Textual Linguistic Theology in Paul Ricœur

by Xavier Lakshmanan (Author)
©2016 Monographs 196 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 358


In this work, Xavier Lakshmanan argues for a textual linguistic approach to Christian theology. The book takes its shape in conversation with Paul Ricœur’s philosophical thought, demonstrating how Ricœur’s hermeneutic philosophy can inform the way Christians interpret and appropriate biblical narratives without delimiting the potential of the text or eroding the distinctiveness of its language. The text can be appropriated in ways that address the fundamental questions of life. New meanings are constantly generated from the same text in order to describe and redescribe existence, and form human identity. The self is linked inseparably with narrative; every interpretation of narrative is at the same time a reinterpretation of the self and of its possibilities. In such interpretative processes, the reader interprets the text and the text interprets the reader at the same time through an interactive reading. Accordingly, the aim of interpreting the narratives is to open up the world of the text in front of the text and in front of the reader. Here what the text uncovers is the «textual» structure of existence itself. The reality that unfolds through language discloses the possibilities of existence, and in this way the text creates a future. A revised identity emerges against the horizon of that future to give a coherent and dynamic account of the self against a horizon of hope.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Nature of Life: Narrative
  • Narrative Form of Life: A Debate
  • Pre-Narrative Qualities of Life
  • Narrative Composition of Life
  • Narrative Reclaim of Life
  • 2. The Narrative of Text: Life
  • A Hermeneutical Turn
  • Textual Autonomy
  • Textual Surplus
  • Hermeneutical Surplus
  • Ontological Surplus
  • 3. The Language of Life: Metaphor
  • Metaphoric Mediation
  • Metaphoric Language
  • Metaphoric Existence
  • 4. The Life of Metaphor: Reality
  • Metaphorical Innovation of Meaning
  • Metaphorical Innovation of Reality
  • Metaphorical Redescription of Reality
  • Metaphorical Attestation of Reality
  • 5. The Reality of Life: Temporality
  • Hope: The Basis of Temporality
  • Existence: The Form of Temporality
  • Self-Understanding: The Totality of Temporality
  • 6. The Life of Temporality: Identity
  • Temporal Identity: Narrative Ethics
  • Temporal Identity: A Synthetic Identity
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Name Index

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This book is a search for a rigorous philosophical framework for contemporary theology. A dynamic method is critical to the task of theology today. In this book I argue for a textual linguistic method for theology. What is a textual linguistic theology? It is not a prescription for the content of theology but a broad methodological framework for doing Christian theology today. Most importantly it is a method vital to a theology based upon biblical narratives. I engage Paul Ricoeur as a promising conversation partner. His philosophical insight gives shape to this proposed method. A textual linguistic method, I will argue, can inform current theological discourse in a way that effectively appropriates the biblical text as a source of selfhood, identity, and meaning—all through a dynamic interpretive process. This method neither delimits the potential of the text nor erodes the distinctiveness of its language. The text can be appropriated in ways that address the most fundamental questions of life. Every interpretation of narrative is at the same time a reinterpretation of the self and of its possibilities of existence. In this way the text creates a future, and a revised identity emerges against the horizon of that future. It is at this point that the aim of Ricoeur’s project converges with the aim of Christian theological discourse: namely, to give a coherent and dynamic account of the self against a horizon of hope.

This book is a revised version of my Doctor of Philosophy dissertation originally submitted to Charles Sturt University, Sydney in 2013. The book’s ← ix | x → distinctiveness lies in its appropriation of Ricoeur’s philosophical thought within its larger anthropological context: a search for the meaning of human identity. Ricoeur is an interdisciplinary thinker who draws together existentialism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, structuralism, psychoanalysis, metaphor, narrative, political ethics, criminal justice, feminist studies, and religious studies—all have contributed much to the philosophy of religion. It seems to me that the drawback of recent theological appropriations of Ricoeur lies in the tendency of theologians to utilize only isolated aspects of his philosophy without considering his thought as a whole. Some theologians appropriate his theories of narrative, others his theory of metaphor, and others his interpretation theory. They use Ricoeur’s philosophical insights eclectically without considering the overall theological tenor of his thought within the larger context of his hermeneutic and anthropological philosophy. My book aims to give an account of the overall theological tenor of Ricoeur’s thought and of its relevance to contemporary theology.

