I’ve Been Framed! A Brief Recognition of John Frame

creative theologyThe following is a guest post by my dear friend, and former student Dylan Rowland. Dylan is a sharp theologian completing his MDiv at Reformed Theological Seminary, and currently pastoring in Southern Ohio. He is also the President of The Southern Ohio Pastor’s Coalition, a network of pastors seeking to encourage and challenge one another.

 

“I’ve been Framed!” is a common phrase that many have heard exiting my mouth. Personally, the significance of this statement cannot be overstated as it is indicative of a certain influence one modern theologian has had in my theological development. I have been asked to reflect upon one particular scholar known for his creativity and innovation theologically.  John Frame, a professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary, is one individual who deserves to be recognized in this capacity. While becoming familiar with Frame during my undergraduate years, I became quickly aware of Frame’s ability to maintain an academic outlook while at the same time implementing his unique theological system into practical usage. It is my humble opinion that Frame’s contribution to the church ought to become a standard for theological research and assistance to the church for years to come, and I believe this for the following reasons:

(1) Foundationally Practical

Almost immediately, readers come to find that Frame’s method in doing theology is utterly practical. In his, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Frame provides a basic, working characterization of theology by affirming that, “We may helpfully define theology as the application of God’s Word by persons to all areas of life.”[1] Frame’s expression proves to be intrinsically practical at the outset which differs in many respects from traditional descriptions of theology as a discipline. For example, the great Princeton scholar, Charles Hodge, defined theology by arguing that, “Theology is the exhibition of the facts of Scripture in their proper order and relation, with the principles or general truths involved in the facts themselves, and which pervade and harmonize the whole.”[2] While Hodge’s designation is by no means defective, it does however demonstrate the fact that theology has had a tendency to be portrayed as an intellectualized discipline which can only be mastered by ivory tower thinkers. Utilizing Frame’s formulation allows the discipline of theology to be translated from its so called “academic captivity”[3] into a daily practice that all, by nature, are called to engage in both scholars and lay-folk alike (2 Tim 3:16).[4]

The assumption by which Frame’s notion of theology is made practical originates from the truth that the God of Scripture has condescended to, and communicated with, His human creation. The New Testament declares that, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1-2a). God, in communicating with us, has revealed the necessary information to live in devotion to Him, and because it came from God means that it is authoritative over us. We are bound by God’s Word to live lives that are pleasing to Him. Thus, simply because God has condescended to our level, theology by nature must be practical.

(2) Theologically Innovative

Within the Reformed tradition of the church, the Latin phrase, semper reformanda, is somewhat of a prevalent slogan. The idea recognizes that the church ought to always be in a process of reforming itself in submission to God’s authoritative Word. In this regard, Frame has innovatively provided a great service to the church through the exposition of his own theological method known as Tri-perspectivalism which is the result of Frame’s humbling of himself before the Word of God.

In becoming familiar with Tri-perspectivalism, one must become acquainted with what Frame identifies as “general perspectivalism.”[5] Frame recognizes that there is a very real and important perspectival distinction between the Creator and the creature. God, in His eternal existence, possesses the understanding of knowing all perspectives at once with the implication that, “He not only knows all the facts about himself and the world, but also knows how everything appears from every possible perspective.” In comparison, the finite quality of humanity dictates that man can only know one perspective at any given time. According to Frame, then, the consequence is that we as individuals must supplement our own perspectives with those of others to obtain a greater level of certainty about reality. Thus, the necessity of multiple perspectives in general opens the door to Tri-perspectivalism in particular.

Frame highlights the presence of multiple perspectives which are established within the words of Scripture. For instance, there are four Gospel accounts in the New Testament which amount to be being four perspectives concerning the ministry of Jesus; each emphasizing a specific perspective of the same narrative. Also, and in the same fashion, Frame contends that a multi-perspectival approach can be used when discussing the Ten Commandments.[6] Scripture, however, seems to place a special emphasis upon the number three and reveals the presence of what Frame identifies as “triadic patterns”. Of course, Frame continues, the ultimate triad is found within the nature of God Himself. The fact that God is one and yet three testifies to the existence of a perspectival relationship within the Godhead between the Persons of the Trinity.[7] Frame’s goal is not to suggest that each Person of the Trinity is merely a perspective on the Godhead, but rather to suggest that each of the three Persons bears the whole divine nature, with all the divine attributes. So, Frame resolves, “Each is in each of the others. You cannot fully know the Son without knowing the Father and Spirit, and so on.”[8] Our knowledge, then, of one entails knowledge of the others which is generally consistent with the way in which the Persons of the Godhead work in salvation history. Likewise, Frame further detects additional tri-perspectival systems within the Word of God such as: a threefold understanding of God’s revelation, the offices of Christ, aspects of human salvation, human knowledge of God, ethics, and several others.[9]

