Vanhoozer, Kevin J. et al, eds. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. Cultural Exegesis Series. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007.
Kevin Vanhoozer is currently Blanchard Professor of Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School. Prior to this position, he was Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Theological School. His co-editors are former students of Vanhoozer from his course in “Cultural Hermeneutics” taught at Trinity. The chapters in the book are selected papers presented by graduate level students in that class from 2001 through 2006. The primary purpose of this book is to provide “a model for ‘reading’ culture theologically” (10).
In the first chapter, Vanhoozer presents an essay on the rationale and method of doing “Everyday Theology.” A student of missiology would be familiar with his work on culture, but his method deserves close attention. His assumptions are that “what culture means is of ultimate concern because, in some way, it relates to God”, and that “Christian interpreters acknowledge the importance of hearing culture ‘on its own terms’” (40). This is accomplished by seeing the world through the lense of scripture, employing both a hermeneutic of grace (by not setting up reductionisms or straw man presentations) and a hermeneutic of suspicion (in order to see the dark spiritual forces behind a text). The goal of the exercise is to create “Christian ‘space’ in the dominant ‘places’ that make up our cultural landscape” (56) in order to discern how “what is available in culture may be redeemed by taking it captive to the cause of Christ” (57). This is not so much a work of contextualizing culture as of gaining “cultural literacy [and] counter-cultural wisdom” (58).
The remaining chapters, written by his students, are examples of Vanhoozer’s method in analyzing the grocery store check-out line, rap artist Eminem, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Megachurch architecture, the major motion picture Gladiator, busyness in American culture, the blogosphere, transhumanism, and fantasy-funerals, respectively. Each of these chapters are interesting, well-presented and worthwhile to be read, while they are all examples of Vanhoozer’s method of seeing a problem in light of “The world behind, of, and in front of the cultural text” (48). The final chapter, produced by the co-editors of the volume is a step-by-step behind-the-scenes look at the method in action for a particular cultural phenomenon—weddings. Here, one finds exactly what it means to look at the perspectives on the world mentioned above. Finally, the book concludes with a useful glossary of terms employed by the editors in the first and final chapter.
In one sense, Vanhoozer’s model is a model of contextualization. Employing his model is akin to the attempt to communicate the gospel within cultural forms. Yet, in another sense, it is an effort to stake a claim upon culture, within a culture. That is, while contextualization is thought of as being inherently cross-cultural, “everyday theology” is the effort of Christians within a culture of earning a voice. Even so, this model has great potential for missions!
For North American missions, his model is ready to go. Vanhoozer not only has created a method to emulate, he has created a genre for cultural exegesis. Vanhoozer has given the North American church both a method and a model.
Cross-culturally, the genre would have to be contextualized, as would the model, but the method is sound. While a missionary could implement this model from an etic vantage point, the method is best employed by a national, with an emic perspective, on his own culture. This way, an insider may screen their own culture through a biblical and theological worldview (rather than through an outsider’s understanding of their culture). Thus, Christianity critiques the cultural texts and trends of the receptor, from within. Keep in mind, the implementation of this method should not be the first action of a cross-cultural missionary, upon arriving in a context. The gospel must first be communicated in a receptor-oriented manner. After a contextualized community is established, a cultural insider can adapt and apply this method in order to moves beyond receptor-oriented (where the gospel answers a given culture’s questions) to receptor-critical (where the gospel questions the questions of a given culture).