Closing The Gaps: Perichoresis And The Nature Of Language -- By: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 78:2 (Fall 2016)
Article: Closing The Gaps: Perichoresis And The Nature Of Language
Author: Pierce Taylor Hibbs


Closing The Gaps:
Perichoresis And The Nature Of Language

Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Pierce Taylor Hibbs is Associate Director for Theological Curriculum and Instruction in the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary.

“Language bends us, moves us, drives us—or blocks us, holds us, binds us in a word-made mold.”

—Kenneth L. Pike, Tagmemics, Discourse, and Verbal Art

Marshall McLuhan wrote years ago that the western world is “intensely individualist and fragmented.”1 His words still hold water four decades later. The sad follow-up is that though we are scattered and maimed by sin far more pervasively than McLuhan could have imagined as a media theorist, we still think we are better off if we have our own space.2 The individualism of contemporary western culture has, among other things, sown the seed of this thought and then watered it so routinely that it has broken through the soil of speculation, sprouted leaves, and blossomed into an axiom. Gaps, we think, are good. We need space between one another, space to contemplate, space to grow spiritually in our relationship with God.

Yet, in another, ironic sense, the space we claim as necessary to social, cognitive, and spiritual fruition has also bored caverns beneath the soul. These caverns are ever collapsing, opening fissures and ravines between us and those we love, and so we use language to build bridges and reconnect. The paradoxical allegory of western humanity in the twenty-first century is that we create canyons between ourselves even as we build bridges, through language, to cross them. Gaps, we know, are not good.

Though we are content to use language as if it were only expedient to build and mend our bridges, the lasting answer to this “problem of gaps” lies in the nature of language itself, and, on the deepest level, in the Trinity. Language is a communing activity. God is a self-communing being. Looking to the tripersonal God of Scripture and his perichoretic self-communion, we find the heart of

language and the real impetus for our use of words. Building bridges is not even the half of it. We were made to commune.

I. Language, God, And Humanity

I will be arguing in the following pages that the divine, perichoretic origin of language points to the solution to our problem of gaps. But what exactly is language? We could piece together a definition from a jigsaw of psychological and social theories, but that would be unwise. Secular linguists ...

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