An Interview with Stanley Grenz

Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Jul/Aug 2005

Stanley Grenz died of a brain aneurysm in March 2005. He was one of the principal theologians on hand at the February 2005 Emergent Church convention in San Diego. Modern Reformation had an opportunity to discuss some of his thoughts about this new movement just weeks before his death.

MR: What is Emergent Church all about, and what are some healthy aspects of it from your perspective?
SG: When someone says Emergent, they really haven't said anything because this network is so diverse. There are so many different styles and agendas that it's hard to get a handle on what holds it all together. I think if one were to ask what's the scarlet thread, I would say these are folks who are taking seriously the context in which they find themselves, which many of them would consider postmodern. They're trying to take seriously the transitions and changes that they see going on in North American culture, and they want to embody the gospel in a manner in which people in this changing climate can see it, understand it, and respond to it.

MR: Do you think another healthy aspect of the movement is that it is so self-critical?
SG: Certainly, because there's no program. These people are willing to talk to one another and engage with each other with questions such as, How do we do this?, and What will bring glory to God? What I find especially gratifying as a theologian is that so many of the people in Emergent are interested in theology, whereas my generation tended toward the attitude that, once we've been to seminary and had our theology course and so forth, we no longer have to bother with theology anymore. And so the question always became very pragmatic: How do we go about winning the world? building the church? and so on. But what I find with the Emergent folks is that so many of them are keenly interested in theological questions and bringing theological questions back on the table, which is healthy, I believe. It's also dangerous, which means that what is needed right now is a number of mature voices who can assist them in the process of sorting things out.

MR: Do you think one of the reasons why this generation is asking more theological questions is because nature abhors a vacuum? In other words, perhaps the current generation is reacting against the fact that the kind of Christianity that has been served up over the last few decades has been seriously lacking in theological depth.
SG: That may be a part of it, and it's a good perspective to bring to it. But I think it may even be a little deeper. These people are realizing that a packaged program is not what you can take with you. There's no universal "applicable in every situation" program that you can get from somebody, which if you apply, you'll have a successful church. So, many of these people are going back and asking, what does it mean to be the church, theologically? What is God's program? Who is God? What is our message? What is the human condition? And these are all theological questions.

MR: Do you think the movement could be criticized for being basically a marketing movement, similar to that of the move from a simple cup of coffee to a double mocha latte cappuccino at Starbucks?
SG: Wherever something is happening that is interesting and new and fresh, the marketers will come along and try to market it. I'm not sure if that is so much a critique of Emergent itself as much as it is a critique of the consumerist evangelical establishment that would really like to market it.

MR: And so is the danger that the sincere and honest questions may get buried under "hip revivalism"?
SG: Yes, and suddenly people get co-opted. So someone has fresh insights and is talking in a fresh way, and someone else comes along and says, "Hmm, I think I can market that." And the temptation for the first person is always going to be that he gets starry-eyed over the thought of being the poster boy for the movement, and that's a real temptation.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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