Today marks the beginning 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.”
In writing The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei the late Stanley Grenz, a Canadian evangelical theologian, joins a chorus of voices drawing a connection between Trinitarian theology and social concerns. Grenz, is well known for being one of the most significant Trinitarian Evangelical theologians. Even more importantly, Grenz is known for his engagement with postmodernism grounded from an evangelical perspective. Even stating that The Matrix of Christian Theology, of which The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei is the first volume, is intended to provide “the contours of an appropriate theological Construction that takes seriously postmodern concerns, sensitivities, and insights.” (x) Thus, the location of Grenz’s project is best understood as the intersection between post-modernism and evangelicalism. As an evangelical theologian Grenz wants to take seriously the deposit of faith found in Scripture, tradition, and evangelical theology; all while acknowledging the traditional foundationalist way of doing evangelical theology is under fire, especially from philosophers and theologians advocating for a post-foundational epistemology. Thus Grenz attempts to take a post-foundational approach to his theology. This post-foundationalism builds on the insight that “belief systems, including Christian doctrinal constructions, are better viewed as forming a web – or a mosaic – than an epistemological house built upon an unassailable foundation.” (x) This mosaic includes “canonical scripture, the theological heritage of the church, and the intellectual currents of wider culture.” (x)
This brief series of blogs seeks to engage with this post-modern yet thoroughly evangelical contribution to theological anthropology. Over the next few days I will highlight some key features of Grenz’s method and manner of argumentation, provide an overview of his argument, and conclude by considering some of the strengths and weaknesses of Grenz’s project.
Both Foundationalism and Coherentism are internalist accounts of justification. Both seem to be plagued by problems, in part because they are proposition based accounts of justification. Given this I’ve been tinkering around with some externalist accounts of justification. For those of you who are interested here are some problems with internalist accounts of justification:
- It doesn’t allow for “knowledge” among naïve people, novices, or the mentally handicapped (at least in accessibilist accounts of internal justification).
Example: One of the most powerful motivations for externalism is that we correctly attribute knowledge to unsophisticated persons, children, and some animals. These individuals, though, lack internalist justification. So either knowledge doesn’t require justification or justification should be understood externally. Grandma knows that she has hands even though she can not rehearse an argument for that conclusion and can not even think of anything else to defend the claim that she does have hands. Timmy knows that it’s a sunny day and Lassie knows that there’s water in the bowl. In each case it appears that the subject is justified but lacks any internally accessible reason for the belief. Reflection on these cases, and many others like them, supports the externalist central contention that internalism is too strong. Persons can know without possessing internalistic justification. (Ted Poston)
- It becomes incredibly easy to justify false beliefs.
Example: One powerful skeptical argument begins with the premise that we lack direct access to facts about the external world. For any experiential justification we have for believing some fact about the external world—for example, there’s a magnolia tree—it’s possible to have that same justification even though there’s no such fact. The experience one has is caused by a state of one’s brain and it is possible that science could develop a method to induce in one that brain state even though there are no magnolia trees for hundreds of miles. The skeptic continues to argue that since we lack direct access to facts about the external world we lack non-inferential knowledge (or justification) for believing those facts. The final step of the skeptic’s argument is that we do lack sufficient evidence for inferential knowledge (or inferential justification) for believing those facts. Here the skeptic argues that the evidence we possess for external world beliefs does not adequately favor commonsense over a skeptical thesis. Any appeal to experiential evidence will not decide the case against the skeptic and the skeptic is happy to enter the fray over whether commonsense beats skepticism with regard to the theoretical virtues, for example, coherence and simplicity. (Ted Poston)
Some Possible Responses:
- This only arises under an accesibilist account of justification. If we have another internalist account, maybe a weak accessibilist account (in which the only thing necessary is the possibility of access) or a mentalist account then this isn’t really a problem.
- Its fine that we can have the same justification for things that don’t correspond, mainly because we are talking about the justification of propositions, not the justification of beliefs which actually correspond to the external world. (This seems to me to be a version of coherentism.)
Over the last several months I have been very interested in T.F. Torrance’s theology. My interest in Torrance began when I took Oliver Crisp’s “Contemporary Theories of Atonement” class and read Torrance’s book “Atonement.” About a month ago I recieved a call for papers from the Evangelical Theological Society, this year’s Western Regional Conference was going to be on “Evangelical Perspectives on the Holy Spirit.” They keynote speak will be Michael Horton. I decided to submit an abstract for the conference, and lo and behold my abstract was accepted! Thus I will be presenting my paper on April 19th at Vanguard University. Here is the abstract I submitted:
Atonement and Epistemology:
How T.F. Torrance’s Pneumatology Unites the Two
Christopher G. Woznicki
Fuller Theological Seminary
Two topics that have dominated much of evangelical theology over the past several years are atonement and epistemology. The discussions have usually revolved around debates over penal substitution, and foundationalism/coherentism respectively. However these discussions have not had much bearing on one another. T.F. Torrance’s pneumatology draws these discussions together. This paper argues that Torrance’s theory of the Holy Spirit’s role in atonement provides us with the tools necessary to form a robust religious epistemology.
According to Torrance all genuine knowledge involves a cognitive union of the mind with its object, this calls for the removal of any estrangement or alienation that may obstruct or distort this union. In Torrance’s schema atonement accomplishes the removal of this estrangement and alienation. Torrance understands atonement as the recreation of the bond of union between God and humanity. The recreation of this bond is accomplished objectively through the hypostatic union but is actualized subjectively for the believer through the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus for Torrance the union which is necessary for knowledge of God is only made possible by the Spirit’s work in the atonement. This has profound implications for the task of doing theology.