Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Anglais) Broché – 1 novembre 2000
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Other reviewers have given solid assessments of the many specifics of these aspects, so I will not write further on this. I will comment briefly on how the book attempts to give tradition and culture a somewhat equal status to scripture because the bible itself was written within a cultural and historical setting. From the outset, I feel this is honest, yet it seems to lean towards interpretations that tend to be drawn from present culture rather than an understanding of these eternal truths within their cultural setting. Some might say that Grenz and Franke have 'Left Foundationalism'. I don't think I would go that far, but they certainly attempt to exit the propositional methodology of scriptures for something that is more defined by culture.
In the end, their desires to move away from this type of 'doing theology' is well-warranted as this method (propositionalism) came out of a cultural reaction as well, the conservative reaction to the liberal interpretations of scripture during 'Modernity'. Essentially, the famous 'Fundamentals' came from this reaction as it was needed within its cultural context. So, I would agree with Grenz and Franke that we need to move 'Beyond Foundationalism'. This 'Foundationalism' (which refers to a method for doing theology) sets the scripture up as an essential treasure trove of propositional facts for the Christian to learn, memorize, and essentially believe in. Clearly, the method of 'proof texting' has been taught to the majority of believers as a very practical outgrowth of this kind of belief. As an evangelical, I don't see this as wrong as long as a thorough understanding of the book/chapter and background is understood well-enough to explain that proof-text. This is just one small example of the common 'Foundationalist' method for doing theology which this book sets out to revise.
This leads to the books final assessment: Does the book achieve what it sets out to do? I don't believe so, for the reasons I mentioned above. In the attempt to move beyond foundationalism, it seems to leave the distinctive of foundational/evangelical theology of the primacy of the written Word as authoritative and final in practice and life. It somewhat elevates cultural views of this authoritative written Word on equal status as the original context the writers engaged in. I believe the writers essentially aligned themselves more closely to the Neo-Orthodox view on revelation than most evangelicals would be comfortable with. Their handling of the 'Final Revelation of God', His Son Jesus Christ, seems to take precedence over the preserved written Word which both testifies of Him and is a testimony of the Holy Spirit. I think the balance between the Living Word/written Word is somewhat lost in this book, which is why I feel they have not achieved their essential goals, a revision of evangelical methods for doing theology (and an attempt not to leave it).
Lastly, their attempt is oriented more for the academic audience than for the common reader. The book is highly philosophical dealing heavily within this realm. The wordage is also extremely academic in nature, almost convoluted to a point. In my final assessment, I believe Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer's book, "The Drama of Doctrine" is a more faithful presentation of how to 'revise' evangelical methodology. This and his, 'First Theology' are excellent books on how to approach the Foundationalist methods, revise them biblically, and keep the Living Word/written Word in balance as testimonies to the One true God. His work is very generous, even-handed, and revises (more than departs from) evangelical methods for doing theology in our present, post-modern culture. However, this is still an excellent work in scholarship by two first-rate theologians.
Published in 2001, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context by John R. Franke and the late Stanley J. Grenz sets itself to answering those questions. Grenz and Franke divide the book into three sections. The first section dedicates itself to identifying the historical situation in which contemporary theology finds itself. In this section, Beyond Foundationalism begins by discussing the mutual fragmentation and collapse within both conservative and liberal schools of theology. From this position the book presents the collapse of modernity as an opportunity to rise above the modernity's search for a universal, unchanging position.
Instead, Grenz and Franke propose a "localized" theology. They propose a theology that speaks to and for each individual community, a theology that concerns itself with Spirit-filled living rather than superimposed doctrinal absolutes. They hope to "foster conversation about and participation... that will nurture an open and flexible theology that is in keeping with the local and contextual character of the discipline, that remains thoroughly and distinctly Christian, and that fosters a renewed listening to the voice of the Spirit speaking to the churches through the scriptures" (p.27).
The second section of Beyond Foundationalism discusses "Theology's Sources": scripture, tradition, and culture. In short, the book argues that the Scriptures provide theology's "norming norm." While one cannot simply point to a verse to prove reality or "Truth," the scriptures provide the source and cannon for the Spirit's working in the community.
