In the church we have the theologian and the activist, and the two rarely cross paths. When they do, sometimes things get ugly. What if there were a way to reconcile these two? Having taught Introduction to Theology at CCBCY for a few semesters now, I have felt the anxiety of making sure what I teach is “applicable”. However, I am uncomfortable with the simplistic “but what does this mean for me?” type of approach; as if the worth of a doctrine can be judged a subjective sense of self-improvement. We want something more. We want to be shaped into His image and to be more aligned with His will. But how does doctrine do that? Kevin Vanhoozer, research professor of Systematic Theology at TEDS, has felt the pressure of such questions and in Faith Speaking Understanding he offers a model for thinking about theology that helps us move forward.
Faith Speaking Understanding
Vanhoozer recognizes that “theory-practice dichotomy that still bedevils many a theological curriculum serves neither seminary nor church” (p21) and proposes that a theatrical approach to doctrine helps recognize just how doctrine and practice can and should work hand-in-hand. For Vanhoozer, then, our role as the church is to serve as the theater of the Gospel. We are to show and live what God has done in Christ. In this concept, doctrine is the stage direction that shows believers (actors) how to act in such a way to display the Gospel. So our faith is not simply about “doing” or “thinking”, but “being”. Vanhoozer has written and spoken on such this theatrical model before, but in Faith Speaking Understanding he boils it all down into one accessible and comprehensive book.
Faith Speaking Understanding is structured in two parts. Part 1 establishes the theatrical model and how it is helpful. The theater model keeps faith and practice together. The Gospel is founded upon the work that God has done in history. Doctrine is not a list of propositions to approve, but truths to embody. It also reminds each believer that they have a role.
Part 2 walks through traditional doctrines through the lens of theater and shows how this applies to the church’s mission of disciple-making. The traditional doctrines of Theology proper, creation, Christology, salvation, sanctification and mission are all examined from this unique angle. Somehow Vanhoozer manages to keep this fresh as if it were the first time I had heard these doctrines.
Vanhoozer’s prose is simply delightful. If one has heard him speak, they will recognize the same virtuosity with the English language. There are clever turns of phrase, word plays, clever references and allusions to Scripture or other literature. The book is ever-quotable. Even this fact aids Vanhoozer’s quest of letting theology seep into everything.
Faith Speaking Understanding constantly emphasizes that Christianity is not fundamentally about ethics, but it’s about God’s actions in history and what we should do about it. In this light, understanding is essential. Mere ethics is not enough. We need to live the reality of what God has done in Christ.
Vanhoozer has done the church a service by sharing these insights. I hope Faith Speaking Understanding is widely read and its suggestions put into practice.
Many thanks to Westminster John Knox for providing a copy of this book in exchange for review. Their generosity has not affected my opinions of the book.
- Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press