Vanhoozer on the Church’s Drama

Sort of on the same lines as the last few posts on worship, here’s Vanhoozer on the church’s drama (he’s not talking about movies or skits!).

“It is an unfathomable, if not unpardonable, sin to drain the drama out of the biblical story of redemption.  Dedramatization happens in one of two ways: either one dilutes the action to a moral or a message (i.e. by principlizing) or one fails to draw the audience into the action.  To be sure, the material is pure gold; yet the church all too often manages to turn the drama of redemption into cultural dross.  The church becomes deadly theater when it loses its prophetic edge or when its members become passive spectators who feel no call to become participants.  The church must hallow, not hollow, God’s name.”

Or, in Sayers’ terms, “It is the neglect of dogma that makes for the dullness.”  Vanhoozer continues: “Doctrine provides direction for doing the truth of Jesus Christ” (emphasis his).  …The church does not have to stage revolutionary performances; it is revolutionary theater.  For everything the church says and does in its liturgy and its corporate life continues the theo-drama, and hence is subversive of mere worldly powers and structure.”

These quotes are taken from chapter 12 of The Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: WJK, 2005).  If you lose, water down, or replace the dramatic doctrine of Scripture with warm fuzzies, chicken soup for the soul, or moralism, the church sort of implodes, explodes, or just becomes another talking building in town.  However, if the dramatic doctrines of Scripture are embodied in the liturgy and lives of the saints, the church is a counter cultural drama of what God has done in Christ.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 Replies to “Vanhoozer on the Church’s Drama”

  1. This may be a minor point, but I’ve always had a problem using the word drama in reference to the Church’s doctrine. Mainly because how the language of the stage is used today is entirely inappropriate for use in reference to doctrine. The only word borrowed from the stage that the Bible uses is hypocrite. However, if by drama one means “a series of real events having dramatic interest and unity” then I have no quarrel.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those “Christians don’t go to movies” people. I just find it uncomfortable to call biblical doctrine “drama”. It is not “based upon real events.” The events that give us our doctrine actually happened in the way they are recorded. “Drama” is used too often today to mean not true to real life.

    I’m done ranting now. Good day.


    1. I understand a bit, Steven. However, as Horton, Vanhoozer, and Sayers use “drama,” they do so as a way to trump all other dramas – this is the best, real, exciting truth while all others sound quite trivial and self-centered in comparison.

      Also, Vos used ‘drama,’ I’ve seen ‘theater’ in Calvin, and Turretin used “proper performance” with regard to doctrine and faith.

      Your pause is well worth the pause; we just have to define things correctly, as with all theological speak.



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