Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Review Part 1: The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer

The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer, 2005, 488pp, Westminster John Knox Press

This book is an attempt to view Christian doctrine as “theo-drama”. The focus of the theo-drama is the communicative saving acts of the Triune God. Vanhoozer writes, “the gospel – God’s gracious self revelation in Jesus Christ - is intrinsically dramatic. Why is it then, that Christian doctrine so often appears strikingly dull by way of contrast?” (p. xi. ) In our postmodern age where “feeling is believing”, doctrine is dismissed as divisive and irrelevant. Part of the problem is that theology often seems to be remote from the Christian life. Vanhoozer proposes to bridge the gap between doctrine and practice by insisting that the purpose of theology is to help believers to participate fittingly in the theo-drama. Developing the metaphor of drama, Vanhoozer proposes that we view Scripture as the script of the play, theological understanding as performance, the church as the company of players and the pastor as director.

Thinking of doctrine in dramatic rather than theoretical terms provides a wonderfully engaging and in integrative model for understanding what it means to follow – with all our mind, heart, soul and strength – the way, truth and life embodied and enacted in Jesus Christ.” (p. 16.)

Throughout the book, Vanhoozer draws on drama theory in order to set the whole field of Christian doctrine in a dramatic context. This can be helpful and illuminating. But sometimes, too much space is given to the details of drama theory to the detriment of Biblical exposition.

Vanhoozer writes from the standpoint of Reformed Theology, but he is not afraid to question the methodology of 19th Century Reformed Theologians such as Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield. (See here & here). His canonical linguistic approach to Christian Theology seeks to address postmodern concerns without surrendering the authority of Scripture as the divinely authorised script that the Church is to follow.

See here to "Experience the Drama" of Vanhoozer being interviewed on his book.

Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for rest of review posts.


Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Guy, for this review and the links.

"But sometimes, too much space is given to the details of drama theory to the detriment of Biblical exposition"

This is always the issue. Context or text as determinative. I would think that Vanhoozer would suggest that responsible expositzion can only take place when the study is situated in a proper context, as we need the context to help us determine the point of the text. This is a job I feel that evengelical scholarship often fails to do, and instead plucks out verses of Scripture, say on hell, and places them into the crossfire between two theological camps discussing post-mortem matters. Problems with this abound, however. First, it makes the bible look tremendously unhelpfully designed, scattering particles of theological wisdom across a wide arena. Second, it then fails to determine the importance of the story in which these exposited particles of data find themeselves, and teh story in which these stories find themeselves in. I say all of this tortured reasoning to suggest that Vanhoozer has the right perspective, and his musings on various exegetical matters, as will happen in the book, are then better contextualised.

Guy Davies said...


I appreciate your point, context is vitally important. Vanhoozer has done an excellent job of setting doctrine in the context of the "theo-drama". But I wasn't looking for a sprinkling of comments on random texts of Scripture. Much less was I hoping that Vanhoozer would "do a Berkhof" and follow up some doctrinal propositions with a string of "proof texts".

My reservation is that Vanhoozer sometimes takes too much time delving into the details of drama theory. This was all very fascinating. But it means that KV tends to quote texts to illustrate his broad principles rather than give us a detailed exposition of Scripture. The Scriptures that deal with how we should live out our "role" in Christ like Romans 6 are alluded to but not subjected to prolonged exposition.

But I hope to say more about the D of D in the next couple of days.