When You Assume…: A Review of “Beyond Foundationalism” by Stanley Grenz and John Franke

We’ve all been warned of the real dangers of assumptions. The old adage about making assumptions is usually true. It’s not possible, of course, to dispense with all assumptions, but it is important to carefully check and track out these assumptions. This is especially true when writing a book on theological methodology. Stan Grenz and John Franke in their book Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context have a very serious assumption that ends up distorting their whole project.

I have been meaning to read this book for a long time because of its significant influence on contemporary postmodern theology. Issues in theological methodology has interested me for some time and continues to captivate my attention at the present, but, sadly, this book makes a bold assumption that largely turned it into a useless work. Grenz and Franke believe that the approach to theology that the contemporary church has taken is ineffective and outdated. Their belief, however, is rooted in the assumption that Orthodoxy is actually dominated by a strict or classic foundationalism. They are often critiquing Orthodoxy for attempting to establish objective certainty (see particularly chapter 2). It is not, however, that the authors are convinced of a purely subjective or relative theology. They are proposing, instead, a middle road between objectivity and relativism.

“A nonfoundationalist theological method leads to the conclusion that ultimately all theology is – as the postmodern condition suggests – local or specific. It is the conversation of a particular group in a particular moment of their ongoing existence in the world” (25). The middle road views theology as a development of community and is deeply connected to issues of linguistics. Theology, then, is deeply contextualized, so much so, in fact, that it questions of objectivity are rather moot (52).

There is so much in this view that borders on truth and yet it ignores major deficiencies because of its assumptions. For starters, by grounding their methodology in nothing they have no leg on which to stand. They recognize some future, eschatological, objectivity, but that provides nothing. Their continual denial of the Scriptures as the final authority leaves them with no basis for their arguments. It seems to me that real orthodoxy, as opposed to the straw man Grenz and Franke create, is a better alternative to nonfoundationalism. A chastened foundationalism like that of John Frame in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God is more fitting and more helpful. All theology is perspectival, but despite Grenz and Franke this does not make it modernist…it makes it Biblical!

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