Tag Archives: kevin vanhoozer

Was the Reformation a Mistake?

Today we celebrate (mourn, think about, reflect upon, take your pick) the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With this momentous event upon us, 517yithbnpl-_sx326_bo1204203200_numerous people have turned their attention to the various historical and contemporary implications of the Reformation. You can see this in the number of books, articles, and blogs that have been devoted to treating either the background of the Reformation, Reformers, and Protestant-Catholic relations.

Among those books these stick out to me as being really interesting:

Biblical Authority after Babel – Vanhoozer 

The End of Protestantism – Peter Leithart

Reformation Theology – Matthew Barrett

The Five Solas Series – Various Authors 

But there is another book that recently caught my eye. A book that was written by a Roman Catholic theologian whom a lot of protestants really like: Matthew Levering (Professor at Mundelein Seminary). Levering, just published a book with one of the foremost evangelical publishers, Zondervan. It’s titled Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine is not Unbliblical. If that doesn’t catch your eye then maybe the fact that it includes a Protestant response by Kevin Vanhoozer will!

Enough about the background of the book. What is this Roman Catholic theologian’s answer? Was the Reformation a mistake? According to Levering – Yes and No.

No, because the Reformation has reminded the Church of things that have been neglected by Roman Catholics, namely, love for Scripture, the authority of God’s word, salvation by God’s grace, gospel, preaching, Bible study, and personal faith and relationship with Christ. (16) Levering is grateful for these thigns. However, in another sense, he does in fact believe the Reformation was a mistake. How was it a mistake? Well he says, the Reformation was built on a mistaken assumption that Catholic views of Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, Justification, etc. are unbliblical. In light of this he attempts to show that Catholic doctrine is in fact not unbliblical (note he doesn’t say biblical, rather he says not unbiblical).

In order to make his case, he argues that catholic doctrine is based upon biblically warranted modes of reasoning about biblically revealed realities. (21) Essentially this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a way of thinking about the bible and its truths in a communal and liturgical way. Or to put it in a slightly different way,

The reasoning prescribed by the Bible for interpreting biblical texts is hierarchically and liturgically contextualized, in the sense that the Spirit communicates the word of Christ to the people of God who are gathered for worship by “the apostles and elders,” and by those like Timothy whom the apostles (whose testimony to the gospel of Christ remains uniquely authoritative) appointed as their successors. (24)

To put it more plainly, when we think about doctrine, we must come to the text of Scripture and read it through the lens of tradition. Tradition tells us what the text means and what the text is about. To read Scripture outside of this “biblically warranted mode of reasoning” is a wrongheaded way of reading the text.

Given his definition of biblically warranted modes of reasoning, he proceeds to treat the scriptural background of numerous Roman catholic doctrines, including Scripture, Mary, the seven sacraments, justification, purgatory, saints and the papacy. The result is essentially him saying “well, scripture doesn’t exactly teach purgagatory or the papacy, etc.; but through the mode of reasoning we apply to the text, the doctrines are not unbiblical.”

If protestants are not convinced by his conclusions, according to Levering himself, that is okay! He isn’t trying to convince them to accept Catholic doctrine. Rather he simply wants to show them that Catholics aren’t unbiblical in their thinking. I will leave it to you, the reader of this blog, to pick up the book and decide whether you are convinced by him.

However, I do want to throw in my two cents…

Not being unbiblical is not enough. We aim to say what scripture explicitly and implicitly teaches, nothing more and nothing less.

And,

Tradition is not a second source of revelation – it is a helpful external guide.

Both of these are at least in part two of principles we reflect upon on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Anyone who holds to these principles simply won’t be able to buy into Levering’s account, and thus won’t be able to say that Levering’s account of a “not unbiblical” account of Roman Catholic doctrine is adequate.

All in all, despite this criticism, I do have to commend Levering for writing this book. At the very least, it will dispel caricatures that some protestants have about Roman Catholics, namely that they simply make stuff up as they go or that they don’t care about the Bible. That, it seems to me, is a worthwhile result.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

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LATC 2017: Can I Get a Witness? Analytics, Poetics, and the Mission of Dogmatics – Kevin Vanhoozer

 

Here are some lecture notes from Kevin Vanhoozer’s plenary session at LATC 2017kevinvanhoozer1200x1800

A-Introduction – the discourse of dogmatics: saying what is “in Christ”

  • Who God is and what God is doing – “in Christ”
  • For most of the 20th century Dogmatics is in the doghouse
  • Which comes first in dogmatics? A experience, community, language?

