An Evangelical Theology for a Postmodern Age

An Evangelical Theology for a Postmodern Age

An Evangelical Theology for a Postmodern Age:
Stanley J. Grenz’s Current Theological Project

Mark S. Medley

At the conclusion of the 1995 Wheaton Theology Conference at Wheaton College, George Lindbeck remarked that the future of the postliberal project as an enterprise of the church would most likely be carried on by evangelicals more than anyone else.  The effort to provide a theological framework in which the kind of ecclesiologically focused, evangelically tuned, communally directed research program envisioned by Lindbeck might flourish can be said to constitute the current theological project of Stanley J. Grenz. 

       In this paper I will describe and evaluate the contours of Grenz’s  postfoundational evangelical theology.  To do so requires that I give specific attention to (1) Grenz’s post-conservative, postfoundationalist theological method, (2) his vision of theology as trinitarian, communal and eschatological in character, and (3) how his methodological proposal finds expression in The Social God and the Relational Self.1  However, the first task is to place Grenz’s current project in the context of two of his earlier works, Revisioning Evangelical Theology and A Primer on Postmodernism.2

 The Context for Grenz’s Current Theological Project

In Revisioning Evangelical Theology, Grenz calls upon evangelicals to rethink the nature, purpose and task of theology amid the transition to postmodernity.  He proposes a revision of evangelical theological method by concentrating on a balanced integration of the “three pillars” of theology: scripture, the theological heritage of the community, and culture.  Grenz contends that theology, as a second-order practical discipline, must be biblically normed, historically informed and culturally relevant. Moreover, theology is a

*This paper was presented at the American Academy of Religion Meeting, Southeastern Region, March 15, 2003, Chattanooga, TN

critical, reflective ecclesial activity on the faith that serves the ekklesia in each generation and each socio-cultural context by assisting the pilgrim people of God to articulate and embody faith in Jesus Christ.  By the end of the book, Grenz asserts that theology must also be trinitarian in focus since Christian existence finds its grounding in the human participation in the life of the triune God.   

       If Revisioning Evangelical Theology is “thin” on it discussion of postmodernism, A Primer on Postmodernism is a corrective.  While giving attention to postmodernism as a cultural phenomenon, his chief concern is to provide an understanding of the intellectual orientation of postmoderism.3  A brief, programmatic concluding chapter elicits three important points for a Christian response to the emerging postmodern context.  First, Christians should welcome the demise of foundationalism and the postmodern critique of Enlightenment epistemology, especially the efforts to rethink the nature of rationality.  A chastened rationality is advent in the loss of the metanarrative.  Second, Christians must reject the rejection of the metanarrative, for the gospel is a particular narrative that has universal significance as the unifying center to reality.  Third, Christians must embody a gospel that is more communitarian and less individualistic, more integrating and less rationalistic, more holistic and less dualistic, and more concerned with the relevance of faith for every dimension of life than simply understanding faith as assent to orthodox propositions.  In many respects, these three points are developed in a more constructive manner in Beyond Foundationalism.

A Post-Conservative 4, Postfoundationalist Theological Method

In Beyond Foundationalism, Grenz and co-author John R. Franke propose a post-conservative, postfoundationalist theological method.5  Since chapter seven of Grenz’s Renewing the Center6 is a synopsis of the book-length treatment of theological method proposed in Beyond Foundationalism, I will concentrate on the latter book. 

       Beyond Foundationalism rests on the premise that the central tenets of the modern project, especially its philosophical and epistemological foundationalism, have been significantly criticized, if not rejected outright.  Grenz and Franke do not lament this situation, for they see the demise of foundationalism as an opportunity.  While stiff-arming a skeptical, pessimistic postmodernism that understands the contemporary ethos as one of fragmentation, disintegration, despair and meaninglessness, they attempt to appropriate critically postmodern sensitivities in order to “facilitate the development of an evangelical apologetic theology for the sake of the church’s gospel mission in the contemporary context.”7

      Part 1 of the book begins by describing how both conservative and liberal theological programs in America have accommodated to modernity.  Furthermore, they explain contemporary philosophical moves toward postfoundationalism, and the implications of such moves for theology.  Grenz and Franke then turn to George Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic model of doctrine and Wolfhart Pannenberg’s eschatological realism.  Over against typical evangelical criticisms of Lindbeck’s model of doctrine, Grenz and Franke argue that what Lindbeck is saying is not that there is no correspondence of Christian claims to a reality external to text or language.  Rather, it is the biblical narrative and the practices of the Christian community that enable us to know what those claims are.  And, to know those claims involves a way of life, a pattern of living. 

