Category Archives: John Frame Stuff

New Book Announcement: Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief

9781596389380-300x450I proudly submit for your consideration the 20 anniversary edition of John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God, now renamed Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief. It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Frame on this dream project, and I put in a year’s worth of work into the editing. It is a substantial update and expansion of Apologetics to the Glory of God with two new introductions (one by myself, and the other by Dr. Vern Poythress of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia), explanatory footnotes found throughout, and multiple additional appendices, two I which I wrote. That all equals approximately 100 new pages.

And now you all know why there’s been so little activity on the blog this year. 🙂

Endorsements

“If I were asked to list the top three books that have had the greatest impact on me as a Christian thinker, John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God would undoubtedly be one of them. It brought about a paradigm shift—one might even say a ‘Copernican revolution’—in my understanding not only of apologetics but of all other intellectual endeavors as a Christian. Ever since then, it has been the first book I recommend to those looking for an introduction to Christian apologetics, and it is required reading in my apologetics classes. I’m therefore delighted to recommend this updated and expanded twentieth- anniversary edition, which incorporates additional material by Dr. Frame, as well as many helpful annotations by Joseph Torres.
Soli Deo Gloria!”
James N. Anderson, Associate Professor of
Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte
“Over the last several decades, few books have been as helpful to so many for so long as Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame. I eagerly welcome the twentieth-anniversary edition of this important book. As apologetics takes on an even greater significance for every believer, I can only hope that the influence and impact of this book will spread far beyond even its original publication. This is a book that, twenty years after its initial publication, is even more timely—and that is a rare achievement.”
—R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
The book is listed on Amazon, Westminster Online Bookstore, CBD, and directly through P&R Publishing’s website.

30 Suggestions for Theological Students and Young Theologians

In response to the question “what advice would you offer to theological students and young theologians as they face a lifetime of theological work?”, John Frame gives the following 30 (!) point answer:

