By Mark Traphagen on September 23, 2009
I’m beginning a series of posts that will interact with the new book by John Franke, Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth. John Franke is The Lester and Kay Clemens Professor of Missional Theology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA. He is the author of several previous books, including Beyond Foundationalism (with Stanley Grenz) and The Character of Theology.
Manifold Witness is the John Franke book many of us have been waiting for. Finally Franke gets his chance to not only defend a pluralistic concept of truth but to set forth his case that understanding truth in that way is essential to the mission of the church.
In the first chapter, Franke deals frankly (but graciously) with the question he’s heard countless times from people who have encountered (or just heard about) his teaching: Do you believe in truth? He has come to believe that the reason most ask that question is because they assume he doesn’t. Underlying that assumption has been Franke’s association with the so-called Emerging Church movement and his seeming openness to postmodernism as having positive contributions to make to theological development.
Franke admits to finding the question at times tiresome, as he has stated time and again that he unequivocally believes in truth. That is, he believes that there indeed is ultimate, unchangeable, truth. What he has been after in his theological work is not to ask truth or no truth, but rather: What is the nature of truth as we as finite humans are able to perceive it. As a confessing Christian, he cannot stand with those who say there is no ultimate truth, but neither can he abide those Christians who seem to have a certainty that not only is there absolute truth, but they have full possession of it.
Over against that kind of thinking, Franke asserts his thesis for the book: “the expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralistic…this diversity is part of the divine design and intention for the church as the image of God and the body of Christ in the world.” In part, this observation is necessary because anyone honestly observing the great diversity of the church across geography and history can hardly hold on to some monolithic, all-encompassing statement of The Truth and still hold the unity of the Church. Yet contrary to the claim of his critics–that his pluralistic theology is a compromise with “unbelief”–Franke asserts that Christian truth must be presented in a pluralistic fashion, not just because observation of the church warrants it, but because truth is inherently pluralistic.
The remainder of the book will be both a defense of that seemingly outrageous statement and a working out of the implications of pluralistic truth to the church’s mission in the world.
To be continued….
- John Franke's Manifold Witness: Chapter 1
- Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth by John Franke (Chapter 2)
- Audio Interview with John Franke
- Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth by John Franke (Chapter 3)