Opinions on Systematic Theology book

Is anyone familiar with John Frame's Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief?  It's normally $44.99, being offered through Westminster Bookstore for $1.99.  I'm not a 100% Calvinist, and I realize this is likely written through that lens, but is it otherwise a good volume to have in my library? 

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dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Teri,

This book was also mentioned on the "free ebooks" thread, and was described as "well worth it" by Jay.  I have no idea about how good this book is, but with that price and a recommendation, I decided to take the chance.  Will probably be more of a reference for me than reading material, but I expect to look some things up in it in the near future.

Dave Barnhart

Rolland McCune's picture

For a well-written though quite negative article on Frame's theological method and theology, see

chantrynotes.wordpress.com

Rolland McCune

josh p's picture

Thanks for the link. By the way a few brothers and I are studying the doctrine of God and using your Systematic as the primary source besides the Bible. It's very helpful.

M. Osborne's picture

Back in 2001, I read Frame's Apologetics to the Glory of God, which introduced me to presuppositionalism and struck me as an exegetically grounded apologetic method. In comparison to the other book I read at the time (Geisler's When Skeptics Ask), Frame and the presuppositionalism he was recommending was asking the question, "What does the Bible and its theology tell me about how to do apologetics?" That was refreshing. I emailed Frame (who had left WTS California and joined RTS Orlando) and asked him where I could get advanced training in apologetics. He recommended (among a couple other options) WTS Philadelphia, which is where I am today.

Many people I know have been very much influenced by Frame, whether or not they've read Cornelius Van Til directly.

I have not read a whole lot of Frame since 2001; I moved on to reading more Van Til. This means that as my thought matured, I somewhat forgot what I had originally read in Frame and/or absorbed his insights into an overall Van Tillian outlook.

Having arrived at Westminster and read Frame's book Van Til's Apologetic, I see that in a few places Frame departs from Van Til, to the point of "not getting" Van Til. Specifically, Frame's attempt to "reconcile" Van Til's thinking about antithesis with his thinking on common grace is misguided, and I am surprised that someone who by and large "gets" Van Til on other points has missed it here. (If anyone wants the details, I can post again...right now I'm just asserting.) Also, Frame's definition of "presupposition" as "basic heart commitment" is a truncated definition of Van Til's: Van Til would have said that a "presupposition" is also the state of affairs that must be the case in order for there to be any discussion at all.

I have also discovered that Van Til is more controversial in his own circles. (A prophet is not without honor...?) Dr. McCune's link and the ensuing discussion on that page will show you that. There are fights in the Reformed/confessional world just like in the Fundamentalist world, except the confessional guys can hold more formalized heresy trials. Smile

All that being said: the book is being offered for $1.99, and you're asking if it's worth it? Smile Not knowing your library, I would say that you should never have just one or two systematic theology books: build a collection across the spectrum: Hodge, Berkhof, Grudem, Reymond, Demarest & Lewis, Erickson, Ryrie...get yourself a representative sampling.

I'd be interested to get Paul Henebury's take on your question...based on what I've skimmed here, he travels in those epistemological circles.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Jay's picture

Rolland McCune wrote:

For a well-written though quite negative article on Frame's theological method and theology, see

chantrynotes.wordpress.com

Did you mean this article?  I wasn't sure what one you were looking for and wanted to be sure: http://chantrynotes.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/confessional-redefinition-a...

Just as an aside, I endorsed the Frame book for a couple of reasons:

  • Like M. Osborne, I read Apologetics to the Glory of God while I was at NIU.  It's a fantastic book and highly recommended.
  • I've heard a lot of good things about Frame, and figured a systematic theology could be helpful for getting a better understanding of where he stood on issues.
  • I felt like for two bucks, you can hardly go wrong.
  • I'm not one of these people that has to have lockstep agreement in my books and commentaries.  I have Grudem, Reymond, Frame, Erickson, and Dr. McCune's systematics (and a few more), and I find that consulting the different perspectives is helpful in fleshing out or explaining different positions when I don't have a good understanding (someone who is a paedo-baptist, for example, will be much more likely to defend that than I would, as a non-paedo Baptist).

