Theology from Above and Theology from Below

The Systematic Methodology of Charles Hodge and Stanley Grenz

Gregory Johnson • Covenant Theological Seminary • Spring 1997


(Bibliography & Notes follow)


From Princeton to Postconservatism

            There has been a significant shift in recent years in the evangelical conception of the theological task.  What is the nature of theology?  What is the nature of the Bible?  What are the sources for theology?  And what hermeneutical method should be used in the evangelical's theological endeavor?  In his 1993 book Revisioning Evangelical Theology, Stanley Grenz sets forth new answers to these questions, seeking to move beyond what he sees as the cognitive propositionalism which has dominated evangelical theology since its inception.[1]  Grenz particularly faults nineteenth century Princeton theologians such as Charles Hodge for bequeathing this legacy to evangelicalism.[2]  Grenz presents a theological method "from below" which centers on the believing community over against Hodge's method "from above" which centers on God's propositional self-revelation.  Grenz's "postconservative" method differs significantly at key points from the "traditional"[3] method presented in Hodge's Systematic Theology.[4]  And while theologians have much to learn from Grenz's revisioning, Charles Hodge presents to modern evangelicals the better approach to theological method.  Part I of this paper will asses the differences between Grenz and Hodge on four key methodological issues.  Part II will discuss two common objections to Hodge's method, and Part III will briefly consider what systematicians in the Princeton tradition can learn from Grenz.


PART I.  The Two Methods Compared

1.  The Nature of the Theology

            Stanley Grenz and Charles Hodge present very different understandings of the nature of theology.  Hodge defines theology as, "The science of the facts of Divine revelation so far as those facts concern the nature of God and our relation to Him, as His creatures, as sinners, and as the subjects of redemption."[5]  Theology is the study of the teachings of Scripture, with particular reference to God, and to man's relationship with God in his differing facets as creature, sinner and subject of redemption.  In so defining theology, Hodge places its starting point in God's communication to man, the Bible.  Theology is an exercise "from above," in that it is the study of what God has communicated.

            Grenz writes that the "central task" of evangelical theology is "the intellectual reflection on the faith we share as the believing community within a specific cultural context."[6]  "Theology systematizes, explores and orders the community symbols and concepts into a unified whole."[7]  Grenz defines theology, not as the study of God's communication to the community, but as the community's self-reflection upon itself and its beliefs.  Theology is an exercise "from below," in that its starting point is not God's communication, but the community's experience.

            Grenz embraces this Enlightenment definition of theology as the study of human religious experience.  While Grenz does not deny that this corporate experience involves God and the Scripture, Christian theology is an essentially human study.  Grenz states, "Theology orders in culturally conditioned language the confession and worldview of the community of faith."[8]  In fact, Grenz asserts, the community's beliefs are to be valued only insofar as they further the experience that theology studies.  "Our cherished theological commitments, in turn, are important insofar as they serve and facilitate this shared life-orientation."[9]

            Hodge, by starting with Scripture, would be more likely to say that our theological commitments are important insofar as they are biblical, so they must therefore facilitate this shared life orientation (insofar as that life-orientation is itself biblical).  The purpose of theology is not to describe what the community believes, but to describe what God has communicated, which in turn defines what the community must believe.  The theologian is not so much conveying a message on behalf of the community, but on behalf of God.

            Theology should strive, therefore, not to be the community's reflection on the shared experience called evangelicalism, but to present God's communication from outside the community so as to guide, define and regulate the community's vertical relationship with God.  Theology is not an exercise from below, but from above, in that its nature is to convey real communication from God.  Theology is not primarily about the community and the faith it shares; this is important but secondary.  Theology is primarily about God's communication to the community, which encompasses, but cannot be limited to, the community and its faith.  The community's faith may be heretical, in which case the task of theology is to warn and correct the community for its mis-placed faith.  Again, theology is not an exercise from below, but from above, centering not on the community's faith, but on God's communication through Scripture.  Hodge's definition of theology is a better one, in that it starts at what is most essential, God's communication, and only then moves on to the human response to Divine communication.

            Though any point of Christian doctrine, if true, can serve as a point of integration for the sake of study and teaching, there is a subtle danger in insisting, as Grenz does, upon the community as the chief integrating concept.  The Scripture presents its starting point as God and creation, and the knowledge of God is certainly (damningly) psychologically prior to a person's entrance into the faith community[10]  In an age which defines religion as a primarily human activity, the best way to communicate to that culture lies in challenging its low doctrine of God by making God the starting point and chief integrating concept in theology.  And whatever the integrating concept, the nature of theology is the study of what God has communicated about himself and us, as Hodge correctly defines it.


