Where Person Meets Word Part 1: Personalism In The Language Theory Of Kenneth L. Pike -- By: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 77:2 (Fall 2015)
Article: Where Person Meets Word Part 1: Personalism In The Language Theory Of Kenneth L. Pike
Author: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Where Person Meets Word
Part 1: Personalism In The Language Theory
Of Kenneth L. Pike

Pierce Taylor Hibbs

I. Introduction

Pierce Hibbs currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Center for Theological Writing at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Reformed theology has always championed the Trinity as the beating heart of the Christian faith. This is true not just of the mainstay historical Reformers, Luther and Calvin, but also of Dutch Calvinism, Old Princeton, and the Westminster heritage.1 Certainly, Calvin and Melanchthon were not alone in claiming that “God’s triunity was that which distinguished the true and living God from idols.”2 The true God is the Trinity.

Out of this tradition emerged Cornelius Van Til and his insistence that the self-contained ontological Trinity be the basis of all human experience and knowledge.3 He claimed that “if we are to have coherence in our experience,

there must be a correspondence of our experience to the eternally coherent experience of God. Human knowledge ultimately rests upon the internal coherence within the Godhead; our knowledge rests upon the ontological Trinity as its presupposition.”4 In other words, our experience and knowledge are grounded in the equal ultimacy of the one and many, and the perichoretic relationship of the persons in the Godhead.5 What might this mean for our understanding of people and our use of language? Many things, certainly, but one of them must be that God’s Trinitarian nature is imprinted on the structure of our communicative behavior. Not only does this have critical implications for our understanding and use of language, but it also encourages us to reassess the place of the Trinity in general revelation.

Building on the foundation laid by Van Til, we can explore the Trinitarian implications for language and general revelation indirectly by examining the work of Kenneth L. Pike (1912–2000), who developed a distinctly Trinitarian approach to all of human behavior, especially language. What’s more, Pike’s thought foregrounds the inherently personal nature of God and its ramifications for our understanding of people as creatures made in his image. Given that the imago Dei and the internal witness of God to all people is part and parcel of a Reformed view of general revelation, what we learn from Pike has repercussions for our understanding of t...

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