Category Archives: How Do We Think?

This category explores the postfoundational perspective. How do we navigate between the rigidity of absolutism and the emptiness of relativism?

Postfoundational Theology | A Three-Foci Expression

Beyond Foundationalism P194 (1)Grenz and Franke also talk about three distinctive foci that are important components of the missional, postfoundational church.

The first focus is the Trinitarian Structure of the church. The importance of the the social Trinity cannot be underemphasized here. It is only through the relationality of God’s three-in-oneness that the postfoundationalist theological conversation can exist. Without it, Kelsey and Keifert would remain constrained in the same historical reductionism that Hegel, Heideggar, and the Frankfurt school found itself. Simpson would also be trapped in Tillich’s correlational reductionism and the ultimate relativism that Habermas’ ethic perpetuates.[1] The Trinitarian God is at work in the world, calling the church to be gathered around the risen Jesus, to bring doxa to the Father.

The second focus is that of the church’s Communitarian expression. Constituted by the community of God, the church is by nature a community of particularities in relational, ontological interdependence, not a mechanistic organization created to produce a product to be consumed on the open market.

The third focus is the church’s Eschatological direction. Both Kiefert and Simpson argue that it is the present hope that is created by the vision of a preferred future that allows the church—thus the theological process—to move forward while holding dualistic tension within a frame provisional truth.[2] God is creating, not from the past toward the future, but as futurity—engulfed in promise—as the narrative evolves and God works in, with, under, against, and through the church to fulfill God’s preferred and promised future.[3]


[1] Arens helps us understand that the communicative praxis of the Father, Son, and the Spirit is that which allows the church to be the prophetic voice of God in the world, while not seeking to extract itself from the world. The church is a community of communio with God, itself, and the world. Edmund Arens, Christopraxis: A Theology of Action, 1st Fortress Press ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 156. Michael Welker also helps us see the polycentric and pluriform nature of the Holy Spirit that permeates, but is not equated with or lost among, the various cultures of the world. Michael Welker, God the Spirit, 1st English-language ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994).

[2] I will explore this further in the next section.

[3] See Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, 1st HarperCollins paperback ed. (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991); Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991); Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity: God According to the Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982); Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, 2 vols., vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

Postfoundational Theology | A Three-Way Conversation

Beyond Foundationalism P194 (1)Grenz and Franke offer a helpful framework for exploring postfoundational theology. They frame it around a conversation and a focus.[1] The conversation is a three-way conversation between the Scripture, Tradition, and the Culture.[2] Here we are really talking about authority and meaning. Where is the basis for truth? Where is the authority? It does not lie on one solid foundation, but is in the ground of God, which cannot be ascertained directly. We can however, look through three frames to communicatively construct meaning.

The Bible is the first frame. Keifert suggests that rhetorical rationality replaces the modernist need for logical rationality when approaching the scripture. The Bible is not an object to be analyzed, but is a rhetorical device used to communicate with the original audience, and with the contemporary audience. Grenz and Franke suggest that the scripture is the instrumentality for the speaking of the Holy Spirit to the church. This is best exemplified in Keifert’s call for the church to Dwell in the Word. Dwelling in the Word is an experience in which each participant is invited, as equals, to listen to God in the reading of the text and to listen to God as the participants listen each other into free speech.

Tradition forms the next frame. The local church does not exist in a vacuum. It is the product of the stories that have come before it. The historical tradition forms the identity of the church as much as the biblical narrative forms it. The church must engage fully with its tradition to both learn from it and be set on a future-oriented trajectory by it.

Culture forms the final frame. Open systems theory has shown us that the local congregation exists within a contextual environment. This is not the shadowy, evil place of Plato’s dualistic universe. This is the creation of God, in which God works. The church is called by the Spirit of God to dwell in the world and discern what God is doing in the world and how the church should participate in God’s movement. This is why it is imperative for the church to learn how to engage in liberative, generative, communicative and prophetic dialogue as it is a companion to the reasonably friendly looking person of peace in the neighborhood.[3]


[1] Grenz and Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context.

[2] It might be helpful, at this point, to pause and remember our previous discussion of frames in the beginning of chapter two. All knowledge is interpreted knowledge. It is framed within the perspective of the viewer. We each bring our frame to the “great thing” around which we gather in the DITB project. I bring my frames, the RT team members each brought their frames, and you, the reader, bring your frames. I must acknowledge the reason that I am drawn to Grenz and Franke’s framing of postfoundationalism in order to help you connect to my argument. Grenz and Franke both come from an evangelical background that is similar to mine. They are scholars who are wrestling with the expansion of their frameworks in light of the hermeneutical turn of the twentieth century and the polarization between the evangelical and ecumenical theological camps in Western Christianity. I bring Grenz and Franke into conversation with Keifert in order to wrestle with my own frame-expansion into the Lutheran tradition.

[3] This is an allusion to Luke 10:6

A Postfoundational Theology

I believe there is a third way between the Scylla and Charybdis we face in the church today. It is a postfoundationalist theology for the missional church. The basis of the postfoundational theology is rooted in Keifert’s proposal that a reasonably adequate Christian theology is done in, with, under, against, and for the church. Kelsey explains how the modern theological school, following Schleiermacher, bifurcated practical theology from systematic theology. Systematic theology pursued the abstract, universal construct mentioned above, while practical theology trained the pastor to perform the technical duties of the civic function endemic to the office. Kelsey and Keifert, flowing from the stream of Hegel and Tillich, but moving beyond it, propose that God cannot be known directly, but only through the secondary phenomena of the particularities of the local congregation. Kelsey proposes that the theological task is a crossroads hamlet between the dialectical tension of the Athens tradition—inner spiritual development (Plato)—and the Berlin tradition—technical training, implementation and actualization (Aristotle). If one is to understand God truly, then one must investigate the concrete particularities of how the Spirit of God is drawing people together for worship and service in particular places in the world. [1]

Simpson draws upon the work of Paul Tillich and Jürgen Habermas to propose that the local congregation is a prophetic public companion.[2] Tillich taught that God cannot be known directly as an object in the universe, because God is the ground of being from which objects exist. Therefore, God is known through the experience and interaction of all things at work in the universe. The church is a sign, symbol, and prophetic voice to the world of God’s work toward peace in the world. Habermas, as briefly discussed above, saw society as constructed through communicative rationality. It is only through the church’s prophetic companionship with society that the lifeworlds of every person can be liberated from the oppressive economic and political systems that have colonized the lifeworlds throughout the modern era.[3]


[1] Kelsey, To Understand God Truly: What’s Theological About a Theological School; Patrick R. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992); Patrick R. Keifert, We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery (Eagle, ID: Allelon Publishing, 2006); Patrick R. Keifert, Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009).

[2] Simpson, Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination, 144-145.

[3] Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, 2 vols. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), 326; Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987).