 

B-The issue: experiencing/thinking/speaking-of/living-to God

 

1.The Man Who Saw Infiinity

  • “The Man Who Saw Infinity” – Poetics vs. Analytics in Math
    • A feeling for form – poetic sensibility
  • What about dogmatics?
    • Where should we locate it on the spectrum? Analytic or Poetic?
      • Perfect being theology
      • Apophatic theology
      • Cataphatic theology
    • Dogmatics is a response to a prior divine communicative initiative
      • It exists under the domain of the Word
      • The communicative agency of the Triune God is what makes theological reflection possible. Christ is the human surface who mirrors the Father.

 

2.Dogmatic Discourse: the task

  • Barth: Dogmatics about how well church proclamation lines up with Revelation of the Word. The church must embody and proclaim the truth of the gospel. It was a science of the Word of God whose form and content is JC. It is scientific in the sense that it is the object that determines the practice.
  • Bavinck: Distinguishes symbolics from dogmatics (what it actually confesses and what it should confess). Dogmatic theology dogmatizes.
  • Webster: Focus is still on God’s communicative agency. Identity b/w God’s inner and outer works. Theology was under house arrest of modernity. Webster doesn’t deny the ectypal nature of human knowledge of God, yet this does not necessarily result in the deconstruction of dogmatics. Rather it acknowledges the limitations of human intellect, but places them under the sphere of God’s communicative action.

 

3.Dogmatic Discourse: The Challenge

  • Not all God talk constitutes dogmatic discourse
    • e. Jesus’ encounter w/demons. When demons speak. True, but not dogmatics.
  • Dogmatics not only involves words, but a doxastic attitude
  • The Latinization Thesis
    • Language change was crucial in refashioning the mentality of eurpoean thought process
    • Goal: have a humanist schoolboy speak and think like ciceronian Latins
    • Should we say something similar about dogmatics? i.e. to train to speak, write, and think as if they were in the same speech community as Athanasius and Calvin
  • The Globalization Thesis
  • The modern barrier to the thing-in-itself and God-in-himself

D.Dogmatic Discourse, part 1: Analytics

1.Dogmatic Discourse, Part 1:analytics

  • Language as a tool or language as what makes inter-subjectivity possible in the first place
  • Webster sounds an analytic note
    • Dogmatics is a species of reasoning. It involves viewing reason as created, fallen, redeemed. Caught up in an economy of grace. Dogmatic reasoning yields a conceptual representation to what reason has learned from following the exegetical text.
  • Is Webster an analytic theologian?
    • What is AT?
    • Its clear that Webster makes use of conceptual distinctions: i.e. Creator and Creature.
    • Dogmatics begins with economic works, and traces back to God in himself.
    • Webster insists again and again that theology proper is directed towards things unseen, but not necessarily unheard. It offers conceptual analysis of biblical discourse.

2.Linguistic Phenomenology

  • Webster may be a kind of phenomenlogist of the Triune God. Not the “thing in itself” but God in himself. Attempt to ID the essential components of phenomena. Webster even sounds like Husserl when he speaks of reducing elements to their founding principles. Webster – contemplation requires the mind to move through created things to the Trinitarian things themselves.
  • JL Austin compared his method to a phenomenology of ordinary language. Is dogmatics a sort of phenomenology of biblical language? It sort of resembles this.
  • Is analysis the task of dogmatics?

3.Warnings to reducing dogmatics to analytics

  • Webster’s Warning
  • Vos – Biblical theology considers the form and content, Systematic theology examines these same contexts as the material for a human work of classifying and systematizing according to human principles.
  • Webster: says this suggest two problems
    • Makes Bible raw material, hence the idiom of systematic theology drifts away from Scripture. It operates at a distance from the idiom of scripture.
    • Gives rise to the dangerous idea that dogma is an improvement upon Scripture.
    • Webster prefers a more “light-weight” understaning of the dogmatic task

 

E.Dogmatic Discourse, part 2: Poetics:

1.The Poetics of Dogmatics: a brief historical sampling

  • Not just content, but Form
  • David Tracy describes theology as the triumph of logos over theos.
  • Some examples:
    • Gregory of Nazianzus: Poemata Arcama
    • Schleiermacher: Christmas Eve Celebration: A Dialogue
    • Von Balthasar: Theo-Drama
    • Vanhoozer: Theodramatics

