Tag Archives: eschatology

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.

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Agape and the Long Defeat – George Hunsinger

Saturday’s first plenary was delivered by George Hunsinger. He is the McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He earned his degrees at Stanford, Harvard, and Yale. He is most noted for being a leading expert on Karl Barth. His paper brought together two, (to my knowledge) conversation partners that have never been brought together, namely Tolkien and Barth.

Introduction

  • Tolkien as “author of the century”
  • Like Tolkien, Barth can be considered “century’s greatest theologian”
  • Little work has been done to compare the two
  • 1st – how Barth understands agape, 2nd – meaning of evil, 3- eschatology of agape

barth

Meaning of Agape

  • Not benevolence, beneficence, compassion
  • Agape has these but adds – a desire to give oneself, union w/other, self giving for the sake of koinonia
  • Summary of Agape
    • God’s loving is concerned w/a seeking and creation of fellowship for its own sake by loving us in JC – God take us up into fellowship/communion that God enjoys as Holy Trinity
    • God’s loving us is concerned is w/o reference to aptitude or worthiness of the object of love. God’s agape is not conditioned by any prior reciprocity of love. God doesn’t love us b/c we are lovable, lovable because he loves us.
    • God’s loving is an end in itself. God doesn’t even will his own glory for his own sake, but for the sake of his agape. God loves b/c he loves. His agape is the supreme end which includes all other ends in itself.
    • God’s agape is necessary. It belongs to him primordially and by definition. Its eternal as God is eternal in his triune life.

The Mystery of Evil in Barth and Tolkien

  • Convergences exist in their depiction of evil. See Barth and Nothingness vs. Witch King of Angmar – the Lord of the Nazgul
  • Nothingness – act of cosmic power, destruction, chaos, ruin. Its inexplicable, can’t be explained only described. Origin is obscure, but effects are not. The impossible possibility. Actual yet empty at the same time. God did not create it. God defeats it at great cost to himself. No right to exist, serves no greater good. Not means to some higher end.
    • The answer to the problem of evil is not an argument but a name
  • Tolkien’s Lord of the Nazgul captures something of Barth’s Nothingness.
    • Conflicted and absurd, actual and empty simultaneously,
    • Good symbol of Barth’s impossible possibility
    • Image for the paradox of evil, powerful yet hollow at the same time.

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Eschatology of Agape

  • Tolkien writes w/ idea that evil must be fought w/knowledge that we cannot ultimately defeat evil. “We have fought the long defeat.” No victory is complete, evil rises again, even victory brings loss. But the long defeat is not the last word.
    • There can be no true theology of glory divorced from the theology of the cross.
    • For Paul agape cannot be divorced from longsuffering

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Theological Method

Earlier this year I spent two weeks in a Christian university Uganda, I saw these students work through some questions like: “What is theology?” “What role should the Bible play in our doctrinal formulations?” “How can the church be a faithful witness to Christ in the world?” Although Pannenberg was far from the minds of these African students, his Systematic Theology: Volume One addresses precisely these sorts of questions. Though Pannenberg does not answer these questions for those who find themselves in an African context he claims that this volume, which addresses part of the spiritual heritage of all Christians, quite simply addresses “the truth of Christian doctrine and the Christian confession.” Over the next few days I will be examining Pannenberg’s theological method – in all of its strengths and its weaknesses.

Overview of Method in Systematic Theology Volume One

Section 1 of Chapter 1 begins by considering the nature of theology. Having described various trends in usage of the word over time Pannenberg gives us a provisional definition of the term. He claims that theology is not solely or primarily a human activity, rather “it is the declaring of God that is proper to the divine logos and disclosed by him.” The basis of this theology is revelation, that is, it is knowledge of God which is made possible by God. Without acknowledging this basic condition of theology one cannot properly do theology. Pannenberg goes on to nuance this position by introducing a thesis of Reformed theologian Franz Junius which explains the human role in theology. Junius says that human theology is possible only as a copy and imitation of the divine archetypal theology. Suffice it to say that our knowledge of God is only possible through God’s revelation, though this knowledge only approximates God’s knowledge of himself.

Bonn, CDU-Friedenskongress, Pannenberg

Having stated what theology is, Pannenberg now addresses what the proper object of theology is. Following Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and countless others Pannenberg argues that God is the single, all embracing object of theology. The upshot of this proposition is that this object can only be known if it gives itself to be know. Though Christian theology addresses many things, all those things which are covered in theological discourse find their place in relation to God, i.e. God is the unifying subject of all theological topics. This particular view is contrasted with Schleiermacher’s position which considers human needs and experiences of God to be the proper objects of theology. Pannenberg rejects this notion and stresses that theology is discourse about God that God himself has authorized. It is not discourse about God grounded in human needs or interests or even ideas about the divine. In order to truly be “Christian” theology, theology must have as its theme the truth about God as he has revealed himself.

