Monday, October 22, 2007

Franke and Grenz, Beyond Foundationalism

John Franke and the late Stanley Grenz are leading evangelical voices for a postfoundational theological method. In the first few chapters of their book they give an overview of the epistemological landscape and then lay out their proposal for doing theology in our postmodern matrix.

It’s clear that Franke and Grenz side with postmodernity regarding the demise of foundationalism. They do not, however, really explain why foundationalism is insufficient. (In fact, most scholars I’ve been reading don’t really explain why foundationalism is bankrupt; it’s starting to make me suspicious.) In their discussion, Franke and Grenz define foundationalism in the following way,
In its broadest sense, foundationalism is merely the acknowledgement of the seemingly obvious observation that not all beliefs we hold (or assertions we formulate) are on the same level, but that some beliefs (or assertions) anchor others. Stated in the opposite manner, certain of our beliefs (or assertions) receive their support form other beliefs (or assertions) that are more “basic” or “foundational.”
Franke and Grenz go on to acknowledge, “Defined in this manner, nearly every thinker is in some sense a foundationalist.” And quite frankly, I can’t imagine it otherwise. While it is certainly true that classical foundationalism was unduly optimistic in its ability to construct an impeachable epistemic structure, it’s not clear to me why less ambitious forms of foundationalism are inadequate. Franke and Grenz acknowledge soft foundationalism, but then quickly and summarily dismiss it along with classical foundationalism. But why?

Franke and Grenz don't provide much explanation for why they reject soft foundationalism. This is unfortunate given the number of evangelical scholars who are adopting more modest forms of foundationalism. David Clark, for instance, argues for a form of soft foundationalism that avoids the epistemic hubris of its classical counterpart and yet allows us to speak meaningfully about truth outside of ourselves. But there’s the rub, isn’t it? Generally speaking, postfoundational thinkers also reject metaphysical realism. They don’t think we can speak meaningfully about truth outside of ourselves.

Beyond classical foundationalism is one thing; beyond realism is quite another.

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