Category Archives: John Frame Stuff
For those interested, Dr. James Anderson has posted John Frame’s brief article ‘How to Write a Theological Paper‘ (an appendix in Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God).
All interested in crafting clear and persuasive biblical and theological papers should read this (and probably more than once!)
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)
What do Reformed apologists mean by a presupposition? Too often it is mistakenly believed that Van Tillian or presuppositional apologists use the word ‘presupposition’ to refer to either a starting axiom or a mere assumption. John Frame helpfully parses out the nuances of a Van Tillian usage of the term:
A presupposition is a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence. For a Christian, the content of Scripture must serve as his ultimate presupposition…This doctrine is merely the outworking of the lordship of God in the area of human thought. It merely applies the doctrine of scriptural infallibility to the realm of knowing. – The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1987), 45.
Frame elaborates further:
The lordship of Christ is not only ultimate and unquestionable, not only above and beyond all other authorities, but also over all areas of human life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (cf. Rom.14:23; 2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 3:17,23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Our Lord’s demand upon us is comprehensive. In all that we do, we must seek to please him. No area of human life is neutral. –Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1994), 7.
Lately, I’ve been rereading John Frame’s 1976 article “Van Til: The Theologian” (originally published as “The Problem of Theological Paradox” in Foundations of Christian Scholarship) In the article, Frame expounds and expands on Cornelius Van Til’s distinctive contribution to Christian theology and apologetics (I’ve provided my own introductions to the major themes of Van Til’s thought here, here, and here).
From pages 25-27 Frame discusses the use of extra-biblical material in the interpretation of Scripture. The balance between honoring extra-scriptural information on the one hand and honoring the supremacy of the Bible on the other is refreshing. Frame begins:
…we need not be embarrassed about using extra-scriptural information to interpret Scripture. If indeed the creation were somehow autonomous, then we might fear that the use of such data might to some extent hide the full truth of God’s revelation. But creation is not independent of God.
Yet Frame’s robust affirmation of using extra-scriptural information to help interpret Scripture never compromises sola Scriptura (Scripture as the only infallible rule of faith and life):
Even when we use extra-scriptural information (as we must) to understand Scripture, we must hold loosely to this information–loosely enough to allow Scripture to call it in question. It is only when our methods of Scripture interpretation are themselves purified by Scripture that real progress can be made in theology.
The entire article is a great read, and I encourage you to dive in.
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.
Several months ago, I revised my summary of John Frame’s perspectival approach to both theology and philosophy (from Wikipedia, though what’s up now is slightly different from what was originally posted.). I don’t think it’s half bad, but of course you can’t beat getting it straight from the the man himself. Here’s a great primer to his overall approach, written by Frame himself. In his summary, Frame shows the greatest implications and foundations for his approach, as opposed to mine which stuck closer to the realm of epistemology.
John M. Frame has brilliantly formulated what I believe is an extraordinary biblical epistemology in his book, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (henceforth DKG). In this work Frame develops what he calls triperspectivalism, or multiperspectivalism (the truth is that if you can pronounce either of these terms properly, you’re halfway to mastery!). Now, what I’d like to do it walk my read through an explanation of what Frame is doing here, and why is helpful to the thought-life of a Christian.
In any and every act of knowing something we are in constant contact with three things, or as Frame calls them, three perspectives. These three perspectives are 1) the person doing the knowing (what we call the “knowing subject”), 2) the thing being known (i.e. the object of knowledge), and 3) the standard or criteria by which knowledge is attained. In knowing each of these we actually know the other two. Each are interrelated to the others in such a fashion that each could be seen as a perspective on the whole knowing process.
Here’s an example of how these perspectives are connected (though I realize that it probably raises further questions). Let’s take the example of me getting to know my nephew’s dog, Rusty. Perhaps I’ve come to the conclusion that Rusty is a short-haired dog. How does this talk of “perspectives” relate to this act of knowing? Well, first there’s the subject of knowledge, that’s me. Second, there’s the object of knowledge, that’s Rusty and his coat of fur. Third, there’s the standard that I use to evaluate whether Rusty’s hair is long or short. Of course, there’s also in play my knowledge of what does and doesn’t count as fur, etc.
Now let’s get to this all a bit further. (What follows is a revision and expansion of the original article I wrote on this subject for the Frame’s Mutiperspectivialism entry on wikipedia.)
The Normative Perspective (i.e. law or standards that govern thought and action). In all of our actions there is some standard that serves as a guides us, for example, in telling us what is proper to question, what actions should we pursue and avoid, what the universe is really like, and how we should seek out knowledge. The marketplace of ideas is full of systems that compete for our acceptance, longing to set themselves up as god over our hearts and minds. For some people final allegiance is due to sense experience (“Seeing is believing”), their emotions (“If it doesn’t move me, it isn’t real.”), or political allegiances (“I couldn’t believe in a system that is so hostile to individual free speech”), for others it is their particular religious tradition (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Ba’hai, etc) or secular philosophy (empiricism, rationalism, Marxism, etc.). Whatever serves as our final authority functions as our normative perspective.
Christians believe that God has verbally revealed Himself to mankind in Scripture, providing all the words from God that we need for life and godliness (cf. 2 Peter 1:3) God’s inspired word serves as the standard by which all truth claims are to be checked. God’s word dictates to us who He is, the true nature of the world around us, and who we as creatures are in relation to both Him and the world. As John Calvin has said, Scripture serves as the lenses through which we see everything. But even in knowing Scripture we know both the world, and ourselves and in knowing them both we come to know Scripture better.