2.The Poetics of Dogmatics, part 2: biblical reasoning revisited

  • Webster’s exhortation to not let dogmatics drift away from the idioms of scripture
  • The imagination is a cognitive capacity: its important then to harken to the different ways Scriptures speaks of Christ. Given recent critiques of the designative function of language, we ought to pay more attention the the shaping of a biblical imagination, which includes also forms and content. Stories are not just delivery systems for delivering propositional content. They do something else too.
  • We needs poets and novelists, how much more do we need biblical narrative, to not only cultivate right opinion but also right affections.
  • What’s the moral for dogmatics? Should dogmatic theology look more like a science textbook or a story?
    • Lets not confuse propositional content and form
      • Some forms i.e. analytic excel at form
      • Some forms i.e. narrative excel at content too
    • Lets not think that dogmatics needs to adopt the styles of biblical discourse in order to think biblically
  • Gunton – Dogmas are summary of gospel material
  • Dogmas provide direction for doing, seeing, tasting, everything that is the drama of relation
  • The dogmatic imaginary is the social imaginary of the church generated and governed by the biblical imaginary

F.The Mission of Dogmatic Statements

  • Dogmatic indicatives: statements on a mission
    • Task: say what is happening in the mission of the F, S, HS
    • Dogmatics bears witness to this
    • Saying of what is in Christ, that it is
      • Many forms of IS (metaphorical, eschatoalogical, poetic, eternal)
    • Dogmatics guides the church in saying what “is” in Christ.
    • Dogmatic theologians are part of the cloud of witnesses
  • Dogmatics at Jerusalem: a mission(s) statement
    • Acts 15 – an example, Luke even uses DOGMATA to describe what happened in Acts 15
      • Judgement about “fittingness” of action to what we know is true about what God is doing in Christ
    • Dogmatic discourse and confessional statements
    • Confession is responsive and not spontaneous

G.Conclusion – the discourse of dogmatics and the gestures of discipleship

  • Why is there dogmatics rather than nothing?
  • Importance of including gestures in dogmatic discourse. Saying what IS in Christ involves action too. Action of what is true in Christ. The evangelical task is not just a finger pointing to Christ, but a whole BODY gesturing towards Christ.
  • Gestures are language too.
  • Dogmatics helps the church make Christly gestures.

Kevin Vanhoozer on the Task of Preaching

What do we “do” as preachers? Are we giving people more information (biblical, practical, spiritual)? Are we giving them encouragement? Are we shaping their affections? Kevin Vanhoozer has a suggestion….

From The Drama of Doctrine:

The ministry of the Word involves far more than ideas. Thanks to a host of postmodern prophets, we are more aware than ever of the power of language to shape human thinking and experience. Language creates a “world,” that is a cultural framework in which we live and move and process our experience. Preaching, teaching, and evangelism are the means by which the gospel becomes that all-encompassing framework that allows us to think and experience truth, goodness, and beauty in light of the history of Jesus Christ. The Ministry of the Word involves more than communicating a few truths; it involves transmitting a whole way of thinking and experiencing. Preaching and teaching should be “evangelistic,” then, in the sense of enabling people to indwell the gospel (=evangel) as the primary framework for all that they say and do. (74)

So what do preachers do? They create worlds….world that are shaped by the gospel.

 

Theology and the Mirror of Scripture

What is an “evangelical?” Is there even such a thing? If one were to look at the vast spectrum of people who call themselves evangelicals, one might be tempted to say that there isn’t. Yet somehow, this moniker can’t simply be shaken off. People keep on calling themselves (and other) evangelicals. It’s a sociological-theological-historical term that I believe should not be abandoned. Even though its definition as a sociological reality is being stretched beyond recognition, there is such a thing as being a “mere” evangelical. And whatever it means to be a “mere” evangelical is defined by God’s word and God’s act.9780830840762

In their most recent book, Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account, Kevin Vanhoozer and Treier (V&T) have attempted to give an account of what such a “mere evangelical” theology might be. By the looks of their endorsers on the back of the book it would seem as though they have given a satisfactory account.

According to V&T mere evangelical theology begins with theological ontology, specifically with the Trinitarian God of the gospel. It begins with the economic Trinity which mirrors the immanent Trinity. However this Trinitarian God who reveals himself in history is not know to us apart from Scripture. So V&T also argue that the biblical testimony yields knowledge of this Triune God because it mirrors who this God is. As V&T say, there is truth and authority in this mirror. Mere Evangelical theology is focused on the God of the Gospel and the Gospel of God. God himself is the light. Scripture is a mirror of that light. Tradition is a mirror who’s light is not from itself but is derivative from the light of God reflected through scripture.

