When a Student Doesn’t Understand His Teacher

Tom ChantryJohn Frame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Chantry has done a couple of posts at his blog, chantrynotes, in which he goes after theologian and seminary professor, John Frame.  Tom was a student of Dr. Frame’s back in the early 90’s at Westminster West (WSC).  His failure to adequately understand and re-state Dr. Frame’s theological formulations is unfortunately going to poison the well for some.  However, I hope that no one will be deterred from reading Frame directly themselves.

See Tom’s posts here and here.  His opening comments are over the top and his assertions of dishonesty with regard to John Frame are ungracious and placing him in the worst possible light.

You can read where Frame corrects Tom about his position here , and read a good post by Reformed Baptist pastor Fred Zaspel here.  And hey, since we’re linkin’, here’s a few more with analysis:

http://www.triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/02/living-dangerously.html

http://www.triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/02/confessional-relativism.html

http://www.triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/02/out-of-bounds.html

I was boning up for a blog series on Ephesians (that’s a semi-explanation for my blog neglect of late), but this has brought up some interesting topics I would like to delve into a bit, namely confessionalism, theological disagreement, and sola Scriptura.

Let’s see where we go from here 🙂

C.M. Granger

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17 thoughts on “When a Student Doesn’t Understand His Teacher

  1. Thanks, Chad, for entering the fray! Having carefully read several of Frame’s books (in a group setting with other believers), I have found his work to be most helpful — and always well anchored to the Word of God. As for his perspectivalism, this reminder from Dr Frame is helpful:

    “The main point is that the perspectives are perspectives on something OBJECTIVE, the real world as God has made it, and the objective revelation God has given to us. So truth is not relative, but absolute. What perspectivalism says is that only God’s thought is perfect, always correct. If you’re not God, you need to be humble, and to seek more and more perspectives. Usually when people call me a relativist, it is because they want to make some purely human document (a confession or a tradition) absolute.”

    pdb

  2. People like Chantry and R. Scott Clark are chodes. Frame is the best the Reformed tradition has to offer IMHO.

    Nevertheless, the “fears” that these guys have aren’t completely unwarranted. Multiperspectivalism is, as I see it, the Reformed version of the so-called Weslyan Quadrilateral, which many Reformed folks do not like, even if they appreciate Frame.

    My first introduction to post-modern conceptions of truth was through Frame, who I think offers a balanced approach, but it is hardly compatible with traditional Reformed epistemology.

    I think YRR types tend to like Frame because he arrives at
    Similar theological/exegetical conclusions as them. Nevertheless, he is on the front line of defending NTW and the FV folks, as well as many other “liberals” that conservative folks tend to dislike. He defends them and the legitimacy of their faith because he truly possess an epistemological humility that many (not all) in his circles lack.

    One other thing.

    Chantry accuses Frame of dishonesty. I do not agree with this. However, he clearly redefines and broadens terms, stretching them beyond their original intent in the confessions. This is fine, in my opinion, and necessary for good Protestants. But I understand why confessional literalists wouldn’t like it.

    • Hi Brian,

      I think their fears are primarily due to their misunderstanding of what Frame is saying. They need to read him more carefully. Many of his critics are simply parroting what they’ve heard or read from others. They also see that he is gracious to the likes of Norm Shepherd, John Armstrong, etc. and hit the panic button. Some in Reformed circles have a tendency to be ignorantly alarmist in this regard.

      I see why you are equating triperspectivalism with the Weslyan Quadrilateral, but I would disagree with this conclusion (as would Frame, I think). I also don’t agree that Frame is a representative of post-modern conceptions of truth. But you and I are well acquainted with disagreement (with one another).

      In my view, Dr. Frame is generally within the bounds of the confession and uses it properly as a secondary document. He has made clear to his presbytery where he differs with the WCF, and since they have accepted him with these disagreements, I don’t see an issue here. If brother Chantry wants to condemn Dr. Frame’s position on any given topic, he will have to do so at the textual level. Most of Frame’s critics don’t get beyond tradition and their confession, which is why I don’t find their criticism very compelling.

      My concern is that this form of confessionalism devolves into an insular group-think in which a smaller and smaller circle of ‘true believers’ become the center of the kingdom of Christ. You can see this, sadly, implied when Chantry dismisses almost everyone who endorses Frame’s work as “non-confessionalists” in a derogatory manner.

