Theological Hermeneutics IV — Exploring the Story

At this point I am tempted to reproduce an earlier post entitled An Increasingly Common Analogy.  Instead, I will simply ask those who are interested to read it. In summary, we are participating in a theodrama (to use Vanhoozer’s term in his Drama of Doctrine).  On the analogy of a five act (or six, depending on how one construes it) play, God has created, invested, incarnated, poured out and ultimately will consummate his drama for the sake of the cosmos. The main actor is God. We are invited to participate in that story.

Turning Lamar’s hermeneutical metaphor on its head, instead of constructing a “Temple of Truth” through a Baconian method I propose that our task is to explore the Temple (Scripture) in order to immerse ourselves in the metanarrative so that we might participate in God’s creative and redemptive project for creation. [Steven Broyles, “James Sanford Lamar and the Substructure of Biblical Interpretation in the Restoration Movement.” Restoration Quarterly 29.3 (1987), 143-151, first suggested this twist of Lamar’s metaphor.]

My interest in this post is to outline the movements in this theodrama with specific interest in their theological function for the hermeneutical task. Of course, much more needs to be said than what I can do in this single post. Nevertheless, I trust the primary thrust of each will be clear and provide a basis for future posts.

Five Acts of the Theodrama

Act One: Creation.  The divine act of creation declares the intent of God. God created what he wanted for the purposes for which he wanted. The divine community created a human community within a cosmic reality. A theology of creation of an essential beginning point for thinking theologically in the hermeneutical task. We see God’s intent for communion. We see his purpose for humanity as representatives of divine life upon the earth–we are the images (icons) of God who participate in the divine tasks of creating and caring for the creation. We see the divine intent to rest in his creation, that is, to delight in, enjoy and commune with his beloved world. Unfortunately, in the creation narratives and early human history, we see humanity’s movement from an assertion of autonomy (e.g., in the Garden) to their assumption of divine prerogatives (e.g., Babel) with all the accompanying chaos, violence, oppression and immorality that comes in the way of humanity’s degenerative spiral away from God.

Act Two: Israel.  God graciously entered into covenant with a people who were called to represent (image) God in the brokenness of the Ancient Near East.  God graciously intitiates a relationship (e.g., call of Abraham), grounds that relationship in redemptive acts (e.g., Exodus) and invites them to live as the light of God among the nations (e.g., Sinai). The story of Israel is the story of a people struggling to live as the images of God in a fallen world. The covenant of love that binds them to God guides them in living out God’s intent for his creation in the situatedness of the idolatrous Ancient Near East. The Torah provides the origins and law of the covenant, the histories narrate the story of God’s redemptive engagement with his people, the prophets call the people to embrace the covenantal life, and the wisdom schools apply the life of God to the the practical investment of the covenant in life. God’s pursuit of Israel, God’s investment in their lives and God’s guidance for life in the world is a model for believers; a way to listen to God’s story–God’s values, intent, goals, desires and to learn from Israel’s example–both positive and negative.

Act Three: Ministry of Jesus. Whereas Israel–as with all of us–failed to image God in the world, God entered the world in the person of the Logos (the Word). The Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. He is the true image of God; the one who fully embodies God’s intent and desire for participation in the story of God. The Incarnate Son reveals the Father. Specifically, the ministry of Jesus is the inbreaking of the eschatological kingdom of God. We see in the ministry of Jesus the reality of God’s kingdom–healing the sick, raising the dead, including the outsiders, good news for the poor.  The ministry of Jesus is an eschatological ministry that bears witness to the nature of the kingdom of God, that is, it embodies the divine intent for creation itself as the curse is reversed.

Act Four: Church.  The church–the people/community of God–is the body of Christ; it is the presence of Jesus in the world through the Spirit. It is the image of God in the world; the temple in whom God dwells to minister redemptively in the world.

Church within Scripture — The church, as described in the New Testament, lives out the ministry of Jesus.  They embody Jesus’ ministry in their own lives as disciples committed to follow Jesus. The record of the New Testament bears witness to the act of God in Christ, interprets its meaning and applies that theology to the life of the church.  The apostolic practices of the church are designed to embody and follow the ministry of Jesus. The church in the New Testament sometimes did this well (e.g., Acts 2-4) and sometimes did this rather badly (e.g, Corinth).

Church throughout History — The history of the church is an attempt to live out the story of God in Jesus through the centuries. Living out the fourth act is a difficult task, as difficult as it was for Israel to live out the intent of God for itself. Sometimes the church has done this well and sometimes badly.

Church in Contemporary Experience — The fourth act continues into the present as believers seek to live out the story of God in Jesus now. Sometimes the church does this well and sometimes badly.

