In this third post in a series on Franke’s understanding of what theology is, we will look at what he says about the nature of theology. (By the way, Baker puts too many words on a page.)
Franke, many will know, worked with Stan Grenz on a postfoundational approach to theology and in this book he charts his own understanding of what theology itself is. I don’t know why more emergent types aren’t talking more about Franke’s book, because this is a sophisticated statement of a postconservative approach to theology. If I were the President of an emerging movement seminary, I’d make everyone buy this book (and I’d ask Franke to teach his way through the whole thing in a semester). And then we’d all go out for a beer (we’d invite Al Mohler but he’d have to say “no”, but all those Wheaton profs could come).
Brief on the 3d chapter
Theology itself, our articulations of biblical story, is three things: contextually-shaped (but not determined), second-order rather than first-order (theological lingo for it being less than God and Scripture), and ongoing (each generation must articulate theology for its culture). The fundamental implication of these three points is simple: no one theology can reign supreme since each theology is contextually-shaped by its culture.
More detailed thoughts
Franke works at our contextually-shaped theology by examining liberalism’s focus on experience and evangelicalism’s “concordance” approach [I was pleased to see that what he says here is similar to the things I was saying in my post on the unity of Scripture]. He reminds evangelicalism that there is no “pure gospel” that can be “contextualized” but that the gospel itself is embedded in a cultural shape just as Jesus was himself embedded in a cultural shape.
He illustrates this with a lengthy (too lengthy I would say) look at Origen as a man of his time who, though denounced as a heretic at the time, is gaining some of his reputation back.
Theology and culture interact in one of three ways: correlation (which uses the philosophical model to shape what one can find in Scripture), the translational model (which tends to assume that Scripture is without cultural shape), and Franke’s suggestion of an interactionist model. This last view is deeply suggestive, provocative, and intriguing: “theology emerges through an ongoing conversation involving both gospel and culture” (103).
Theology is second-order: only God and Scripture are first order. All theology is therefore second-order and subject to change, to modification, and to discussion — hey, why not just say it, “conversation.”
Tradition has been treated in one of two ways in the Church: it has either been marginalized as ancient junk that is of little use for us today (liberalism) or it has been (here I make up a word in good sociological fashion) “infallibilized.”
Franke returns to his point: theology is second-order and culturally- embedded and therefore it must be an ongoing process of conversation.
From what I’m seeing, Franke is urging for a purple theology.