The Drama of Doctrine: The Script

May 15, 2012 — Leave a comment

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

Recently, we started our way through Kevin Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine. Last post, we looked at the drama, and this week we’re turning to the script. As Vanhoozer himself admits, this is the most technical part of the book, and because of that, some readers may be better served reading only the final chapter of this section (as well as the previous section, see xiii). However, we’ll work our briefly through each chapter and I’ll try my best to give you the gist of it.

Word and Church

In this chapter, Vanhoozer explores the canon of Scripture as a covenant document. “The Bible is both the authoritative version of the drama of redemption and the authoritative script for the church’s ongoing life,” he says (115). A script though must be played out, and that is of course where things get tricky. Vanhoozer hopes to navigate the choppy waters, and does so by pointing to the role the Spirit, tradition, church, and canonical text play in all of this. This chapter focuses mainly on the the issues surrounding the latter. As he eventually concludes, “the canon – the final form of ‘Holy Scripture’ – is the answer to both the problem of where to locate authority in the church and to the problem of how to preserve the identity of the gospel in the process of transmitting it” (141). He fleshes this out a bit further and then presses on toward the role tradition must play.

Scripture and Tradition

Essentially, chapter 5 “rethinks the Scripture/tradition relationship in terms of the categories ‘script’ and ‘performance'” (152). This leads to differentiating between “sola” Scriptura and “solo” Scriptura, the former being much more preferable than the latter. Using “performance” as a metaphor for interpreting Scripture, Vanhoozer details the differing approaches before concluding that “the canon is at once a divine/human performance that calls for further performance (faith seeking practical understanding) in the church” (180). In other words, we are to “perform” the script(ures) by interpreting and applying them, and in doing so, we are interpreting God’s “performance” after him. “Faithful performance responds to the author’s direction with creativity and obedience, continuing the same (ipse) communicative action into new contexts,” Vanhoozer says (185).

Jesus, Spirit, Church

In opening chapter 6, Vanhoozer tells us that “theology is first and foremost about understanding the drama of redemption, and only then about our participattion in the divine word-deed and deed-words” (187). Because of this, the Scripture/tradition relationship must be viewed within a theo-dramatic context. Looking first to Jesus, Vanhoozer sees the church following his “preeminent performance.” Explaining he says, “The Son ‘performs’ what God the Father scripted, making God known in human form. The Son is also at the center of the Spirit’s performance in Scripture, for the Spirit’s work is ultimately to minister Christ.” Following this, Vanhoozer spends this chapter explaining the interface of Jesus, the Spirit, and the life of the church. “The gospel is God’s drama in which the church participates through witness and worship,” Vanhoozer points out (193).  We are to seek Jesus’ understanding of the canonical Scriptures (195) and in doing so we are guided by the spirit. This is because “In the final analysis the supreme theological warrant for sola Scriptura can only be solus Christus” (197). This then leads Vanhoozer back into a discussion of tradition and canon, and a look into the role the rule of faith plays. As he ultimately concludes, “as a work of the Spirit, tradition plays the role of the moon to the Scripture’s sun: what light, and authority, tradition bears, it does so by virtue of reflecting the light of the Son that shines forth from the canon” (210).

The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Canon

In the final chapter on the script, Vanhoozer declares that “canonical-linguistic theology means being instructed by, being apprenticed to, and participating in the communicative practices that comprise the Scriptures” (211).  Working off the dramatic metaphor, “to perform Scripture is thus to participate in those divinely commissioned communicative practices that together bear the theo-drama along” (212). This means being involved in “canonical practices,” which are “Spirit-directed, rule-governed social communicative activities done to some covenantal end” (217). “To participate in the canonical practices is thus to participate in what God is doing in Scripture and to be caught up into the economy of divine revelation and redemption,” Vanhoozer tells us (219). These practices are “of Christ” in two senses: “they are about him” and “they are Christ’s own practices” (221). Vanhoozer hones in specifically on the practice of “sola Scriptura” and concludes that practicing it “means to participate in the canonical practices that form, inform, and transform our speaking, thinking, and living – practices that the Spirit uses to conform us to the image of God in Christ.” (237).

There is much, much more that I could say. Hopefully though, this gives you the flavor of Vanhoozer’s work in this section. Sooner rather than later, we’ll continue on to the next section and find out what a “dramaturge” is, and just what “dramaturgy” might entail in the life of the church.


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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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