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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: John Franke

Been away...

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I've been away from blogging for awhile now.  For those of you who read regularly, I apologize for not writing.  I don't share much personal/ family stuff here, but for a long time now, my family has been very sick and I've been on a couple of vacations.  We've had a number of crazy illnesses, including all 3 kids each having pneumonia twice.  We've had an average of about 2.5 doctor, hospital, or ER visits per week since November, and it's been wearing us down.  In addition, our house got struck by lightening and our dog almost died twice.  (No, I'm not joking).  I don't talk much about spiritual warfare, but nothing else explains it.  Yesterday I was talking to a doctor from the Infectious Disease Clinic at Devos Children's Hospital, and told him to continue to run tests, but that I was asking a lot of people to pray for us.  I've been continuing to read as much as I can, which isn't enough, and continued to think.  I had a lot of ideas for posts, and then they got lost along with the sleep that seemed to disapate right before my opened eyes.

Recently, I've been reading some critics of what are called either postfoundationalists/ postconservatives like Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Roger Olson, et al.  I'm interested in the conservative evangelical response to projects which seek to take postmodern thinking seriously while also holding strongly to evangelicalism and scripture.  I've been reading all sides, but I tend to tip towards the Grenz, Franke, Olsons as well as some of what James KA Smith, Carl Raschke, Kevin VanHoozer, John Stackhouse, and others like them would say.  I like to read the critics because it helps to clarify and challenge my own thinking. 

I've also been toying with some article and book ideas, but haven't recently found the time to write with the kids' being sick and life in general.  Some space/ time to write would be awesome.

Anyway, I'll be back with what are, I think, some interesting posts coming from my interchange with Jim Speigel on Gum, Geckos, and God starting on Monday.  I couldn't limit my questions to one, so we're going to go back and forth a bit on a number of questions.  I hope you enjoy it... and the book is a lot of fun to read.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 12: Who's Afraid?

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As I'm mentioning some things about evangelicalism again, let me talk about another.  I recently read and finished James KA Smith's book Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  If you read my blog, you can see why I'm interested in this book.  Actually, I read it in a very busy week, but got it done.  I really liked it in a lot of ways because Smith was able to put to words many of the things I've talked about in this blog and thought about but haven't been able to articulate in the way that he does.  Smith is kind of an alter ego for me.  He reminds me of what I might have been like had I chosen the philosophy route rather than the ministry route.  Smith is just a tad older than me, did some study at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, did his PHD under John Caputo, and understands a lot about the postmodern philosophy and Christianity.  He's confessionally reformed and teaches philosophy as an Associate Professor at Calvin College.  He's also the editor of The Church and Postmodern Culture series through Baker Academic, the same series that published John Caputos What Would Jesus Deconstruct.  He appears to have some sort of friendship with the likes of John Franke, Kevin VanHoozer, Brian McLaren, and of course, John Caputo.   (Smith's blog can be found here.) Quick overview and minor review:  This book basicly takes a look at the popular Christian (mis)understandings of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault.  I'm interested because these three have had a significant effect upon my own thinking since my study of them in the early 1990's.  What Smith does mirrors my own journey of trying understand what these thinkers really are saying, and how it might actually be - not destructive - but constructive to our Christian faith, particularly in our culture shift away from modernity.  Many of Smith's conclusions are also my own, and that was very affirming because he's way smarter than I am.  Anyway, Smith basically does three things:  First he debunks the pop-understanding.  Second, he explicates a clear understanding of a core piece of their philosophy that could be helpful to Christian theology, faith, and practice.  Thirdly, he ends each section with prescriptive ideas for what a postmodern church would really look like if we took these thinkers seriously and often compares such ideas with the emerging or emergent church as well as the modern and or mega-church.  He elevates his own version which through him and others has been labeled "Radical Orthodoxy."  I loved parts one and two of each section, and found myself disappointed and sometimes disagreeing with the third.  In any case, since he's close by (in age, geography, and thought), I figured I probably need to invite him to lunch.  If it happens, I'll let you know.