Finally - there is this caveat in the free eBooks announcement:

The posting of any book on the thread is not intended to be a blanket endorsement of the content in it. As is the case with Filings, the links are provided solely for informational purposes only. As the old saying goes, “the buyer should beware.” On the other hand, if SI links to a book that contains a clear violation of the site Doctrinal Statement, we will—after verification—break the link and make a note of the error...SI is providing this information as a service to readers, and it is our hope and prayer that it will be a blessing to many. If there is any feedback or comments on this, please contact me directly via PM.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

M. Osborne's picture

Dr. McCune, you provided a link to Chantry's critique. I would be interested if you had a critique of your own. Chantry seems to have an axe to grind. The business about relativism strikes me as ridiculous, based on everything I've read from Frame. The business about the Regulative Principle seems to be more on track: not being super-well-versed in the Regulative Principle as historically taught, I do think Chantry is right that the RP draws a sharp line between explicit worship contexts and the rest of life. From what I know of Frame's position (this is going off something I read ages ago), he would say that the Bible governs everything we do...at least...it provides the principles we need to guide us, both in "worship" per se and in life. The Bible won't explicitly authorize the use of, say, electronic amplification, but we could call electronic amplification a legitimate application of its commands to reach people with the Word. Being Van Tillian myself, I've internalized the idea that yes, the Bible talks about atoms and football games in principle, so I sympathize with what I remember of Frame. But I think Chantry's right that this isn't what the Regulative Principle has historically been. RP proponents often look for very direct authorization from Scripture when it comes to worship.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Jay wrote:

Just as an aside, I endorsed the Frame book for a couple of reasons:

  • Like M. Osborne, I read Apologetics to the Glory of God while I was at NIU.  It's a fantastic book and highly recommended.
  • I've heard a lot of good things about Frame, and figured a systematic theology could be helpful for getting a better understanding of where he stood on issues.
  • I felt like for two bucks, you can hardly go wrong.
  • I'm not one of these people that has to have lockstep agreement in my books and commentaries.  I have Grudem, Reymond, Frame, Erickson, and Dr. McCune's systematics (and a few more), and I find that consulting the different perspectives is helpful in fleshing out or explaining different positions when I don't have a good understanding (someone who is a paedo-baptist, for example, will be much more likely to defend that than I would, as a non-paedo Baptist).

And you need not worry that my decision to purchase and use this work was based on any more than this.  As you said, for $1.99, it's hard to go wrong, and I also read books knowing that there is no single work out there (other than the Bible, and even then you need to be careful with many translations) that I can say I agree with everything in it.

I'm also not one of those fundamentalists where if I don't find a disclaimer in the beginning of the book or from the person that recommended it, I immediately think that everything was endorsed.

Thanks for the heads-up on the book.

Dave Barnhart

Rolland McCune's picture

Jay:

I was not thinking of any idea of endorsement or non-endorsement about the free books, nor do I think that a disclaimer is necessary in that every case.  I only wanted to mention another side to Frame's works that should probably be entertained sometime in one's thinking on his writings.   I no doubt had several scores of books in my library that were either sent to me free from publishers, or that I bought dirt cheap in deals like you posted. No problem on my part.  Its your railroad and you can run it as you please. The rubrics and/or caveats posted by you and SI are OK by me.

 

 

Rolland McCune

Jay's picture

Thanks for the reply; I'm pretty sure you and I are on the same page so to speak.  

