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“A Revolution of Hearts and Minds,” Concept 2000, the Fourth San Jose Lecture

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A Revolution of Hearts and Minds

San Jose, November 24, 1997

In the latter section, we considered speech-act theology. Such an analysis of linguistic action and the linguistic component in institutions was only intended to help us take seriously the important role language plays in social change. But analysis is one thing; actually visiting the construction site where language is tearing down the old buildings and raising up new structures of the assembly of institutions of a new society is very different.

When language comes to speech in its executive mode, after it has already reflected realities truthfully, then it shapes these realities to match the sense of the language. In Searle’s vocabulary, now the words do not match the world, but the world changes to match the words. The question is not whether the proposition in the speech act is true or false, but the linguistic declaration makes its proposition true, brings a new state of affairs into existence.

For an example of what I am talking about we do not have to refer to Luther’s words to Erasmus about the tumult of the Peasants’ War again. We can already find him using the power of words to squelch the Wittenberg Disturbances three years earlier (in his Eight Invocavit Sermons). For him, religion is like a language “behind” his language, or better, “in, with, and under,” his language, and to trust in the agency of the Word is the crux of faith. To substitute force or the law spells the shipwreck of faith. In a famous passage from the third sermon he states:

In short, I will preach [the word], teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip [Melanchthon] and Amsdorf, the Word so weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany; indeed, I could have started such a game that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? Mere fool’s play. I did nothing; I let the Word do its work.[1]

Now this remains controversial to social scientists who want to be objective, an attitude so inimical to Martin Luther, who operated with a driving faith. They note the discovery of the printing press, and the political window of opportunity given the Reformation at this time: Emperor Charles V had to continually contend with the alliance between Francis I and the Pope Leo X against him, as well as the threat of Suleiman, Sultan of the Turks, in the East, and could not deal with the Lutherans until it was too late.

The first argument cannot hold, because although the printing press gave more vehicle to the Word, it was still language doing the work, but now with a greatly enlarged scope – reaching the masses. Secondly, in the short term, physical or military force overcomes a new consciousness embodied in language, but what becomes of that force if the army itself is converted? An army is no match for a revolution of hearts and minds! Recent examples of the candle-light revolution in East Germany, and the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines come to mind. The truth action campaigns[2] of Mahatma Gandhi are another example, the diversion of Britain in WWII, notwithstanding.

In such a “revolution of hearts and minds,” (an expression I heard Dr. Helen Caldecott of Physicians Concerned used on public radio),[3] it is important that the ends do not justify the means. In a proleptic or anticipatory sense, the means have to be glimpses, fragments, and examples of the justice or good that is the end. In this case if we speak about being the “bad guy” for the sake of the good, then this badness can only be projected upon the agent, it cannot really describe the agent for justice and peace.

When Luther tells Melanchthon to “sin boldly, but more boldly still believe!” we have to remember it is the diffident, paralyzed, and indecisive Melanchthon, whom he is addressing. Carlstadt is out there running roughshod over all kinds of people and trying to force the issues to such an extent that Luther believed him to have had a “shipwreck in faith.”

Now cable TV, global messages by satellite, as well as the information highway on the Internet are analogous to the invention of the printing press in Reformation times. They may make communication instantaneous, but they do not get to the soul of the matter, because of the overload of information and the superficiality necessarily inherent in such immediacy and spontaneity. Mass movements in which the individual becomes dissolved in tribalism will only repeat the historical aberrations of fascism and NAZIism. There is no way around the individual. In, with, and under the individual we cannot do without the real presence of the community – to use Luther’s words in an inner-worldly sense.

It takes but a little imagination to take Searle’s mode of language into a language event. Actions are inside events, or a series of actions, with their agents inside the language, in the Wittgensteinian sense, make a language event. For our purposes of course, we are invoking the Good News eventuating from the language of God, the way Luther did by his Word of God Theology.

