About This Blog

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Created for Community, 3rd Edition" (Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith)

TITLE: By Stanley J. Grenz Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living (3rd Third Edition) [Paperback]
AUTHOR: Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (308 pages).

The word 'Theology' sometimes does not get a fair hearing. In some circles, just mentioning the words "theology," "Bible school," or "theological studies" would lead to sarcasm and skeptical remarks about theology being too intellectual and impractical for daily living. I have heard of opponents who drop names of various famous people who never attended Bible school. Names like AW Tozer who had such great influence but never had formal theological training, sometimes pop up that downplays the need for theological education. Of course, the face of theological education has been represented (or misrepresented) by theological publications that seem so intellectually challenging or difficult to understand. Some professors who speak at churches fail to speak at the level of the congregation. Books have also come from the direction of an ivory tower to the common man in the street. No wonder people tend to have a mistaken idea of theology and theological education. In this book, the late systematic theologian Stanley Grenz seeks to buck the trend by talking about theology from a common man in the street perspective. He makes three assertions.
  1. Theology enables us to affirm orthodox doctrine. Believers can then distinguish right doctrine from wrong.
  2. Theology helps us to teach doctrine and Christian truths. Believers can be grounded in the faith.
  3. Theology helps us learn about God and God's purposes. Believers can understand what the Bible teaches about God and God's will.

For Grenz and Smith, the primary task for theologians is to study and to teach the divine message of Scripture. The secondary task is to observe the traditional heritage of the Church and historical faith. The tertiary task is to be involved actively in various cultures through theological engagement and contemporary thought forms. The way Grenz communicates this is to begin with the Triune God, and slowly works his way through the doctrines of anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, and finally Eschatology. Theology's unifying focus is God as Trinity, and us being created for community. In connecting the Trinity with human community, we essentially have a framework for connecting Christian belief with Christian living.

Grenz begins with the cultural perceptions of today. Atheism is a rising force and many believers simply do not have a way to respond to their criticisms. Grenz leads readers through the ontological (what is commonly believed), cosmological (ultimate cause), teleological (pondering on the design of the natural world), and moral (problem of good/evil) proofs for the existence of God. He shares about Alister McGrath's other arguments, like the anthropological and aesthetic perspectives. The point is, Christianity is no intellectual pushover. While the arguments for the existence of God are legitimate, the author acknowledges that it is impossible to argue people into the faith. For Christians, we are encouraged to get to know God despite our limitations. The best way for us to know God is to be united in the body in Christ. For the Triune God is relational, triune, and creator.  The Father originates; the Son reveals; and the Spirit proceeds to complete.

On Anthropology, he begins with a general statement about man's constant search for identity, our dependence on God, and only in God can we truly find our true essence of being. For if we are made in God's image, we are indeed created for community. We learn about our connectedness with other human beings and creation. On celestial beings, we need to distinguish between natural order versus the occult. We learn the relevance of a Fallen World where sin has become the failure of the human heart. As a result, community gets broken. We are alienated from God, condemned in sin, and separated from community.

On Christology, we learn the theological assertions that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. As divine, Jesus is sinless, his perfect teachings, his truth claims, and the total fulfillment of his words. As human, we learn not only about Jesus coming to be like us as a human, but also to give us new life as the New Human. We learn how theologians explain Jesus' preexistence, being with God right from the beginning, uncreated, perfect, and is God. Jesus is not simply one with a human body disguised as a divine being. Jesus is fully human and fully God. Jesus' identity is as Son of God, as Suffering Servant, as Israel's true Messiah. Jesus' atonement at the cross is the reason why we are saved from our sins. In doing so, we are reconciled to God, as legally speaking, Jesus has become our "expiation" who had paid the price for our sins.

On Pneumatology, we learn about the Third Person of the Trinity. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit sustains life on earth. The Spirit is active in the lives of the people. In Jesus, the Holy Spirit anoints Jesus and Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to fully guide and teach the disciples in all things. Through the Church, the Spirit continues to work the will of God through community. The Spirit convicts us about the Word of God. The Spirit fills us with wisdom and enables us to understand the deep things of God. The Spirit leads us to receive the salvation of Christ. I really appreciate the way Grenz describes the "human condition," "Christ's provision," and "Spirit's application." It is very concisely put.

(Stanley Grenz, Created for Community, Baker, 2014, p156)

On sanctification, there are questions about holiness and why it is important for our Christian living. "Positional sanctification" is our "holy status before God." This is different from "conditional sanctification" in which we let the Holy Spirit work in us to help us bring about the fruit of the Spirit.

On Ecclesiology, we read about the Church and the people of God. Not only are we a called out people to God, we are the future-oriented, fellowshipping people. The purpose of the Church is to glorify God, to worship God, edify one another, and reach out to others not in the fold. Outreach is both evangelism and service. True ecclesiology is about participation of members of the body. There are two dimensions of understanding Church membership. The first is "pure membership" where one has to explicitly state their declaration of faith while the second is "mixed membership" where membership is beyond local confessions. The authors then describe the sacraments that help us understand the rituals members would practice together. It is in these chapters that the idea of community becomes more practiced and relevant. He underlines the importance of Church membership that our relationship in the Church is a visible bond of the body of Christ.

On Eschatology, we are reminded that Christians are a future-oriented people of God. With the Left-Behind series of books and the infamous predictions of Harold Camping who died in December 2013 without any of his predictions fulfilled, we have many confusing pictures of what the future is going to look like. Here Grenz and Smith lead us through the various interpretations, the premillennialism, the postmillennialism, the amillennialism, and also the topics of death. As far as God's community is concerned, there is an eternal home. There is a Final Judgment for all people. There is also the reality of heaven and hell.

This is one of the clearest works of theology that bridge the academic domain with the practicing world.  It covers the full spectrum of theology without becoming overly weighed down by scholarship details. At the same time, there is a lot of practical explanations on why the theology is important for daily Christian living. The big issue with the theological community and the Christian Church community is to know that we need each other. True theology is both practical and mindful of intellectual challenges. It is engaging and essential for the defense of the faith, for discipleship, as well as for training in righteousness. Good works need to be informed by sound doctrine. I shudder each time I hear laypeople dismiss theology as if it is mere head knowledge. This is unfortunate as theology is crucial for the people of God. Without theology, there is no foundation for Christian living. One can do good works without the input of Christian theology, just like many other religious and secular groups that claimed to do good works. I thank God for this book that helps to explain in a layperson manner the importance of theology. It is also an example for other academics on how to explain difficult concepts in simple terms.

We are created for community. The Bible says it. Church history proves it. We can all live it. This book reminds me once again why Professor Stan Grenz was so well loved by my community at Regent College, Carey, and many others in the Christian world.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment