Book Review: “Hearers and Doers” by Kevin Vanhoozer

The following review is a guest post written by our friend, Dustin Hunt.


 

There are few authors I enjoy reading more than Kevin J. Vanhoozer. A master wordsmith and brilliant scholar, Vanhoozer also possesses a warm pastoral heart that desires to serve the church. His book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine, is no exception to the breadth of knowledge and pastoral sensitivity Vanhoozer possesses. Every pastor would be encouraged, challenged, and blessed to read it in 2020.

 

It Starts With Scripture

In Hearers and Doers, Vanhoozer’s premise 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). As someone who was converted by simply picking up the Bible and reading, the intention of Vanhoozer is a call to what I find most sacred in the Christian life: reading God’s Word.

In the life of a minister, with endless tasks to attend, what should his time be consumed in? Vanhoozer argues that one of the most important is to make disciples from doctrinal and theological positions; namely, from reading and obeying the Scriptures doctrinally. In other words, moving doctrine from it’s ivory tower to make it accessible to all believers to inform not only what they believe but how they live out of that belief day-to-day.

 

Fitness and Doctrine

Vanhoozer does a beautiful job exposing cultural idols and reframing them in a biblical perspective to show that discipleship is what people long for. Everyone believes in some sort of salvation or “good news”, the question is: which good news are you living for?

Vanhoozer argues that modern day culture is infatuated with wellness and fitness, suggesting this has become the de-facto god of our culture. From diet programs, wellness seminars, workout sessions, clothing lines, and an overall desire to be fit, Vanhoozer notes the language culture uses for the physical body should be adopted in Christ’s body, the local church, for discipleship.

Rather than making people physically fit, 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 in the role of the pastor and the sovereign grace of God in ultimately making 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 are called to make or train disciples through the story of Scripture, a narrative of how we are to find the “good life”, and calls 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 just belief but also 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

Oftentimes, doctrine and theology get a bad rap as irrelevant or impractical to modern life. Vanhoozer turns this idea on it’s head noting that doctrine is everywhere, including outside of Christian circles. “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 but to a variety of lifestyles, all informed by culturally conditioned pictures of health, wellness, and fitness” (p. 63). Therefore, doctrine informs discipleship, meaning the grand narrative of Scripture 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 must recover the importance of doctrinal formation, Scriptural inculcation, and theological catechesis for the church as a whole.

 

Discipleship by the Word

For those looking for practical tips on how to create a discipleship program in their church, Vanhoozer will come up empty. But if you are looking for a biblically grounded 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, cultural 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 Scripture.

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