This book aims to appropriate Ricoeur’s project by identifying the continuing logical thread of his project—a project that is centred on and controlled by anthropological questions of existence and identity. Even though theology has appropriated Ricoeur to some extent, it has largely done so in an indirect way. Instead, my book aims for a direct appropriation: taking Ricoeur’s philosophy as a primary guide to theology. Such direct appropriation of Ricoeur’s thought offers an entire framework for doing theology today. Instead of following Ricoeur’s work chronologically, I offer an account of the internal logical path of his thought—a path that starts with narrative existence and leads to narrative identity through interpretation. I will try to show that such an appropriation of Ricoeur has implications for the narrative structure of existence, the significance of language in the formation of the self, the importance of metaphor in religious language, and the temporal conditions of identity.

I would like to express my deep-felt gratitude to my doctoral supervisor, Dr. Benjamin Myers, who closely worked with me throughout the whole project: from its inception to publication. His expertise in the field, sharpness of mind and kindness of heart are greatly felt and appreciated. Ben made an invaluable contribution to this work by supervising, guiding, advising, reading, editing, and helping to see the project published. My heartfelt thanks due to Dr. Leonard Smith for his encouragement and the Australian College of Christian Studies for enabling me to access some funding. Special thanks also to my associate supervisor, Dr. Clive Pearson, for his valuable contribution to the project in its initial stages. I am greatly thankful to Russell John Bailey for carefully reading the whole manuscript. ← x | xi →

I am indebted to the community of scholars and research students at Charles Sturt University’s School of Theology for their constructive criticisms in the postgraduate seminar presentations, which became a means of progress and new directions in this project. My deep-felt gratitude goes to Dr. Gordon Dicker and the With Love to the World Scholarship, without which my doctoral studies would have been impossible. I would also like to express my thanks to Charles Sturt University’s Faculty of Arts for providing some additional funding towards the close of my study. Special thanks due to United Theological College, Redeemer Baptist School, Emmaus Bible College Sydney, and Full Life Church for extending support and encouragement on the journey.

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Ricoeur’s project is an elaborate search for identity and self-understanding through the medium of texts. In his thought, the self stands inseparably linked with narrative. Identity emerges from narrative through a creative process of interpretation. This interpretive process opens up the world of the text and uncovers the “textual” form of reality. It also elicits from the text new possibilities of human being in the world, set against a horizon of narrative hope. The reality that comes in this way through language redescribes human existence and reorganizes the shape of life by stretching it temporally toward the future. Here a self comes to understand itself in terms of its total possibility, so that a reshaped identity emerges in the present against the horizon created by the text.

This book presupposes agreement with several theologians that contemporary Christian theology1 must look for new ways to appropriate the biblical text and to address the questions of human existence and identity. I argue that Ricoeur’s philosophical project, consisting of his philosophical anthropology, narrative theory, hermeneutic philosophy and linguistic theories, can be an effective conversation partner with Christian theology. His philosophical project can provide insights to sharpen the methods of theological reflection. Engaging Ricoeur as a dialogue partner can help theology to appropriate the biblical text in a creative way, and to formulate a theoretical framework for understanding the relation between text ← 1 | 2 → and self. The result is a theology which addresses an enlarged sense of identity in the world, through narrative, ontological, and linguistic resources, all based upon dynamic interpretive processes. Ricoeur’s aim is to understand human identity in the context of text, narrative and textual language through interpretive processes. This aim resonates with the Christian tradition, in which identity is grounded primarily on biblical texts. My book argues through Ricoeur for a textual linguistic theological model that may function as a dynamic approach to theology today. This provides not only a theoretical account of self-identity, but also a coherent framework for viewing the role of text and language in the formation of the self. The textual linguistic theology proposed in this book offers to illuminate the way Christians appropriate biblical narratives without delimiting the creative potential of those texts or their unique literary quality as narratives.

