To attempt to get myself into a better rhythm of blogging, I’ve decided to work my way through a new and intriguing book by John Franke, entitled Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth. I discovered this book last week when I attended the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann. Professor Franke gave a brief introduction to the book on the opening night of the event, which significantly whetted my appetite to delve deeper into what he had to say. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to walk through each chapter, explicating Prof. Franke’s overall argument, offering my own critique and assessment, and hopefully even chart some potential benefits for the church were we to take Franke’s proposal seriously. As such, I hope this is a constructive endeavor. To begin, let’s consider Franke’s basic thesis.
In his own words, Franke puts it like this:
The expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralist. The diversity of Christian faith if not, as some approaches to church and theology might seem to suggest, a problem that needs to be overcome. Instead, this diversity is part of the divine design and intention for the church as the image of God and the body of Christ in the world. Christian plurality is a good thing, not something that needs to be struggled against and overturned (pp. 7-8, emphasis added).
Franke’s concern is to theologically account for the multiplicity of perspectives, positions, beliefs, and practice-shaping theologies within the church catholic. Three guiding principles shape his approach: 1) Scripture is inspired by God so that the teachings and promises therein are trustworthy (2 Tim. 3:16-17); 2) God is generous and liberal with God’s wisdom and guidance of the church as she makes her way in the world (James 1:5); and 3) the Holy Spirit is at work guiding the church into all truth (John 16:13-14). Given the reality of plurality in Christian theology, an either/or presents itself. Either one of these principles is wrong, or one of the particular voices is correct. However, not satisfied with either of these answers, Franke wonders whether plurality is actually what God intends, hence his thesis above.
This is a provocative proposal, and for that reason, I’m drawn to it. In my own manner of thinking, I see Franke shifting the question of the truthfulness of theology to its faithfulness in bearing witness to God in Christ through God’s Spirit. This opens up the plurality of truth, while at the same time mitigating an anything goes approach. This means, it seems to me, that we are dealing here with an ecumenical (in the best sense of the word) theology rooted in a generous orthodoxy.
As a youth worker, I’m intrigued to see how this proposal will unfold, specifically because so many young people (including the young adults with whom I work) struggle to make sense of the multiple voices of Christianity. I see confusion, retreat, in-fighting and abandonment as the predominant responses to this reality. My hope is that this proposal can offer an alternative way, one that opens up the village green, so to speak, where we can gather together in the name of Jesus, and pursue truth jointly, in all its manifold greatness.