Anyway, he obviously gets at what potentially the evangelical postmodern church could and should look like in the future.  Good stuff to think about.  But there was one little phrase that I found particularly interesting in light of some of the "evangelical center" which I've spoken about.  Two things:

  1. He was more critical of Stanley Grenz than I had anticipated.
  2. He raises the issue of what he calls the "correlationalist apologetic," which is the attempt to make Christianity no only intelligible, but also rational to the wider culture.  He criticizes this as a particularly modernistic approach.  (I once started a book on this idea, but haven't finished it.)  I agree with his perceptions here, but this is what he says in the footnote:  "The same correlational method lies... behind the Wesleyan quadrilateral... which has been widely recovered as of late." [p. 124]

I thought that I had mentioned the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in my previous post on the future of evangelicalism when I talked about Beggington's 4 points of basic evangelicalism, Stackhouse's 5 characteristics, and Kenneth Collins' 4 enduring emphases.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn't as much a "center" of belief, but sources of theology or of knowledge.  They are:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Experience

John Franke interacts with these in his book The Character of Theology as well as in collaboration with Grenz in Beyond Foundationalism as they talk about how we come up with or even settle upon a "center" of belief.

In any case, this was a new insight to me... that the WQ would be a an example of an attempt to rationalize and justify evangelical beliefs to a modern world.  What do you think?  Do you think that's necessary?  Is it necessary, for instance, to prove to the world outside of Christianity, for instance, the historical reliability of the Scripture, or justification for the decisions of a group of men who decided the canon was closed?  Do we need to justify those to an outside world, or is that falling into correlationism and becoming merely defensive to modernity in a way that isn't necessary?  It's got me thinking...

 


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 3

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McLaren, in the interview I mentioned earlier, talks about how this deconstruction works.   I mentioned that the emerging church is a kind of "back to the Bible movement," even though many see it as unorthodox.  It may be, in some ways, but that might not be bad.  Reforming - including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and many contemporaries - is about going back to the Bible, deconstructing how culture has influenced us, and "reforming" to the word of God - which is the norming norm (to use Grenz/ Franke language).  Here is one way that McLaren says it:

...mentioning different lists of names isn't that important, but what's really important is that this stuff has been simmering in the biblical text itself, and we've been very well trained not to see it.  We've been trained to look for certain things and not for others... "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Deconstructing your faith is not about losing your faith - or at least it doesn't have to be.  It's about discovering where the things we believe come from and how we ascertained them.  It's about discovering what "eyes" or through which "glasses" we see the world, the bible, and ourselves.  Then, it's about trying to figure out what God is really saying both contextually and extra-contextually.  That's just normal exegesis - discovering what is enculturated and what's not, and how God incarnates himself in our own culture, in these times.  When we admit and understand our cultural, theological, and personal biases, we can compare those to the biases of others, and we can try to understand what God speaks outside of those, as well as to them.  Then, we begin to reconstruct our faith - keeping some of our biases, and shedding others.

Although he doesn't get into the technical side of this (and I would nuance this much more), I like how Olson says it in "How to be Evangelical without being Conservative":

For me Scripture (including Jesus Christ as the interpretive center) trumps tradition, reason, and experience.  To be more precise about how I do theology, I recognize Scripture and tradition as the two sources and norms of theology (with Scripture primary adn the Great Tradition of Christian belief secondary) and reason and experience as interpretive tools to help us sort out and understand Scripture and tradition. [p. 145]


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Response to Henry

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Henry asks some great, probing questions.  [see his comment under "How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2] And just as an aside... Henry... I really appreciate how you've written these questions and challenges to myself and to the emerging postmoderns in the church.  You show your concern, raise real issues, and do so in a way that is not condemning, hostile, or out of fear.  How I wish more people would approach conversation in such a careful and honorable manner. I've struggled with your questions, too.  I address a few of the issues you're asking about in a limited manner in the follwoing posts:

The question really is, what can we know for sure?  What is true?  What doesn't change?  And how do we know what is truly true?  What is orthodox, and aren't there certain, base objective truths?  I hear in some of your questions some of the key concerns that some are raising around the Emergent church like the virgin birth, the atonement wars, the wideness or narrowness of salvation, etc. 

