Al Mohler reads John Franke through his deeply embedded cultural, linguistic systems to such a committed degree he seems to be missing John Franke. In other words, when one is accustomed to culture warring where disagreement is expected it is difficult to give any space for the Other/other. Even more so to offer an even handed critique. Writing to get to his conclusions, Mohler tips his hat at Franke as if to say, “Yes, but … .” The feeling is a disingenuous attempt to get at Franke’s project in his recent book, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth.
Enter Scot McKnight, Just prior to Mohler’s published post, “Is Truth Really Plural? Postmodernism in Full Flower,” Scot offered more helpful review in a six-part review of his own – Manifold Witness 1-6. During John’s installation as the Lester and Kay Clemens Professor of Missional Theology at Biblical Seminary, Scot and I chatted about any number of things. We talked freely and frankly about the “Emerging/emerging church.” Scot had granted me a phone interview for a research project on the subject. One of the things we discussed was Scot’s contention that we do not listen well to others. It keeps us from healthy, constructive conversations. (You can find some very good material on the subject in the archives on his blog. I have linked to them before.) Scot even mentioned that many in my tribe (SBC) would do well to read Newbigin’s Proper Confidence. I agree.
What really confuses me is that if one really believes what one writes then greater care must be taken to pursue understanding. For instance, Mohler writes of a couple of positive elements of postmodernism. He noted,
Furthermore, postmodernism can provide a corrective to epistemological arrogance — the tendency to claim premature finality for our thought and truth claims.
Al then proceeds to make some final claims regarding truth as it relates for Franke’s project.
When we place McKnight and Mohler side by side we are not comparing Bishop Spong to J.Frank Â Norris. (A reference for my Baptist friends. I could have used John MacArthur.) We really are comparing what most would consider two conservative voices, thought Scot may be left of Al – many indeed are. Both men are committed to evangelism. It is this subject that pushed McKnight to get some distance between himself and some in the emerging church. He has since thrown his lot in with Dan Kimball and Erwin McManus and The Origins Project. Trust me, I know the difference between McKnight and Mohler. But only in a theological world gone made would anyone suggest McKnight weak on the gospel.
Franke underscores truth, and pay attention to the lower case “t,” as the domain wherein human beings talk about God. And, those attempts to talk truthfully about God only comes through the grace of God. Even our best attempts to grasp God fall short for only God may obtain “Truth.” In fact, the Triune God is Truth. the means whereby we engage the Truth is through the person and work of Jesus, the Christ. In a recent Christianity Today piece titled, “Still the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” John reiterates his conviction about Jesus, the One and only.
Yet, Mohler fears Franke’s embrace of pluralism. But, reading pluralism in this context as anything other than the pluralism found in the history and expression of the church is to conflate pluralism as a cultural relativism contending all roads lead to god with John’s focus. Herein is Mohler’s postmodern turn. Practicing a bit of his own version of “reader response” he must be correct in his critique for that is “how he read John.” So, after all, the meaning is in the interpretation. But, Mohler flatly argues against this!
And, since Mohler conludes that Franke’s position does not allow for “verbal inspiration” of the Scriptures, Franke could not possibly find the Scriptures authoritative, as, say, Mohler. So convinced is he that he asserts Franke has sold out doctrinal accountability. I could not find that in my copy of the book to save my life. Could not even find the inference. How about you?
We Southern Baptists adopted Henry Blackaby. His Experiencing God led a host of folks to consider how the Spirit of God mediates the presence and reality of God through the Scriptures and the Church. Now we have a history of re-working our past so that once great heroes of our very young tradition are now envisioned as anti-heroes. I am hoping we will not do so with Blackaby. He, for one, returned the work of the Spirit to the life of the church under the Scriptures rather than “over” the Scriptures for many Southern Baptists.
Finally, I find it interesting that Franke looks across the landscape to offer a notion of how it is we understand the history of Christian witness in the history of the church in its many forms. How do we do so without devolving into unending inter-nicene warfare? (I realize many would find this welcome.) For that Franke is willing to sacrifice doctrinal accountability according to Mohler, And yet, Mohler made much of his signing of the Manhattan Declaration wherein he joins the ranks of those with whom he would surely disagree regarding their doctrinal formulations. Relativist?
One other positive Mohler pointed up about postmodernism, as if postmodern philosophy were monolithic,
Positively, the general worldview of postmodernism reminds us that we are deeply embedded in cultural and linguistic systems that shape and influence our thinking.
Ah, yes, and that is a positive only if we embrace it.