Tag Archives: anthropology


This is the final part 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.”

From our brief survey of Grenz’s method and content it is quite clear that Grenz has attempted to pen a biblically faithful, historically grounded theological anthropology which is sensitive to the problems of postmodernism. In this conclusion to this series of posts I want to assess several aspects of his historical-theological surveys, his use of the Trinity for theological anthropology, and his evangelical sensitivities. In doing so we can gauge the success of his project.

The first topic which draws our attention is his treatment of historical sources in theology. Though obviously showing deference towards these sources, Grenz subtly hints at his belief that “good” theology only came about in the modern period. One sees this theme in his belief that the psychological analogy for the trinity has rightly been abandoned in favor models that are closer to the social analogy for the trinity. One also notices this in his assessment of the concept of self. The past was highly individualistic, only now have we recovered a relational basis for the self. Finally one sees this in his surveys of the imago Dei. Christian theology began with a structural view, helpfully moved towards a relational view, and it has finally matured into a “destiny”/Kaleidoscopic view of the image of God. He may be correct in believing that these more modern views are actually truer than the older views. However, to base one’s assessment of the matters solely upon a concept of historical development or unfolding is to commit chronological snobbery. To add to this problem, Grenz’s preference for the new and modern (or should I say post-modern) leads him to flatten out distinctions in the historical theologies he examines. These are important distinctions which could undermine his assessments. For instance, he sees Augustine as the progenitor of inward individualism. Though there is certainly an inward aspect of Augustine’s spirituality, to say it underlies an individualistic ontology is quite off the mark. James Smith has argued that an Augustinian ontology is what he calls an “intentional account of human persons.” The concept of humans as intentional beings “emphasizes that our being in the world is always characterized by a dynamic, “ek-static” orientation that “intends” the world or “aims at” the world as an object of consciousness.”[1] Or to put it more simply, “we are essentially and ultimately lovers. To be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are. Our ultimate love is constitutive of our identity;”[2] using Smith’s catchy title of his popular level book you are what you love. An Augustinian ontology considers persons in light of their relationship (intentionally or love) to other beings and things. If what one loves constitutes one’s being, necessarily being cannot be individualistic, since it is defined by the other. Another minor point of historical accuracy, Grenz critiques Edwards’s spirituality as being “focused squarely on the self,” saying, “According to Edwards, true saints can discern experimentally the presence of true religion within themselves.”[3] Although its true that Edwards believed one could not know with certainty the status of other Christians, what comes to mind is what Edwards says is the best sign of one’s salvation: charity. The greatest sign of salvation is whether or not one actually loves one’s neighbor. This is far from the sort of individualistic piety Grenz pegs onto Edwards.[4] These are just two examples of how his negative disposition for the past leads Grenz to skew his readings of important theological figures.

A second issue present in Grenz’s work that deserves attention is his use of Trinitarian theology for developing anthropological conclusions. One key example is his use of Zizioulas’s metaphysics: being as communion (i.e that there is no true being without communion or to be a person is to be in relation to other persons). He moves from Trinitarian ontology to human ontology, claiming that to be a person is to be in a certain sort of relation to other persons (an ecclesial relation). Although this might be a legitimate move to make, he never stops to ask “can we predicated persons in the same sense to God as we can of human beings?” The fact that the Trinity is a model for humanity and community is almost a truism today. However we should ask, “in which respects and to what extent the Trinity should serve as a model for human community?” Here, the works of theologians like Fred Sanders, Stephen Holmes, and Karen Kilby come to mind. For instance Kilby writes that “There is intrinsic limitation deriving from our creatureliness, which means that Trinitarian concepts can only analogously be applied to human community.”[5] This hesitation, to move too quickly from the Trinity to humanity, is grounded in the well worn Eastern tradition (which ironically is so prominent in the theology of which social Trinitarianism claims its roots) of apophaticism. Again, I am not claiming that Grenz conclusions are off the mark, rather that he has not engaged what is probably the most pressing critique of social Trinitarianism which makes the “Trinity our social program.”

Finally, I would like to assess the evangelical pedigree of this work. Part of what it means to be evangelical is to take the gospel seriously. This means taking the healing reality of God’s reconciliation of the world through Christ, and the church’s call to proclaim that reality as it is articulated in Scripture, seriously. Grenz has written a text which meets these marks. Beginning with the fact that he seeks to articulate the reality of the Trinitarian God to a postmodern world to the fact that he is concerned with helping the church live out its transformation according to the image of Christ, this book is grounded in the mission of the gospel. In this work Grenz takes seriously what scripture says and he is missionally oriented. Despite some of the historical and theological shortcomings of this book, one cannot deny the fact that Grenz has written a text which has the potential to make important contributions to the church living out its mission of  being a preview of the new humanity shaped in the true imago Dei, Jesus Christ.

