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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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Stanley Grenz’s Theological Anthropology – An Introduction (Pt. 1)

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 grenz023-smseriously 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.

Some Thoughts on Ephesians Four and the Christian Community

This week we turn to Ephesians chapter 4. Surprise surprise(!) one of Paul’s central themes in this passage is unity.  In chapter 2 Paul began to write about how God has made both Jews and Gentiles one by tearing down the dividing wall of hostility. He did this by abolishing the law of commandments, thus abolishing the one thing that made Jews distinct from the Gentiles. In Chapter 3 Paul tells the Ephesians that their unity, the unity between the Gentiles and the Jews in that church, makes the manifold wisdom of God known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Here in chapter 4 Paul delivers a practical encouragement to believers to abandon darkness inspired ways, which are marked by disunity, and to adopt Spirit inspired ways of living.

As you read this passage (and think about it for discussion) notice how Paul begins and how he ends. Immediately Paul jumps into a discussion of humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, and love; notice how all of these things are communal activities. You can’t be humble by yourself, you can’t be gentle all alone, and you can’t bear with one another if there isn’t another person to bear with! Paul’s ethical injunctions are all communal! Which makes sense because he is encouraging them to maintain unity in the Spirit. If you drop down the end of Chapter 4 once again you see that Paul is encouraging the Ephesians towards a Spirit-inspired-communal way of life. Being kind to one another, being tenderhearted, and being forgiving, are all things that you can’t do by yourself. You can only do these things in community. Even when he talks about grieving the Holy Spirit (v.30) it is in light of a communal ethics. Corrupting talk, talk which does not build others up in grace, grieves the Holy Spirit.  So this “new life” that he talks about in the middle of chapter 4 is one that is fundamentally about living in community. But notice what Paul doesn’t do, he doesn’t simply give them a list of rules to follow. This is not a new form of the law, rather the Ephesians are to live in unity because they have been “renewed in the spirit of their minds.” A life of unity is not merely an external change, its is a change from the inside out. But even beyond the change that occurs within us, Paul grounds this new way of life in the nature of God.

Notice how Paul ends his injunction to put on the new self by reminding them that they were “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In order to grasp what it means to be created after the likeness of God we need to know what God is like. Paul tells us what God is like in Ephesians 4:4-5. He says that there is one body (a united Church), one faith, and one baptism; but all these things are grounded in the fact that there is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father of all. He grounds his injunction to live as a united community in the oneness of God. In other words:

Christian community ethics is grounded in monotheism. When the church lacks unity it calls into the question the proclamation of the oneness of God.

But we must remember that God’s oneness is Trinitarian. As the creeds tell us, God is three persons but one nature. The relationships between the three persons of the one Godhead provide us with a picture of the oneness of the community of believers we call the Church. This is because the Trinity is a community of love. The Father has an eternal and perfect love for the son the Son and the Son has an eternal and perfect love for the Father, and the Holy Spirit shares in the eternal and perfect love between the Father and the Son. Love and oneness are that the core of the life of God. The Church reflects the Trinitarian life of God. Sort of like the Trinity is three persons but one nature, the Church is composed of diverse elements (prophets, apostles, teachers, pastors, etc.) but it is fundamentally one. (A quick side note: how exactly we move from the nature of the Trinity to how the Church should live/be structured is a huge debate. Many books have been written about making the move from Trinitarian Theology to Ecclesiology.) So:

As the church lives in unity it serves as a witness to the Trinitarian God who is one.

Here are some questions to think about as you discuss the passage with one another this week:

  1. What sorts of things threaten unity in your Church community?
  2. How can we maintain and guard this unity we have with other believers?
  3. How can we help grow the unity we have with other believers (both locally and globally)?