  1. Consider that you might not really be called to theological work. James 3:1 tells us that not many of us should become teachers and that teachers will be judged more strictly. To whom much (biblical knowledge) is given, of them shall much be required.
  2. Value your relationship with Christ, your family, and the church above your career ambitions. You will influence more people by your life than by your theology. And deficiencies in your life will negate the influence of your ideas, even if those ideas are true.
  3. Remember that the fundamental work of theology is to understand the Bible, God’s Word, and apply it to the needs of people. Everything else—historical and linguistic expertise, exegetical acuteness and subtlety, knowledge of contemporary culture, and philosophical sophistication—must be subordinated to that fundamental goal. If it is not, you may be acclaimed as a historian, linguist, philosopher, or critic of culture, but you will not be a theologian.
  4. In doing the work of theology (the fundamental work, #3), you have an obligation to make a case for what you advocate. That should be obvious, but most theologians today haven’t a clue as to how to do it. Theology is an argumentative discipline, and you need to know enough about logic and persuasion to construct arguments that are valid, sound, and persuasive. In theology, it’s not enough to display knowledge of history, culture, or some other knowledge. Nor is it enough to quote people you agree with and reprobate people you don’t agree with. You actually have to make a theological case for what you say.
  5. Learn to write and speak clearly and cogently. The best theologians are able to take profound ideas and present them in simple language. Don’t try to persuade people of your expertise by writing in opaque prose.
  6. Cultivate an intense devotional life and ignore people who criticize this as pietistic. Pray without ceasing. Read the Bible, not just as an academic text. Treasure opportunities to worship in chapel services and prayer meetings, as well as on Sunday. Give attention to your “spiritual formation,” however you understand that.
  7. A theologian is essentially a preacher, though he typically deals with more arcane subjects than preachers do. But be a good preacher. Find some way to make your theology speak to the hearts of people. Find a way to present your teaching so that people hear God’s voice in it.
  8. Be generous with your resources. Spend time talking to students, prospective students, and inquirers. Give away books and articles. Don’t be tightfisted when it comes to copyrighted materials; grant copy permission to anybody who asks for it. Ministry first, money second.
  9. In criticizing other theologians, traditions, or movements, follow biblical ethics. Don’t say that somebody is a heretic unless you have a very good case. Don’t throw around terms like “another gospel.” (People who teach another gospel are under God’s curse.) Don’t destroy people’s reputations by misquoting them, quoting them out of context, or taking their words in the worst possible sense. Be gentle and gracious unless you have irrefutable reasons for being harsh.
  10. When there is a controversy, don’t get on one side right away. Do some analytical work first, on both positions. Consider these possibilities: (a) that the two parties may be looking at the same issue from different perspectives, so they don’t really contradict; (b) that both parties are overlooking something that could have brought them together; (c) that they are talking past one another because they use terms in different ways; (d) that there is a third alternative that is better than either of the opposing views and that might bring them together; (e) that their differences, though genuine, ought both to be tolerated in the church, like the differences between vegetarians and meat-eaters in Romans 14.
  11. If you get a bright idea, don’t expect everybody to get it right away. Don’t immediately start a faction to promote it. Don’t revile those who haven’t come to appreciate your thinking. Reason gently with them, recognizing that you could be wrong and arrogant to boot.
  12. Don’t be reflexively critical of everything that comes out of a different tradition. Be humble enough to consider that other traditions may have something to teach you. Be teachable before you start teaching them. Take the beam out of your own eye.
  13. Be willing to reexamine your own tradition with a critical eye. It is unreasonable to think that any single tradition has all the truth or is always right. And unless theologians develop critical perspectives on their own denominations and traditions, the reunion of the body of Christ will never take place. Don’t be one of those theologians who are known mainly for trying to make Arminians become Calvinists (or vice versa).
  14. See confessional documents in proper perspective. It is the work of theology, among other things, to rethink the doctrines of the confessions and to reform them, when necessary, by the Word of God. Do not assume that everything in the confession is forever settled.
  15. Don’t let your polemics be governed by jealousy, as when a theologian feels bound to be entirely negative toward the success of a megachurch.
  16. Don’t become known as a theologian who constantly takes potshots at other theologians or other Christians. The enemy is Satan, the world, and the flesh.
  17. Guard your sexual instincts. Stay away from Internet pornography and illicit relationships. Theologians are not immune from the sins that plague others in the church.
  18. Be active in a good church. Theologians need the means of grace as much as other believers. This is especially important when you are studying at a secular university or liberal seminary. You need the support of other believers to maintain proper theological perspective.
  19. Get your basic training at a seminary that teaches the Bible as the Word of God. Become well-grounded in the theology of Scripture before you go off (as you may, of course) to get firsthand exposure to nonbiblical thought.
  20. Come to appreciate the wisdom, even theological wisdom, of relatively uneducated Christians. Don’t be one of those theologians who always has something negative to say when a simple believer describes his walk with the Lord. Don’t look down at people from what Helmut Thielicke called “the high horse of enlightenment.” Often, simple believers know God better than you do, and you need to learn from them, as did Abraham Kuyper, for instance.
  21. Don’t be one of those theologians who get excited about every new trend in politics, culture, hermeneutics, and even theology and who think we have to reconstruct our theology to go along with each trend. Don’t think you have to be a feminist, e.g., just because everybody else is. Most of the theologies that try to be culturally savvy are unbiblical.
  22. Be suspicious of all trendiness in theology. When everybody jumps on some theological bandwagon, whether narrative, feminism, redemptive history, natural law, liturgy, liberation, postmodernism, or whatever, that’s the time to awaken your critical faculties. Don’t jump on the bandwagon unless you have done your own study. When a theological trend comes along, ask reflexively, “What’s wrong with that?” There is always something wrong. It simply is not the case that the newest is the truest. Indeed, many new movements turn out to be false steps entirely.
  23. Our system of doctoral-level education requires “original thought,” but that can be hard to do, given that the church has been studying Scripture for thousands of years. You’ll be tempted to come up with something that sounds new (possibly by writing a thesis that isn’t properly theological at all in the sense of #3 above). Well, do it; get it out of the way, and then come back to do some real theology.
  24. At the same time, don’t reject innovation simply because it is innovative. Even more, don’t reject an idea merely because it doesn’t sound like what you’re used to. Learn to distinguish the sound-look-feel of an idea from what it actually means.
  25. Be critical of arguments that turn on metaphors or extrabiblical technical terms. Don’t assume that each one has a perfectly clear meaning. Usually they do not.
  26. Learn to be skeptical of the skeptics. Unbelieving and liberal scholars are as prone to error as anybody—in fact, more so.
  27. Respect your elders. Nothing is so ill-becoming as a young theologian who despises those who have been working in the field for decades. Disagreement is fine, as long as you acknowledge the maturity and the contributions of those you disagree with. Take 1 Timothy 5:1 to heart.
  28. Young theologians often imagine themselves as the next Luther, just as little boys imagine themselves as the next Peyton Manning or Kevin Garnett. When they’re too old to play cowboys and Indians, they want to play Luther and the Pope. When the real Pope won’t play with them, they pick on somebody else and say, “You’re it.” Look: most likely God has not chosen you to be the leader of a new Reformation. If he has, don’t take the exalted title “Reformer” upon yourself. Let others decide if that is really what you are.
  29. Decide early in your career (after some experimenting) what to focus on and what not to. When considering opportunities, it’s just as important (perhaps more so) to know when to say no as to know when to say yes.
  30. Don’t lose your sense of humor. We should take God seriously, not ourselves, and certainly not theology. To lose your sense of humor is to lose your sense of proportion. And nothing is more important in theology than a sense of proportion.

