Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Remythologizing Theology: Kevin Vanhoozer interviewed by Guy Davies

My old pal Guy Davies recently interviewed Kevin Vanhoozer about his new book Remythologizing Theology. My mother's maiden name was McAndrew and I don't mind telling you that when I saw the price of the book my Scottish blood yelped.

Here's a taster:
GD: What is your main aim in this book?

KV: For years I’ve felt that the doctrine of God was a relatively weak spot in evangelical theology. Then open theism happened and my suspicions were confirmed.

One major aim, then, is to provide a retooling of classical theism that takes into account the concerns of open theists – in particular, the integrity of God’s loving relationship to the world – while simultaneously maintaining what I take to be the correct Reformed emphasis on divine sovereignty.

Another aim is to scrutinize the oft-heard claim in contemporary theology that God’s love entails divine suffering.

GD: What do you mean by "remythologizing theology"?’

KV: I don’t mean “mythologizing again”! “Remythologizing” pertains first and foremost not to myth but “mythos,” Aristotle’s term for dramatic plot.

I’m using “remythologizing” as a contrast term to Bultmann’s demythologizing. Where Bultmann fails to take seriously either the Bible’s depictions of God’s acts or the Bible as the product of God’s authorship, remythologizing starts: with God as one who speaks and acts, the latter often by way of speaking.

Remythologizing is a proposal for “first theology,” a way of thinking God and Scripture together. Specifically, it views God’s being on the basis of God’s acts, especially his communicative acts. God is as God does, and God does as God says.

Remythologizing theology is all about speaking well of God on the basis of God’s own speech. To remythologize theology is to set forth the ontology of the one who speaks in Scripture, the one whom Scripture is also about.

GD: What do the words of the subtitle, Divine Action, Passion and Authorship, say about your attitude towards the impassibility of God? Isn't he a being "without body, parts or passions"?

KV: The sub-title alone does not make a statement but announces a theme. The question of God’s suffering – that is, his ability to be affected by human creatures – is a red thread that runs throughout the book. If Nicholas Wolterstorff is right in comparing classical theism to a seamless garment where one loose thread spells the unraveling of the whole, then divine impassibility makes for an excellent case study.

Remytholgizing Theology is a minority opposition report on the “new orthodoxy” of divine suffering. While I want to take the biblical depictions of God’s dialogical interaction with human beings seriously, I don’t want to pull God down to the creaturely level.

The challenge, then, is to specify to what the biblical descriptions of God’s emotions actually refer. There is not much on the meaning of divine emotions in the history of theology. Classical theists tend to take this language as anthropomorphic; open theists tend to take it literally.

I had to resist the temptation simply to choose one side rather than the other. The prior question is: what is a divine emotion? I do provide an answer, but the water in that pool is a bit too deep to dive into here.

You can read the whole thing here

I'm working my way through, at the second attempt, Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine. Maybe the first time the extended imagery failed to make a vivid impression on me, then again haven't you found that a book you just couldn't get in to proved to be rewarding a few months or years later?

Here is a sentence from the Introduction that made me rub my eyes a few times:
With regard to the overarching theatrical model, the theologian is best associated not with the director (this role is best reserved for the Holy Spirit and for those ministers the Spirit gifts and equips to be assistants) but with the dramaturge, the person responsible for advising the director on how best to understand and perform the script (chap. 8).
I know what he means, but it sounds a lot like "Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology and Special Advisor to God the Holy Spirit."

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