There are few authors that I enjoy reading more than Kevin J. Vanhoozer, both from his academic and pastoral repertoire. Vanhoozer is a master wordsmith and a brilliant scholar, yet, at the same time, possesses a warm pastoral heart that desires to serve the church. This volume is no exception to the breadth of knowledge and pastoral sensitivity that Vanhoozer possesses. Every pastor would be encouraged, challenged, and blessed to pick up this latest volume in 2020.
In his latest book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine, Vanhoozer’s intention is “to help pastors fulfill their Great Commission to make disciples, with emphasis on the importance of teaching disciples to read the Scriptures…” (p. xi). Speaking personally, I was converted by simply picking up the Bible and reading, and thus, the intention of Vanhoozer’s latest book is a call to what I find most sacred in the Christian life: reading the Scriptures.
As a pastor, there are endless tasks to attend; the tyranny of the urgent really becomes tyrannical. In the day-to-day life of a minister, what should his time be consumed in? Vanhoozer argues that one of the most important tasks of a Christian pastor is to make disciples from doctrinal and theological positions, namely, from reading and obeying the Scriptures doctrinally. In other words, rather than leaving doctrine in the ivory-tower, the author argues that it is for the every-day Christian. Doctrine should inform not only what we believe but how we live as Christians in our present day.
Fitness and Doctrine
Vanhoozer does a beautiful job of exposing cultural idols and reforming them in a biblical perspective to show how discipleship is actually what people are longing for. Everyone believes in some sort of salvation or good news (gospel), the question is: which good news are you living for? Which vision of the good life have you been captured by? Vanhoozer argues that modern day culture has been infatuated with wellness and fitness, suggesting that this has become the da-facto god of our culture. From diet program, wellness seminars, workout sessions, clothing lines, and an overall desire to be fit, Vanhoozer notes that the language culture uses for the physical body can and should be adopted for discipleship in Christ’s body: the local church.
Rather than simply making people fit physically, pastors are called to “make disciples by training them to be fit for the purpose of godliness” (p. 44). Here Vanhoozer makes a helpful distinction, noting the sovereign grace of God in ultimately making (i.e. waking) disciples, “…while pastors may “make” (that is, train) disciples, only God can “wake” ( that is, create) them. Discipleship is about becoming who we are in Christ, and this is entirely, a work of God” (p. 44). Pastors then are called to make or train disciples the story of Scripture, which is a narrative of how we are to find the good life, and call them to obedience to that narrative. Just like the wellness culture calls for all-of-life devotion, so too does God call for all-of-life devotion, not in just beliefs but also in obedience: “Belief without behavior is empty. Genuine discipleship, in contrast, is the sustainable practice of hearing and doing freedom in Christ” (p. 45).
Doctrine for Discipleship
Often times doctrine and theology get a bad rap, supposing that they are irrelevant to modern life or simply impractical. Vanhoozer turns this idea on his head, noting that doctrine is everywhere (even outside of Christian circles), though it may not be labeled as doctrine. In other words, you are always being discipled by somebody or something; some grand narrative will be shaping your thoughts, values, and therefore, your actions. “Spiritual formation is happening all the time,” writes Vanhoozer, “Culture and society are in the full-time business of making disciples, not to life in Christ to a variety of lifestyles, all informed by culturally conditioned pictures of health, wellness, and fitness” (p. 63). Therefore, doctrine informs discipleship, meaning that the grand narrative of Scriptures gives us a lifestyle of how to live for God in this world, namely as “heralds and representatives of the Kingdom of God” (p. 64).
In a ministerial world dominated by businessmen, brand-ambassadors, and executives, Hearers and Doers calls pastors back to “recover their vocation as ministers of the word and reclaim Scripture and doctrine as means for making disciples” (p. 91). Rather than relying upon the latest fad or the best small group technique, ministers “need to recover anew a confidence and competence in the ministry of the word of God” (p. 99). Doctrine is not aloof from the Christian life, rather it is the fuel that drives the engine of the Christian life. Pastors need to recover the importance of doctrinal formation, Scriptural inculcation, and theological catechesis for the church as a whole.
For those looking for practical tips on how to create a discipleship system or program in their church, Vanhoozer will come up empty. But if you are looking for a biblically ground call for the pastorship, one that is marked by the ministry of the Word and Sacrament, Vanhoozer will leave your ink dry from the penned notes. Dripped with biblical language, culturally awareness, and the intricacies of daily Christian living, Hearers and Doers will refresh and encourage your soul to continue the hard work of making disciples by the Scriptures.