Archive for the ‘John Frame’ Category

Unbalanced "Two Kingdoms" and Political Campaigns

January 17, 2014

Prof. Clark has a couple of posts up praising Ben Sasse and even including one of his political campaign advertisements (“Ben is a Straight Shooter” | “Ben is Speaking Up About Religious Liberty“). Personally, I can’t vouch for Mr. Sasse (nor do I have any particular criticisms), and that’s not the point of this post.

Among other things, Clark writes:

So, in light of the drift of the culture and the Christian accommodation to that drift, it has been interesting to watch Ben Sasse’s campaign for the U. S. Senate from Nebraska.

I appreciate Clark’s concern against Christian accommodation of the culture. At the same time, that’s one of the problems with an unbalanced view of the two kingdoms. It is an accommodation to the cultural norm that the state is to be “secular” rather than being normed by Scripture.

One of the ironies of the posts is that posts like these, which appear to be stumping for a particular candidate, would appear to violate the principles of the Darryl Hart-type unbalanced two kingdoms view. One of the commenters presented this issue, and in response Clark asked:

What about the twofold kingdom means that Christians cannot engage the civil realm?

and again

Now, once more, what is it about the twofold kingdom that prevents Christians from observing and commenting on the civil/political sphere?

I wasn’t the commenter in question, so Clark wasn’t asking me. I would respond that the more unbalanced forms don’t say that people (who happen to be Christians) cannot engage the civil realm, observe the civil/political sphere, or comment on the civil/political sphere. Nevertheless, it does prevent them from doing so as Christians, bringing Christian doctrine and specifically the Bible to bear. In other words, in the so-called R2K system, a Christian cannot comment as a Christian, only as a person. Prof. Clark is not commenting on Ben as one might talk about a particularly skilled quarterback (or simply one wearing the right jersey) but rather he appears to be bringing Biblical principles to bear on the situation (as well he should! and good for him!) This does not seem consistent with the more unbalanced views of the two kingdoms.

For example, recall that Hart wrote:

Christianity is essentially a spiritual and eternal faith, one occupied with a world to come rather than the passing and temporal affairs of this world.

(p. 12 of A Secular Faith) Frame explains, Hart “is opposed not only to the church taking political positions, but even to individual Christians claiming biblical authority for their political views.” (Escondido Theology, p. 248)

Contrary to what Hart seems to think (based on his book), the Scriptures have a lot to say about the passing and temporal affairs of this world, even though this is our pilgrimage with the best life yet to come. An error of an unbalanced view of the two kingdoms is creating a dichotomy between them rather than recognizing that the civil magistrate is a minister of God who ought to be normed by the Word of the God of whom he is the minister. Another error is like to it – treating all aspects of this life the same whether the Bible has said much (for example, good laws) or little (for example, plumbing, air conditioning, or pharmacology). Yes, the Bible is not principally concerned with teaching us how to roll aluminum foil quite flat without making it so thin it accidentally tears. The Bible is not principally concerned with teaching us how to build a controlled fusion reactor. But there are oodles of teachings regarding what sort of laws are good. There are oodles of teachings on marriage and family – on the raising of children, and so forth.


Joel McDurmon Reviews "The Escondido Theology"

March 25, 2012

Mr. McDurmon has provided a very interesting review of “The Escondido Theology,” as well as of some of the responses and context of the work.  McDurmon made an excellent observation relative to Godfrey’s comment: “All of us on the faculty of Westminster Seminary California are shocked and saddened by John Frame’s book, The Escondido Theology.”  McDurmon points out: “Most of the chapters in Frame’s book have been posted as review articles online for months, even years.”  It’s hard to see how the book could “shock,” given that it is consistent with the criticism that Frame has been making for a while.


Hart’s Responses to Frame

March 24, 2012

Darryl Hart has offered several responses to Frame’s book. The first response I’ll consider is one Hart titled, “More Than You Bargained For?” in which Hart responds to Frame’s comment: “They are also motivated by a desire to oppose what they regard as theological corruptions of the Reformation doctrine, particularly the views of N.T. Wright, Norman Shepherd, and the movement called Federal Vision.” Hart responds: “So I’m to imagine that using the law-gospel distinction in opposition to Shepherd, Wright, and the Federal Vision is extreme?” But this is a bizarre non sequitur. That is not what Frame wrote, nor is it a reasonable inference from what Frame wrote. Frame didn’t say or imply that merely using the law-gospel distinction in those disputes is “extreme.”  Even if Frame thinks the use is extreme, one certainly cannot conclude from Frame’s line that he’s saying that such extremity is due to the fact of who is being opposed or the tool that is being used to oppose.

While there is a lot more copy in Darryl’s response, there is no other direct interaction with what Frame wrote.

