Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Review Part 3: The Drama of Doctrine

Part 2 of Vanhoozer's work is taken up with a discussion of Scripture as the God-given theo-dramatic script that the church is to follow. He seeks to rehabilitate the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. "The church performs not its own words/script but the words of Word and Spirit." (p. 114.) But sola scriptura is more than just a doctrine of Scripture abstracted from the life of the church. "Sola scriptura is ultimately the name of a practice to be performed by the church in the power of the Spirit." (p. 115.)
The canon of Scripture is authoritative for the church because the canon is the covenant document that constitutes the church. Scripture reveals the history of God's covenant dealings with humanity from the Abrahamic to the new covenant. Christ is the focus of God's covenant acts, laws and promises. The covenant is administered today by the Holy Spirit's use of Scripture. From another perspective, the canon is the product of the prophetic office of Jesus Christ. He "is the content of the Scriptural witness, the one who interprets the Old Testament witness, and the one who commissions the New Testament witness. (p. 195.) The church is called to live out the teaching of Scripture because "the canon appears as a function of Jesus' lordship over the church." (p. 196.)
Vanhoozer has some very helpful things to say about the relationship between the church, Scripture and tradition. He insists that tradition is Biblical. The writer gives the example of Philip preaching the gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. Philip explained Isaiah 53 to the Eunuch in accordance with the apostolic tradition and so brought him to faith and understanding. But not all traditions are necessarily Biblical. The canonical traditions and practices take precedence over all other forms of tradition. Tradition is helpful. The Rule of Faith formulated by the early church under the guidance of the Spirit enables us to understand the Biblical script accurately. The ancient creeds give us an example of 'Masterpiece Theatre' that the church today can learn from and follow.
Vanhoozer makes a distinction between what he calls "Performance I" and "Performance II" views of the relationship between church and canon. Those who espouse Performance II such as George Lindbeck in his The Nature of Doctrine locate doctrinal authority in the cultural-linguistic practices of the church. Postmodern theorists focus on the church's culture-bound, fluctuating understanding of Scripture rather than on the meaning of Scripture itself. In that case, the interpreting community of the church usurps God's authority as the author of the text of Scripture. The implications of this position are disastrous:"For Biblical studies it means that "How does the church use Scripture?" not "What does Scripture mean?" has become the operative question. (p. 169.)
Sola Scriptura insists that our authority lies not in the church as an interpretive community, but in God, the playwright of the drama of redemption and the author of the canon of Scripture. "The triune God stands behind the canon, ensuring the truth of its testimony, guaranteeing the fulfilment of its promise, in many and diverse ways, keeping his word." (p. 178). What matters primarily is what God does though the Biblical texts rather than what the church makes of those texts. Vanhoozer is an authentically Protestant theologian at this point. What he says regarding the authority of Scripture over and against exponents of "Performance II" updates the Reformer's critique of the Roman Catholic view of the relationship between church and tradition.
"Performance I" interpretation is all about the way in which the church follows the normative patterns of Scripture. This view recognises that the theo-drama is God's play and that the church is to perform the role the he has scripted for his people. The Spirit who inspired the canon also illuminates the church that she might understand and practice the Scriptures. Because the Spirit is at work in the church, her traditions have value and ministerial authority. Tradition serves the church by passing on the apostolic faith from generation to generation. "Performance I" is based on the Spirit's use of Scripture in the life of the church. This perspective reminds us that the Scripture is the script that the church has been called to perform. "To practice sola Scriptura means to participate in the canonical practices that form, inform and transform our speaking, thinking and living - practices that the Spirit uses to conform us to the image of God in Christ". (p. 237.)
Vanhoozer's view of Scripture in the context of the theo-drama is refreshing. He interacts sensitively with the postmodern context and challenges the evangelical churches not just to confess the doctrine of Scripture, but to follow the scripted and spirited practices of the Bible. He recognises the role of the human authors of Scripture without downplaying "the Spirit's prompting the human authors to say just what the divine playwright intended (p. 227.) He does not describe the Bible as inerrant, but there is nothing in The Drama of Doctrine that suggests at least to me, that Vanhoozer has revised his stance on this matter, see here .
Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for more review posts.


thekingpin68 said...

Hi, you have an interesting blog. I considered working with Vanhoozer
at Edinburgh, but he moved back to the USA, so I missed out. He seemed like a very good guy.

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks for your comments. I really enjoyed reading the Drama of Doctrine. Shame you missed out on working with KV @ Edinburgh.