Friday, October 13, 2006

Review Part 2: The Drama of Doctrine

Vanhoozer divides his book into three main parts: Part One: The Drama, Part Two: The Script and Part Three: The Dramaturge. I hope to reflect on each part in turn in a series of posts and then finish with a concluding review post.

Part One: The Drama:

In this section, Vanhoozer develops his controlling idea that doctrine is best viewed as theo-drama. He quotes Dorothy Sayers to the effect that the gospel is “the greatest drama ever staged…a terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero.” (p. 39). Theology must be faithful to the good news of the gospel that proclaims what God has done on the stage of world history. There is more to theology than restating underlying Biblical propositions. This does not mean that propositions are unimportant. The gospel is premised on propositions such as “Jesus is risen”. But Biblical propositions must not be dedramatised, abstracted from the theo-drama and forced to fit into an “epic” system. The danger of such an approach is that theology is distanced both from God’s communicative acts in Scripture and the life of the Church.

A vital task for theology is to identify the dramatis personae of the theo-drama. This is why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. The theo-drama of salvation from sin is only effective if God is truly revealed in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be unorthodox at this point is to be cut off from saving participation in the drama of redemption.

Theology deals with the entrances and exits of this Triune God. The climatic entrance of God is the incarnation of Jesus Christ as “God with us”. Christ has exited our world via his atoning death, resurrection and ascension.

Evangelical theology deals not with disparate bits of ideas and information but with divine doings – with the all embracing cosmic drama that displays the entrances and exoduses of God”. (p. 39).

The supreme authority for theology is God’s communicative action in Scripture. The Bible does not simply describe the theo-drama. God uses Scripture to enable his people to participate fittingly in the drama. Vanhoozer draws on speech act theory at this point. The Bible contains more than “just words” because words are speech acts – they do something. In Scripture we have God’s illocutions – what God does with his words. For example, he makes promises and reveals his purposes. But God also ensures that his word has a perlocutionary is effect. By the Spirit, God’s word is believed, understood, received and obeyed.

The people of God have been swept up into the theo-drama by the communicative acts of the Triune God. We have our roles to play in the great drama of redemption. The purpose of doctrine is to direct us to perform our Biblically scripted roles faithfully in the present day. Doctrine must always be related to the mission of the church, especially the tasks of evangelising the world and building up the people of God. “The mission of the church, and therefore of theology, is to participate in and continue the joint mission of Word and Spirit.” (p. 71).
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