Thursday, November 16, 2006

Review Part 5: The Drama of Doctrine

Now we come to the final section of Vanhoozer's book. Having set the scene with discussion of the drama, the script and the dramaturge, he turns in Part 4 to The Performance. "Biblical script without ecclesial performance is empty; ecclesial performance without biblical script is blind. Doctrine serves the church by unfolding the canonical logic of the theo-drama and by offering dramaturgical direction as to how Christians today may participate in and continue the evangelical action in a new situation". (p. 362).
With this in mind, the writer shows us the way in which doctrine prepares believers to play their roles "in Christ". Talk of role playing should not be construed as pretending. That would be hypocrisy. Doctrine enables Christians to be what they truly are as disciples of Christ. This is not about believers learning their lines by rote and acting in a mechanical way. Doctrine helps us to improvise - to act fittingly and wisely in any given situation.
Vanhoozer draws upon Constantin Stanislavski's system of method acting at this point. Stanislavski wanted actors to move beyond representing the external life of the character that they were playing. He insisted that they must pour themselves into the part in order to truly inhabit the character. Vanhoozer sees a parallel between Stanislavski's advice to actors, "yourself in the part and...the part in you" and the role and identity of a Christian disciple, "You in Christ...Christ in you." (p. 372). Christians have been called to act as saints. This involves spiritual formation and character transformation by the work of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, believers are enabled to be what they are in Christ.
Christians play out their roles not as isolated individuals, but as part of the church - the company of the gospel. The church is a community of "costumed interpreters", clothed with the righteousness of Christ. As such, the church is a theatre of martyrdom, a people who bear witness to and live out the cross of Christ. The cross is "the climax to a covenantal drama in which penal substitution and relational restoration are equally important and equally ultimate." (p. 387). One might better say that the penal substitutionary death of Christ is the means by which relational restoration is made possible.
Vanhoozer rightly insists that we must move from a right understanding to a fitting performance of Christ's death. Did not Jesus challenge his disciples to take up their cross and follow him? (Matthew 16:24.)
The church participates in and performs the doctrine of the atonement when it indicates what God was doing for the world in Christ and thus what we must now be doing if the world is what the gospel declares it to be...The church's theology is prophetic when doctrine directs the church in ways that attest being-toward-the cross and being-toward-resurrection (p. 433).
Given Vanhoozer's sensitivity to the postmodern context, he is admirably clear on the controversial matters of heresy and excommunication. Heresy is a distortion of the drama of redemption - "a different gospel than is not another" (Galatians 1:6). He defines heresy thus:
A heresy is thus a fateful error that compromises integrity of the theo-drama, either by misidentifying the divine dramatis personae, misunderstanding the action, or giving directions that lead away from one's fitting participation in the continuing action. (p. 424).
A heretic has removed himself from participation in the theo-dramatic action. Such a person must be excluded from the life of the church. Excommunication has a dual purpose: 1) To preserve the integrity of church's witness to the gospel. 2) To bring the offender to repentance so that he may be restored to the fellowship of the family of God.
If a theologian is the dramaturge, helping the pastor/director to understand the script that the company of the gospel is to perform. What of the pastor himself? He "helps the congregation become better actors by helping them learn the script and understand how it should be performed in the present cultural scene". (p. 449). The great creeds and confessions of the church are of great help to the pastor/director. The ancient creeds such as Nicea and Chalceldon are examples of "Masterpiece Theatre". They remind us that the local church is part of the catholic church. We can learn from centuries of debate how we may best understand and perform the Bible. Denominational Confessions such as the Westminster or 1689 Baptist Confession are compared to "Regional Theatre". These documents were attempts to remain faithful to the creedal inheritance while innovating to respond to specific issues of the day. The variety of regional theatres represent a rich ecclesial unity in diversity. Finally, we have the "Local Theatre" of the individual congregation. The local church must seeks perform her role as a concrete and contextualised part of the catholic church. Local churches are led not by management schemes, but by preaching pastors who help the people to understand and perform God's word in their given situation.
Thus, the theo-drama is enacted on a local level by vibrant, well taught congregations of visible saints who bear witness in word and deed to what God has done in Christ for the salvation of the world.
Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for more review posts.


Chris Tilling said...

I'll link to these when you are done. I started th book a while back - read the first hundred pages or so, and then left it. So I'll go through these when I pick up from where I left off.

Guy Davies said...

Thanks! Only one more review post to go, where I'll give my overall impressions of the book. I hope this series will encourage people to read the D of D for themselves, or finish reading it as the case may be.

I was beginning to think that a 6-part review was pushing it a bit, until I saw your projected 18-part Bauckham series! (Which I'm looking forward to).