I just wanted to make the disclaimer a little more obvious to those who might think that I have some kind of agenda in noting the kinds of books that SI links to and the Frame systematic in particular. Some have been concerned that I will only link to books that might be in alignment with my personal positions, but I look for anything that is free and that might be helpful to those who peruse this website.  I don't link to Christian Fiction, for example, because there is a ton of it and those kinds of books are easy to find.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Rolland McCune's picture

Michael:

I have no notes or a critique on Frame. I have used some of his earlier work on Van Til's apologetics and some from his Doctrine of God.  I have also used Bahnsen, Reymond, Oliphant, et al, to help understand Van Til because, as you know, VT had the extraordinary ability (dare I say "gift"?) of making the most simple concepts as abstruse as possible. I noted some departures from VT by Frame and didn't know quite what to make of them because they seemed to contradict his otherwise  devotion to his mentor and the biblical ideas of common grace and noetic depravity.

I was puzzled to read of his theological methodology of "perspectivalism" and had to confess that I didn't "get it" very well. Chantry's explanation helped, and if correct, shows Frame to be stuck in deep theological mud. His current sojourn in R. C. Sproul's fiefdom is interesting since Sproul has never been accused of any sympathy for Van Til. Frame's forte seems to be philosophy instead of theology; way too much Athens in Jerusalem. I am of the opinion that without VT's transcendental presuppositionalism, no philosophy can be truly Christian; no beginning point in philosophy, apologetics or theology is possible without it. Hence there is no way to account for and understand any datum in the universe, much less to ultimately know and present the truth claims of Christianity without, as VT would say, telling the natural man what he has already told himself repeatedly. I.e., it seems Frame could not consistenly share  the truth claims of Christianity to, as VT would again say, Sophia the scrubwoman, by his 4 layered hermeneutical perspectives.

I offer a critique of the "official" apologetic position of the New Evangelicalism (i.e., the evidentialist methodology  of Gordon  Clark, Carl Henry, E. J. Carnell, et al.) in Promise Unfulfilled, pp. 197-228.

You may wish to contact a former student of mine, Michael Riley, who earned a ThM in Apologetics from WTS.  He probably knows a whole lot more about Frame than I.  mpriley.com

Rolland McCune

mlward's picture

I'm with Mike that Chantry had an axe to grind. I do not believe his critique was correct. (FWIW, Frame himself may have been grinding an axe in his book about Westminster West.)

And instead of seeing too much Athens and not enough Jerusalem in Frame, I'm somewhat agog... Frame is one of those ST guys who seems to take the most trouble to put Scripture references—ones he seems to actually have looked up—in parentheses.

Mike, you're gifted. I know you're not bragging when you say you read Van Til. And you were years ahead of me in your experience with Frame. But for most pastors, I think Frame is the best read. He's just a lot easier to digest than Van Til.

Dr. McCune, Kevin DeYoung said something similar about triperspectivalism in his review of Frame's ST. He didn't "get it" either. And I'm fine with that. I don't think I'm smarter than you for "getting it." Not at all. (I've got your ST as well!) All I can say is that over the course of years and through a dissertation which used Frame a good deal, I have found triperspectivalism excessively helpful. Over and over.

I think Frame should get a wider reading in fundamentalism, Calvinism or no, because a biblical epistemology is such a tonic for people weathering secularism's ideological onslaught. In addition, fundamentalists have tended to want to put more weight on the authority of their "applications" of Scripture than evangelicals do. Frame is a great help in precisely that area—not baptizing all our applications, but thinking through what authority they carry and why.

Gotta sleep...

Mark L. Ward, Jr., Ph.D.
Academic Editor • Lexham Press
(Publishing arm of Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software)

mlward's picture

QUESTION FOR DR. MCCUNE

Dr. McCune, I'm not sure I understand you, and I'm very interested in competent critiques of Frame. You seem to recognize that Frame follows Van Til—that's why you're surprised that he'd be working with R.C. Sproul. (In fact, I'm not aware that he is—it would indeed seem hard to believe after Frame wrote this. He's at RTS in Orlando, but please correct me if I'm wrong.)

