Category Archives: Kevin Vanhoozer
Kevin Vanhoozer, in his 2013 Desiring God National Conference plenary message Saturday:
Let me state, in my own terms, what I think I’ve learned from Lewis.
Theology ministers understanding, so that we can live out our knowledge of God. Theology is practical, it is all about waking up to the real, to what is, specifically to what is ‘in Christ.’ For Christ is the meaning of the whole, the one in whom all things are held together.
And disciples demonstrate understanding by conforming to that what is ‘in Christ.’ It’s all about living out our knowledge of Christ. There are no armchair disciples. You cannot be a disciple in theory. So doctrines tell us what is ‘in Christ’ and that’s what we live by.
What is ‘in Christ?’
Incarnation, Trinity, atonement are not abstractions to be thought but meaningful patterns to be lived and entered into. The imagination, then, helps disciples act out what is ‘in Christ.’ Theology exchanges the false pictures that hold us captive with truth, disciplining our imaginations with sound doctrine.
Discipleship is a matter of the indoctrinated imagination.
Now, of course, we have to beware of having our imaginations taken captive by other things. Many of Screwtape’s things have to do with capturing the imagination for Satan’s purposes. If you control the metaphors and stories people live by, you’ve got them.
Imagination is where God gives creative form to his thoughts, and literary forms to his word. Jesus used what we could call the ‘parabolic imagination’ to give story form to his thought about the kingdom of God. And similarly, disciples need this ‘parabolic imagination’ so we can live in that kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus doesn’t describe what the kingdom looks like, he tells us what kinds of things happen there. The metaphors the disciples live by are those that awaken them to the kingdom things God is doing ‘in Christ.’
This relatively tricky question increasingly appears in contemporary debates like the reoccurring debate over complementarity and mens/womens roles in the home and in the church. It simply isn’t possible to dismiss NT roles and also affirm the authority of the Bible at the same time. So then, how do we defend biblical authority in this age?
Kevin J. Vanhoozer helps answer this bigger question in his books The Drama of Doctrine and Is There a Meaning in This Text? and Everyday Theology and probably everything else he’s written. But he wrote the following in his article “Exploring the World; Following the Word: The Credibility of Evangelical Theology in an Incredulous Age” [Trinity Journal 16/1 (1995), 20–21]:
Biblical interpretation involves performance. Think of a pianist who interprets a Beethoven sonata. We speak of Alfred Brendel’s interpretation as opposed to Glenn Gould’s. Can we really “perform” texts? Can we put prophecy, wisdom, apocalyptic, narrative into practice? Can we perform doctrine? psalm?
Certainly! We do so all the time: the fundamental form of interpretation is the way we live our lives each day. Our behavior is the true index to what we believe about biblical authority. The Bible lays claim to our whole being. Some of God’s words require our intellectual assent, others our pious submission, others our moral obedience, and others our cultural faithfulness.
Christian life and thought alike, then, are interpretations of Scripture. Our doctrine is our theoretical interpretation of the Christian story; our life is our practical interpretation. In the postmodern world, the best way to defend biblical authority may be to create a kind of community life in which the Bible functions as authoritative (and liberating).
No contemporary theory of the authority of the Bible can assume that a person will be convinced of the Bible’s authority apart from participation in the community of faith. To repeat: the fundamental form of Christian biblical interpretation is the corporate life of the Christian church. The church embodies the Word of God—this, at least, is its task, its privilege, and responsibility. In Lesslie Newbigin’s words: the church must be a “hermeneutic of the Gospel.” Think of the congregation as a living commentary. Biblical literacy—“following” the Word—should lead to Christian discipleship, to practicing the letter in our lives.
From Kevin Vanhoozer’s stimulating book, The Drama of Doctrine (2005), page 39:
“The Gospel is ‘the greatest drama ever staged … a terrifying drama of which God is the victim and the hero’ [Dorothy Sayers]. Drama is a composite of word and deed: at times the language of action drowns out the words, at other times the words carry the action along. Yet what God was doing in Jesus Christ ultimately makes sense only according to the biblical script that places the person and work of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament context of creation and covenant. There is a cosmic stage and a covenantal plot; there is conflict; there is a climax; there is resolution. Evangelical theology deals not with disparate bits of ideas and information but with divine doings—with all-embracing cosmic drama that displays the entrances and exoduses of God.”
Gospel Theater: Staging, Scripting, Directing (50 min)
Gospel Theater: Rehearsing, Improvising, Performing (53 min)