When I was working on my thesis, I first noticed Kevin Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine. Since I was writing on the theological nature of movies, this seemed like a resource I could use, but I just didn’t have time to dig into it. After reading it thoroughly now, I wish I had used it and found it much earlier in my theological studies at seminary. At the same time though, many of the issues that Vanhoozer is navigating I wasn’t aware of as issues until late in my time at Dallas. It was then a great read for someone on the other side of seminary looking to integrate well into the local church.
Rather than rehash the overview here, you can read the 5 parts (if you haven’t already) that move through each section of the book:
- Part One: Drama
- Part Two: The Script
- Part Three: The Dramaturge
- Part Four: The Performance
The short overview is that Vanhoozer employs the metaphor of “drama” to explain how he conceives of the theological task for the benefit of the local church. In some ways, he covers all the ground a traditional systematic theology would cover, but not in terms of explaining the doctrines themselves. Consider it like this:
- Part One: Prolegomena
- Part Two: Bibliology/Theology Proper/Christology/Pneumatology
- Part Three: Anthropology/Theological Method
- Part Four: Soteriology/Sanctification/Ecclesiology
Eschatology, when thought of as “ultimate things” or the “telos” of what everything is moving toward, is generously sprinkled throughout. I’m not sure if this how Vanhoozer intended it, but it does seem that the thrust of the book moves from theological basics all the way to church practice and ends with an eye toward a healthy local church community.
A consistent strength of any work by Vanhoozer is his writing style. He is not only clear and concise, but is rather playful and can turn a phrase better than any other theologian I am aware of. Given the dense and wide ranging nature of this book’s subject, it certainly helps his readability. In addition to style, the structure is also masterfully constructed. Though it is in the background and never fully mentioned, you can find hints of John Frame’s triperspectival influence on Vanhoozer (Frame was his theology teacher at Westminster after all). Vanhoozer uses it in many places, but does not feel confined to it. He also does a superb job of summarizing his thoughts in the section introductions and gives plenty of pithy one liners.
Perhaps the only weakness I can pinpoint is that this book is a hard read. It is a rewarding read, but it is hard to wrap your mind around. While this is not a fault per se, I got the impression reading this book that it deserved a wide audience and would love to recommend it to my pastor. But, given the breadth and depth, I don’t see him having the time or energy to read through a book like this, now matter how practical it might be. It would be great if Vanhoozer were to somehow get around to his original intention of providing a shorter account that explains this same paradigm. That would work much better for benefiting the church, since that seems to be his aim.
In the end though, I would recommend this book for anyone who has the time and energy to work through it. If you’re interested in theology and want to see an ingenious way of conceiving the practicality of doctrine, then The Drama of Doctrine is for you!
- Author: Kevin Vanhoozer
- Title: The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology
- Publisher: Westminster John Knox (August 2, 2005)
- Paperback: 504pgs
- Reading Level: Seminary (not because of style but because of content)
- Audience Appeal: Prophets interested in a creative proposal for navigating the postmodern theological landscape
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Westminster John Knox)
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