       To address the question how a postfoundationalist theological method can lead to statements about a world beyond human formulations Grenz and Franke turn to Wolfhart Pannenberg.8  In particular, they appeal to Pannenberg’s insight that because God is the ground of truth all truth eschatologically comes together in God.9  They appeal to this insight in order to argue that the real to which theology points is the future eschatological world determined by God.  Grenz and Franke draw upon Pannenberg’s eschatological realism to affirm the objectivity of the world as the future reality that God intends.10

      They also listen to the insights of the critical realist epistemology articulated by such Reformed philosophers as Nicholas Wolterstorff and Jay Wood.  While this epistemology suggests “beliefs presuppose the human possibility of some critical purchase on truth,” it also affirms that all human beliefs are “culturally situated and inseparable from the language, conceptuality, and history of a community and reflect communal experience and desires.”11  The implication of this epistemology for theology, and a chief reason Grenz and Franke appeal to it, is that theological reflection and construction is understood as an ecclesially based discourse practice.

      In Part 2 Grenz and Franke develop the notion of theology as an ongoing, constructive, communal, second-order conversation about the Christian belief-mosaic that occurs as a perichoretic dance between three partners: (1) Scripture, as the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit; (2) tradition, which is an historically extended, socially embedded argument through which Christians hear the Spirit’s voice in the biblical narrative; and (3) culture, which forms the embedding context for constructive theology.  They seek to demonstrate the organic unity of scripture, tradition and culture while affirming scripture as norma normans non normata.

       The primary partner in the theological dance is Scripture.  Grenz and Franke take their cue from the “Protestant principle of authority” as summarized by evangelical theologian Bernard Ramm: “The proper principle of authority within the Christian church must be  . . .  the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, which are the product of the Spirit’s revelatory and inspiring action.”12  In their concern to bring Word and Spirit together in a dynamic relationship, Grenz and Franke draw upon the insights of contemporary speech-act theory to suggest how this principle can be understood in a postmodern context. Important to their argument is the affirmation that the Bible is the instrumentality of the Spirit in that the Spirit appropriates the biblical text so as to address Christians in their particular, historical context.  Through Scripture the Spirit performs the illocutionary act of addressing Christians in manifold ways. This affirmation leads to the question of the goal of the Spirit’s speaking, or what is the perlocutionary act performed by the Spirit?   Grenz and Franke declare that the Spirit creates “world.”  By this they mean that the Spirit’s world-constructing act creates a new community of reconciled persons who interpret reality through the interpretative framework the paradigmatic narrative of the Bible discloses.  Thus the goal of theologically reading the Bible is to hear the Spirit’s voice so as to be formed into the eschatological community intended by God.  Consequently, reading the biblical text is a communal event.  Grenz and Franke contend that theology is not the attempt to codify the “meaning of the text” in a series of ordered propositions.  Rather, theology serves the hermeneutical process by assisting the community in hearing the Spirit’s voice through scripture, so that the community can live as God’s people in the present.

       By acknowledging tradition as the second partner in the methodological dance, Grenz and Franke challenge evangelicalism’s impatience with the category of tradition.  They argue that a positive and receptive attitude to the Christian tradition is important, indeed necessary, to be faithful to the task of theological construction.  Regarding tradition, Grenz and Franke make three important affirmations.  First of all, in a very helpful move, they suggest the category of tradition must be broadened out beyond the words in creeds, confessions and liturgy to embrace all the ways in which Christians are called to “perform” the gospel in lives lived Christianly.  Secondly, their understanding of tradition as a hermeneutical trajectory enables them to argue that the adequacy or inadequacy of any theological statement is a function of its historical, socio-cultural, and ecclesial particularity. And thirdly, they affirm the eschatological openness of tradition.  The importance of this point, when taken together with their understanding of tradition as a hermeneutical trajectory, is to acknowledge the significance of tradition without elevating it to a position of final authority.