2.  The Nature of the Bible

            The manner in which Hodge and Grenz define the nature of theology flows directly from their respective understandings of the nature of the Bible.  Charles Hodge viewed the Bible as the word of God, inspired by God, and therefore infallible and authoritative.  The authority of the Bible rests, not upon the authority of the community, as Rome had taught, but on the fact that its source lay in God, who gave the books through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit working in and through the human authors.  Hodge writes, "The infallibility and divine authority of the Scriptures are due to the fact that they are the word of God; and they are the word of God because they were given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost."[11]  Scripture is communication from God, and therefore authoritative and inerrant.  This authority holds because the texts were given by inspiration.

            Inspiration Hodge defines as "an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will.  They were in such a sense the organs of God, that what they said God said."[12]  Inspiration is a supernatural work, whose purpose is to secure infallibility in teaching.[13]  The Scriptures are fundamentally Divine in origin, though Hodge insists that "the sacred authors were not made unconscious or irrational....  As inspiration did not involve the suspension or suppression of the human faculties, so neither did it interfere with the free exercise of the distinctive mental characteristics of the individual....  Nevertheless, and none the less, they spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and their words were his words."[14]  This inspiration (and thus infallibility and authority) extends even to the very words of Scripture.[15]

            Stanley Grenz understands the nature of the Bible quite differently.  The Bible is not revelation, per se, but the first century Church's reflection upon its experience of the Divine.  Grenz writes:


In the New Testament, the church preserved the memory of those grand foundational events together with the earliest responses to the revelation of God in Christ....  Through the interaction of each succeeding generation within the biblical documents, the paradigmatic events and the early confrontation with these events become a continual source of revelation for the ongoing life of the community.  Scripture is the foundational record of how the ancient faith community responded in the context of a trajectory of historical situations to the awareness that God has acted to constitute this people as a covenant community.[16]


Revelation is the event in history, not the text.  The New Testament is the community's testimony of and response to the history.  From these events, the first Christians developed a message, which becomes foundational to the community.  "The biblical documents mediate to the theologian the kerygma—the gospel proclamation of the early communities—which is likewise foundational to our exposition of the faith of the community."[17]

            This gospel message becomes foundational to our understanding of the nature of Christian faith, not because its source is in God ("from above"), but because this is the essence of what it means to be a part of the community ("from below").  With Grenz, one is to respect the New Testament documents because they are a foundational early self-reflection on the community's experience.  With Hodge, one is to respect the New Testament because it has its source in God.

            Grenz drives this point forcefully at times.  The Bible, Grenz asserts, is a book with a fundamentally human authorship.  He writes:


Scripture, [many other evangelicals] assert, came to be as the Holy Spirit moved the individual authors to write their respective works....  In contrast to the view evangelicals generally espouse, our Bible is the product of the community of faith that cradled it....  The writings contained in the Bible represent the self-understanding of the community in which it developed.[18]


Grenz is critical of what he identifies as "some evangelical thinkers" who "take loyalty to the Bible to heights not intended by the Reformers and not in keeping with the broader tradition of the evangelical movement."[19]  The Bible, Grenz argues, is a product of a community of believers more than of Spirit-inspired men.

            Still, Grenz does grant the caveat that the Scriptures were inspired, but he redefines that inspiration as a communal activity of which the later community was as much a part as the sacred authors themselves.  Grenz argues that evangelicals need to more fully equate the Spirit's process in "inspiring" the text of Scripture with the Spirit's process in granting "illumination" to the Church to recognize the canon and to work salvation in believers today.[20]  Inspiration and illumination are essentially the name thing.

            Grenz rejects the traditional doctrine of inspiration.  For example, Paul's use of theopneustos in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Grenz argues, refers merely to God's breathing into Scripture to make it useful, not to what Grenz chides as a supposed "pristine" character of the original autographs.  The text merely speaks of how valuable the Scriptures are, how helpful for the community.  Tom Nettles comments on the dangers Grenz faces in equating inspiration with illumination.  He writes, "This reductionistic approach would seem to indicate that our coming to believe the gospel cannot in the final analysis be distinguished from Paul's formulation of it in Romans, or, for that matter, Jesus' discourse on the new birth in John 3."[21]

            Similarly, Grenz grants that in a certain sense the Bible is revelation, but he qualifies this assertion so as to not necessarily include a Divine origin.  Grenz writes:


            We may approach the concept of "revelation" by appeal to the idea of "paradigmatic events."  A paradigmatic event is an occurrence that captures the imagination of a community to the extent that it shapes and forms its way of looking at the totality of reality and its understanding of its experience of reality.  The community preserves the memory of the event, reinterprets the event in the light of the subsequent historical situations in which the community finds itself, and discovers in the event the source of an ongoing hope for the future.  In this way the paradigmatic events become a continual source of revelation, as each succeeding generation sees itself in terms of the events of the past history of the community.

