Thursday, November 09, 2006

Review Part 4: The Drama of Doctrine

The next main section of The Drama of Doctrine, Part 3 is The Dramaturge. Here Vanhoozer discusses the task of the theologian in helping the church to play her role in the theo-drama. The theologian is to the church what a dramaturge is to a play. A dramaturge helps the director of a play to understand the text that is to be performed. He will try to ensure that the director enables the cast to play their roles in a way that is faithful to the play-script. In terms of the theo-drama, the theologian will assist the pastor-director to understand Scripture accurately. The pastor can then direct Christians to perform faithfully their Biblically scripted roles.
The dramaturge-theologian is concerned about scientia - the accurate exegesis of Scripture and sapientia - the faithful performance of Scripture. A faithful performance of Scripture involves the transposition of the Biblical message into the contemporary world. It is here that Vanhoozer's distinction (borrowed from Ricoeur) between idem and ipse identity comes into its own. Idem denotes something that remains the same, while ipse suggests "personal identity [that] allows for development" (p. 127). We must not try to re-stage the theo-drama as an exact copy of the New Testament church - idem identity. Our task is to perform the Scriptures in our own cultural linguistic setting - ipse identity. "Canonical linguistic theology aims at the contemporary realisation or performance of the same Christ-shaped wisdom that is the focus of the Scriptures." (p. 240.)
The Canonical linguistic approach to the scientia of theology is postpropositionalist, postconservative and postfoundationalist. Theology should not be reduced to "dedramatised propositions" (p. 269). Such a method is reductionistic, failing to recognise that God has spoken in various ways by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). "God communicates to his people, both directly and indirectly, in and through Scripture, but it need not follow from this that communication consists of revealed propositions only." (p. 278). Postconservative theology takes into account the rich unity in diversity of God's communicative action in Scripture. This in no way implies that Biblical propositions are redundant. But propositions should not be privileged over other forms of communication in Scripture. "A 'biblical' theology, therefore, involves more than summarising the propositional content of the Scriptures. It involves acquiring cognitive skills and sensibilities, and hence the ability to see, feel, and taste the world as disclosed in the diverse biblical texts." (p. 285.)
According to Vanhoozer, the problem with foundationalism is that propositions are isolated from Scripture as the basis upon which elaborate theological systems are built. This abstracts theology from its Scriptural form. Systematic Theology must draw upon the rich variety of Biblical revelation.
Against both the foundationalist tendency to objectivise truth and the postmodern tendency toward epistemological scepticism, Vanhoozer proposes a theo-dramatic approach to knowledge. This is grounded in the four-fold pattern of Biblical revelation: Creation: Right Cognitive Functioning. We have a God-given cognitive powers that enable us have a reliable understanding of truth. Fall: Distorted Cognitive Functioning. Sin has distorted our cognitive powers of reason, memory and imagination. Our understanding is, therefore rendered fallible. Redemption: Restored Cognitive Functioning. By grace, our minds are renewed so that we cultivate intellectual virtues. "In the final analysis, knowledge in theo-dramatic perspective has less to do with becoming a scholar and more to do with becoming a saint." (p. 304.) Consummation: Perfiected Cognitive Functioning. Finally, we shall know God as we are known, face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12.) Our knowledge may not be perfect now, but through the Scriptures and by the work of the Spirit we are given an adequate understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus.
Theology must move from the scientia of an accurate understanding of Scripture into the sapiential task of preparing the Church to live wisely for the glory of God. The theologian's aim should be to help the Church to perform the Scriptures fittingly. This involves being faithful to the transcultural truth of the gospel and the contemporary setting. The Church needs the right theo-dramatic perspective to enable her "to make wise judgements about what is truly good and fittings in a given situation, given what God has done in Jesus Christ." (p. 335.) The Early Church exercised right theological judgement when the Council of Nicea used the improvisatory language of Jesus as homoousios with the Father in order to safegaurd his full deity. We too must learn to improvise if we are to bring the message of Scripture alive in our generation. Sapiential theology is sensitive to the present day setting, but it is also prophetic, confronting contemporary culture with Word of God. As a prophetic community, the Church will bear witness to the resurrection of Christ and live in the light of God's coming kingdom.
In this section, Vanhoozer offers us a vision of theology that is Biblical , practical and able to meet the challenges of the postmodern world. We need dramaturge-theologians who will enable the Church to both understand and live the Scriptures.
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