About Providence, Divine Action and the Church


In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Remythologizing Theology [2]

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Remythologizing Theology:Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship. Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

I am grateful to Cambridge University Press for the review copy.

Introduction

The mythos – dare we say story? – of Scripture points to God’s action as God reveals Godself to the world in and through the history of Israel and in Jesus of Nazareth. Thus where some have sought to extract principles from Scripture for existential application (demythologization), Kevin Vanhoozer argues that we can only truly do justice to Scripture by understanding the God–world relationship in the terms and concepts Scripture itself employs (remythologization). Vanhoozer’s aim is to analyze these terms and concepts to ascertain what may be said about God as God. He wishes to proceed from mythos to metaphysics, though presumably without abandoning mythos in the process.

Scripture testifies to an acting and speaking God; in Vanhoozer’s terms, to a God who is a communicative agent – indeed, a triune communicative agent. And so the metaphysics of God must be framed in terms of divine communicative action. Vanhoozer’s shorthand term for this is triune authorship. Why?

“Authoring” covers what God does as creator, reconciler, redeemer, and perfecter, and so serves as a metaphor for the economic Trinity as well: the Father “authors” in Christ through the Spirit. (p. 26, emphasis original)

There a number of implications entailed by Vanhoozer’s take on remythologization, which he outlines on pages 26–30. Of particular interest to me is the idea that remythologization depicts the God–world relation not in terms of causation, but primarily in terms of communication. This suggests, appropriately, that agency rather than causality is at the heart of divine action, with an emphasis on personal interaction between God and the world. Most likely every theologian or philosopher who delves into the deep waters of providence and divine action desires to avoid impersonal connotations when expressing their ideas; but Vanhoozer, with his focus on communicative action, at least seems to have adopted a concept that appears especially fertile to foster such personal interaction.

And this observation points to the sub-plot that Vanhoozer readily acknowledges permeates Remythologizing Theology: the question of divine impassibility. Do human interlocutors affect God in any way? If so, how? And does Vanhoozer assume that in the God–world dialogical relationship, only humans communicate?

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