The first thing that I would say is something I've said briefly before:  truth is personal.  Not relative, and not "this is my truth" personal, but instead, truth is personal because Jesus is the truth, and he is a person.  Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me."  I believe that.  Do I know it for sure?  I know Jesus, and I trust what he says.  I trust that the Scriptures are God's word and that it's true and that it tells me about Jesus and that I can encounter him through the Scriptures.  That means I also trust the virgin birth.  I trust that my sins are atoned for and covered by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Can I say those things are objectively true?  You see, here is where I get stuck.  I believe - have faith - that it's true.  I put my trust in it.  I believe it is "objectively" true, I suppose, but more and more I don't really care much about objectivity.  I don't really care much about proof.  I don't mean to be glib, but what I mean is that what I think is objective, someone else will likely see differently.  Is there an unmoveable reality out there that is truly true?  Yes.  Do we have access to that truth in a way that is "descriptively" true for everyone?  If we did, we wouldn't be having this discussion because it would be clear.  But I don't think that means I can't say someone is wrong.  You see, because we cannot ascertain what is true on our own because of our cultural embededness, our biases, and even more - our sinfulness, we rely on the personal nature of God as he speaks to us in individuals within communities of faith.  The community of faith - throughout the ages, and in our current context - is really important as we discern what God has said and is saying.  

I really like what Franke and Grenz say on this matter in which the Holy Spirit speaks in the context of our culture through the trajectory of Christian history and creates our current reality as he interacts with us in a living way.  (that's a bad simplification... but it gives a broad brush).  That is alive and relational and faith-based and dependent upon the God of history who continues to live and speak today.  He doesn't speak in contradition to himself, but He does help us to interact with a changing world.  There is, then, a historical theological continuity combined with a contemporary constructive creativity consistent with his character and unfolding plan.  We discern this in conversation with God through faith, engaging his Word within the living community which is the body of Christ.  It is this living body, grounded in the Word and birthed out of Christian and Jewish history that gives us the boundaries and rules of engagement.  And here is where the deconstruction (or reforming) comes in.  The body, because it is always embeded culturally, doesn't always get the picture of what God is saying right, and so our theology develops as our relationship with God develops as we continue to deepen in our understanding of his revealed Word as we live into new historical, cultural situations.

Does that make truth relative and not objective?  I don't think so.  Relative to God's working with a fallen community, maybe.  Certainly our ascertaining the truth is always positioned, encultured, and understood within the eyes of our times, families, language, etc.  I just don't think the categories of "objective" and "relative" are all that helpful anymore.  I'm more concerned with how we hear God, how we read the Bible with an understanding of our cultural, linguistic baggage, and really hear God's living word through the Scripture, how we find more faithful understandings of his revelation, and how we can trust him more and hear his voice more clearly. 

You ask what my gold standard is:  God's self-revelation primarily through the Scriptures (sola scriptura) and secondarily through his body, the church, as we hear, speak, and live the Word together.  I know that's not as easy to nail down, but faith and trust rarely are. 

I think things like the virgin birth, the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Trinity, the missio dei, and many more things have been clearly spoken, heard, and lived out by the church throughout the ages.  But I also share the concern of many emerging leaders that we have attached many cultural, philosophical, and historical items to these that are inappropriate and have functionally become a part of the core for many Christians - especially evangelicals and fundamentalists.