       The final partner of this perichoretic dance of theological method is culture.  Over against an approach a la Niebuhr or Tillich that calls for the correlation of gospel and culture, Grenz and Franke propose an interactive process where both gospel and culture are already given, interactive dynamic realities that inform and are informed by each other.13  They argue that whereas the principle authority for theology is the Spirit speaking through scripture to the church, the Spirit always speaks to the church in the particularity of the social, historical and cultural context in which the listening community finds itself.  While theological reflection is rooted in the paradigmatic stories of the biblical text and is passed on through the various interpretative traditions of the church, theology as a human cultural activity must be constantly reworked in relationship to sociological, historical, political and other intellectual factors of time and place.  Theology is thus shaped by and integrally related to the categories and assumptions of the age in which it is constructed. 

       The postfoundationalist theological method that views theology as an continuous conversation involving a perichoretic dance of Scripture, tradition, and culture leads Grenz and Franke to conclude that theology is “local” and “particular.”  This conclusion raises the question as to what makes any particular local theology “Christian.”  Part Three of Beyond Foundationalism attempts to answer this question by arguing that a local theology can be called “Christian” if it reflects a trinitarian structure, a communitarian focus, and an eschatological orientation.  

       How do Grenz and Franke bring these three motifs together?  Let me begin with “community.”  “Community” is central to their theological thinking because they are convinced that community is at the heart of the biblical narrative and speaks clearly to the contemporary context. More specifically, community is a crucial motif because it arises out of the very essence of God.  At the heart of Christian theology is the doctrine of the Trinity, which declares that God is not only the One who enters into relationship with creation, and hence related to creation in time.  Moreover, God is internally relational within Godself, and hence eternally relational.  Thus, God is Trinity, “three as one.”  Ultimately, the ekklesia looks to the divine life as the transcendent archetype for human life, so that the ekklesia might reflect the very character of the Communion at the heart of all communion.  Finally, Grenz and Franke think that the proper perspective from which to engage in theological reflection and construction is the eschatological viewpoint.  That is to say, the community of faith should seek to answer theological questions from the perspective of the eschatological fullness of God’s program for the universe. 

       Before proceeding to see how Grenz attempts to exemplify this method in his most recent work, let’s pause to address a few critical concerns.  Have they escaped the foundationalism they reject?  The answer, in my estimation, is “yes.”  They recognize that method cannot be neutral and ought not to be thought of as prior to theology per se.  They offer an argument that theology as a second-ordered discipline of critical reflection, takes its ratio from what is said and done in the Spirit-empowered community of faith as it listens to scripture in its own time and place.  They move away from the foundationalist effort to apply the scientific method to the deposit of revelation found in scripture in the quest to compile the one, complete timeless body of doctrine, and call for a never-ending conversation through an interplay of three sources.  Moreover, Grenz and Franke propose a methodological paradigm in theology that treats the enterprise more like a continually woven web than an edifice which stands for all times and places.

       Yet, Peter J. Leithart argues that Renewing the Center and Beyond Foundationalism respectively bear the mark of modern theology and its Cartesian assumptions.14  In particular, Leithart finds problematic Grenz (and Franke’s ) use of the term “belief-mosaic” to describe a postfoundationalist theological project.  A mosaic, like a painting or a sculpture, is an object upon which a person fixes his or her gaze.  Such a metaphor for theology, says Leithart, seems tainted by the residue of the Cartesian foundationalism Grenz (and Franke) wish to leave behind.15  While I understand Leithart’s point, I believe he misses the reason for the term “belief-mosaic” rather than “systematic” or some other modernist term.  Grenz (and Franke) employ the term in an effort to stress the coherency and interconnectedness of theological doctrine; it is a term that attempts to capture the circularity or perichoretic character of the proposed theological methodology.

       The positive use of Pannenberg may also trouble some since the German theologian may appear to be stuck with a strictly modern agenda.  In the same vein, some may question whether Grenz and Franke are too uncritical in using Pannenberg by not responding to assertions that Pannenberg’s theology is foundationalist.  Although specialists may indeed have legitimate concerns about the use of Pannenberg for a theology “beyond foundationalism,” Grenz and Franke succeed in drawing attention to the fact that Pannenberg’s approach to theology cannot be confined to debates about modern theology without distortion, and in highlighting the continual relevance of Pannenberg’s theological project.

