Stanley Grenz and Roger Olson explored modern theology through the grid of “divine transcendence and divine immanence” (Grenz, & Olson, 1992). They pointed out that “One significant theme that provides an interpretive tool and a means of bringing to light the unity and diversity of theology in the transitional century was the creative tension posed by the twin truths of the divine transcendence and the divine immanence”(Grenz, & Olson, 1992).
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These two authors conclude that the interplay between transcendence and immanence is the pivotal theological concern that plays a significant part in how theology has developed in the preceding decades. The conviction by these scholars formed the basics of Evangelical Theology, which this article would attempt to look at. This essay seeks to critically evaluate Evangelical Theology in terms of the affirmations of Grenz and Olson by first defining what God’s transcendence and immanence are in relation to Evangelical Theology.
What are God’s transcendence and immanence? Transcendence is God’s self-sufficiency and His aptness from the world view, whereas Immanence refers to God’s presence within the creation (Escobar, 2003). Grenz and Olson (1992) argue God’s immanence has been emphasized to the extent that it is detrimental to His transcendence, and in the same way, Gods transcendence has been emphasized to the extent of near exclusion of His immanence. With regard to the views brought forth by Grenz and Olson (1992), lack of balance between transcendence and imminence culminates into a theological crisis.
Augustine set the balance between transcendence and imminence (Grenz and Olson, 1992). The balance was formulated and refined by the Middle Age Reformers. In endeavors to strive the balance, emphases were placed on the human reason, anatomy, and harmony of nature brought about during the age of enlightenment. This contributed towards the achievement of the new immanence that continued throughout the 20th century (Grenz and Olson, 1992).
Grenz and Olson went further to examine the dominance of immanence in the 19th century. They note Immanuel Kant proposed for the practical and moral realm as the sphere of religion. In so doing, Kant attempted to achieve a balance between transcendence and immanence (Grenz and Olson, 1992). Also intervening in this doctrine of evangelism was Schleiermacher, who described the doctrine of God as “pantheistic,” meaning, the correlation between God and the world. Schleiermachers views pointed at the inseparable state of coexistence between God and the world (Michael, 2001).
In the contextual realism of evangelical theology, the emergence of neo-orthodox theology in the early 1920s was perceived as an insurrection against immanence (Grenz and Olson, 1992). The neo-orthodox movement, spearheaded by Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Rudolf Bultmann, and Reinhold Niebuhr, sought to recover some of the doctrines of Reformation Christianity. Barth, in particular, helped redeem the doctrine of the transcendence of God. According to Grenz and Olson, neo-orthodoxy fostered the reestablishment of transcendence. Consequently, the proponent of neo-orthodox revolved against immanence.
However, Paul Tillich seemed to have conflicting views with those of Barth and his followers. Tillichs theology sought to reformulate and intensify the immanent theology of the older liberalism by mutilating the Christianity orthodoxy. Grenz and Olson point out that Tillich’s theology was founded in the doctrine of pantheism, and therefore was a radical immanent theology. Subversion of transcendence was also observed in the rise of process theology (Michael, 2001).
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In the realism of secular theology, immanence was seen to be more focused on the world centered and less church-oriented. Secular theology bosomed the transcendence of God inherited from neo-orthodox doctrines (Grenz and Olson, 1992). Grenz and Olson also looked at the theology of hope, the theologies of Jurgen Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg. In his early and later writings, Moltmanns theology had much to do with transcendence and God’s immanence.
Pannenberg provided a balanced alternative to the overemphasis placed on transcendence in German theology and immanence in American theology. Grenz and Olson contend Pannenberg “was able to link salvation with creation, thereby developing a vivid understanding of the relation between the world and its source of either transcendent or immanent (Grenz and Olson, 1992).
Evangelical theology has, by large, been linked with the trans-denominational movement that began in England and North America. As a result of the mission activities penetrating through the globe, evangelicalism adapted a peculiar understanding of the Scripture, involving the interpretation of the scripture. Theology of evangelicalism was built on four major principles. The first was the authority and adequacy of the scripture concerning matters of life and doctrine. The second principle was the “uniqueness and exclusiveness” of the salvation in Christ. The third principle was the necessity for the personal transition. Lastly was the necessity of evangelism with regard to other doctrinal commitments (Grenz and Olson, 1992).
Escobar, S. (2003). The new global mission: The gospel from everywhere to everyone. Downers Grove (IL). Inter-Varsity Press. ISBN-13: 9780830833016.
Grenz, S., & Olson, R. (1992). The 20th century theology: God and the world in a transitional Age. Downers Grove (IL). Inter-Varsity Press. ISBN-13: 0-8308-1525.
Hordern, W. (1955). A layman’s guide to Protestant theology: Revised Edition. Wipf & Stock Publishers. ISBN-13: 1-57910-925-X.
Michael, J.( 2001). The 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age. Intervarsity Press.