Yesterday John Franke gave an open lecture at Gordon-Conwell. I was excited about this for a few reasons. The primary reason being I recently read his Character of Theology book and agreed with just about everything he said! Quite honestly, this was a tad disconcerting to me and thus I am thinking more deeply about my own convictions. I’ve never viewed myself as “postmodern,” “emergent,” or even “postconservative” yet I agree with so much of what they say! From what I can tell, Emergents got it going on… they are definetely on to something! Of course many pomo’s reject epistemological foundationalism and adopt nonfoundational and contextual conceptions of epistomology. Many go way too far and thats probably why I’m still a little nervous about the term. I think we DO need to question the universality, objectivity and certainty of truth… Let’s be honest about it. However, I DON’T think we should give up on the idea of truth all together (neither would Franke). I may be holding on to Descartes’ foundationalism too much to be labeled a “postmodern” but alas, this is not the purpose of this post. It prolly isn’t fair to lump all these terms together either. I’ll stop.
I want to share the main thrust of his lecture with you and offer one reflection/critique. Basically Franke’s lecture revolved around his new book I haven’t read yet, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth. He began his lecture by asking, “If the Holy Spirit is guiding the whole church into the whole truth, what’s up with all the plurality?” His main thesis was that the Plurality of the church is a good thing, Plurality is not a problem to be solved. Franke says Orthodox Biblical Christianity is characterized by an irreducible plurality which is the norm and intention of God. Plurality is part of the divine plan.
In explaining this he talks about Truth and God. Truth, he says, “IS God, in God’s self.” He added, “God in God’s self is the plurality of truth.” He says the Trinity joyfully exists in its’ interdependent relationality with all the separate parts. The missional love they share “is not the kind of love that seeks to engage the other and make it the same… rather God simply lives life with the other.” Franke suggests if this is true, then revelation and humanity ought to bear that image. Basically, if God is all about plurality, why aren’t we?
He followed with an important question… Does Scripture (Revelation) mirror this thesis about GOD? Franke says Scripture itself is a manifold witness to the plurality of truth since it “neither contradicts nor perfectly coheres with itself.” Scripture is a manifold reflection of God since God is the foundation of that plurality of truth. Franke says the Word of God is our Normative witness to revelation (right on!). Scripture is “Truth written” and those pages show inherent plurality of that truth. Supposedly, Scripture as our paradigmatic witness also invites “greater plurality than even that which is contained in its own pages.” Franke says the church should be continually expanded in keeping with the mission of God. After all, Chrisianity started in the Jewish Context of the Roman Empire, but was meant to expand. Again, I agree.
He then said that an appropriate understanding of the theology of the church includes a plurality of voices including black, feminist and liberal theology since “black theology is not only for blacks and feminist theology is not only for women.” I really liked this point, especially since I’ve realized I’m more feminist than my wife! I find some feminist theory quite refreshing! Franke would be pleased since he believes by listening attentively to these voices we make sense out of Christian History and move closer to a good theology.
Franke made it clear that although he is committed to plurality, he does not affirm an “anything goes” attitude. “Christian faith is plural but not all forms of faith are legit.” If I had to sum his talk up in one short paragraph it would be this:
Hey White American Christians, you aren’t the only ones who exist. Decentralize yourself and start listening. Open your eyes to the pluralism around you and get with the program. God is ok with it and you should be too. Admit it, your peers in other circles and different places have important things to say. Get over yourself, open your eyes, and embrace the pluralism you are trying so hard to deny/suppress.
Here is my one critique: His pluralistic program can’t work in his system. In Franke’s Character of Theology, page 90, he tells us that the quest for a transcultural theology is theologically and Biblically unwarranted since all theology is embedded in culture. If this is the case, why should we listen? If White Americans have their own theology [according to white American experience] figured out, [and shouldn’t push their own theology on others, and likewise shouldn’t be pushed upon by others,] why should they listen to other voices? Shouldn’t we only listen to others IF we want to unify? A Latin American Theologian may say some good stuff, but does it apply to white Americans? If not, then we are listening only for the sake of listening. Franke’s basic purpose of theology forces us to de-pluralize ourselves from each other, and this is the very thing he is fighting against! Hmmm. All in all, I like his style. He doesn’t shy away from controversy… how liberating!