Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Before "Foundationalism": A More Biblical Alternative to the Grenz/franke Proposal for Doing Theology

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Before "Foundationalism": A More Biblical Alternative to the Grenz/franke Proposal for Doing Theology

Article excerpt

In the concluding chapter of his 1973 "classic" The Evangelical Heritage (as well as its subsequent reprintings), the late Bernard Ramm offered some sage advice concerning "the future of evangelical theology."1 In order to avoid being the "church of the rearguard,"2 evangelicals at the end of the twentieth century were summoned to (1) "be students of Holy Scripture"; (2) "know the inner structure of evangelical theology" (a prod to produce academicallycompetent works); (3) "know their cultural climate"; (4) "be diligent students of linguistics, philosophy of language, and communications"; and (5) "rethink the manner in which God is related to the world."3 In many regards, evangelicals did respond positively to Ramm's mandates, which, in turn, allowed them to move from the fringes of academia into a respectable, if not somewhat prominent position in the circles of religious scholarship. During this time, some significant new projects appeared in the ranks of evangelical systematic theology, ranging from the multi-volume writings of Carl Henry and Donald Bloesch to more conventional "textbooks" authored by Millard Erickson, Wayne Grudem, and Stanley Grenz. All of these scholars exhibited many of the "maturity marks" that Ramm deemed necessary for a strong evangelical presence. Erickson, for example, explicitly produced a theology that reflected a Ramm-like agenda: biblical, systematic, done in the context of human culture, contemporary, and practical.4 Yet just as evangelicals were showing the "intellectual muscle" required to compete in the world of the academy, that culture itself was on the way out. The "modern" world-view that had ruled the twentieth century had now fallen on hard times. Modernism's unbridled optimism in human reason and technology had proved to be an untenable thesis in a century devastated by war. Moreover, the certitude of naturalistic science and the autonomy of number theory had given way to relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Goedel's Theorem. Furthermore, a burgeoning global awareness revealed a world of many and diverse cultural perspectives, causing many to question, if not openly reject, the former "superiority" of Western rationality. Such "Western" arrogance and chauvinism were hardly acceptable in the new intellectual climate. As the twentieth century, then, gave way to the twenty-first, evangelicals found themselves facing an intellectual challenge once again, but one quite different from the modernism that dominated the world of Ramm. In almost a postmodern-like "irony," conservative Christianity found its newfound "reasonableness" (in response to modernity's critique) objectionable to the new climate, precisely because it appealed to rationality. Consequently, the thoughtful, logical, and scholarly presentations of orthodoxy by Henry and others were now in danger of being dismissed as obscurantist in a culture where the "rules of the game" had dramatically changed. For a movement that had labored hard to escape the anti-intellectualism of its fundamentalist forebears, such a development was, to say the least, ironic.

Into this new postmodern arena, however, some bold, pioneering evangelical voices have entered, who, while still holding firm to the confessional standards of the past, nonetheless are attempting to restate them in terms meaningful to postmodernity. Chief among these men and women is the Canadian Baptist Stanley Grenz. The Carey/Regent College (and more recently, Baylor University) professor first served notice of his participation in the new postmodern project in his somewhat controversial 1993 volume, Revisioning Evangelical Theology. Soon after this, his aforementioned systematics text, Theology for the Community of God, made its appearance, offering the notion of community as a new, integrative motif, while dramatically relegating the doctrine of Scripture (an evangelical starting place since Calvin) to a subsection in a chapter on the Holy Spirit. It is, then, in this context-both the general one of postmodernity, and the specific one of Grenz's writings-that we encounter Beyond Foundationalism. …

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