Theology is inherently theatrical — there’s a stage (creation), a script (Scripture), a main Actor (our Triune God), secondary actors (the Church), and a historical plot (creation, fall, redemption, and restoration). Which is to say the work of theology is more than the right formulation of orthodox principles. By following the contours of redemptive history, theology serves the Church by helping her understand her identity and role in the world, and in the cosmic drama in Christ.
The Christian life is theatrical — we act the miracle.
Making this point is Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Vanhoozer is a plenary speaker at this year's DG national conference and the author of a 2005 book explaining why theology is theatrical, titled, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical Linguistic Approach to Christian Doctrine. In the book he writes, “The drama of doctrine has nothing to do with pretending but everything to do with participating in the once-for-all mission of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit” (366).
And what is this mission? “Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the embodiment of all God’s promises of creation and covenant alike,” he writes. “For Jesus’ death on the cross is the victory of God not merely over Israel’s covenant rebellion but over the cosmic powers of sin, Satan and death (Colossians 2:15)” (55).
And so, within this cosmic storyline, we discover “the ultimate dramatic function of doctrine is to rip away our socially constructed masks and show us who we truly are ‘in Christ’” (364).
In other words, doctrine is dramatic, and the Church is on a cosmic stage, living out the life-changing gospel and displaying the victory of Christ. And everyone who is ‘in Christ’ has a role to play.
Creation and Communion
This dramatic approach to theology touches many different areas, including the original purpose and design of creation. When I recently interviewed Dr. Vanhoozer for the Authors on the Line podcast, he said, “Creation is the stage that gives us the space and time to interact with God.” This is why the Christian life gets worked out over weeks and months and years of communion with God. Our lives are caught up into a story.
By nature, this theo-drama gets worked out in very practical ways, and following his more academic-level book, The Drama of Doctrine, Vanhoozer has just recently finished explaining how this works in a more popular-level book titled, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine, which is scheduled to be released on October 31, 2014.
On the Line
I caught up with Dr. Vanhoozer in his home office, and I put him on the line to talk about the drama of redemptive history, or what he calls the theo-drama, and what it means for the Christian life.
In what ways will this dramatic approach to theology keep Christ at the center? What function does creation play in our communion with God? How does this theo-dramatic approach keep us from reducing theology to abstract universal principles? And what role does the imagination play in how the Church participates in the drama?