manifold witness: the plurality of truth

November 2, 2009

I’ve heard a number of good things about John Franke and his theological writings, but had not read any. Until now that is…when the publisher asked me to review Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth, I was quick to agree. After reading it, I’m confident this book will make my top 10 of the year list.

Among the most challenging ideas I’ve been wrestling with in recent years is how to read and listen to the Bible through the ears and hearts of others. All of us are in danger of thinking we ‘get it’, and need to experience the richness that comes when we interact with people from different perspectives as they interpret the Scriptures. This is what Manifold Witness is about.

Franke kicks it off with this thesis:

“the expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralistic. The diversity of the Christian faith is 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.” (pg. 7)

One of the loudest critiques of the emerging church is that there is no offering of solid truth to stand on because too much is left open to individual interpretation. Franke offers a solid response, noting that the diversity of God and God’s creation offers us nothing but a need for diversity of voices when studying Biblical text. Best of all, Franke’s text follows a logical progression of thought in readily expressible language.

I underlined far more than I do in most books, but here are a few quotes that bear significant reflection:

“God is social. Perhaps the single most significant development in twentieth-century trinitarian theology has been the broad consensus among interpreters of the significance of relationality as the most helpful way to understand the Trinity. This so-called relational turn is viewed as an alternative to the metaphysics of substance that dominated theological reflection on the Trinity throughout much of church history.” (pg. 57)

“the life of God is the experience of what is different, other, not the same. It is important to note that the missional love of God is not an assimilating love. It does not seek to make what is different the same but rather lives in harmonious fellowship with the other.” (pg. 61)

“Deconstruction is in fact a theory of truth. It constitutes not so much a tearing down as a bursting through of the cultural and intellectual sediment that so often serves to obscure and distort the truth. Its intention is not to destroy tradition but rather to keep it alive by contesting the idea of ‘the one tradition that is the truth’ and thus seeking to prevent the death and mummification of the very idea of tradition.” (pg. 104)

“the setting into which the church proclaims the gospel is always changing, the work of theology is never completed in some sort of once-and-for-all fashion. It is a living enterprise, a social practice of the church that will continue without end. Theology is not something that falls to earth from heaven in pristine form. It is always a human and earthly enterprise.” (pg. 117)

“The witness of the Other must be discovered and prioritized in the church as theology done at the ethnic roundtable in order to provide both a witness against and an alternative to the racism and tribalism that permeate life in the world.” (pg. 123)

“In order to promote the Spirit-guided flourishing of plurality in the church, those with power must be willing to both make use of it in such a way that allows for the witness of the Other to be realized in the life of the church and to relinquish power for the sake of the gospel.” (pg. 123)

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