[This post is part of The Drama of Doctrine review series]
Part 1 presented the subject matter and subsequent form of theology in terms of a triune theo-drama of redemption. Theology is evangelical to the extent that is acknowledges and preserves the priority of the Word and Act of God over that of human beings. Part 2 presented Scripture as the church’s script, the authorized version of the theo-drama, the constitution of the church, the locus of authority when it comes to doctrinal direction for the church’s fitting participation in the ongoing drama (239).
Now, we come to part 3, which “is on theological method: on what a theology that corresponds to the gospel – to the theo-drama of redemption and to the canonical script – actually looks like when it is put to work.” Vanhoozer does this by presenting six features “that together consistute the canonical-linguistic approach to theology.” Canonical-linguistic theology is thus:
Theology as Dramaturgy
Chapter 8 opens with Vanhoozer telling us “the working assumption throughout this book has been that an analogia dramatis illumines both the nature and function of theology” (243). Before reading this book, I had no idea what a dramaturge was, much less how “dramaturgy” had anything to do with theology. Quoting a source on dramturgy, Vanhoozer gives us this explanation:
To inform the director, the cast, and the audience about a play’s past history and its current importance, dramaturgs assemble “protocols” (or casebooks consisting of written and found materials toward a theatrical production), prepare program notes, lead post-performance discussions, write study guides for schools and groups, lecture in the community as well as the academy, and publish scholarly essays and books (245).
Not to state the obvious, but Vanhoozer points out to us that one would be “hard pressed to think of a better job description for the theologian than that.” To summarize much of what follows, the goal of a dramaturge in the theater is to know the script better than anyone else so as to inform the actors how to best perform it in the given setting. He doesn’t direct the play per se, but fleshes out the background information so that the performance follows the writers original intentions. In this way, theology is much like dramaturgy since it is meant to clarify and direct the church’s performance of the inspired Script(ures).
The Canonical-Linguistic Approach, Pt. 1: Scientia
To further clarify this meaningful metaphor, chapter 9 is devoted to the first triad in the 6-fold list above. As Vanhoozer tells us, “though canonical-linguistic theology is more than biblical exegesis, then, it is certainly not less. The immediate challenge is to clarify what form biblical exegesis takes, given the nature of the theo-drama and the particular form of its canonical script” (265). For the first focal point on the exegetical triad, Vanhoozer argues for a postpropositional position that “must go beyond propositional revelation” but not without taking those propositions along for the ride (278). In this way, “postpropositional” for Vanhoozer means going beyond the propositional view of truth, but not in a way that throws the baby out with the bathwater. Vanhoozer just wants to clear the waters and row ahead.
This leads to his second and third focal points, being postconservative and postfoundational. For the former, Vanhoozer says that “postconservative theology refuses to collapse the biblical genres into a mess of propositional pottage, insisting that the white light of the eschatological reality of what God is doing in Jesus Christ is mediated through the prism of Scripture, creating a spectrum of canonical colors” (283). For the latter, “postfoundational theology” would be a type of theology that “enables the epistemological lion to lie down with the hermeneutical lamb” by holding onto objectivity, truth, and reason while acknowledging the “provisional, contextual, and fallible nature of human reason” (293). To me, this sounds like a premodern approach to theology, so while Vanhoozer calls it “post-” I think it is really a return to a way of doing theology in line with the church fathers and the Reformers.
The Canonical-Linguistic Approach, Pt. 2: Sapientia
In the final chapter of part 3, Vanhoozer tackles the second triad. This time the focus is on theological practice. The first focal point, “prosaic theology” gets into issues of contextualization, both in terms of understanding how truth is contextualized in Scripture and how it might be reappropriated or “re-contextualized” in our current context. As Vanhoozer argues, “contextualization involves more than an import/export business that trades in supracultural truths and abstract principles. To contextualize is to do theology, prosaically. The Spirit’s mission is to promote prosaic practices, where prosaic refers both to the prose of Scripture and to the prose of everyday life” (323).
This leads to focal point #2, “phronetic theology.” In this case, Vanhoozer is expounding how canonical-linguistic theology gives rise to practical wisdom, or as it might fit into the overall metaphor, “faithful improvisation.” Vanhoozer spends the most time here, before moving to explaining “prophetic theology.” As he tells us, “prophetic theology aims to form players who rightly participate in the the theo-drama precisely by being witnesses to the resurrection” (357). This leads to an overall goal: “to enable the disciple in each and every situation to discern and to do Christ, the practical wisdom of God” (359).
Like previous sections of this book, there is much, much more I could unpack and follow. This is a dense book covering a lot of ground, and it isn’t really easy to summarize. Even as I’m going through it now to comment here and there, I’m confronted with page after page of highlighted material and asterisks in the margins. Hopefully, as I’ve said before, this is enough to give you an idea what Vanhoozer is up to.
If not, I guess you’ll just have to pick up and read it for yourself right?