The Subject of Theology

Whether one agrees with it in toto or not, one of the few serious and constructive works on evangelical  prolegomena, is John R. Franke's The Character of Theology: A Postconservative Evangelical Approach

John's theological journey and contribution is to be watched carefully.  One might find weaknesses here or there [John would probably be the first to admit it], but one cannot seriously engage contemporary evangelical theology and ignore his work. 

Chapter two is entitled, "The Subject of Theology."  John writes, "For Christians, the subject of theology is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.  Accordingly, the Christian answer to the question of God's identity ultimately leads to the doctrine of the Trinity…the confession of the Triune God has been the sin qua non of the Christian faith" (p. 45).  He continues, "the trinitarian conception of God is so closely tied to the biblical narrative that it serves as a shorthand way of speaking not only about the God of the narrative but also about the narrative itself as the act of the God of the Bible" (p. 46). 

On this the church must speak with one voice.    


6 thoughts on “The Subject of Theology

  1. So would this then be part of the foundation (no irony intended) of a method of doing theology that is less rationalistic and based on propositions? I would seem that if the Trinity is by its very nature supposed to remind us not only of the God who acts in the narrative, but of the narrative itself, then our theology would also have narrative inherently wound in the propositions. Perhaps what Paul was doing somewhat in Galatians 4?

  2. Karl Rahner, who in some ways is to Catholicism, what Karl Barth is to Protestantism, spoke of a Grundaxiom, by which he argued that "the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity" and vice versa. The statement has remained controversial. But at least there is an element of truth in what he was saying. We learn of and experience the Trinity through God's self-revelation in redemptive history. Thus God's triune existence, as we know it, is wrapped up with the gospel [thought not exhausted by it]. So while we cannot avoid "propositional" statements about God and theology [nor should we want to], these propositions have a necessary context which is inhertently narrative in shape. We should not reduce our doctrines to bare "timeless truths." They should always be set within the larger narrative world which the Father himself leads us into by His Spirit and Word. Yes, exactly the kind of theology Paul was doing in Galatians 4!

  3. Amen brothers, amen!

    I stand in awe when pondering that this grand narrative (in which we find true knowledge of ourselves and God in Christ) is one in which God has drawn me into–He made me part of his redemption story!

    One of my RTS profs puts it this way, “soteriology is anthropology.” In a word — that the triune God of the universe is, and that He has acted in history to redeem the world, and that He includes me in part of His divine drama of redemption — wow!

  4. Focusing on "the narrative itself as the act of God" is a reminder of the non-static perichoresis, in constant motion, imparting grace to our limited beings, guiding us to what God reveals in Jesus. Without the Spirit's enabling we are just taking on an academic task when studying theology.

  5. Good posting drdanebert,

    I was challanged by his picture of a prolegomena that works from a subject – ie the Trinity; rather than an object to a subject – revelation to the Trinity. The last quote you posted does well to express Franke’s desire to have a dialectic between the Trinity and revelation thereby not abandoning revelation which would end in a Trinity without normative form, nor abandoning the Trinity which would end in a textual idolatry of hermeneutical sorts.

    It is easier with a subject defined in a trinitarian fashion to move into a missional direction, as he does in the latter part of that chapter. I wished he had given a more careful recording of the history of the doctrines development, particularly amongst the reformers and post-reformers, but all and all I found his handling helpful.

    Thanks for leaving the blog Dan, Anthony at

  6. Dr. Ebert,

    What are your thoughts re: Franke being on the Emergent Village Coordinating Group? Some feel Emergent Village (Emergent) to be the liberal wing of the EC, and although that distinction is not universally held, it’s other members such as Scot McKnight and Tony Jones feel very strongly that EV is not a theological movement. Meaning, one can hold very differing views on theology, and still be considered a friend or ministry partner with Emergent.

    Should this new allegiance, or position of Franke’s raise concerns or awareness for those of us within the more theologically reformed/conservative circles?

    curious as to your thoughts…



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