While it is not a new book, recently I read John R. Franke’s The Character of Theology in view of writing a print review. (What am I, a NT researcher, doing reading a “theology” book? I’m trying…)
It is a fascinatingly bold call for a new (hence “postconservative”) approach to theology, one that seems to fit rather well into the “theological interpretation of Scripture” movement. What Franke argues against is a static view of theology that sees it essentially as a collecting of facts from the Bible into a system – a “concordance” approach. This foundationalistic, modernistic approach aims for an objectivity in theology that Franke finds both impossible to maintain and unfortunately unlively. Not to mention naive.
Instead, a “nonfoundational” approach underscores the important relationship between gospel and culture and not only accepts but embraces the contextually-embedded nature of doing theology. By pointing to the social God (in trinitarian unity) who is on a mission, Franke sees a model for a robustly ecclesial approach to theology that constantly seeks renewal throughout time (perhaps like “refreshing” a webpage to see how content has advanced/shifted).
Does that mean theology is bound to blow with the wind? Is there no anchor? While Franke calls theology-writing/making a “second-order” enterprise, he turns to God the Holy Spirit and the ancient text of Scripture as the safeguards that ensure the church is not building a self-serving theology.
Franke is a passionate writer, excellent researcher, and I find his missional approach spot on. I am not sure I would place this approach under the banner of “postmodernity” as he does in the first chapter. That seems a bit too risky. I like his desire to make a bold statement in view of the approach of people like [hmmm….I suppose I shouldn’t name names…]. I don’t know if I can follow him all the way. He treats creeds, for example, as texts that are “helpful in providing insight into the faith of the church in the past and in making us aware of the presuppositions of our own context” (159). Is he saying that we should not use the Apostle’s Creed, for example, as a university faith creed since it is only primarily a means of “insight”? I am not sure if that is what he trying to say, but if so I don’t know if I would limit it to this.
I think, overall, it is very healthy for seminary students (and indeed anyone interested in theology) to read this book and stare the issues he presents in the face. At under 200 pages, it is worth picking up and taking a quick read.