Exploring the sources of understanding the self and its formation in a modern world, Charles Taylor points out the importance of narrative as the fundamental resource in which the self discovers, understands and interprets itself.2 Based on similar accounts of the priority of narrative, modern theology has made considerable shifts in its approach to the Bible. For instance, Richard Lints argues that the “translation of biblical information into an abstract theological language may take away clarity,”3 while Stanley J. Grenz observes that “merely quoting from scripture [cannot] bridge the gap from the first to the twentieth century”; theology needs to find a way to continue its task “apart from the appeal to propositional revelation.”4 Dan R. Stiver observes the contemporary situation of Christian theology and states that “when our footing constantly threatens to slip, we can welcome aid from any quarter.”5 Grenz further argues that these circumstances make it difficult for Christians “to employ their faith as a basis from which to make sense out of their personal identity.”6 This problem of identity is explored by Joseph Moore, who notes that “propositions are … entities without identity,”7 so that “we should not admit propositions into our ontology.”8 Or as Michelle Montague remarks, “Propositionalism must be abandoned.”9 Abandoning the propositional way of doing theology leads Ronald F. Thiemann to see Christian faith and practice together. He argues: “If Christianity is a practice, then the formation of Christian life becomes the central task of the Christian community. … Theology as a crucial activity within the Christian community should also serve Christian practice.”10 He further argues that “the key to an appropriate understanding of theology and practice lies in a fuller appropriation of the narrative shape of the Christian life and of Christian theorizing. Narrative is the crucial category for reuniting the theoretical and practical in the Christian community.”11 Similarly, Stephen Crites argues that “Narrative alone can contain the full temporality of experience in a ← 2 | 3 → unity of form”;12 and Anthony Balcomb notes that only “a narrative approach can honour the plurality and diversity of experience without compromising the reality of that to which experience refers.”13

Indicating the need for narrative to discover truth-values in biblical studies, Grant R. Osborne argues: “We must work with the literary as well as the historical dimensions of biblical narrative, and we must seek both historical and theological truth. They are intertwined in historical narrative and cannot be separated into isolated compartments.”14 And George Stroup observes: “When biblical narrative falls silent, the people of God have nothing to remember, and with nothing to remember they soon forget who they are. Their untutored imaginations turn to other narratives and other gods.”15 Understanding narrative as a universal property that marks the starting point of reflection, MacIntyre argues that one of the common human cultural properties is narrative. Possessing a common cultural resource means sharing basic “schemata which are at one and the same time constitutive of and normative for intelligible action by myself and are also means for my interpretations of the actions of others.”16 Thus the concept of narrative helps human beings to understand how they grasp their own identities. For MacIntyre, “any epistemological crisis is always a crisis in human relationships,” rooted in a disturbance of the functioning of common narratives.17 In the same way, Diogenes Allen argues that “who we are and how we understand life—and how we are to be understood by others—is bound up within such narratives,” so that without them “we inevitably encounter both intellectual and emotional crises.”18

But in spite of the concern with narrative in contemporary Christian theology, there remains a need for a rigorous theoretical model which explains the precise relation between narrative and the self. As Stroup suggests, the burgeoning contemporary literature on narrative theology is often haphazard and impressionistic rather than conceptually rigorous; it “continues to grow by leaps and bounds but without direction, or, more precisely, in every conceivable direction.”19 It is in response to this lack of coherence that I turn to the philosophical project of Paul Ricoeur as a resource and a dialogue partner for Christian theology.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Textual linguistic Paul Ricoeur Human identity The narrative of text Metaphor Christian theology
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 196 pp.

Biographical notes

Xavier Lakshmanan (Author)

Xavier Lakshmanan received his PhD in systematic theology from Charles Sturt University, Australia. He currently serves as Faculty Head of Theology at Australian College of Christian Studies, Sydney, and has published several articles in theology and hermeneutic philosophy.


Title: Textual Linguistic Theology in Paul Ricœur
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198 pages