Monday, November 05, 2007

Ten things on theodramatic preaching

1. Kevin Vanhoozer has proposed that theology is best viewed in terms of theodrama, "The gospel is "theo-dramatic" - a series of divine entrances and exits, especially as these pertain to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The gospel - both the Christ event and the canon that communicates it - thus appears as the climactic moment in the Trinitarian economy of divine self-communicative action. Theology responds and corresponds to God's prior word and deed; accordingly theology itself is part of the theodramatic action." (The Drama of Doctrine, p. 31). This post is a thought experiment that attempts to view preaching in theodramatic terms.
2. Theodramatic preaching is evangelistic. It will seek to incorporate sinners into the drama of redemption by heralding the good news of Jesus and demanding repentance, faith and obedience in response to the gospel.
3. Theodramatic preaching will enable the people of God to play their roles in the drama of redemption. It will equip church is to stage the theodrama by acting out gospel in a way that is faithful to the authoritative biblical script and appropriate to the contemporary setting.
4. The task of preaching is not simply to derive "timeless principles" from the raw data Scripture as a Scientist would extract theoretical propositions from nature. This approach "dedramatises" biblical principles and propositions by removing them from the dramatic action of Scripture. Theodramatic preaching sees the Bible not as a text book, but the God-given script that the church is called to inhabit and enact. Biblical doctrines certainly embody transcultural truth, that is relevant for all time. But doctrine should not be reduced to a set of abstracted "timeless principles". Doctrine is performative. Its purpose is to direct the people of God to embody gospel life in particular historical and cultural locations.
5. A theodramatic approach to preaching recognises that the Bible gives us God's authoritative "speech acts". Speech act theory teaches us that words are not just words. We do things by speaking. With the exchange of words we enter into a marriage relationship. With words we may insult people or encourage them. Words do things, they are "speech acts". In terms of speech act theory, God's words in Scripture are the biblical locutions. These locutions - or units of speech have an illocutionary purpose. God does things by his words - he enters into a covenant relationship with his people, makes promises, utters warnings or issues commands. By the Spirit these illucutions are given a perlocutionary power. They actually effect something. Promises are believed, warnings heeded and commands obeyed. Theodramatic preaching will seek to discover and proclaim God's communicative action in Scripture. God's Word is not just "words". Once proclaimed, the Word of the Lord will not return to him void, but accomplish what he pleases (Isaiah 55:11).
6. The redemptive-historical school of preaching seeks to locate particular texts within the grand sweep of the drama of Scriptural revelation. This approach has value because texts not understood in isolation from biblical metanarratives. But redemptive-historical preaching sometimes has difficulty with the exemplary and practical nature of biblical revelation. The effect of this is that preaching may become little more than an exercise in biblical theology. This may inform believer's minds. But does it help them to perform their roles in the drama of redemption? A theodramatic approach to preaching will bridge the gap between redemptive-historical metanarratives and the Bible's exemplary and practical teaching. It is in the light of what God has done in Christ as revealed in Scripture - the theodrama - that believers are to model their lives on the biblical examples and obey the Lord's commands. This certainly reflects the structure of many of the New Testament epistles, where a doctrinal opening section is often followed by practical exhortation (see Ephesians & Colossians). Theodramatic preaching will give weight to both the indicatives and the imperatives of Scripture.
7. Theodramatic preaching will reflect the polyphonic variety of Scripture because it takes biblical genres seriously. We should recognise that biblical revelation includes the form as well as the content of of Scripture. God has not given us a textbook of abstract, timeless propositions. In the Bible we have narrative, poetry, prophecy, proverbs and epistles. These all disclose God's eternal truth in distinct ways. There is harmony and coherence in the biblical symphony of revelation. But the harmony consists of the contribution that the differing genres make to the whole. Messages based on biblical narratives will preach those narratives not simply extract timeless propositions from the narrative and preach on them. The shape of the narrative will affect the shape of the sermon. The principles in the text will flow naturally from Scripture through preacher to congregation. I once heard a preacher comment on another man's sermon, "I listened to 'so and so' preaching on David and Goliath - he mentioned it once." No doubt the preacher derived some neat, timeless principles from the text, but did he capture the richness of God's communicative action in 1 Samuel 17?
