The last three chapters of Franke’s work focus upon the nature, task, and purpose of theology; remember that theology is non-foundational, missional, and post-conservative in quality. Franke closes his chapter on the subject of theology with a definition of theology that serves as a framework for the last three chapters we survey below. The nature of “Christian theology is an ongoing, second-order, contexual 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 in which they are situated.” (81)

Franke does a fine job of referring back to the principles he laid down in chapters 1 & 2, continually reminding his readers that theology done in the world today happens after the linguistic and foundational turns have taken place, and that theology is particularly missional because of the triune nature of God who is social and missional at His core.

“Bearings”

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The nature of Christian theology is an ongoing, second-order, contextual discipline. In chpt. 3 “The Nature of Theology” (83-118) Franke spends the greater part of his time explaining the contextual nature of theology first, giving an extending example of a theology who was historically and culturally situated – Origen, and speaking about how the relationship between culture and theology have been viewed by different theologians (83-104). Only after demonstrating the contextual nature of theology does he speak about it as a second-order (104-113), and ongoing affair (113-118). In this chapter the important terms to define are contextual, second-order, and ongoing.

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The task of theology is both a critical and constructive reflection on the beliefs and practices of the Christian church. Throughout this chapter, “The Task of Theology” (119-163), Franke describes the task of theology as “inherently reforming in its openness to the Word of God and the multicultural Christian witness of the historical and global church…” (118) ‘Reforming’ should be understood here as a verb rather than a proper noun, ie the task of theology is to always be forming itself not that the task of theology is to be Reformed in the Dutch Calvinist, or Scottish Calvinist sense. Franke makes some of his fullest definitions in this chapter and also some of his most problematic statements. Theology’s focal point is the Church (120-125), theology’s task is critical and constructive (125-130), theology has as its norming-norm Scripture (130-138), this point along with the comment on the contextual nature of theology in his last chapter leads him into a discussion of scripture and theology and culture (138-143), which then leads him into a discusion of scripture and tradition and the Protestant-Catholic divide of the two (143-154), leading Franke to conclude that in a post-conscervative theology tradition is best seen as a theological trajectory (154-163). In this chapter the terms important to define are the church, critical and constructive reflection, norming-norm, and tradition.

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The purpose of theology is to assist the community of Christ’s people in their missional vocation to live as the people of God in the particular social-historical context in which they are situated. “Theology does not simply serve itself; it should make a difference in the life and witness of the church.” (163) This life and witness is, according to Franke, a very missional one. Franke open’s up his last chapter, “The Purpose of Theology” (164-198), with an extending handling of the concept of community (165-174), the Church as a missional community has a missional theology (174-188), which is done in realtion to the visible unity of the church and truth (188-198). In this chapter the important terms to define are community, missional theology, unity and truth.

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“Definitions”

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Chapter 3

CONTEXTUAL NATURE: “All human knowledge is situated. It is shaped by the social, cultural, and historical settings from which it emerges. As a human endeavor bound up with the task of interpretation, the discipline of Christian theology, like all other intelectual pursuits, bears the marks of the particular contexts in which it is produced. It is not the intent of theology simply to set forth, amplify, refine, and defend a timelessly fixed orthodoxy.” (84) For Franke there are two extremes to avoid in considering theologies contextual nature, that of classical liberalism and that of evangelicalism. Classical liberalism sought to find the universal experience that could ground theology whereas evangelicalism sought to find the timeless propositional foundation of theology. For Franke the quest for a ‘transcultural theology’ must be abandoned due the lack of warrant for it, theologically and biblically. (90) Due to theologies situatedness in culture Franke brings up the question of how the gospel and culture relate to one another. He gives two models by way of suggestion, correlation and translation, finding fault in both of these models he suggests his own model – ‘interaction’, a model that allows gospel and culture to remain in continaul dialogue with one another which births forth theology. (100-104)

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SECOND-ORDER NATURE: This highlights the difference between the ‘first order-discourse’ which is the primary stories, teachings, symbols, and practices of the Christian faith. It is these things that theologians reflect upon through the meduim of doctrine, theological formulation, and confessional formulation. The second-order nature is done in a critical and constructive fasion by theologians. (104-105) The confessional formulations may be viewed by theologians in either a closed or open fashion. It bears out contextual, interperative, and eschatological dimensions.