  3. I greatly benefited from this discussion, especially the part where Chantry is responding to (Dan). I saw a lot of wisdom in a collective reading (450 years for the Heidelberg Catechism) of Scripture and didn’t really see much of the danger of it. That post gave me room for pause. I think that I must be honest and not call myself (fill in the blank) if I hold a different position than blank. I cannot redefine the word and then claim the word for myself. I have sympathetic leanings towards the confessions, but I am not confessionist, I have those same leanings towards Pentecostals and “Traditional Black Gospel Music,” but I can’t call myself a Pentecostal. Carl Trueman once said at a conference, it ministers get to the point where they can no longer uphold the confessions because of conscience, then they must say, ” I no longer hold to that and step down.” I might be in the minority here [no pun intended], but I would like to see more graciousness, humility and truthfulness from all of us who make it our business to study, preach and teach theology.

    • Hi Brian,

      I love the confessions and actually consider myself a confessionalist. Since I’m Reformed in my soteriology and Baptist, I am in general agreement with the 2LBCF. Confessions of faith are good and helpful guides, but have a tendency to be elevated to the status of sub-Scripture. I would never disregard the collective interpretation of the text summarized in the confessions, but I would also not canonize it.

      I agree with you that there should be more graciousness, humility, and truthfulness from everyone who studies, preaches, and teaches theology. Amen to that!

  4. Another thing, I think there might be more to this than just Frame’s position. Many of us may not know the pain of having men who have devoted their lives to teaching you the Scriptures being publicly called out and written about. This is not a justification of being mean and spiteful, but a wounded child lashes out vehemently against his parents’ attacker. If maybe we can think of it that way, we might be moved to pray for these dear ones, and ourselves, because we all just a click away from a harsh word or a misrepresentation of someone.

  5. “My concern is that this form of confessionalism devolves into an insular group-think in which a smaller and smaller circle of ‘true believers’ become the center of the kingdom of Christ. You can see this, sadly, implied when Chantry dismisses almost everyone who endorses Frame’s work as “non-confessionalists” in a derogatory manner.”

    Amen to this Chad.

    I am not sure if you are aware, but RTS on ITunes offers 3 courses taught by John Frame (Christian Apologetics, History of Philosophy and Christian Thought, and Pastoral and Social Ethics). They line up fairly well with his systematic books, but obviously, there is additional information and insight into the thinking of the man.

    Chantry specifically mentioned taking Frame’s philosophy course, which is why I bring it up.

    At the risk of sparking debate (which is not my intention) I think that there are a lot of people (not only the Chantry’s, R. Scott Clark’s and Michael Horton’s of the conservative Reformed world) who see (specifically) Frame’s multiperspectivalism as a “relativizing” force that works against the concept of sola-scriptura, even though Frame himself vehemently affirms this doctrine.

    I, of course, am one of those people; however unlike Chantry, I think that this “relativizing” is a good thing.

    Left to stand on its own, Frame’s multiperspectivalism differs only in terminology from the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It is only when one takes into account Frame’s presuppositionalist stance that one “might” be able to conclude that there is a difference between these two schools of thought.

    Nevertheless, many (perhaps most) proponents of the quadrilateral still wish to affirm the primacy of and an authoritative position for scripture (a loose presuppositionalism, I suppose), which (I think) shrinks the gap between the two positions.

    Furthermore, Frame’s assertion that presuppositionalism and evidentialism are not mutually exclusive approaches to apologetics (and thus knowledge) opens the door to the possibility that presuppositions can and should be called into question by extra-biblical evidence. Considering these points, I am not sure how multiperspectivalism and the quadrilateral differ.

    Perhaps you might enlighten me.

    As I see things, conservative Reformed folks (not referring to the Chantry’s of the world at this point, but those who appreciate Frame) are okay with Frame because 1) he strongly emphasizes sola scriptura and 2) he arrives at identical theological conclusions to them (i.e. he affirms WCF). And, as long as these two things are the case, most could care less about his epistemology or his hermeneutics.

    But this is the thing…

    I think that Chantry and others rightly see that when those who adopt a multiperspectivalist approach carry it out to its logical end, they end up concluding that, although scriptural truth remains authoritative, it is always mediated through tradition, experience and reason (or to use Frame’s language (the existential and the situational), that God’s view absolute truth is thus inaccessible to the human, and moreover that absolute certainty (about anything!) is a myth.

    I am not sure how far Frame himself would carry out this logic, but I believe that he would go much further than any other conservative Reformed thinker that I have ever encountered. And this, I believe, is at the very least made evident in his unwillingness to use the word heretic to speak of people like NTW, Peter Leithart, Karl Barth and even Brian McLaren; persons whom most conservatives would be quick to label “enemies of the Gospel”.

    I have other reasons for thinking this way, but likely, you’ll disagree 🙂 and this comment is too long already.

    I will close by saying, again, that in my understanding and in my experience, Chantry’s concerns are not entirely unwarranted. John Frame (and his disciples Richard Pratt and John Barber) though surely not intending to, paved the way for me to make my exit from conservative, Reformed Christianity.

