Conceptual Framework: The Discourse of affirmation vs. the Discourse of inquiry
Quite often during online and in-person discussions I allude to a conceptual framework that I’ve found exceedingly helpful. Specifically, the distinction between the Discourse of affirmation and the Discourse of inquiry. It would be wise to have a post readily available defining them, I suppose.
These terms are being borrowed and subtlety adapted from Dr. Douglas Downs, who’s a professor of English, rhetoric, and composition at Montana State University. In both cases he capitalizes “Discourse” because it’s not merely a way of communicating, but rather an entire way of being.
The Discourse of affirmation declares and expects conformity. It values resolution, submission, stasis, and the pursuit of certainty. Its objective is crisp answers that are readily accessible to all. Received knowledge is accepted chiefly through the affirmation of an authority.
The Discourse of inquiry offers and facilitates searching. It values curiosity, challenge, wrestling, and the existence of ambiguity. Its objective is nuanced answers that comport with the reality in which we live. Received knowledge is accepted through inquiry into its validity.
Though there’s obvious overlap in some respects, the former is a cognitive approach that chiefly values simplicity and alleviation whereas the latter is a cognitive approach that chiefly values complexity and tension. Little wonder, then, the two sides so often speak past one another.
To my mind, this really is a watershed paradigm difference in how people understand and interact with the world. Also, I don’t think it necessarily needs to be this way, but it does tend to be the case that the majority of religious adherents practice the Discourse of affirmation though I don’t.
That is why I tend to find myself having more in common with the mental habits of atheists and agnostics than of my fellow Christians. For example, I watch videos of and read articles by the late, great Christopher Hitchens. Though we constantly disagree, I resonate with his mind.
The truth is, as an undergrad student at a small college I quietly lost my faith. I unknowingly presumed being Christian meant embracing the Discourse of affirmation. Thankfully, Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God changed all that.
I’m committed to the Discourse of inquiry. It’s the only way I know how to be intellectually honest and live the christian faith. It’s the only way I know to proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, help build the Kingdom, serve the Church, love my neighbor, and worship God.