[1] James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 48.

[2] Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 51.

[3] Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, 85

[4] For more on the notion that Edwards’s spirituality and ethics was other-centered (and fully Trinitarian) see Christopher Woznicki, “Bad Books and The Glorious Trinity: Jonathan Edwards on the Sexual Holiness of the Church” in McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry vol. 16 (2014-2015)

[5] Karen Kilby, “Trinity and Politics: An Apohatic Approach” in Advancing Trinitarian Theology, eds. Oliver Crisp and Fred Sanders (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 78.


Stanley Grenz’s Theological Anthropology – An Overview (Pt. 3)

This is part three 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.”

Having provided a brief overview of Grenz’s methodological commitments we are now in a position to provide a brief overview of his argument. This text is divided into three parts covering Context, Texts, and Application. Part one, “The Context: Trinitarian Theology and the Self,” traces out historical developments of Trinitarian theology and theological-philosophical-psychological understandings of the self. Part two, “The Texts: The Imago Dei in Trinitarian Perspective” addresses biblical texts which shed light upon the imago Dei. Part three, titled, “The Application: The Social Imago and the Postmodern (Loss of) Self” provides an eschatologically determined, social, ecclesial conception of the image of God.

Chapter one begins with the conviction that theological anthropology must be developed under the confession of the the Triune God. Given this conviction Grenz sets the context for a Trinitarian theological anthropology by providing a survey of the renewal of Trinitarian theology that has characterized the 20th and 21st centuries. Grenz begins with Hegel’s turn to the subject and his assumption that Trinitarian theology must take seriously the close connection between the Trinity and the unfolding of history. Starting with Hegel, he travels through the works of Rahner, Barth, Moltmann, and Zizioulas on his way to LaCugna. The thrust of this chapter is to show that the movement away from psychological models of the trinity and the revival of social Trinitarianism is commensurate with the modern rethinking of the notion of persons. Or as Grenz says, “the ascendancy of the focus on the three Trinitarian persons, in turn, opens the way for a truly theological anthropology.”

In chapters two and three Grenz maps the development of contemporary concepts of the self. Chapter two is dedicated to treating the emergence of the concept of the self. Here Grenz states that the modern concept of the self is marked by one key feature: Inwardness. Quoting Charles Taylor Grenz says “our modern notion of the self is related to, one might say constituted by, a certain sense (or perhaps family of senses) of inwardness.” Grenz makes a case Augustine being the progenitor of the “Western concept of the self with its focus on the inwardness of self-consciousness in contrast to the outwardness of relationality to others.” His historical survey covers much ground, expositing the works of Descartes, Locke, and Kant, all whom according to Grenz elevate the autonomous individual self. A second feature of the inward turn according to Grenz is a desire for self-mastery. He deems Calvin as the progenitor of the individualist quest for self-mastery, hidden under the guise of sanctification. Among the “villains” of this individualistic, self-sufficient narrative, Grenz also cites Jonathan Edwards as bequeathing to evangelicalism an individualistic, self-sufficient, “navel-gazing” ethos of spiritual growth. Chapter three argues that the modern sense of self was destabilized and ultimately completely undermined by the postmodern sensitivities of authors such as Montaigne, Rousseau, Emerson, and Nietzsche.  The result was that the postmodern self became “a bundle of fluctuating relationships and momentary preferences…highly unstable, impermanent.”

How can the Christian faith speak into the problem of the post-modern loss of self? Grenz argues that the concept of the imago Dei is the solution to this problem. Surveying three motifs in the theology of the imago Dei: a structural motif, a relational motif, and a “destiny” motif he argues that these three motifs form a constellation of themes which should be considered together. However, the image of God as “being with a destiny” is the fundamental basis for the imago Dei.

Chapters five through seven treat the concept of imago Dei in conversation with the latest findings from the field of biblical studies. Chapter five treats the exegesis of Genesis 1:26-28, the locus classicus for the imago Dei. He also explores the New Testament designation of Christ as the image of God. In chapter six Grenz further develops the idea that Christ is the divine image, by arguing that “he is the head of the new humanity destined to be formed according to that image in fulfillment of God’s intent for human kind fro the beginning.”