It sounds, however, like you're contrasting Frame with Van Til:

I am of the opinion that without VT's transcendental presuppositionalism, no philosophy can be truly Christian; no beginning point in philosophy, apologetics or theology is possible without it. Hence there is no way to account for and understand any datum in the universe, much less to ultimately know and present the truth claims of Christianity without, as VT would say, telling the natural man what he has already told himself repeatedly. I.e., it seems Frame could not consistently share the truth claims of Christianity to, as VT would again say, Sophia the scrubwoman, by his 4 layered hermeneutical perspectives.

And this is what I don't understand: Frame is one of the premier presuppositionalists, an explicit heir of Van Til. Do you think he would disagree with your first two sentences in the block quote above?

And then with regard to the last sentence, I'm pretty sure it's three-layered... Smile And I'm still not sure how Frame would contrast in this respect with Van Til. Frame has argued—convincingly, I think—that his triperspectivalism is at least implicit in the work of his teacher.

I would think that Detroit profs would really like Frame for his Calvinism, his presuppositionalism, and his (something close to) biblicism.

QUICK CRITIQUE OF CHANTRY

Here's the link to Chantry's main critique of Frame (I haven't seen it in this thread). Let me offer a fairly brief (ahem) critique:

  1. It ought to be at least a little surprising that Piper, Grudem and a huge collection of other evangelicals-that-fundamentalists-generally-appreciate would endorse Frame's ST if indeed Chantry is right that "John Frame is one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today." Chantry may be seeing something that Piper, Grudem, Chapell, Mohler, Packer, Duncan, Kruger, Adams, Helm, Kistemaker, Letham, Merrill (BJU grad! =), and Ware did not see. But Chantry's going to have to convince me.
  2. Chantry's critique that Frame favors the revolutionary and the new and is therefore un-Reformed seems too vague and anecdotal to be helpful. And here begins what should be a major theme in any review of Chantry's post: give me the footnotes! If you're going to attempt a take-down of a major Reformed systematic theologian, demonstrate that you did your homework. Chantry appears to have quoted Frame's voluminous writings (easily searchable online) precisely once.
  3. The meat of his critique seems to be that Frame is a straight-up relativist. Frame has a "relativistic hermeneutic—plain and simple." But when Chantry gets into the explication of his charge, he makes a blunder any presuppositionalist should be able to spot:

    The Reformed thinker...may acknowledge that his personality and his context play a role in his reading of Scripture, but he views this as a shameful fact, a result of his fallen nature and continuing sin—something to be fought against with all the power of the Spirit. The Word is to take precedence over our own prejudices. Yet to Frame, this distinction is either non-existent or insignificant. The Word, our persons, and our contexts are all of God and should all be honored equally.

    Here's the error: you can never transcend your status as a subject, and a situated one. Not even in the new earth. Of course the Word is to take precedence over our own prejudices; Frame wouldn't deny that. Through God's word we have access to a transcendent standard. One of his most important triads is the "control, authority, and presence" of God. Frame is not saying, not in a tri-million of years, that my prejudices have a right to trump God's word. But we can't crawl out of our skins to access that standard; we can't find a neutral place to stand on while reading and applying God's word. We might as well make our God-given finiteness and God-given viewpoints explicit parts of our epistemology. Another error Chantry makes is to make Frame's normative perspective equivalent to God's word. That's an easy error to commit, and not an easy one to dispense with quickly. But I'll at least offer that the word of God itself makes general revelation authoritative (Ps 19; Rom 1–2). It's not verbal revelation, and it's not salvific for anyone, but it carries the control, authority, and presence of God.

  4. Chantry's next paragraph is, admittedly, commonsensical: he wants exegesis, hermeneutic, and systematics to follow in a line, to create a hierarchy with exegesis at the top. But a self-critical exegete and a self-critical systematician would have to recognize, I think, that neither of them can ever bracket the other. One of the goals of the good systematician is to let exegesis correct his system, but one of the goals of an exegete should be to allow space for the system to correct his exegesis. An exegete knows he will always bring a larger context to his exegesis; a systematician knows that a successful system will not override exegesis. This is the hermeneutical spiral: you're always going from general to particular and back.

Okay, I'm in the hospital with my wife and baby and I'd better just stop here. I think I hit the main things.

