July 01, 2009

Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine

My blogging has been erratic of late, and I've had Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine sitting on my desk to review for a couple months now, waiting for the time and the ambition to take on such a substantial task. I'd just skip it and move on, except it was such a spectacular book I have to at least make note of it.

I have to start by saying that I loved this book. Though it was over my head at points (he enters into many important theological discussions about theological method which I have but only a surface familiarity with, not to mention the philosophical theology and hermeneutics that continually arise in his discussions), its value is obvious even without grasping or appreciating all of the finer points.

Vanhoozer gives, in essence, an apologia for the importance of doctrine, asserting that it fills the essential role of guiding the church to "demonstrate faith's understanding by living truthfully with others before God" (xii). Throughout the entire work, one of the themes that continually arises is the importance of doctrine for life, in that doctrine is not an esoteric or abstract exercise but a concrete, lived reality with the utmost practicality. I think this point, made repeatedly, is one of the most energizing in the book, as it brings an excitement to doctrine when its horizon is broadened to include the way we live.

I will not attempt here a summary of this substantive proposal about the method of doing doctrine Christianly, but will simply say that it is clearly a tour de force, anchoring Christian wisdom firmly and faithfully to Scripture all the while using a robust hermeutic to reinvigorate the Scripture principle. This all deserves a careful unpacking, but suffice it to say that he sets for the Bible as the "script" that provides the authoritative direction, the "drama" in which we find ourselves players. This brings up another important dimension of this book, the sustained metaphor of drama that provides the framework for Vanhoozer's thought. The pervasive use of such a metaphor could be a distraction, but Vanhoozer uses it to good effect, carefully building may points and relationship off of this central idea. And once you've developed an ear for the way he uses and applies the various dramatic dimensions, with actors, script, drama, dramaturge, and so on, the metaphor serves to enlighten, instead of obscure, his points. In fact, it would seem that maybe "metaphor" isn't quite the right term for the role "drama" plays, because the correlation between doctrine as "drama" and the fact to which it referrs, that doctrine involves description and prescription concerning a narrative-infused world in which we live under God means that doctrine truly is dramatic.

I have only but scratched the surface of this programmatic proposal concerning doctrine, but I hope that doesn't obscure my excited endorsement. I look forward to working through this book again in the future and digesting further its deep insights and catching again its passion for the dramatic truth of the gospel. If you have any interest in theology and the role of scripture in it, do not miss this book.

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