Monday, October 22, 2007

Franke and Grenz, Beyond Realism?

At the end of the day, the debates concerning theological method are not about foundationalism verse postfoundationalism, but about realism verse anti-realism. Does reality exist independent of our own construal of it, as realism insists? Or is it, in the end, merely the product of our own thought? And if we reject metaphysical realism, what does this mean for evangelical theology? Franke and Grenz hit this question head on whey they ask,
Does the move beyond foundationalism entail a move away from metaphysical realism? Formulated in this manner, the question is both improper and ultimately unhelpful.
Well perhaps not entirely head on.

After a number of side steps (perhaps too pejorative) which leave the reader with the strong impression that they want to reject metaphysical realism but can’t quite bring themselves to say it, Franke and Grenz circle back around to the same question in another way. “On what basis can we make this claim [that Christianity is true]? Must we now appeal to some court beyond the Christian faith?” The answer to the second question is “no.” Apparently realism is not the way forward. The answer to the first question is a combination of pragmatism and communitarianism. Every society wants to be a productive society. Christian theology—given its communitarian/Trinitarian turn—is the best mechanism for constructing a productive society. Therefore Christianity is true. But not objectively true, apparently, in the sense that Christianity corresponds to some reality outside of itself (which would entail realism). Only true in the sense that Christianity is the best option for bringing about a productive society. But isn’t this just repackaged pragmatism? It’s difficult for me to see how—at the end of the day—Franke and Grenz (or anyone) can reject metaphysical realism and avoid relativism.

I don’t fault Franke and Grenz for rejecting modernity’s epistemic Pelagianism. Nor do I fault them for insisting that all human knowing on this side of the resurrection must remain—in varying degrees—subjective and provisional. I don't even fault them for moving beyond foundationalism. But the move away from realism goes too far, undercutting the (even if imperfect) objectivity of Christian theology. It’s one thing to say that we can’t know truth with complete objectivity. It’s quite another to say that we can’t know truth with any objectivity.

Clearly Franke and Grenz do not intend to be relativists. They want to speak of Christianity as true. And if pressed I wonder if they would feel compelled to acknowledge the necessity of realism for doing Christian theology. But in their efforts to distance themselves from realism and foundationalism, one is left wondering if they have not given up too much to the spirit of the age.

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