 

The centrality of truth as a part of Christian theology leads Pannenberg to consider the nature of Dogmatics. He begins with a very simple definition of Dogmatics as “the science of Dogma or of Christian doctrine.” This definition is not very helpful so Pannenberg engages in a short historical study regarding the nature of Dogmatics. Here he takes on biblical as well as early Christian materials and concludes that if the dogmas of Christians are true, they are no longer the opinion of humans, rather they are divine revelation. These dogmas are divine truth.

Pannenberg realizes that talk about dogma in our modern context is likely to bring us some harsh feelings for many would consider dogma and religious coercion to go hand in hand. Pannenberg is quite right since many would indeed say that dogmatic religious claims attempt to force consensus about these positions and thus establish these positions as the only truth. That is supposedly contrasted with a consensus, which arises out of a free agreement regarding these religious claims. Yet Pannenberg argues that neither coercion nor consensus can serve as an adequate criterion of the truth of a doctrine.[4] It is tempting to believe that consensus, even universal consensus, would establish the truth of a doctrine but this is simply not the case for some ideas and convictions might be deeply rooted in the whole species, though these convictions may turn out to be false. Though consensus does not establish the truth of a doctrine it nevertheless plays a significant role in our understanding of Christian doctrine. For instance within the Lutheran tradition, confessions aim at achieving a total church consensus regarding evangelical doctrine. Although consensus does not establish or create the truth of a doctrine it nevertheless helps the church to provide a normative function in the church’s reading of the word of God. As Scripture is read and interpreted through the lens of these confessions the result is that the Christian reader ends up confession Jesus of Nazareth and the act of God in him. This is the purpose of confessions, to help Christian readers in their reading and interpretation of Scripture.

Having considered the way that Dogmatics unfolds the content of church teaching and how dogma relates to truth Pannenberg goes on to explain the task of presenting a comprehensive and coherent presentation of this doctrinal content. This coherent and comprehensive presentation of dogma is called “systematic theology.” This term which is first found in the early 18th century deals with the matters of theology in a comprehensible manner and it explains, proves, and confirms its content in detail. One thing that systematic theology entails that the things which are regarded as true will not contradict one another, in other words there must be some sort of coherence in this system. Though coherence is not necessarily the thing which determines the truth of any one system, the fact that the doctrine corresponds to the object/reality determines the truth, it is nevertheless a crucial aspect of any proper system.

41yrbvsp98l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Having spent most of this chapter establishing some key concepts, such as the nature and object of theology, the meaning of dogma, and the criteria for a systematic theology’s truth, Pannenberg now moves on to discussion some “problems” of prolegomena to Dogmatics. He says that traditionally Protestant prolegomena would include the following five themes: “1) the concept of theology; 2) the Christian religion as the general object of theology; 3) scripture as the guiding principle of theology; 4) the articles of faith; and 5) the use of reason.” Most often the third theme commands the greatest attention in protestant prolegomena. This makes sense for its is part an parcel of reformation theology that the authority of Scripture as a norming norm for theology is based on the fact that it is God’s own words. Yet there has been a problem in regards to this third theme regarding where the authority of Scripture comes from. Does this authority come from the sole fact that it is God’s inspired word or does it involve the Christian’s personal experience of belief in God’s word? This issue was further complicated when the concept of religion took on a more fundamental role in understanding the nature of theology. This is especially poignant in the work of Schleiermacher who grounds his methodological foundation of Dogmatics in the concept of religion or piety. So the theme of scripture as the guiding principle of theology has broken out into two different camps, the one camp which situates scriptures’ authority with faith (subjective) and the other which situates its scripture’s authority in its inspiration (objective). Given the demise of a general belief in the authority of Scripture it makes sense to try to ground the authority of scripture in an appeal to faith. However the problem with this is that it does not provide an objective ground for guaranteeing its truth.

In his final section in chapter 1 Pannenberg takes issue with recent Christian Dogmatics that make the truth of Christian doctrine a presupposition rather than declaring it a theme of inquiry. In Pannenberg’s opinion the fact that the revelation of God is a part of the reality of world means that it is inherently debatable and up for testing and confirmation. He argues that since truth is not purely subjective, rather that truth is a public thing, the truth of Christian Dogmatics ought to be able to be deliberated about and debated. Christians fail to do the world a service when they engage in theology as though the truth of the matter can be assumed. Instead Christians ought to engage in theology in such a way that the unbelieving public can be faced with the truth and make a decision regarding its feasibility.

