Category Archives: Ethics

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.

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A Note to the Purchaser

Neckless SalesmanRight now in life I am a salesman. Some people have myriad allergic reactions to the word “salesman.” Some of this is rightly deserved. But have you ever taken a moment to consider whether you are just as allergy-causing to the salesman.

This is by no means a gripe session. Rather, it is a call for Christians to be christianly in their purchasing habits. Day in day out I interact with people from so many backgrounds your head would spin. Some people come in my door thinking that I am wicked – this is before they have spoken a word. Their demeanor says everything. Others open up and tell me about how they are getting ready to divorce for infidelity.

To the one who hates the salesman: Consider that this salesman is performing a valid service to your community. In a world where cyberspace has crowded out human interaction. In a world where people are not challenged to buy something they thought they wanted. The salesman provides some kind of sanity in the consumer’s overly righteous, yet uninformed, way. The salesman provides flesh and blood instead of keys and buttons.

To the one who lays it out: even though it can be over the top, but perhaps this is society’s plea for humanity. Like the hemorrhaging woman who reached out in despair, so to the consumer who has had enough of automated prompts and pixelated faces reaches out to their closest friend – a human.

To the Christian: make sure you are purchasing in a way you would if your salesman was Jesus. Don’t say you’ll come back. Don’t ask for a card when you have no intention of calling the salesman. Have some backbone. Don’t be like the boy who wanted to bury his father, spouting lines to get any kind of decision on his part postponed. Realize that the person attempting to sell you a phone or a car or a television needs to feed his family. He is not a shark (always).

Enjoy interacting with humans. Pay the extra $20 in order to feed your neighbors kids. On-line is cheap, but so is the experience and the loving of neighbor. It requires no backbone on your part – read people-pleasing. It requires no sympathy, empathy, or any other emotion than just getting what you want.

Challenge yourself to buy as you would from Jesus. [Matt 25.40, 45; Heb 13.2)

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The Evaluated Life

I have been teaching on Matthew 7.21-23 for the past two weeks in Sunday School. One of the issues we spent a lot of time on is the fact that both those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven and those that are surprised when they say “Lord, Lord did we not…”, both these groups of people do something. It apperars with the list of things the surprised group lists shuld be classified as doing the will of the Father – since these are the very things done by the Apostles. However, there is an aspect of their acitons that is missing to make them disqualified in doing the will of the Father.

Those that are surprised are essentially not in Christ. My question of the text probed a little deeper than this statement of fact. How do we know whether we are “in Christ.” One of the ways we know is by evaluating our motivations for why we do what we do. In a world that is constantly moving and changing we do not take the time that is necessary to think through why we do what we do. If we get to the answer of this question, then, I believe, we will get at the larger question of whether we are “in Christ” or not.

Here is a list of questions I posed to the Sunday School to help in this exercise:

Self-Evaluation
1. What do I get excited about when I come to church?
2. Do my conversations include testimonies of God’s grace in my life?
3. In what ways does God’s grace seem sweeter to me now than a year ago?
4. When I pray, speak in front of others, serve others, would I be content if no one applauded or noticed that I was serving?
5. If you were to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and God were the only one there, would you still want to enter? That is, you aren’t primarily excited about heaven because you will be reunited with loved ones.
6. Do your conversations allow others to see your flaws or do you feel the need to micro-manage how others will perceive you?
7. Do I understand that all of my obedience will be tainted with sin? If so, is it easy to accept as fact?
8. What have I done in the past three months out of love for Jesus?
9. What have I stopped doing in the past three months out of love for Jesus?

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Religious Lethargy #4

I case you didn’t catch it in my last post, the reason I used the adjective “lethargy” has to do with the relationship between knowledge and emotion. Religious experience that is founded upon the affections without content not only will result in lethargy, but it begins with lethargy. 

There is a fear of many that learning kills any kind of emotion. Jesus said that he delighted to do the will of the Father. His delight was contingent upon his knowing the will of the Father. How could he delight in something he did not know? We mustn’t be lax in our search for truth. We must dig deep as for a treasure. We mustn’t become naive ascetics who long for the spiritual slop of fervor. Rather we are to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (= information about and from God). 

Such fervor leads to lethargy in that the congregation will merely wait for the next innovator to come to their conference or meeting to stir them up. Getting up in the morning and having their mind conformed will seem dry if the only kind of Christianity they experience is an experience.

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Religious Lethargy #3

We want to make Christianity relevant to our culture. We cannot continue to speak in the King’s English and expect people to understand and exegete their culture when no one speaks it. For example, if I told you to watch out for the poodle-klumps, you would look at me cross. But if I told you to watch out for the rebellious, you would understand. We need to contextualize our message in words people will understand. 

There are a few things wrong with this video (which is a symptom of a greater problem in modern Christianity):

1) We cannot merely tack the name of Jesus onto a popular concept and believe that we have sanctified it. We must also re-define what it means to “spin me right round.”

2) Mere emotionalism saves no one. Jonathan Edwards wrote an excellent work Religious Affections that I commend to all of you – especially this section

3) We implicitly teach folk that fervor is the goal of the conference. Emotional response is definitely necessary when the sinner is confronted with the truth of sin and grace. This emotional response is part and parcel of the content that is shared. Music can work people to tears and trembling, but it is the one who trembles at God’s word whom he will countenance.

4) When the folk return from the conference and the youth leader does not work them up in a similar frenzy, they will grow bored with the group and with Christ. 

5) Similar to #3 above, Christianity is starkly different than other religions in that it seeks to fill the person with transforming knowledge. Not mere knowledge, which is the heresy of gnosticism. It is knowledge that necessarily transforms. It is knowledge, nonetheless. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices through the non-conformation of our minds to this world’s worldview. Granted, I have not heard the speakers at the conference, and am not aware of the content of the messages. I venture to say that they revolved around confessing sin and encountering God in a powerful way. 

This is good. But when it comes to the music and what is communicated by vain repetition and the stirring up of frenzy is that the mind should not be engaged. This fellow is talented, no doubt about this. But what will this kind of fervor do in the longview? Perhaps you were present at this conference. Please comment and shed light on what else was done there. These posts are limited to this video that stirred so many emotions and reactions in me. 

Let’s continue to make Christianity relevant and fun and…real. So many youth at this conference will be contemplating suicide in the next year I am sure. I was there and almost did it. What we must give our people is teaching that is solid and will keep these kids from tottering in the sands of relativity in our culture.

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Multi-Faceted Blessings

Godliness, while not guaranteed to change the original situation, often had an effect for good on the world. . . . The possibilities for the many-sided blessings of God are endless. Instead of my day being ruined, God has extricated me from sin and misery, and this is perhaps one of the most significant days in my life from the standpoint of growing into the image of Christ. I’ve learned how life works in God’s world. I’ve learned how the gospel works. I’ve learned profound lessons in a very tiny corner of life.

– David Powlison, Anger, 25.

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Question #8 Answer

What are the consequences of faith and obedience? We’ve already mentioned some of the subjective benefits. More objectively, maybe a dented fender or even a killing was prevented. Somebody else was kept from stumbling into sinful anger or murder on my account. And in the half dozen cars around me, maybe my courtesy and relaxed response prove catching.

-David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze, 25.

This point Powlison hit me hard because I too often merely consider my sanctification as indicative of my relationship with God. Here we see that our exercise of self-control entails others in our wake. If I am able to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, then, perhaps, someone else may be enticed to pursue such holy living. Perhaps, my willingness to intentionally walk by the Spirit will keep someone else to go down the road to perdition.

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