Tradition establishes the "Hermeneutical Trajectory" for the community. Borrowing an illustration from N.T. Wright, Grenz and Franke argue that which tradition provides the first four acts of a five-act play. The Church is the actors. However, the fifth act is unscripted. The actors must improvise based on the first four acts. They must develop the characters and story in a manner congruent with the first four acts. In this way, Church history provides and authoritative direction if not an authoritative cannon of standards.
As the final theological source, culture provides theology's "Embedding Context." Theology should not assume to speak universally, to all generations. Instead, the Church is to understand that its answers are to specific questions raised by its cultural context. As much as it may hope for an a-cultural position from which to judge culture, theology is unavoidably shaped and formed by the culture in which it finds itself embedded.
The third section of the book focuses on "Theology's Focal Motifs." The first motif is the Trinitarian nature of God. The second motif is community. The third motif is eschatology. Because theology concerns itself with a Triune God, it is ultimately communitarian, and that community must be focused on a present and future hope for redemption.
My reaction to this book is rather simple. This is the best theology book I have ever read. Beyond Foundationalism provides an easy to read exposition of a postmodern theological method. However, it provides much more than that as well. Grenz and Franke have the hearts of teachers. Throughout the book, the authors dedicate themselves to thoroughly explaining every move they make. Whereas many theological books presuppose a minimal knowledge of both history and terminology, Beyond Foundationalism is easy to follow and accessible by a lay-audience. It provides all the necessary history and a careful explanation of important terminology so that any reader can follow and participate in the conversation. After all, if theology is truly communitarian then it should be done by everyone in the community- not just the clergy and the academics.
Lastly, my usage of the term "Evangelical" should not scare off mainline Christians or those who consider themselves of a liberal stripe. Grenz and Franke have carefully charted a path that weaves between conservative and liberal theologies, borrowing from both but the possession of neither. A theology beyond foundationalism is accessible to both liberals and conservatives, concerning itself more with hearing the Spirit speak in our local communities than with maintaining theological and denominational affiliations.
If you have an interest in postmodern theology, theological method, evangelical theology, even postmodernity in general, this book is worth picking up and reading.
Trinity. To begin with, while it is acknowledged that the doctrine of the Trinity is not part of the kerygma of the Church or Scripture, Christian theology is trinitarian in nature. It is a "natural outworking of the faith of the NT community" (172). Far from philosophical speculation, the doctrine "arose as a response to the concrete historical situation encountered by the early Christian community" (173). Firm believers of monotheism and that Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, early Christians were faced with the task of integrating their three commitments to this God, his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit who indwelt them. "They did not want to posit three Gods" (174), but they were captive to their experiences and left with the task of communicating their theological commitments. Moving forward, apart from a brief "hiatus generated by the Enlightenment" the doctrine of the Trinity has been an engaging "theological conversation throughout the history of the church" (186). Following Karl Barth, whose great accomplishment it was to "argue conclusively that the Christian community's primary experience of revelation is trinitarian in nature" (189), a truly trinitarian theology, therefore, is shown to be one "that is structured around the self disclosure of the triune God as centered in Christ and given through scripture to the believing community" (190). It is the experiential components of Christianity that reveal it to be a religion that is trinitarian in nature, and this architecture should serve the Church in constructing its theology.
Community. Theology is formed into a whole in the sphere of community. Since we are beyond foundationalism, the much needed basis for theological discourse is the Church. It is the community of the redeemed, those who have encountered the God of the Bible in Jesus Christ, who provide the basis for articulating the mosaic of Christian belief (233). In what amounts to social contract theory with an ecclesial recasting, i.e. the Church is entered into by believing, the Church is then constitutionally defined anthropologically. But this constitution may be defined theologically as well, since the believing community is formed by the Spirit at work in the narratives of Scripture. The narrative also provides the interpretive framework as it functions dynamically for the narrative believing community (226), and as this community participates in the life of the triune God through the agent of the Holy Spirit, it receives more of God's fulness (228). "The church is basic in that our participation in the faith community calls forth theological reflection" (234).
Eschatology. However, this community is oriented eschatologically, and this is the third point for Grenz and Franke. "Eschatology orients Christian theology because of the connection between eschatology and the narrative of God at work in creation" (252). The biblical narrative that the believing community inhabits is itself inherently eschatological since it has as its goal the restoration of creation. This is the telos toward which it is directed.