What is worship but the place where the Good news is proclaimed purely and the sacraments are rightly administered?[4] In Luther’s sense the sacraments are also part of the language event, because they are visible words, while the audible ones are heard in preaching. In worship, a community and its members, or persons, individuals, are in the womb of a divine language event. Nested within this event we need Luther’s Language of Address, language designed to move the heart. For us today the “heart” means the “center of the responsible self.” Thus language needs to get into the heart so that individuals “live, move, and have their being” in it. Nested within the language event is the language of address, and nested within the language of address is the embodied word.

Before explaining these language forms briefly, let me describe how the new language of the gospel is brought to speech. In the liturgy the Scriptures are brought into the congregation, and the way a herald of old read a letter filled with news for all the villagers to hear, who could not read, we read the gospel lesson. Now that lesson may really be Good News or a confrontation of the people with the law, but in the real presence of Christ, when the Gospel is preached the Good News is in the making, the Good News is breaking upon the people. First it may well be the eyes of faith witnessing the news, but faith becomes sight, i.e., eye-witness news. Bringing the Good News to speech makes it happen, making the people witnesses of the mighty acts of God.

But faith comes by hearing. We have to listen to each other, and listen to those who have been injured by the injustices of our social structures. We have to listen to each other beyond the edge of where our language can even go. Into the sighs and the tears and the reaches where we struggle to find the words, if any there be, to say what is happening to us, what we are going through; and the new language, the new words, the new realities in the making, get launched from here. In the language of Judith Jordan the silence and oblivion brought by shame, is overcome, as a self is brought to speech, receives a voice, overcomes the dominating reality, “the” reality of the ones in control, by trusting their own reality they themselves recognize and perceive.

Tim Lull, now the President of PLTS, likes to point out that in the Smalcald Articles Luther held that the Gospel did not counsel us and help against sin in only one way. No,

God is surpassingly rich in his grace: [we] First [receive it] through the spoken word, by which the forgiveness of sin (the peculiar function of the Gospel) is preached to the whole world; second through baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys; and finally, through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren. [the brothers and sisters].[5]

It is the last way Luther mentions that becomes the way new reaches of our experience can become verbalized so that the experience of this, the most intimate language event translates into a new command of the language.

Let’s not forget that Luther’s experience of justification by grace through faith was a language event. How in the world could he shape his life according to the Word of God? He is being seized by the Word. This “seizure” he is having is a matter of death and life, to quote Gerhard Forde.[6] And a conversion of his heart and mind takes place, later followed by a revolution of hearts and minds in the Reformation renewal.

What is Luther’s Language of Address? Daniel Erlander puts it well:

Luther’s word is “address” that creates change. Living word is like the plea of an old fashioned young man [or woman if we plug in a Sadie Hawkins’ twist] on his knees asking a young woman [mutatis mutandi unless we have a new fashioned relationship!] to marry him. [etc.] She realizes that her affirmative response to this “address” will change the rest of her life.[7]

The Gospel proclaimed, therefore, lays claim to the people addressed, and the “follow-me!” hearing event changes the rest of the people’s lives.

Now people will not allow any words to enter their heart. Words that enter the inmost being of a person are embodied. “It is with my bodily voice that I bear Christ into your heart!” Luther declares. He seems to personify words. The naked word will get into the heart with ample power to move the person. Luther is very cognizant that speech is action. But he goes farther. Words are the vehicles to carry oneself into the heart of the other, to bear Christ into the heart of the believer. And when this language event takes place, in the purity of faith by grace, a beautiful new incarnation of Christ takes place in the believer.[8]

Perhaps the most revolutionary act possible is prayer, because what seems to constitute the revolution of hearts and minds is the continuing story of the Word becoming flesh, and with that, the expanding incarnation, the continuous creation of God. When we spoke of the centripetal force, saying with Wittgenstein, let us get into it! Then the word becomes an incarnation and by language, the new creation, the body of Christ, is brought to speech, is brought into being by speech.