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ONGOING NATURE: “The contextual, interpretive, and eschatological dimensions of theology point to the ongoing nature of its character.” (113) “Because the situation into which the church proclaims the message of the gospel is constantly changing, the task of theology in assisting the church in the formulation and application of its faith commitments in the varied and shifting context of human life and thought is an ongoing enterprise.” (113) Ongoing should not be understood as some passive action on the part of theologians or some passive process, according to Franke “cultural meanings are both psychological states and social constructions.” (115) Ongoing highlights the local character of theology, it would be tempting to say that Franke has only local interests in the nature of theology but such is not the case, as he says; “while theology is genuinely local in the sense that it is shaped and marked by its particular context, it is also responsible in its local iterations to the entire church in its historical and global expressions.” (117-118)

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Chapter 4

CHURCH: “The nature of the church is connected with the understanding that humans are created in the imageo Dei.” (120) Franke suggests that the imageo Dei is fully present only in the idea of community since it marks the rule of God. (122-123) “…the church is the context in which the Spirit works to create a socially constructed “reality” that anticipates the ultimate reality of the consummated kingdom, a world centered on Jesus Christ. Theology engages in this task for the purpose of facilitating Christ’s disciples in fulfilling their calling to be the image of the social and missional God and thereby to be the community God desires and destines the church to become.” (124)

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CRITICAL & CONSTRUCTIVE TASK: “Theology is a reflection on the beliefs and practices of the church that is both critical and constructive…Critical reflection involves the careful examination and scrutiny of the beliefs and practices of the church to ensure that they are coherent with the biblical naratives and the first-order commitments of the community and not enslaved to cultural practices and patterns of thinking that are not consistent with the gospel and the mission of the church.” (125) One of the greatest tasks of the critical side is the presumed familiarity of the biblical text. “Constructive reflection involves the development and the articulation of coherent models of Christian faith that are appropriate to the contemporary social-historical context.These models should be faithful to the biblical narratives and teachings, relevant to the contemporary setting, and informed by and in continuity witht the historic position of the church.” (127) Ther are both exclusive and inclusive models, models are by nature not exact representations of particular phenomena. (128-130)

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SCRIPTURE AS NORMING-NORM: It is in this term that Franke gives his fullest expression of scritpure’s authority in theological formation. The Protestant tradition has been concerned to bind the Word and the Spirit together as a means of providing the conceptual framework for authority in the Christian faith. Franke suggests that we mus avoid making two errors in this binding, “collapsing the Spirit into the text and ignoring the text in the name of following the Spirit.” (131) This means that theology cannot rely either on exegesis apart from the community of the Spirit or any word of the ‘Spirit’ that stands in contradiction to the text of scripture. The canon is closed but the Spirit continues to speak to the people of God through the text in the ongoing work of illumination. Franke takes a very philosophical turn at this point, to say that scripture is the norming norm is to point out the fact that it is the Spirit’s tool in creating a ‘world’ by which we can live in, a world refashioned after the eschatological mission and purposes of God. (133-135) By focusing on this rather than a specific theological system Franke hopes to remind the church that the task of theology is to bring us back to the Word again and again rather than leaving us in static systems.

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TRADITION: “…the speaking of the Spirit through Scripture and through culture do not constitute two communicative acts but rather one unified speaking. Consequently, theology must listen for the voice of the Spirit, who speaks normatively and universally through Scripture but also particularly and locally in the variegated circumstances of diverse human cultures.” (142) Franke takes his readers through a quick history of how ‘tradition’ has been understood by the different theologians in the Church, bringing up Oberman’s categories of Tradition I and II. Franke sees Reformation history along the lines of a dispute between two different approaches to tradition, he also brings out the nature of scriptures formation as one indicative of ‘traditioning’. Tradition is not a static character but rather one that is dynamic, living, and something where growth and developments occur. (154) “The Christian tradition, viewed as a series of local theologies, serves as a resource for theology, not as a final arbriter of theological issues or concerns but by providing a hermeneutical context or trajectory for the theological task.” (156) As such it is important to pay attention to the intent of confessions rather than just their specific language. As a hermeneutical trajectory “tradition provides an interpretive context for the task of living out or ‘performing’ the deepest intentions of an established, historical community.” (161)

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Chapter 5

COMMUNITY: To understand community we need to understand the ongoing conversation between individualists and communitarians. (166) In America there are two types of individualist, the utilitarian type – believes society “encourages each person to vigorously pursue his or her own interests”; and the expressive type – “at the heart of each person lies a unique core of intuition and feeling that demands creative expression and needs protection against the encroachments both of other individuals and social institutions.” (168) The communitarians emphasize the social nature of human existence and maintain that an understanding of the self is formed by connections with other people, institutions, and traditions. (168-9) Franke appeals to both of these approaches, not being willing to deny either the individual nature of man nor his communal connections. Franke makes four points about community: 1) “a community consists of a group of people who are conscious that they share a similar frame of reference” (172); 2) “a sense of group fucus is functional in all communities” (173); 3) “what is indicative of a community is a shared interest in participating in an ongoing discussion as to what constitutes the identity of the group” (173); and 4) “the group orientation of a community leads members to draw a sense of personal indentity from the community” (174).

