Category Archives: John Frame

John Frame on the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

Frame is so often an invaluable guide in navigating theological conundrums such as the following:

It often comes as an exciting discovery that doctrines that seem at first glance to be opposed are actually complementary, if not actually dependent one on another.

For Calvinists, for example, divine sovereignty and human freedom are examples of that sort of dependence and complementarity. Although at first glance those doctrines appear to be opposed to one another, a closer look shows that without divine sovereignty there would be no meaning in human life and therefore no meaningful form of freedom.

And if our concern for freedom is essentially a concern to maintain human ethical responsibility, we should observe that divine sovereignty is the source of human responsibility. Because the sovereign Lord is the cause of an authority over human responsibility, we can say that God’s sovereignty—His absolute lordship—establishes human responsibility.

Thus Scripture often places the two doctrines side by side, with no embarrassment or sense of impropriety whatsoever (cf. Acts 2:23; 4:27f.; Phil. 2:12f.). Human responsibility exists no “in spite of” but “because of” God’s sovereignty. Not only are the two compatible; they require each other.

—John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 268.

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From Torah to Telos: Proclaiming Christ from the Ten Commandments

In his massive Doctrine of the Christian Life, John M. Frame helpfully highlights a number of ways the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) points us to the Jesus Christ as “the end of the law” (Cf. Rom. 10:4). This is something certainly worth reading meditatively.

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If all Scripture testifies of Christ (Luke 24:27; John 5:39), then the law of God surely cannot be an exception. As we study the law, then, we should examine its witness to Christ. I assume that some readers of this book are preparing for Christian ministry. They especially need to know how to use the Decalogue in their preaching and teaching. But all of us need to learn how to see Christ in the law.

The law bears witness to Christ in a number of ways, some of which I shall discuss in the following points.

1. The Decalogue presents the righteousness of Christ. Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s law. That is why he was the perfect lamb of God, why God imputes his active righteousness to us, and why he is the perfect example for the Christian life. He never put any god before his Father. He never worshiped idols or took God’s name in vain. Despite what the Pharisees said, he never violated the Sabbath command. So the Decalogue tells us what Jesus was like. It shows us his perfect character.

2. The Decalogue shows our need of Christ. God’s law convicts us of sin and drives us to Jesus. It shows us who we are, apart from Christ. We are idolaters, blasphemers, Sabbath breakers, and so on.

3. The Decalogue shows the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In him we are holy. God sees us in Christ, as law keepers.

4. The Decalogue shows us how God wants us to give thanks for Christ. In the Decalogue, as we shall see below, obedience follows redemption. God tells his people that he has brought them out of Egypt. The law is not something they must keep to merit redemption. God has redeemed them. Keeping the law is the way they thank God for salvation freely given. So the Heidelberg Confession expounds the law under the category of gratefulness.

5. Christ is the substance of the law. This point is related to the first, but it is not quite the same. Here I wish to say that Jesus is not only a perfect law keeper, according to his humanity, but also the one we honor and worship, according to his deity, when we keep the law.

(a) The first commandment teaches us to worship Jesus as the one and only Lord, Savior, and mediator (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).

(b) In the second commandment, Jesus is the one perfect image of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Our devotion to him precludes worship of any other image.

(c) In the third commandment, Jesus is the name of God, that name to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10–11; cf. Isa. 45:23).

(d) In the fourth commandment, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In his presence, we cease our daily duties and hear his voice (Luke 10:38–42). He is Lord of the Sabbath as well (Matt. 12:8), who makes the Sabbath his own Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).

(e) In the fifth commandment, we honor Jesus, who restores us to the divine family as he submits himself entirely to the will of the Father (John 5:19–24).

(f) In the sixth commandment, we honor him as our life (John 10:10; 14:6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4), the Lord of life (Acts 3:15), the one who gave his life that we might live (Mark 10:45).

(g) In the seventh commandment, we honor him as our bridegroom, who gave himself to cleanse us, to make us his pure, spotless bride (Eph. 5:22–33). We love him as no other.

(h) In the eighth commandment, we honor Jesus as the source of our inheritance (Eph. 1:11), as the one who provides everything that his people need in this world and beyond.

(i) In the ninth commandment, we honor him as God’s truth (John 1:17; 14:6), in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

(j) In the tenth commandment, we honor him as our complete sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9) to meet both our external needs and the renewed desires of our hearts. In him we can be content with what we have, thankful for his present and future gifts.