            The foregoing conclusions offer the way forward in our understanding of how the human words of the Bible are God's Word to us.  In so doing they chart the way beyond the evangelical tendency to equate in a simple fashion the revelation of God with the Bible--that is, to make a one-to-one correspondence between the words of the Bible and the very Word of God.[22]


            Grenz argues that the Bible is a servant of revelation,[23] that revelation preceded Scripture,[24] that Scripture is a testimony to revelation.  That is, the Bible is properly called Divine revelation in that it is the early Church's reflection upon the revelation of God in Christ.  Grenz presents three ways in which the Bible can be considered revelation from God:


1)  The Bible is a revelation of God in that it is a witness which testifies to God's revelation in history;

2)  The Bible is a revelation of God in that God chooses to use it in working salvation in the believing community;

3)  The Bible is a revelation of God in that the Bible tells us about God.[25]


            Conspicuously absent from this list is Hodge's understanding that revelation by its nature involves the communication of knowledge from God.[26]  Grenz summarizes his argument warning that evangelicals must therefore not idolize the Bible; the Bible is God's word to us in that it facilitates encounter with God.  Grenz concludes with faint praise for the word of God, "Only the Bible is so intimately related to the historical revelation of God as itself to be termed 'revelation.'"  This, Grenz argues, is why the Bible is authoritative within the believing community.[27]

            We can know that the text is authoritative, Grenz argues, because it has proved useful in mediating spiritual blessing within the Church.  Usefulness to the community, one might reason, is not to be deduced from inspiration, but inspiration from the text's usefulness to the community.[28]  Grenz does qualify these assertions by insisting that we are no longer in the process of forming the canon, but of benefiting from it.[29]  Nevertheless, if the Spirit's work in producing the Scripture is not essentially different from His work in making the Christian holy, Grenz's hesitance regarding the doctrine of inerrancy would seem valid.[30]

            Hodge's "from above" understanding of the Bible more closely reflects the biblical teaching and provides a better model for constructing the Church's theological methodology.  The Scripture is not a communal attempt to describe its experience; it is a Divine communication intended to create and define true evangelical experience.  The Bible's source ultimately lies not within the community, but in God who establishes the community and who communicates to the community, not only through acts, but also through propositional revelation.  Jeremiah's prophecies were not a product of the Jewish community; they had their source in God, who purposed to correct and define the community.[31]  Paul's message was not a manifestation of the community's using words to describe its corporate experience.  Paul's message was propositional communication from God to the community to correct and define and establish its experience.[32]  Tom Nettles would agree, "While the community aspect [Grenz] advocates has some protective features, his neutrality, if not negativism, toward propositional revelation... and [toward] explicit commitment to inerrancy is both unnecessary and hurtful."[33]


3.  The Sources for Theology

            As a result of such divergent understandings of the Bible and theology, Hodge and Grenz give somewhat different descriptions of the sources and norms for theology.  Charles Hodge writes, "The Bible contains all the facts or truths which form the contents of theology, just as the facts of nature are the contents of the natural sciences."[34]  Although God has also spoken in nature, Hodge notes, "everything revealed in nature, and in the constitution of man concerning God and our relation to Him, is contained and authenticated in Scripture."[35]  Thus, the only ultimate source for a truly Christian theology is the Bible:


            The Bible is to the theologian what nature is to the man of science.  It is his store-house of facts....  These facts are all in the Bible....  It is in this sense that "The Bible, and the Bible alone, is the religion of the Protestants."...  We find in the Bible the norm and standard of all genuine religious experience.  The Scriptures teach not only the truth, but what are the effects of the truth on the heart and conscience, when applied with saving power by the Holy Ghost.[36]


Hodge adds, "We cannot appeal to our own feelings or inward experience, as a ground or guide, unless we can show that it agrees with the experience of holy men as recorded in the Scriptures."[37]

            Still, Hodge does insist that the historic confessions of the Church ought to be consulted with great deference:


It is not denied that people, learned and unlearned, in order to the proper understanding of the Scriptures, should not only compare Scripture with Scripture, and avail themselves of all the means in their power to aid them in their search after the truth, but they should also pay the greatest deference to the faith of the Church.[38]


This is the pattern Hodge follows in much of his Systematic Theology.  Tradition is respected and utilized, but the decrees of the Church are not ultimately a source or norm for theology; only Scripture is.

            Grenz, however, proposes three sources or norms for Christian theology:  Scripture, tradition, and the thought forms of the day.  He writes, "Our task moves from the biblical message, through the theological heritage of the church, to the thought forms and issues of the cultural context in which we live."[39]  This follows from Grenz's understanding of the nature of the Bible.  As the community produced the Bible, and as that community has continued organically down through the ages (producing tradition), this same community now dwells within a different cultural context with different thought forms which the Church must adopt and use to communicate with that culture.

