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

Is It Clear? Frame on the Perspicuity of Scripture

Boat on Clear WaterIn honor of receiving John Frame’s Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief in the mail today, and in light of recent discussions, I’m going to quote Professor Frame on the clarity of Scripture.  Again, the quote is lengthy, but too good to shorten much.

“Since Scripture is God’s word, it is his communication to us.  In Scripture, God speaks, not primarily to himself or to the angels, or to the winds and waves, but to us human beings.  God cannot fail to accomplish his purpose, so his communication cannot be anything less than successful.  If words are unclear, they fail to communicate; they are not communication.  So Scripture must be clear.

Scripture represents that clarity by describing how near God is to us in his Word.  So the clarity of Scripture represents the existential perspective, the lordship attribute of divine presence.  God says to Israel:

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea , that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

Paul paraphrases this passage to speak of the presence of Christ in the gospel:

But the righteousness based on faith says, Do no say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim). (Rom. 10:6-8)

In these passages, the clarity of God’s word engages our responsibility.  If we disobey or disbelieve, we cannot complain that God hasn’t spoken clearly.  Like God’s word in nature (Rom. 1:20), the clarity of his word in the gospel implies that we are without excuse.  So the clarity of God’s word has an ethical thrust.

To speak this way, however, raises problems.  For it seems that in some respects Scripture is unclear.  Many people say that Scripture is too hard for them to understand, and that therefore it is unclear to them.  And Scripture itself notes certain kinds of unclarity:

1.  Scripture is unclear to the unregenerate.  As I indicated earlier, the Word hardens them, until the Spirit changes their heart.

2.  Some doctrines of the faith are mysterious (Job 38-42; Rom. 11:33-36).  Although we can speak of them, even regenerate people cannot understand them in depth.  This is the limitation of our finitude.

3.  All parts of Scripture are not equally clear.  Peter says of Paul’s letters, ‘There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures’ (2 Pet. 3:16)

How can we reconcile our confession of the clarity of Scripture with these senses in which Scripture is unclear?  The Confession answers this way:  [Frame cites WCF 1:7, as quoted in my previous post]

So the Confession makes a distinction between things that are ‘necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation’ and those that are not.  The former must be clear; the latter may not be.  And the Confession adds another limitation on the clarity of Scripture:  many things in Scripture, even among those necessary for salvation, cannot be understood by everybody without help.  Understanding in those cases comes through ‘a due use of the ordinary means.’  Those means presumably include the normal educational resources of the church, such as preaching, teaching, and prayer.  So if you are a regenerate person, and there is something in Scripture you don’t understand, that is either because (1) the matter is not necessary for salvation, or (2) you haven’t made a due use of the ordinary means.

As to the first possible reason, I hesitate to try to distinguish in Scripture between what is necessary for salvation and what is not.  Certainly the atonement is necessary for salvation in a way that the number of David’s troops is not…

The second reason reflects the polemics of the Reformation period…..The Confession does not deny the importance of teaching.  It presupposes teaching in its reference to ordinary means.  But it says that our need of teaching does not justify withholding the Scriptures from ordinary people.  Any adult of normal intelligence can understand the basics of the atonement, for example, if he is willing to undergo some simple instruction.

But I would add a third reason why believers sometimes find Scripture to be unclear.  That is that believers differ greatly from one another in their callings and responsibilities.  When a child is four years old, there is not much of the Bible that he understands, even if he makes maximum use of the ordinary means of grace available to him.  Even doctrines that are easily described as necessary for salvation, such as the doctrine of the atonement, may be obscure to our four-year-old believer.  How can it be that such a believer is baffled by the clear word of God?  The answer should be obvious:  a four-year-old child is not able to master the doctrine of the atonement, and he is not responsible to do that.  He is not called to that kind of reflection.  He is called to obey his parents, a biblical command that he can understand well enough, and with their guidance to grow in his knowledge of the Bible.

