In Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame gives his readers what is, to my mind, the best and “personalist” understanding of theology and it’s goal:
Theology, then, must be a secondary description, a reinterpretation and reproclamation of Scripture, both of its propositional and of its non-propositional content. Why do we need such a reinterpretation? To meet human needs… The job of theology is to teach people the truth of God…theology is justified by the help it brings to people, by its success in helping people to use the truth.
If theology is a purely “objective” discipline where the scientist determines “the truth as it really is” apart from any human need, then he cannot help but be in competition with Scripture. He will be seeking a better formulation than Scripture itself contains or at least a better “order.”
“Objectivism” continues to be a danger in orthodox Christian circles. It is also easy for us to imagine that we have a higher task than merely that of helping people… Our theologies are not even the best formulation of truth-for-people for all times and places; Scripture is that. Our theologies are merely attempts to help people, generally in specific times and places, to use Scripture better.
I would suggest that we define theology as “the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life.”
Despite its focus on human need, this definition does a full justice to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Sola scriptura does not require that human needs be ignored in theology, only that Scripture have the final say about the answers to those needs (and about the propriety of the questions presented).
-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 79-81.
Since the Enlightenment, the ideal model for knowledge is objectivity. This type of objectivity is one that is able to lift itself from the “corrupting” influences of subjectivity. Many Christians have taken the bait and even applied it to our knowledge of God. But is this a biblical concept? John Frame responds:
Sometimes we dream fondly of a “purely objective” knowledge of God–a knowledge of God of freed from the limitations of our senses, minds, experiences, preparation, and so forth. But nothing of this sort is possible, and God does not demand that of us. Rather, He condescends to dwell in and with us, as in a temple. He identifies himself in and through our thoughts, ideas, and experiences. And that identification is clear; it is adequate for Christian certainty. A “purely objective” knowledge is precisely what we don’t want! Such knowledge would presuppose a denial of our creaturehood and thus a denial of God and of all truth. (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 65)
N. T. Wright on the John’s link between kingdom, cross, and the love of God:
…[I]n the broader Johannine perspective, we discover that the only word to do justice to this kingdom and cross combination is agape, “love.” The death of Jesus is the expression of God’s love, as the famous verse of John 3:16 makes clear. For John, it is also the expression of Jesus’s own love: “He had always loved his own people in the world; now he love them right through to the end” (13:1). And, with that, John introduces the powerful and tender scene in which Jesus washes his disciples feet. In between these two, we find a “good shepherd” discourse, where the mutual love between Jesus and the father leads directly to Jesus his vocation to “lay down his life for the sheep” (10:15).
Throughout, Jesus remains God’s anointed king, crowned as such by the pagans, however ironic the crown of thorns is (John 19:1-3). As such, he is the truly human being. When Pilate says “Here’s the man! (19:5), We are surely to hear echoes of that primal Johannine moment, the Word becoming flesh as the climax of the new Genesis (1:14). But this Genesis call this new creation, is aimed at redemption; and the suffering Messiah, wearing the ironic royal robes, which acquire a second level of irony in John’s treatment, does for his people and the world what he had said all along he would do, as the shepherd giving his life for the sheep, as the seed sown in the ground to bear much fruit. The cross stands at the heart of John’s kingdom theology, the vision of the love of God revealed in the saving action in the death of his Son, the Lamb, the Messiah.
For more, see
John Piper on theological controversy:
Can controversial teachings nurture Christ likeness? Before you answer this question, ask another one: are there any significant biblical teachings that have not been controversial? I cannot think of even one, let alone the number we all need for the daily nurture of faith. If this is true, then we have no choice but to seek our food in the markets of controversy. We need not stay there. We can go home and feast if the day has been well spent. But we must buy there. As much as we would like, we do not have the luxury of living in a world where the most nourishing truths are unopposed. If we think we can suspend judgment on all that is controversial and feeding our souls only on what is not, we are living a dreamworld. There is nothing left. The reason any of us thinks we can stand alone on truths that are noncontroversial is because we do not know our history or the diversity of the professing church. Besides that, would we really want to give to the devil the right to determine our spiritual menu by refusing to eat any teaching over which he can cause controversy?
-John Piper, The Pleasures of God, 121
There is also an audio format of the book available.
Here’s the conclusion to my article, ‘Perspectives on Multiperspectivalism, in the work written in honor of John Frame, Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame, ed. John J. Hughes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009). Maybe it will get a few people interested in reading the whole thing:
In the first part of this article I have introduced John Frame’s perspectival methodology. I have also clarified what multiperspectivalism is not. It is not relativism, doesn’t reduce all differences to one of perspective, it isn’t inconsistent with an affirmation of sola Scriptura, and is not an unbiblical construct. By addressing these misunderstandings I have hoped to have shed light on the issues between perspectivalists and non-perspectivalists.
