Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer visits UIndy

The University of Indianapolis Philosophy and Religion Department hosted its annual Showers Lectures in the McCleary Chapel on March 29 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Kevin Vanhoozer gave his two lectures, “God Acts Out: The Divine Drama of Redemption” and “The Church Acts Out: Participating in the Performance.”

The annual Showers Lectures are supported by an endowment from Evangelical United Brethren Bishop Jay Balmer Showers, according to Associate Professor of Religion Perry Kea. Each year, the Philosophy and Religion Department chooses a lecturer based on suggestions and other criteria to speak about the Christian religion.

One of the reasons Vanhoozer was chosen to speak was because of his interest in his audience.

“When he and I talked, Dr. Vanhoozer really wanted to know about his audience [and at] what level he should pitch this [his lecture],” Kea said. “He made a concerted effort to speak to a non-scholarly audience, people who aren’t trained as well as he is or the rest of my department.”

Vanhoozer’s efforts worked for freshman elementary education major Stormi Stout, who found that he spoke on a level she could understand.

“I loved the way he explained everything,” Stout said. “He explained it to where people like us, who are not theologians, could understand it, [and] the way he presented it kept me interested.”

Vanhoozer has studied theology for more than 30 years and has written several books. His interest in theology as a drama came from his work in language.

“I had done work on language as a form of action; when we speak we do things,” Vanhoozer said. “That’s also what happens in the theatre. To speak is to act, and the actions have meaning. So to speak is to act and to act is to speak, and what we have in scripture are these speech-acts of God.”

Vanhoozer’s first lecture, “God Acts Out: The Divine Drama of Redemption,” focused on the speech-acts of God and his actions as theatrical acts. God is directing a divine drama through Jesus, through the Bible, and through Christianity, Vanhoozer said. His second lecture, “The Church Acts Out: Participating in the Performance,” focused on the church’s role in the divine drama. He spoke of the roles both Christians and the church as a whole play within the world.

Senior mathematics and philosophy double major Joe Krall attended both of Vanhoozer’s lectures.

“I thought they [the lectures] were very engrossing,” Krall said. “I loved watching a theologian draw together multiple disciplines and apply them to the Christian story.”

Vanhoozer’s use of theatre as a metaphor for theology intrigued Krall.

“Dr. Vanhoozer was very adept at drawing out how multilayered and how deep this metaphor can go. I think it’s a great metaphor,” Krall said. “I think it shows people that there is a narrative and a meaning to life beyond – as he described it – the endless status anxiety, which I know many people are caught up in. I love that he brought out the idea that we are players in a narrative bigger than ourselves.”

Vanhoozer hopes that his lectures gave the students in attendance a “fresh way of looking at theology.”

“I’m hoping that they [students] just see theology as much more vital. It’s not just an academic specialization,” Vanhoozer said. “If someone is a confessing Christian, it’s absolutely vital that we ask these questions and maybe even begin to see our lives in dramatic terms.”

Kea also hopes that the students who attended were able to find meaning in Vanhoozer’s words.

“I hope that the students who have some attachments to Christianity found this helpful in thinking about the value of their tradition and how positive it can be,” Kea said. “And for the students who are not Christian but were curious, I hope it provided an accessible presentation.”

Stout said that the lectures helped her grow stronger in her faith.

“I learned more about the stage of life and how there’s anxiety that people have, that we have,” Stout said. “He [Vanhoozer] talked about the church being a light for people and the community coming together and relieving each other of those feelings that we have. I guess I would say that I would like to be an example of the church.”

Krall said Vanhoozer’s lectures gave him a new way of thinking about God.

“For me personally, I took away the idea that thinking about God needn’t be a dry or academic exercise,” Krall said. “It can be an imaginative endeavor that involves the whole of who you are.”