Tag Archives: theology

Hope in the Trinitarian Community

Postfoundational theology is a story of hope. Hope has a future orientation. It invites us to look forward with anticipation and imagination. Proverbs tells us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Spiritual formation in the missional church is a hopeful endeavor. The DITB project is one of a public prophetic imagination of hope in God’s preferred and promised future.[1] This is a countercultural move. Taylor suggests that the modern, buffered self has lost this hope.[2] The modern schism between fact/value, public/private, and science/faith has collapsed our public sense of identity to radical individualism, the loss of meaning and purpose, and the reduction of life to that of utilitarian transactions for the sole purpose of individual survival. The modern self is left in isolation and with no ultimate hope.

The hope of the world rests in the Triune God. Kiefert argues that the church has lost hope because it has lost its connection to the life of God.[3] The Trinity is the life of the world. The Triune God is the ground of being-in-time, moving the world in the past, present, that is a hope of a preferred and promised future.[4] God is not a timeless, transcendent being that is separate from the created universe. Nor is God the animating, non-personal life energy that is completely synonymous with the universe. God is the relationality of the Triune persons from which we realize that all people—and all things—are interdependently entangled.[5]

I will explore this more closely in the Trinity Frame. For now, it is enough to agree with Keifert that the church exists in the life of God and “is a being in communion within the history of God that is drawn into a promised future, coherent with, but not fully available to us, in the fate and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.”[6] The church is invited to dream God’s dream and to live into the hope within it. Gorringe says, “that everything that we do as Christians, including our politics and our fashioning of the world, should be shaped by that hope.”[7] This creative frame is not a subjective romanticism or the whimsy of the idealistic artist, but it is a public imagination. Simpson argues that

As prophetic public companions, missional congregations acknowledge a conviction that they participate in God’s ongoing creative work. In a communicative civil society, these congregations exhibit a compassionate commitment to other institutions and their moral predicaments and to contesting the systemic colonization of the lifeworld. In these two senses, congregations as communicatively prophetic public companions are thoroughly connected, both to God and to the social and natural world. This vocational conviction and commitment yields a critical and self-critical, and thus fully communicative, practice of prophetic engagement. Finally, as communicatively prophetic public companions, congregations participate with other institutions of communicative civil society to create, strengthen, and sustain the moral fabrics that fashion a life-giving and life-accountable world.”[8]

The Deep in the Burbs Research Team came together to dream. I invited them to be open to explore new ideas about God (the social Trinity) and imagine new ways of engaging in the practices of spiritual formation. Dreaming is a struggle and the team experienced the agony and ecstasy that always accompanies the process of renegotiating boundaries of identity to be able to welcome the other. The specific stories that I will share in chapter five will give granular texture to this rich story of a group of suburbanites who were willing to say, what if?


[1] This statement merges Simpson’s prophetic public companion with Keifert’s preferred and promised future.

[2] Taylor argues that pre-modern Western culture and most non-Western cultures understand the self to have porous boundaries. In other words, the human self understands that it is not an isolated, atomistic substance, separate from all other substances—human or otherwise—in the universe. Rather, the porous self recognizes that it is interconnected and interdependent with the world—both physical and spiritual, seen and unseen. Taylor calls this the enchanted world of the porous self. Taylor further argues that the rise of rationalism in the Enlightenment project of Western Europe in the sixteen and seventeenth centuries denounced the porous self and gave rise to the buffered self. The modern Western “enlightened” self functions within the perspective of Cartesian dualism and understands that the only acceptable form of knowledge comes from the acquisition of scientific information through the process of empirical observation. The only thing that actually exists is that which can be observed with human senses and explained by human reason. Anything else is ignored as superstition and relegated to the private sector or disregarded altogether. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).

[3] I will discuss this premise in the Epistemological Considerations section of the Adult Learning Frame. See Gary M. Simpson, “No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity,” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998); Simpson, Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination; Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism; Patrick R. Keifert, “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum,” Word & World 18, no. 3 (1998); Keifert, We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery; Keifert, Testing the Spirits: How Theology Informs the Study of Congregations.

[4] I will explore this more fully in the Trinity Frame. For now I will acknowledge that this language of being-in-time and God-as-history draws upon Robert Jenson’s understanding of the Trinity framed in Heideggarian and Hegelian thought. Kiefert connects this to the life and hope of the congregation. Keifert, “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum.”

[5] I define my use of the term entangled in the Trinity frame in chapter three.

[6] Keifert, “The Trinity and Congregational Planning: Between Historical Minimum and Eschatological Maximum,” 288.

[7] Timothy Gorringe, “Living toward a Vision: Cities, the Common Good, and the Christian Imagination,” Anglican Theological Review 91, no. 4 (2009): 523-524.

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

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).