            Grenz affirms that confessions are not of themselves binding but must be "tested by the Scriptures."[40]  And it is likely that his conception of its role in the theological task does not differ greatly from Hodge beyond the semantic level.  But Tom Nettles voices an important concern regarding Grenz's elevation of the thought forms of the culture to the status of norm.  He writes, "We may be called to oppose the thought forms and concerns of contemporary culture rather than adopt them as our link to effective communication."[41]  As will be discussed in Part II below, Hodge exemplified interacting with the thought forms of the day without adopting them.

            Again, Tom Nettles is helpful:  "[Grenz's] warnings concerning heritage and culture are warranted; but one wonders, given the caveats, if the status of 'norm' should be accorded them.  The position that Scripture is the only norm and that heritage and culture are two supporting 'spheres of information' would be more accurate and helpful....  Though Grenz is right that these three must always inform the theologian in his task, only one, Scripture, is normative."[42]  Grenz is not improving upon Hodge in establishing three norms for the theological task.


4.  Hermeneutics & Theology

            Given their differing understandings of the nature of theology and of the Bible, and given their differing sources for theology, it follows that Hodge and Grenz often make very different use of the Bible in constructing theological argumentation.  Charles Hodge views the theologian's interaction with Scripture as the process of induction from specific texts.  That is, the theologian moves from specific passages to principles or teachings drawn from a body of texts, systematizing the teachings so as to account for all the data.  This Hodge calls the inductive method.[43]

            Hodge posits three broad principles to follow in the interpretation of Scripture.  One must view the giving of Scripture as a communicative event, so that human language must be taken in its historical sense.  And since this communication is from the same person, namely God, the reader must assume that Scripture will not contradict itself, instead allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.  And since this communication is from God to often rebellious humans, we must seek the Holy Spirit's guidance in the task.  Hodge writes:


            1) The words of Scripture are to be taken in their plain historical sense...

            2)  If the Scriptures be what they claim to be... Scripture must explain Scripture...

            3)  The Scriptures are to be interpreted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which      guidance is to be humbly and earnestly sought....  The unrenewed mind is naturally blind    to spiritual truth.[44]


In all of this, Hodge assumes that the individual text is (with Divine aid and through the diligent use of proper tools and means) usually understandable, so that the individual text is able to define a doctrine or to nuance a doctrine taught elsewhere in Scripture.

            Grenz works with a different hermeneutic from Hodge.  Behind Grenz's hermeneutic would appear to lie a philosophical precommitment to the epistemology of Immanuel Kant.  In his fine book on eschatology, The Millennial maze,[45] Grenz seems at times skeptical as to the possibility of inductive knowledge from Scripture.[46]  Though he correctly observes that exegesis is often defined by the expositor's theological presuppositions and world view, Grenz seems to find unlikely the prospect that a world view may be corrected by inductive interaction with specific texts.[47]  This same skepticism about inductive knowledge is apparent in Grenz's Revisioning Evangelical Theology.  He chides evangelicals, "whether Calvinist, dispensational, Wesleyan or Arminan" for arguing that "the teaching of Scripture is objectively understandable."  The expositor is caught within a hermeneutical circle that renders the individual text, which is not itself objectively understandable, inconclusive.

            Grenz continues by accepting George Marsden's critique of evangelical theology as "early modern" for its acceptance of "the empirical approach and common sense."[48]  By such a statement, it would appear that Marsden and Grenz are referring to inductive biblical learning and human reason.  Inductive biblical knowledge and human reason can hardly be limited to the identification of "early modern."  That Grenz views an inductive exegesis and belief in (albeit corrupted) human reason as a liability itself shows the influence from Kant's skepticism.

            Tom Nettles is correct in assessing Grenz's philosophical commitments.  He writes, "[Grenz] seems to accept the epistemological shift procreated by Immanuel Kant.  A Kantian subjectivity wends its way stealthily through much of what Grenz proposes."[49]  Grenz follows Kant in criticizing the notion of "a person's ability to view reality... as an unconditioned observer—to peer at the world from a vantage point outside the flux of history."[50]  Certainly the Christian will insist that all reality is perceived through a noetic structure, or set of assumptions; this is why Hodge insisted that the Bible be interpreted only by believers under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  But Grenz moves beyond Hodge in rejecting the Scripture as an objectively understandable act of communication.

            This Kantian epistemology leads Grenz to a hesitancy to accept the exposition of specific texts as authoritative.  Specific texts are understood only in light of previous assumptions, so as to make exegesis an inherently unreliable endeavor.  Grenz disapproves of traditional exegesis:  "On the basis of this commitment to the Scriptures as divine, they [traditional evangelicals] turn to engagement with the specific texts themselves."  Grenz then criticizes modern evangelicals for their cautious stance toward modern critical exegesis.[51]  Again, Grenz disputes the possibility that "the teaching of Scripture is objectively understandable."[52]  Rather, biblical themes are considered more trustworthy and therefore determine the exegesis of specific texts.

