The Theo-Dramatic Character of the Gospel

From Kevin Vanhoozer:

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension [and Pentecost] are the embodiment of all God’s promises, cosmic and historical, and hence the fulfillment of the purpose of creation and covenant alike.

The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: WJK, 2005), 55.

Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Spirit at Pentecost are “part of Christ’s work, part of the climactic action of the theo-drama.” They are, in other words, all part of what we call “the gospel.” This gospel is primarily narrative in character, in that it relays the story of Jesus the Christ’s restoration of God’s people Israel, and through Israel the world, but also dramatic (Vanhoozer’s words) in that it calls the audience of the evangelion to respond.

Narrative Method

The fourth aspect of a Christian theological method is that it ought to be narrative, meaning that

it frames interpretation of particular passages within the broader framework of the biblical storyline – Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation. This aspect also recognizes that Christ stands as the goal of that story and that our lives need to be re-oriented within it.

As noted previously, each of these foundations relates to the others, so notice here that this narrative aspect focuses on the Christotelic sense of the biblical story, giving interpretation an eschatological flavor; recognizes and relies on the Scripture’s canonical shape and interconnectedness, imbued by the Spirit’s illumination and inspiration; and expects the narrative to confront readers and transform them through the power of the Spirit.

The biblical story has an endpoint, the new creation of Revelation 21-22, and it is towards this climax that everything moves. Further, this climax actually begins with Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, but the cosmic scope of his restorative, atoning, and ruling work is finally realized at his second coming. To read the Bible as literature, and to read it as its authors intended, is to read it as an interconnected, telos-oriented narrative.

This narrative is Christ-centered, as it is through Christ that the act, redemption, and goal of creation are accomplished, but it also points readers to the missiological, cosmic, and global character of Christ’s redemptive work. Moreover, remembering that the Bible is narrative in character helps us to remember that the Old Testament is Israel’s story, instead of a deposit to be mined for theological proof-texts and instead of cutting it off as no longer historically relevant to primarily Gentile Christians. Additionally, it in my opinion assists us in reading books like Ecclesiastes or Songs from an explicitly Christian perspective, as it helps us to place the material in these books in the larger context of both Israel’s story and the story of God’s redemption.

Finally, a narrative approach will call those who don’t know Christ to re-orient the narrative of their lives into the narrative of the Bible. Narratives are powerful, both for worldview formation and confrontation, and thus relatedly for evangelism and apologetics. “Come follow me” is a command from the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the universe who became man, suffered, died, was buried, and on the third day rose from the dead to restore creation, defeat the powers of evil, and atone for sin. We are presented with alternative viewpoint on reality; in the words of a recent book published on empire – “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” That claim is particularly narrative in nature. Re-orient your life to live under the rule and reign of Jesus, not Caesar. Of course this transformational narrative also applies to and confronts Christians; the structure of the New Testament puts the epistles, often assumed to be more propositional and logical, in this narrative context. Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude also seem to assume this larger narrative context as they call Christians to live in light of both Christ’s first and second coming. Structuring our theology and interpretation around this story ought to be foundational for our theological method.