Is truth plural? I would say no based solely on the singularity of God and the transcendence of the exclusivity of the gospel, but Franke obviously has a different argument. I want to focus on just a few aspects of the book rather than give a complete review. I have read a number of other thought-provoking and thorough reviews which are better than anything I can do (read Dr. Albert Mohler's for example). But here, I want to narrow the focus a bit.
Franke begins his argument suggesting that increased globalization has created a serious problem to the gospel and the belief in the singularity of truth. If we are honest with ourselves, the exclusivity of the gospel means that a lot of people will live and die without Christ. As globalization increases, the earth gets a little smaller and one of the challenges we face is reaching everyone with the gospel. Franke offers a different option: plurality of truth. Perhaps the numbers aren't so daunting after all. If truth his plural, then missions should not just be about making converts before people die, but something totally different.
This obviously is a serious issue to me. If the truth is plural, then missions is redefined. The Great Commission recorded in the Gospels take on a whole different meaning. Though Franke does not really discuss missions and evangelism thoroughly for it is not his main focus, but if missions is redefined, then so is the gospel. And that is my main concern.
Frank mentions how if someone saw the church throughout her 2,000 history, that person would witness a plurality of gospel truth. They would seek truth among the monks, the Reformers, the Crusaders, the Religious Right, etc. Franke suggests that these different expressions of Christianity suggests that Christians have always understood gospel truth to be plural.
But is that really the case? My biggest concern with Franke's argument and those in the Emergent conversation who affirm his beliefs regards the transcendence of the gospel. The more I study postmodernism, the Emerging Church, Protestant liberalism, and many of the heretical movements within the Church I am constantly reminded that the core issue being fought is the transcendence of the gospel. If the gospel changes with the culture, then it is not transcendent. And, I would argue, if the gospel is not transcendent, then God is not immutable. Enter Open Theism.
Franke had an interesting section regarding the culture and its influence on the gospel, Christianity, and the truth that deserves attention. He begins by quoting Lesslie Newbigin's famous assertion that "we must start with the basic fact that there is no such thing as a pure gospel if by that is meant something which is not embodied in a culture" (17). You can see his argument and the danger it represents. If the gospel, every expression of it, is culturally driven then it is not pure, and if it is not pure, then God has failed in given us the pure gospel. God, therefore, is a failure.
Obviously, Franke does not go this far or anywhere near such an assertion, but I believe this is where such an argument takes us. If there is no pure gospel, then our Holy God failed. He, therefore, is no longer Holy. The whole purpose of giving us Divine and direct revelation is for the discovery of the pure gospel, not a corrupted one. What Franke offers us is not clarity or hope, but confusion and uncertainty. If no one possesses the pure gospel, then what hope do we have? We, thus, must result to works righteousness and Scripture is clear that that will not do.
Is the gospel oftentimes culturally choked? Of course it is. How many times have we equated the gospel with voting Republican or Democrat? This is corrupting the gospel and it is obvious. But reforming the gospel to tickle the ears of modernism or postmodernism is equally dangerous. By asserting that the gospel is always culturally corrupted implies that it is no gospel at all. To preach such a gospel is not counter-cultural as Scripture demands us to preach, but rather tickles the ears of our hearers. If we refuse to proclaim truth because the culture doesn't want to hear it, can we really say we have a gospel? If we downside the gospel to fit in an age of science, can we rally say we have a gospel?
Culture is the problem when it corrupts the gospel. The fundamental rejection of the gospel's transcendence is a serious issue and no academic or lay person should act like it is no big deal. Franke presents an argument that suggests that when postmodern dies, so will the postmodern gospel, only to be replaced with something new and fresh. Is God subject to the same mutability? If God subject to our cultural preferences? If so, then who is God in light of the various cultures? Is He postmodern like in the West or patriarchal like in remote villages?
Franke makes his argument for the plural, cultural driven gospel based on Scripture's apparent change in various cultural contexts. For example, while among the Jews, Paul presents the gospel very differently than when in Athens. The problem with such an argument is that to change the delivery does not mean to change the message. Survey Acts and you will find that the gospel remains the same in each and every city and culture: 1) believe in Jesus Christ as God and Man sent to earth to serve as our substitute and was then raised, and 2) repent of your sins and walk in newness of life remains the same. The gospel doesn't change, only the context and the delivery.
But Franke is careful. He is not suggesting that anything goes and that any gospel is the gospel. He calls on his reader to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate gospels. But I must ask myself, "how?" How does one go about making that distinction? Even Franke allows the idea that those who reject the Trinity can still consider themselves Christians (though Franke makes a very big deal about the belief in the Trinity). Do Unitarians have an adequate gospel that pleases God even though their understanding of God lacks two persons of the Trinity?
One can see the Pandora's Box that is being opened here. The Emerging Church is quickly showing us that the thin line that some are able to walk in postmodern theology will not be walked by others for long. Once one makes such an argument, they are opening the doors to serious heresy. If all theology is local, then is it really theology. How does one pastor various churches without starting his theology all over again? Why travel and preach when the gospel is different?
The attack on the gospel's transcendence is a serious issue that more Evangelicals need to consider. To deny that is to adopt any heresy that seems relevant. Franke offers an academic book, but one will find an empty argument. The fallacy of the book is seen in the title. If truth is plural, then why should I bother reading. I am content living in my own little world with my own little truth. Leave me alone.
That is not gospel ministry.