8. Theodramatic preaching will attempt to triangulate Scripture, the church and the world. The Bible is our authoritative script, but we must not see the Scripture in isolation from the church. Scripture is not given to be exegeted in academic isolation, but to be performed by the people of God. Throughout history the Spirit has enabled the church to understand and enact Scripture. The preacher will not interpret the Bible idiosyncratically, much less heretically. He will bring Scripture into conversation with the riches of the church's creedal inheritance. The wise preacher will also engage with biblical commentators old and new in an attempt to explore the meaning of the text. But once the meaning of Scripture has been prayerfully discovered, this must be brought to bear upon the local church at it exists in the world (its current social and historical setting). The aim of preaching is not to force to today's church to replicate the historical and cultural world of the first, or seventeenth, or eighteenth centuries. The ministry of the Word will apply the ancient text of Scripture to the church as she exists now. We must perform the drama of redemption in our 21st century world. The preacher will help the people of God to respond to the challenges of the contemporary world in a way that is faithful to Scripture and meaningful in present day society. This will involve triangulating the Scriptures, the church and the world. Paul did this when he brought biblical principles to bear on the cultural situation in ancient Corinth (1 Corinthians 8-10). He demonstrated that to faithfully perform the gospel in their setting, the Corinthian believers had to abstain from idolatrous feasts. We will need to do something similar as we grapple with the collapse of Christian morality in the West, postmodernism, consumerism and so on.
9. The act of preaching will itself be theodramatic. The task of preaching is not simply to give doctrinal instruction to the church, but to enable the people of God to understand and feel the truth of Scripture in order to practice it. Preaching will not be a lecture. It will be a living engagement between the preacher and the congregation. The preacher is to think and feel his way into the text so that his preaching becomes a living performance of the message. This does not mean that the preacher "play acts" his sermon. He must reflectively apply the sermon to himself before he preaches it to others. The preacher will be dramatically involved in the proclamation of the gospel. He will think it, feel it, live it. How can a man preach effectively on the love of God at Calvary if he has no theological understanding of the cross as an atoning sacrifice? How can he preach the sufferings of Christ without being emotionally involved? As Bunyan once put it, "I preached what I smartingly did feel." How can a man preach a message of forgiving love unless his life is shaped by the gospel? Preaching should be an enactment of the theodrama - a revelatory event where God's Word is proclaimed to his people in the transforming power of the Spirit.
10. Theodramatic preaching will consciously depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to speak God's Word - to enunciate his locutions and illocutions. If preaching is to do anything, the Holy Spirit must be at work both in the preacher and the congregation. This is why the New Testament does not see preaching simply in terms of an accurate declaration of the truth, but a Holy Spirit empowered event (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 1 Peter 1:12). Kevin Vanhoozer comments, "What God ultimately communicates in his crucified Word is the reality of salvation itself: a share in the divine life. And yet, this intended effect - fellowship with God through union with Christ - is not an automatic consequence of God's utterance. Not all communicative acts are received for what they are. So, the Word accomplished something on the cross (makes atonement for sin; declares pardon); this is the illocutionary aspect. Yet it does not really communicate salvation until and unless it is received and appropriated by the hearer [the perlocutionary aspect]. The Spirit's role is to minister Christ, to make what God is saying and doing in the cross effective. " (The Drama of Doctrine, WJK, 2005, p. 66).
I believe that reconfiguring preaching in terms of theodramatics may ensure that the proclamation of the Word is an activity that helps to produce churches that exist to perform the gospel.
"The world is filled with therapists and managers. What the church needs now is people who can (1) articulate from the Bible the truth about God, the world, and ourselves in terms that are faithful to the Bible and intelligible in the contemporary context (2) exhort their congregations to say and do things that corresponds to the truth of Jesus Christ as attested in the Bible". (Kevin Vanhoozer in an interview on this blog here).

No comments: