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STANLEY GRENZ’S THEOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY – A CRITIQUE (PT. 4)

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.

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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.

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.

My Paper on EFS is Now up on the Evangelical Philosophical Society Website

An Examination of Recent Philosophical Responses to Thomas McCall’s Argument Against Eternal Functional Subordination

by Christopher G. Woznicki

Since Thomas McCall first published Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphysics of the Trinity in 2010 numerous papers have been written responding to his philosophical arguments against eternal functional subordination.

Among recent philosophical responses to McCall’s position a paper co-written by Philip Gons and Andrew Naselli and another by Bruce Ware stand out as the most significant. Gons and Naselli argue that McCall’s argument conflates the term “essentially” with “belonging to the essence.” Ware puts forth a reductio ad absurdum argument against McCall and shows McCall’s logic entails a denial of homoousios.

This paper enters into this debate by examining Gons and Naselli’s argument. It engages with recent philosophical literature dealing with the meaning of the term “essence” in order to show that their argument against McCall is unfounded.

The paper then turns to Ware’s argument to show that he has made a category mistake in comparing the property of being eternally begotten and the property of being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds. Having critically examined these recent philosophical responses to McCall we see that McCall’s argument still holds up against its objectors.

The full-text of this paper is available for FREE by clicking here.

The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World

Theology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been marked by t51utithkxzlwo trends. The first is a revival of Trinitarian theology. This trend has attempted to place the Trinity at the center of theology and church life. The second is a turn towards the majority world. It has been well documented that in the 20th century the church experienced explosive growth in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, whereas the “Western church” has dwindled. From this growth in the majority world church we are beginning to witness a shift in how theology on the global stage is being done. In The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, editors Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo bring these two trends together to produce a volume that “brings the global church to theological dialogue regarding kaleidoscopic understandings of the Trinity” (p. 2).

You can read the rest of my review in the latest issue of Themelios (41.2).

Analytic Definitions of EFS

In light of the whole EFS debate raging on twitter right now – I thought I might add to the discussion some analytic definitions of EFS. Afterall, part of the appeal of analytic theology is the clarity and nuance it brings to what often seem to be muddled theological discussions. So lets put Eternal Functional Equality and Eternal Functional Subordination under the analytic chopping block!

Definitions

We begin with definitions and distinctions between the two basic positions involved in this debate: 1) Eternal Functional Equality (hereafter EFE) and Eternal Functional Subordination (hereafter EFS). The distinction between these two positions can best be thought of in terms of three different questions concerning 1) nature, 2) duration, 3) application (Gons and Naselli, 2015) Once these questions are answered one clearly sees the distinctions between the two basic positions.

Eternal Functional Equality

One definition of EFE holds that “the Father and Son are completely equal in all contingent ways: all subordination is voluntary, arbitrary, and temporary.” (Gons and Naselli, 2015) However this definition contains elements which not all EFE proponents would hold. For instance, consider the part of the definition about the subordination being arbitrary. This implies that any person of the Trinity could hypothetically be subordinate in temporary ways. As an example consider the incarnation. The incarnation in both EFE and EFS would count as temporal subordination. Including “arbitrary” in the definition of EFE would imply that proponents of EFE would hold that the Father could have hypothetically been incarnate instead of the Son and therefore be temporarily subordinate. This is simply not a view that all proponents of EFE would hold to. Some proponents of EFE might want to say that temporal subordination is not arbitrary. For instance, some proponents of EFE might believe no other persons of the Trinity besides the Son and the Spirit could have be temporally subordinate. Thus we might want to get rid of the part about subordination being arbitrary. Now consider the part about subordination being voluntary. It is not clear what it would mean for one of the persons of the immanent trinity to voluntarily become subordinate. Its is not clear what this would mean because when speaking of the Trinity we speak of the Trinity having one will.  Although it is understandable that Gons and Naselli would include “voluntary” as a part of their definition, as to avoid a view that would imply that the Son (or any other person of the Trinity) would be forced into temporal subordination, it is unnecessary to their definition. We might also want to get rid of the part of the definition that includes the part about subordination being temporal. We can get rid of this because this is already implied in the part of the definition about being equal in all non-contingent ways. Even though we have removed many parts of Gons and Naselli’s definition, it is nonetheless a good starting point for defining EFE. The revised definition of EFE ends up something like this:

  • EFE: The Father and the Son are completely equal in all non-contingent ways: all subordination is economic.

Eternal Functional Subordination

[Note: Bruce Ware, one of the leading proponents of EFS prefers to call it “eternal relational authority submission” as this supposedly avoids the negative connotations that come with the word “subordination.” However for the sake of using language common to most theologians involved in this discussion I will continue to use the term EFS.]

Bruce Ware describes his position by saying “Faithfulness to Scripture requires affirming both the full equality,” up until this point all orthodox Christians would be in agreement. However, he goes on to add “and the eternal authority submission. Equality and distinction must be upheld for Trinitarianism to be true.” All orthodox Christians would agree with the final sentence, yet not all orthodox Christians would agree that the distinction comes through “eternal authority submission.” However we must keep in mind that this is just a preliminary description of this position, Ware gives more clarity regarding his definition of EFS:

This view holds that God reveals himself in Scripture as one God in three persons, such that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fully equal in their deity as each possesses fully and eternally the one and undivided nature; yet the Father is revealed as having the highest authority among the Trinitarian persons, such that the Son, as agent of the Father, eternally implements the will of the Father and is under the Father’s authority (Ware, 2015)

There are several important parts in this definition: 1) equality in deity, 2) the Father being revealed as the highest authority, 3) the Son existing as an agent under authority, and 4) the Son eternally being under authority implementing the Father’s will. One possible way to make sense of these claims is to say that

2) Soft EFS: In this possible world it is everlastingly true that at times t-tn the son is incarnate and thus functionally and temporally subordinate. (McCall, 2010)

McCall calls this position “Soft EFS.” Under this position the Son is subordinate to the Father during the time of his incarnation and redemptive work, and this is true at all times. McCall notes that this is something that even proponents of EFE would not necessarily object to. He makes this claim by appealing to modal logic. He says that “the proposition the incarnate Son is functionally subordinate at times t–tn, if continently true, is always contingently true.” If it was true at t1 it would be true that it was true at t1 now and forever more. This is clearly not what Ware means, so this simply cannot be what EFS amounts to. We may want to give a thicker account of what EFS amounts to. Using McCall’s language Gons and Naselli give us a definition of a “hard” version of EFS. Thus defining “Hard EFS” as:

3) The Son is eternally and necessarily subordinate to the Father, not in terms of deity, but in his role in relationship to the Father. (Gons and Naselli, 2015)

This is helpful but it still leaves too many ambiguities as to what this position really entails. What do we mean by “eternally?” After all we saw in McCall’s definition that “eternally” might imply different sort of things. What do we mean by “necessarily?” What sort of necessity is McCall talking about? Is this de res or de dicto necessity? Given these ambiguities McCall’s definition is much more helpful:

4) Hard EFS: The Son is functionally subordinate to the Father in all time segments in all possible worlds; there are no time segments in any possible world in which the Son is not subordinate to the Father. (McCall, 2010)

One possible problem with this definition is that it implies that God is temporal. Nevertheless “time” language helps us clarify the fact that we are making a distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity. Nevertheless it is clearer than Gons and Naselli’s definition. It is clearer in that it allows us to answer our three questions. In regards to question one, we answer that it is necessary, i.e. it is true in all possible worlds. In regards to question two, it is eternal in the sense that it is not only for a segment of time. Regarding question three, it is purely economic. Now that we have our two definitions (propositions 1 and 4) hopefully discussions about what we mean by EFE and EFS won’t be as muddled.

 

Does God Pray? – Katherine Sonderegger

Last week Katherine Sonderegger came in to deliver a paper to the Analytic Theology Seminary. She put forth the provocative question: Does God Pray? Here are my notes from her talk.

Introduction

  • Does God pray?
    • Answer to this question (exploration of God in prayer) has potential to answer a lot of Trinitarian and Christological questions.
  • Can the Triune God pray?
    • Instinct – We pray, God does not.

The Traditional Account

  • Prayer (tradition says) is a form of lack
    • Human creatures need to pray, their prayer is need.
    • This would make it seem as though God could not pray, b/c God does not lack whatsoever
    • (In one sense prayer can never be answered, our lack – b/c of creaturelyness – will always be)
  • Prayer seeks the unseen (think of it as simply asking)
    • Distinctive part of prayer: seeking out of the unseen
      • What distinguishes prayer from other forms of asking is who it is directed to, prayer stands alone
      • Human act of asking is analogous to prayer
    • Prayer is relation to God, the unseen stands in the realm of eternity, God is the goal of creation
      • To have relation with such reality is to have the formal relation to prayer
    • God’s realation to the creature in prayer is “idea/notional,” ours to God is “real.”
  • It seems we must affirm that prayer belongs to creatures, the Tradition has seemed to define it in such a way that places it in the domain of humanity
    • Places prayer in to the creator/creature distinction
    • Prayer simply marks out that distinct line b/w Creator & Creature

The “Alternative” Account

  • Could it be said that the one almighty God could pray? We are brought to this question through Scripture.
  • Is divine prayer an instance of “accommodation” i.e. of humanizing God, for our sake?
    • The bible does not simply refer, the word of blessing which is just God himself lies within this book.
    • Holy Scripture will convey and contain a teaching about God in human words and for human ears.
  • Romans 8
    • Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words, Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God
    • This is the Spirit who prays with us and for us
    • Language – emphasizes mystery.
    • The characteristic description of the creaturely act here is ascribed to the Holy Spirit
    • Its eschatological
  • What shall we make of this for the doctrine of prayer and for the doctrine of the Trinity?
  • In Romans 8 – Paul has given us a glimpse of the economy
    • This entire section of the letter concerns those who are in Christ Jesus
    • Non condemnation rests on the Father giving the Son for us
    • Christ gives himself for
    • Its anchored in the divine sending and being sent to rescue and redeem
    • This just seems to be the pattern of the divine economy
    • Through Romans 8 – are verb forms which mirror this economy
  • This illuminates how the sending of the Son and Spirit can be a new event in the life of God.
    • Thomas – we should not speak of processions and missions, rather they have eternal and temporal end.
    • According to Scriptural witness something has taken place in the life of God toward us
    • Seems to imply that God experiences something “new” which is only possible with us – God hands himself over to us, undergoes this new even with us.
      • Apart from creation God could not have these events for his very own
    • The temporal missions are the birth of the new for God himself
    • But the Tradition firmly asserts that God is eternal, perfect, complete, does not lack, become, does not undergo something new
  • Consider Jesus at prayer (alongside passages of Spirit praying)
    • Quite striking is Jesus steady rhythm of being at prayer both privately and publically
  • In Scripture – Spirit and Son are wrapped up in seemingly same characteristics of creaturely prayer
  • How does this shed light on the inner life of the Trinity?
  • Might we suggest that the divine processions are prayer?
    • Father “utters the word”
    • Father “breathes, spirates, expresses”
    • This reflects prayer