Yesterday we feted John Franke, Professor of Missional Theology, for 18 years of service and to bless him as he begins his new life as theologian in Residence in a church in Allentown. John has been a colleague and a friend. I was asked to say a few words about his and instantly, 3 words came to mind:
tenacious. honest. compassionate.
John is tenacious for the pursuit of truth. He is also tenacious in an argument. I have had many with him (all friendly). Having a sparring partner like John causes one to stretch and consider new ideas. I am sure that I am a better teacher and thinker because of him.
John is not just tenacious in the realm of intellect. I have had the pleasure of playing against him in basketball, ping-pong, foosball, etc. My most favorite experience with John in this regard was on a pleasure trip with him where we took turns riding on a tube pulled by a boat. Each of us rode the tube by ourselves. After a few minutes, the driver of the boat did his magic to see if he could cause us to fall off. While I and another friend were soon bounced off, John hung on for dear life. Even when the tube flipped upside down, John tried to hang on despite being under water.
John is honest about what he thinks and believes. Sometimes that has cost him dearly when he failed to recite certain expected talking points, whether with colleagues or in the class room. You never worried that John thought one way but talked as if he thought another. If you asked John to share his opinion, he did so.
Now, honesty without compassion can turn into harshness. But, John has obvious compassion, especially for the downtrodden, the minority, the one with a weaker voice. In his teaching he would give opportunity for folks who had felt marginalized in evangelicalism to voice their concerns and interests. The only people who had to worry much about John were those who were themselves unwilling to extend a listening ear to those on the fringe.
We will certainly miss John’s voice and his playfulness on our faculty. But, we also know that God is calling him to a new ministry and so we send him on serve the local church and to continue to write for a larger audience.