            One wonders if it is this same theme-driven hesitancy about inductive knowledge from specific texts which lies behind Grenz's feminism.  In his book Women in the Church:  A Biblical Theology of Women in the Ministry,[53] Grenz argues that the biblical themes of gender egalitarianism and removal of outward distinctions are such that a text like 1 Timothy 2, which explicitly prohibits women from the task of authoritative doctrinal teaching, must be understood as a merely temporary injunction designed so as to train women for future pastoral ministry.[54]  The individual text of 1 Timothy 2, though it appears to bar women from the authoritative teaching ministry, Grenz argues, must be considered inconclusive in light of the theme.[55]

            The individual text, not being objectively understandable, is less helpful to the theological task.  Tom Nettles notes the noticeable lack of exegesis in Grenz's own work.  "Ironically, there is precious little biblical exposition in [Grenz's] proposal.  This may be consistent with the method he proposes, but I think it will have little success in uniting evangelicals in a new theological quest."[56]  This leaves one wondering how an evangelical scholar could write a text on theological methodology in which he challenges, among other things, the traditional doctrine of Scripture, and yet almost completely fail to interact with that same Scripture.  Again, this hermeneutic demonstrates the influence of a Kantian skepticism.

            Charles Hodge was confronted with the same Kantian epistemology, but his path was to challenge, rather than accept, it.[57]  And Hodge was certainly criticized for rejecting Kant, particularly by the Dutch theologians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In his assessment of Hodge's method, Ralph J. Danhof wrote, "The great Kant [Hodge] has more or less ignored, and his system of philosophy made little impression upon the Systematic Theology of Hodge."[58]  Danhof bemoaned this fact, noting how Dutch theology by the 1920s, by contrast, was heavily indebted to Kant.  The evangelical theologian today would do well to follow Hodge in working with a text-based exegesis.


PART II.  Two Objections to Hodge's Methodology

Criticism #1

Charles Hodge was a Baconian inductivist, "early modern" in his philosophical assumptions and merely a product of his age.

            Perhaps the most common critique of Charles Hodge is that he uncritically accepted the philosophical inductivism of his age.[59]  Hodge does describe his method as an "inductive" one.   Hodge compares his inductive theological method with the method used by those in the natural sciences, in that the learner comes to the task with certain philosophical assumptions, or "first principles," carefully collects information, then deduces principles from that body of information.[60]  To this extent, Hodge sees agreement between his inductive method and the inductive method used in the natural sciences.

            In a recent article, however, Donald Fuller and Richard Gardiner note that nothing in this method constitutes a commitment to philosophical inductionism.  Fuller and Gardiner distinguish an inductive method that reasons from specifics to generalities[61] (which is a helpful and necessary tool in the gathering of data), from philosophical inductionism, which posits that

1) metaphysical truths are no longer tenable; and 2) nature is a uniform, closed system.[62]  Following from this latter point is the assumption that scientific conclusions are therefore certain.  For Hodge, the inductive method did not include a commitment to philosophical inductionism.

            Over against Hume, Kant and the philosophical inductivism of his day, Hodge insisted upon the reality of metaphysical truths.  In fact, the first step in Hodge's inductive method was the acceptance of these universal and necessary metaphysical realities as first principles or assumptions in approaching the text.[63]  These Hodge explains have been "impressed upon our nature," including, for example, basic principles of rationality and the "essential distinction between right and wrong... which God has implanted in the constitution of all moral beings."[64]

            Concerning the inductivist assertion of the uniformity of nature within a closed system, Hodge asserts "that this absolute immutability of natural laws is a gratuitous assumption.  That a thing has been is not proof that it must always be.  There is no certainty, because no necessity, that the sun will rise tomorrow."[65]  Thus nature is not absolutely uniform; scientific conclusions do not therefore carry certainty.

            And as scientific conclusions do not carry certainty, Hodge asserts, so neither do theological conclusions.[66]  Hodge writes:


            Theologians are not infallible in the interpretation of Scripture.  It may, therefore, happen in the future, as it has in the past, that interpretations of the Bible, long confidently received, must be modified or abandoned....  This change of view as to the true meaning of the Bible may be a painful trial to the Church, but it does not in the least impair the authority of the Scriptures.  They remain infallible; we are merely convicted of having mistaken their meaning.[67]


Hodge's inductive theological method did not lend certainty to the theologian's conclusions.

            Fuller and Gardiner note that there is nothing in Charles Hodge's inductive method that had not been assumed for centuries.  They reference as an example William Ames, who late in the sixteenth century presented the following three-step approach to biblical exegesis:


            How is an analysis of Sacred Scripture and things done?

            [1]  It is accomplished when the rules of logic have been duly applied...

            [2]  It is carried forward by observation having been perceived by the senses...

