A Critical Appreciation Of Kevin Vanhoozer’s “ Remythologizing Theology” -- By: Stephen J. Wellum
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A Critical Appreciation Of Kevin Vanhoozer’s “
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
In this ground-breaking work, Kevin J. Vanhoozer turns his attention from his self-professed preoccupation with hermeneutical theory and theological method to the application of these areas to constructive theology, specifically theology proper.2 Vanhoozer is convinced that current discussion in the doctrine of God is weak, evidenced by the rise of the “new orthodoxy” in non-evangelical theology (what he labels “kenotic-perichoretic-relational-panentheism”) and current debates within evangelical theology (e.g., open theism), and as such a “new” approach is needed. Throughout his work, Vanhoozer weaves together and unpacks two major points. First, our methodological approach to Christian theology must follow the path of “remythologization,” and second, vis-à-vis theology proper, a better way of conceiving the entire God-world relation is in terms of communicative action, not causal relations.
In regard to theological method, i.e., moving from Scripture to theological conclusions, Vanhoozer labels his approach, “remythologization.” He clearly defines what is meant by this provocative term by contrasting it with the “soft” and “hard” demythologizing projects of Rudolf Bultmann and Ludwig Feuerbach respectively (RT, pp. 3–5). Both Bultmann and Feuerbach viewed biblical language as “myth.” Bultmann’s “soft” approach was to translate biblical statements about God into existential pronouncements (RT, pp. 13–16), while Feuerbach’s “hard” approach went all the way and rejected the truth status of theology by arguing that biblical language about God is merely a human projection. In the end, both projects undercut historic Christianity by turning theology into anthropology (RT, pp. 17–23). Current discussion regarding the status of our God-talk has a difficult time escaping the ghost of
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Feuerbach unless it turns from its demythologizing ways and learns anew how to “remythologize” theology.
In contrast, Vanhoozer proposes that our theology begins with God’s own self-presentation, namely Scripture. For him, Scripture is God’s authoritative Word; it is triune discourse, a product of divine authorship and hence a form of divine action. Scripture, instead of being viewed under the rubric of “myth,” is best viewed as mythos, a term borrowed from Aristotle to refer to the idea of “dramatic plot: a unified course of action that includes a...
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