    The fact that I agreed (in the “most important” ways) with their theological conclusions, opened me up to their epistemology and hermeneutics. Subsequently, their epistemology and hermeneutics made me rethink my theological conclusions, and ultimately to change them. When rejected by conservative Reformed folks, I found a comfortable and familiar home around proponents of the quadrilateral, because they believed no differently than what I had been taught by Frame.

    These is just my own experience, but I would be surprised if I was the only one; especially since Chantry and his ridiculously sectarian homies are reading and hearing Frame in the same way that I am.

    Thanks for letting me ramble.

    • Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the info on the iTunes classes. I usually listen to lectures or sermons while ironing clothes….you can learn a lot while ironing, you know? I’ll add the Frame classes to my list.

      I think, if anything, Frame is acknowledging the role our presuppositions play in our understanding of Scripture. We all bring something to the text and we need to be aware of this. In addition, I don’t see how the situational and existential perspectives are avoidable. As Frame says in the quote Dave cited above,

      “What perspectivalism says is that only God’s thought is perfect, always correct. If you’re not God, you need to be humble, and to seek more and more perspectives. Usually when people call me a relativist, it is because they want to make some purely human document (a confession or a tradition) absolute.”

      I don’t see this as working against sola scriptura, I see it as working against sola confessiontura (all right, I made that term up). I think it would do a world of good for some Reformed guys to read outside of their list of approved Banner of Truth books (and that, by no means, is a dig at Banner of Truth books…..I love them). It would also help if they read some of the works written outside of their culture, in my opinion.

      I was going to assert Frame’s presuppositions as one of the primary differences between triperspectivalism and the WQ. But that got me thinking a little further on this, and I decided to email him to see what he would say the differences are. I’ll let you know what he says and I may have to stand corrected.

      The thing is this….one does not have to have God’s view of absolute truth to have access to absolute truth, nor does he or she have to have absolute certainty to be certain. As I’ve said before, the apostles (to cite an example), gave their lives preaching a gospel that is absolutely true and about which they had a high level of certainty. They weren’t timid proponents of theological ideas they “felt pretty good” about.

      I don’t agree with Frame on everything, but I appreciate his work.

  6. I felt like adding that I can understand why Frame is appropriated in ways that do not line up with my reading of him.

    He is (like all of us) a complicated human being who is not always logical or consistent. I say this so as to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    I here what he says, and I see how he appropriates the things that he believes, and I wish that more conservative Reformed folks were like him.

    However, what I often see is that it is typical of presuppositionalists to stress the creator/creature distinction, the fallibility of humanity, the sinfulness of humanity, the reality of the dialectical nature of “perspectives” (or whatever one wishes to call them) in such a way as to insulate themselves from critique, to avoid serious introspection and to uphold their doctrinal hegemony.

    I do not, in the slightest, believe that this is what John Frame wishes to do. If he was acting like many of his followers, I would agree with Chantry that he is being dishonest (though in a different way, of course).

    Nevertheless, as I said, I think his inconsistencies leave him open to a number of interpretations and modes of appropriation. In truth, we are probably both misunderstanding him in important ways.

    How can one who calls the WCF “real but not exhaustive truth” but yet refuses to excommunicate Brian McLaren from the church universal (at least, I have yet to hear him change his position of McLaren).

  7. I agree with almost everything you (and Frame) said in your previous comment, Chad.

    We might have some work to do on what we mean by “absolute truth” and what constitutes that category though. I will say that we would probably disagree with regard to what we think the disciples were “certain” about, and what was, instead, strong opinion regarding application of these “certainties” within different cultural/political/temporal contexts. However, this is getting way of topic. Perhaps it is a conversation for another time?

    Anyway, I would love to hear what Frame says in response to your question. Maybe you could do a post on it or email it to me? Regardless, I would love to hear what he has to say. Maybe its me who does not understand? I would love to hear his “perspective”!

    Thanks.

    • Dr. Frame’s response is below:

      “I don’t have time now to research the W. Quadrilateral, but my impression is that the WQ lists four forms of revelation that we should add together, trying to achieve a consensus between them.

      As a triperspectivalist, I grant that scripture, tradition, experience, and reason are all sources of knowledge. Since all knowledge originates in divine revelation, these are all sources of revelation. I agree with Wesley that these sources do not count equally. Scripture is the ultimate norm; the others are means of understanding and applying Scripture. But once we are certain of what Scripture says (even after consulting the others), what we think Scripture says must prevail over what we think the others say.

      In my system of perspectives, all four of the Wesleyan elements appear in all three of my perspectives. (Note: the normative perspective is NOT identical with the Bible.) So the two systems are not closely parallel.”