The Situational Perspective (i.e. the object of knowledge). This perspective daws our attention to the facts of reality, i.e. the things our persons we are trying to know. With this perspective in mind, we should pay close attention to the details of history, science, and evidences for various beliefs. Yet science, history and the evidences are never to be interpreted in a fashion that ignores or sets aside the authoritative nature of the normative perspective. Remember, they’re all tied together.
Without an understanding of our world, we cannot understand or apply Scripture to our lives. An ethical example should help. The standard argument against abortion on demand is this:
1) Murder is a sin
2) Abortion on demand is murder
3) Therefore, Abortion on demand is a sin.
Point 1 provides us with the command of Scripture; it serves to provide us with a objective moral principal. But in order to arrive at point 3 we need to know whether or not abortion on demand is taking the life of an innocent unborn person. Coming to grips with the facts of abortion (the situational perspective) helps us to apply the command of God (the normative perspective). Our attention is drawn to the medical information on the nature of the unborn, the law of biogenesis, and the abortion procedure. Without this crucial information we could never know whether or not we where faithfully understanding God’s word as it applies to our lives.
The Existential Perspective (i.e. the knowing subject). This perspective draws our attention back to the person doing the knowing. As individuals, we bring our personal dispositions, temperaments, biases, presuppositions, and life experiences to every act of knowing. We ignore this crucial aspect of knowledge at the risk of constructing an unnatural, wooden, approach to knowing that is in conflict with the body-soul unity taught in Scripture. One of the nagging problems to epistemology is that when we’re trying to formulate a true-to-life approach to knowledge we are examining an action (“knowing”) that we perform almost every moment of our lives. While tacitly we perform these actions, putting then into carefully formulated propositions is quite tricky.
The approach that largely characterizes modernism is an epistemology that viewed the knowing enterprise as something hampered by human subjectivity in search of a sterile ”objective” mode of knowing. Frame notes that the search for a purely objective knowledge is not only impossible, but also idolatrous. He says,
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. (DKG, 65)
The Integration of the perspectives. In order to appreciate the richness of the human knowing process we must see that every instance of knowing involves three perspectives. Esther Meek, following Frame closely, calls these perspectives ”the rules, the self, and the world.” (See her extremely helpful and fun book, Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People) Emphasizing the existential perspective Meek states, ”Knowing is the responsible human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a coherent pattern and submit to its reality.” Viewed from the this perspective, knowing is the process of integration, where we focus on a pattern by and through the means of various clues, which she calls subsidiaries, in the world (i.e. the situational), our body-sense (the existential), and in our norms for thinking (the normative).
Much of the pattern-making process is hard to articulate, yet this more-than-words aspect of knowing cannot be ignored, for it is crucial in our common, everyday process of getting to know things and people. Through the integration process the clues now take on greater significance. No longer are they viewed as seemingly disconnected occurrences, but rather meaningful portions that make up a greater reality (Meek uses as a example a “magic eye” puzzle). Yet, in a very real sense the pattern or integration, once achieved, retroactively throws light on the subsidiaries that made it up. The particulars retain their meaningfulness, but one that is enhanced and transformed.
These patterns now shape us, because, ideally, they connect us with a reality independent of ourselves. We come to see the fullness of the pattern when it’s truth is lived in, habited, thus extending ourselves out into the world by means of it.
Hopefully in the near future I hope to expand on this a bit, pointing out what I think are the theological, and philosophical benefits to Frame’s approach.
As I’ve been rereading sections of my favorite theology book, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, by John M. Frame, I ran across this gem and thought I should share it:
It is hard for me to draw any sharp distinction between a Christian theology and a Christian philosophy. Philosophy generally is understood as an attempt to understand the world in its most broad, general features. It includes metaphysics or ontology (the study of being, of what “is”), epistemology (the study of knowing) and theory of value (ethics, aesthetics, etc.) If one seeks to develop a Christian philosophy, then he will certainly be doing so under the authority of Scripture, and thus will be applying Scripture to philosophical questions. As such, he would be doing theology, according to our definition [Frame’s definition of Theology is “the application of God’s word by people to all areas of life.”]. Philosophy would be a subdivision of theology. Further, since philosophy is concerned with reality in a broad, comprehensive sense, it may well take it as its task to “apply the word of God to all areas of life.” That would make philosophy, not a subdivision of theology, but identical to theology.
If there are any differences, they would probably be (1) that the Christian philosopher spends more time studying natural revelation than the theologian, while the theologian spends more time study Scripture; (2) that the theologian seeks a formulation which is an application of Scripture and thus absolutely authoritative; his goal is a formulation before which he can utter “Thus saith the Lord.” A Christian philosopher, however, may have a more modest goal: a wise human judgment which accords with Scripture thought is not necessarily warranted by Scripture.
A Christian philosophy can be of great value in helping us articulate in detail the biblical world view. We must beware, however, of “philosophical imperialism.” The comprehensiveness of philosophy has often led philosophers to seek rule over all other disciplines, even over theology, over God’s word. Even philosophers processing Christianity have been guilty of this. Some have even insisted that Scripture itself cannot be properly understood unless it is read in a way prescribed by the philosopher. Certainly philosophy can help us in the business of Scripture interpretation; philosophers often have interesting insights about language, e.g. But the line must be drawn: where a philosophical scheme contradicts Scripture, or where it seeks to inhibit the freedom of exegesis without Scriptural warrant, it must be rejected. (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 85-86)
For more, see: