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Review: Hearers and Doers

In his recent book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer makes the claim that everyone is a disciple of someone else. Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine by [Vanhoozer, Kevin J.]We all follow someone else’s words or stories. The question is whose words, whose stories are we following. We often follow the stories that provide meaning for our culture. The book identifies as a pastor’s guide but has valuable insights for missionaries. Vanhoozer makes use of Charles Taylor’s (the author of A Secular Age) concept of social imaginary. He explains:

A social imaginary is the picture that frames our everyday beliefs and practices, in particular the “ways people imagine their social existence.” The social imaginary is the nest of background assumptions, often implicit, that lead people to feel things as right or wrong, correct or incorrect. It is another name for root metaphor (or root narrative) that shapes a person’s perception of the world, undergirds one’s worldview, and funds one’s plausibility structure. … Social imaginaries, then, are the metaphors and stories by which we live, the images and narratives that indirectly indoctrinate us. Yes, we have all been indoctrinated: filled with doctrine or teaching. The doctrines we hold, be they philosophical, political, or theological, feel right or wrong, plausible or implausible, based largely on how well they accord with the prevailing social imaginary or world picture. – p.8, 9

The strength of Vanhoozer’s book lies in his articulation of the formative nature of social imaginary. People live according to the story that dominates their culture. That social imaginary will shape and distort the gospel message. The pastor-theologian needs to study and understand the social imaginary that people live by and help them develop a social imaginary that fits the gospel. Disciple-making has both a negative and a positive focus. Disciple-making is a theological task. The author explains:

Theology helps the church make disciples by exposing the lie – the false social imaginaries that often hold even church members captive (the negative, critical task) – and by redirecting them to the way, truth, and the life of Jesus Christ (the positive, indicative task). – p. 14

The book focuses on making disciples in the North American context so the social imaginary explored is primarily that of the USA. Yet the principles of identifying the social imaginaries that captivate people and replacing them with a biblical social imaginary are important for making disciples in all cultural contexts. The author talks about the role of the pastor-theologian in making disciples through Scripture and doctrine. I would extend that to missionaries seeking to make disciples in cross-cultural settings. Missionaries need to be missionary-theologians making disciples through Scripture and doctrine. Helping our cross-cultural contacts explore their ‘social imaginaries’ (stories that convey their worldview) and helping them to formulate social imaginaries that fit the gospel story is essential in making disciples. Vanhoozer writes,

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 direct us in his Way. – p.71

The book is divided into two sections. Part one, “Warming Up: Why Discipleship Matters” has the following chapters:

  1. The Role of Theology in Making Disciples: Some Important Preliminaries
  2. Whose Fitness? Which Body Image? Toward Understanding the Present North American Social Imaginary
  3. From Hearing to Doing: First Steps in Making Disciples ‘Fit for Purpose
  4. Doctrine for Discipleship: From Bodybuilding to Building Up the Body of Christ

Part two, “Working Out: How Discipleship Happens” addresses these topics:

  1. Creatures of the Word: The Pastor as Eye Doctor (and General Practitioner) of the Church
  2. Company of the Gospel: Disciples as Members of the Church
  3. Communion of Saints: The Disciples as Catholic Christians
  4. Children of God: The Disciple as Fitting Image of Jesus Christ
  5. A conclusion, “‘Now We Are Fit’: Discipleship to the Glory of God.”

Hearers and Doers creatively makes important contributions to our understanding and practice of making disciples. While not a missions book, it does have application to other contexts when we replace the North American social imaginary with the social imaginary of the cross-cultural context in which we are making disciples. I highly recommend the book especially the emphasis on the central role of the big picture story by which we live.

At the end of the day, what is most important in learning Christ is not having bits of information but rather the big picture. Only when they understand the whole drama of redemption are disciples able to make right judgments about things – in particular, judgments about the form their discipleship should take here and now. We demonstrate our understanding by what we do. – p. 216


Timothy and Titus as Models


Accepting the help of those whom we serve

1 Comment

  1. Mike Matthews

    Thanks for the review of this particular book, Gary. Excellent. Just excellent. Mike


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