       If there is an omission in their proposal for theological method it is the lack of sustained attention to pneumatology.  They are unclear about the role of the Holy Spirit in theological method.  Yes, the Spirit does appear at key points throughout their discussion of theology’s sources, whether that be the centrality of the claims that the Spirit works in creating a world through scripture and is the authority behind both scripture and tradition, or the need for the believing community to listen to the Spirit in its social, historical and cultural context.  Yet, according to Amos Yong, if in fact, as Grenz and Franke maintain, “the Bible is never read in a vacuum, and that it both comes already culturally embedded and is engaged by readers and communities who are similarly culturally located; if in fact gospel and culture are always already interacting rather than two terms which need to be correlated . . .; if in fact the Spirit speaks through Scripture, tradition and culture; then how does the Spirit enable the truthful and critical reading of the Scriptures in such a way so that discernment of the ideological forces which are at work in all cultural constructions can occur?”16  At a practical level, what gives one Christian community the right to say that its reading of the Scriptures is inspired of the Spirit over and against that of other Christian communities with whom they disagree?  In the end, the pneumatological component of their methodology needs development.17

       Another concern emerges from Grenz and Franke’s discussion of tradition and culture that ultimately has a bearing on their understanding of theology.  By using the metaphor of performance with respect to tradition Grenz and Franke seem to suggest that in reflections on theological method we must broaden the category of tradition to include more than words and ideas handed down from one group or generation to the next.  In other words, they emphasize that we must understand tradition as tradita and traditio.  Despite this seemingly positive move, in the end, they give primacy to tradita.  To say that Christian theology is a part of a particular ecclesial culture is to say that theology is a cultural production shaped by concrete practices.  Yet, they do not sufficiently emphasize that what is handed down is a vital set of practices (traditio) that must be constantly revised for a particular historical-cultural context.18  Christianity consists primarily of the practices of the believing community and cannot be properly understood without reference to a distinctive cluster of practices (witness, worship, works of mercy, discipleship).  In the end, they had given greater attention to the discipline of dwelling more attentively and loyally within the first-order language and practice of the church, their conception of theology would have been more in keeping with Lindbeck’s comments of some eight years ago. 

Testing the Method and Vision of a Post-Conservative, Postfoundationalist Theology

In The Social God and the Relational Self, Grenz not only makes an important contribution to current trinitarian theology.  This volume is also an effort to demonstrate the nature, purpose and task of theology outlined in Beyond Foundationalism and Renewing the Center.  Encyclopedic in character, The Social God and the Relational Self is the most substantial treatment of the imago Dei doctrine since David Cairns’s The Image of God in Man published nearly fifty years ago.19

       In this first volume of a projected six-volume theology, Grenz creatively extends trinitarian insights to theological anthropology, developing a biblical, hence, communal understanding of the imago Dei in the wake of the demise of the modern, individualistic, absolutely autonomous self.20  Reflecting his indebtedness to the second-century theologian Ireneaus, Grenz argues that the image of God is not a structural or protological category but ultimately an eschatological concept.  Moreover, the imago Dei is a communal concept.  The focus of the divine image in the New Testament is the community of Christ who together comprise the foretaste of the new humanity in Christ.  The book culminates with Grenz’s proposal of an ontology of persons-in-community in order to construct a notion of the relational self as the ecclesial self.  Arguing that the divine trinitarian life is not only characterized by self-giving love (agape), but also by the love found in mutual affection (storge), in friendship (philia) and in erotic desire (eros), as well as drawing from the deep well of the Orthodox category of theosis, he contends that it is in and as a community “in Christ” by power and presence of the Holy Spirit that believers participate in the life of the triune God, becoming transformed and transfigured in order to reflect in relation to each other and to all creation the relational, communal character of God.

       Does this volume exemplify his methodology?  When it comes to use of sources Grenz listens intently to his intellectual context, theological, philosophical, psychological and anthropological, and he devotes a large portion of the book to theological exegesis of biblical texts, interpreted within the particular hermeneutical trajectory of an eschatological interpretation of the imago Dei.  As a whole, it is questionable whether Grenz succeeds in achieving the intimacy of the perichoretic dance of scripture, tradition and culture as suggested in Beyond Founationalism.  For example, in Part 1, Grenz offers an “archeology” of the self through a survey of the historical and current philosophical, psychological, sociological, anthropological and theological development of human subjectivity.  However, the theological development, for the most part, appears in a single separate chapter, while the philosophical, psychological, sociological, and anthropological development of human selfhood appears in two other chapters with very little dialogue with the theological.  Moreover, in Part 2, Grenz surveys the major interpretations of the imago Dei in the history of Christian tradition, giving priority to the eschatological interpretation.  This interpretative tradition provides the hermeneutical context for Grenz’s exegesis of biblical texts in chapters four thru seven.  He brings scripture and tradition into conversation with each other, yet his third source, culture, rarely appears.

