Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology

RTG.pngGrenz, Stanley J.

Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology

Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004. Pp. xii + 289. Paper. $25.00.

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With thanks to James Pfeiffer at Fortress Press for this review copy!

Published a year before his untimely death in 2005, Rediscovering the Triune God was one of Stanley Grenz’s final achievements, and touted as one of his finest.  The book’s premise is simple: examine the resurgence of Trinitarian theology over the last thirty-plus years in the work of various contemporary theologians.

Heavyweights from the three main traditions of Christianity are examined in brief.  There’s a pretty even distribution of Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians focused upon in this volume, but sadly Eastern Orthodoxy is severely under-represented.  From the Roman Catholic tradition we have Karl Rahner, Leonardo Boff, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Elizabeth Johnson.  Eastern Orthodoxy is represented by John Zizoulas alone.  And finally, the Protestants Grenz takes a look at are Karl Barth, Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg (his Doktorvater), Robert Jenson, and Thomas F. Torrance.

I hate to admit it, but I have to be honest in saying that I was bored to tears by this book.  It’s not that it wasn’t informative–I can assure you, it was.  It’s not that Grenz was off in his portrayals of the various theologians–in point of fact, his summaries agree largely with what I have read from the primary sources and secondary literature on these theologians.  In the end, I was bored because Grenz failed to capture me with his writing style.  And I understand that his main purpose was to survey contemporary theologians, but his lackluster summary of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the introductory chapter left me with a stale taste in my mouth.

William J. La Due published his The Trinity Guide to the Trinity (Harrisburg: TPI, 2003) a year prior to Grenz’s work, and the format was similar.  Examine and summarize the theology of various Trinitarian theologians.  La Due’s work was shorter in each examination while being wider in scope, but the major difference was that La Due’s project made for good reading; it was both informative and interesting.  Likewise, Robert Letham published his magisterial The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2004) in the same year and devoted more than 100 pages to examining just about all of the same theologians that Grenz tackles (and more), but to my mind, Letham was much more insightful and his criticisms were sharper.

Reading this book felt like a chore, something that I just wanted to get through and get done as soon as possible, but something that dragged on in the process.  Where as everything I’ve read from other writers about Barth’s trinitarianism has made me want to read Barth for myself, Grenz’s presentation leads me to believe that Barth is a tiresome read.  Seeing as how this is the first time I’ve encountered this, I have to chalk it up to Grenz’s writing about Barth, and not the writing of Barth himself.  And there’s also the huge problem of end notes–in an academic work such as this, they don’t belong!  End notes are almost inexcusable in any work, but especially in something such as this where primary sources are quoted so frequently (most of the chapters contain well over 200 end notes apiece!).

If this were the only book of its kind then I’d recommend it wholeheartedly because the information is good, even if cumbersome.  But this is not the only book of its kind, and because of this fact I cannot recommend it.  For introductory reading look to La Due, and for intermediate reading look to Letham.  I found their treatments of the same authors to be much more enjoyable.  In my heart I want to give this book a 3 star rating because the information is accurate, and I believe that people who are interested in social trinitarianism will learn something, but because of the slow pace, use of end notes, and lack of bibliography (another pet peeve of mine with regard to academic works), it is with great regret that I have to give this book 2 out of 5 stars.2.0 out of 5 stars I had very high hopes for this volume and in the end they weren’t met.

B”H

12 thoughts on “Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology

  1. Brian: It’s not your fault. I know he was an author that you liked a lot — what other books of his have you read, and how would you classify his writing overall?

  2. Have you considered whether you are just learning too much about the Trinity and books like these will naturally just bore you now? I know that there are certain subjects in Biblical studies that I’ve learned quite a bit about and it doesn’t matter who writes on them I just feel un-engaged and bored. Especially with surveys or introductions. Heck I’m listening to a NT Survey right now by a professor who I’ve found to be one of the most lively, humorous and engaging lectures I’ve heard in Biblical Studies and I’m often bored out of my mind and find myself not even paying attention because I start thing about other stuff. The course is excellent but it’s all review so I’m having a hard time paying attention.

    Maybe it’s time for you to start reading books on the trinity that are arguing for something different or going beyond just surveying.

    Just a thought.

    I’ve read a few of Grenz books: one I found impossible to read (his Ethics book) another I found ok and even good at times (Primer on Post -Modernism) and the last I really liked what I read and hope to eventually finish it (Theology for the Community of God). I wouldn’t say he
    is the best writer though.

    BTW the lack of bibliography in a book like this is unforgivable and definitely worth some points off. I’m a bit more forgiving about end notes though.

    Bryan

  3. Bryan: Yes, I’ve considered that, but like I said, the two books I have that are similar to this one were both good. And while I didn’t learn a great deal from La Due’s book (I did from Letham since I read him first), I found it good reading.

    I was reading both La Due and Grenz at the same time, but I breezed through the one, and struggled through the other. Plus, like I said with regard to Barth, Grenz’s treatment of him made me not want to read him, in distinction from EVERY other author I have read on Barth. I have to chalk it up to the way that Grenz wrote this particular book.

    But to state the obvious, just because I don’t like the way he writes doesn’t mean that no one else will. All the critics said that Speed Racer was a horrible movie, but when I saw it I loved it! Some times you just have to step out on faith and say screw the reviews (even if I’m the reviewer ;) ).

    And I don’t mind endnotes in certain books, but in academic books they’re horrible. In the Moreland book I just read, he used endnotes, but they didn’t seem necessary to the reading. But with something like this where authors are being quoted so often, I like to check the references when possible, and to have to flip to the back of the book is a major pain in the you know what!

  4. could be too that Grenz was more appealing in person than on paper…

    It’s like with Bryan L, the NSBT series doesn’t interest him but I think a few of the books in the series are worth consideration.

    different writers appeal to different people.

    at least you didn’t have to pay for it.

  5. Brian: Yeah, there’s always that. The truth is that I’ll be able to make use of it as a reference book in the future, but that’s about it.

  6. When my personal library gets too big, I read this verse: “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Eccl. 12: 12)

    Fr. Robert

  7. Nick, I need space to sleep! lol Seriously, I have thousands of books! I am well into my 50’s. If I had all the books I have ever had my hands on, I would need several flats, or houses! lol

  8. irishanglican: You might not know this about me, but I’m always willing to take books off of peoples’ hands if they are looking to get rid of them. So if you’d like to send me a couple hundred (for free of course) books so you have more room to sleep, I’m more than happy to help you out. ;)

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