In this section Pannenberg relates theology to a scientific hypothesis which can be tested and tried. Yet to call theology a hypothesis or to say it is provisional should not alarm Christians whatsoever since the truth of Christian theology is grounded in eschatology. The Christian knows that the decision regarding the truth “rests with God himself. It will be finally made with the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in God’s creation.”

 

Getting Practical with Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel

Paul Writing a Letter
To see the practical implications Paul’s apocalyptic gospel in Galatians it is helpful to begin by looking at chapter 1 verse 6 which says that the Galatians are abandoning the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. We should note that verse 1:3 begins with the “grace” that the Father and Christ offer the Galatians and that in 1:6 Paul says that they are leaving the “grace” of Christ and turning to a different gospel. This inclusio of “grace” might indicate that what is contained between these two graces is what should be contrasted with the “different gospel.” If this is the case then Paul’s gospel is essentially an apocalyptic gospel, one which essentially claims that Christ has freed us from this age by addressing the problem of sin. This notion of being freed from this age is in line with Jesus’ message in the gospels that Israel’s exile has ended. It seems as though Paul is saying that Jesus who somehow addresses our sins is the one who frees us from exile which we were under and that this exile was this present evil age. Thus Paul’s gospel is in line with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom which is about the end of exile and the reign of YHWH.

Understanding Paul’s thoughts in this passage has various implications for Christian practice. One such implication is that it calls us to question our understanding of our hope as Christians. Many Christians would say that their hope is essentially in heaven, that one day when they die they will go to heaven, not to hell. However Paul’s gospel message is that we have been freed from the present evil age. This message implies that somehow we are no longer living in the evil age but that we have entered a new age. The fact that Christians can now live in the new age should affect the way they see their lives as Christians. If we are to understand that we have hope now, and not merely after we die, then this will radically change how we interact with the world around us. If our hope is now, then our lives as Christians cannot have an escapist mentality. As Christians we must begin to figure out what it looks like to live in light of the truth that because of Christ we are now living in the age to come.

The Challenge of Jesus

N.T. Wright has written a plethora of books that span the spectrum between devotional and intense academic tomes. The Challenge of Jesus seeks to place itself somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

The Challenge of Jesus

In the preface to this book Wright last out three goals that he has in writing this book. The first goal is to maintain historical integrity when talking about Jesus. The second goal is to help Christian disciples to follow the Jesus of Scriptures. The third goal is to help the next generation of Christ followers to love on mission in this postmodern world we find ourselves in. The majority of this book focuses on the first goal, and ends with two chapters that address the last two goals. This makes a lot of sense because if we are going to be able to live as disciples of Christ we need to now who Christ really was.

Wright accomplishes these goals by asking five important questions (p. 33):

1-Where does Jesus belong within the Jewish world of his day?

2-What, in particular, was his preaching of the Kingdom all about? i.e. what was he aiming to do?

3-Why did Jesus die? In particular what was his own intention in going to Jerusalem that last fateful time?

4-Why did the early church begin, and why did it take the shape it did?

5-How does all this relate to the Christian task and vocation today?

He answers each one of those questions in a separate chapter. Regarding question 1 Wright argues that Jesus was leading a messianic movement, not completely unlike other messianic movements of his time (yet also with a radically different twist.) In other words Jesus was announcing the Kingdom of God. Regarding the 2nd question, Jesus was creating new symbols of the Kingdom, the cross and the temple. By doing this he was reconstituting the people of God around himself. All of this pointed to an end of exile which was being accomplished by God in Christ. Why did Jesus die (question 3)? He died because it he believed it was his vocation to for Israel what Israel could not do and he believed that he would undergo the sufferings that Israel deserved for its unfaithfulness in other words, Jesus himself would go into exile and suffer at the hands of the enemy. This answer is related to the 4th question. The early church began because Christ was bodily resurrected, this meant that God was vindicating all that Christ has done. The exile is over and a new creation has begun. Finally the 5th question, how does all this relate to the Christian task and vocation today? Quite simply, Christians are to live as a part of new creation, as a part of this story that has climaxed in Jesus, and they are to live out the truth that Jesus really is the King and Messiah not only of Israel but of the whole world.

Like most books written by N.T. Wright this book excels in its historical portrayal of the facts. Wright certainly has done his research (this book is essentially a condensed version of Jesus and the Victory of God) and his research almost always leads him to surprising, yet orthodox, conclusions. There is no doubt in my mind that Wright gets the historical picture of Jesus right in this book. However what Wright gets wrong, in this book and may other books where he addresses the church in out postmodern setting is in the application of those historical realities. That isn’t to say he doesn’t get the overall contours right – he says “our task is to implement his unique achievement.” (182). That is absolutely right, however the ways he calls the church to implement Christ’s achievement is a little bit off. This has been said of Wright before so I won’t belabor it. Even though he warns against those who emphasize the discontinuity between the present world and the next and throw up their hands in resignation and those who emphasize the continuity between the present world and the next and imagine we can build the kingdom of God by our own hard work he definitely tends to fall a little too much on the continuity side of things. At times he sounds like he has an overemphasized eschatology. Of course he denies this, but its clearly in his writings. However if it comes down to it, I would rather someone work hard for the Kingdom of God than throw up their hands and wait for heaven to come one day. Despite this one small downside in this book I highly recommend it.

