I made the comment in the first review that without clearly understanding the first two chapters of Franke’s book you will probably miss what he says about the nature, task, and purpose of theology. In keeping myself accountable to that statement I read through his second chapter immediately so as not to lose the full content of what he said in the first chapter. After this review of chpt. 2 I will only have one more blog devoted to the book covering the last three chapters of Franke’s work.

‘Bearings’

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According to Franke, “the chief inquiry for any theology, therefore, is the question of the identity of God.” (pg.45) God as Triune, is the focal point for most of the second chapter of Franke’s work. He takes his readers through a breif discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity (pgs. 46-51) which segways into a sweeping history of the development of the doctrine in the church. (pgs. 51-65) Franke then defines God as social, and missional (pgs. 65-72); moving from this definition and his admittance of the postmodern situation he raises the important question of how Christians can understand the revelation of God as authoritative, and in that the nature of theologies authority. He carries this out by first dealing with Christological questions (pgs. 72-74), afterward posing his definition of revelation as ‘indirect revelation’ (pgs. 74-77), and finally brings his readers back again to the cultural question of postmodernity by discussion what a non-foundational approach to theology needs to look like if it accepts an ‘indirect revelation’ approach. (pgs. 77-81)

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It becomes evident to the reader almost immediately that what stands behind Franke’s inclusion of this chapter is his desire to express and explicate the triune God as social and missional. Whatever critical or constructive criticism is drawn from this chapter the missional nature of God is a welcomed refreshment to prolegomena studies! The topics Franke defines in his ‘Subject of Theology’ are triune God, social and missional God, indirect revelation, and non-foundational theology.

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‘Definitions’

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TRIUNE GOD: While the explicit form of the doctrine does not appear in scripture the notions and practical implications of the doctrine do. According to Franke the Western church focused more on the essence or oneness of God while the Eastern church focused more on the relationships between the three. (pgs. 51-61) An example of this would be Augustine’s analogy of the individual soul and the trinity and Victor’s interpersonal approach to the Trinity. (pgs. 55-56) The medieval period marked the high-water mark of the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine was “not central in the theological debates of the Reformation.” (pg. 57) The doctrine rose up again in focus during the nineteenth century and then in the twentieth century with Bart, Rhaner, and Pannenberg the relational nature of the doctrine came to the fore again. (pgs. 61-65) Bart’s contribution was made through his “insistence on the connection between the Trinity and revelation as the basis for all theological assertions; and Rahner, through his connection of the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity as one identical reality…” (pg. 64); Pannenberg chooses to speak of the one God as though he where the three rather than above the three. Franke’s conclusions on the doctrine are “Trinitarian explication runs in two directions…It moves from the self-disclosure of God in and to creation, centered on the coming of Christ and the ongoing work of the Spirit, to the eternal life of the Triune God…On the other hand, theological construction moves as well from the eternal reality of the Triune God, which is confessed by the ecumenical church of all ages, to an understanding of the Trinitarian persons in the creative and redemptive work of the one God.” (pg. 65)

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SOCIAL & MISSIONAL GOD: For Franke the single most significant development in the doctrine has been the emphasis on relationality of the Trinity. (pg. 65) This view has become something of a consensus among modern theologians, standing behind it is the apostolic witness that God is Love (I Jhn 4:8, 16). (pg. 67) “Love expressed and received by the Trinitarian persons among themselves provides a description of the inner life of God throughout enternity apart from any reference to creation.” (pg. 67) God is the social Trinity, the community of love! The missional character of God is developed from the social nature of the Trinity. (pg. 68, Franke is at his best here) Quoting Bosch, Franke says that missions is rooted in the character of God not in ecclesiology or soteriology. Franke says that when it is attachted to ecclesiology instead of the social trinity the nature of missions suffers. (pgs. 68-70) Often the character of God is thought of in terms of the early church debates, and missions is thought of as an aside to his character, related to it but not central. (pg. 70) Franke is calling for a rethinking of the character of God as ‘Missional God’ and in that a rethinking of the character of theology as “Missional Theology”. This has repercussions for how we think about revelation.