       Where the perichoretic dance of the three sources (as well as three motifs) of theology is most aptly carried out is the book’s final chapter.  On the surface, the reader might misinterpret this final chapter.  It begins with an analysis of the social self of social psychology, and then proceeds to offer a vision of the eschatologically oriented ecclesial self.  From the chapter’s structure it would be easy to suggest that the ecclesial self of Christian theology is the particular exemplar of some more general understanding of the relational self.  Yet, this is not Grenz’s argument.  Grenz presses into service insights of the contemporary intellectual culture and builds upon his earlier emphasis on the often overlooked eschatological understanding of the imago Dei as providing the hermeneutical context for the reading of biblical texts, in order to make a singular theological point: the ecclesial self is the true self.   

       Perhaps surprising is that a multivolume, constructive theology “beyond foundationalism” begins with theological anthropology, a very modernist approach.  In light of the circular character of his postfoundationalist theological method, Grenz offers several reasons to justify his starting point:  (1) to begin with anthropology “provides the most promising context into which the insights of trinitarian theology can be fruitfully extended”; (2) beginning with trinitarian anthropology opens the way for understanding theological construction as “bringing human and divine relationality together in a mutually informing manner”; and (3) engaging the imago Dei in the initial volume can provide greater cohesion to the entire series by demonstrating that the concept is anthropological, theological, ecclesiological and eschatological.21  Although I appreciate his reasoning for starting with theological anthropology, I am not completely convinced these reasons will satisfy. 

        Although there are critical issues related to his use of the language of relationality and other content matters22, a final question remains unanswered: How does the ecclesial self learn “to find identity through participation in the divine dynamic of love ” which is bound up with participation in the believing community?23  Just as Grenz could have appealed to the practices of the community to clarify his understanding of tradition in his theological methodology, so to an appeal to community practices could assist him in constructing an “epistemology of participation” since knowing the triune God is inseparable from participating in a particular community and its practices (a participation which Christians link with the work of the Holy Spirit).

            To more thoroughly conceptualize an understanding of the relationship between knowledge and practice, in the future I hope Grenz will listen to Catholic theologian Susan K. Wood on the participatory knowledge of God in the liturgy.24  Wood argues that our participation in the liturgy gives us access to a participatory kind of knowledge of God.  This knowledge is mediated through the symbol system of liturgy, including the reading of the scriptures, liturgical actions and gestures, sacraments, and prayers.  Participatory knowledge of God within the liturgy is more similar to kinesthetic knowledge than rational knowledge. “It is knowledge gained through action.  It is an incarnate, embodied knowledge. . . . In the liturgy we do not acquire knowledge about God; we acquire knowledge of God.”25  In other words, as Wood argues, participatory knowledge of God is a personal, experiential knowledge “acquired by entering into a relationship.  We cannot know without being known. We cannot know or be known without being transformed. Thus it is not an acquisition of an object, something we call knowledge, but an expansion of relationship, a broadening of horizon, a creation of something within us. When we know God within the liturgy, we know God in relation, in creative and transformative activity.”26  Thus, it is in worship that we know most fully—not in the sense that we grasp the mysteries of which we are stewards, but in the deeper sense that we are constituted differently as a people who abide in truth of God’s own Trinitarian life.27  Following what Michael Polanyi calls “tacit knowledge,” Wood suggests that it is not by looking at things, but by dwelling in them that we understand them. “To indwell the liturgy is to interiorize it.”28  Just as the early monks memorized scripture in order to interiorize them for the purpose of praying unceasingly, the Christian repeatedly participate in the practice of the liturgy so as to imprint the economy of salvation in his or her very being.  To contemplate the power of the practice of liturgy (and own might add any other Christian practice) is not so much to consider how they should affect or influence behavior or what the practices “teach” in a didactic sort of way, but rather how they create an alternative ontology, another way of being.  In light of his emphasis on the ecclesial self and the church as the prolepsis of the image of God, Grenz could benefit, I would contend, from a more fully developed epistemology of liturgical participation that follows the trajectory Wood has plotted.