            [3]  It is completed by induction...[68]


            Fuller and Gardiner conclude, "What Hodge affirms about induction are not the naturalistic philosophical assumptions of his nineteenth century 'positivist contemporaries' but, rather, the inductive (although metaphysically grounded) investigative process which appears to be drawn as much (if not more) from earlier divines as from the inductive scientists of the nineteenth century."[69]  Hodge rejected philosophical inductionism both in its denial of metaphysics and in its assertion of absolute uniformity within a closed universe.  It can only be concluded that Hodge had no commitment to philosophical inductivism, that his method was not "early modern," but that of earlier divines, not simply a product of his age.


Criticism #2

Hodge failed to contextualize his theology to speak to his culture, instead presenting theology as a set of "timeless truths" outside of history.

            A second common criticism of Hodge's systematic method, one leveled by Grenz, is that it failed to contextualize theology, presenting theology in strictly abstract form and not interacting with the thought forms of the day.  Grenz criticizes the Princeton theology, saying it "elevated the propositional and unchanging nature of truth....  Rather than anchoring theology in a cultural context, the Princeton thinkers sought to emancipate it from such a context, and thereby to produce a statement of truth that would be timeless and culture-free."[70]

            Ironically, it is the answer to the first criticism regarding Hodge's method that largely answers the second objection.  The nineteenth century could be labeled the Age of Science, in that the language and methods of science permeated Western culture during the period.  In his Systematic Theology and other writings, Charles Hodge presented theology as Queen of the Sciences in a scientific age.  Even Hodge's language is permeated with the vocabulary of his age; theology is a "science."[71]  Biblical passages are "facts."[72]  Hodge's method he labels "inductive."[73]  At the highest level, both in overarching vision and in terminology, Hodge does precisely what Grenz accuses him of avoiding.[74]

            But while Hodge utilizes the thought forms and vocabulary of the Age of Science, he challenges the era's fundamental idolatry.  He summarizes but refutes Kant's and Hume's arguments against that knowledge of God which is mediated through creation.[75]  And while critiquing those skeptical of reason, Hodge also critiques those who idolize reason, including an entire chapter on Rationalism.[76]  Hodge discusses the possibilities and limitations of philosophy,[77] and his Theology contains a lengthy discussion of the possibility of miracles.[78]  He includes among his writings a thorough assessment of Darwinism.[79]  It is interesting to note, for example, that Hodge teaches that scientific knowledge gained through nature can correct biblical exegesis, as both are sources of truth from God.[80]  Hodge's theology is a theology which speaks to Christians as they exist not merely in the abstract, but as they exist within a scientific culture.  One imagines that Hodge realized the Church's greatest detractors would use the sciences as a cover for their fundamental unbelief.

            Hodge presents to the Christian in the Age of Science a vision for building all of life upon God's foundation, all of life related closely to God as Creator and Redeemer.  The basis for all true knowledge, Hodge asserts, is Divine communication.  Revealed as Creator, God has structured His universe and the human psyche in such a way as to provide a foundation for the sciences and for philosophy.[81]  Revealed as Redeemer, God has communicated to humanity in the Scriptures, which contain all the communication which the theologian is called to systematize and communicate redemptively to God's community in the world, his Church.[82]  Thus Hodge presents a vision for all reality under the one God who has communicated in two ways, a vision which speaks to the issues of the day in the language of the day, but always doing so as to challenge the fundamental idolatry of the Age of Science.


PART III.  How Hodge can Learn from Grenz

            Although Charles Hodge presents to the evangelical the better model of theological method, theologians in the Princeton tradition do have much to learn from Stanley Grenz's Revisioning Evangelical Theology.  To begin with, one is reminded that theology must be application-driven.  Grenz writes, "To be truly an evangelical, right doctrine, as important as it is, is not enough.  The truth of the Christian faith must become personally experienced truth."[83]  While Hodge cannot be accused of failing to contextualize his theology, Christians need a fuller outworking of the effects God desires in those who believe sound theology.  Such a call every theologian must hear.

            Grenz is also helpful in stressing the importance of the biblical narrative.  Redemptive history is the context in which God gave the Scriptures, and this redemptive history continues.  God is seeking through the Scriptures and the outpouring of His Spirit to bring men into relationship with Himself.  Christian theology is not merely a system of beliefs; nor is it a system of beliefs and ethics.  Christianity is a relationship with the Author of the universe, who is calling out a people for Himself.  This moves beyond the cognitive and behavioral.  The biblical story is our story.  The Christian is a part of God's redemptive work in history, in relationship with the God of History.

            And this relationship with God is a communal one.[84]  God is calling out a people, a community, a temple, a body, a Church.  Certainly the motif of community is a vital one within the pages of Scripture; Grenz is helpful in seeking to use this teaching to combat individualism and strengthen the Church.  Christianity is not an individual exercise, but a group activity.  Grenz may be in error when he makes the community the source and foundation for the Scriptures, but he is correct in asserting that the community is the primary realm of God's action within history.  Those following Hodge do well to listen.