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INDIRECT REVELATION: With a view to the social character of God, Christological percieved as well, and a view to the present cultural construal of reality Frake develops his doctrine of revelation. Because of the linguistic turn of the Postmodern era, the linguistically and socially constructed nature of the world, and the “inadequancy of human languages to provide immediate access to ultimate reality…” a crises of representation occurs in the minds of many postmodern thinkers. (pg. 74) How does Franke address this crisis? First, he assures us that God “does not break through language and situaedness. Rather, he enters into the linguistic setting and uses langauge in the act of revelation as a means of accomodation to the situation and situatedness of human beings.” (pg. 75) Revelation like Chrsit, has both human and divine elements, it does not honor the nature of it to deny either. (pg. 77 for a further expression of what human-ness looks like) Borrowing from Barth’s concept of ‘indirect identity’ he says we must handle the matter in a dialectical way. “…revelation is indirect because God’s use of the creaturely medium entails no divinization of the medium. Yet at the same time, God is indirectly identical to the creaturely medium in that dialectic of veiling and unveiling, which maintains that God unveils (reveals) himself in and through the creaturely veils and that these veils, although they may be used by God for the purpose of unveiling himself, remain veils.” (pg. 76) This leads Franke to say that revelation is not simply a past event, “God always remains indirectly identical to the creaturely mediums of revelation, thus requiring continual divine action in the knowing process and securing the ongoing epistemic dependency of human beings with respect to knowledge of God.” (pg. 77)

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NON-FOUNDATIONAL THEOLOGY: NFT (non-foundational theology) is onging because of the divine unveiling and veiling process. (pg. 77) All theological convictions “remain subject to ongoing critical scrutiny and the possibility of revision, reconstruction, or even rejection.” (pg. 78) In a creative twist Franke suggests that theology is both one and many, its one in that “all truly Christian theology seeks to hear and respond to the speaking of the one Spirit”, and many “in that all theology emerges from particular social and historical situations.” (pg. 79) Franke asserts that while NFT “means the end of foundationalism, it does not signal the denial of foundations or truth. However, these foundations are not “given” to human beings…humans are always in a position of dependence and in need of grace with respect to epistemic relations with God.” (pg. 80-81) In NFT, Franke quoting Barth says, “there are no comprehensive views, no final conclusions, and results.” (pg. 81)

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‘Critical and Constructive Reflections’

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  1. Is my blog far too long, yes, critical of myself before Franke here 🙂

  2. Throughout his handling of the development of the Trinity it was obvious that the focus on the relational Trinity over the focus on the oneness Trinity was the one Franke favored, was his handling of the Western church fair? Brandon Withrow draws out another question on Franke’s treatment of the Trinity in Modern Reformation Magazine.

  3. Following this question, it does appear that in saying the Reformers merely adopted the Western churches view, Franke has misread them and those who directly follow them, see Richard Mueller 4vlmn work Post-Reformational Dogmatics. There was a great deal of reflection on the Trinity. Also reducing the reformation to concerns of authority is neither fair or helpful, though it is understandable in a work with page limitations as Franke’s.

  4. Franke seemed to lean so heavily upon Barth throughout this chapter, one wonders if he has not left himself un-needfully open to the same criticisms leveled against Barth?

  5. Moving from questions centered on God’s being to questions centered on God’s relations opens many helpful areas of reflection up, but what areas might it close?

  6. Franke’s picture of ‘indirect revelation’ states without supporting that human langauge is inadequate to provide immediate access to ultimate reality, is that conclusion gained from an epistemology that is driven by scripture or one that is drive by philosophy without scripture? Here I think readers would do well to see Leithart’s comments on his blog.

  7. Does Franke colapse revelation with illumination when he claims that it is ongoing?

  8. If there can be no real theological conclusions or results because of the Postmodern epistemology Franke wants to adopt does he not leave himself wide open to Paul Helm’s critique that he has abandoned himself of the ability to critique culture?

  9. Has Franke missed the magesterial versus the ministerial use of reason in this discussion of NFT?

  10. If we can come to no real conclusions, apro po, why write the book John? I’m sorry to use a line of critique so well worn but I really think Franke’s chapter on the nature of theology is not missionally or epistemically helpful in this regard.

Franke has done a wonderful job of carrying over themes from his first chapter, and developing the foundation for his closing three chapters. I enjoyed the consistency of his position while not wanting to adopt it as my own, and I enjoyed the somewhat stock list of authoritative sources Franke uses. It makes it easy to see how he is going to develop his reflections and where they will go. By taking seriously both a Missiological and Christological approach to the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of Revelation he has set a challenge before all his critics, if you criticize be prepared to construct an alternative picture of a Missional God and Missional Theology. In many ways Franke is on fresh ground, wedding old traditions with new contextual needs of gospel ministry. I leave these first two chapters challenged to consider how missiology is essential to God’s character, and what ways it should shape theology; I also leave challenged to develop a more sensitive critique of Postmodernity from an scriptural standpoint and to deepem my knowledge of postreformational prolegomena…