Walter Wink does a new paradigm of Bible study. He encourages us to act out stories we read in the Bible. Acting out a story first feels artificial and the dissonance between ourselves and the roles we are supposed to play make us not want to take such an exercise seriously. But get into it! As in the Greek Passion by Kazantzakis, you will suddenly be overtaken by a new reality, in the spell of old words that can recreate and become the new living edition of the old story in our times. To read a play is one thing. To see it acted by performers is a kind of enfleshment of the words. To actually play it yourself is a wonderfully creative experience. But to understand the plot of the story of your own life, to figure out the acts of the play of your life, when the climax comes, and when the denouement sets in, is quite another thing, especially when it is a matter of death and life, and you yourself are a baptized witness of Jesus Christ our Lord, who changes you from an actor into a real child of God.

I have gone to the limit very quickly with Walter Wink’s idea, but acting out Bible stories gives us a very important embodied understanding which touches us in a more basic way than another cerebral rendition of words that merely spin their wheels in our brain, but do not move us anywhere.

We may also experiment with the liturgy of worship and go around and around, but not get into the revolution of hearts and minds, the metanoia, transformation and renewal of our minds according to the Word of God. The purpose of the liturgy is to conform to the mind of Christ rather than conforming ourselves to the world.[9] The Word of God, the Holy Gospel, will make the mind of Christ as well as the body become really present.

Roughly speaking, liturgy is between the word and the actions outside the church. Because we are aware of speech-acts, we already understand that some words are ritual themselves, and some ritual is the embodiment of words.

A recent master’s thesis by James Oerther called Movement and Gesture in Worship: a Celebration of the Embodied Word (GTU, April, 1997) is helpful in pointing out how our bodies learn of their own account through the ritual enacted in the liturgy of worship. Often performative contradictions – if I can use this word loosely, occur. For example. Lutherans do not equate the Bible with the Word of God, the Gospel lesson with the Gospel. But we stand for the gospel lesson, as if it were the Gospel, when it harangues us and threatens us and is anything but the Gospel. The lessons about John the Baptist, are a case in point. We remain seated when in the Old Testament, God throws the rainbow over Noah’s ark, and promises that Abraham’s seed will be an eternal blessing for all the nations. That is pure Gospel. But because it is difficult to distinguish between law and gospel, we should at least tell the people that they were standing for the Gospel, even if the gospel lesson this Sunday happened to be an outburst of the law, for example, when Jesus calls us whitéd sepulchers, hypocrites, vipers, snakes in the grass!

I believe James Oerther is on to something. Our worship is filled with ritual, but also the body language of gestures – or the lack of them. One theory of language by George Herbert Mead discovers the origin of language in gestures, and calls a word a vocal gesture. Imagine if the words spoken in worship, the thoughts within the words, the gestures accompanying the words, the liturgy, the ritual, and the action, all became the body language of God? What divine suasive forces could be unleashed to counter destructive social, economic, and political forces in the community, what divine suasive strength would be at hand to rescue persons from being overcome and destroyed by them!

Just as an aside in this place, because I am focusing narrowly on the liturgy, it does not mean that we are allowing ourselves to be trapped into leisure time, avocational, and private space in the church. The social suasive forces need to come to terms with social conditions and structures that are unjust. The structure of the liturgy can be compared with the structures of society. Do the systems, both the economic and the political, serve the life world, of which the church is the center, or is the life-world being undermined and colonized by the systems? Is an economic individualism undermining any possible sense of self with the desperate pursuit of money. (Robert Bellah) We believe in the sacredness of the individual. But without the social coherence of a healthy community, the individual will not make it. Thus the way the liturgy centers life in communion and the individual become sacred before God, the systems have to center in and pro-exist for the life-world. That means that the structures also have to be rearranged for the sake of the revolution of hearts and minds, where they prevent the blossoming of new life.

We are struggling with a new phenomenon where after a moving solo or choir performance, the congregation applauds. Does this change the service into a performance. Does it confuse the worship with theater? If we applaud do we become spectators rather than getting into it as participants? I’ve not been able to stop the applause. But perhaps if a more suitable gesture of praise could be exercised it might help keep our body language from contradicting what we are about. Why not raise our arms in praise and shout “Hallelujah!” and “Praise the Lord! Amen.” If we have difficulty with so uninhibited a gesture, then, we ask ourselves, why?