The second part of this book relates V&T’s theological ontology and mirror metaphors to various theological practices – specifically the interpretation of scripture, the role of tradition, and the role of scholarship in the church.

What unites V&T’s proposal for mere evangelical theology is the metaphor of “mirror” which is scattered throughout the book. I believe this is a helpful metaphor which (at least for me) helped me make sense of the ontological priority of God in doing theology and the primacy of scripture. But where it made things most clear for me is in the role of tradition in doing theology. Calling tradition a mirror was a helpful move, for it emphasizes that it still reflects the true light, yet in some derivative way which is not foolproof from distortions.

V&T’s proposal for thinking of theology as a mirror of the God of the Gospel and the Gospel of God is a very useful metaphor, it even has implications for ecclesiology, for one might even say that the Church and local churches are also mirrors of the God of the Gospel/The Gospel of God.

Overall, I highly recommend this book by two able theologians who have devoted much work to theological prolegomena. It fits right alongside Swain and Allen’s Reformed Catholicity as a book which addresses how to be reformed and evangelical while doing theology within the context of “mere” Christianity.

(Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

Vanhoozer on the 6 Marks of Evangelical Theology

Vanhoozer says that there are six marks of Evangelical theology. Personally I think there should be seven or maybe forty. Those are better numbers because they are “Biblical” but whatever, six works I guess….

All kidding aside what marks evangelical theology off as “evangelical.” Is it simply that it is done by people who call themselves evangelicals? Is there something distinctive about it that makes it “evangelical” i.e. subject matter, emphasis, the way its written, goals, Etc.? Is it that it fits

latc-treier

If you will be in L.A. in January make sure to come to LATC. Daniel Treier will be presenting a plenary titled “Scripture’s Textual Voices: A Dogmatic Account.

 

well within Bebbington’s quadrilateral (word, cross, activism, conversion)?

The answer to that question, “What marks theology off as evangelical?” is a complex question with a complex answer but Vanhoozer and Treier seek to answer it – or at least give some direction in how we might go about answering it – in their new book Theology and the Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account.

In a helpful section on “The Gospel of God and the God of the Gospel” Vanhoozer and Treir give us 6 characteristics (3 substantive and 3 stylistic) that mark theology as “evangelical.”

Mere evangelical theology, as an anchored set, can initially be characterized in terms of two principles, one material (substantive), one formal (stylistic), each with three entailments. As to substance, mere evangelical theology is (1) orthodox, conforming to the early creeds; (2) catholic, spanning all the times and places where there has been a local church; and (3) Protestant, affirming of the Reformation solas. As to style, it is (1) radical, first because it is anchored in the root (radix) of the gospel – the triune God – and second because this rootedness leads it to confront the world with the claims of the gospel; (2) irenic, acknowledging that we need many perspectives and people groups fully to appreciate the gospel’s wealth of meaning; and (3) joyful, first because it take it bearing from the best of all words that can be heard and, second, because it takes its energy from the Spirit, the minister of God’s word and the giver of God’s life. (52)

Do you find these six marks helpful? Would you change any? Add any?

Recommended books on Christ and Culture

If you are looking for some books on the interaction between Christianity and Culture here are some I definitely recommend.

D.A. Carson – Known more for his exegetical prowess than his cultural engagement, but in recent years he has entered the arena of “Christ and Culture”.

Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Eerdmans, 2008.

Andy Crouch – He has quickly become the expert on Christ and Culture (at least in my mind and the minds of a lot of other evangelicals). His books have reshaped the discussion of Christ and Culture in recent years.

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Stanley Hauwerwas – He brings wisdom from the Anabaptist tradition.

Hauerwas, Stanley, and William Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Abingdon Press, 1989.

Abraham Kuyper – A true man of all trades. He was never a professional theologian, yet as a lay theologian-politician he isn’t just a man sitting up in the ivory tower theorizing. He put his theories to work!

Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. Eerdmans, 1943.

Richard Mouw – A true Kuyperian. If you want to know about Kuyperianism read Mouw. More than anybody else Mouw has shaped my understanding of Calvinism and the reformed take on Christ and Culture.

Mouw, Richard. When The Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem. Eerdmans, 2002. ISBN: 978-0-8028-3996-1. $14.

Richard Neibuhr – This book is a classic. It is the starting point for all discussion about Christ and culture.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Kevin Vanhoozer – He is a theological beast! Enough said….

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Charles Anderson, and Michael Sleasman. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. Baker Academic, 2007.