Bob Robinson, in his collection of pieces about Emergent theology, calls our attention to a piece by Vince Bacote, Professor of theology at Wheaton, on Kuyper’s sense of common grace and Bacote suggests this idea undergirds the Emergent concern with a gospel that transcends (what I call) the Good Friday Only Gospel — that Jesus came to die for my sins so I could be forgiven and go to heaven.
Kuyper sees common grace operating at several layers of our existence, but most importantly that God is concerned with the whole world and the whole person. The world has purpose and meaning.
Stan Grenz’s book The Social God and the Relational Self can be understood to lift this entire conversation to a new level: drawing deeply on Orthodox theology, sociology, and the entire spectrum of historical theology, Grenz sees the crisis with the “self” in our postmodern society to be a begging for what the gospel has to offer.
And what might that be? God is love; God is triune and the perichoresis helps us to understand God as “social” being; and the imago Dei is at the core of the whole enterprise. Humans are made in the image of God in their sexual embodiment and this sexuality derives from God’s own communion within the Trinity. This sexual embodiment leads humans to see the imago Dei as a drive toward bondedness in community. All of this finds its climax in the NT sense of the Church as God’s intended community — leading to the “real self” as an “ecclesial self.”
Grenz’s book deserves a careful reading, and to read it means one must be careful because it is a constant back and forth of scholarly monographs and essays.
My own forthcoming Embracing Grace touches upon many of these themes, though written for a different audience.
Let me put this in another way: recently I met with a leader at a large church who asked for advice on how to raise the membership. I suggested that the “gospel needed to change” to do that. Which surprises. But, if the gospel is a Good Friday Only Gospel, then there is no genuine need for a community and there is no real ecclesial self. It is all individualism. But, if Grenz is right, then the gospel is about God’s drawing of his created beings into the perichoretic love of the Trinity by placing persons in contact with that grace through the community.
Which means that lack of membership is a denial of the gospel. Can we work on getting “community” back into the very shape of the gospel?