Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine

By Willimon, William H. | The Christian Century, January 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine


Willimon, William H., The Christian Century


Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine

By Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Westminster John Knox, 298 pp., $30.00 paperback

The Christian faith is known, shared, and validated in its performance. The church exists not simply to guard or preserve orthodox doctrine but also to enact, embody, and incarnate doctrine. Kevin Vanhoozer, an experienced, highly regarded practical theologian, engagingly argues for the performance of Christian doctrine in Faith Speaking Understanding.

"Theology is the serious and joyful attempt to live blessedly with others, before God, in Christ, through the Spirit," Vanhoozer writes. The book is his comprehensive call for Christians to actively join in "what God has done, is doing, and will do in Christ through the Spirit." We can't do church without doing doctrine, he contends; it's not enough to correctly explain what we believe without living out those beliefs. Vanhoozer encourages lively engagement with and demonstration of the truth of our faith and offers criteria for knowing when we have succeeded in taking up our parts as actors in the divine/human drama that is Christ's redemption of the world.

Vanhoozer's deep affection for the thought of the church is infectious and refreshing in an age that values a host of other things more than good thinking. A major strength of his book is its strong affirmation of the importance of church as more than a mere set of practices, with a concomitant downplay of the importance of beliefs and ideas. Some present Christianity as a culture in which convictions are not as significant as habits and general worldview. But Vanhoozer shows that one of the joys of the Christian faith is that we don't have to make it up as we go; the saints can help us think our way toward discipleship as God means it to be. And what we think about God is decisive. We'll never pull ourselves out of the morass of subjectivity and expressive individualism without some help from those who thought about the faith more deeply than we're thinking now.

At the same time, Vanhoozer demonstrates that Christian thinking is a considerably more engaging, embodied affair than much that passes for thinking these days. Christians challenge the world's ways of thought by doing what we know, by displaying lives and local churches that show the world something more than the world can produce by its philosophies, schemes, and political programs. The truth that is Jesus Christ is meant to be not only intellectually affirmed but also lived. As Augustine said in On Christian Doctrine, faithful scriptural interpretation does two things: it discovers what we need to learn, then "presents what we have learnt."

Vanhoozer uses Kierkegaard's analogy of the church as actors on the stage of the drama of salvation rather than a passive audience watching God perform. The gospel is a grand pageant performed by the Trinity, in which ordinary people are pushed onstage and given roles to play that we couldn't have thought up ourselves. …

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