Having established on exegetical grounds that conformity to the image of God in Christ is humanity’s eschatological destiny he then turns towards applying this concept to the problems of the postmodern loss of self. In chapter seven he suggests that human sexuality reflects the relation character of the Triune God. Sexuality, Grenz argues, is constituted by a drive towards bonding, the participation in the fullness of the other. This drive towards bonding is only truly fulfilled in the eschatological community of the saints in union with Christ. Thus, the drive for intimacy so prominent in the sexual self hints at something which is fundamental the the nature of the “self,” namely that the self consists of persons bonded in community.

Grenz concludes his section on application in chapter eight where he constructs a notion of an eschatological, ecclesial ontology of the self. Providing another survey detailing the historical development of thought, this time surveying the history of social psychology and narrative theology, Grenz comes to the conclusion that ultimately the solution to the postmodern problem of the loss of self comes in conceiving of the self as the ecclesial self, i.e. a person whose being is grounded in their relation to the eschatological community of Christ. This is grounded in Zizioulas’s Trinitarian theology, in which he claims that God’s being is constituted by relationship or communion. Thus like God himself whose being is in communion, the human self finds its ultimate expression in communion, more specifically communion with the community of those who are bound to the true image of God, Christ.

Neuroscience and the Soul

During the 2012-2013 academic year, Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought brought together a number of philosophers, theologians, and scientists to discuss the relationship between traditional views of the mind and body in light of the contemporary findings of neuroscience. Neuroscience and the Soul: The Human Person in Philosophy, Science, and Theology (2016) represents the content of these discussions and conference. Edited by Thomas Crisp, Steven L. Porter, and Gregg A. Ten Elshof, the book is divided into three major sections: 1) recent debates in philosophy about the Mind-Body Problem, 2) recent debates about the bearing of contemporary brain sciences on the Mind-Body Problem, and 3) recent debates in theology about the mind-body problem. Written primarily for non-specialists, the sections are structured as a series of essays with responses and rejoinders. The idea behind this structure is that a thoughtful non-specialist could get a glimpse into the debates happening in the pages of academic books and journals, without needing to wade through vast and technical literature.


Section one begins with an essay by William Hasker in which he argues for the view that material composition cannot make sense of the unity of consciousness. Timothy O’Connor responds by arguing that conscious experience is a property had by materially composed persons, but is such that no “part” of the experiences is had by any of those persons, or is itself had by any of their parts

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are an exchange between J.P. Moreland and Jason Runyan regarding top-down causation. Moreland makes a case against it while Runyan argues that there are no reasons for skepticism about the existence of top-down causation in nature. He explains that if one remains skeptical about top-down causation, complex systems theory may be able to do the work top-down causation aims at.

Section two begins with a friendly dialogue between Richard Swinburne and Daniel Speak. Swinburne argues that the scientific theory that mental events are caused by brain events fails the prediction criterion, thus we can never know that it predicts successfully without assuming its falsity. Speak responds by saying that an argument demonstrating a theory is not scientifically well justified, cannot, by itself, constitute a case against the epistemic credibility of the theory.

In chapter 10 Kevin Corcoran and Kevin Sharpe build an argument for physicalism from three neuroscientific case studies; but they concede the fact that consciousness seems to be very resistant to physicalist explanations. They conclude that despite the problem of consciousness, given the explanatory irrelevance of the soul, we should accept physicalism. Erick LaRock and Robin Collins respond by arguing that Corcoran and Sharpe’s commitment to physicalism is not actually warranted by the currently available evidence, and that it is contrary to the main preferences of science, namely simplicity and being true to the data of experience.

Chapter 13, written by Erick LaRock focuses on the so-called “hard problem of consciousness” that plagues reductive physicalist accounts of the mind. He argues that reductive physicalism cannot account for a robust account of consciousness. Corcoran and Sharpe respond to LaRock agreeing that reductive physicalism cannot account for the hard problem of consciousness; so they put forward a non-reductive account of consciousness.

Section three begins with Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s explanation and defense of “multi-dimensional monism,” the view that mind and body “each denotes the entire human being, while connoting some angle of vision on who that human is and what he or she is called to be.” (212) Stewart Goetz responds by raising worries about what Karkkainen’s multi-dimensional monism does for accounts of personal survival after death.

The final three chapters of the book are a dialogue between John Cooper and Brian Lugioyo. Cooper suggests that the turn towards physicalism among Christian scholars represents the prioritization of science over the Bible. Lugioyo’s response seeks to demonstrate that, in fact, biblical exegesis supports a monistic position and that a monistic interpretation for Scripture is healthy for the church’s ministry.