It would be too much to try to investigate how the liturgy of communion brought about real communion with God and community one with another. How the reading of the word, its proclamation in the sermon, followed by prayer is structured in the liturgy to issue into communion. But to limit ourselves to forgiveness of sins: the brief order may be read or not, and the forgiveness may be declared. But in the sincerity condition of this speech act, if we believe it we have it. If we cannot believe it then our sins, our guilt, and shame will still silence and burden us, or perhaps cause us to act out. Belief comes from hearing. Now according to Oerther, some people do not do well with the audible word. Some only learn by the visible approach. Others learn and can take something in only kinesthetically: by that he means that they have to allow their body to learn something, and through a hands on, or movement of their body, they can learn what they could not take in visually or audibly. It is as if they had to say something and hear it said for example, by dancing or playing it. Thus Oerther is very conscious of our bodies in worship and their being in it or excluded from it, being active or mostly inactive.

Where does this leave a person who needs to be forgiven! Role playing forgiveness stories in the Bible could be helpful to such a person. Jesus forgiving Peter’s denial, or the woman taken in adultery, or the parable of the unforgiving servant, among others.

But would not the best pronouncement of forgiveness ensue on the very life story of a unique and individual person, and does not the rubber have to hit the road directly where this person needs the help in overcoming the resistance to hearing God’s forgiveness, to being lifted out of shame, out of a low self-esteem, a low self-image, if that happens to be a person’s lot. But this approach is merely an attempt to reach the person, the outcome is not in our hands. We cannot control the consequence, we can only address the person, who may not yet be reachable whatever approach we use. They will only learn something somewhere else later in their life-journey.[10] But you can be sure, that such a person, who has captured God’s heart, and whom God pursues with love, will not be able to shake Gerard Manly Hopkin’s “Heaven’s Hound” until they realize they were fleeing life, and turn around and receive the blessings.

We’ve been through four lectures together: From the Word of God coming to change and renew the world, to the social impact of some of Luther’s teachings out in the economic and political systems; From finding Luther’s two kingdom theory in the sophisticated sociology of Habermas: his life-world amid the two systems; we continued by analyzing linguistic acts and the linguistic component of institutions; the performativity of the word, a word like the cell of an organism, the little building bricks of all institutions; to the reconstruction of persons and communities by the Word of God, as a divine language event.

For the revolution of hearts and minds we desire, for the responsible social revolution, the judgment needs to begin in the house of the Lord, so that salvation may also flow to the four corners of the world from that house.

The following footnotes are nos. 125-134 in the original. The Bibliography is for all four lectures.


[1]T. Lull, ed., MLBTW, p. 421-422 and LW 51:70-100. With Melanchthon he refers to his friend, Nicholas von Amsdorf (1483-1565).

[2]Non-violent action does not characterize what Gandhi was about, because it is worded in the negative; but the work of the truth, doing the truth, in the agency of truthful speech acts, pinpoints Gandhi’s idea better.

[3]The concept of “a revolution of hearts and minds” comes from Helen Caldicott, “Technology, Spirituality, and the Future of the Planet” a speech given in Portland, OR 3/28/95 and heard on Alternative Radio, David Barsamian, Boulder, Colorado, 1995.

[4]Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, Book of Concord, p. 32. Freely cited.

[5]Book of Concord, p. 310.

[6]Justification by Faith – a Matter of Death and Life. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

[7]Baptized, We Live: Lutheranism as a Way of Life, (Holden Village, Chelan, Washington: 1981),p. 12.

[8]“When faith is preexistent, a beautiful incarnation can take place.” Luther’s Galatians Commentary of 1535, Luther’s Works Vol. 26, page 272.

[9]Romans 12:2.

[10]T. Lull, p. 427.

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Written by peterkrey

December 4, 2009 at 5:29 am

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