Act Five: Eschaton.  The consummation is the goal of God. It is the renewal of his creation where the fullness of the Triune God might dwell with the people of God in the cosmos. It is community restored and enjoyed. It is a renewed creation in which God rests.

The Flow of the Theodrama

I imagine there are several ways to think about this theodrama.  One could think of the climax as Act Five (Eschaton).  And there is a sense in which this is true since it is the goal of the divine drama.  However, I think it is better to see the ministry of Jesus as the climax. 

Creation provides the stage where divine communion is experienced.  But when humanity sought its own autonomy and pursued its own agenda, conflict entered. The drama then proceeded as an escalation of conflict even though God sought redemptive measures in Israel.  Those measures ultimately highlighted the conflict as Israel cycled through moments of rest to rebellion to punishment to deliverance and back to rest (e.g., period of the Judges; exile and restoration, etc.).

In the ministry of Jesus is both continuous with the divine engagement in the past (e.g, Jesus is a Jewish prophet in a series of prophets) but also is the arrival of the future. He is the eschatological Son of Man. He is the presence of the future where the curse is reversed in his ministry (e.g., the dead are raised). His ministry is the presence of the fullness of the future kingdom of God upon the earth.  His death is an eschatological death and not merely a physical one. His resurrection is a transformation and not merely a resuscitation. In this sense, the ministry of Jesus is the climax of the theodrama because it is also the instantiation of the eschatological goal itself. 

In dramatic terms, what preceeds the climax is the rising conflict and what follows it is the emerging triumph of the climactic event till the utlimate goal is reached.  The story of the church is the unfolding of God’s love and justice to the whole of creation through the good news of Jesus. This love and justice of God triumphs in the Eschaton as God rids the earth of pain, oppression, disease and death and renews his creation as his own dwelling place. God makes everything new again.  It is creation restored but also glorified, and the story continues into eternity.

The Script?

What is the script for our participation in the theodrama?

We might say “Scripture!”  In one sense I agree with this.  But in another sense, Scripture does not provide a script for living in the 21st century.  It does not answer 21st century questions (e.g., cloning). There is no line by line direction as to how to live out the story today. It is an ancient, historical document. How can it be our script today?

The sense in which Scripture is the script is found, I think, in that to which Scripture points. It points us to the God who creates and redeems. It points us to the one who became Incarnate.  It points us to the transforming work of the Spirit.  In other words, it bears witness to the mighty acts of God, interprets those acts and applies them to the original readers of Scripture.  Scripture provides the script in the sense that it provides the record of the interpreted mighty acts of God and models how to apply them in diverse circumstances (from pre-exilic to post exilic Israel, from the church in Jerusalem to the church in Rome).

This is our script. It is the pattern of God’s activity to create us, shape us and transform us into the divine image. Scripture is not the pattern. It testifies to the pattern and guides us in understanding, interpreting and participating in God’s redemptive work in the world.

The theodrama becomes an ongoing story in which we participate.  We are trained, guided and equipped to participate in that story by the script that preceeds us and the goal that is ahead of us. We live in-between and are shaped by the past and future to live in the present.

5 Responses to “Theological Hermeneutics IV — Exploring the Story”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Have I had class with you somewhere before? 🙂

    I am sick (sinus infection) right now, so maybe when I feel better I will comment/question more. For now, I am going to bed.

    Grace and peace,


  2.   Darryl Lewis Says:

    Hi John Mark,
    I have been reading the posts on Redemptive-Historical Theology and some of these in Theological Hermeneutics. Is this similar to William Webb’s Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic?

    Also, I was glad to see you reference Stephen E. Broyles. I do not know whether you know him personally, but you two have a lot in common. You are both brilliant servants for God and have suffered similar trials.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      It has similarities, but redemptive-historical theology is concerned with much more than redemptive movement. Webb would be one application or a species of the broader idea.

      Brother Broyles and I have been in contact on occasion, and I deeply respect and honor his journey in faith.

  3.   Alec Bryant Says:

    Neat seeing a post from Rex from the year that I gave my life to Christ! What a small world it is and how wonderful it is to know that we along with our teachers and mentors are participating in God’s drama. I wonder though, do you think it could be compared more accurately to a series with multiple climaxes. Not trying to nit pick. Just throwing things out for fun. See you next week or whenever the first zoom is for class.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Sure, there are multiple ways to present the story, and each emphasizes something different but complementary (we hope). There is a sense in which Christ is the climax, and there is a sense in which it is a progressively growing climax to the new creation. To the extent that our lens is Christ, and we see the story through Christ from creation to new creation, I think it best to focus there without diminishing other parts of the story. This is partly true because Jesus is the new creation himself, and the ground of the new creation for everyone and everything else. Nevertheless, I recognize that there are multiple ways (like looking through a prism) to see, explain, and appropriate the story itself.


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