Hearers and Doers, a Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer

In the opening words of the Preface, professor Kevin Vanhoozer lays out the intention of the book: “Hearers and Doers is intended to help pastors fulfill their Great Commission to make disciples, with emphasis on the importance of teaching disciples to read the Scriptures.”  Later he elaborates his thesis:

To make disciples is to teach people how to become biblically literate so they can be effective inhabitants and representatives of the city of God, for the purpose of gospel citizenship.  Accordingly, this book is a guide for hearing and reading the Bible rightly, as well as a training manual for doing the Bible rightly. The goal is to train disciples to walk around in the strange new world of the Bible even as they live in the familiar old world of the present.  It is a pastor’s guide for training hearers and doers, faithful followers of Jesus Christ and faithful interpreters of the Word that directs us in his Way (p.71).

Basically, Hearers and Doers is a plea for pastors to return to the task of theologians who make disciples, which is defined as learners and followers of Christ (pp. 69, 214). Pastors should be theologians (pp. xxi, xxv, xxvi, 47, 51, 91) in order to teach others how to live the good news and be spiritually fit (pp. xx, xxiii-xxiv, xxvii, 76).  Since praise choruses and moralistic sermons are not enough to feed out malnourished imaginations (p. xxii), the church must communicate a message that only it can give (p. 99), returning to sola Scriptura (pp. 172-176).  This task will prove to be a challenge because believers are constantly bombarded by secular pictures and worldviews (pp. 6, 8). Based on 2 Corinthians 10:5 (pp. 15, 70), Vanhoozer believes the task of the pastor is to deprogram Christians who have been captured by these false worldviews (p. 15), and provide corrective lenses (something he calls “spectacles of faith” p. 92) through Scripture and theology. Discipleship then involves waking and walking – waking people from spiritual lethargy and teaching them to walk in the faith (pp. 53-60).

Vanhoozer offers seven theses on reading the Bible theologically (pp. 72- 75), but his unique contribution is his stress on transforming the imagination to bring it into conformity with the Scriptures (pp. xxv-xxvi, 44, 49-50).  To do this we must recover the Bible as our control story, which means making sola Scriptura the ruler of our imagination (p. 106).  Vanhoozer equates the imagination with both the heart and faith and writes, “The evangelical imagination is the power of indwelling a reality we cannot empirically see” (p. 109).  In essence, a biblical imagination is seeing the reality of life as it is and, by faith, believing in a reality to come as promised by God.  The average Christian does not have a transformed imagination because he has been captivated by a culturally conditioned picture of the good life (pp. 109, 146), and because, while not renouncing the Bible, he has stopped using it as the structure which makes sense of the world (pp. 110-113).

It is the purpose of the church to teach believers to be the salt of the earth, tomake disciples, and glorify God (pp. 93-94).  This is accomplished only on the basis of sola Scriptura defined as “Scripture alone rules” (pp. 172-173). But this does not mean that Scripture is alone; the church unites around the “rule of faith,” i.e. tradition agreed upon by the “catholic” church (pp. 163, 173-183, 191).  But while all will agree that the church stands united concerning certain doctrines, it becomes problematic determining which one.  In response Vanhoozer suggests that there are first order doctrines (pp. 100-102) that all Christians embrace, and second and third order doctrines over which some disagreement is acceptable (p. 197).

Before theology was in the university it was done in, for, and by the church (p. xxiv) and Vanhoozer thinks it needs to return there.  Creative as always, Vanhoozer draws from the world of diet (pp. 26-31), wellness (pp. 18-24), fitness and exercise (pp. 6, 10, 33-44).  He also plays on the metaphor of theodrama he has developed in other books (pp. 130-143).  For this reviewer, these metaphors distract more than clarify, but others might disagree.

While I fully endorse Vanhoozer’s thesis and emphasis, and believe he struck gold on many occasions, still I struggle with some items:

  • He believes the church inhabits the kingdom of God, an amillenial position and understanding of the church as found in Augustine’s City of God (p. xix).
  • He thinks the church is the New Israel – a supersessionist understanding (p. 112).
  • He believes the Scriptures can be interpreted differently by different cultures (pp. 193-194). I would agree that there may be different applications in different cultures, but there is only one meaning.  This idea is disturbing.
  • Vanhoozer comes close to a Christocentric hermeneutic, but seems to pull up short, although his writing on this subject is ambiguous (pp. 224-226).
  • Finally, some of his supporting authorities are highly questionable on the gospel, such as N. T. Wright (p. 98), George MacDonald (p. 107), Ignatius and other Roman Catholic theologians (pp. 77-78) who all teach a false gospel. On discipleship he offers the Ignatius exercises (pp. 77-78), Dallas Willard (pp. 98-99), and Eugene Peterson (pp. 79-80), who all taught Roman Catholic mystical practices rather than biblical sanctification.  In addition he quotes Harvey Cox (p. 125) and Lesslie Newbigin (p. 140), both which were liberals who would reject evangelicalism.

It is unfortunate that the author chose to quote such resources, all of which to some degree undermine his excellent message.  For those who can discern the above concerns, Hearers and Doers is a helpful read.

Hearers and Doers, a Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 259 pp. + xxx, hardback $19.99

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher at Southern View Chapel