Monday, 9 November 2009

all truth is relative... except liberal truth

Over at BLOG and MABLOG Doug Wilson is reviewing John Franke's book on truth, 'Manifold Wisdom: plurality of truth'. Franke is a leading postmodern 'emergent' theologian.

Franke apparently (as we might expect) is attempting to make a case for a seriously relativized truth, by significantly relativizing our interpretation of truth.

Wilson quotes:

"In order to do this, I suggest a simple thesis: the expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralist. The diversity of the Christian faith is not, as some approaches to church and theology might seem to suggest, a problem that needs to be overcome" (p. 7)

Plurality in Christian beliefs, Franke apparently avers in true postmodern form, is not only a self evident fact but a fact to be celebrated.

Yet, having vigorously made his case Franke steps back and insists there are as Wilson writes, 'certain fixed principles, certain absolutes, that cannot be altered, come wind or tide.'

Franke writes:

"Some claims and assertions about Christian belief and practice are wrong, such as those that support discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender" (p. 8).

I must confess, reading this I almost laughed out loud. The absolutes of the Christian Faith, according to Franke, are those that align with modern leftist liberalism.

Should I have laughed or wept?


Nick Mackison said...

Wow, Franke is really sailing the Zeitgeist tidal wave. What a load of absolute cattle manure.

Alexander Smith said...

Well, what discrimination based on race, ethnicity and gender are Biblical and appropriate?

Is it really "modern leftist liberalism" to believe people should be treated as equals despite their race, ethnicity and "gender" (sex).

Nick Mackison said...

I don't think you're being fair there Alexander. No one is saying that discrimination is a good thing. The problem is that Franke wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to say that truth is a plurality yet on the other hand he lifts moral absolutes from the EU bill of human rights.

JFranke said...

Purality does not mean that anything goes but that within what "goes" we should expect plurality. I'd be interested in hearing how some of you deal with plurality in the Godhead and plurality in scripture. If God is the Truth and scripture is Truth written (both of which I argue in the book), and these are chracterized by plurality you have the plurality of truth.

Alexander Smith said...

My problem is with the assumption that the statement quoted is, on its own terms, objectionable. Whatever the philosophy behind it (that held by the author) and whatever the resulting practice, the statement itself is true: discrimination, based on anything, is wrong. My problem is that there has been a disintegration of intellectual debate so that we have one camp flinging crude, simplistic statements at the other and vice versa.

I certainly don't hold to a relatavistic view of truth, nor do I believe we should tolerate every opinion that comes our way. However, I also think there must have been better remarks to make the point than the one quoted. Maybe I'm nit-picking (though I don't think I am) but, as with the post on "seeker-hostile" churches, nothing is gained from embracing nonsense phrases, or attacking sentiments which, in essence, are true just to win a point in the theology wars.

The "conservative" side hasn't got everything right. It may have got the fundamental doctrines of the faith right, and it may have a higher view of Scripture, but it has also neglected important aspects of the Gospel. The fact is conservatives have used Scripture to justify bigotry and social custom and just because a "leftist-liberal" points this out doesn't mean it should be discarded, or dismissed as something that happened in the past. It sill happens.

John Thomson said...


Thanks for dropping in.

Can I make some general points as well as try to address your specifics.

I confess my reading of emergent writers disturbs me. I find regularly, attempts to widen the circle of truth way beyond what Scripture, to my mind, does. More, I find regularly, attempts to undermine certainty by pushing the envelope of subjectivity in interpretation and even inspiration.

Regarding plurality in Scripture and the Godhead I would make the following observations.

To be sure, considered as a body of divinity, truth consists of diverse parts; few, I think, would disagree. However, that there is such a thing as a body of divinity, however difficult to tie down definitively, seems to me self-evident. This 'body of divinity' is unified and integrated. It is 'the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

I am suspicious of words like 'plurality'. Plurality in common parlance means accepting as true mutually contradictory beliefs. Is plurality in Scripture for you simply diversity within a circle of truth, a body of divinity, or does it imply contradiction?

Yes, different faith communities may highlight and preserve different aspects of truth, however, different faith communities often champion beliefs that are mutually exclusive. For example transubstantion, consubstantion, reformed views of the sacraments and zwingilian memorialism contradict and therefore cannot all be correct.

The call by Paul to Timothy to guard the gospel is precisely because faith communities were getting it wrong, and seriously wrong.

Whatever the diversity of Scripture it is 'one' as God is 'one'for it is inspired by the Spirit of God.

John, I think you are in danger of building far too much on diversity within the Godhead. In fact, the regular NT emphasis is on their unity. They are 'one' in being and purpose. Christ says, I and the Father are one... he that has seen me has seen the Father.

Of course, the Trinity is profound, God is profound beyond our full understanding. However, this does not mean, any more than diversity, that real and true understanding is not possible. What God has revealed of himself we can know truly and, moreover, are obliged to defend against idolatrous distortions.

The NT (and OT) encourages certainty and lines in the sand. Now I know these can be drawn too narrowly, however, emergent writers I encounter seem to have little enthusiasm for lines. The reasoning always seems to be 'we cannot know fully so it is arrogant and wrong to defend what is known only in part'. I wonder if your emphasis in plurality has the same objective - to move or blur these lines significantly.

Yes, some may be too narrow, perhaps I am, however, I do not think the big problem today in western society and evangelicalism is that we are too narrow in 'what goes'. Rather the zeitgeist of both is that 'anything goes'. Anything, that is, except the cherished tenets of postmodern liberalism.

Emergents in general seem to feed into this. The quotations I have read from your book and the reviews of it by Wilson and Mohler, seem to suggest you chime a little too closely with this.

My fear is that your apparent emphasis on plurality contributes to an erosion of a certain faith base that I see the NT vigorously defend.

You have by all accounts real abilities; I simply hope that you will reflect on my fears and if there is any truth in them allow it to balance your perspective.

Nick Mackison said...

Alexander, I understand your concerns, but no one said that the statement quoted was, on its own terms, objectionable. The point was about having one's cake and eating it. Surely a framework which prizes absolute truth as opposed to a plurality is alone qualified to make such a statement? To read into what John said as a scorning of equality is to totally miss the mark.

JF, to echo JT, thanks for stopping by. It's clear we have big differences, but the fact that you would bother to comment on this insignificant blog is commendable.

The question for me is, if truth is a plurality, what then is heresy? Is it possible to identify it? The apostle Paul seemed to believe that the gospel was perspicuous enough to identify it (Gal. 1:10).

Andy said...

What I think is telling about the tendency to 'absolutise' right & wrong when it comes to discrimination, equality, human rights etc - is that, to put it provocatively, it is all about putting 'man on the throne' (please excuse the non-PC euphemism for humanity).

What I mean is with God it seems that pretty much anything goes - so what we believe, say, speculate about God is all fine (I exaggerate of course, but maybe not that much). God can take it, we're told, He's big enough - if He gets misrepresented, disrepected, a bit trashed on the way - well no big deal. What's really important is our intellectual freedom and how could God quibble with that.

'Man' on the other hand is sacrosant - his rights are absolute - a strict party-line must be observed regarding 'his' feelings, dignity and prerogatives. Too much modern theology has a great respect and concern for 'man' but little it seems for God.