In my opinion this short book is the best introduction to Wright’s thought on who Jesus is.

Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

St. Augustine Encourages You to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolution…

I’m sticking with the New Year’s Resolution theme this week, so its fitting that I talk to you about weight loss. Weight loss probably is at the top of most people’s New Year’s resolutions, so if you resolved to lose weight this year you are not alone! I was watching the Today show this morning and they put out some interesting statistics. 45% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions but only 8% of those Americans can say that they kept it by the end of the year! So if you are a “45 percenter” chances are not so good that you will keep your resolution. If you resolved to lose weight this year I’m sorry to say but your chances of doing it are not so good.

However my good friend St. Augustine has some words of encouragement for you! Its from his book Enchridion on Faith, Hope, and Love which was written to an educated Roman layman as a brief but comprehensive introduction to Christian teaching and doctrine. In case the title throws you off, Enchridion is a term that comes from the Greek for handbook. But don’t get too caught up on how intense the title sounds, it’s an enjoyable read and I suggest that you pick it up! Anyway, here is what St. Augustine has to say:

Nor does it necessarily follow that there shall be differences of stature among those who rise again, because they were of different statures during life, nor is it certain that the lean shall rise again in their former leanness, and the fat in their former fatness.

At this point it looks like Augustine is saying that it does not necessarily follow that we will have the same body-type in the resurrected state. In the new creation the lean (skinny) might no longer be skinny! The fat might no longer be fat! So you can look forward to looking like what you want to look like (or what God wants you to look like) in the New Creation! Ah but not so fast…

But if it is part of the Creator’s design that each should preserve his own peculiarities of feature, and retain a recognizable likeness to his former self, while in regard to other bodily advantages all should be equal, then the material of which each is composed may be so modified that none of it shall be lost…

It seems as though Augustine is saying that it is possible that God gives us resurrected bodies that preserve our features, that retain a recognizable likeness to our former selves. Yes we will be healthy and yes will be able to perform the same tasks as our other resurrected brothers and sisters will be able to do, so none will be superior to another but God might recreate us in such a way that none of the material that we are composed of will be lost. That is just a fancy way of saying, what you’ve got now is what you’ll have later. If you have some junk in your trunk God might make sure that you have junk in your trunk in your resurrected body. That means, If you don’t want junk in your trunk for the rest of eternity then you better get to work now, and literally work your butt off.

So be encouraged! According to St. Augustine your New Year’s Resolution might have eternal consequences!

Contextual Theologies of Mission: Samuel Escobar and Jeremy Wynne Compared (Pt. 3)

Today we conclude this series by comparing Samuel Escobar’s theology of mission and Jeremy Wynne’s interpretation of Moltmann’s theology  of mission.

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Comparison

The fundamental difference between Escobar’s and Wynne’s way of doing theology of mission is how they address the existential realities of human beings. Escobar stresses how social and political realities have affected Latin theology of mission and how any good theology of mission in Latin America must account for these realities as well. This is displayed in his study of the history of Christianity in Latin America. Wynne on the other hand, does not address the existential conditions of humans whatsoever. Although Wynne does not really attempt to construct a theology of mission he argues that Moltmann’s eschatology can serve as a starting point for doing missiology. For Wynne, systematic theology is the foundation for missiology. This difference in method reflects the difference between most western and non-western theology, that is, that non-western theology does not attempt to do theology in an abstract realm far away from the way humans actually live. Although Wynne mentions that for Moltmann salvation is holistic, addressing all aspects of life here and in the future, he does not mention this because he sees the need for holistic salvation but because it logically follows from the meaning of salvation that it would be holistic.

Conclusion

Escobar’s theology is constructed out of biblical revelation and the social sciences whereas Wynne’s theology is constructed out of systematic theology. Should we say that one method is better than the other? I believe that we should not. We must realize that our systematic theology is profoundly affected by our existential conditions. Thus the social sciences which study the human condition must inform our way of doing systematic theology. Yet we must attempt to be faithful to the biblical revelation in our doing systematic theology. If we are faithful to properly interpreting the Bible, as Escobar proposes, then we can allow other areas of systematic theology and the social sciences inform our mission theology. The act of balancing our personal experiences, information from the social sciences, and systematic theology while attempting to give the Bible a privileged position is quite difficult; yet if we are going to do theology of mission properly it is something we must try to do.