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Book Review: Manifold Witness

2010 January 8

So the awesome folks at Abingdon sent me a copy of John Franke’s new book Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth awhile back and while it’s taken me forever to get around to doing it, I wanted to post a few thoughts about the book. Like I mentioned in my year’s end list of all the books I’ve read this past year, Manifold Witness was one of the ones that I couldn’t help but mentally return to over and over again. Franke does a great job at getting his message across in an accessible way that I think will help define and clarify the conversation about the nature of truth.

While the topic of truth gets a lot of air-time these days, few actually take the time to define what they are talking about or move beyond critiquing the “other side.” Franke though stays true to an evangelical affirmation of truth while at the same time thoughtfully engaging with the reality of pluralism. His nuanced approach to the discussion doesn’t rubber-stamp any extreme, but admits the complexity associated with faith and truth. And for that, I found his work to be refreshing. He admits upfront that “the expression of biblical and orthodox Christian faith is inherently and irreducibly pluralist” (7). But this isn’t an in-your-face assertion that must be swallowed whole; it is instead the idea that the whole book seeks to unpack and explore. With a faithful commitment to scripture and a tender compassion for the reader, Franke demonstrates how pluralism is not something to be feared or fought but is instead simply a beautiful intrinsic aspect of not just our faith but all creation.

I appreciated how Franke in his discussion of truth quickly moved beyond the absolute and relative dichotomies. Neither accurately represents truth as the first tries to commoditize it for the sake of power and the second deny it in the name of tolerance. Pluralism and truth are far more complex than the extreme camps allow us to admit. Our world is diverse, as is our faith. And Franke rightly points out that culture and our faith is always changing, God never leaves us where we are at, but is constantly transforming us with the gospel. The constant renewing of our minds allows us to faithfully claim traditions in the church as well as celebrate the new things God is doing. The celebration of plurality affirms the “importance of multiple perspectives in the apprehension and communication of truth” (40). Just as The Father, Son, and Spirit are one even as they are different, the church can be one while living fully into our own diversity.

I also was grateful for Franke’s assertion that we can never let our particular cultural setting trump our commitment to truth. We are situated in culture, but when we start to assume that our cultural habits are the only way to present truth, we are in fact limiting God and truth. Scripture and God cannot be subject to cultural assumptions, but must be celebrated in their plurality. Similarly, we should remember that God doesn’t seek to assimilate the Other and make us all the same either. Franke brilliantly reminds us that we can be silencing God when we do not listen to voices that might not fit our accepted cultural theological norms. He writes, “theology is not a universal language. It is situated language that reflects the goals, aspirations, and beliefs of a particular people, a particular community” (94). If we are to affirm the plurality that God affirms, we must thoughtfully seek out the diversity of theological voices. This was a poignant wake-up call for me as I too often only listen to the voices of those similar to me. I need to be striving to affirm God by affirming the truth of the many legitimate enculturations of the faith.

Manifold Witness is accessible, but it is also challenging. Franke goes places that others have avoided – not for the sake of controversy, but out of a deep desire to be faithful. His commitment to loving and serving God is apparent on every page of this book making his exploration of the plural nature of truth a gift to the Christian community. I highly recommend this book not just for those caught up in the discussion of truth, but to all Christians eager to celebrate our expansive God in the full diversity of his church.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. January 8, 2010

    Julie…your review is as spot on as the book. (And thanks one more time for recommending that they send the book my way as well!)

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