revs. Oliver and Sorrentino, Duke Muslim Chaplain Abdullah T. Antepli Omar, and, from Hartford Seminary, Yehezkel Landau.

[32] For an example of such teaching texts, see; for additional resources, see

[33] I have referred to the late Daniel Hardy’s Anglican work as “found theology” that is, a theology that is pleased to build itself on the ground of what ever appears at its doorstep, whatever it finds and wherever it is found.

[34] I will speak here in the second person plural to represent my sense of the general tenor and direction of our discussion at Huron. I do not mean to suggest that we all came to some formal written agreement on the following issues.