Neuroscience and the Soul is a fine collection of essays from a varied cast of authors. If the editors intended to give non-specialists a glimpse of current debates in the field, then they have certainly done their job. I wonder, however, if the purpose would have been better served if the authors hadn’t chosen to prioritize “traditional” accounts of the mind-body debate over newer accounts. As I note above, the structure is one long essay, followed by a short response, and an even shorter rejoinder. Most of the sets of essays (5 out of the 7) begin with traditional accounts. This means traditional accounts get the long form essay and the rejoinder. Naturally, it was the editors’ prerogative to prioritize whomever they wanted; however, if they really wanted to give readers a feel for the state of discussion in academia, they should have prioritized newer accounts, or at least should have tried to balance out the essays. Another critique one might make of the book, which is not unusual for edited volumes, is that some of the essays are poorer contributions than the others. For instance, I am unsure what Eric LaRock’s essay is doing in this volume. His main argument is against reductive forms of physicalism. Yet, one would be hard pressed to find any Christians in the field advocating for reductive physicalism. LaRock is arguing against a non-existent opponent. Also, I question the inclusion of John Cooper’s essay. Surely Cooper has written one of the most comprehensive accounts of dualism, Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting, but this work in its original form is almost 30 years old. It’s strange to think that the editors couldn’t find a more contemporary example of a Cooper-style defense of substance dualism.

Despite these minor drawbacks, I recommend this book for those looking to get their feet wet in the pool of Christian mind-body debates but don’t have time to go for a swim. It should also prove useful as an introductory volume for seminary and graduate students.

(Note: This was originally posted on Fuller Seminary’s Analytic Theology Blog.)

Review of Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective by Mark Cortez

Cortez, Mark. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 272, $27.99, paperback.


Marc Cortez is currently associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. His prior works include Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) and Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate (T&T Clark, 2008). As the title of these previous monographs indicate, Cortez has an interest in theological anthropology. The recently published Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology represents his third full length contribution to this field.

What makes us human? This is a question upon which much ink has been spilled. Most studies attempting to answer this question have tended focus on one of several topics: 1) human origins, 2) ethics, and 3) the imago dei. What Cortez brings to this already oversaturated field is a rethinking of the methodology upon which so many of these studies are founded. Cortez’s approach to theological anthropology is strictly Christological.

You can read the rest of the review at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies.

Healthcare: Reframing the Question

About a month ago I took a look at The Gospel Coalition’s Blog: FAQ’s. Here they provide summaries about current events and answer frequently asked questions regarding these current events. Most of these blogs have to do with popular culture or politics. One article that really jumped out at me was their article regarding the Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare.


Summary/Key Points

At one point in the article, the author says that “Obamacare’s vast expansions of the multi-trillion-dollar Medicaid program are arguably much more significant than the mandate. Medicaid is jointly funded between the federal government and the states, and already consumes an ever-increasing share of state spending…. They (Republicans) complained to the Court that this was a threat to independent state self-government.” Later on in the article the author frames this issue in such a way as though it seems as though it will rob religious organizations like the Catholic hospitals and Christian universities of their religious freedom. Thus for this author the key theological issue at hand is the relationship between church and state.

The Theological Issues at Hand…

The theological issues at hand are regarding the role of the government and anthropology. Romans 13 says that “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God…. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.” Without a doubt there are governments that are not serving the good of the people, they oppress and kill their citizens. But in this case, we have the government trying to defend one good of the people, namely their healthcare. The claim that this healthcare program intrudes upon the rights of individuals is a claim regarding what the “good” of the people is. The theological issue at hand is “what is the better good of a person?” Are individual rights more important or is the access to healthcare more important? The first position doesn’t have high regard for the physical side of humans and elevates the non-physical attributes of humans (the will). The second position can be regarded as reductionist, humans are merely physical beings thus their physical well being is what matters most. Because these two theological issues are at hand in this one political issues, disagreements are bound to happen.

Reframing the Question

I am not arguing for or against this particular health care proposal. All I am doing is pointing out that the fundamental issue at hand has been presented as a disagreement between what the relationship between church and state should be. I am saying that this is not the fundamental disgreement. The fundamental disagreement between both sides is about what the ultimate good for a human being is. Thus in conducting these discussions we need to be clear about what we are arguing about (or what we should be arguing about), namely what is the ultimate good for a human. This is the real question that needs to be answered in the discussion about healthcare.