Monday, November 05, 2007

Renewing the Center

Grenz’s book, Renewing the Center is in much the same vein as his co-authored work with John Franke. In both books, the authors—as much as I’ve read thus far—don’t come right out and deny metaphysical realism. But both books are sprinkled with phrases such as “the demise of realism,” and clearly associate realism with a debunked Enlightenment metaphysic. With such statements, do Franke and Grenz mean to indicate the demise of realism in reality, or merely in philosophy? I can’t tell. But it’s clear they want to construct a theological method that works in a non-realist paradigm. Perhaps this agenda is more apologetically driven than actually a reflection of their own beliefs—a granting of assumptions to the secular philosophers. But if so, at some point we need to ask ourselves how many non-theistic assumptions we can grant before our Trinitarian theism becomes untenable. Can we deny that reality exists independent of our construal of it, and yet still insist that Christianity is universally true? Or even more importantly, that God exists? I don’t see how.

There is, however, a move that Franke and Grenz make that I appreciate (with qualifications). They put forth the notion of eschatological realism—the idea that what is coming is more objectively real than what is now. This works on a number of levels, and preaches well. Both Augustine and the early Luther spoke of imputation along these lines; God imputes to us now what we will be in our glorified state. Thus our future glorification provides the framework within which God treats us as righteous individuals in the here and now. Similarly, Christian piety is appropriately driven by the belief that what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

But Franke and Grenz press their eschatological realism into a false alternative. Eschatological realism need not replace metaphysical realism. Why should the notion that the world to come has a certain objectivity necessarily negate the notion that the current world possesses a real objectivity? Is the Christ of the Gospels (and the present) any less objectively real than the Christ that will come again? Ironically, I suspect many who resonate with Franke and Grenz’s project might actually prefer the Christ of the Gospels, over against the eschatologically “real” Christ of the apocalypse. (But that’s conjecture.) The world we live in is temporary—not because it lacks objectivity—but because God intends to remake it. In fact, if the current world wasn’t objectively real, what exactly would God be remaking?

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