Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Post Fall Theology

posted by xscot mcknight

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.



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John Frye

posted July 11, 2005 at 3:45 pm


Bravo, Scot! Thanks for making Franke’s essay known to us and for your own clear, poignant remarks. I was able to read your collage of responses to DA Carson’s critique of EC. You were both gracious regarding Carson’s salient observations/warnings and challenging to his weaknesses. On today’s post, I find myself resonating strongly with your four implications for theology in view of creation and fall.



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John Mark Hicks

posted July 11, 2005 at 4:36 pm


I have read the Penner book, and, in fact, we are discussing it tomorrow in an M.Div. class I am teaching. I appreciate Franke’s identification of the hermeneutics of suspicison with the theological sense of fallnness as well as the identification of the hermeneutics of situatedness with our creatureliness.I would recommend reading Smith’s book “The Fall of Interpretation” (1999; and you can see what an insightful and careful writer he is from his essay in the Penner book) which argues for a creational hermeneutic that takes note of both of these points that Franke identifies.Smith accepts the gift of diversity within the bounds of the hermeneutic of love (much like your Jesus Creed), the givenness of creation itself as an empirical boundary, and the hermeneutics of trust (much like Reformed epistemology). In addition, Smith is one of the best and most theological interprters of Derrida who can help theologians see the effect of fallenness on interpretation.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 11, 2005 at 4:52 pm


Thanks, John. I’ve read his book on Radical Orthodoxy — which was more than I wanted to know — so I’m looking forward to his essay.Too much editing of my own stuff to do much reading right now.



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Sue

posted July 11, 2005 at 7:45 pm


Hi Scott,I think the reason there is so much alarm from those who see a relativistic turn is because often the language used to talk about all this sounds…well…like relativism. When I read (out of context, of course, since I have not read the book you are referring to so grant me that I may be misunderstanding) that “language” is the thing that “makes” knowledge, I stop and think about this carefully. It sounds novel; but is it a true statement? If my child comes to me and says, “Mommie, there’s a ghost in my room!” do I now have knowledge that there is a ghost in her room?Or, if I start a blog and everyone is talking about the ghost in the room, do all the bloggers participating have knowledge that there is a ghost in the room? No. My child could tell a very colorful and convincing story, and the bloggers could blog up a storm, but I could only have true knowledge of the ghost in the room if it actually were there. In other words, there is more to the “story” than language and community conversation.Your quote from p. 111 encapsulates what I has alarmed me regarding the “Emerging Church.” So many want to either hop on the bandwagon, be the first or best to synthesize it, analyze it(or be the best at discrediting it). Authors are happily writing their books. This happened with the “Church Growth Movement” and the “Signs and Wonders” movement … it’s not a new dynamic.Wherever there is care for the body of Christ, and not the furtherance of personal ends at the expense of others, there will be a careful, patient estimation of the trajectory of postmoderism, (or any other “ism”) for the sake of those who will follow those who have strong and recognized voices in the conversation. I hope we can have the grace to continue to give an ear to the voices of those who are stomping on their hats. It might be that they just among those who care.



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Doug Groothuis

posted July 11, 2005 at 10:16 pm


Prof. McKnight says :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.”One must ponder the implications of such statements, which are radically out allignment with Scripture, logic, and the classic commitments of philosophy. Knowledge is “justified, true belief.” This cord of three strands has been challenged in light of some technical problems, but it holds up well. We do not make knowledge through language. This is a profound confusion with dangerous implications. Language is the vehicle by which to communicated knowledge (or error). If a statement is true (in whatever language) its truth is determined by whether or not the statment connects with what it describes. The statement, “God exists” is truth and knowable not because of what any group of language-users say or do, but because God does exist (see Romans 3:4). If we create knowledge through language then relativism is the inescapible conclusion and we are back in bed with the sophists.The humility comes in with respect to how we justify our knowledge claims, not by making knowledge a product of language. That, in fact, leads to hubris. All one needs for truth are some language users to affirm something…Doug Groothuis



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John Frye

posted July 12, 2005 at 7:31 am


Prof. Groothuis, is the “correspondence or connection” view of truth provable? You say language is true when it connects with what it describes. There are human beings living on other planets outside our solar system. Is this a true or false statement? How do you know? Do we have to go there and see them for it to be true? What if we travel in space and we found humans beings on other planets? Is the only way we know there is a God is because the writers of the Bible recorded that they spoke to him, saw his backside, touched him in Jesus Christ? If so, then we are dependent on language to know truth–Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. I believe the correspondence view of truth is not all that it’s cracked up to be. However, I’m eager to learn more about these important verities.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 12, 2005 at 8:02 am


Doug,I don’t think we are as far apart as your post suggests.All of what we “know” is made known through language. What makes our “knowledge” claims true is that they conform to the Truth, Who is God, and What God makes know to be true, which we can come to know (by God’s grace).But, our articulation of Truth and anything true (our truth claims) are always articulated in language, and that means it partakes in fallibility and finitude.I’m on the same page with Jamie Smith in his article in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn (if you are reading it), in that language is the “game we have” and everyone has a language and this means so do we Christians. What makes our language game true is that it is inspired by God’s Spirit who sheds God’s grace to us.So, I agree the Truth is that God exists. The issue for me is that our articulation of that truth is limited to the language we use for it. It will never be the thing itself, and yes, it will correspond more or less to that Truth, but language is always limited. Hence, the need for humility and more than one set of languages to lead us to the Truth.



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Ted (Gossard)

posted July 12, 2005 at 9:21 am


Dallas Willard has an interesting (rather lengthy) article in which he expresses his concern about postmodernism with reference to the correspondent view of truth entitled, “Truth in the Fire: C.S. Lewis and Pursuit of Truth Today.”http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=68 I need to keep reading and learning, but so far I don’t find the view that words have limitation in corresponding to truth as radical. What we must insist on is that though limited, words do accurately provide us pointers to the reality they signify. Yet God’s revelatory work by his Spirit is needed if we are to really “know” them (and here, we’re not just talking about intellect but surely relationship- in love), i.e., begin to understand by faith the truth of God’s inscripturated Word.



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jpu

posted July 12, 2005 at 12:00 pm


Thanks for that link Ted. I juxtaposed it and this entry of Scot’s. Sorry Scot. These misgivings about truth as unattainable make the DNA of the EC prone to many defects in her children.



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