That’s rather the same as what we find in the next response we will consider, one titled: “Authors, Editors, and Readers.”  In this post, Hart quotes Frame thus:

Too often, in ethical debate, Christians sound too much like unbelievers. They reason as if they and their opponents are both operating on the same principle: human rational autonomy. I believe they almost inevitably give this false impression when they are reasoning according to natural law alone. Only when the Christian goes beyond natural law and begins to talk about Jesus as the resurrected king of kings does his witness become distinctively Christian. At that point, of course, he is reasoning from Scripture, not from natural revelation alone.

Then, after providing an example of a few paragraphs from Leithart where Leithart does not mention Christ or the Scriptures, Hart states:

Now, the additional point is not that Leithart is a hypocrite or that Frame is selective in the writers whom he throws under the Lordship of Christ bus. It is instead that authors write for editors and audiences and need to couch their language and arguments in terms acceptable to the editors and plausible to the readers. This isn’t a matter of the right apologetic method or a consistent epistemology. It is a case of either getting published or not, of being understood or not. If Leithart had come to the editors of First Things with arguments in a distinctively neo-Calvinist idiom, they would likely not have published him.

Perhaps that means that Christians should not write for religiously, epistemologically, or the-politically mixed publications. Indeed, it does seem that Frame’s arguments run directly in the fundamentalist direction of not having anything to do with associations where a believer might have to hide his faith under a bushel (NO!). But if Christian authors, even neo-Calvinist inclined ones, are going to write for publications not edited by Andrew Sandel or Ken Gentry or the faculty of Dort College, they may need to use rhetoric and arguments that are not pedal-to-the-metal Christian.

For this reason, I am surprised that John Frame can’t appreciate why 2k writers sound the way they do, or appeal to natural law arguments the way they do.

But Frame is not expressing merely a lack of appreciation, but disapproval.  Hart’s response that unless Christians reason as if they are both operating on the same principle, they will not get published or not be successful in persuading their opponents in the ethical debate.  For Hart, this pragmatic consideration trumps Frame’s proposed principled consideration.  Hart provides no further justification for this trumping.  Indeed his comments are telling: “This isn’t a matter of the right apologetic method or a consistent epistemology. It is a case of either getting published or not, of being understood or not.”  Thus, for Hart, the pragmatic of being published/understood trumps the principle of correct apologetics and epistemology.

It gets worse.  Hart identified his post, “The Grandaddy of Reformed Anti-Lutheranism,” as one of his responses to Frame (here).  But that post begins by trying to address Norman Shepherd: “Before Shepherd, theologians like John Murray or Louis Berkhof would not have objected to the Lutheran doctrine of justification. But Shepherd did.”  The way in which the Lutheran doctrine of justification differs from the Reformed doctrine lies in the scope of the atonement, and Reformed teachers have long criticized Lutheran views on the scope of the atonement.  If Shepherd objected to justification by faith alone, he was objecting to the Reformed doctrine, the Lutheran doctrine, and the doctrine of a variety of the fathers of the church.  He wasn’t objecting to anything distinctively Lutheran.

Hart then essentially accuses Frame of preparing the way for Shepherd with his previous book:”John Frame’s book, Evangelical Reunion (for starters) would be ironically one example of that New School turn among conservative Presbyterians away from Old School practices and convictions.”  No justification is provided for this accusation.

Hart then alleges that Frame endorses Shepherd: “I wonder if John Frame’s endorsement of Shepherd actually includes some recognition of the distance between him and Shepherd on the Reformed identity and militant character of the OPC, with Shepherd embodying one strand of Machen’s warrior children and Frame exhibiting boredom with fighting period.”

But where is the argument?  There is none.  The whole point of the post is to try to tie Frame to the Norman Shepherd controversy, and to somehow suggest that Frame’s criticism of Lutheran influence on Escondido thought is somehow contrary to justification by faith alone (which confirms point 28 of Frame’s 32 points).

Things looked a little more hopeful in Hart’s, “Is the Gospel Sufficient to GOVERN Culture?” but let’s see what transpired.

Hart begins with the title of the chapter (which corresponds to this article) and even supplies some of Frame’s 32 points. Hart then goes on to complain that it is odd to speak about “governing culture” essentially because culture seems to be organic. Hart considers “language” as an example of culture, and suggests that it cannot really be “governed.” This is an odd choice on Hart’s part, because it does not appear that Frame actually argues that language should be “governed.”