What I think a lot of the detractors of the emerging church miss is that much of the movement (not all of it... there is much wrong with the emerging church movement) is a back to the bible movement.  The problem comes when going back to the bible challenges our current biases, our current comfortable ways of life, our preferable politics, our desirable economics, or our (forgive me here) mostly upper classs suburban cultural mores. 


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2

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I was reading an interview with Brian McLaren on his book Everything Must Change from The Other Journal, and I read something in his narrative from the early 90's that is very similar to what I was going through during 1990-1999.  Here is what he says:

[Lost people's] questions re-opened for me something I had encountered a long time ago in graduate school, and that's postmodern philosophy, and this cultural shift from modern to a postmodern culture.  So in the early nineties I started grappling with that shift, and it was really tough... If you want to use a term that comes out of that postmodern world, the word would be deconstruction.  I was undergoing a deconstruction.  Not a deconstruction of my faith as a personal trust in God, but of my theological categories and of my theological methodology.  So that's not an easy thing to go through, but once you do a lot of deconstruction, then you have to start reconstructing or else you end up with nothing but a bunch of fragments.

The difference here for me from McLaren is that I actually discovered a more personal trust in God after the deconstruction of my theological categories and cultural history.  In about 1993, I began the reconstruction even as I continued the process of theological, cultural, and denominational deconstruction.  In fact, I think today I still go through a continual process of deconstructing.  I would prefer to call it reformata et semper reformanda - reformed and always reforming.  And here is the key to so many things right now for me (and for people like Roger Olson, John Franke, Stanley Grenz before he passed, Kevin VanHoozer, Nancey Murphey, LeRon Shults, John Stackhouse Jr., NT Wright, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight and many many more people).  I could probably write a book right now about how so many people in the evangelical world are misunderstanding some new theological and practical movements in the emerging church as heretical, when what these people are honestly trying to do is reform the church according to the Scriptures.  In fact, they're trying to re-read the Scriptures in a way that takes seriously the impact of cultural and theological history upon our reading in good ways and bad.  More on this in a couple follow-up posts to come.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 9

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In terms of my last post, I'm not the only one who is excited.  Ok, this post is old, but Scot McKnight's post "Emergent Voices," March 2, 2006 says some similar things in his own McKnightish way:

Emerging theological voices are running with some of the fast horses in theology and it is lots of fun to watch and listen. Keep your eyes open because shifts are occurring and in ten years theology won’t be what it is today — and it’s a good thing.

Many of the leaders and thinkers of the emerging movement were nurtured theologically on books like those of Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, or even older lights like Berkhof. Emerging leaders know this stuff — and often have moved beyond it or have rejected it...

...Take, for instance, LeRon Shults. An emerging thinker, a young theologian, and one who has drunk deeply from seminal thinkers. What I find central to the major discussions of theology in the emerging movement is its turn to seminal thinkers and broad, sweeping trends. Shults deals in his book, Reforming Theolgocial Anthropology, with the turn to relationality and sketches the discussion through Aristotle, Kant, Hegel and Levinas. We have Barth and Pannenberg, and we have Leontius of Byzantium. And we have the impact of this turn toward a relational understanding on how we understand human nature, how we understand sin, and how we understand the imago Dei.

Others could be mentioned — John Franke, Stanley Grenz, Miroslav Volf, Kevin Vanhoozer...

...The major impact, as I’m seeing it, will be that bigger questions will be asked, newer approaches will be seen, and over time some dog-eared discussions will find their appropriate corner with questions no longer asked. Theology has always been the attempt to bring biblical theology into a new day, and that is exactly what we find in (to use Westerns) in Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Edwards, Barth, and the like. To stick to the categories and discussions of the 16th Century may be a learning experience, but theology always asks for new expressions in new times. I find the theology of the emerging movement trying to do just that.

McKnight lists a lot of the people that I've been reading over the last 8-10 years, people like Grenz, Franke, Volf, Van Hoozer, Shults, and Pannenberg not to mention the many other unmentioned ones - some theologians and some more practitioners too many to name. 


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