Die Begrenzte Gemeinschaft (“The Boundaried People”) And The Character Of Evangelical Theology -- By: Stanley J. Grenz

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:2 (Jun 2002)
Article: Die Begrenzte Gemeinschaft (“The Boundaried People”) And The Character Of Evangelical Theology
Author: Stanley J. Grenz


Die Begrenzte Gemeinschaft (“The Boundaried People”)
And The Character Of Evangelical Theology

Stanley J. Grenz*

* Stanley Grenz is professor of theology and ethics at Carey/Regent College, 5920 Iona Drive, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1J6.

In 1997 Jon Stone concluded that neo-evangelicalism is “captivated by the issue of defining its boundaries.” In support of his claim, Stone cites the “flood of books and articles” that has flowed from evangelical pens since World War II. In his estimation, this phenomenon “documents a sustained effort at defining the limits of evangelicalism by affirming and reaffirming its boundary differences with both liberalism and fundamentalism.”1 As Stone’s comment indicates, the tendency to delineate boundaries has been part of post-fundamentalist neo-evangelicalism since its inception in the 1940s. Yet in recent years, this concern appears to have taken on a new intensity, as evangelical theologians have begun to debate among themselves the question as to just how encompassing the evangelical “big tent” can be.

The current quest for boundaries carries potentially crucial ramifications for evangelical theology. The goal of this essay is to explore the implications of the phenomenon of boundary-setting for the shape of evangelical theology in the postmodern context. To this end, I first look at the concept of boundaries itself. I then turn to the question of the nature of evangelicalism as a boundaried people. Finally, I apply the results of my study to the question of the role of evangelical theology within evangelicalism as well as to what I see as the nature of the Evangelical Theological Society.

I. The Quest For Boundaries

Simply defined, a boundary is “anything forming or serving to indicate a limit or end.”2 Viewed from this perspective, boundaries are an inevitable part of life. They are present everywhere, even when the demarcated limits are fuzzy or difficult to decipher. Hence, religious groups are likewise marked by boundaries, despite the current trend to highlight the fluidity of the lines running between them. As Stephen W. Sykes notes, “The fact that

the boundaries of a religion may be difficult to determine with precision does not mean that a religion has no boundaries.”3

1. Boundaries In The Bible.

The concept of boundaries runs through the Bible. The idea is especially prevalent in the OT, where the term is closely tied to actual physical demarcations. So important were ...

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