The literary theorist Umberto Eco has a theory about readers. Every text calls for an ideal reader. The ideal reader of any given text is the person receptive of its content and formed to follow its patterns (see, The Role of the Reader, 1979). In other words, the person who is willing to “see” as the text sees (this is how the world is) and then live accordingly is the ideal reader.
Consider the following picture:
That guy is NOT the ideal reader of Nazi propaganda. He refuses to buy into the Nazi’s picture of the world – choosing not to “see” as they see. And he won’t live accordingly by offering his salute to Hitler and all that his regime stands for, despite the very obvious social pressure. “Nope,” you can hear him saying to himself.
Today, in a class that surveys the entire Bible in one semester (crazy, I know), I challenged my students: “Be that guy.” Refuse to become the ideal reader of Nazi propaganda, and if you find that easy enough then go ahead and refuse to become ideal readers of all the other counterfeit stories on offer today: consumerism’s story (you are what you buy), nationalism’s story (our nation is the best nation), humanism’s story (you have all that you need to become your true self), naturalism’s story (all that matters is matter). Instead, become the Bible’s ideal reader. Read this book and accept its invitation to see as it sees, and then live accordingly. Sure, its a strange world we find in the Bible (to borrow Barth’s phrase). Who can deny that? But in light of Jesus we Christians believe it tells the true story about God, us, and the world.
“Be that guy,” I challenged. With your arms resolutely crossed, say “Nope” to all the counterfeit stories, and read the Bible as an invitation to see the world truthfully and to live accordingly.
The Gospel According to Safeway: The Checkout Line and the Good Life
This is the first chapter that takes Vanhoozer’s method and applies it to a cultural “text,” that text being the checkout line at a grocery store. The authors of this chapter, while reflecting on the realities of the checkout line pose rhetorically:
“Have we entered the seventh heaven of hedonism.” (p.63)
They proceed to take us through the reality we all inevitably face, the gauntlet of impulse buys, candy, gift cards, novels, magazines with scantily clad women promising a better sex life, etc. In other words, the checkout line is both a reflection of our social virtues, as well as an alluring siren offering you everything you need to fulfil your desires. “The checkout line conveys a message, a message of what it means to live the ‘good life.'” (p. 64)
For our purposes here, there are two key elements I want to draw out. First, and underlying the chapter as a whole, is that we must not see these texts as random, but instead, as deliberate ways to address our desires. Second, the key foci of these attacks on our desires make up a “mini-summa of culture.” Continue reading
There are few theological tasks so necessary and underdeveloped as helping to train the church to think theologically about the world around them.
Because of this, we have decided to blog through the book Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Baker Academic, 2007), one of the books in Baker Academic’s thoughtful “Cultural Exegesis” line. It is not only the task of cultural exegesis that we find particularly relevant, but the method and layout of the book that caught our attention.
Vanhoozer and the other collaborators seek to address the question:
“What might ‘faith seeking understanding’ mean when applied not only the biblical text (the Word) but to everyday life (the world)” (p. 16)?
In this sense, this book is an attempt to bridge the gap between the theologically acute (and often culturally dim-witted) and the culturally acute (and often theologically dim-witted).
Vanhoozer calls for a heightened “cultural literacy,” an ability to read culture for the purpose of “critical engagement” rather than merely “passive consumption” (p. 18). It is an attempt, in many ways, to help define and discern what this world is that we are called to be “in” but not “of.” For the purpose of the blog, we will choose chapters selectively, starting with the methodology Vanhoozer lays out in the introductory chapter, and then looking at specific examples we found particularly helpful.
We will be blogging through Everyday Theology starting Feb. 25th.