Saturday, January 14, 2012

Notes on Stanley Grenz's Christology

I'm now reading Stanley Grenz's Theology for the Community of God for an online class. Here are some thoughts about his Christology so far:

Grenz’s Christology is based on the idea of Jesus as both revelation of God and revelation of true humanity. The strength of Grenz’s view is how he derives such ideas from Scripture and then uses them both to demonstrate Jesus’ divinity and humanity, and to show how Jesus’ humanity reveals to us how we are to live loving each other as a community. Unfortunately, there is not much more to his view and very little in the way of explanation, despite claims otherwise. The key problem is that Grenz continually confuses demonstration of Christological truths with explanation of them. Over and over, when he goes to explain something all he does instead is offer evidence for it, which is not in any way the same thing. In particular, he uses a “from below” method, focusing on Jesus’ earthly life, to demonstrate Christological truths but then confuses this with having explained them.

The key problem is found in his attempt to explain how Christ is both God and human (303-305). He says, looking at Christ’s human life, that Christ reveals both God and true humanity. The most full representation or revelation of a thing, of course, is something which is identical to it. Hence, it follows that Christ is both God and true human. But this does not explain how he is both God and true human. Being fully God or fully human is what makes it the case that he reveals God or true humanity, not vice versa. So that Jesus is both God and man follows from his revealing God and humanity but it is the former that explains the latter. Hence revealing both cannot explain being both since the dependence is the other way around. Grenz has confused demonstration (that Christ is God and man) with explanation (how Christ is God and man).

His attempted explanation of the Incarnation, for instance, does little more than simply say again that the man Jesus reveals God and true humanity and hence Jesus is both divine and human, another instance of confusing demonstration with explanation. If Jesus is God, though, then he is eternal and the question remains how then to explain an eternal God becoming human, something which a view of the Incarnation ought to do. Grenz (308-311), however, simply sidesteps the issue by offering misgivings of standard views (which really affect popular expositions of such views or ways people have taken them rather than the views themselves) but without offering any actual alternative.

Grenz’s problems lead to a problematic take on pre-existence, where Grenz claims that Jesus “belongs to” God’s eternity but does not really explain this and instead changes the subject – he shifts from ascribing the revelation of God to Jesus to ascribing it to his 30-something-year-long earthly life. He then speaks as if this series of events was eternal, which it literally speaking is not. He then proceeds to use pre-existence as a metaphor for the significance of Jesus’ life in history, which is a distinct issue, even if literal pre-existence is what makes this significance possible. Grenz, ultimately, seems to tie Jesus so closely to his earthly life that he does not seem to address in any satisfactory way a divine life logically prior to it and existing in eternity. This seems to be due mostly to his confusion between a “from below” method of demonstration with an actual explanation, which may require taking the results of that method and going further to explain them. Unfortunately, he does not do this, either in his take on pre-existence or in the other Christological issues I already discussed.

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