Home > Uncategorized > The Character of Theology: Preface

The Character of Theology: Preface

[In preparation for Dr. John Franke’s visit to Pittsburgh Seminary as part of the Emerging Church Conversation on February 9th, I will be doing a series of blog posts over the coming weeks on the book.  There won’t be any structure per say (chapter by chapter) but rather as I read a section I’ll blog on it]


In his preface John Franke seeks to give the reader insight into his personal background, with the hope that an understand of his background will help the reader better understand his work.  As he writes “It is better to be latent than blatant… assumes that the long-standing notions of academic neutrality and objectivity are both overrated and unattainable”

Franke identifies three perspectives that have had a significant impact on him: evangelical Protestantism, the Reformed tradition, and ecumenical orthodoxy.  From evangelical Protestantism, which he has interacted with through his entire life, he has been shaped by those communities’ emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the sharing of the faith through personal witness and evangelism, and the centrality of the Bible for Christian faith and life.  He notes that even where he dissents from North American Evangelicalism he does so for reason that he believes to be very evangelical.  

Franke says that by the time he graduated from college identified himself as a Calvinist and through graduate study this developed into a “full-bodied commitment to the ecclesial and confessional tradition of Reformed Protestantism” (8).  It was from the Reformed tradition that he learned about the church and the mission of God in the world.  

Finally, Franke notes that despite the diversity of interpretation from different Christian traditions he had come to appreciate that there did exist ecumenical consensus on central matters of faith that provided common ground in this otherwise diverse setting.    From this Franke says that he regards ecumenical orthodoxy should inform the work of biblical interpretation and theological reflection as on on-going conversation partner.

Franke then identifies himself as postmodern.  Here I will quote from him directly:

“By this [identifying himself as postmodern] I do not mean that I endorse everything that claims to be postmodern, much of which I regard as incompatible with Christian faith.  What I do mean is that insofar as a set of general philosophical beliefs, attitudes, and intellectual tendencies relates to such matters as epistemology, language, and the nature of reality can be identified as postmodern rather than modern, I find much more affinity with the postmodern perspective and believe that in comports far better with the Christian faith than does the modern” (Pg. 8)

Franke asserts that while some would claim to take a “biblical” outlook, rather than a modern or postmodern outlook, such a view is “untenable” as it leave assumptions and presuppositions unexamined.  

He then describes the book as an attempt to understand the task of theology in a way that is non-foundationalist and contextual and promotes an “open and flexible” theology that is “self-critical” and “reforming”.  Again quoting Franke:

In light of my history and social location in conservative churches and institutions and to the extent that the approach offered here constitutes a genuine alternative to accepted and established norms for conservative theology, this work may be regarded as postconservative.  As such it seeks to make common ground with postliberal thinkers in the pursuit of the “generous orthodoxy” envisioned by late Yale theologian Hans Frei, who coined the term to describe an understanding of Christianity that contains elements of both liberal and conservative thought while seeking to move beyond the views of knowledge and certainity that liberals and conservatives hold in common” (Pg. 9)

Finally, Franke notes that it is from two particular contexts that the book has arisen, that of teaching at Biblical Seminary which has shaped every part of the book, as well as an attempt to disseminate more widely the ideas that where coming out of his teaching.  Of particular importance to that is the writing of Beyond Foundationalism which he co-write with Stanley Grenz.  In relation to Beyond Foundationalism he writes, “… is a sort of prequel to Beyond Foundationalism that introduces, recapitualates, refines, and anticipates its major themes by providing an exposition of the nature, task, and purpose of theology that gives rise to the methodological proposal developed in the earlier work.  

Franke closes the preface with thanks to the various publications, institutions, and people who have assisted him in his work.  Of note, is his final paragraph dedicated to Stanley Grenz who passed away in March of 2005.  

Comments: Rereading this preface I was struck by how helpful this was in retrospect.  By clearing identifying his “hermeneutical trajectory” early in the book, it enabled to better understand what was intended by certain phrases as well as what he was contrasting his work to.  

[I know this post was extremely long for a short five page preface, but I believe it’s important to get an understand of where Franke is coming from in order to understand his book]

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