In the second section I have sketched out the benefits of a perspectival engagement with postmodernism. Positively, postmodernism has rocked the foundations of Enlightenment faith in autonomous reason, reevaluated language and social discourse, emphasized presuppositions, and attacked modernist individualism. Despite its severe imbalances, this is a needed redirection after the last few centuries. Nevertheless unqualified approval cannot be given to postmodernism. As previously noted, common grace is active in every era, but so is the principal of antithesis. While relativism is not something distinct to postmodernism-lest we forget the ancient sophists- never before has there been such a dominant and widespread ethos supporting and nourishing relativism in a variety of flavors.
But we can say both yes and no to postmodernism. I have organized a number of postmodern concerns by perspectival emphasis. Lyotard’s discussion of metanarratives launches a powerful attack against the myth of neutrality. Jesus made the same point when he declared that no one can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24) Derrida aims to highlight that interpretation is never final, is never adaequatio intelletus ad rei (i.e., the perfect adequation between intellect and substance). Paul said this two millennia ago when he wrote that “we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12) Postmodern insights may serve as excellent illustrations and reminders of what God has already told us in his word. Between Van Til’s example of a bilingual presentation of biblical content and Frame’s methodology, perspectivalists are in an excellent position to speak the truth in love to postmoderns.
Here’s a new article by Tim Keller on the Gospel and the Poor, in the new issue of Themelios.
Here’s Keller’s summary:
Jesus calls Christians to be “witnesses,” to evangelize others, but also to be deeply concerned for the poor. He calls his disciples both to “gospel-messaging” (urging everyone to believe the gospel) and to “gospel-neighboring” (sacrificially meeting the needs of those around them whether they believe or not! The two absolutely go together.
1. They go together theologically. The resurrection shows us that God not only created both body and spirit but will also redeem both body and spirit. The salvation Jesus will eventually bring in its fullness will include liberation from all the effects of sin—not only spiritual but physical and material as well. Jesus came both preaching the Word and healing and feeding.
2. They go together practically. We must be ever wary of collapsing evangelism into deed ministry as the social gospel did, but loving deeds are an irreplaceable witness to the power and nature of God’s grace, an irreplaceable testimony to the truth of the gospel.
Keller’s expanded thought on the subject can be found in (click the picture for more information):
Currently, I’m working through D. A. Carson’s The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Here Carson interacts the various forms of pluralism in the western world. In the first chapter he introduces 3 types of pluralism.
1) Empirical or Factual Pluralism: This is a simple observation of the reality in which we live. As a fact, we live in a world that increasingly presents us with multiple visions of life, ethics, religion, politics, as they can packaged via different genders, cultures, nationalities, ages, etc.
2) Pluralism as a cherished reality: Here people see pluralism not only as a reality in which we all live, but a good, a thing to be sought after. It has turned pluralism the empirical fact into pluralism the cherished goal.
3) Philosophical Pluralism: Philosophical pluralism acknowledges the fact of pluralism (above) and, as a result, calls into question all and any positions that in the face of this fact dare to assert that it is the only true way of seeing something. For example, in the case of religion, pluralism in this form is the enemy of Christianity because it rejects the exclusivity of the claims of Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12) and teaches that all religions are either a) equally right in leading to salvation (however they define it), or b) equally wrong in that no religion is a true (!) representation of whoever or whatever God is.
According to Carson, it’s philosophical pluralism, the commitment to the equality of viewpoints, that leads to the various strands of relativism that we find in our day. he then spends time explaining the challenges of relativistic pluralism in the realms of hermeneutics, philosophy, and religion.
Carson has always been known for his literary candor, not pull punching and willing to say, “oh, please,” when necessary.
One area in which I hope Carson would have pushed a little more (and I haven’t finished the book, so I hope he’ll surprise me) is the positive contributions of deconstructionism for Christian apologetics. Of course, I say this because I’m deeply interested in the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida, and i’m big into Christian apologetics. I’m also convinced that while Derrida is seriously wrong on a number of points in his philosophy (if we could call it that), nevertheless their is much good in Derrida’s thought on how systems of thought and institutions collapse under their own ideological weight and internal inconsistencies. Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future I hope to write something on the topic.
Carson focuses on a number of critiques of Derrida and his project (most everything I agree with), but hasn’t yet (in my reading thus far) “plundered the Egyptians” and explored the ways in which Derrida has helpfully pointed out (or, more modestly, highlighted) the interpretative nature of all human understanding and the failure of modernism.
One interest of mine in Biblical studies is the theme of covenant. In fact, viewing the entire Bible through the lens of ‘covenant’ is an extremely helpful way of thinking about the unity of the Old and New Testaments.
Here are some of the most helpful books (or articles) on covenant I’ve read. As always, one doesn’t have to agree with everything in any one of these works in order to greatly benefit from them.