Once again, I encourage every fundamentalist to read Frame. Chantry was uncharitable, alarmist, irresponsible, and incorrect in his critique. He certainly has intellectual gifts of his own (and I was pleased to see his charitably positive comments about Frame, as well as his [accurate, imho] criticism of Frame's book on Escondidio Theology), but if Chantry wants to combat Frame he's going to have to do a lot more homework.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., Ph.D.
Academic Editor • Lexham Press
(Publishing arm of Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software)

alex o.'s picture

mlward wrote:

QUESTION FOR DR. MCCUNE

Dr. McCune, I'm not sure I understand you, and I'm very interested in competent critiques of Frame. You seem to recognize that Frame follows Van Til—that's why you're surprised that he'd be working with R.C. Sproul. (In fact, I'm not aware that he is—it would indeed seem hard to believe after Frame wrote this. He's at RTS in Orlando, but please correct me if I'm wrong.)

It sounds, however, like you're contrasting Frame with Van Til:

I am of the opinion that without VT's transcendental presuppositionalism, no philosophy can be truly Christian; no beginning point in philosophy, apologetics or theology is possible without it. Hence there is no way to account for and understand any datum in the universe, much less to ultimately know and present the truth claims of Christianity without, as VT would say, telling the natural man what he has already told himself repeatedly. I.e., it seems Frame could not consistently share the truth claims of Christianity to, as VT would again say, Sophia the scrubwoman, by his 4 layered hermeneutical perspectives.

And this is what I don't understand: Frame is one of the premier presuppositionalists, an explicit heir of Van Til. Do you think he would disagree with your first two sentences in the block quote above?

And then with regard to the last sentence, I'm pretty sure it's three-layered... Smile And I'm still not sure how Frame would contrast in this respect with Van Til. Frame has argued—convincingly, I think—that his triperspectivalism is at least implicit in the work of his teacher.

I would think that Detroit profs would really like Frame for his Calvinism, his presuppositionalism, and his (something close to) biblicism.

QUICK CRITIQUE OF CHANTRY

Here's the link to Chantry's main critique of Frame (I haven't seen it in this thread). Let me offer a fairly brief (ahem) critique:

  1. It ought to be at least a little surprising that Piper, Grudem and a huge collection of other evangelicals-that-fundamentalists-generally-appreciate would endorse Frame's ST if indeed Chantry is right that "John Frame is one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today." Chantry may be seeing something that Piper, Grudem, Chapell, Mohler, Packer, Duncan, Kruger, Adams, Helm, Kistemaker, Letham, Merrill (BJU grad! =), and Ware did not see. But Chantry's going to have to convince me.
  2. Chantry's critique that Frame favors the revolutionary and the new and is therefore un-Reformed seems too vague and anecdotal to be helpful. And here begins what should be a major theme in any review of Chantry's post: give me the footnotes! If you're going to attempt a take-down of a major Reformed systematic theologian, demonstrate that you did your homework. Chantry appears to have quoted Frame's voluminous writings (easily searchable online) precisely once.
  3. The meat of his critique seems to be that Frame is a straight-up relativist. Frame has a "relativistic hermeneutic—plain and simple." But when Chantry gets into the explication of his charge, he makes a blunder any presuppositionalist should be able to spot:

    The Reformed thinker...may acknowledge that his personality and his context play a role in his reading of Scripture, but he views this as a shameful fact, a result of his fallen nature and continuing sin—something to be fought against with all the power of the Spirit. The Word is to take precedence over our own prejudices. Yet to Frame, this distinction is either non-existent or insignificant. The Word, our persons, and our contexts are all of God and should all be honored equally.

    Here's the error: you can never transcend your status as a subject, and a situated one. Not even in the new earth. Of course the Word is to take precedence over our own prejudices; Frame wouldn't deny that. Through God's word we have access to a transcendent standard. One of his most important triads is the "control, authority, and presence" of God. Frame is not saying, not in a tri-million of years, that my prejudices have a right to trump God's word. But we can't crawl out of our skins to access that standard; we can't find a neutral place to stand on while reading and applying God's word. We might as well make our God-given finiteness and God-given viewpoints explicit parts of our epistemology. Another error Chantry makes is to make Frame's normative perspective equivalent to God's word. That's an easy error to commit, and not an easy one to dispense with quickly. But I'll at least offer that the word of God itself makes general revelation authoritative (Ps 19; Rom 1–2). It's not verbal revelation, and it's not salvific for anyone, but it carries the control, authority, and presence of God.

  4. Chantry's next paragraph is, admittedly, commonsensical: he wants exegesis, hermeneutic, and systematics to follow in a line, to create a hierarchy with exegesis at the top. But a self-critical exegete and a self-critical systematician would have to recognize, I think, that neither of them can ever bracket the other. One of the goals of the good systematician is to let exegesis correct his system, but one of the goals of an exegete should be to allow space for the system to correct his exegesis. An exegete knows he will always bring a larger context to his exegesis; a systematician knows that a successful system will not override exegesis. This is the hermeneutical spiral: you're always going from general to particular and back.

Okay, I'm in the hospital with my wife and baby and I'd better just stop here. I think I hit the main things.

Once again, I encourage every fundamentalist to read Frame. Chantry was uncharitable, alarmist, irresponsible, and incorrect in his critique. He certainly has intellectual gifts of his own (and I was pleased to see his charitably positive comments about Frame, as well as his [accurate, imho] criticism of Frame's book on Escondidio Theology), but if Chantry wants to combat Frame he's going to have to do a lot more homework.

Thanks Mark for the links in your post. Grant Osborne's book is in my sights and from the sample of it I read, it seems to cover wide ground.

The link to Frame's review of the Ligioner's book critique of VT really clarified his apologetic. John Frame's lens interprets VT better than any other work I've seen.

I agree with you that Chantry's review was alarmist and very uncharitable. Here is what Fred Zaspel had to say: http://www.credomag.com/2014/02/19/chantry-v-frame-fred-zaspel/

Also, Frame and Chantry have interacted over this issue back in 2008: http://bibchr.blogspot.com/2008/02/new-appreciation-john-frame.html (see the comments).

In this latest iteration Chantry has upped the rhetoric. Chantry holds little credibility with me.

To op:

Unfortunately, the offer at WBS must have expired per the opening post since I see no link and checking the site, it is no longer on offer.

To Jay:

Also, I am having trouble finding the link to the special ebooks Jay. It gives me an error message.

 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Jay's picture

Also, I am having trouble finding the link to the special ebooks Jay. It gives me an error message.

Alex, head on over to http://sharperiron.org/forum/thread-free-ebooks-2014. 

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

alex o.'s picture

After looking around a bit on the forums page, I now know where to go to check current offerings. The WTS site now has it for about $27, so timing is of the essence. I recently picked up Gerald Bray's ST and it is comprehensive and very accessible. Frame's work would have complemented Bray quite well I feel, requiring more thinking in the process.

 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Rolland McCune's picture

Michael, Jay, Mark, Alex  et al

I've enjoyed reading the posts and most of the links therein, but I still must say that I don't understand Frame's tri-perspectivalism and how it impacts Van Til's apologetic methodology and one's systematic theology methodology. It still sounds negative to me.  I have not immersed myself in Frame's thought, and maybe that's part of my failure to grasp it.  Further, I've been out of the loop on apologetics and much of theology since retirement and giving away my library.  So I have relied on analyses, critiques, explanations and personal accounts that seemed reasonably cogent.  Others can say the same, I'm sure.

As with  other theological or philosophical theological controversies, I find here charges of ignorance, misunderstanding or failure to understand. E.g., Tom Chantry doesn't understand Frame's class lectures over a few years, and Chantry's critique is highly commended by some (G. I. Williamson for one) and harshly criticised by others. DeYoung and McCune confessed they didn't "get" tri-persectivalism;  Framed charged R. C. Sproul with not understanding Van Til. McCune (admittadly) did not understand Frame's position at RTS vis-a-vis R. C. Sproul. And so it goes. And I understand and "get" all the reciprocation and  accept it as coming with the turf of  theological formulations, especially where philosophy seems to carry a lot of weight.

I hope this thread continues as I am deeply interested in the topic, but my contribution will be presently suspended.

Rolland McCune

M. Osborne's picture

To Dr. McCune: Thanks for your take. I was just looking for whatever perspective you had from outside those Reformed circles. I did my undergrad and first theological degree at BJU, so I was a little unfamiliar with the various conflicts within more strictly Reformed circles. Reformed folks have their personality conflicts, too, and hearing some of the perspectives at Westminster (Philadelphia, where I am now) alerted me to make an effort to filter out the personality conflicts and try to focus on the substance of the disagreement.

To Mark: First, CONGRATS on your new baby. I saw the pix through my wife's Facebook account, which is how I keep tabs on all my distant friends, being too Luddite Ellulian Postman-esque to get an account myself. At any rate, I'll grant that Frame is going to be far more helpful than Van Til to most readers. I'd argue that Bahnsen is a more faithful representative of Van Til's thinking, whether or not Bahnsen is more helpful. Frame is also more exegetically oriented than Bahnsen (I'm also a little surprised by the charge that Frame is too philosophical), but Bahnsen is able to break down the philosophical ideas a little better. His chapter in his Van Til reader that traces the failure of unbelieving thought really helps to "put meat on the bones" of the basic statement that, "Empiricism and rationalism both failed." He dug out, quoted, and explained those passages in Van Til where Van Til stops talking in sweeping generalities and actually connects some dots. (Don't ask me to reproduce it, though!)

I have been greatly helped by Frame, and as I said above, I'm sympathetic to what I remember of his take on the Regulative Principle, how it works out in application. I also really respect what I see to be a bona fide effort to understand and interact with his critics. (And here's where I set aside the hearsay and go with what I read on the printed page, without being privy to the squabbles.)

Because I see Frame as bona fide charitable toward opponents, and because he does agree with Van Til so often, I am truly surprised when he "steps off" on the point re: antithesis. In his Van Til: Analysis book, he says he agrees with Van Til's metaphysical points, but disagrees with some of the epistemological points. But the epistemology follows directly from the metaphysics: the metaphysical reality is that all unbelievers know that God is there (Romans 1). The data of the universe say something, and the message gets through to believer and unbeliever alike. It's an inescapable metaphysical inevitability. But then the unbeliever suppresses this knowledge and proceeds to construct an epistemological system without it. Hence everything the unbeliever goes on to say, in his system, is without epistemic justification. Since the unbeliever lacks epistemic justification for what he says, he cannot say that he knows it (where knowledge = justified, true belief). So there are two usages of the word "know": one, that all people know God; and two, that the unbeliever cannot claim to "know" anything because he does not acknowledge God in his thoughts. So why don't unbelievers collapse into anarchy / nihilism / etc.? Common grace. Common grace is what keeps the unbeliever from living consistently with his first principles. Common grace does not re-inject epistemological justification for the unbeliever.

So Frame's chapter on antithesis is a number of attempts to rotate the common grace puzzle piece onto the wrong side of the antithesis puzzle piece. He amply quotes Van Ti to show that he has all the right data, the right quotations, but he's still somehow trying to put it together wrongly. Why he went off in this direction eludes me. Having agreed with Van Til on so many other points, you'd think the "momentum" would carry him. I'd be interested to know what he says about common grace generally. There may be something in that.

Again, I'd still recommend Frame's book to anyone who wanted a quick and helpful summary. It's inspiring to see that much exegesis behind how-to-do-apologetics.

