When it comes to Christian worship, no shortage of images come to mind. Scenes both somber and vibrant. Sounds that can range from choral melodies to enthusiastic folk rhythms, depending on the stream of Christian tradition. All of these can emerge when the Church gathers together for worship—and that’s just in regards to music, much less other worship practices. For me, all of this brings up a larger question: what exactly is worship?
This is a question that has received a variety of responses. Therefore, it isn’t too surprising to find Andrew McGowan explain in Ancient Christian Worship that worship often means different things to different people in many Christian churches today (2014, p.2). For some, it refers to things like “communal prayer and ritual,” while for others it expresses something more like a deeply personal feeling of belief and inward orientation towards life. For still others, worship basically denotes a kind of Christian music (p.2). Continue reading →
In the eyes of a fair number of Christians today, the imagination doesn’t seem to count for very much—or at least that’s how Kevin Vanhoozer describes the current landscape in the introduction to his new essay collection Pictures at a Theological Exhibition. He believes that many evangelicals unfortunately view the imagination essentially as “a factory for producing images of things that are not there” (p.18). “Maybe it’s important for telling good stories at night or writing gripping novels, but it’s not that important for theology,” they might say.
When the imagination isn’t considered theologically useful, it seems like the value of analytic activities like systematic theology tend to get over-emphasized while artistic expressions like poetry get marginalized. For Vanhoozer, though, both systematic theology and poetry have important roles to play in the Christian life. He writes, “We need both the clarity of crisp concepts and the intricacy of lush metaphors in order to get sound, life-giving doctrine” (p.13). His overall indictment is that many contemporary believers don’t think having a developed biblical imagination matters. In a world where “many Christians are [simultaneously] suffering from malnourished imaginations, captive to culturally conditioned pictures of the good life,” this is a sadly ironic state of affairs (p.20).
It was the 2nd century church father Tertullian who asked, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” Readers coming to Kevin Vanhoozer’s dense and immensely rewarding The Drama of Doctrinemight initially voice a similar question: “What does Broadway have to do with Jerusalem?” In other words, what does the church have to learn about its task from the theater? I believe that Vanhoozer’s reply would likely be something along the lines of, “Actually, more than you might think.”
The core of Vanhoozer’s proposalconsists in a series of striking theatrical metaphors for theology, Scripture, interpretation, the Church, and even the pastor (p.xii). For him, these metaphors are appropriate because the world of “faith seeking understanding” is itself dramatic. He explains, “At the heart of Christianity lies a series of divine words and divine acts that culminate in Jesus Christ… The gospel—God’s self-giving in his Son through the Spirit—is intrinsically dramatic” (p.17). As a theological metaphor, the theater can also help show “how we come to know things not simply by beholding and contemplating them but by indwelling and participating in them” (p.79). Continue reading →
My days of letting out a long-awaited sigh of relief after having turned in the final paper of the semester are (for the time being) behind me. Now, summer really isn’t so different from any other time of the year. But I still love summer reading lists. As I said last year (in The 2015 Edition), it still makes my heart glad to see people around me (teachers, professors, students, and headmasters) “giddy with the prospect of reading time arriving thanks to the summer months.” Well, that’s still true. So let’s once again delve into this year’s list of books that I hope to read by the time autumn comes back around (and classes for those involved in such things). I truly intend to get through all these titles, but I’m also quite aware that my literary eyes are probably far too big for my stomach. Still, it will be fun to try.
Five New Voices
1. Francis Watson. He’s an English scholar who has devoted most of his career to New Testament studies and theological hermeneutics. Watson has taught at Durham University since 2007, and I’ve been wanting to read him for quite a while:
The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus. From the book’s description on Amazon: “Francis Watson, widely regarded as one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, explains that the four gospels were chosen to give a portrait of Jesus. He explores the significance of the fourfold gospel’s plural form for those who constructed it and for later Christian communities.” I recently finished Richard Hays’ excellent Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, so I’m excited to listen to Watson’s perspective on the significance of the fourfold nature of the Gospels with Hays’ work in mind. Continue reading →