John Franke deconstructed me yesterday in an e-mail. He said he likes my idea of “purple” theology, but he figured out why and it is related, so he thinks, to my bias: he suggests it is the color of the Minnesota Vikings — his favorite football team. I was unaware that support for the Vikings was sleeping dormantly in my bones and brains, but who knows. I have assumed that my enthusiasm for the Bears and my disgust for the purple guys who play inside (a wimpy thing to do) was genuine. Perhaps not.
My appreciation, though, for his book, The Character of Theology, is genuine.
The brief on this chapter is that it is too long to post all at once. So, today a post on the first half of chp 4.
The task of theology is to construe theology that is (1) biblically normed [here an inelegant term theologians have been drawn to the way PE Depts like “human wellness”], (2) culturally relevant, and (3) historically informed. Theology begins with the Church (missio Dei) and the human as made in God’s image (imago Dei). The task of theology is both critical (challenging the church) and constructive (building for each generation). Scripture is the norming norm, and here he makes a big point: Spirit is not equivalent to Scripture (as if one listens to both), but Scripture speaks as the Spirit speaks through it. His contention is that the Spirit-prompted truth of Scripture is authoritative in conjunction with culture and theology.
Franke offers a nice survey of the options of studying humans as imago Dei (made in God’s image), but sides (as I do, too) with a more dynamic and relational view rather than simply the more scholastic substantialist view (intellect and morality). Theology is designed to help the Church become the imago Dei in this world. (Amen, brother)
His section on theology as critical and constructive didn’t excite me, even if both ideas are important to the task. He explores models as models and not as permanent fixtures: theology finds models whereby it expresses the gospel in a given culture. (This carries on the theme of the ongoing nature of theology.)
Scripture is the norming norm, but Spirit is given priority. The Bible is the instrumentality of the Spirit. He sides with the “fuller sense” of Scripture as the Spirit continues to speak. A dynamic idea, and not one addressed enough in evangelical theories of Scripture, is the goal of Scripture: he sees as the creation of a world (constructed, theological, eschatological, etc). I find this to be a welcome idea. For my take, Scripture fashions us to be wise. The goal of theology is to listen and to articulate and then to return to Scripture in order to be attentive to the Spirit.
On culture Franke argues that God’s Spirit continues to speak in Culture. Scripture is the norming norm, but culture is the context in which God speaks to us through the Spirit speaking to us in Scripture.
I have an issue in all this: Franke likes the word “authority” for Scripture and I’m not so sure Purple theology wants to use this term. Let me explain: while I embrace Scripture and surrender myself to it, I don’t think authority gets to that relationship as we actually practice it. Scripture is divine communication with humans, the covenanted people. As my communication to my wife is not authoritative, but communicative, so I think the best way to say this is as follows: those who follow Jesus listen to and are shaped by the Spirit and Word (Spirit speaking through Word is the same for me). Conversion is conversion to the “norming story” of the Bible, else it is not conversion at all. The best term for this is that it is a relationship and trust and surrender, rather than authority which we obey. (Don’t get me wrong, I side with the traditional view here pretty much, but I’m just asking if “authority” is the best word for our relationship to Scripture. Is it?)
God’s Word is indeed authoritative (if you must), but I’m working for a better conceptual model for understanding its role. How about Vanhoozer’s idea that Scripture is the Theo-dramatic Script for our performance of the gospel? I like that idea: it is our script for life. We read, we listen, we live it out.
Analogy: if I appeal to authority in any relationship, which sometimes has to happen — as last when I told a student to “listen”, there is something wrong in the relationship. Authority comes in when the genuine relationship is under threat. Instead, I’d prefer to see Word as divine communication to which I listen and which I follow, not because it is authoritative but because I’m in love with the God who is speaking in that Word. Perhaps this is just semantics. Perhaps, though, it is worth thinking about.