For other helpful works expounding a Christ-centered reading of the Ten Commandments, see:

 

Thoughts on Systematic Theology by John Frame

Recently a friend from P&R publishing asked me what I thought of John M. Frame’s new Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Here are my thoughts:

“Frame’s ST is a cleansing breath of fresh theological air! I’ve shared this with John before, but I’m always impressed at how much better he gets at streamlining and sharpening his theological ideas to a fine point each time he repeats them. This struck me when DCL was first released. In the opening chapters of the book there’s a decent amount of review of concepts from DKG (written in the mid 1980s) but they were clearer and as a result more cogent and powerfully presented. Well, in ST Frame has done it again! I’m also glad that there are so many more visuals in ST. As both a former student and TA of John’s I can testify to the great help that comes from charts and visual summaries. As John himself would have us recognize, each ST comes from its own perspective. Sometimes these perspectives can hide truths that ought to be seen, but many times they enable the theologian to shed light on the truth they’re writing about. John’s theological acumen, philosophical subtly, and apologetic concerns allow his ST to see things that others miss.”

If you can only pick up  a single systematic theology and are looking for clarity, cogency, and profundity this is the book for you!

Calvinism and Robots

It’s not uncommon to hear that the view of God’s sovereignty manintained by Calvinists reduces human beings to the role of a mere robot. Here John Frame thinks through this objection:

Scripture is concerned, above all, to glorify God. Sometimes glorifying God humbles man, and those who believe Scripture must be willing to accept that consequence. We covet for ourselves ever more dignity, honor, and status, and we resist accepting a lower place. But Scripture assaults our pride and honors the humble. Scripture compares us, after all, not to sophisticated robots, but to simple potter’s clay.

What if it turns out that we are robots, after all—clay fashioned into marvelous robots, rather than being left as mere clay? Should we complain to God about that? Or should we rather feel honored that our bodies and minds are fashioned so completely to fulfill our assigned roles in God’s great drama? Some creatures are born as rabbits, some as cockroaches, and some as bacteria. By comparison, would it not be a privilege to be born as an intelligent robot?

Indeed, what remarkable robots we would be—capable of love and intimacy with God, and assigned to rule over all the creatures. Is it not a wonderful blessing of grace that, when we sinned in Adam, God did not simply discard us, as a potter might very well do with his clay, and as a robot operator might well do with his malfunctioning machine, but sent his only Son to die for us? Risen with him to new life, believers enjoy unimaginably wonderful fellowship with him forever.

As we meditate upon these dignities and blessings, the image of the robot becomes less and less appropriate, not because God’s control over us appears less complete, but because one doesn’t treat robots with such love and honor.

-John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God

The Test of Christian Maturity

Something to think about:

Christian maturity is tested by its willingness to go against the odds, to go against intellectual and practical fashions in the service of our King. It is easy enough to be a Christian when being a Christian merely requires us to be nice people. But love for Jesus, that love which is motivated by his great sacrifice, requires far more. It calls upon us to renounce what Scripture calls the “wisdom of the world,” the fashionable ideas and practices of our society, and to count them as rubbish for the sake of Christ. We honor those like Noah, who built his ark though the world scoffed; like Abraham, who set aside the evidence of his senses and the laughter of his own wife to believe that God would provide a miraculous son; like Moses, who stood up against Pharaoh the totalitarian despot to bring him the word of God; like Daniel, who endured lions rather than to worship an earthly king; like Peter and John, who told officials that “we must obey God, rather than man.”

-John M. Frame

Does God Expect the Same Things From Each of Us?

Thoughts on our gifts, callings, and duties before God:

In general, our obligations, our moral responsibilities, differ according to our gifts, our callings, our opportunities. One who has the gifts and calling to be an architect, and the opportunity to get the training and credentials necessary for that profession, has an obligation to give more attention to architecture than most of us would dream of giving. Similarly, we can say that obligations also change with maturity (both physical and spiritual). When Paul writes to Corinth asking the people to set aside some contributions for the poor saints in Jerusalem, common sense would lead us to believe that he is not addressing children of six months and under. Those who are ordained to the eldership have a responsibilities for the welfare of the church body that “babes in Christ” do not have as yet. Scripture teaches us “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Thus Jesus is far more critical of the Jewish leaders, who have been entrusted with much knowledge, than he is of the ordinary Jews and Gentiles who are relatively ignorant of God’s word.

-John Frame

Hardwired for Sin?

Can someone be genetically predisposed to violence, drug addiction, or even aberrant sexual behavior? What if homosexuality can be demonstratively shown to be a genetic predisposition?

