I am impressed by John Franke’s essay in Myron Penner’s edited volume, Christianity and the Postmodern Turn. The literature on postmodernity is immense, but my own work in postmodern historiography and what Franke has to say overlap so much I have to say I think he’s got things straight here. What I like most is his perception that the postmodern turn contends that we “make” our knowledge through the “stories we tell” or “language we use.”
But, because so many have jumped up and down and thrown down their hats and stomped on them with loud cries of “woe” and “no” because they think the linguistic turn means a relativistic turn, Franke makes it especially clear that relativism and nihilism are not necessary.
What he also makes clear is that the linguistic turn profoundly connects to two major theological themes: creation and the fall. That we are created and finite means that all our knowledge is finite and contextually-limited. That we are fallen means our knowledge partakes of our attempt to seize control of all of life. Here is a scintillating statement: fallen creatures “desire to seize control of the epistemic process in order to empower themselves and further their own ends, often at the expense of others” (p. 111). Now that is some heavy thinking with profound implications for the way we do theology.
Franke clearly argues that the Word of God is universal and true, but he knows that our grasping of that theology will always be sound and true only to the degree that it is shaped by the Spirit of God and the grace of God at work in our minds and hearts and lives. Notice this: “It also attempts to affirm that the ultimate authority in the church is not a particular source, be it scripture, tradition or culture but only the living God” (118).
The implications of Creation and the Fall for theology are at least these:
It means theology must be conversational because it takes more than one head to get it straight.
It means theology must be community-based because it is only with a community that the gospel will come into a recognizable shape.
It means taht theology is always context-shaped because we can’t avoid it.
His proposal is that theology is the conversation between Scripture, culture and tradition — always — and our theologizing must be the result of the Spirit of God working through each.
I’ve said this before on this blog but I’ll say it again: the one thing that most angers the current generation is a theology that argues for the profound implication of the noetic impacts of the fall but which operates with arrogance, as if the Fall has no implication on the systematic theology. That is, if the Fall impacts our mind, then we are bound by our conviction that our theology should be more humble and and conversational.
Put differently, our theology ought to be a generous orthodoxy.