Domesticating the Gospel: A Review of Stanley J. Grenz’s Renewing the Center -- By: D. A. Carson

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:4 (Winter 2002)
Article: Domesticating the Gospel: A Review of Stanley J. Grenz’s Renewing the Center
Author: D. A. Carson

Domesticating the Gospel:
A Review of Stanley J. Grenz’s Renewing the Center1

D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of numerous commentaries and monographs, and is one of this country’s foremost New Testament scholars. Among his books are Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (John Knox Press, 1981; reprint, Baker, 1994) and The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan, 1996).

Responsible theological reflection must embrace the best from the past while addressing the present. If theologians merely look to the past, then they risk becoming mere purveyors of antiquarian artifacts, however valuable those artifacts may be. But if they are concerned only with the present, then it is not long before they squander their heritage and become, as far as the gospel is concerned, largely irrelevant to the world they seek to reform because they domesticate the gospel to the contemporary worldview, thereby robbing it of its power. Stan Grenz, I fear, is drifting toward the latter error.


As usual with Grenz’s writings, this book is free of malice and—provided one is familiar with the jargon of postmodern discussion—reasonably lucid. Its ten chapters can be divided into two parts. Grenz begins by citing a representative sample of voices that find contemporary evangelical theology in disarray. In the first four chapters and part of the fifth, Grenz treats evangelicalism historically “as a theological phenomenon,” trying to “draw from the particularly theological character of the movement’s historical trajectory” (15). Accepting William J. Abraham’s analysis that the term “evangelical” embraces at least three constellations of thought, namely the magisterial Reformation, the evangelical awakenings of the eighteenth century, and modern conservative evangelicalism, Grenz devotes the first two chapters to the material and formal principles of evangelical thought. With respect to the material principle, he holds that Luther’s commitment to justification by faith, modified by Calvin’s quest for sanctification, augmented by Puritan and Pietist concern for personal conversion, sanctified living, and assurance of one’s elect status, declined into comfortable conformity to outward forms until the awakenings in Britain and the American colonies charged them with new life. The effect was a focus on “convertive piety” (passim) and a concern for transformed living, rather than on adherence to creeds. Evangelical theology focused on personal salvation.

He discusses the formal principle in his second chapter. Contemporary conservativ...

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