Beyond Foundationalism: A Book Summary

I was recently encouraged to post some book summaries I am writing for my Theological Methods seminar this semester. These are not summaries that would be up to the stellar quality found in a published magazine, but, I hope, are helpful nonetheless. Here is the first installment.

Beyond Foundationalism – Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke

It is evident from the title of the first chapter that the author’s want to take the Scripture and apply it to our contemporary context (“Beyond Fragmentation: Theology and the Contemporary Setting”) in a way that explains the diversity found in the varied schools of thought. The other danger they seek to avoid is foundationalism that was berthed from modernity. It is clear (and true) that there are many shades of postmodernism (eight according to Vanhoozer as cited on p.22) so that aspects of it can be affirmed by Christians, while several presuppositions must be denied. However, Grenz and Franke believe that the movement should be embraced more than modern evangelicalism want to.

Particularly, what the authors want to espouse is that all language and talk about God is conditioned and bound by culture. So that they say, “A nonfoundationalist theological method leads to the conclusion that ultimately all theology – as the ‘postmodern codition’ suggests – ‘local’ or ‘specific’” (25). The question is raised, then, do even orthodox beliefs (as enumerated in the Nicene Creed) become bound so that they cannot communicate true things about God? In other words, do statements that affirm the Trinity or Jesus’ divinity or the Spirit’s personhood have no reference in trans-cultural situations.

It is questionable what Grenz and Franke actually believe to be foundationalism – in the pejorative sense. Modern (not “modernist”) theologians are hardly classic foundationalists. If they were, it would appear that much of the authors’ criticisms would be well-founded. However, they indict Grudem for having a foundationalist definition of systematic theology when he says that it is “the attempt to determine what the whole Bible teaches about any given topic” (37). How can this be foundationalism in the technical sense (cf. 51)? Of all the talk regarding language games and enculturation, what kind of definition of systematic theology might the authors put forth? They, unfortunately, opt for a coherentist approach to theology, which leaves the very problem unanswered that systematic theology seeks to answer – the relevance for the surrounding culture!

  • John majors

    THANKS MATT! Enjoyed it.