Though I’ve mentioned my appreciation for him before, I didn’t really realize that I was a Vanhoozer fanboy until today, so I haven’t given much thought as to why that is – but here’s a Rorschach-shaped reactionary first guess:
- He’s a both a scholar AND self-consciously Christian: In every book and lecture it’s abundantly clear that Vanhoozer’s interests aren’t just academic – he sees theology as fundamentally a task for the Church to be done by the Church. While many claim to be interested in a theology which refuses to divorce knowledge from practice Vanhoozer actually makes the Church’s practice a fundamental factor in theorizing about doctrine. But beyond this, all of his scholarship begins with rigorous Christian foundations, making use of Christian resources to answer hermeneutical and theological problems. For all of his kind and critical engagement, he never pretends that Christianity is a peer among equals in the marketplace of ideas. Scripture has always taken an unapologetically central role in his work (a fact not easily recognized if all you’re doing is looking for references in an index). Moreover, his scholarship is actually an astonishing testimony of the Spirit’s work, as it intentionally aims at love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and humility – a rare commodity in this level of scholarship (and an even rarer commodity in the robustly Reformed circles Vanhoozer resides).
- He engages postmodernism both critically AND thoughtfully: Though Vanhoozer has, in his words, “cooled to speech-act theory” as a solution for every problem presented by postmodern criticism, his book Is There a Meaning in This Text? is near universally acclaimed as one of the most impressive and even-handed criticisms of postmodernism by someone arguing for authorial intention. His most recent offering in DoD does for postliberal theology what Is There a Meaning? did for postmodern literary theory, harvesting the wheat and leaving the chaff. His disposition of “disputation” (for an explanation, see another wonderful contribution of Vanhoozer’s in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views) in regard to contemporary offerings is able to mine the gems without collecting rocks.
- He’s thought-provoking AND funny: Much like N.T. Wright, there’s a subtle wit about Vanhoozer’s presentation that is fun to read and even more fun to hear. Puns, double-entendre, and other wry humor is littered through every article, book and lecture in a way my brother finds annoying, but I rather enjoy. Glance through his response to Paul Helm at Reformation 21 and the corner of your mouth is bound to curl a few times.
- He’s theologically creative AND traditional: One of the most encouraging things about Vanhoozer’s work is that it pushes in new directions without being detached from the various anchors of faithfully Biblical scholarship. Beyond affirming all of the vanilla creeds, Vanhoozer’s commitment to Scripture’s perfection, authority and necessary guidance for the Church stands out from other scholars of his caliber. Like so few constructive theologians, Vanhoozer is able to employ new metaphors, develop new frameworks and offer critical evaluation of older models without pulling at the fundamental roots of Christian belief and practice - and maybe more significantly, without ever losing his distinctively evangelical commitment. Even when I find myself in something less than enthusiastic agreement with him (which, of course, I sometimes do – I’m a fanboy, not a cult member), his proposals never raise my hackles as pushing the limits too far.
- He’s profound AND prolific: The challenging and thought-provoking material isn’t only daunting in its quality, but in its quantity. As with N.T. Wright, there’s never fear that you’ll be left wanting more – there’s too much already. There are at least five books he’s edited or written which I’d still like to read, given enough time - including his Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, Biblical Narrative in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: A Study in Hermeneutics and Theology and The Trinity in a Pluralistic Age: Theological Essays on Culture and Religion.