-“Reflections of a Lifetime Theologian: An Extended Interview with John M. Frame,” interviewed by P. Andrew Sandlin in Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame

Van Til’s Presuppositionalism & Frame’s Perspectivalism

The general approach to apologetics advocated on this blog known as presuppositionalism. This method builds off the work of scholars like William Edgar, K. Scott Oliphint, Lane Tipton, Greg Bahnsen, and John M. Frame. But behind them all lies the seminal work of theologian Cornelius Van Til. I’ve provided an intro to Van Til’s thought elsewhere on this blog (here, here, and here) so I won’t do that now.

Van Til’s approach to apologetics is built off the premise that a robust defense of the faith grows from the soil of a carefully nuanced understanding of Christian theology. As Greg Bahnsen used to teach, worldviews are a network of presuppositions. And these worldviews are inherently theological.

But consider this: For Van Til, the term “presupposition” had subtle shades of meaning. This can make reading Van Til (and his disciples) confusing at times. Many never quite makes this distinctions explicit, but a careful study bears out at least a threefold usage. The following is my own expansion of Frame’s exposition in his Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought

  • P1: The first sense of the term underscores the underlying awareness all people have of God, regardless of whether or not they are regenerate. All people, in their heart of hearts, know God, that He exists, has created them for Himself, and requires that they live in a certain fashion (think Romans 1:18-32). This type of presupposition is inescapable, and no matter how hard fallen men and women try to suppress it, they can never quite shake it off. Sometimes they are less self-conscious of it, and sometimes more so, but it never goes away. Calvin spoke of this as the “sense of deity” in all men.

So, for example, Van Til taught, “The non-Christian…even in his virtual negation of God, he is still really presupposing God (Christian Theory of Knowledge, 13).”

  • P2: The second usage of the presupposition refers to someone’s espoused belief-system, whether Christian or non-Christian. This is closely associated with what we think of as a worldview. This is the conscious and theoretical activity of integrating one’s belief about reality, knowledge, and values.

Greg Bahnsen defined a worldview as a network of presuppositions. He taught:

Presuppositions form a wide-ranging foundational perspective or starting point in terms of which everything else we believe is interpreted, in terms of which everything else we believe is evaluated and interrelated. And that’s why presuppositions are said to have the greatest “authority” in one’s thinking. Presuppositions will turn out to be the least negotiable beliefs a person has. People will grant to their presuppositions the highest degree of immunity to revision.

and again,

A worldview is a network of presuppositions that are not tested by natural science and in terms of which all experience is related and interpreted.

  • P3: A person’s ultimate heart commitment. This is largely unconscious pre-theoretical. I think it’s safe to say that when P1 and P3 work in tandem you have the beginning development of P2.

Arguably, John Frame has clarified the heart-nature of presuppositions best:

Perhaps presuppositionalism is more in attitude of the heart, a spiritual condition, than an easily describable, empirical phenomenon. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, 87)

With these distinctions in mind one thing becomes apparent. All unbelievers operate with different kinds of presuppositions.  In one sense (P1) the unbeliever acknowledges God, and in others senses (P2 & P3) they seek to muffle God’s voice and censor his revelation.

