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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.

Neither Conservative, Nor Liberal…Biblical

In the introduction to his work on ethics, John Frame asks what should be our ethical bias . His response:

The point of Christian ethics is not to be as liberal as we can be, or as conservative. It is, rather, to be as biblical as we can be…Jesus rebuked both the conservative Pharisees and the liberal Sadducees; Paul rebuked both legalists and libertines. Understanding God’s will rarely means falling into lockstep with some popular ideology. We need to think as part of a community, listening to our brothers and sisters, but we also need the courage to step aside from the crowd when God’s word directs us in that way.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 6-7

These words are especially poignant during an election year.

Emotion, Reason, and Redemption

Again, Frame clearly (and rightly, to my mind) rejects the notion that one human capacity is greater in either creation or redemption.

Redemption doesn’t make us more emotional (as some charismatics might suppose) or less so (as many Reformed would prefer), anymore than it makes us more or less intellectual. What redemption does to the intellect is to consecrate that intellect to God, whether the I.Q. is high or low. Similarly, the important thing is not whether you are highly emotional or not; the important thing is that whatever emotional capacities you have should be placed in God’s hands to be used according to His purposes.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 336.

The Evangelism Fallacy

Section 3 (pgs 242-301) of John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God includes a discussion on clear and godly thinking. In that section there’s a unit of common mistakes in thinking, commonly known as logical fallacies. He defines the fallacy of division as follows:

Here one argues that what is true of the whole (or the collection) is also true of the parts (or members). Thus one might argue that since a car is heavy, it might have a heavy cigarette lighter. Or because a grove is thick, each tree in the grove must be thick. One might mistake predicates of a class for predicates an individual, as in this specious argument: “American Indians are disappearing; Joe is an American Indian; therefore Joe is disappearing.”

Frame then provides a couple of theological examples of this fallacy. I highlight only one:

Theological examples include [the following].. “Christ commands his church to evangelize the whole world; I am a member of the church; therefore Christ commands me to evangelize the whole world.” Much grief is wrought by pastors who take commands in the Bible that are intended for the church as a whole and impose them on individuals, as if each individual had to do the whole job himself. Thus individuals are led to think that they must pray all day, evangelize their neighborhoods, become experts in Scripture, Christianize the institutions of society, feed all the poor in the world, and so forth. No! These commands are for the church as a whole, and individuals contribute to these purposes in accordance with their particular gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12-14).

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 299.

Most of us have either made or been the victim of the Evangelism Division Fallacy. I know I have!

Friends don’t let friends use the EDF.

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.

‘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.

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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John Frame on the Fundamentals of Evangelical Theology

In his article titled “Introduction to the Reformed Faith,” John Frame helpfully delineates the core beliefs of Evangelical theology:

What are the main beliefs of evangelical theology? An evangelical, in my definition, is one who professes historic Protestant theology. That includes the following beliefs:

(1) God is a person, infinitely wise, just, good, true and powerful, the ultimate reality, exclusively deserving religious worship and unquestioning obedience, who made the world out of nothing.

(2) Man, made in the image of God, willfully disobeyed God’s command, and thereby became worthy of death. From that time on, all human beings save Jesus Christ have been guilty of sin before God.

(3) Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man. He was (literally, really) born of a virgin. He worked miracles. He fulfilled prophecy. He suffered and died for our sin, bearing its guilt and penalty. He was raised physically from the dead. He will come again (literally, physically) to gather his people and to judge the world.

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Presuppositions and Lordship

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.

What is Biblical Inerrancy? (part 3)

So far, we’ve review 2 problems with the claim that the Bible is infallible but not without errors. Now we’ll discuss a little bit further what biblical inerrancy is and what it is not.

What Biblical inerrancy is not. Recall our earlier definition of inerrancy:

When all the relevant facts are known, and when properly interpreted, scripture never contradicts itself, not does it misrepresent the facts.

For many who reject inerrancy, their understanding of the doctrine is that the Bible is to be interpreted literally, at face value. Such an oversimplified understanding is a strawman, which presents the doctrine in such a light so as to make it easy to challenge. I should say something here I think is important to this discussion, and one which I don’t think I’ve made clear in the last few emails. While they are intimately linked, inerrancy should be distinguished from interpretation. The former is a statement about the truthfulness of the text, while the latter is about how we as readers of the Bible “get to” the content of that text.  So by my claim that Scripture is inerrant, I don’t thereby mean my interpretations of Scripture are inerrant. Inerrancy is about the text and not the interpreter. John Frame, in an online article, makes a similar point:

Shall we speak today of biblical “inerrancy?” The term does, to be sure, produce confusion in some circles. Some theologians have gone far astray from the dictionary meaning of “inerrant.” James Orr, for example, defined “inerrant” as “hard and fast literality in minute matters of historical, geographical, and scientific detail.” Well, if “inerrancy” requires literalism, then we should renounce inerrancy; for the Bible is not always to be interpreted literally. Certainly there are important questions of Bible interpretation that one bypasses if he accepts biblical inerrancy in this sense.

Inerrancy doesn’t necessarily dictate a method of interpretation (literal, or otherwise).

Second, those who affirm inerrancy don’t ignore the clear fact that Scripture uses figures of speech or round numbers. Nor do they believe Scripture always uses precise language. Inerrantists acknowledge the use of round numbers, imprecise description, and phenomenological language (describing things the way they appear, rather than the way we would describe them scientifically, ex: “the Sun rose in the morning”)

What inerrancy is. Inerrancy is a statement about the original form of the text (aka the autographa). As the first line of the doctrinal statement for the Evangelical Theological Society states, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” That is to say the original manuscripts are error-less in all they affirm, but copies aren’t guaranteed freedom from scribal error. This is where textual criticism plays a valuable role in the discussion (at least for clarifying misunderstandings). There have been some scribal errors over the years, but they have been detected due to the numerous amount of manuscripts we have. So, we can essentially figure out exactly what the originals said, with the exception of one and a half to three percent of the time, and in these cases no essential doctrine or teaching is affected. All that to say an affirmation of the inerrancy of the original form  is indeed relevant for oday.

Next we’ll look at 2 crucial terms in any discussion of inerrancy: error and contradiction.