Although my review and evaluation of Grenz’s current project has largely been internal in character, allow me to return briefly to the remarks of Lindbeck with which I began this paper, and ask: Is Grenz’s current theological project fulfilling in any way Lindbeck’s “prophetic words.”  Yes, Grenz’s current theological project is shaped by certain features of the postliberal research program: the recognition of foundationalism’s demise and a chastened rationality; the call to embrace Christianity’s unique and historical particularity; a classical hermeneutic in which the scriptural world structures the church’s identity; an understanding that scripture is always shaped by a wider cultural context; and the promotion of theological construction that serves the upbuilding of the church.  He is attempting to extend the postliberal research program by using a postfoundationalist paradigm of a “web of beliefs,” or a “belief-mosaic” that has a trinitarian structure, an ecclesial location, and an eschatological orientation.  Grenz’s theological project is just beginning to be spun; we will have to suspend final judgment until all the strands have been stitched together.  In the meantime, we are all in debt to Grenz for offering such a rich, complex and significant proposal.  I hope that scholars looking for a guide as to how to do (evangelical) theology in a postmodern context will take note and engage this serious theological project.  Those who do take up Grenz’s creative, constructive proposal will be rewarded.

End Notes

             1 Stanley J. Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self:  A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei, The Matrix of Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001).

            2 Stanley J. Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology:  A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century (Downers Grove, Ill:  InterVarsity Press, 1993); idem, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1996).

            3 Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, xi.

            4 The term “postconversative,” on the one hand, refers to a theology that does not conceive revelation or truth in a narrowly propositionalist fashion.  “Postconversative” theology rejects the notion that propositions conveyed by language are thought to be pictures of states of affairs.  It follow the Wittgenstinian analysis of words to argue that truth claims have to be assessed not as abstractly isolated propositions, but as members of the larger narrative sets—stories, language games, etc.—within which they find themselves.  On the other hand, “postconversative” refers to a theology that maintains there is something in the biblical text that is both indispensable and authoritative.

            5 Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000). This section on Grenz’s theological method draws heavily from my review of Beyond Foundationalism in the International Journal of Systematic Theology 4/1 (March 2002), 83-90. I would like to thank the editors of the International Journal of Systematic Theology for permission to use portions of my review in this essay.  For essays that summarize the methodological proposals in Beyond Foundationalism, see the following: Stanley J. Grenz, “Conversing in Christian Style:  Toward a Baptist Theology Method for the Postmodern Context,” Baptist History and Heritage (Winter 2000), 82-103; idem, “Articulating the Christian Belief-Mosaic: Theological Method after the Demise of Foundationalism,” in  Evangelical Futures:  A Conversation on Theological Method, ed. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 2000), 107-136.

            6 Stanley J. Grenz, Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-Theological Era (Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 2000).

            7 Grenz, Renewing the Center, 19.

            8 Readers familiar with the Grenz’s theological background and the corpus of theological writing should not be surprised to find a constructive appropriation of Pannenberg. Grenz earned his doctorate in theology at the University of Munich under the supervision of Pannenberg. He also published a book-length synopsis of Pannenberg’s magnum opus, Systematic Theology (3 volumes).  Cf.  Stanley J. Grenz, Reason For Hope:  The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1990).

            9 Grenz and Franke appeal to Pannenberg’s eschatological realism, in part, to affirm knowledge is itself dynamic and partial.  The world is not static but becoming.  Things are incomplete in this sense.  Yet, following Pannenberg, Grenz and Franke argue that the divine shapes and guides the multiple trajectories of becoming. More specifically, theological knowledge is always in via, since God is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20b). It is eschatological in that it increases as inquiry progresses through history and across time toward the eschaton.

            10 Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 245-248.  The emphasis on eschatological realism is a promising approach to the dilemma postfoundationalism poses for those who are reluctant to give up metaphysical realism.  As Grenz and Franke acknowledge in a footnoted reference (52) to an essay by Jeff Hensley, the postliberal research program is not necessarily committed to giving up more traditional understandings of realism. Cf. Jeff Hensley, “Are Postliberals Necessarily Antirealists?  Reexamining the Metaphysics of Lindbeck’s Postliberal Theology,” in The Nature of Confession:  Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation, eds. Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm (Downer Groves:  InterVarsity Press, 1996), 69-80.