I’m going out on the limb here, but to organize this under John Frame’s perspectives, I think we can get along fine this way:

1. P1, Normative: God has created us to think this way;  it’s both a) part of our creational constitution, and b) a result of God’s never-ending revelation.

2. P2, Situational: We develop systems of thought (whether closer to the truth or not) by responding to various issues and concerns of life. For a Christian, we seek to develop a Christian worldview in order to submit our thoughts to God’s revealed word, and ultimately to God Himself. Unbelievers develop various non-Christian worldviews in order to escape God’s revelation in the vain pursuit of autonomy.

3. P3, Existential: This is the deepest drive of our heart. It’s the subjective element in knowing, the giving-over of oneself to something. It’s where P1 and P2 meet. For a Christian, when P1 and P2 meet, there is rejoicing and thanksgiving to God for His grace to us in providing us with His revelation as a sure-footed guide to life and holiness (a wordy sentence, I know!). On the other hand, when P1 and P2 meet for an unbeliever, this drives them, whether self-consciously or not, to run farther and farther away from the God who created them and graciously sustains them. It’s this aspect of the term presupposition that leads to the hostility that we often encounter when speaking with unbelievers. God impinges upon their autonomy, and they will not have it.

Thinking this through. Let’s pursue this line of thinking a bit further. With P1, we can see that all Christians, by virtue 1) creation in God’s image, and 2) their redemption and possession of the Holy Spirit, know that God is sovereign and indeed the King over their lives. God’s authority and His decisions cannot be questioned (Ps. 115:3, 135:6; Dan. 4:35;  Eph. 1:11). All that He does, whether or not we understand it, is good and right (cf. Rom. 9:19-21). This is easily demonstrated, for example, by the fact that even those who do not believe that God ordains all that comes to pass (a Reformed belief), nevertheless do not want to blame God for evil, and speak of God “allowing” evil, etc. They blame people for evil and injustice, but never God. The very notion of God doing something wrong is foreign to them (as it should be). So, in this sense, all believers have an advantage over non-Christian interpreters in handling Scripture (you’ll also notice how closely this is related to P3)

Now, let’s consider P2. While Christians, because of P1, know God, they nevertheless do not always develop a biblically faithful worldview. They may know that God is sovereign and king of all things (P1), but their system of interpretation (P2) prohibits them from putting flesh on that concept; it simply cannot account for it. Another example might help. Arminians believe that God is the ruler of all things (P1), and rightly so, because he is! Yet, their theological system (P2) deprives God of the right to turn people’s hearts toward himself in grace (Acts 11:18, 16:14; 2 Tim. 2:25). Without this crucial biblical teaching, their system (P2) doesn’t make sense of their intercessory prayer (which is rooted in their P1 knowledge of God).

If I’ve got all my presuppositional ducks in a row, I think this perspectival analysis of the term ‘presupposition’ in the work of Van Til and his disciples potentially does two things. First, it clarifies a lot of insider-speak, and second, it brings to light the subtle nuanced position of presuppositional apologetics.

The Spirit Adds Nothing; The Spirit Adds Everything

In Doctrine of the Knowledge of God John Frame explains an important biblical concept he calls “seeing as.” “Seeing as” is more than merely seeing, it’s seeing or perceiving something in a particular light or in light of a particular perspective. Often we sin, knowing full well what Scripture says about our actions. But our protective rationalizations shield us from guilt. Only the Holy Spirit can transform seeing to “seeing as.”

The Spirit’s work also helps us to use and to apply the word. Obviously, the Spirit cannot assure us of the truth of Scripture unless He also teaches us its meaning. And meaning, as we have seen, includes the applications. We can see this in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 for David sinned against God by committing adultery with Bathsheba and by sending her husband, Uriah, to his death. Here, David, the “man after God’s own heart,” seemed trapped in a particular spiritual blindness. What happened to David? In one sense, he knew Scripture perfectly well; he meditated on God’s law day and night. And he was not ignorant about the facts of the case. Yet he was not convicted of sin. But Nathan the prophet came to him and spoke God’s word. He did not immediately rebuke David directly; he told a parable – a story that made David angry at someone else. Then Nathan told David, “you are the man.” At that point, David repented of his sin.

