Sexton is Research Associate with the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture and Convener of the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture (TECC) Project. This book is based on his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of St. Andrews.
Sexton explains the thesis of his project: “This book provides an examination of the primary features in the theology of one of the leading evangelical theologians of the turn of the century, Stanley J. Grenz. It begins by establishing the controversial nature of his project within evangelical theology, and how his aims were misread by a number of evangelical scholars. It then argues that the primary feature in his writings was the doctrine of the Trinity, giving structure and shape to his methodology, theology, and ethical engagement” (p. 2). It is perhaps the controversial nature of Grenz’s project that contributed to his critics’ failure to understand him correctly and thus condemn him inappropriately. Sexton read Grenz and he read the critics and came to this determination: “I quickly concluded that the Stanley Grenz I was reading was not the same Grenz whom others were interacting with in the available secondary literature” (p. 1).
The first chapter briefly summarizes Grenz’s theological method, involving the trialogue of Scripture (which is “the norming norm”), tradition, and culture (pp. 11–13). Two chapters discuss the theological sources of Grenz’s trinitarianism, particularly his teacher Wolfhart Pannenberg. Sexton argues that Grenz did not follow Pannenberg “uncritically. He chose rather to employ Pannenberg in areas that served his own construction, adapting relevant contributions and thereby utilizing Pannenberg’s work as a ‘source’ for theology” (p. 20).
In succeeding chapters, Sexton traces the trajectory of Grenz’s trinitarianism, from the early views he “inherited largely from his own theological tradition and seminary mentors,” through his “well-known interest in the new social trinitarianism” and “his account of the twentieth century Trinitarian resurgence,” into “his work in The Matrix series,” which, sadly, his untimely death meant was never completed (p. 68). Later chapters evaluate Grenz’s view of the imago Dei and the Trinitarian shape of his ethics.
Sexton’s conclusion summarizes the goal of his book and the significance of Grenz’s work: “The evangelical ‘center’ to which Grenz was calling the church is none other than the doctrine of the Trinity, and its implications for everything else. Consistent with the progress of doctrine and Grenz’s own development up to this point, the only thing needed was more time for that center of evangelical theology to become and blaze more explicitly Trinitarian in ways that resembled the very best of careful and celebratory evangelical theology as it fuelled the church’s mission in the world. It is this recovery of the doctrine of the Trinity at a critical point in the history of evangelical theology, along with how it might serve the rest of theology and ethics, which remains the most significant and lasting legacy of Stanley J. Grenz for evangelical theology” (p. 188).
Anyone who ever met Stanley Grenz was attracted by his kind disposition, soft-spoken gentleness, and genuine concern and compassion for others, as well as his evident and obvious love for God, commitment to the truth, and passion for the gospel. Some of the harsh criticism pained him; the contrast between the tone of Grenz’s writing and speaking and that of some of his critics could hardly have been starker. (For specific examples, see those cited by Sexton, e.g., pp. 5–7.) In addition, Grenz was a prolific writer, a careful thinker, and an effective communicator. He was without question “one of the leading figures in evangelical theology at the turn of the century” (p. 5). Sexton’s work is important, both as a corrective response to Grenz’s critics and as an apologetic summary of the positive contribution of Grenz’s evangelical, Trinitarian theology. Sexton provides sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that Grenz was “not only a conservative theologian, but also a distinctly evangelical one” (p. 6).
Grenz left a great deal of material behind when he died, both published and unpublished works and other projects in process. Sexton’s thorough research, meticulous synthesis of the material, and careful presentation of Grenz’s Trinitarian theology make an important contribution to evangelical scholarship. He is critical where he needs to be, constructive where appropriate, and presents Grenz’s thought in a readable manner. And he does so without being hagiographic. Fans of Grenz will appreciate the way Sexton tells the narrative of Grenz’s theological development. Critics of Grenz should read this book too, in the hope that they will be encouraged to reconsider the helpfulness of his prolific contribution.
Those who believe that evangelicalism needs a theological renewal should consider the feasibility of incorporating the ideas of Stanley Grenz. Sexton summarizes why: “Because Grenz understood Evangelicalism to be a theological phenomenon more so than a sociological or historical one, he aimed to locate the root and trajectories that might set it even further on the road to the glory of God as he sought to see the center of evangelical theology renewed. . . . Grenz was pushing matters of evangelical identity in a distinctly trinitarian direction” (p. 187).
About the Contributors
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their five rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, a terrier named Chloe, and a black lab, Carlile.