Of the numerous triads that Frame classifies, two have been particularly helpful to me in thinking theologically. The first is Frame’s perspectival approach to divine revelation. According to Frame, Scripture teaches a corresponding threefold structure in revelation: there is general revelation which is God’s revelation in creation (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1). Then there is special revelation which entails God’s revelation in words, through a direct voice (Exodus 19-20), prophets (Deuteronomy 18), apostles (John 14:26), and writing (Exodus 31:18; Joshua 1:8; 2 Timothy 3:16). Finally, there is God’s revelation to a person’s heart which can be described as illumination or the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 11:27; Ephesians 1:17).[10] In this way, Frame’s method is helpful in realizing that God reveals Himself in all aspects of creation and human experience, thereby displaying His authoritative lordship over His creation. There is not one aspect of our existence in which the knowledge of God is not present which humbly displays our responsibility to worship Him.

The second, which is a logical implication of the first, is Frame’s perspectival approach to epistemology. Here, I firmly believe that Frame has made better sense of man’s pursuit of how it is that we come to obtain knowledge. Frame states that,

Secular epistemologies have found it difficult to relate sense experience, reason, and feelings in their accounts of human knowledge. They have also been perplexed by the relation of the subject (the knower), the object (what the knower knows), and the norms or rules of knowledge (logic, reason, etc.)[11]

Historically, intellectuals have inclined to accentuate one aspect of knowing over another, thereby causing conflict. For example, one group of thinkers might emphasize empirical methods of gaining knowledge over a personal subjectivism, or a strict rationalism over an empirical process. Cleverly, however, Frame has devised a way in which to reconcile the need for all three modes of gaining knowledge. Rather than viewing all three as mutually exclusive, Frame contends that they are rather “perspectives” of knowledge, therefore being useful to the human knower whom is restricted by only being able to maintain one perspective at any given time.[12] The implication, however, is that due to God’s revelation of Himself in creation; the knower can obtain knowledge by any three of these perspectives which necessarily entails knowledge of the others. In this way, Frame’s method helps in solving problems many thinkers have raised epistemologically.

Conclusion

C.S. Lewis once wrote on the importance of reading old books. Lewis argues that there is a strange preference for reading modern authors while neglecting the classic ones. And, nowhere, Lewis claims, is this, “Mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones more rampant than in theology.”[13] Lewis’ point, of course, is to suggest that in order to learn the foundation of great truths, one must retreat to the great thinkers of the past whose writings have withstood the test of time. While Frame is a modern scholar, no doubt remains as to the future importance of such a theologian for the church to come. In my estimation, Frame’s theologically innovative system will continue to be a beneficial resource for the church; one that will be accessed often. Due to Frame’s creativity in the theological realm, I am personal indebted to such a brilliant mind. In other words; I’ve been Framed!

 

WORKS CITED

——– A Theology of Lordship. Vol. 1, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg: P&​r Publishing, 1987.

“On The Reading Of Old Books,” accessed September 10, 2014, http://www.theelliots.org/​Soapbox2008/​OntheReadingofOldBooks.pdf.

Frame, John M. John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Vol. 1. Phillipsburg: P&​r Publishing, 2014.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1952.

Lewis, C.S. Introduction to On the Incarnation. By St. Athanasius. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996.

[1] John M. Frame, Theology of Lordship, vol. 1, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, (Phillipsburg: P&​R Publishing, 1987). 76.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1952), 19.

[3] See Frame’s “The Academic Captivity of Theology.”

[4] All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

[5] John M. Frame, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, vol. 1, (Phillipsburg: P&​r Publishing, 2014), 3-8.

[6] Frame argues that the Ten Commandments provide ten perspectives on human life. He further states that it is not that each commandment deals with a part of Christian ethics; rather, each commandment deals with the whole. Ibid., 8.

[7] Ibid., 8-11.

[8] Ibid., 10

[9] Ibid., 8-18

[10] Ibid., 12-13.

[11] Ibid, 14.

[12] Frame designates the normative perspective, situational perspective, and existential perspective as being the three necessary perspectives on knowledge. Normative deals with God’s norms for directing us. Situational ask what the facts are, and existential seeks to find the belief that is most satisfying to a believing heart. Ibid., 15.

[13] C.S. Lewis, introduction to On the Incarnation, by St. Athanasius (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 3.

Trackbacks

  1. […] more about what makes Dr. Frame a quality creative theologian read Dylan Rowland’s guest post here. I thought, however, it might be worthwhile to hear directly from Dr. Frame himself on the subject […]

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