Rediscovering The Triune God: The Trinity In Contemporary Theology Paperback – 24 Nov 2005
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About the Author
Stanley J. Grenz was Pioneer McDonald Professor of Theology at Carey Theological College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Professor of Theological Studies at Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle, Washington, prior to his death in 2004. He authored a number of books, including "What Christians Really Believe & Why"; and "Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective".
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Grenze begins his book by outlining briefly some of the evolution of the trinitarian doctrine. He notes four essential reasons why the doctrine fell out of favor: 1.) It was often an unneeded appendage to theological dogmatics 2.) A popularization of piety among Christian circles led many, inlcuding notables like Melancthon, to doubt the need of complex (though creative) explanations of the Trinity inherited from the Scholastics. 3.) Through a strict and malformed emphasis on the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, strict biblicism like that of Faustus Socinus led many to question whether the Trinity really was a biblical doctrine, or if it was merely the positing of church tradition. And 4.)Excessive focus on logical formulations (much of which came from Aristotelian and Platonic philosophy) led to conceptual problems that divorced reason from revelation. Reason, for example, could "prove" the one-ness of God as the "unifying unifier" of the world, but could not thereby come to the conclusion of a triadic personage within God, which was a pure deposit of revelation.
Regarding the resurgence of Trinitarianism, Grenz begins briefly with Hegel's concept of Geist, but then quickly moves on to Karl Barth and Karl Rahner, whom Grenz considers the true founders of modern trinitarian thought. The book then moves to the post-Karls who focused on identifying the trinity with its historical manifestations in revelation, namely Jurgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and Robert Jenson. These thinkers primarily wnated to move away from abstract speculation that takes little to no account of the divine economy to speculate on God-in-Himself (e.g. Augustine's much maligned psychological analogies).
After these three, who provided a pathway to the concept of reciprocal relationality and mutuality within the divine life, comes three thinkers who brought this emphasis even further, namely Leonardo Boff, John Zizioulas, and Catherine Mowry LaCugna. The final chapter of the book then goes over those who fear that modern thought has identified God too closely to the world-process and so lost the Divine transcendence. These theologians Grenz typifies as those who long to get back to the "immanent" trinity, inlcuding the feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, the prolific catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthazar, and finally Thomas F. Torrence, who was a major pioneer in linking theology and science.
Overall this book is very helpful as an outline, setting aside 15-20 pages to summarize each theologian and there proposals, along with praises and criticisms of their contemporaries.
As far as criticism of this book, I found that some of the summaries were not as helpful as the others. For example von Balthazar, though perhaps garnering one of the larger page amounts alloted in the space of this book, I felt was hardly explained. Each time I read this book I felt that ther was a wealth of complexity in Balthazar's thought that Grenz simply wasn't touching upon. This of course is no doubt due to the sheer volume of Balthazar's contributions to theology (85 books and over 500 essays) nonetheless, not being familiar with Balthazar I felt that many aspects of his program were left unexplained or vague, and often I was left wondering just what Balthazar was getting at (I guess I have to go read his books).
Other problems I had with the book are little, but need mentioning. For one, I hate endnotes. I hate them. I don't like having to turn to the back of the book for references, and I really hate when Grenz explains soemthing further in the footnote, which I would have missed had I not flipped back. This is a small complaint to be sure, but I would have much preferred footnotes. On a more material concern, I felt that despite the erudition of Grenz's explanations of the thinkers, the sections were often very short for the material they were covering. Being already familiar with a number of the theologians covered, I felt another 5-10 pages (at least!) were often needed to pick up on some of the nuances that Grenz simply leaves out, no doubt due to space considerations. So despite the epic nature of the spectrum of thought covered here, I felt that the book was perhaps under-ambitious in its actual execution. Furthermore along this road of thought, despite hitting all the big names, I felt that a small chapter on "lesser" theologians (I mean no disrespect by that title, merely pointing out that there influence has not been as broad as those inlcuded in the book) could have been including on many such as Colin Gunton or Eberhard Jungel, and maybe a survey of other contemporary Trinitarian theologians and a small elucidation of their thought (e.g. Kevin Vanhoozer, or Ted Peters, or David Cunningham). In many ways I felt that this was a smaller rehashing of Grenz's survey of 20th Century theology with Roger Olsen that merely cut-and-pasted and then reworded the sections that spoke of the trinity. This is unfair, as this book is informative and not just a rehash. Yet despite the broad landscape it covers, I was left wanting more.
Overall though, I recommend this book, especially to those who (like I often am) are intimidated by the sheer volume and polyphony of theological thought out there, especially regarding the Trinity. As a survey this book is highly recommended. As for serious theological discussion or seminary-doctorate level work, however, this book is, at best, a supplementary resource.
Grenz's methodology is to outline a thinker's proposal and then briefly discuss some of the critics of that view. Because of this, one never hears Grenz's opinions about the topic. No doubt this is due to the fact that his opinions are the focus of "The Social God and the Relational Self." While this work gives a good description of the evolution of Trinitarian thinking, it does little to sort out the various accounts. The reason I gave it only 4 stars is that I felt I had to read "Social God" to get the rest of the story.
After storing the Trinity in his introduction, his first chapter highlights the influence of Schleiermacher and Hegel and the "Eclipse of Trinitarian Theology." From there he moves to the twentieth century looking at Barth & Rahner and all who follow in their wake (you can see the outline for all the details).
Both teachers and students of theology will benefit from interacting with Grenz as he thoughtfully highlights the some unique contributions of these global Trinitarian thought leaders. Grenz is not dispassionate but is bent on breathing life into this doctrine which he does while simultaneously remaining faithful to the genre of comparative theology.
I highly recommend this text.