Stoked to be presenting my paper “The Ideation of Jesus Christ: Aesthetic Response as Divine Encounter” at the 68th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Antonio, Texas this November. Come by and check it out if you are there! Date and location of my paper TBD.
Since about 2010 I’ve been really interested in applying the hermeneutical theories of Wolfgang Iser to a theology of Christian revelation. Recently I’ve included some of this work in my forthcoming book with IVP due out next year called ‘Worship in the Way of the Cross.’ This paper will be parsing out the implications of Iser’s work for biblical revelation in even deeper ways.
I’ll also be presenting a different paper entitled “μέλος as ‘Melody’ in Colossians” a few days later at SBL. You can read about that here.
Read the abstract if you’re interested:
“The Ideation of Jesus Christ: Aesthetic Response as Divine Encounter”—
In his 1980 book entitled The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, Wolfgang Iser, developed a new approach to a phenomenological theory of reader-response hermeneutics known as aesthetic response theory. Though Iser himself was not a theologian and did not apply his work to the discipline of theology or biblical studies, and though virtually no biblical scholars or theologians have engaged with his work, Iser’s theory is hugely beneficial for the study of theology. This paper will apply Iser’s work on aesthetic response to the topic of the formation of the self through the ideated encounter with the living Christ experienced in worship through aesthetic response in concert with the writings of St. Paul.
Iser’s work deals largely with the process of ideation which refers to the phenomenon in which, when reading a work of literature, the reader activates the structures and elements of a text put in place by the author and thereby becomes involved in the creation of meaning. The reader produces an experience through which the characters and world of the text become present.2 The structures and signs in the literature comprise a “pattern” which “guide[s] the imagination of the reader to ultimately construct the meaning of a text. And, the meaning of a text for Iser is never simply a series of propositional facts that are delivered via the text from the author to the reader but is instead an experience. The meaning of a text is an entrance into a “dynamic happening” and a “living event.” Through the process of ideation, the reader does not simply receive but instead contributes to the construction of a new reality from the text. Ideation involves an act of endowing presence to something which—apart from the activation of the text by the reader—is in some sense absent. As Iser notes, “in reading we think the thoughts of another person” and we become “entangled” with that person through the act and “we actually participate in the text, and…[we] are caught up in the very thing we are producing.”
This paper will investigate the transformative results that occur when the person ideated is not a fictional or literary character, but is instead Jesus Christ. To that end, Iser’s theory of ideation and aesthetic response will be applied to the writings of St. Paul in order to propose a phenomenology of the ideated presence of Jesus Christ through the aesthetical worship of the Church in song, prayer, Word and sacrament. It will be argued that through the structures and stories about Christ provided by the New Testament, in the context of a liturgical modality of worship, the Church encounters and experiences, not simply ideas about Christ, but the actual presence of Christ himself through the aesthetic response of communal worship.