Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Renewing the Center: Beyond Theological Liberalism and Conservatism

"Calling for a renewal of an evangelical center to the church of Jesus Christ, a center characterized by a 'generous orthodoxy.'"
—Stanley Grenz

"It is time to ask how theology ought to be done in a postmodern era and to envision a rapprochement between theologians of the left and right."
—Nancey Murphy

"My own vision of what might be propitious for our day, split as we are, not so much into denominations as into schools of thought, is that we need a kind of generous orthodoxy which would have in it an element of liberalism—a voice like the Christian Century—and an element of evangelicalism—the voice of Christianity Today. I don't know if there is a voice between those two, as a matter of fact. If there is, I would like to pursue it."
—Hans Frei

"I will also say that if the sort of research program represented by postliberalism has a real future as a communal enterprise of the church, it's more likely to be carried on by evangelicals than anyone else."
—George Lindbeck


Joel Thomas said...

I do not consider the atttitudes of Stanley Grenz toward gays to be "generous" but to be the spreading of stereotypes, false information, and unworkable solutions. His answer for gays is what I consider to be permanent "second class citizenship."

However, I do suppose that compared to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that he is in the center.

Shane Raynor said...


Is it possible (humor me here) that you could be just a little too sensitive about homosexuality? Does everything have to always be about that issue?

St.Phransus said...

i too disagree with stan on his "welcoming but not affirming" stance on homosexuality. however, i think he does reflect one who is squarely in the "middle".

i don't think we have to agree on everything when we're in the middle we just have to be willing to listen to one another while allowing the spirit to guide us.

i've met stan and had the chance to hang out with him when he was in nashville and he really is quite "generous" in his theology- he is orthodox but not rigid.

i give him credit for struggling with the issue and taking it serious enough to not just say- "scripture says it's wrong so it's wrong. the end". i may not agree with him on that but i do respect him.


Joel Thomas said...


I believe that you have given extraordinary emphasis to homosexuality on your blog and have pronounced as leftists anyone who dares to disagree with you on that issue. Give me a break.

Shane Raynor said...

But I don't have the annoying habit of bringing every other subject back to that one issue.

Joel Thomas said...


None of my posts or comments about the Iraq war, Taco Bell, minimum wage, capital punishment, creeds, understanding the Book of Revelation, God's providence and a myriad of other topics have had anything to do with homosexuality. The bottom line is that there is simply extremely bad blood between us for reasons that probably neither one of us fully understand.

The late Grenz made his teachings on homosexuality a core part of his theology and that is relevant to me.

St.Phransus said...

Joel, I've read quite a few of Stan's books and I've not found homosexuality to be a "core" part of his theology. As far as I can tell the core part of stan grenz's theology was-

1. faith is always embodied and lived out in community (Reclaiming the Center)

2. theology is trinitarian (Created for Community)

3. hope for Christians lie in the traditional idea of eschatology (theolgoy for the community of God)

4. Postmodern theology has as it's foundation- scripture that is looked at at the lens tradition, reason, and culture- (Beyond Foundationalism)

In most of his books he touches upon these ideas. The only book that I know of where Stan in detail approaches and discusses homosexuality is in "Welcoming but not Affirming".

Even in his book- "Thinking Theologically" Stan says that theology is the business of the entire church. I think he was more interested in having lay people thinking theologically and discussing these issues than laying out a dogmatic theology. Even his "Welcoming But Not Affirming" book to me appears at times to be him working out a theology that he struggles with.

I am curiuous though, where does he make it a "core" part of his theology?

St.Phransus said...

what i meant in the last question- how does he make it a "core" part of his theology? I don't see it.

Joel Thomas said...

Let me just say that I think that Grenz is far too hard on or dismissive of Kant, the Enlightenment, science and reason. Without the Enlightenment, Christianity was in danger of being confirmed and enacted by mere superstition.

My own view is that the Enlightenment, for all its faults, saved Christianity from self-destruction. I find it hard to discern Grenz integrating science and reason into his theology of community very well at all.

To me, Grenz comes too close to simply dressing up "Sola Scriptura" in fancier clothing, while, I, of course reject any notion of "Sola Scriptura" as placing Scripture on a higher plane than God revealed in Christ.

St.Phransus said...

i hear ya. the critique of the enlightenment is one that runs quite common among postmodern theologians.

i think maybe stan would say that the enlightenment was not misguided nor wrong in and of itself but that the kind of religion/faith that came out of that will not necessarily meet the needs nor work in a postmodern context.

what many of the postmodern theologians are wanting to do is move passed the liberal/conservative dualism that we has come out of the enlightenment. many responses to this is to go back to the premodern church to inform theology in a pomo context.