What had David learned from that point? He already knew God’s law, and, in a sense, he already knew the facts. What he learned was an application – what the law said about him. Previously, he may have rationalized something like this: “Kings of the earth have a right to take whatever women they want; and the commander-in-chief has the right to decide who fights on the front line. Therefore my relation with Bathsheba was not really adultery, and my order to Uriah was not really murder.” We all know how that works; we’ve done it ourselves. But what the Spirit did, through Nathan, was to take that rationalization away.

Thus David came to call his actions by the right names: sin, adultery, murder. He came to read his own life in terms of the biblical concepts. He came to see his “relationship” as adultery and his “executive order” as murder...

Much of the Spirit’s work in our lives as of this nature – assuring us that Scripture applies to our lives in particular ways. The Spirit does not add to the canon, but His work is really a work of teaching, of revelation. Without that revelation, we could make no use of Scripture at all; it would be a dead letter to us.

Thus in one sense, the Spirit adds nothing; in another sense, He adds everything.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 157, 158.

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).

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‘The Bible and Joe the Plumber’- By John Frame

John Frame shares a few thoughts appropriate during election season. The conclusion should whet your appetite:

But what the Bible would teach us above all in this situation is this: we should not put our trust in government, private industry, or economic theory, whether capitalist or socialist. All of these have failed us miserably in the present crisis, and many times in history. We should not be looking to government to make us wealthy or to deal with the sins that have led our nation to this point in history. Now as ever, we should trust only in “the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7), the name of Jesus Christ.

John Frame on Homosexuality, Healing, and Wholeness

From John Frame’s article “But God Made Me This Way!”

I believe on faith that God can deliver homosexuals, because Scripture teaches that His grace can deliver his people from all sin. (See especially1 Cor. 6:9-11.) I haven’t done first-hand research on the results of various ministries to homosexuals. It would certainly not surprise me to learn that many people who struggle by God’s grace to overcome their homosexuality still experience homosexual temptations. People who have been addicted to alcohol often face continuing temptations in this area long after they have stopped drinking to excess. Similarly those who have overcome the impulses of hot tempers, drugs, or heterosexual promiscuity. If that were true in regard to repentant homosexuals, it would not cast the slightest doubt on the power of God’s grace to heal such people. Recurrent temptation is a problem for all of us, and will be until glory. One may not judge the fruits of Christian ministries on a perfectionist criterion, namely the assumption that deliverance from sin must remove all temptation toward that sin in this life.

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” (2 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.

The entire article is quite helpful. For Frame’s discussion on homosexuality in his work on Christian ethics, Doctrine of the Christian Life, see pages 757-763.

The Interconnectedness of God’s Revelation

Once again, John Frame thinks in 3’s 🙂

Scripture establishes as the believer’s presupposition the revelation of God. That revelation takes three forms: (1) The illumination of the Holy Spirit, (2) God’s revelation in nature and history (that is, “natural revelation”), and (3) God’s revelation by word (that is, “special revelation”: direct utterance, the speaking of prophets and apostles, and the Scriptures). These three forms of revelation must be taken together. Illumination is nothing in itself, being only a witness to natural and special revelation. Natural revelation must be seen through “the spectacles of Scripture,” illuminated by the Spirit. Special revelation makes no impact apart from illumination or apart from its application to the reader’s situation and the course of nature and history.

So each of these three forms of revelation is incomplete without the others. To do justice to any one of them, we must look at the others. Therefore, on an important sense, each includes the others. Each is a perspective on the whole organism of revelation.

-John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 212-213

Do We Know What God is ‘Really’ Like?

In the following quote, Frame navigates a theological challenge that theologians have wrestled with for centuries:

The defining qualities of God are the qualities that make him God, that distinguish him from all other beings. If we are going to use the word essence, it is best to understand it is comprising all the divine attributes revealed in Scripture. That God has many defined features does not compromise his simplicity, if we maintain that those attributes are inseparably one in God. But then we can state what his essence is, and we can do it in many ways: control, authority, presence, holiness, eternity, goodness, and so on.

