The Drama of Doctrine: The Performance

June 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

0664223273[This post is part of The Drama of Doctrine review series]

Several weeks ago, we started our way through Kevin Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine. We’ve looked at the drama, the script, and the dramaturge. That leaves the section on the performance before we wrap up next week.

As Vanhoozer explains:

The burden of part 4 is to bring all that we have said about Scripture and theology to bear on the Christian life by examining the outcome of this dramaturgical dogmatics: life lived to the glory of God, life bent on performing the Scriptures that attest to the covenant and its climax, the person and work of Jesus Christ (361).

He goes to say that “biblical script without ecclesial performance is empty, ecclesial performance without biblical script is blind” (362). Picking the atonement as his illustration of performing a doctrine, Vanhoozer gives this rationale:

Theology as an exegetical scientia helps us understand the cross of Christ in terms of the broader theo-drama; theology as a practical sapientia directs us to perform the atonement by appropriating our identity in Christ and by engaging in practices that participate fittingly in Jesus’ saving work…

Actors who wish to participate fittingly in the theo-drama must therefore learn what their role “in Christ” entails, not only in theory but in practice. For to perform the doctrine of the atonement is to engage in a theater of martyrdom – a sapiential spectacle of faith and love, life and death. The church participates fittingly in the theo-drama when it becomes a theater of reconciliation, a display of divine and human forgiveness, a spectacle of God’s love for the world (362).

Doctrine, Role, Vocation: The Actors Prepare

The general contours of this chapter focus on the actors (members of the church) and how they prepare to play their part in the drama. In a real sense, because we are “in Christ” learning our part in the drama can be thought of as learning to “be your self.” Vanhoozer goes into a discussion of “method acting” and what we can learn from it as it applies to our spiritual formation. He then discusses the nature of becoming spiritually fit and draws on literature related to dieting (yes, dieting). He sees doctrine as “habits of the spiritually fit.” After laying this foundation, Vanhoozer discusses how one might fittingly perform the doctrine of the atonement. He sketches what it would look like to not only hold a strong doctrine of the atonement, but lets that doctrine permeate how one lives their life. He then finishes out the chapter discussing what it means to be a “witness” of Christ.

Doctrine and the Church: The Company of the Gospel

While the former chapter was more individually focused, the last chapter takes things to the corporate level. Vanhoozer draws extensive comparisons (as you might imagine) between the church and the theater. The church in this metaphor becomes a “theater of martyrdom.” This is not “martyr” in the sense of someone who dies for what they believe, but rather is “martyr” in the sense that I’m using in my blog title: someone who is a faithful witness to the way, truth, and life. If that involves dying then so be it, but the concept of being a witness and “Maturo” is more about being willing to die for the truth first and foremost, rather than actually dying. A community of “martyrs” in Vanhoozers account, those who “perform” the atonement, will be a community committed to practicing forgiveness and reconciliation as a way of witness to the truth of the atonement. As Vanhoozer concludes, “When engaged in the drama of doctrine, the church becomes a holy and vital theater that performs parables of the kingdom of God whenever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name” (444).

While there is much more I can say, I’ll leave it to next week’s post to wrap up my thoughts on this book. Doing the review has reminded me how dense the book is, and I feel like I’m really just give a rough surface scratch rather than an extensive interaction. But, like I’ve said before, I guess that just means you’ll have to read it for yourself!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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