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MISSIONAL THEOLOGY: “…the purpose of theology is to assist in the promotion of a community that is particularly Christian and to promote and support the work of the Spirit in creating and establishing a community in keeping with the divine intention.” (182) Theology is a communal rather than just an individual ‘faith’ seeking understanding. (182) “…the entire community has a stake in the work of theology and is invited to participate in its work.” (187) “…[as such] in keeping with its contextual nature and missional purpose, theology is not simply an academic discipline…theology may take many other forms…” (188)

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UNITY OF THE CHURCH & TRUTH: Newbigin has been a favorite of Franke for missiological reflection, especially in the area of ecumenical missiology. “The church is called to manifest visible unity and to proclaim the truth of the gospel in word and deed.” (188) Visible unity is important to the missional vocation of the church. “Diversit in the church is not a problem to be overcome but rather a gift of the Holy Spirit. Of course, not all developments in the history of the church and theology have been helpful.” (191) “The unity of the church is not to be found in full agreement concerning all the teachings and practices of the church but rather in the living presence of Christ in the church.” (192) Truth; Franke develops his own reflections from the work of McClendon, Smith, and Marshall. Truth is ‘eschatological realism’. What is that? “…human beings, as bearers of the divine image, are called to participate in God’s work of constructing a world in the present that reflects God’s eschatological will for creation. This call has a strongly linguistic dimension because of the role of language in the task of world construction…Christian theology may be construed as Christocentric in its communitarian focus and Christotelic in its eschatological orientation…From this perspective, the Christian community affirms truth, under the guidance of the Spirit, through the construction of a linguistic world that finds its coherence in Christ in accordance with the will of the Father.” (197)

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“Critical and Constructive Reflections”

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  1. Does Franke lay to much weight upon the findings of the ‘sociology of knowledge’ and to little weight upon a biblical theology of revelation? Is this a fair challange or a poor antithesis on my part?

  2. Placing the gospel and culture in a side by side way in ‘conversation’ seems more like a postmodern non-foundational turn than a revelational one, does Franke unthoughtfully lose the primacy of the gospel here? I found myself wrestling with his conclusions and language here, ‘conversation’ should be a word he defines more clearly. I found throughout his work the need for a glossary of important, recurring words…perhaps in editions to come this work will be done by him.

  3. On a whole the nature of theology chapter lacked serious exegetical arguement, did Franke only take the cultural side of the context of theology seriously and not the scriptural side? Might is corrective lead us into a lesser illumined reflection?

  4. Could Franke’s view on the imageo Dei be deepened by an extended handling of the phrase, “Kingdom of God” in relation to its transfer of the image language into the kingship language in the OT? Here I’m thinking of Dan McCartney’s article in the WTS journal, Ecco Homo.

  5. Does Franke have a real experiential feeling of the danger of apostascy? I’ve gotten the feeling in his ‘crictical reflection’ handling of theology task that he struggles with seeing the danger. The church needs the language of the apostles again and again to refesh them, ‘clounds without water’, ‘whom the blackest of darkness is reserved’, ‘I wish they would emasculate themselves’, ‘wolves among the sheep’, etc.

  6. I asked earlier whether Franke collapsed illumination with revelation, here in the task chapter he gives a better handling of the two, still I’m wondering if illumination is thought of biblically by Franke for its not just an ongoing affair, its has ‘conclusive’ elements within it doesn’t it?

  7. Franke’s historiography of Reformation thought has some pretty un-charitable depictions, not just depictions but mishandlings – see his treatment of ad fontes and sola scriptura? For a different picture see Moises Silva’s handling in the Foundations series.

  8. The way the community is seen in terms of ‘world’ creating as a purpose with eschatological ramifications is a keen insight, but where is the biblical support of this endeavor? …perhaps in the echoes and inner & inter textualisism of Revelation, Franke left this chapter a little light on the exegesis, an unfortunate element throughout the work.

  9. The Christus Victor appears where in the community development purpose of theology? Its there I believe…but where (perhaps in the recreative side of ‘world’ building)?

  10. Does the visible unity mean what Franke takes it to mean? How does he understand ‘visible unity’?

Franke’s work was easy to follow from cover to cover. I found myself being caught up to speed on some of the contributions of modern theology to the area of theological prolegomena. Whats more I found myself happly surprised that the missional theology of Franke is built on nothing less than a missional God. As is clear throughout my critiques I found a need for a glossary at times to accompany the chapters, as well as a more even handling of culture argumentation and exegetical argumentation, and I found his handling of Church history to be decidedly ungenerous toward the reformation community.

Nevertheless, Franke’s text has provided me with a frame to reconsider my own understanding of gospel and culture and tradition. The three continue to puzzle me and always demand honest deep reflection. After reading Franke’s text, at least I know I’m not alone in the humbling endeavor.

May the Lord continue to bless and keep his servant, John Franke, may he poor out the treasures of wisdom and understanding upon him as he looks steadfastly into His word because of His Word from the community of His covenant people!