The bottom line is that the genetic element in sin does not excuse it. To see that, it is important to put the issue into an even wider perspective.  Christianity forces us again and again to widen our angle of vision, for it calls us to see everything from the perspective of a transcendent God and from the standpoint of eternity. Such perspective helps us to see our trials as “light and momentary” (II Cor. 4:17) and our sins as greater than we normally admit. From a biblical perspective, the difficult fact is that in one sense all sin is inherited. From Adam comes both our sin and our misery. We are guilty of Adam’s transgression, and through Adam we ourselves inherit sinful natures. If a genetic predisposition excuses sodomy, then our inheritance from Adam excuses all sin! But that is clearly not the case. Of course, Reformed theology construes our relationship to Adam as representative, rather than merely genetic, and that is important.  But Adam represents all who are descended from him “by natural generation;” so there is also an inevitable genetic element in human sin.

-John M. Frame, “But God Made Me This Way!”

Worldviews Collide: Personalism vs Impersonalism

There are really only two worldviews. John Frame helps us see the contrast:

If the world is basically impersonal, it is a pretty dark, dreary, and hopeless place. Happiness, justice, love, beauty might spring up for a while, but they are cosmic accidents of no ultimate importance. Finally they will be consumed in various cosmic explosions, and nothing will remain to remember them. Ultimately they are meaningless. If the world is basically personal, the situation is different: personal values like happiness, justice, love, and beauty are wrapped up in the very core of the universe. They are what nature and history is all about. In time, it will be the matter of the world that will be burned up, to be replaced by a new heaven and earth wherein dwells righteousness.

Contrast this with the view of highly regarded atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell:

That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins. . . . Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” Why I Am Not a Christian, ed. Paul Edwards)

This leaves us with a choice to make.

So: is the world basically personal, or basically impersonal? One would think that either hypothesis is at least worth considering at the outset of the discussion. But do the secularists give equal attention to both? Do they consider equally the evidence for both? My sense of it is that they routinely assume that the universe is impersonal, and they do not give any serious consideration to the other possibility. Consider Darwinian evolution, Marxist economics, Freudian psychology. Did Darwin, Marx, or Freud consider the evidence for the existence of God and conclude objectively that God did not exist? Certainly not. They assumed that God did not exist, and they went on from there to develop impersonalist explanations of life, history, economics.

Why? Because impersonalism and autonomy go together. If God exists, then autonomy is at an end; we must bow the knees of the mind. But if God doesn’t exist, then we are on our own, free. We can set our own standards, believe what we want to believe. So to assume autonomy, the secularist also assumes an impersonal universe. (John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God,)

For more see:

Our ‘Political’ Faith

Frame picChristianity always has been, and always will be, a political religion. We just need to align our definition of political with Scripture:

As God’s Spirit penetrates people’s hearts through the gospel, those people become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God. They hear Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 10:31, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” They obey, imperfectly to be sure. But their incipient obedience leads to significant changes in society, as we’ve seen above.

It is true that the New Testament does not focus on the goal of improving the general society. Most of its social teaching concerns relations of love within the body of Christ. But Jesus taught his disciples to minister to people without regard to their creed or national origin (Luke 10:25-37), and Paul, as we saw, urges believers to do good “especially” to the household of faith, but not exclusively there. The early Christians did not have the power to affect much the politics and culture of the Roman empire, but they did what they could. For example, they rescued babies who had been exposed to die and brought them up in their homes.

The Romans, at least, felt threatened. “Kyrios Iesous,” Jesus is Lord, sounded all too much to them like “Kyrios Caesar,” Caesar is Lord, their own fundamental confession. Jesus did not come in his first advent to be an earthly king, but he is indeed King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 17:14, 19:16), to whom all authority has been given (Matt. 28:18). He is the mighty Son of David, whose kingdom is to stretch “from sea to sea” and “from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps. 72:8). The Romans persecuted Christians because they believed that Christ’s kingship was a threat to Caesar. The Christians protested that Christ was not an earthly king, and that they sought to be good Roman citizens. They said that sincerely. But in time Christianity overwhelmed the Roman Empire, not by the sword, but by the power of the gospel. In time, Scripture teaches, the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdom of Christ (Rev. 11:15). So the gospel certainly is a political movement. That is not to say that Christians should seek political power by the sword. But they should never imagine that their faith is politically irrelevant.