            In reading Charles Hodge and Stanley Grenz, one begins to realize that, while Hodge's strength is his clarity, Grenz's weakness is his vagueness.  At many points, it is difficult to distinguish what Grenz affirms from what he does not deny.  Still, at four crucial points Grenz is clearly at variance with Hodge, and at each of these points Hodge presents the better model for theological method.  First, Grenz presents a theological method "from below," in which theology ceases to be the study of God's communication (as with Hodge) and instead becomes the internal self-reflection of the Church.  Second, Grenz's proposal assumes a view of Scripture that, while authoritative, is lower than Hodge's understanding as God's inerrant communication through the Holy Spirit.  Third, Grenz elevates tradition and contemporary thought forms to the status of norms for theology, a position which Hodge correctly avoids.  And fourth, Grenz appears at times heavily influenced by Kant, which leads to a belief that the text of Scripture cannot be objectively understood, so that the study of individual texts becomes untrustworthy.  Hodge's inductive model is to be preferred at this point as well the others.  Hodge presents a theological method which uses the vocabulary of his age to communicate to and challenge the fundamental idolatry of the Age of Science.  Still, in all of this, those following in Hodge's Princetonian footsteps have much to gain from the postconservative Stanley Grenz.





Ahlstrom, Sydney E.  "The Scottish Philosophy and the American Theology," in Church History XXIV.3 (September, 1955), 257-272.


Audi, Robert, ed.  The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


Danhof, Ralph J.  Charles Hodge as a Dogmatician.  (Goes, Netherlands: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, about 1928).


Fuller, Donald and Richard Gardiner.  "Reformed Theology at Princeton and Amsterdam in the Late Nineteenth Century:  A Reappraisal," in Presbyterion 21/2 (Fall 1995), 89-117.


Grenz, Stanley J.  Revisioning Evangelical Theology:  A Fresh Agenda for the Twentieth Century.  (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1993).


________.  The Millennial Maze:  Sorting Out Evangelical Options.  (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1992).


________.  Women in the Church:  A Biblical Theology of Women in the Ministry.  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).


Hodge, Charles.  Systematic Theology.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993).


________.  Mark A. Noll & David N. Livingstone eds.  What is Darwinism? And Other Writings on Science & Religion.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994).


Hoffecker, W. Andrew.  Piety and the Princeton Theologians.  (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1981).


Jones, Charles Andrews I.  Charles Hodge, the Keeper of Orthodoxy:  The Method, Purpose and Meaning of His Apologetic.  Doctoral dissertation presented to Drew University,   Madison, NJ, 1989.


Lazenby, Henry F.  Revelation in History in the Theologies of Charles Hodge and Karl Barth.  Doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Aberdeen, 1982.


Marsden, George.  "The Collapse of American Evangelical Academia," in Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, eds. Faith and Rationality:  Reason and Belief in God.  (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983) 219-264.



Muller, Richard A. "Giving Direction to Theology:  The Scholastic Dimension," in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 28/2 (June 1985), 183-194.


Nettles, Tom J.  "Review of Stanley Grenz. Revisioning Evangelical Theology," in Trinity Journal 15 NS, 1 (Spring 1994), 123-130.


Wells, David F.  "Charles Hodge," in David F. Wells, ed. The Princeton Theology.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989).




[1]Stanley J. Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology:  A Fresh Agenda for the Twentieth Century.  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).


[2]Grenz, 66-67.


[3]Grenz labels Hodge's method the Concordance model, a term of which Hodge would likely have disapproved.  The term concordance implies that Hodge used passages out of context, as if reading a concordance.  Traditional is a better term in that it identifies Hodge's method as essentially the same as previous evangelical theologians such as Calvin and Turretin, and later theologians such as Carl Henry.


[4]Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology.  (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993).


[5]Hodge, 21.


[6]Grenz, 18.


[7]Grenz, 78.


[8]Grenz, 78.


[9]Grenz, 35.


[10]Romans 1.


[11]Hodge, 152.


[12]Hodge, 154.


[13]Hodge, 155.


[14]Hodge 156-7.


[15]Hodge, 164.


[16]Grenz, 77.


[17]Grenz, 94.


[18]Grenz, 121.


[19]Grenz, 93.


[20]Grenz, 118-123.


[21]Nettles, 127.


[22]Grenz, 130.


[23]Grenz, 132.


[24]Grenz, 132.


[25]Grenz, 133-4.


[26]Hodge, 155.


[27]Grenz, 133-4.


[28]This line of argument leaves one wondering whether the writings of C.S. Lewis would have been canonical had he written in the first century.


[29]Grenz, 132.


[30]Grenz, 110.


[31]At risk of being accused of a naive concordance method, one might reference 2 Peter 1:20-21, "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.  For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."