Re: tri-perspectivalism...I've only dipped a toe a long time ago. I know Poythress's sense/significance/application triad to explain "meaning" in his God Centered Hermeneutics was very helpful. But saying "I found that helpful" hardly makes me a tri-perspectivalist, I'm sure.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

josh p's picture

So for us no nothings....Are Bahnsen and Van Til basically the same? I read one Bahnsen book and one Van Til and as far as I could tell they were saying the same thing. I remember hearing that Carl Trueman asked someone at Westminster which Van Til book he should read to understand him better and the answer was Bahnsen. That's about how I felt reading Van Til. 

AndyE's picture

Someone who has studied both may be able to explain any subtle differences but my impression is that Bahnsen takes Van Til's same basic position on apologetics. Frame, while a presuppositionalist, is less "hardcore."  Here is what Frame had to say about Bahnsen:

Bahnsen’s transcendental argument was carefully put together and eloquently stated: logic, the laws of nature, and the laws of morality make no sense unless God is presupposed. I confess I was not fully convinced that Bahnsen’s “transcendental argument” was as different from the arguments of Aquinas as he claimed. For I think the implication of Aquinas’s argument, too, is that at least one cannot account for the laws of nature without God. And I suspect that Aquinas would have said the same thing about logic and morality. Both Bahnsen and Aquinas believed, “without God, no logic, natural law, or moral law.” So the difference between Bahnsen and Aquinas needs to be spelled out further than was done in the Stein debate. Of course there was no time for such a methodological discussion in that context. Bahnsen and I later discussed our differences on that subject in various venues, and that discussion still continues among us years after Bahnsen’s untimely death. Before Bahnsen entered the hospital for the last time, we exchanged emails, reaffirming our friendship and mutual respect. The last words of his email to me, and the last I ever heard from him, were, “but I still disagree with you on the transcendental argument.” How typically Bahnsen, indeed.

M. Osborne's picture

josh p wrote:

Are Bahnsen and Van Til basically the same? I read one Bahnsen book and one Van Til and as far as I could tell they were saying the same thing.

I've read from both, and I couldn't detect substantial differences in what they think re: apologetics. Re: capital-T Theonomy, Van Til never went there as Bahnsen did.

Van Til's most widely read works (Christian Apologetics, Defense of the Faith) tend to speak in broad outline, but Bahnsen fills in the gaps better. Van Til knew that he struggled with written expression in English, and it frustrated him. Bahnsen is recognized as razor-sharp by theologians across the spectrum.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

mlward's picture

Along with the capital-T Theonomy seems to come a triumphalism that makes it difficult for me to read Bahnsen. Frame is more gracious and gentle. But maybe I need to read more Bahnsen. I did enjoy the Stein debate.

Mike, I read your paragraph distinguishing Van Til from Frame and I couldn't discern anything Frame would (in my estimation) disagree with. It just so happens that I just read Frame's chapter on the antithesis in CVT: An Analysis of His Thought. But perhaps I missed something.

Mark L. Ward, Jr., Ph.D.
Academic Editor • Lexham Press
(Publishing arm of Faithlife, makers of Logos Bible Software)

alex o.'s picture

Perhaps I can offer a personal illustration of what Frame speaks about in his view of the "perspectives." Firstly however a more universal illustration: It is often said that translating one language into another, only about 80% of the understanding is transferable. Often the nuances are hard to convey. English is not my first language or my last. There are some expressions I can represent in my mind in another language that are not captured by any English phrase. I would have to add additional phrases, and even cultural 'feelings' (if you will) to begin to express the full idea.

Spiritual concepts are expressed in words, yes, but situational and personal contexts either aid to some degree, or diminish understanding. What I think Frame is saying: It will take much interaction and mutual understanding along with study to arrive at a consensus in the fine points of theology and practice. Since this is impractical along most lines of inquiry, some latitude should be given and no one cultural or personal perspective should dominate. 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

alex o.'s picture

Another perspective to what i said above is to note that we all have both internal and cultural biases as we try to understand scripture. Sure, some of those might be mitigated as we learn more and become more Christ-like through the Spirit, but will we completely ever be free from all bias? I don't believe so.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net