On doctrine and drama

Doctrine is a muddled concept. It carries many connotations of which some have a strong distaste, while others are quite zealously engaged. Nonetheless, in many Christian circles, the nature of doctrine is largely misunderstood.

Doctrine is neither merely propositional assent nor is it simply ideas which birth pleasant practices.

In Christianity, doctrine is a pattern of imitation that corresponds to the Trinity’s acts in history. In the words of systematic theologian, Kevin Vanhoozer, “doctrine is dramatic”.

This is why the apostle Paul can write to his disciple, Timothy, “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13). In other words,

“Following [doctrinal] dramatic direction is different from following, say, directions for assembling a bookshelf. One can follow a set of instructions mechanically, with little or no creative input or personal enthusiasm for the project. Dramatic direction suggests an altogether different picture, that of an actor receiving instruction in how best to play her part.” (Drama of Doctrine, 105)

Is this not what Jesus did? Jesus demonstrated how to dramatize the truth of God in redemptive history. In Scripture, these “mini-dramas” are typically explained with the words, “that the Scriptures may be fulfilled” (cf. Mt. 2:17, 23; 4:14; 13:14; 26:54; 27:9).

When Jesus was getting arrested, Peter drew his sword to defend him,

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?'” (Mt 26:52-54)

For Jesus, Scripture was something of a script which corresponded perfectly to God’s will for the story of redemption. Jesus was not going to improvise his primary role in the story: atone for the sins of the world through his death and resurrection.

Jesus also typologically fulfilled Scripture. In the New Testament, he is clearly portrayed as the “second Adam” or the “true Israel”. He does this by a “creative repetition” of the acts of Adam and Israel in a new context (Vanhoozer, 106). Only he explicitly shows himself to be the better Adam and the better Israel (and the better Moses, the better high priest, the better sacrifice, etc).

There exists no more improvement on the story, but certainly a “creative repetition” of Christ’s acts does. Christians dramatize doctrine by a “creative repetition” of Christ’s death and resurrection every time someone gets baptized.

Of course, that is not the only drama the church puts on. We follow the pattern of Christ’s grace and compassion, and thus fulfill the Scriptures, when we love one another despite each other’s sin. We show each other how the Holy Spirit works when we lovingly correct, teach, and lead each other. We dramatize the Father’s adoption of us when we adopt children into our own family. We dramatize Christ’s love for the church when a husband loves and sacrifices for his wife. We dramatize what takes place at regeneration when we give birth to babies who carry our own genetic dispositions. The family is the theatre of the gospel.

May we not dismiss doctrine by merely subscribing to it. May we play our part, performing the doctrines contained in the gospel, thus fulfilling the Scriptures and enlightening the world to the story of God.

This entry was posted in Becoming Gospel Scholars, church, familia Dei, Holy Spirit, Jesus, mission, Scripture, Theology, Trinity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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