Category Archives: Post-Modernity

The Drama of Doctrine: A Book Summary

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2005. 493pp. $39.95.

According to the author, “The present book sets forth a postconservative, canonical-linguistic theology and a directive theory of doctrine that roots theology more firmly in Scripture while preserving Lindbeck’s emphasis on practice”  (xiii).  On the whole, this work is a fascinating piece that helps theologian and layperson grasp the energetic nature of Scripture. Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic approach de-emphasized the autonomy of the exegete while heightening that of his enveloping culture – “the experience and the reasoning of the individual human subject is always already shaped by a tradition of language use” (10). By replacing “cultural” with “canonical,” Vanhoozer is able to say the same of Scripture – namely, it is the shaping subject for humanity. In this way, Vanhoozer reorients theology from theory to wisdom (13).

The author aptly shows how drama is a correcting foil for the theological endeavor. God is both the script(ure) writer and player in the drama. Humans are actors following a script. Theologians are the dramaturge for humanity.  Regarding the script, Vanhoozer makes it clear that this is a not a wooden mimic of the script. Rather, it is likened to a dinner theater, where the audience plays a part in the action and shaping as well. The actors are given roles, and they are so intended to enter into the ethic of the role that their actions and words will reflect the kind of person the playwright intended. Further, the Church acts out her parts in front of the surrounding culture and draws them into the drama that God intended them to live. Poignantly put, “Neither the pastor nor the magisterium should be allowed to become the sole voice or actor in the church. On the contrary, the whole people of God is responsible for participating in and continuing the action. Only an active rather than passive audience can turn deadly theater into ‘ a rehearsal of revolution.’ At its best, the church, as the theater of the gospel, is revolutionary, overturning idols and ideologies alike as it displays the first fruits of eschatological reality” (404; original emphasis).

Vanhoozer’s work should be read by all those who seek to bring doctrine and practice together. While this is not the only model by which we can organize Scripture’s teaching, the author has powerfully argued for it as a major contender. Unlike Michael Horton’s work regarding Divine Drama, Vanhoozer helpfully incorporates the surrounding culture in his model of theology. That is, rather than just saying that he will organize his theology around an analogy that follows the Bible’s own intrasystematic categories (when drama itself is not a category given in Scripture), Vanhoozer helps further theology’s enterprise of incorporating culture and Scripture together.

Reclaiming the Center: A Book Summary

Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times

Millard J. Erickson, Paul Kjoss Helseth, Justin Taylor, eds.

In an effort to respond to post-conservative evangelicals that have challenged the presuppositions and foundations of popular evangelicalism, the conglomerate of authors have written to correct Grenz, et al. As Taylor writes in his introductory essay, the editors of the post-conservative movement are Roger Olson and Robert Webber, the pastor is Brian MacLaren, and the professor is Stanley Grenz. These men have emphasized narrative theology, while poo-pooing propositional doctrine. MacLaren describes what he seeks to do as the pastor as an emerging postmodernism that seeks middle-ground between Derridian Deconstructionism and Cartesian certainty.

What is telling in the essays is the desire to draw clear boundaries in methodology and application of doctrine so that there are contours of evangelical theology. In his review of Grenz’s Renewing the Center, Carson summarizes the movement’s greatest weakness that he is “utterly unable to detect any weakness in postmodern epistemology, and therefore all of his prescriptions for the future assume the essential rightness of postmodernism” (45). Carson highlights a strong disparity within the post-conservative vision by pointing out that if our problem in speaking of universals is due to our finitude, there is no hope for a universal redemption of body and mind since we will continue to be finite.

The post-conservative problems persist in their inability to articulate/define truth. As Wellum says, “their project leaves Christian theology apologetically defenseless, a self-contained linguistic system that is not able to demonstrate before a watching world why it is indeed true” (188). Brand’s essay helpfully moves in the direction of defining what the sometimes nebulous term “evangelical” means. It is particularly helpful to see that evangelicalism grew out of the revivalist tradition. Thus attributing to the diverse theological persuasions – Pentecostal, Methodist, etc. However, it would have been helpful to see how more Reformed strands began to be seen as evangelical if this is one of the criteria. Lastly, Millard Erickson’s essay on post-postmodernism has a helpful summary on what the post-conservative movement seeks to accomplish. He says, “Civility and irenicism are not identified with a particular position; they involve acting with respect and using language that is not perjorative or inflammatory” (348). Much of the rhetoric used by post-conservatives seems to draw a false dichotomy between foundationalism’s certainty (and arrogance) and post-conservative’s humility. Humility should be a characteristic of anyone who is called “Christian.”

Beyond Foundationalism: A Book Summary

I was recently encouraged to post some book summaries I am writing for my Theological Methods seminar this semester. These are not summaries that would be up to the stellar quality found in a published magazine, but, I hope, are helpful nonetheless. Here is the first installment.

Beyond Foundationalism – Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke

It is evident from the title of the first chapter that the author’s want to take the Scripture and apply it to our contemporary context (“Beyond Fragmentation: Theology and the Contemporary Setting”) in a way that explains the diversity found in the varied schools of thought. The other danger they seek to avoid is foundationalism that was berthed from modernity. It is clear (and true) that there are many shades of postmodernism (eight according to Vanhoozer as cited on p.22) so that aspects of it can be affirmed by Christians, while several presuppositions must be denied. However, Grenz and Franke believe that the movement should be embraced more than modern evangelicalism want to.

Particularly, what the authors want to espouse is that all language and talk about God is conditioned and bound by culture. So that they say, “A nonfoundationalist theological method leads to the conclusion that ultimately all theology – as the ‘postmodern codition’ suggests – ‘local’ or ‘specific’” (25). The question is raised, then, do even orthodox beliefs (as enumerated in the Nicene Creed) become bound so that they cannot communicate true things about God? In other words, do statements that affirm the Trinity or Jesus’ divinity or the Spirit’s personhood have no reference in trans-cultural situations.

It is questionable what Grenz and Franke actually believe to be foundationalism – in the pejorative sense. Modern (not “modernist”) theologians are hardly classic foundationalists. If they were, it would appear that much of the authors’ criticisms would be well-founded. However, they indict Grudem for having a foundationalist definition of systematic theology when he says that it is “the attempt to determine what the whole Bible teaches about any given topic” (37). How can this be foundationalism in the technical sense (cf. 51)? Of all the talk regarding language games and enculturation, what kind of definition of systematic theology might the authors put forth? They, unfortunately, opt for a coherentist approach to theology, which leaves the very problem unanswered that systematic theology seeks to answer – the relevance for the surrounding culture!