I’m slowly working my way through Kevin Vanhoozer’s “The Drama of Doctrine”. This seminal work is about doing theology, doctrine and faith in a postmodern world. Vanhoozer explores in considerable detail the problems of authority, “How do we know what Christians believe?”, scripture “What is the role of the Bible in Christian belief?”, the church “Is it the canon, or the way the church interprets the canon which is authoritative?” and a cluster of related questions about whence comes our faith, and to whose meaning do we owe allegiance.
It seems to me that questions of authority and the role of God’s Word and inspiration of the Holy Spirit are at the heart of the controversies among the various bodies which claim allegiance to Jesus Christ and which attempt to “walk in his way” in the 21st Century. Vanhoozer offers a metaphor of faith as participation in a drama, with the scriptures forming both the story line of God’s redemptive acts and stage directions which allow us to participate as audience (receiving the message from prior scenes and acts) and actors using our knowledge of the Bible story to choose the appropriate acts and words to form our part in the continuing drama. I think this metaphor, which seems so far to be internally consistent with modern communications theory in the social sciences, is useful in helping us sort out the ways that being Christian changes our actions and our lives.
In Vanhoozer’s metaphor, our mission is to absorb the elements of the Christian story so well that when a new scene begins we will know how to act as a disciple of Jesus Christ, Son of the only God. Let me propose a thought experiment and see what you think. I should warn you up front: this experiment has no “answer”, and it is disturbing. So forth.
In Lois McMasters Bujold’s science fiction universe there is a world called Athos. Settled by a band of extreme misogynists, its inhabitants are only male. The inhabitants’ stated reason for prohibiting women is to avoid the inevitable social discord and strife that male-female relationships bring. Women are not even allowed to visit or communicate except with the government. Children are conceived in vitro to parents who are registered partners and who have accumulated enough “social credits” to qualify. The protagonist of her novel “Ethan of Athos” is an obstetrician at one of the hospitals where children are conceived, nurtured in a “replicator” until birthed and given to the parents.
Eggs for these births are cultured from a collection donated some centuries previous (some are becoming senescent and refusing to replicate, which forms the driving force of the novel’s plot).
Now, here is the thought experiment: suppose we are members of the Galactic Missionary Society. The inhabitants are consciously trying to create a peaceful, orderly, “virtuous” society somewhat along the pattern of Greek philosophical thought around the time of Plato. As far as we know there are no Christians on Athos, but there is no prohibition of other faiths and practices, except that visitors and residents must be male.
What should our missionaries be like? What kind of Gospel can they bring to Athos? How should our first mission congregations be organized? What are the appropriate Words and Acts that a disciple of Jesus should say and do? What has Jerusalem to say to Athos? (I rarely resist puns.)
- Short Review: Ethan of Athos, by Lois McMaster Bujold (misternizz.wordpress.com)