Friday, September 24, 2010

Remythologizing Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Review Part 3)

The Triune God whose being is in his communicating

Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion and Authorship
by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Cambridge University Press, 2010, 539pp
(Review series Part 3)

So, Vanhoozer finds classical theism insufficiently attuned to biblical revelation and charges open panentheism with failing to do justice to the sovereign transcendence of the Creator (see Part 2). What does he propose in place of these two visions of God? His remythologizing project attempts articulate the metaphysics that are implicit in the biblical mythos (dramatic plot). What we say of God’s being and identity must be subject to his theodramatic action as revealed in Holy Scripture. In other words, first theology or the study of God is an exercise in biblical reasoning.

Vanhoozer sketches out what he calls a “post-Barthian Thomism”. He recognizes Karl Barth as a fellow remythologizer. According to Barth, God’s being is in his act, and God’s being in act is expressed in the event of Jesus Christ. God speaks in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word. But we are not to regard Scripture as divine speech. The Bible bears witness to God’s self-revelation in Christ, but it would be a contravention of the divine freedom to tie his speech to the words of Scripture. This is where Vanhoozer differs from Barth. He agrees that Jesus Christ is the full and final revelation of God and that the incarnate Word is the apogee of divine speech. But he protests that the incarnation only makes sense in the context of Yahweh’s speech to Israel in the Law and the Prophets,

God’s speech in Jesus Christ may be definitive, but it presupposes prior divine communicative action. The God whose nature is displayed in the history of Jesus Christ is the same as the God who declares his nature by his name in Exodus 3:14 and 34:6-7, merciful, gracious and steadfast love. (p. 215).
Remythologized theology pays careful attention to the self-revelation of God in Holy Scripture. It is the One who at various times and in various ways spoke to the fathers by the prophets, who has in these last days spoken to us by his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).

By “post-Barthian Thomism” Vanhoozer has in mind Aquinas’s insight that being is not a static substance, but a dynamic act. Hence, God’s being is in his communicative act. He is the God who acts by speaking to create and sustain the universe and bring his human creatures into fellowship with himself. Human beings as created in the image of God are uniquely capable of having communicative relationship with their Maker. This relationship, disrupted by sin, is  restored by the redeeming work of Jesus, the Word made flesh. Vanhoozer hopes that this vision of “communicative theism affords new resources for understanding participation in Christ (union) and the life of the triune God (communion)”. (p. 240).

God’s being is in his communicating not simply in the relation he sustains to his creatures. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are communicative agents in the imminent Trinity, enjoying a blessed communion of life, light and love. In the economic Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit act to savingly communicate life, light and love to a world that lies under judgement in death, darkness and hatred. The Father sent his Son to save lost human beings from condemnation by his atoning death and resurrection. The Spirit communicates the truth and life of Jesus to the people of God.

God is love, and the redemptive love of the Father, displayed in the cross of Christ, is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. However, contrary to "Rahner’s rule", we cannot say that “the economic Trinity is the imminent Trinity”, reducing God’s being to what he does in history. Rather, as Vanhoozer puts it, “the economic Trinity communicates the imminent Trinity”. (p. 294).  The focus of drama of redemption is the communicative action of God, where the Father brings sinful human beings into union with Christ and communion with himself by the power of the Spirit.

Vanhoozer is to be commended for his attempt to make biblical revelation definitive for developing a metaphysical account of the identity, being, and ways of God. In doing so, he has avoided the pitfalls of open theism, which fails to do justice to the Creator/creature distinction, and “perfect being theology” that gives too much weight to human ideas about God at the expense of scriptural reasoning. A distinctly Christian metaphysics is a work of faith seeking understanding of the Triune God whose being in communicative act is revealed in the mythos of the biblical theodrama.

The theologian's thoroughgoing trinitarianism is  most welcome. In many works on the doctrine of God, consideration of the doctrine of the Trinity is tacked onto the end, almost as an afterthought. For example, in John M. Frame’s massive 864 page, The Doctrine of God, (P&R, 2002), discussion of the Trinity is reserved until the sixth and final part of the book, following extensive coverage of the being, attributes and lordship of God. Not so Vanhoozer, where his communicative theism is explicitly trinitarian from beginning to end.

In the next post in this review series I hope to give attention Vahoozer's attempt to probe the relationship between the commutative sovereignty of the Triune God and human freedom.


Jonathan Hunt said...

I wish I understood what you are talking about.

Exiled Preacher said...

You have to read the book in order to understand the review.

Jonathan Hunt said...

Like that's going to happen.

Tom Underhill said...

Little bit unfair on Frame's DoG to imply he tacks on the Trinity, when this move arises directly from his methodology. See footnote 32 on page 15 'In a systematic theology, every part should presuppose every other, so that it does not much matter what is discussed first.'