Is God’s essence, then, knowable? Yes and no. Yes, in that Scripture tells us about some qualities that define God as distinct from other beings… And when Scripture describes God, it describes him as he really and truly is. So it’s definitions of God enable us to know him, indeed, to know his essence.

No, God’s essence is not knowable, in that our knowledge of God is certainly not exhaustive. We don’t know everything that came to be known about God’s holiness, wisdom, goodness, etc., nor how all his attributes are unified within the complete divine being. To have a perfect knowledge of that, we would have to be God. Such knowledge is impossible for the creature. The best formulation, then, is that God’s essence is knowable, but not exhaustively.

We should not adopt a mental picture or model of God in which his real identity or essence is hidden in darkness, while his revealed nature is a kind of periphery around that darkness. In that picture, the darkness conceals what God really and truly is; his revealed nature is something less than his real being. On the contrary: God’s names and revealed attributes tell us what he truly is, at the heart of his being. There is nothing more fundamental about him that could call his revealed nature into question. Such biblical terms as holiness, goodness, and eternity express God’s essence. They tell us what he really is, for Scripture is true. They define him, because through them God has defined himself.

-John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 204-205

The Marriage of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

John Frame on the unifying link between the sovereignty of God and creaturely responsibility:

Why do the biblical writers find it so natural to bring [God’s sovereignty and creaturely responsibility] together, a conjunction that seems so paradoxical to modern readers? Why does Paul in Philippians 2:12 – 13 actually appeal to God’s sovereign working in order to motivate our responsible activity? Here are some suggestions as to why this linkage makes sense in the context of a biblical worldview:

1… God’s sovereignty involves not only his control over everything, but also his authority, his evaluation of everything. He is the supreme standard, the source of all value. Control and evaluation are two aspects of lordship, mutually implicative. It is therefore not at all surprising that they should be conjoined in Scripture. By his control, God foreordains our actions; by his authority, he evaluates them. Because of that authority, we are answerable to him, responsible. Far from being inconsistent with God’s lordship, therefore, our responsibility is based upon it.

2. God’s promises of success motivate believers to act in accordance with those promises. Theoretically, of course, someone might respond to such a promise by relaxing and waiting passively for God to do it all. Two opposite responses to the certainty of God’s promises, then, are theoretically possible. But taking action to further God’s goals is not an irrational response to revelation, and it is eminently rational when we consider that our obedience is not only commanded, but also a tool by which God accomplishes his purposes. Those who obey have the joy of being God’s instruments – and of reaping his rewards.

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Do Christians Worship a Book?

John Frame reflects on the objection that evangelicals worship the Bible, also known as ‘bibliolatry’:

The psalmists view the words of God with religious reference and awe, attitudes appropriate only to an encounter with God himself. The psalmist trembles with godly fear (Ps. 119:120; cf. Isa. 66:5), stands in awe of God’s words (Ps. 119:161), and rejoices in them (v. 162). He lifts his hands to God’s commandments (v. 48). He exalts and praises not only God himself, but also his “name” (Ps. 9:2; 34:3; 68:4). He gives thanks to God’s name (Ps. 138:2). He praises God’s word in Psalm 56:4,10. This is extraordinary, since Scripture uniformly considers it idolatrous to worship anything other than God. But to praise or fear God’s word is not idolatrous. To praise God’s word is to praise God himself.

Does this worship justify bibliolatry? The Bible, as we will see later, is God’s word in a finite medium. It may be paper and ink, or parchment, or audiotape or a CD-ROM. The medium is not divine, but creaturely. We should not worship the created medium; that would be idolatry. But through the created medium, we received the authentic word of God, and that word of God should be treated as if God were speaking it with his own lips. It should be received with absolute trust, obedience, and, yes, worship.

