Theology in a Postmodern Culture (Part 1 of 2)

beyond_foundThere has been a ton of negativity about the up-and-coming Postmodern culture and worldview from Christian circles (especially within the Evangelical world). As such, it was with great interest that I started an Emerging Church and Postmodern class at Fuller Theological Seminary.

The first book they had us read was Stanley Grenz and John Franke book Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context.” This book was amazing! For the first time, I fully understood what Postmodernism was about and how it was changing the face of Christianity.

Because of the importance of these issues, I am going to post a very detailed book view outlining Grenz and Franke’s book. This will be done in two separate posts – the first dealing with the book itself while the second post will talk about my personal reaction to the book. I hope you will enjoy the journey.  🙂
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The catalyst for this book was John Franke, a postmodern and postconservative theologian, who was the Assistant Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania at the time of writing. Since the time of the book, Franke has changed positions within the seminary to become the Professor of Missional Theology. In addition to teaching, he has joined the Coordinating Group of Emergent Village and serves as the co-chair of the Evangelical Theology Group of the American Academy of Religion.

John Franke’s co-author is Stanley Grenz, a former Baptist pastor and noted theologian, who was the Professor of Theology and Ethics at Carey/Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, at the time. It was Grenz’s book Revisioning Evangelical Theology that provided the framework for the current book, Beyond Foundationalism (x).

The first part of the book is entitled “Theology in the Postmodern Situation” and is concerned about placing theology as a discipline within the current cultural and historical context. Chapter one gives the reader a brief overview of the history of theological studies including the current fragmentation among mainline and conservative Protestantism. In the last part of the chapter, the authors seek to lay the groundwork for looking at theology in a postmodern culture that has rejected the foundationalism of prior generations.

Chapter two picks up where chapter one leaves off, describing the breakdown and faults of modern theology built upon linear thought patterns. After deconstructing the foundation, the authors suggest reconstructing theological studies based upon a mosaic worldview as promoted by Reform epistemology theologians.

Chapter three starts the second part of the book focusing on the three main sources of theology: scripture, tradition, and culture. Scripture is the first source to be discussed and is the focus of this particular chapter. The authors begin by showing how liberal and conservative theologians effectively removed the Bible from their respective churches by creating a flawed theological foundation based upon either the universal human experience or seeing the Bible as a “storehouse of theological facts” (62). The last part of the chapter seeks to describe the Bible as the “norming norm” (63) of theology with the final authority being the Holy Spirit instead of the scriptures themselves.

The second source of theology addressed by the authors is that of tradition in chapter four. After discussing the history of tradition in the global church from the first century to current times, the authors propose the concept that tradition establishes the hermeneutical trajectory of the Christian community. Or, in the words of the authors, tradition “establishes a context for authentic interpretation and performance of the biblical message and its implications” (128).

Chapter five focuses on the context in which theology is embedded. Starting with the definition of culture and the rise of cultural anthropology, the authors make a case for the concept that each person looks at God through their own cultural lenses. The church is no different in that the symbols, language, images, rituals, and stories within each church community create a culture which influences the theology therein.

coffee cupThe last part of the book addresses “Theology’s Focal Motifs,” identified by the authors as the Trinity, community, and eschatology. The first motif, the Trinity, is discussed in chapter six, in which the authors begin by outlining the history of trinitarian theology. Following this theological history, Grenz and Franke propose the concept that since God exists in a community of three Persons (Father, Son and Spirit), the church must be a people who “represent God in the midst of the fallenness of the present through relationships that reflect God’s own loving character” (201).

Chapter seven picks up where chapter six left off and seeks to develop the biblical motif of community further. Keeping with their trend, the authors outline the history of community as it relates to Christianity before circling around to their proposal on how to view community within the postmodern culture. To this end, Grenz and Franke propose the concept that community is the “plot of scripture” (235) and all theology must be done within the community and not on an individual basis.

The last chapter of the book seeks to establish eschatology as the central focus of the biblical metanarrative as the entire biblical story “speaks of the God who is bringing creation to its divinely intended goal” (253). In this sense, all “theology is by its very nature eschatological” (245). As such, theology in a postmodern context must capture and explore this end time hope while understanding that the eschatological rule and reign of God breaks into the present age as the Spirit changes it to match God’s future.

(Continued on May 6th)

0 thoughts on “Theology in a Postmodern Culture (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. What does he mean by that phrase when he says the Bible is the “norming norm?”

    Of course, one of the problems of relying on the Holy Spirit as an authority is that it is ambiguous – it’s difficult to know what is being communicated, if we’re interpreting it properly, or if our own thoughts and wishes are influencing what we hear.

    Of course, the same charge could be used about relying solely on the Bible as well – it’s difficult to know if we’re interpreting it properly. Relying on it probably became big during the modern era because it is at least seems more concrete and easier to analyze and categorize.

    I think one of the positives about postmodernism is that it encourages us to question relying too heavily on one authority as giving us complete truth – or being too arrogant about our ability to categorize and analyze that truth.

  2. The phrase “norming norm” means thing that by which everything else is measured (or the norm within the norm).

    Grenz and Franke spend an entire chapter on this subject so it is a tad hard to summarize. Yet, I think this parapragh from the book helps:

    “Our acknowledgement of the Bible as the final authority in the church and hence as the norming norm in theology has led to the conclusion that the Spirit performs the perlocutionary act of fashioning “world” through the illocutionary act of speaking through scripture, that is, through appropriating the biblical text. This world-constructing act occurs as the Spirit creates a community of persons who live out in the present the paradigmatic narrative of the Bible, that is, who view all of life through the interpretive framework the text discloses.” Pg 83

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