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, 16 July 2012

Remythologizing Theology [15]

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.


Here’s a quotation from this concluding chapter of Remythologizing Theology:

Only prior divine communicative action disambiguates speech of God. To remythologize is to tread the narrow via media between too ready and too reticent speech of God. Only reverence for God’s self-communication (i.e., the drama of the self-presenting divine name) chastens speech of God that is too cavalier. This means deploying both the Creator–creature distinction against the tendency to reduce God-talk down to human proportions and the covenant Lord-servant relation against the tendency to distill God-talk into metaphysics with no historical remainder. (p. 470, emphasis original).

On this account, remythologizing theology is a matter of attending to the biblical story or mythos for a first time, a second time, a third time, and so on, revising our statements about God against God’s self-revelation in Scripture each time we read it. The act of reading Scripture is a dynamic process; God is not imprisoned either in or by the words of Scripture. Thus God is sovereign; (human) creatures do not force God to act or speak in certain ways. God acts and speaks in the ways that God acts and speaks precisely because God is sovereign.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve now finished Vanhoozer’s tome. Mostly it’s been an interesting read, but, I’m sorry to say, also something of a chore at times. (Is this why it’s taken me almost a year to read the book? Or has it been a chore to read because I’ve staggered my reading of it?) I wearied of the book’s length – not because it’s an especially long book (I’ve read longer), but because so much of what Vanhoozer included didn’t seem necessary, at least to me. I’m not saying that Vanhoozer waffled, but that some sections or conversations could have been omitted without damage to the central arguments. In a similar vein, Vanhoozer is also prone to neologism, with too many words and hyphenated phrases introduced. Is the catalogue of theological terminology really so slim that Vanhoozer needed to coin his own terms? Finally, while it’s clear that Vanhoozer has lots of good things to say from within his theodramatic framework, I believe that he’s tried too hard to accommodate the issues surrounding divine sovereignty, impassibility, etc., within this framework. So although I recognise that Vanhoozer would want to privilege theodramatic language when speaking of divine sovereignty, I’m just not convinced that it is the language of divine communicative action that is dominant in Scripture. The emphasis is surely on the God who speaks, not the God who speaks.

So these are my reservations about Remythologizing Theology; but there are many moments of genuine insight and frequent flashes of theological brilliance. Remythologizing Theology shines especially brightly when Vanhoozer draws attention to the biblical mythos. Without attending to Scripture and the ways in which Scripture presents God (or the ways in which God presents God through Scripture), the danger will either always be to privilege mythic language and its heightened anthropomorphisms, or to settle for metaphysical accounts of divinity, which may or may not leave behind the biblical testimony about God. Naturally, Vanhoozer finds that the biblical mythos points to and is rooted in God’s self-revelation in the incarnate Son. Vanhoozer also does a good job of exposing some of the more serious problems with the kenotic-perichoretic views proposed by panentheists and others, which will hopefully inform future discussions about the God–world relation.

In short, while not perfect, Remythologizing Theology is an important contribution to recent theological literature on the doctrine of God, issues of sovereignty and (im)passibility, and on how to read the Bible. It is definitely worth reading, especially now it’s available in paperback.


  1. Kevin Vanhoozer16 July 2012 at 14:51

    Thanks, Terry, for enduring to the end. I'll ponder your criticisms, both as to style and substance. They'll come in handy when I turn my hand (eventually) to a monograph on providence.

  2. Thank you for commenting, Professor. I look forward to your future work.


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