In the next section, Hart characterizes Frame’s view as being that “the Bible is a surer foundation for ethical reflection than general revelation” (and provides a quotation from Frame). But Hart provides no meaningful rebuttal to this point. Instead, Hart complains that “the Bible has prevented Presbyterians like himself from rejecting the regulative principle of worship” and asserts that “The Bible of the Puritans is not cogent for Frame.” These points are both ad hominem and red herrings, and consequently doubly illegitimate. Frame’s view on the RPW is a mistake, but it is not a mistake that is relevant to this argument. Only in the final sentence does Hart actually make a legitimate point: he observes that just because “natural law argumentation fails a test of logic does not prove that the Bible is sufficient to GOVERN culture.” That’s a true observation, but of course Frame argues for the Bible’s sufficiency after pointing out general revelation’s insufficiency. So, this would be a compelling criticism only if Frame said nothing more.

But Frame does say more, as Hart quotes (Hart removed the term “world view” but I’ll present the whole quotation):

Cogent and persuasive ethical reasoning presupposes a world view 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 its 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.

Hart’s response?

I doubt it. Actually, I know such respect won’t be forthcoming since heaps of ridicule have been directed at evangelicals for the last thirty years for trying such w-wish arguments. Maybe Frame thinks a graduate seminar in philosophy is the context for these disputes. If so, he forgets the verb GOVERN. And when unbelievers confront people who want the GOVERNORS to implement religious teaching in politics and cultural standards, they get a little testy.

So that’s it? Hart doubts that unbelievers “may at least respect an argument that is self-conscious about its epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions”? I think Hart has too low a view of conscience and the light of nature. It is the conscience and the light of nature that persuade people to grudgingly acknowledge, “at least he’s consistent,” even if they disagree with someone. The heaps of ridicule Hart identified are not directed at the arguments, but at the world view. Typical Americans do seem to have bought into an E2k view of radical separation of church and state (really, it is the other way around, E2k picked it up from the world), but even typical Americans may respect an an argument that is self-conscious about its epistemological and metaphysical presuppositions, even if they don’t know what “epistemological,” “metaphysical,” or even “presuppositions” mean. Ordinary people get that inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.

Hart then departs on a tangent regarding something Leithart wrote and continues with another two paragraphs that lack any argument worth noting. Then we come to Hart’s core argument:

So how sufficient is the Bible to govern a society composed of diverse religious adherents and non-believers? We already know that the Bible has not been sufficient to yield a unified church. Now it’s supposed to give us a platform for cultural and political cogency and coherence in a diverse and religiously free society?

First, I’m not sure whether a society ruled by the Bible would be as “religiously free” as Hart would like. In fact, I suspect that’s a logical impossibility given Hart’s view of religious freedom. Second, though, for Hart to deny that the Bible is sufficient to govern the church is simply for Hart to demonstrate how far outside the Westminster Standards his position is. Now, Hart’s comment could be re-interpreted to mean that although Scripture does sufficiently govern the church, the result is not a unified church. But if that’s the case, then what of it? One world government is neither God’s will for the church or for the state.

Hart then asks: “How are those hostile to God going to submit to GOVERNMENT based on the Bible?” The answer should be obvious from Romans 13. The power of the sword is the way that those who are hostile to God submit to laws that come from God. Note that Hart casts his question in terms of the Bible, but the light of nature comes from God too. So, the question is one that Hart should have an answer for, yet he claims he’s “still lacking a decent answer.”

Hart next asks: “doesn’t a proposal for the Bible’s sufficiency as a rule for culture and society mean ultimately that only believers will GOVERN?” The answer to this question should be obvious too. Just look at Old Testament Israel. Very often the nation was ruled by unbelievers.

Hart makes an interesting argument. He claims: “And then they walk over the cliff of liberalism and deny that the Bible is first and foremost not a book of ethics but of redemption.” Hart, however, has forgotten his catechism. What do the Scriptures principally teach? The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man (Shorter Catechism, Q/A 3 (and Larger Catechism Q/A 5 identically). Hart quotes Machen, but Machen was opposing liberals who wanted to excerpt from Scripture, to suggest that “the Bible contain any hope for humanity apart from” redemption through faith in the Son. So, Hart is misapplying Machen’s comments.

Indeed, Hart states: “If the mere reading of Scripture could lead to such a conclusion, imagine appealing to the Bible for running a society that includes believers and non-believers.” This does not follow, however, for Machen’s objection was not simply to reading the Bible, but “reading of selected passages from the Bible, in which Jews and Catholics and Protestants and others can presumably agree.”

Hart’s conclusion is strange: “The lesson is that 2k (aka SCET) is really more faithful to Reformed teachings (which are biblical) than are 2k critics’ constant charges of infidelity and deficiency.” Yet Hart’s appeal to Machen was mistaken, and that was his only appeal to “Reformed teachings.” Moreover, Hart didn’t provide any demonstration that E2k views are biblical.

