Stanley Grenz’s Theological Anthropology – Method (PT. 2)

This is part two of a short series in which I look at Stanley Grenz’s theological anthropology as it can be found in “The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei.”


As I have already hinted in the previous post, Grenz’s project can best be understood as intentionally engaging post-modernism from an evangelical perspective. Grenz states that this project is a part of a larger attempt in attempting to “set forth a coherent Christian theological articulation that is cognizant of the intellectual challenges posed by central postmodern sensitivities.” In addition to his attunement to postmodern sensitivities, Grenz is attuned to the 20th century renaissance of Trinitarian theology and the implications of Trinitarianism for the rest of theology. Grenz explicitly states that truly Trinitarian theology does not simply involve engaging with the doctrine of the Trinity, it “entails viewing all aspects of Christian doctrine in a Trinitarian light.” These two features of his method, his post-modern sensibilities and Trinitarian commitments, emerge as the first key component of his method for doing theological anthropology: a commitment to doing theological anthropology simultaneously from above and from below, that is from the divine to the creaturely and from the creaturely to the divine. This commitment to simultaneously doing theology from above and from below is just one example of how his postmodern sensibilities affect his theological method. As an evangelical, he clearly wants to give appropriate authority to the typical “from above” type sources: Scripture, Creeds, Tradition. However, being sensitive to post-modernism, he realizes that all theology is done in a creaturely context, which in turn affect how we understand the “from-above” type sources. Thus Grenz allows these sources to mutually inform one another.

In addition to his commitment to doing theological anthropology simultaneously from above and from below Grenz is committed to doing what could be called Christological Anthropology. Briefly, this can be thought of as approach to theological anthropology “in which Christology warrants important claims about what it means to be human.” This is especially clear towards the final chapters of The Social God and the Relational Self. For instance in the chapter titled “From Humankind to the True Human” Grenz has a section titled “The Imago Dei and the True Human” in which he highlights the fact that the New Testament writers elevate Christ as the image of God, and by extension declare that “the believing Community shares in this new Christocentric anthropology.” Chapters five and six can be understood as the development of this Christological Anthropology. In chapter five he develops what Scripture means when it says that Christ is the image of God and in chapter six he develops the notion that humanity’s eschatological telos is participation in the image of Christ.

Another one of Grenz’s methodological commitments is his commitment to doing theology for the sake of the church. For Grenz this means that theology is communal and eschatological. Once again, this commitment is expressed in the final four chapters of his book where it becomes clear that he does not see participation in Christ’s image as an individualistic goal, rather he states that participation in Christ’s image is the eschatological destiny given to the new humanity. Further, Grenz adds that “the transformation is not directed toward individuals in isolation….Instead, it involves the transformation of all one’s relationships, and it entails the creation of a new community of those who share together in the transforming presence of the Spirit.” Grenz’s commitment to theology which is communal and eschatological can further be seen in his final constructive proposal in which he states the Christian identify is more than personal, it is a shared identity.  This shared identity is what Grenz calls the Ecclesial Self. The self, which finds its fulfillment in the eschaton, is constituted through the relationality of those who by the Spirit are “in Christ’.”

One final, methodological commitment, which might be easy to overlook is Grenz’s Pannenbergian understanding of the development of history and theology. Pannenberg, who was Grenz’s doktorvater, believed that the truth of Christian doctrine unfolds partly by means discussion and deliberation. This belief leads Pannenberg to include long sections of exposition detailing the historical development of doctrine in his multi-volume systematic theology. In providing long, detailed outlines behind the history of doctrines, he shows his belief that doctrine does not just materialize, rather doctrine has a history which develops and eventually matures. The structure of Grenz’s work displays his commitment to a method akin to Pannenberg’s. In part one Grenz sketches the development of Trinitarian thought from Hegel to LaCugna. He states that this ongoing development of Trinitarian theology entails “a more profound understanding of God as inherently relational and dynamic.” His belief that doctrine develops positively by means of theological debate is made even clearer when he says that “the retrieval of doctrine of the Trinity has paved the way for a fully theological anthropology,” (as if this was impossible prior to the 20th century). His commitment to a Pannenbergian understanding of the development of history and theology is further displayed in the fact that chapters two and three map the conditions that gave birth to the postmodern loss of self. Chapter two traces the rise of the concept of the centered self whereas chapter three traces the undoing of the concept of self. Much like Pannenberg who traces the historical development of concepts in depth, for the sake of showing that true doctrine develops and unfolds through history, Grenz seems to imply that a more accurate notion of the self has gradually developed thanks to these historical theological and philosophical movements. In other words, a truer anthropology has developed and is developing through the history of theology.

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