Kevin J. Vanhoozer. Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of Church Worship, Witness and Wisdom. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer is a theologian at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Pictures at a Theological Exhibition
is a collection of essays by Vanhoozer about theology, worship, and the
church's witness to the world. Some of the essays are sermons that he
Here are some of my reactions to the book.
The book is thoughtful. The conclusions, you can probably find in a
lot of Christian writings and sermons. But what makes this book worth
reading is the journey. Vanhoozer is an educated person exploring
territory. He interacts with prominent thinkers and trends of thought
as he makes his points. In talking about imagination, Vanhoozer
addresses an argument some Christians make that imagination is wrong
because it focuses on what is false (i.e., imagined). In discussing
Jesus' statement to the Samaritan woman that people must worship God in
spirit and truth (John 4:24), Vanhoozer disputes the hyper-individualist
application of this verse by Kant and other modernists. In a chapter
about the doctrines of angels, Vanhoozer explores what various New
Testament passages say about angelic doctrine: Paul's statement in
Galatians 1:8 about how the Galatians are to reject a message even from
an angel from heaven when it contradicts the Gospel; Paul's statement in
I Corinthians 13:1 that speaking in the tongues of angels is without
value if one lacks love; and I Peter 1:12's statement that angels desire
to learn more about people's salvation.
B. There were times when
the book offered me a fresh understanding. In Vanhoozer's discussion
of Jesus' interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4, for example,
Vanhoozer interprets Jesus' reference to God being a spirit, not in
reference to God's bodily composition or immateriality, but rather in
reference to the activity of the Holy Spirit in animating and renewing.
In discussing Jesus' reference to living waters, Vanhoozer refers to
passages from the Hebrew Bible about springs and living waters, as well
as rabbinic Judaism's likening of the Torah to waters of life.
Vanhoozer mentions and addresses what interpreters have said about the
Samaritans and how that may be influencing the content of John 4. For
example, Vanhoozer states that some early commentators interpreted
Jesus' reference to the woman's husband and the man she was living with
who was not her husband in light of Samaritan religion: the Samaritans
had worshiped five gods, and now they were worshiping YHWH, yet they
were not exclusively committed to him. Vanhoozer disagrees with this
interpretation, saying that the Samaritans were monotheists by this
point. It is still an intriguing interpretation.
talks about why he believes that theology is important. He quotes
skeptic Richard Dawkin's statement that theology is utterly
unimportant. Vanhoozer makes a variety of interesting and profound
points. He notes that, in the New Testament, sound doctrine is often
contrasted with sin, not doctrinal heresy. He states that doctrine has
to do with spiritual health, not just truth. He says that theology is
important because it can counteract the tendency of today's knowledge to
be vast, while not really going anywhere. That last point resonates
with me, for I do think that there is more to life than survival and
machines running smoothly. At the same time, Vanhoozer may have done
well to have explored how (or if) certain academic discussions of
theology have any relevance to people's lives. In short, are these
discussions about esoteric and arcane trivia, or are they about
something relevant that can impact people's perspective and life?
Many of the essays were inspiring. Vanhoozer had thoughtful things to
say about beauty and the church's mission to point people to God's
reconciliation with humanity. Vanhoozer talks about the importance of
narrative and how that can show Christianity being lived, not just
contemplated. The chapter about the inerrancy of Scripture was somewhat
lackluster, and Vanhoozer perhaps should have wrestled more with the
problems the Bible has, in the eyes of many people. At the same time,
those looking for a reasonable perspective on inerrancy, one that is not
rigidly fundamentalist, may find Vanhoozer's insights helpful here, in
terms of providing a starting-point or food for thought.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.