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Scripture tells Christians they are children of the light. Having put their faith in Christ, they have been transferred from the power of darkness to the kingdom of his Son. Yet when we read that, but we don’t live that way, we forget out true identity. As many today say, we aren’t being “true to ourselves.” Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer (Research Professor of Systematic Theology at TEDS) believes that for the church to minister most practically, it must read the Bible theologically. It must hear and do God’s word. We are to evangelize, make disciples, and teach them who they are in Christ, for Christ, and with Christ.
Part One—Warming Up: Why Discipleship Matters: Vanhoozer examines the “problems and possibilities for discipleship today” and argues that all people are “always following someone else’s words” (xxv).
Chapter One: these words we imbibe from our culture, whether they be images or stories, “make disciples” when they “arrest the imagination and hold it captive” (xxv). Israel wanted a king like that of the nations. They ended up having idolatrous kings just like the surrounding nations. They kept their eyes on the wrong kings. The church, the body of Christ, must be fed by God’s word to know how to view the world around them properly.
Chapter Two: the surrounding culture is filled with language of fitness, wellness, working out, and nutrition so that you can live the good life and look as good as you want to look. Vanhoozer shows that the culture is a disciple-making force that the pastor-theologian and the church must be able to sift through.
Chapter Three: discipleship is about taking Christ’s future promises and living in them now. The kingdom of God has broken into our world now. Christ is reigning, and his Spirit fills his people. Freedom isn’t found in moral striving and trying to do better. Freedom is found in Christ. We are able to do because we have his Spirit in us. Everyone is being discipled by something. Discipleship in Christ wakes others up from the world’s teaching and gives them the light of Christ’s teaching.
Chapter Four: disciples represent God’s kingdom. They are his imagers, being shaped into the one who is the image of God, Jesus Christ. We are to witness to the kingdom’s arrival and to the Lord as the reigning King over all. We are to understand all things in light of Christ. Churchgoers want to understand the Bible, a wisdom text by God and about God “bent on remaking our deepest convictions, desires, and practices to conform to the gospel” (85).
Part Two—Working Out: How Discipleship Happens
Chapter Five: the church, the salt of the earth and a place to make disciples, must live by biblical metaphors. To do so, its pastors must minister through those metaphors. Pastors are “doctors of the church” who teach their members know “who they are, why they’re here, and where they should be going” (117). They are eye doctors who give their members the imagination to understand the Bible, to know where they are “between the parts of the Bible and the overarching story; between the Bible and the world in which they live; and between who they are at the moment and who God calls them to be in Christ” (117). Believers need to be able to see where they are in the redemption story. If society’s buildings and institutions are life’s hardware, society’s culture is the software, programming and educating people to think and live a certain way. Pastor-theologians need to counteract that with the Bible’s story and who we are in Christ.
Chapter Six: the church is the designated place for Christians to make disciples. The gospel is the proclamation of what God did in Christ, and it brings drama. We teach and disciple one another to know doctrines, “summaries and explorations of the story that disciples live by” (133). They help us to know God, ourselves, and why we are here. Using theatrical language, pastors explain the script (the Bible) to the actors (the congregation) who act out the doctrinal-script to the audience (the world around them). It is in the church that we anticipate heaven, and we begin practicing our future life now. Everything we do trains us in some way, so we should work to train each other instead of being trained by the surrounding culture.
Chapter Seven focuses on the communion of the saints and sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura places the Bible as our authority, but it doesn’t discount church tradition. Even the Reformers used grammars and commentaries. Members of different denominations should spend time together in fellowship. They should read the Bible together and by doing so learn humility. Church tradition isn’t a bad thing. It can help us see our blindspots when we read Scripture, something we read so that we will love God and our neighbor better. When we read the Bible we often ask What does this mean to me, but we should also ask What does this passage mean for us, the church?
Chapter Eight: disciples are to be fitting images of Christ. By putting on his yoke, he follow his example of living. Scripture helps us to discern between what is good and evil by giving us some moral moral principles but also by giving us a storied framework that shows us what is “good” and “evil.” Scripture gives us practical wisdom, and “wisdom means knowing what to do in particular situations in order to glorify God and follow Jesus in ways that befit faithful disciples” (217). As well, “theological wisdom means knowing how to improvise the mind of Christ at all times, everywhere, and to everyone” (217). We act out now what we will be in the age to come. Theological education is meant to make disciples, who are all different in personalities, likes, and interests, to be living commentaries, “a letter from Christ” (2 Cor 3:3).
Buy this. While I enjoyed Part Two more than Part One, Vanhoozer is very clever at seeing God’s word as supreme over culture. He does a fantastic job at showing how important theology is (and not just biblical studies), as well as how theology is meant to propel us to right action by showing us how to live. It gives us examples of what to do (Daniel’s life or the disciples following Jesus) and what not to do (Peter denying Jesus). God’s word calls us to follow. So which script will you live out: that of God’s word or of the world?
- Author: Kevin Vanhoozer
- Hardcover: 296 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (May 15, 2019)
Buy it from Amazon or Lexham Press!
Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.