(This is the beginning of a series of reviews on Franke’s text. This is as much for my own clarity as for those who may be interested in reading the book.)

I was first introduced to this author by my college mentor, a personal friend of Franke’s and classmate at Biblical, Dan Ebert PhD. TEDS. We read Franke and Grenz’s book Beyond Foundationalism as part of a theological prolegomena independent study at my college. I can recall the refreshing evangelical terms and tone of the work in comparison to a Lindbeck text and a Jensen text we were also reading during this study. Yet I knew that there was something in the work that was, like its title, beyond evangelicalism.

‘Bearings’

The first chapter of Franke’s text takes the reader in a more approachable way through some of the things dealt with before in Beyond Foundationalism. The author leads you through two areas which help to set the social and philosophical context of present theology. The areas are: the situation and thought of postmodernity; and the contemporary state of theology and a way to define it. This chapter along with the next chapter, The Subject of Theology, give Franke a reference as he moves through theologies nature, task, and purpose. If his first two chapters are misunderstood the rest of his work is likely to be poorly recieved by the reader.

Within these two areas Franke sets out three very important definitions: postmodernity – the social setting present theologians find themselves in; postconservative – the approach to the liberal fundamentalist divide of modernity Franke defines himself by; and theology – Franke gives his readers a general definition and a more particular one concering its character.

‘Definitions’

POSTMODERNITY: Postmodernity represents a serious structural and thoroughgoing (pg. 15) change to the current state of affairs in the contemporary world. As such it is not something we choose to affirm or deny, rather it’s a discreptor of the social and intellectual world we function within. (pg. 16) Christian’s often fear this idea because of a misconception of Lyotard’s postmodern philosophy, the gospel is a meganarrative not a metanarrative – metanarratives are not directly about the world/meganarrative but rather are a second level discourse. (pg. 18) Unlike metanarratives that claim they legitamate the meganarrative by universal, autonomous reason alone, meganarratives tell a grand story of the world. Franke claims that many Christians miss this nuance. The postmodern situation takes two turns: one is linguistic – language does not represent reality as much as constitute it (pgs. 23-26); and the second is nonfoundational – based on the hermeneutic of human finitude/creaturely-ness of man, and the hermeneutic of suspicion/sinfulness of man, the modern project of foundationalism is neither possible nor desirable. (pgs. 26-28)

POSTCONSERVATIVE: Franke sees postmodernity as a real influence in the growth and development of postliberal and postconservative theology. (pgs. 36-38) As a term, postconservative theology points to the reality that being conservative is not necessarily being evangelical, evangelicals do not hold the market on conservativism. Secondly, the term points to the hope of a more fruitful dialogue between liberals and conservatives, since both postliberalism and postconverativism highlight the same cause of development between the two approaches – modernity. Lastly, the term points to the diverse enterprise of postconservative theology. It holds in common with postliberalism not a set of theological doctrines but rather some common perspectives on the discipline of theology itself. (pg. 38)

THEOLOGY: Franke gives his readers a general definition of theology and a more particular one of its character. General definition: theology is ‘the orderly study and investigation of the truths of the Christian faith’. (pg. 40) Particular definition of its character: ‘Christian theology is an ongoing, second-order, contextual discipline that engages in the task of critical and constructive reflection on the beliefs and practices of the Christian church for the purpose of assisting the community of Christ’s followers in their missional vocation to live as the people of God in the particular social-historical context which they are situated.’ (pg. 44) Surrounding these definitions Franke moves through both ecumenical concerns and theologia reformata et semper reformanda.

‘Critical and Constructive Reflection’

  1. Does Franke really move beyond the liberal/conservative impasse with his postconservative theology?

  2. Does Franke understand theologia reformata et semper reformanda in the context it is was used by the reformers (Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, etc.) and post-reformation theologians (Turretin, Hodge, Bavinck, etc.)?

  3. Can we easily separate notions of the discipline of theology from theological conclusions? Should we – incarnation, inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, perspecuity, illumination, etc. these all play a part in our discipline of theology yet they are also conclusions themselves are they not?

  4. What does it mean for the various traditions within the church to give their witness without being sectarian? For that matter, what does sectarian mean?

  5. Is it reductionistic to say liberalism and conservativism where merely products of modernity? Do not postliberalism and postconservativism run the risk of being merely products of postmodernity?

  6. I am also left wanting a more precise definition of what a postconservative is?

  7. Is the nuance of mega/meta narrative an answer, or rather an invitation into a much deeper haze between the actual and the ideal?

  8. Is postmodernity what the church is really socially and intellectually functioning within? What about globalism, or the two-thirds world church’s social context, or what about neo-agrigarianism?

As a reader I was blessed by Franke’s challange to understand Lyotard in a less critical way and within that postmodernity’s epistemology in a more friendly fashion. I was also challenged to consider how seriously I was taking my surrounding culture before I set out to do the work of theology. Franke gave me many helpful categories and while I’m not totally persuaded by his archeticture of modern theology(s) I found his reading of many leaders in the church clarifying and concise. I also think Franke has done a fine job of self-identifing his position in this introductory chapter, I think calling himself a postconverative is safer than saying his approach is toward a postmodern Reformed Dogmatic. No matter what conclusion I come to over the breadth and deepth of postmodernity’s influence, Franke has given me some clear challanges to meet it in its linguistic and nonfoundational turns. More than that he’s given me a way to afirm some of postmodernity’s hermeneutic though not all. I strongly encourage all to read Franke’s text carefully, being willing to be brought into his theological conversation.

May God bless his servant, John Franke, with the glory of Christ’s wisdom and knowledge as he seeks to bring that gift to the church, liberal and conservative, postliberal and postconservative.