The Postmodern Self in Theological Perspective: A Communal, Narrative, and Ecclesial Approach

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Drawing on the work of Stanley J. Grenz and Paul Ricoeur, this article proposes a communal, narrative, and ecclesial response to what Grenz calls ‘the dissipation of the self’ after modernity. Tracing briefly the rise of the self-sufficient self of modernity attention is then given to the deconstructed self of postmodernity. The article then utilizes the imago Dei as a theological resource, in conversation with Grenz and Ricoeur, for the reconstruction of the postmodern self along communal, narrative, and ecclesial lines. The final conclusion is that the postmodern self receives theological relief in the form of the ‘ecclesial self’ constituted in trinitarian community ‘in Christ’ and through the Spirit within Christ’s new humanity.

The Postmodern Self in Theological Perspective: A Communal, Narrative, and Ecclesial Approach

in Ecclesiology




C. TaylorSources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1989) pp. 130–133 168. On Augustine see S.J. Grenz The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Louisville ky: Westminster John Knox Press 2001) pp. 60–64 and Taylor Sources pp. 127–142.


StiverTheology after Ricoeur pp. 8–11; Taylor Sources especially Part ii; and Grenz Social God pp. 97 113.


GrenzSocial God p. 96.


GrenzSocial God pp. 86–97.


LeithartSolomon pp. 110–111.


LeithartSolomon p. 111.


GrenzSocial God p. 135. Cf. J. Lyotard The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi (Minneapolis mn: University of Minnesota Press 1984) p. 15.


TaylorSources p. 36. The image of a web is particularly apt given the present ubiquity of the ‘world wide web’ and the role it has come to play in identity formation. (See Romele ‘Narrative Identity and Social Networking Sites’ pp. 108–122) However the confluence of the postmodern turn to relationality the internet and social media may not have ­dislodged the individualism of modernity as perhaps formerly hoped but merely reconfigured it into a ‘networked individualism’. (See H.A. Campbell and S. Garner Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in a Digital Culture (Grand Rapids mi: Baker Academic 2016) pp. 9 56 72–73)


 See T.A. Carlson‘Postmetaphysical Theology’ in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theologypp. 58–75. I do find a couple of interesting parallels here. The first is that just as Marion does not mean that God ceases to exist in arguing for ‘God without being’ so too Foucault did not seem to mean the ‘self’ somehow disappeared in his call for the death of self. Both Marion and Foucault exhibit a concern to challenge what they conceive of as the shackles of modern ontology in relation to God (Marion) and the self (Foucault). Such concerns greatly impact a consideration of the postmodern self in the (triune) ­image of God.


EricksonGod in Three Persons pp. 296–298; Grenz tcg pp. 66–67; and Seamands ­Ministry p. 80.


 See SeamandsMinistry pp. 141–145; Grenz Social God pp. 43–44 316–317; and Erickson God in Three Persons pp. 92–93 228–238 307–308.


GrenzBeyond Foundationalism pp. 200–202 226–228. See however K. Kilby ‘­Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity’ New ­Blackfriars 81.957 (2000) pp. 432–445 as a representative critique that (social) trinitarian theological anthropologies risk projecting idealist notions of human sociality back into the Trinity. While a full study is not possible in this space in regards to Grenz’s (revisioned social trinitarian) approach I maintain that features such as his postfoundationalism theo-ontological method theological Christo-anthropology and development of triune participation as theosis serve to mitigate such concerns. See also G. van den Brink ‘­Social Trinitarianism: A Discussion of Some Recent Theological Criticisms’ International ­Journal of Systematic Theology 16.3 (July 2014) pp. 331–350 for a recent response to social trinitarian critics.


 See GrenzBeyond Foundationalism pp. 169–202 (Trinity) pp. 203–238 (community) and pp. 239–273 (eschatology) for his trio of focal motifs. In the same volume Scripture (pp. 57–92) tradition (pp. 93–129) and culture (pp. 130–166) form his trialogue of theological sources.


GrenzSocial God pp. 312–313 320–323 328–329 331–334. See also S.J. Grenz ‘Ecclesiology’ in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology pp. 252–268. For a positive evaluation of Grenz’s ecclesiology alongside koinonia ecclesiology see P. Fiddes ‘The Church Local and Universal: Catholic and Baptist Perspectives on Koinonia Ecclesiology’ in Derek Tidball et al. (eds) Revisioning Renewing Rediscovering the Triune Center: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. Grenz (Eugene or: Cascade Books 2014) pp. 97–120.


RicoeurOneself as Another pp. 2–3 16 18 56 85 96 116 118–119 121 124 127 148–149 205 241 267 318 331–335. See also P. Ricoeur Time and Narrative vol. 3 trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago il: University of Chicago Press 1988) p. 246 and J. Carter Ricoeur on Moral Religion: A Hermeneutics of Ethical Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2014) pp. 110–111.


StiverTheology after Ricoeur p. 167.


StiverThe Philosophy of Religious Language p. 92.


StiverTheology after Ricoeur p. 174. While mirroring Sartre’s ‘condemned to freedom’ this need not evince Sartre’s pessimism but rather the more optimistic posture of ­Merleau-Ponty from whom the quote originates.


RicoeurOneself as Another pp. 161–178.


RicoeurOneself as Another pp. 4–23.


StiverTheology after Ricoeur pp. 168 177–178. On Ricoeur’s resistance to more radical notions of the dissolution of the self Johann Michel states ‘[I]t is necessary to distinguish between on the one side the radical finitude envisioned by Heidegger and Derrida which does not leave room for any recomposition of the subject and on the other side the ­relative finitude conceived by Ricoeur which leaves room for hope and the quest for the self’ (Ricoeur and the Post-Structuralists: Bourdieu Derrida Deleuze Foucault ­Castoriadis trans. Scott Davidson (London: Rowman and Littlefield 2015) pp. 40–41).


MedleyImago Trinitatis p. 159 states ‘As human beings created in the triune God’s ­image we are called to live lives of mutual participation … in which our participation in the life of the Trinity and in the lives of others is not just something we “have” but is what constitutes us as persons’.


GrenzSocial God p. 331 states ‘The Christian identity is a shared identity. [It] is bound up with the human destiny to be the imago Dei to exemplify the pattern of life that characterizes the triune God. Because the triune life can be represented only within a relational context the self is truly ecclesial; the self of each participant in the new humanity is constituted through the relationality of the community of those who by the Spirit are “in Christ”’.


GrenzSocial God p. 326.


GrenzSocial God p. 334; J. Zizioulas ‘The Doctrine of God the Trinity Today: Suggestions for an Ecumenical Study’ in A.I.C. Heron (ed.) The Forgotten Trinity (London: bcc/ccbi Inter-Church House 1989) pp. 27–28.


RicoeurOneself as Another p. 327.


Grenz‘Ecclesiology’ pp. 256–268. See also Grenz’s notion of ‘eschatological realism’ in Beyond Foundationalism pp. 271–273.


Ricoeur‘Summoned Subject’ pp. 262–264 and see p. 268 on the ‘christomorphic’ ­summoned self.


GrenzSocial God p. 332.


Fiddes‘The Church Local and Universal’ pp. 99–100 105–107 117–118. See also J. Sexton ‘Stanley Grenz’s Ecclesiology: Telic and Trinitarian’ Pacific Journal of Baptist Research 6.1 (April 2010) pp. 20–43.


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