John Franke

One and Many or, Serving Is Seeing

Happy first day of Spring! Shortly I will be out pruning our decorative grasses for new growth. Herbs will be planted in their own little place. Weeds will be pulled from the flower beds. Garden sprinklers will readied for use. Here’s to hoping the actions of one will produce many enjoyable times in the yard this spring, summer, and fall. Read More

Unity? What Will I Do? – Thoughts from the Edge

A certain perception of unity often leaves people critical of Christianity. The varieties of Christian denominations dwarf Basking Robins 31 flavors. In fact, just the varietals of Baptists leave people spinning as to why so many. Most people consider this an expression of the divisive nature of people. To be sure there is some truth to that. Just consider the wrangling in 1 Corinthians.

But, sometimes it is the result of finite expressions of an Infinite Triune God. Jesus prayed for unity among those who would follow him then and today (John 17). Certainly that did not necessarily mean uniformity. Read the differences between the players in Acts 16. One a slave girl and one a Philippian jailer. One used for the financial gain of others and one used in the oppression of others. Though both encountered the Liberating King. Both at the point of “What will I do?”

What we do will be born out in the end. Sometimes we do not like looking with the end in view. Especially if we have created a neat way to avoid responsibility. Not so fast reminds the Revelation (22). What will you do?

Al Mohler’s Postmodern Turn (off) of John Franke

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  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.

Poverty and Passion – Thoughts from the Edge

Jesus calls attention to the “religion” of the widow who gave out of her poverty. Rather than applaud the well-adorned religionists with their wealth he pointed to the practice of the woman. Today we tend to applaud the religious celebrities – those we elevate. We like how they articulate our beliefs for us. We marvel at their grasp of our convictions. Yet, we may well be missing the practice of the faith of Jesus which often comes not in the glitz and glamor of the large conference but in the local, lonely devotion meted out for the world in the name of Jesus.

(Not) Sponsor – John Franke

According to a recovering addict friend of mine, everyone has an addiction. He may well be right. Tim Keller suggests everyone suffers the possession of a “functional idol.” That is, everyone gives something a place in their life that would change everything were it removed. So religious and non-religious all share a “functional idol” that takes the place of the One God who should inhabit that space in our lives.

A number of years ago I met John Franke. In fact, I met John before I met John. My first introduction was in a co-authored book with the late Stan Grenz. The book? Beyond Foundationalism. For some the book signaled a fateful turn in Grenz’ theology and a warning to watch Franke carefully in the future. I discovered through reading this book that many share as a “functional idol” a particular way of holding truth. Some contend that John and Stan deny truth. These pejorative mis-characterizations do little for the common good and only serve to obscure potential healthy critique.

For example, in John’s newest book, Manifold Witness, we find,

I still remember the first time I was asked the question: “Do you believe in truth?”

The person posting the question looked at me with an expression of grave concern etched in his face. The tone of his voice made it clear that his statement was as much an accusation as it was a question: “You don’t believe in truth, do you?”

I was genuinely surprised and startled. I had never had such a question like this posed to me before. I had always been an advocate of truth, not one of its detractors. I thought to myself: Of course I believe in truth. I believe in God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. (Manifold Witness,p.1)

I met John not long after reading he and Grenz’ book. Since that time we have shared a number of conversations. I am an adjunct at the Seminary where he is the The Lester and Kay Clemens Professor of Missional Theology. John gave me an interview for a writing project on the emerging church. I shared a stroll on Biblical’s campus the day he was “installed” at Biblical in October of 2008. We have shared meals and conversations. I appreciate John’s friendship. I am glad he did not mind me honoring him as a (Not) Sponsor here at The Edge of the Inside.

Thanks John.

PS – I am working on a review of John’s new book. We will see how it compares to that offered by Russ Moore. In the mean time, my friend David Phillips offered his thoughts here.