John Frame’s Approach to Knowledge and Apologetics
In his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (DKG), John Frame distinguishes between 3 perspectives on knowledge: the normative, situtational, and existential perspectives. A few years later in his book on apologetics, Apologetics to the Glory of God (AGG), Frame divided the task of Christian apologetics into 3 categories: Proof, Offense, and Defense. Readers of Frame’s work know there’s a link between the triad of knowledge in DKG and the 3 pronged approach set out in AGG, but may not be clear what that link is. Here’s my attempt to bring out the connection between the two.
One of the trickiest parts of learning Frame’s perspectival approach is avoiding the temptation to make them 3 separate and distinct ‘parts’. As Frame says, they are all necessary and in fact are really three approaches or facets of learning about any one thing. You cannot know one perspective without knowing (or making assumptions) about another perspective. So all talk of “this perspective means…” is a matter of emphasis and not absolute difference (I develop this point more in chapter 5 of Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame).
Proof relates to the normative perspective because here we are dealing with the truth question. By providing ‘proof’ we are appealing to some (universal) standard of truth. “These things support my truth claim.” This is also known as “positive” apologetics (I believe Ronald Nash’s Faith and Reason speaks this way). Arguments put forward as proof should pass the test of normative (laws of thought, and ultimately Scripture itself), situational (considering all the facts…including the fact of divine revelation), and existential justification (cognitive rest).
Offense relates to the situational perspective. It focuses on addressing the various worldviews competing for our loyalty. This type of “empirical pluralism” is the situation in which Christians find themselves. Christians must argue against (‘offense’) the truth claims of false worldviews. How do they do that? Not only by demonstrating the self-contradictory nature of those systems but by also, of course, providing proof for our worldview (the normative perspective)!
Lastly, defense turns the emphases back on the believer. This is tied to the existential perspective. One of the primary purposes of apologetics, in the mysterious providence of God, is to confirm and strengthen (i.e. to provide ‘defense’ for) the faith of Christians.
PS: After I wrote this I was informed of this email response Frame gave to the very question I addressed above:
Well, proof supplies the fundamental argument and therefore the norms for evaluating defenses and offense. Offense represents the difficult situation we are in, surrounded by Satan’s forces. Defense responds to the situation as it affects us personally. For defending the gospel is usually also a defense of ourselves. -(Thanks to Patrick Hsu for passing this along)
Afterward I emailed Dr. Frame to verify the connections I’ve made. His reply was, ” I read it [my comments above] through slowly and couldn’t find anything to change.’
It’s nice to know I wasn’t off the mark!