No Easy Task

I had read John Franke recently at Barnes and Noble in the introduction to McClaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. I found a couple of his quotes stimulating:

“In the context of this debate, it is important to remember that postmodern theory does not support the rejection of rationality but rather supports rethinking rationality in the wake of modernity. This rethinking has resulted not in irrationality, as is often claimed by less informed critics of postmodern thought, but rather in numerous redescriptions and proposals concerning the understanding of rationality and knowledge. These postmodern ideas produced a more inherently self-critical view of knowledge than modernity.

“Foundationalism refers to a conception of knowledge that emerged during the Enlightenment and sought to address the lack of certainty generated by the human tendency toward error and to overcome the inevitable, often destructive disagreements and controversies that followed. This quest for certainty involved reconstructing knowledge by rejecting ‘premodern’ notions of authority and replacing them with uncontestable beliefs accessible to all individuals. The assumptions of foundationalism, with its goal of establishing certain universal knowledge, came to dominate intellectual pursuit in the modern era.”

It seems to me that Franke is missing the point here. Descartes didn’t establish his ergo cogito sum because he was a skeptic but because he was a Catholic seeking common ground to argue with an increasing number of atheists. The pre-modern assumption that God’s knowledge was the basis for all true knowledge was already on its way to being discredited (see link).

He continues:

“This conception of knowledge also significantly influenced the church as Christian leaders and thinkers reshaped their understandings of the faith in accordance with its dictates. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the foundationalists impulse produced a theological division between the “left” and the “right” among Anglo-Americans–liberals constructed theology upon the foundation of an unassailable religious experience while conservatives look to an error-free Bible as the incontrovertible foundation of their theology. But in spite of all their differences, we can see that while liberal and conservative Christians appeared to be going their separate ways throughout the twentieth century, both were responding in different ways to the same modern, foundationalist agenda.”

Which leads me to say, “Oh that’s why the church started believing the Bible!…”

To continue down this path, Dr. Myron Houghton pointed this one out to me. Helm provides clear insight into understanding the issues involved in the foundationalist vs. non-foundationalist battle.

This is a fascinating point:

Perhaps Franke, following Westphal, is committed to this: If someone knows (but does not Know), then such knowledge ‘inevitably leads to forms of oppression and conceptual idolatry’? Now consider Jesus. He is God the Son who has assumed human nature. He is situated in a context, first century Palestine. Does he know, or Know? If he merely knows, then such knowledge leads inevitably to forms of oppression and conceptual idolatry. Not the sort of result we want, I take it. But if he Knows, then it seems that Franke will have to say that Jesus did not have a context, or was somehow able to neutralize its epistemological effects. I leave the reader to sort out this tangled web. Whether or not these knots can be untied, I take it that Christians (including Franke) want in the main to say that claims to knowledge, if they are from the lips of Jesus, are not simply claims to knowledge but are rather more than that, but that they are not at all oppressive claims to power. But it’s not clear how, under Franke’s auspices, we are allowed to say this.

Great read, click to read it. It’s a long article and very difficult read, but it’s worth it. If you take the time to read it, let me know your thoughts in the comments. šŸ™‚

It does strike me however that Helm and Franke really aren’t speaking on the same level and Franke is really speaking non-sense. Franke says that a non-foundational approach will still be distinctively “Christian” (Dr. Myron would say “blick,” his word for a meaningless word). And Helm calls him a foundationalist because of this claim, although Franke really doesn’t mean “Christian” as Helm understands it so the conversation is useless… or does he really mean “Christian”?

And this quote:

On this basis, Karl Barth concludes that the focal point and foundations of Christian faith, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, determines that in the work and practice of theology “there are no comprehensive view, no final conclusions and results. There is only the investigation and teaching which take place in the act of dogmatic work and which, strictly speaking, must continually begin again at the beginning in every point. The best and most significant thing that is done in this matter is that again and again we are directed to look back to the center and foundation of it all.”(81)

Barth’s ergo cogito sum (his “foundation”) seems to be the person of Jesus Christ, but on who’s authority does Barth know Jesus Christ? How much does he really know about Jesus Christ? Isn’t that at least a “weak foundation” (see Plantinga on “weak foundationalism” here)?

After all is said and done doesn’t Franke really just desire the deity of the community in establishing meaning. Modernism and liberalism colide and we are left with the struggle for man’s sovereignty in the cotext of a million different voices and it remains to be seen what their soveriegn consensus will be. What I do know is that Franke will probably call it Christianity and Helm will probably not.

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