Hart attempts to establish his point through a false dichotomy: “Those who think the Bible sufficient to GOVERN culture or society must either form a political body comprised only of church members or they must cut and paste biblical teachings to make it fit a religiously mixed society.” The latter proposal, though, is not on the table – and the former proposal (while it might be nice) is not necessary.

The final sentence is possibly the least helpful: “Either way (Massachusetts Bay or liberal Protestantism), we’ve been there and done that. Time for 2k’s critics to come up with their own proposals for GOVERNING and transforming culture that are not blinded to their own insufficiencies.” But, of course, a specific proposal for governing is different from the general proposition that the Bible is sufficient to govern. This fact seems completely lost on Hart. Moreover, Hart’s treatment of Massachusetts Bay colony is simply dismissive. It’s clear he does not like that kind of regime, but his personal dislike for it (or for the kind of society it resulted in) is not a principled argument against it.

In short, while this post from Hart was better than some of the others in terms of at least providing some very general arguments, it still comes up dramatically short in terms of providing any kind of serious response to what Frame has written – addressing at most a couple of paragraphs of the chapter.

In a post titled, “Love that Bob,” Hart continues the insubstantial critiques, sadly.  He has the chance to address the connection between Kline’s views and those of E2k, but swings and misses.  First he observes that he himself personally has not read the whole “Kingdom Prologue,” by Kline.  Yet one can be influenced by Kline’s teachings without directly reading Kline (and certainly without reading that specific work by Kline).  Second, he claims that Westminster California’s “real source” of “alleged uniqueness” comes from W. Robert Godfrey (whose response we’ve already addressed).  He then goes on to claim that Godfrey influenced the students of the seminary for good, in terms of getting them to go back to their roots.  There is no real interaction with Frame at all in the post, despite it being identified by Hart as one of the responses to Frame’s book.

And that’s not to mention the posts: “Rich but not Robust” (in which Hart dissed Frame for not getting a bigger publisher to publish his book) and “Speaking of Obscure Publishers” (in which he tries to tie Frame to Shepherd’s errors, while again dissing Frame for not getting a famous enough publisher for “The Escondido Theology”).  In fact, the latter strategy seems to be a theme for Hart.  Much more time is spent trying to associate Frame with Leithart or Shepherd than actually dealing with the arguments that Frame presents.  In the latter post, Hart seems mystified that someone like Frame would care about scholarship, given that Shepherd has serious errors.

There are a few other responses from Hart that were directed toward Frame, but they follow the general pattern laid out above.  Of course, if someone finds (anywhere) a response by Hart to Frame that is actually a serious set of arguments that aim to rebut or refute Frame’s arguments, I would be glad to see them.

– TurretinFan

What Should One Think About a Movement that says …

March 20, 2012

1) There is no such movement;

2) The movement is not monolithic; and

3) No one in the movement believes what you just asserted about the movement.

My conclusion is that those in the movement are being pushed toward the light. There is a movement, albeit a rather amorphous one. It is not monolithic about every detail (what movement is?), but it certainly has some defining characteristics and some widely held ideas. And it must have some defining characteristics and some widely held ideas in order for one of its members to allege (3).

One thing I like about Frame’s book, “Escondido Theology,” is that it moves us from (1) and (2), to (3). The folks whom he has identified are free to say that he’s wrong about them personally (i.e. about their views) or about the movement in general (as Horton has already said), but if they will take the approach of actually clarifying their views, there is hope to determine whether the views that they are expressing are simply reasonable points on which people can disagree, or not.

I do understand that some of the responses have been visceral, but hopefully the result of the book will be positive – one of clarifying, whether that means proving Frame right or whether that means proving Frame wrong.

One thing is certain: Frame should not be tarred and feathered or hung out to dry simply for opposing the Escondido magisterium. Such opposition can helpful and even positive. Opposition can drive error out, or can help to sharpen orthodoxy. If the Escondido Theology is right, it should benefit from the spotlight – if it is wrong, we should all benefit from that spotlight.

Thus, even before getting to the substance of “The Escondido Theology,” Frame has done a world of good by publishing his book.


Frame on the Law/Gospel Distinction

March 15, 2011

Frame writes:

So the definitions that sharply separate law and gospel break down on careful analysis. In both law and gospel, then, God proclaims his saving work, and he demands that his people respond by obeying his commands. The terms “law” and “gospel” differ in emphasis, but they overlap and intersect. They present the whole Word of God from different perspectives. Indeed, we can say that our Bible as a whole is both law (because as a whole it speaks with divine authority and requires belief) and gospel (because as a whole it is good news to fallen creatures). Each concept is meaningless apart from the other. Each implies the other.

For those who have been spending a lot of time listening to the White Horse Inn, I think Frame’s article (available here) may be a challenging and important counter-point.

Thanks to Ronald W. Di Giacomo and Steve Hays for bringing this to my attention.


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