Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Ingolf U. Dalferth

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Joseph Prabhu

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Eric Hall

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Daniel L Nelson


Hermeneutics, Karl Barth, Phenomenology, Revelation, Rhetoric, Trinity

Subject Categories

Philosophy | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


“The medium is the message:” theological reflections on the idea that God is love. I am proposing that the idea of the self-revelational nature of God’s being functions, among other ways, rhetorically, such that the content of revelation (God’s love) determines the rhetorical mode of its communication (giving orders, inviting, begging, etc.). The three aspects of rhetoric that Kenneth Burke emphasizes in A Rhetoric of Motives—the use of identification, that it is addressed and, as such, is convincing (persuasive)—are examined in terms of revelation. Chapter one seeks to clear the way for what is commonly understood as special revelation by arguing that theology does not argue for the existence of God; rather, what are mistakenly understood as arguments for existence in Anselm and Aquinas are actually arguments for fixing the referent of the term ‘God.’ The second step in the chapter is to then recognize the possibility of revelation (phenomenally) in discussion with Jean-Luc Marion. Chapter two will consider rhetoric as persuasive and intrinsically concerned with both form and content. The goal in this chapter is to show that rhetoric is an expression of a form of life. The role this plays in my larger argument is one of suggesting that, since in Christian theology revelation has to do with the living God, God Himself expresses the form of His life (Ch. 3). Two themes are in focus: 1) rhetoric as the art of persuasion will require an understanding of persuasion—what and how do we persuade? Formally, what is required? In expressing a form of life, one is always at least implicitly (unthematically) persuasive—it is an expression of an orientation and understanding of life and an invitation to the other to orient oneself in this way as well. As will be shown, persuasion, and thus rhetoric, are concerned with what is right, what is true, what is possible, and how to discover this together (relationally and intersubjectively). Therefore, I will seek to show that rhetoric as the art of persuasion (and thus about identification and address) is confessional, linguistic, contextual, and concerned with agency. Chapter three addresses the concept of revelation specifically and theologically and this is accomplished by exploring the concept of revelation, the trinity, and Christology in discussion with Karl Barth. I show how Barth’s Church Dogmatics are systematically concerned with the identification of form and content, and that they are likewise exhaustively rhetorical and hermeneutical. Eberhard Jüngel interprets this metaphysically, as an issue about thinkability and the being of God, interpreting the Christological and trinitarian moves as locating God in his coming. I attempt to replicate this move while building on his work; I want to push this understanding in a rhetorical direction and thus point to the ethical implications particularly in relation to love and witness. Chapter four seeks to clarify and understand what it means that God has revealed Himself as love, again in conversation with Barth, Jüngel, and Luther. Chapter five begins to consider the ethical implications of self-revelation as rhetoric in terms of the rhetoric of witness. The conclusion is that form and content are identical in God. The way that God communicates is identical with who God is. The revealing love of God is understood rhetorically as God’s self-revelation. As such, the content of God’s self-revelation, namely that God is love, must be communicated as love and thus lovingly. From this we understand that love creates freedom and freedom (can and should, in order to be free) acts in love—this is in fact how and what is to be understood from the resurrection, death, and life of Jesus Christ. The final thesis is that, because God’s self-revelation is rhetorical (an expression of the divine form of life), and He creates the new possibility of being in correspondence to Him, then our human witness to the work and act of God is also rhetorical (an expression of a new openness to that divine life). Importantly, it is a corresponding witness not simply when it is reported that God is love (content), but only when it is reported that God is love in a loving way (form). When there is a failure in the means of this communication, it is a least questionable if the content is the same.