A Review of “Hearers and Doers” by Kevin Vanhoozer

Kevin Vanhoozer is one of the most thought-provoking, creative, and brilliant theologians alive. I have loved his work and often been challenged to rethink things in light of his theological reflection and Scriptural exegesis. Therefore, I was stunned to find that Hearers and Doers was such a terrible read. It’s not that the content of the book is bad, per se. Vanhoozer’s insights about the role of practice in the theological education of the church is wonderful. In fact, there are many great statements throughout the book. Yet, the work is assembled in a mess of mixed metaphors, repetitive statements, and silly reflections. This is the first Vanhoozer book I’ve read that does not feel anything like a Vanhoozer book.

The book is broken down into two parts. Part one establishes the importance of the topic, discussing “Why Discipleship Matters.” Here the author wants to shift us from doctrine to discipleship, i.e. from hearing to doing. Borrowing on the concept of social imaginaries, via Charles Taylor, Vanhoozer speaks to us about the dynamic of pictures and stories as key to making sense of both ourselves and our world. So, he points us to several pictures/stories that can help us to capture this notion of discipleship. Vanhoozer goes on a rather long discussion in this section regarding the dominant picture/story of personal health in American culture. He spends an entire chapter developing and highlighting this theme. This is a theme through which he explores the body of Christ and “fitness” in spiritual health. It becomes confusing, however, as that pictures shifts later in the book to issues related to eye doctors, waking and walking, citizenship, and more.

Part two, turns attention towards the “How” of discipleship. Here, Vanhoozer emphasizes the key components of discipleship, including the Scriptures, the church, and the gospel. Here his mixed metaphors abound and readers get lost in discussions about discipleship as a walk, the church’s role in making “fit” disciples of Christ, and the church as the theatre for play-acting the drama of redemption.

There’s much within the book that is good. Vanhoozer is masterful at drawing some unique connections, and highlighting profound points of interest. He points out the role of doctrine, for example, as being about more than making us orthodox, but rather making us lovers of God. This is a profoundly important point for Christians, especially pastors, to remember. Yet, all this wonderful content gets lost, in my opinion in the irritating and muddled format of the book. I have loved reading Vanhoozer, but Hearers and Doers does not read like Vanhoozer.

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