[This post is part of The Drama of Doctrine review series]
Last week, we started our way through Kevin Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine. Now, we’re ready to jump into the first part of the book: the drama itself. This particular part of the book as Vanhoozer states right off the bat, “brings all the elements that go into theology – God, Scripture, doctrine, the church – onstage and coordinates them via the leading metaphor of theo-drama” (35).
The Gospel as Theo-Drama
In the opening chapter, Vanhoozer defines drama:
Drama is a doing, an enactment. Drama represents a course of action in the context of a theater, that is, a place in which an audience observes what happens (37).
While “tragedies deal with catastrophes,” theology on the other hand “concerns what J. R. R. Tolkien terms a eucatastrophe: a cataclysmic event with a beneficial effect” (38). Vanhoozer then uses this opening chapter to explain the gospel, or “what God has done on the stage of world history that merits the epithet good news.”
Vanhoozer beings with the entrances of God speaking and acting, the exoduses throughout Scripture, and the economy of the gospel and the economic Trinity. As I highlighted on my initial read-thru, the gospel entails the Trinity:
The doctrine of the Trinity, far from being a peice of abstract speculation, is actually the inevitable conclusion to which the church was driven by the logic of theo-drama. The church fathers soon came to realize that the integrity of the gospel is fatally compromised if either the Son of the Spirit is not fully God. If the Son were not God, he could neither reveal the Father nor atone for our sin. If the Spirit were not God, he could unite us neither the Father and Son nor one another. The gospel, then, requires a triune God. The God of the gospel reveals and redeems precisely as Father, Son, and Spirit (42-43).
From here, Vanhoozer spends the rest of the chapter unpacking the divine speech and actions of God using the lens of “theo-drama.”
Theology in the Theo-Drama
The following chapter jumps to theology and Vanhoozer begins by explaining “the Christian faith is not a system of ideas or moral values but a five-act theo-drama in which God’s speech and action play the decisive parts” (57). This means “what the theologian says and does bears a special relationship to theo-drama: the task of theology is to ensure that we fit into the action so that we are following rather than opposing Jesus Christ” (57). This chapter then forms the counterpart to the previous by focusing on “theo-dramatic theology” and examines human speech and action. Vanhoozer uses “mission” to connect the speech and action of the Triune God with the speech about and action before God known as theology: “the divine promissio generates the subsequent divine missio of Son and Spirit. Scripture is similarly “missional” to the extent that it is caught up in God’s triune communicative action” (71). As he concludes “The mission of the church, and therefore of theology, is to participate in and continue the joint mission of Word and Spirit”
The Nature of Doctrine
All of this then sets Vanhoozer up to reconfigure doctrine along “dramatic” lines. As he notes, “the medium of drama is acting: people doing things with their words and bodies.” Similarly then Christian theo-drama “is about God doing things: with words, the Word and the Word’s body” (77). Throughout this chapter Vanhoozer asks “what London and Broadway have to say to Jerusalem” and finds there is much to connect knowing God and the theater. To flesh out doctrine within this dramatic metaphor, Vanhoozer sees it as “epic,” “lyric,” and “storied practice.” He eventually lands with a definition of doctrine as “direction for fitting participation of individuals and communities in the drama of redemption” (102). In this light, “the ultimate aim of doctrine is, as Calvin knew, pastoral: not simply to ‘picture’ or conceptualize the divine drama but to perform it” (103). Or later, “doctrine provides direction for the disciple’s (and church’s) faithful speech and action, direction for embodying the way, the truth, and the life in new situations” (105).
To close out the chapter, Vanhoozer offers a 5 point summary that is worth reproducing here (110):
- Doctrine provides program notes for identifying the dramatis personae and for understanding the basic theo-dramatic plot
- Doctrine is direction for the Christian’s fitting participation in the drama of redemption, thus enabling one to continue the missions of the Son and Spirit into new situations
- Doctrine is direction for a scripted yet “spirited,” performance of covenantal faithfulness
- Doctrine as direction tells us what has already been done (by God), thus implying what remains to be done (by us). Claims about what we should do (the imperative, propositional direction) rest on claims about what God has done in Christ (the indicative, propositional declaration)
- Doctrine gives rise to a project that is a propositional as it is personal – to something to be believed by us, done by us, felt by us. Doctrine directs disciples as they seek to orient themselves in the church and in the world vis-a-vis the truth, goodness, and beauty defined by Jesus Christ
Vanhoozer closes out by noting that while our eschatological situation may be the same as the church fathers and Reformers, our historical situation is certainly not. Fitting participation in the drama of redemption at this stage in the play will look somewhat different than in did in earlier eras. What hasn’t changed however, is the script for the drama and that is what Vanhoozer’s second part will cover.