Opponents of evangelicalism commonly say that it is idolatrous to accept any human word as having divine authority. Scripture, however, teaches that we should accept the divine-human words on its pages precisely as God’s own. Evangelicals are often too sensitive to the charge of bibliolatry. That charge is illegitimate, and it should not motivate evangelicals to water down their view of Scripture.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God, 67-68

Worldview and Ethical Reasoning

John Frame on persuasive ethical argumentation:

Cogent and persuasive ethical reasoning presupposes a worldview and standards of judgment. It is not easy to argue these from nature alone. For Christians, these standards come from Scripture. So apart from Scripture, ethical argument loses its cogency and often it’s persuasiveness. Nonbelievers, of course, won’t usually accept Scripture as authoritative. But they may at least respect an argument that is self-conscious about its epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions.

In public discussion, it may sometimes be desirable to argue a position without directly referring to Scripture. We may, for example, point to the cultural consequences of China’s one-child policy, or to the general indifference to human life encouraged by legalized abortion, or to the societal consequences of secularized education. Arguments like these will be persuasive to some non-Christians. They appeal to that knowledge of natural revelation that they are unable fully to suppress. But when someone presses us to ask, for example, why we think that indifference to human life is a bad thing, we must in the end refer to Scripture, for that is the ultimate source of our values.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 954 (This is taken from appendix F, “Is Nature Revelation Sufficient To Govern Culture?”, also published in Frame’s latest work The Escondido Theology)

Frame Contra Escondido

The Escondido theology (ET) is the latest work of John Frame. In it Frame interacts with what’s come to be known as Reformed Two Kingdom Theology (a good example can be found in David VanDrunen’s clear and concise entry-level introduction Living in God’s Two Kingdoms). Here Frame lays out the basics of his own position, which he contrasts with the ET (Frame’s bullet point summary of the ET can be found here):

Were I to set forth in alternative to the Escondido theology, it would look like this:

  1. God is Lord of everything in creation, including man;
  2. He appointed men to take dominion over the earth, and that command has never been rescinded,
  3. Man’s fall corrupted everything human, his worship and his culture, but did not separate culture from worship as [Meredith] Kline imagines;
  4. Worship is the focal point of culture, and culture is the external expression of worship;
  5. The law is both a declaration of God’s wrath, demanding that we flee to Christ, and a gracious way of life for the children of God;
  6. The gospel is both God’s command to repent and his promise of salvation through Christ with the command to repent implying a command to live by God’s law;
  7. God calls believers to bring his standards to bear on all areas of their lives, including our inner subjectivity;
  8. Preaching should include the whole counsel of God, because we live by every word of it (Matt. 4:4) and must never dictate the subjects on which Scripture may speak;
  9. Preaching should include both the fundamentals of the Gospel and the applications of the Gospel to all of life.
  10. Church services play a special role in the Christian life (Heb. 10:24-25), but we can pray and hear God’s word anytime, anywhere, and he blesses, comforts, and challenges us in all situations; and
  11. We should use all the gifts God has given us to reach non-Christians for Christ, attracting them by the beauty of the gospel itself, expressed in terms that they can understand. And in doing so, we should teach them everything Jesus has taught us, in listing them in the work of bringing every thought and activity captive to Christ.

I’m siding with Frame on this one. After all, this strikes me as the straightforward implication of what it means to say Jesus is Lord.

Inerrancy and Problem Passages

John Frame, in Doctrine of the Word of God, explains how one should maintain a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture in light of the difficulty of ‘problem passages’:

Now, when many readers look at Scripture, it appears to them to contain errors. So many writers have urged that we should not derive our doctrine of Scripture merely from its teachings about itself, but that we should take into account the phenomena. And if we take the phenomena seriously, they tell us, we will not be able to conclude that Scripture is inerrant. This approach is sometimes called and inductive approach…

I believe the inductive method, so describe, is a faulty method for determining this character of Scripture. Of course, Scripture contains “difficulties,” problems, apparent errors. But what role should these play in our formulation of the doctrine of Scripture? It is important to remember that all doctrines of the Christian faith are beset by problems. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty seems in the view of many readers to conflict with the responsibility of human beings, and the apparent contradiction has led to many theological battles. The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is both three and one, and the relation between his threeness and his oneness is not easy to put into words. When speaking of Christ, we face the problem that he is both God and man, both eternal and temporal, both of omniscient and limited in his knowledge. Would anyone argue that because of these problems we should not confess that God is sovereign, that man is responsible, that God is three and one, that Jesus is divine and human?

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Theology and Personal Need

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.