            11 My brief articulation of critical realist epistemology is significantly informed by Amy Plantinga Pauw’s concise summary.  Cf.  Amy Plantinga Pauw, “Attending to the Gaps between Beliefs and Practices,” in Practicing Theology:  Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life, eds. Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2002), 35-36.

            12 Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism, 64.

            13 Ibid., 158.

            14 Peter J. Leithart, “Review Essay:  Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith, John G. Stackhouse, Jr., ed., Evangelical Futures, Stanley J. Grenz, Renewing the Center, and Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism,”  Pro Ecclesia  11/3 (Summer 2002), 360.

            15 Ibid., 361.

            16 Amos Yong, Spirit-Word-Community:  Theological Hermeneutics in Trinitarian Perspective, Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology & Biblical Studies series (Burlington, VT:  Ashgate Publishing Co, 2002), 11.

            17 Grenz begins to sketch a pneumatology in the final chapter of The Social God and the Relational Self.  What emerges is an understanding of the Holy Spirit as the animating power of the economy of redemption, making God’s will and work known and realized in Jesus the Christ in each believer; as the one who brings about the true communion between God and creature; as the “deifier” of human beings; as the author of ecclesial solidarity in Christ; as the one who “constitutes the church ontologically to be the prolepsis of the imago Dei and hence the sign not only of God’s way of being in creation but of the dynamic, eternal triune God”; and as the one who “constitutes continually the ‘self’ of those who are in Christ.”

            18 My use of the term practices is influenced by the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Terrence Tilley.

            19 David Cairns, The Image of God in Man (London:  SCM Press, 1953).

            20 Grenz does not offer a complete anthropology in this volume since he does not proffer a sustained discussion of sin.

            21 Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, xi.

            22 One issue that emerges by the end of Grenz’s argument is the problem of the language of “relationality.” He consistently uses relational language to speak of the triune God and the imago Dei, and he uses the terms “relationality” and “participation” interchangeably. I would contend that there is a distinction between relational language and the language of participation that Grenz would do well to consider.  I am concerned, as is Anglican theologian David Cunningham, that the current relational consensus in Trinitarian theology requires more careful reflection on the conceptual link between “person” and “relationship,” and especially on what it means to “participate” in the divine communion. In particular, the residue of an Enlightenment understanding of selfhood plagues the language of relation within current Trinitarian theology.  A sustained engagement with Cunningham would have helped Grenz nuance his own understanding of “relationality” and “participation.” (Cf.  David Cunningham, These Three Are One: The Practices of Trinitarian Theology, Challenges in Contemporary Theology Series (Oxford:  Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 165-196; idem, “Participation as a Trinitarian Virtue:  Challenging the Current ‘Relational’ Consensus,” Toronto Journal of Theology 14/1 (1998), 7-10.).

           Several other critical issues emerge in light of his starting point.  First of all, Grenz lays out in summary style in chapter one recent trinitarian concerns regarding relational personhood.  His constructive argument for an eschatologically-oriented, trinitarian-formed ecclesial self  needs to be buttressed by a sustained conversation regarding a trinitarian ontology of personhood. Hopefully, such a sustained conversation will take place in his theology (proper) volume.  Second, to use the Orthodox concept of theosis is to link theology (proper) and anthropology to soteriology.  Grenz has not given an argument for connecting theology and soteriology.  We will have to wait for such a proposal in the most likely place, theology (proper).  Finally, when Grenz theologically exegetes New Testament texts in chapters five and six he largely interacts with Pauline texts.  With the exception of briefly outlining glory-Christology in Luke and John, the Gospel narratives are ignored.  Others may find this odd for Grenz says that 2 Cor. 4:4-6 and Col. 1:15-20, together with Gen. 1:26-28, “can be rightly understood only when viewed in the light of the Jesus narrative—that is, the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth. (Grenz , The Social God and the Relational Self, 332).  Perhaps he will connect his trinitarian anthropology to the narrative of Jesus in his christology volume.

            23 Grenz, The Social God and the Relational Self, 332.

            24 See Susan K Wood, “The Liturgy:  Participatory Knowledge of God in the Liturgy,”  in Knowing the Triune God:  The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church, eds. James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans Publishing, 2001), 95-118.

            25 Wood, “The Liturgy,” 96.

            26 Ibid.

            27 Cf. Debra Dean Murphy, “Worship as Catechesis:  Knowledge, Desire, and Christian Formation,” Theology Today 58/3 (2001), 323

            28 Wood, “The Liturgy,” 109.