      I would like to express appreciation to Dr. Frame for taking the time to respond.

  8. Thanks to you, Chad, and Dr. Frame.

    I was wondering…

    I recognize that the two systems are not entirely parallel; as Frame noted in his response. I am also aware that he does not equate the normative perspective with the bible. He is working in philosophical categories and the normative perspective can be any “final authority” that any person has.

    I also appreciate how he highlighted that, like the WQ, he affirms all 4 categories are legitimate sources of knowledge, that the scripture should be the “norming norm” for the Christian, and I really like how careful he was with his language, which, while affirming of the authority of scripture, seems to leave open the real possibility that the other sources of knowledge can correct faulty interpretations of scripture.

    The first time I read his response, I focused in upon the fact that he wanted to differentiate between the two systems, but I did not catch what, exactly, the difference that he wanted to stress was.

    After reading more carefully, it seems to me that he is saying that while we can discuss scripture, tradition, reason and experience as separate and distinct categories, in reality, they can not be detached from one another, and thus they are always functioning in concert with one another as one attempts to gain knowledge (or read scripture).

    According to Wikipedia, Frame “argues that each perspective is interrelated to the others in such a fashion that, in knowing one of these, one actually knows the other two”.

    All in all, as I read his response, I am thinking that of the two systems, Frame’s is actually the more radical, because it is an essentially postmodern way of thinking. Granted, he also grounds his perspectivalism in scripture, as well as the teachings of John Calvin. However, as is noted by other students of his theology, perspectivalism is both a yes and no to postmodernism.

    It was Frame, after all, who first taught me that there is not interpretation of anything (even scripture) that is “purely objective”. The interpenetration of his perspectives (or the sources of knowledge) appears in actuality to make the attaining of truth a much more difficult enterprise than the WQ, with its nice, neat and separate categories.

    Just wondering how you read the response, and what you think about all of this.

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Brian,

      As long as there is a knower and something to be known, I don’t see how interpretation can be “purely objective”. However, I also don’t see why pure objectivity is necessary for meaning to be conveyed between communicants.

      The apostle Paul asserts in 1 Cor. 13:12 that our knowledge in this life is limited, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

      Is that essentially a postmodern way of thinking or an acknowledgement of limitation which hinders pure objectivity until glory?

      I don’t see Frame’s thesis as being any more problematic, even without the neat category divisions of the WQ.

      I will have to think about this some more though….

      • I am not suggesting that Frame’s proposals are problematic.

        I am also not suggesting that real communication is impossible; just much more difficult than (most) people who hold to inerrancy seem to assume, IMHO.

        I just wanted to point out that, for Frame, there is no neat, distinct category called “scripture” which is authoritative (like WQ). His normative perspective is a messy confluence of all perspectives, perhaps in some sense dominated by one (although to what
        extent this “domination” is possible is, of course, debatable).

        To your question:

        In my understanding of Frame, he would use the scripture you quoted to justify his use of postmodern epistemological approaches (along with Calvin’s stress on the egalitarian interrelatedness of knowledge of God and self).

        As an aside, I tend to dislike the word “certainty”. I have been “certain” about many things in my life and later determined that I had been wrong. This continues to happen. I am quite sure that it happens to everyone (or it should, at least, to any thinking person).

        Furthermore, there are many things that others are “certain” of, which to them are clear, but which to me appear clearly wrong. When it comes to interpretation of scripture, this is a regular occurrence.

        In my understanding, certainty of anything demands omniscience; something that no one possesses, and which can not be communicated or transmitted from God to humans (which is how, in my experience, most who hold to inerrancy imagine that scripture and illumination work).

  9. Hi Brian,

    I appreciate that these issues are difficult to wrestle with and that we all need a degree of epistemic humility.

    When I use the term “certainty” I never mean “absolute certainty” as that is nonexistent in this life. However, certainty in the common usage of the term is impossible to live without. For example, if we cannot basically be certain that our senses are communicating reality to our understanding, we would not be able to function. “Certainty” in this regard, is assumed without argument. Theologically, if we admit that the communication of truth is possible, there must also be “certainty”, and it can be had in conjunction with humility. Without it, no gospel can be preached. No message can be heralded which must be heeded by an entire world. Without certainty, what is the mission of the church? Without certainty, what is knowledge?

    Perhaps we’re talking past each other, but I understand that we should be willing to be corrected and open to changing our position in light of Scripture. I too have been certain about things in the past which I later became convinced were wrong, and I no doubt will do so in the future. Knowing this, I endeavor to tread carefully, yet in some areas boldly. I see no other way forward, so I trust you will bear with me.

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