[32]Consider Galatians 1, for example.


[33]Nettles, 130.


[34]Hodge, 17.


[35]Hodge, 11.


[36]Hodge, 10-11.


[37]Hodge, 16.


[38]Hodge, 184.


[39]Grenz, 18.


[40]Grenz, 97.


[41]Tom J. Nettles, "Review of Stanley Grenz. Revisioning Evangelical Theology," in Trinity Journal 15 NS, 1 (Spring 1994), 125.


[42]Nettles, 124-5.


[43]Hodge, 9-15.


[44]Hodge, 187-8.


[45]Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze:  Sorting Out Evangelical Options.  (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1992).


[46]See, for example, chapter 7 of The Millennial Maze.  Grenz's observations may often be true regarding Revelation 20, with its imagery and apocalyptic nature.  But it would be error to argue that inductive knowledge is impossible, as if God were unable to really communicate to humans.  God has given a source from outside the community which stands as sole arbiter of disputes within the community.


[47]I personally have at least tentatively held each of the four views Grenz discusses—dispensational premillenialism, historic premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism—each time changing my view primarily because of further interaction with specific texts of Scripture.


[48]Grenz, 65.


[49]Nettles, 128.


[50]Grenz, 15.


[51]Grenz, Revisioning, 110.  Grenz applauds Clark Pinnock's The Scripture Principle.


[52]Grenz, 65.


[53]Stanley Grenz, Women in the Church:  A Biblical Theology of Women in the Ministry.  (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).


[54]Grenz, Women in the Church, 96-7, 99, 138, 140, 218.


[55]It would be more honest to the text (and to the task of systematic theology) to allow the individual text to nuance or qualify the theme.  Looking at another postconservative whose hermeneutic Grenz applauds, this theme-driven pattern is certainly Clark Pinnock's hermeneutic in arguing for Inclusivism.  The theme of general revelation takes precedence over specific texts (like Romans 10) which expressly teach a lack of hope for those who never hear the gospel.


[56]Nettles, 126.


[57]See Part II, Criticism #1, below.


[58]Ralph J. Danhof.  Charles Hodge as a Dogmatician.  (Goes, Netherlands: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, about 1928), 173.


[59]George Marsden is most vocal in leveling this charge in evangelical circles today.  Donald Fuller and Richard Gardiner demonstrate the criticism's origins in Abraham Kuyper.  The Neo-Orthodox followed suit, as did Cornelius Van Til.  It should be noted that all those who charge Hodge with inductivism in fact share a commitment to one degree or another to Kantian epistemology.  See Donald Fuller and Richard Gardiner.  "Reformed Theology at Princeton and Amsterdam in the Late Nineteenth Century:  A Reappraisal," in Presbyterion 21/2 (Fall 1995), 89-117.


[60]Hodge, 9-15.


[61]Or, in theology, from specific texts to principles or teachings drawn from a body of texts.


[62]Fuller Gardiner, 92.


[63]Ironically, most of those accusing Hodge of inductivism themselves follow Kant in rejecting these first truths.


[64]Hodge, 9-10.


[65]Hodge, 620.


[66]George Marsden has been particularly vocal is accusing Hodge and the Princetonians of thinking they could reach absolute certainty.  "Following the careful inductive method of Baconian science, [the Princeton theologians] were confident they could reach sure conclusions....  [Hodge had] as high a view of the powers of scientific inquiry as did his most positivistic and secularistic contemporaries."  Marsden, George.  "The Collapse of American Evangelical Academia," in Alvin Plantinga and         Nicholas Wolterstorff, eds. Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God.  (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983) 241, 246.


[67]Hodge, 59.


[68]William Ames, Alia Technometriae Delineatio, (ca. 1598), thesis 62, translated by Allan Lane of Princeton Theological Seminary, quoted from Fuller and Gardiner, 97.


[69]Fuller and Gardiner, 97.


[70]Grenz, Revisioning, 67.


[71]Hodge, 1.


[72]Hodge, 1.


[73]Hodge, 9.


[74]The end of the twentieth century has seen the collapse of faith in the sciences.  In this postmodern era, we need not (indeed, should not) use this language.  But it is the language, not the thought forms, of postmodernism that we must adopt.


[75]See, for example, 228.


[76]Hodge, 34-60.


[77]Hodge, 55-60.


[78]Hodge, 626-629.


[79]See Charles Hodge, What is Darwinism? And Other Writings on Science & Religion.  Mark A. Noll & David N. Livingstone eds.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994).


[80]Hodge, 59.


[81]Hodge, 56.


[82]Hodge argues tat as humans in their philosophy are more apt to err, the Bible must stand as final arbiter where theology and philosophy and sciences disagree.  Hodge, 58.


[83]Grenz, 57.


[84]See, for example, Grenz, 15-16.