-John M. Frame, “In Defense of Christian Activism

The Best Proof of the Bible

In all of our discussions about proofs for the existence of God and the truth of Scripture, let’s never forget this all-inportant point:

The best proof of the Bible is what happens when you read it. For when you read Scripture, with trust and faith, something wonderful happens. God himself draws near. Imagine! He condescends to speak to us within the covers of a book. Quite amazing, really. And it’s not as if he gives us the book and then goes away. No: when you read this book in faith, you enter into a very personal relationship with God. In 1 Thess. 1:5, Paul says that the gospel came to the Thessalonians “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” The Gospel is words, but it is never just words. When you hear this message in faith, something very wonderful, very supernatural is taking place. When the words go into your mind, the Holy Spirit speaks them to the heart. When the risen Christ opened the Scriptures to the disciples after his Resurrection, they marvelled how their hearts burned within them as Jesus taught them the Scriptures. The Bible is not only the place where God has spoken; it is the place where he still speaks– with power and assurance, causing our hearts to burn with in us because of how wonderful it is.

-John M. Frame, “How to Believe in God in the 2000s

Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the greatest apologist of them all!

Preaching and Apologetics

What’s the relationship between preaching and apologetics?

Apologetics and preaching are not two different things. Both are attempts to reach unbelievers for Christ. Preaching is apologetic because it aims at persuasion. Apologetics is preaching because it presents the gospel, aiming at conversion and sanctification. However, the two activities do have different perspectives or emphases. Apologetics emphasizes the aspect of rational persuasion, while preaching emphasizes the seeking of godly change in people’s lives. But if rational persuasion is a persuasion of the heart, then it is the same thing as godly change. God is the persuader-converter, but he works through our testimony. Other terms are also roughly synonymous (or perspectively related): witnessing, teaching, evangelizing, arguing, etc.

-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 16

Three Pillars of (Presuppositional) Apologetics

In his discussion on apologetic Method in Five Views on Apologetics, John Frame makes a number of helpful observations. Here are a mere three:

  1. The goal of apologetics is to evoke or strengthen faith, not merely to bring intellectual persuasion. Directed toward unbelievers, it is an aspect of evangelism; toward believers, it is training in godliness. It is possible to be intellectually persuaded of a theistic world view, as were the Pharisees, without a real heart commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, everyone has the intellectual knowledge required for faith. The need of the unbeliever is not for more information, but for God’s grace motivating a heart change. It may of course be necessary for the apologist to bring factual information to the inquirer, in order to challenge him to rethink the data. But the apologist seeks above all to be a channel through whom God’s Spirit can bring repentance (including intellectual repentance) and faith.
  2. Apologists, therefore, must resist temptations to contentiousness or arrogance. They must avoid the feeling that they are entering into a contest to prove themselves to be righter or smarter than the inquirers they deal with. I believe that kind of pride is a besetting sin of many apologists, and we need to deal with it. 1 Peter 3:15-16 focuses, surprisingly, not on the brilliance, cogency, or eloquence of apologists, but on their character: they must answer unbelievers with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” Peter here tells us that a consistent Christian life plays a major role in the work of apologetics. Christianity is not just an intellectual system, but an comprehensive way of life; and nothing is more persuasive than a concrete, consistent example of that way of life.  And nothing is more detrimental to our witness than an apologist whose life betrays his message, who fails to show the gentleness and love of Jesus.
  3. Our apologetic should take special pains to present God as he really is: as the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, who alone saves his people from their sins. As the creator of all things and the one who directs the course of nature and history by his providence (Rm. 8:28, Eph. 1:11), God is the source of all meaning and rationality. Our argument should lead to such a God. So we should not mislead unbelievers into assuming that they can understand any fact adequately without confessing its relation to God. We should make plain that even our methods of knowledge, our standards of truth and falsity, our views of logic, our scientific methods, must be reconciled first of all with God’s revelation.

-John M. Frame, Five Views on Apologetics, 217-218. (Emphasis added)

The Reformed Faith & The Progress of Theology

Frame picThese are helpful things to consider:

Our concept of theology as application will help us form a better view of theological progress. Theology progresses as it learns to apply God’s word to each situation it encounters, and we have seen evidence of that throughout church history. The great strides in theological understanding come about when the church creatively and faithfully responds to difficult situations on the basis of Scripture.