Hans-George Gadamer had a term called "re-presentation". the idea is that we can take a paradigm of the past and re-present it in spirit in our context.

so in spirit we look to the early church to inform how we do theology, practice church, etc. etc.

within this context i've heard two thelogians who have spoken to the issue of homosexuality in such a way that does not exclude: Stan Hauerwas and John Milbank.

Both have suggested the idea of a "sacramental friendship" or "holy friendships"; the idea being that marriage is a practice that has been handed down through tradition as a covenant between a man and woman. however, both have said that the church must take seriously that all god's children have a need to be made whole through relationship; that we are created for relationship. to not offer a sacramental covenant relationship for the gay community that is recognized by the church denies status to an important part of our community (i'm adding my own words at this point).

so i think the postmodern thinkers take a different route, one that probably doesn't completely satisfy the right or the left but it's all about reframing how we process it all.

sorry that this went so long. thanks joel for your thoughts and comments thus far.


Zoomdaddy said...

I still am not convinced there truly is a "center." I think on various issues we may be anywhere on a spectrum, but most of us do not line up neatly with any pole or middle ground like a nice neat package. I don't think there will be a truly "centrist" theology that will develop soon. Not simply because of the water under the bridge, but because we are fallen creatures that ultimately buck against Jesus' own prayer "that they might be one." Unity is easier to define when it's "us versus them."

Jonathan said...

I think you might be adding a little too much to Hauerwas. You are absolutely right that to be human means to be in relationship. But the primary way we live in relationship is through our baptism into the church, not through marriage (whether it be hetero or homosexual). Since the church, not marriage, is the first way we live in relationship, singleness actually is normative for Christians **. For the church to require celibacy for some of its members is therefore not unreasonable (like Roman Catholics do for priests). However, in the case you raise, you are correct that Hauerwas (and Long) would consider that a faithful Christian relationship between two people of the same gender could come close to what Christians have traditionally called marriage.

**marriage is a special vocation


Also, it is important to distinguish Hauerwas and Long's consideration of gay friendship from the common inclusivism in the church today that says, "we don't care about your behavior, we just want to be inclusive." This kind of inclusivism as an end in itself is what Long wanted to distinguish from the Methodist understanding of holiness in the NPR post on my blog that you commented on earlier.

Joel Thomas said...

Hauerwas -- and there is much to like about him -- is critical of people's lack of commitment, but he has chosen over the years to maintain his United Methodist membership while attending a church of a different denomination. He emphasizes the importance of having a marriage ethic and keeping that covenant, but he doesn't keep the covenant he made when he joined the UMC.

Joel Thomas said...

In one of those "on-line" surveys, my theological identity came out as slightly more emergent/emerging than Wesleyan, although both numbers were very high.

St.Phransus said...

Jonathan (the other one besides me):

from "duke magazine, vol 88, may-june 2002"

Hauerwas says (in speaking about marriage)

"Until we get to the part about children, I see no way in which this definition would exclude homosexuals in committed relationships. Indeed, if protection from the harmful consequences of unbridled sex is truly a foundation for marriage, homosexuals would seem to have fully as great a need for such protection as heterosexuals. And committed same-sex couples surely could derive the same support the institution of marriage provides to faithful, monogamous, long-term heterosexual relationships--and thus be helped, as Hauerwas says he wants to do, to "avoid the sexual wilderness we live in."

joel, i think you raise some good issues here, as well, you crazy emergent wesleyan!!

thanks everyone for the stimulating discussion. I just got in from leading an absolutely wonderful worship gathering for the um young adult ministry summit. there were leaders from all over the country and it was terrific. the worship was a techno/ambient liturgical gathering- it was sweet!!!

Jonathan said...

Yep, that is what Hauerwas says. It is actually one of the few places where I disagree with Hauerwas and Long. (although Long once said that Bishop Sprague's liberalism was so bad that it was forcing him to re-think his views on homosexuality). I find the work of Richard Hays and N. T. Wright to be the most persuasive analysis of homosexuality. To me, it is a subject on which faithful Christians can disagree. I am much more interested in issues related to war and peace - a subject on which Hauerwas, Long, Hays, and Wright all agree.

St.Phransus said...

yes, i hear ya jonathan. i have much respect for all four of those theologians, as well.