Monday, October 14, 2013

Performative Language and the Limits of Performance in Preaching

Chapter 4, John M. Rottman “Performative Language and the Limits of Performance in Preaching” pp. 67-86

Does the speaking of preaching actually accomplish something? Rottman looks to the performative speech theories of John L. Austin. In some instances our speaking does accomplish something. Examples would be a christening, a marriage, or a court order. Can a whole sermon or at least some of its parts fall into this category? Rottman, with Austin, suggests it can, provided it follows the accepted convention, is suitable for the occasion, is correct, complete, and sincere.

Rottman explores history of sermons to look for the idea of performative speech. Unfortunately, he takes the last hundred years as his norm and suggests that sermons have always depended on explanation of propositions. These sermons tend to fall short in their performative aspect. So Rottman looks to the New Hermeneutic of Barth to find sermons which speak as proclamation of God’s will. If this is the pattern God can speak powerfully and accomplish his will. God’s freedom to work by the Holy Spirit when and how he wishes remains a problem.

My question for Rottman would be how the preacher’s performance may differ from God’s performance through the preacher.

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