The Reformed faith is especially well-equipped to make theological progress. In the Reformed faith, the concept of application is not a threat to sola scriptura, because Calvinists believe in a comprehensive revelation of God in Scripture, the world, and the self. Everything reveals him, for everything is under his control, authority, presence. Nor ought Calvinists to be burdened with any demand for absolute precision or objectivity. The Reformed faith has a clear view of the Creator-creature distinction; only God has perfectly precise and perfectly objective knowledge (though even for him, such knowledge is not devoid of subjectivity)…

Reformed theology has also made exceptional progress in the more common sense of learning new things from Scripture. These discoveries too, however, our applications or contextualizations, answers to current questions. Lutheran theology has not changed very much since the seventeenth century, nor has Arminian theology. But Calvinism has developed new understandings of the covenants, of redemptive history, of biblical inerrancy, of apologetics, of theological encyclopedia, and of the relationships of Christianity to politics, economics, education, the arts, literature, history, science, and law. That progress has come about because belief in the sovereignty of God sets the Calvinist free to explore the fullness of God’s revelation in Scripture and creation.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God307-308

Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction

Here are 2 articles by John Frame introducing the basics of Reformed apologetics:

Part 1 of 2: Introduction and Creation

  •  The Word of God vs. Mere Creaturely Wisdom
  • God’s Word Our Presupposition
  • Problems

This last section on ‘problems’ is very helpful. It covers issues like the psychology of presupposing, the content of our presuppositions, circularity, and persuasion.

Part 2 of 2: Fall and Redemption; and Summary and Conclusion

  • Sin, Grace, and Knowledge
  • Apologetic Implications

This is an excellent place to get your bearings on fundamentals of presuppositional apologetics in general, and Frame’s approach in particular.

The Point of Contact for Apologetics

I’m tempted to one day writing an article titled “Things no Van Tillain Presuppositionalist Believes.” There are so many misunderstandings about what Van Til taught that even some who think they follow him in his approach get it wrong. Here I noted one prominent non-presuppositionalist make the following statement, “Christians share common ground with unbelievers, who are likewise made in God’s image, which is not erased by the fall.” There I noted the irony of the statement, as if Van Til ever said anything different! Here is a snippet from John M. Frame, a former student of Van Til, and one of his leading interpreters:

Granted that the unbeliever is totally depraved, what is there in him, if anything, that is capable of receiving God’s grace? The Arminian answers, “man’s reason and free will.” Karl Barth answers, “nothing at all.” In Barth’s view, God’s grace creates his own “point of contact.” This position coheres with Barth’s views that the reception of grace has no intellectual content. Grace brings us no “propositional revelation” which the unbeliever by grace comes to understand and trust. It is rather a “bolts out of the blue,” which makes no contact at all with the finking or will of the unbeliever.

Orthodox Calvinists, however, recall that God made man in his image – an image that is marred by sin, but not destroyed. Van Til argues that part of that image is knowledge of God, which, though repressed (Rom. 1), still exists at some level of his thinking. That is the point of contact to which the apologist appeals. He does not appeal merely to the unbelievers reason and will, for his will is bound by sin and his reason the seeks to distorts, not affirm, the truth. We do not ask the unbeliever to evaluate Christianity through his reason, for he seeks to operate his reason autonomously and thus is deep in error from the outset. Rather, says Van Til, we appeal to the knowledge of God which he has (Rom. 1:21) but suppresses.

That suppression, as we have noted, is never complete. The unbeliever would like to snuff out his knowledge of the true God, but he cannot. Indeed, it is this knowledge, however he may distort it, which enables him to go on living in God’s world. Thus, the unbeliever, contrary to his own assumptions, often says things which agree with the truth as the Christian sees it. The affect of sin upon reasoning does not mean that the Christian and the non-Christian disagree over everything, although if both were consistent with their presuppositions that would be the case. Defining the possible extent of that agreement is difficult. The Pharisees acknowledged so much of God’s truth that Jesus actually commended their teaching (Matt. 23:3), while deploring their works (Matt. 23:3). Thus, we may appeal to the unbelievers native knowledge of God, we may find him agreeing with us, at least part of the time… For the question of the point of contact boils down to this: are we accepting and thus addressing the unbelievers distorted worldview, or are we accepting and thus addressing the undistorted revelation which he holds within himself despite his distorted worldview?… Are we so impressed by unbelieving “wisdom” that we seek to gain the approval of unbelieving intellectuals based on their own criteria?… Our job is to rebuke unbelieving criteria, not affirm them. Our appeal is not to those criteria, but to that knowledge of God which the unbeliever has “deep down,” as Van Til liked to say.

-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 82-83, 85