I noted earlier that the clarity of Scripture has an ethical application.  It takes away excuses and establishes our responsibility to grasp what God’s Word says.  But a four-year-old child has much less responsibility of this sort, than, say, a twenty-year-old with normal mental gifts.

That reflection suggests a principle:  the clarity of Scripture is relative to one’s responsibilities….

Scripture, then, is clear enough to make us responsible for carrying out our present duties to God.  That principle seems to me to summarize what the Bible implies about its own clarity.”

The Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 147-150

And to that I say “Amen”!

C.M. Granger

 

 

John Frame on Postmodernism

post modern

I’ve been reading John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life with a few brothers from church, and as always with Frame’s work, it’s been very edifying.  What follows is a lengthy quote about postmodernism, but it is succinct and perceptive:

“The postmodern school (including such thinkers as Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, and Richard Rorty) has not focused much attention on ethics, but in the late twentieth century it became famous for its skepticism about ‘grand narratives’ or world-view based thinking….

These thinkers come largely from backgrounds in linguistics, reacting against the structuralist linguistics of the 1960s and 1970s.  In their view, there is no master structure common to human minds that generates all language.  Nor does language refer to reality in any direct way.  When we ask for the meaning of a word, we get, as a definition, other words.  So words refer to other words, not to any objective reality.

So the task of the philosopher is ‘deconstruction’:  to break down the connections that people think they are making between language and reality.  Indeed, nobody can serve as an authority as to the meaning of a piece of language.  Even the author is incompetent to tell what his language means.  For once he writes or speaks it, it enters into a community, and the meaning of his words is determined by the hearers.  To people in that community, the text may convey much that is contrary to the author’s intention, such as racial prejudice, gender oppression, and so forth.  It may thus refute its own ostensible purpose, once deconstructed.  Thus it is hopeless to try to find objective truth in language.

Like Nietzsche, postmodernist writers tend to see language as an expression of the will to power.  Like Marx, they tend to read everything in the context of class warfare.  Once deconstructed, language tends to be almost entirely about oppressors trying to dominate their victims and victims trying to fight back.  So the discussion quickly turns to racism, feminism, speciesism, and so on.

These are, of course, ethical topics.  But the views of postmodernists on these topics are rarely argued; they are merely presupposed.  The postmodern conception of language rules out patient and careful argumentation about such topics, for every argument is a piece of language demanding deconstruction.  Such arguments are dismissed as mere exercises of power.

The problem is not that postmodernists are skeptics in a general way.  They oppose ‘grand narratives’, but not ‘little narratives’  They debunk large worldviews, but they claim to accept the simple facts of everyday experience.  But ethics requires a worldview, a grand narrative.  It is not just about the simple facts of everyday experience.  Rather, as we have seen, it claims to deal with principles that are universal, necessary, and obligatory.  If we reject worldview thinking, as postmodernism does, then we reject ethics in any meaningful sense of the word.

I do not deny that language expresses the will to power.  Scripture often speaks of the power of God’s word, not only its meaningful content (Is. 55:11; Rom. 1:16).  Human beings, created in God’s image, use the power of their language both for good (Rom. 1:16) and for evil (Gen. 11:5-7), and they certainly have used it to oppress other people.  It is also true that when people think they are simply stating facts objectively, they are often stating them in such a way as to increase their power over others.

But language is not only about power.  It is also about meaning.  It not only makes things happen, but also communicates truth or falsehood from one person to another.  The first does not in any way exclude the second.  So we must not only observe what language does to people, as postmodernists do; we must also discuss in meaningful words what language ought to do.

Furthermore, postmodernism, like many other ideologies, tends to exempt itself from its own critique.  If arguments against postmodernism must be deconstructed as attempts to gain power, why shouldn’t arguments in favor of postmodernism be deconstructed in the same way?  But if all such arguments are to be deconstructed, then truth about such issues (even the ‘little’ ones, if postmodernists are willing to discuss them) will permanently elude us.”

John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 88-90

C.M.Granger

Six Things God Cannot Do

dolomite-mountains-italy

I know. You didn’t think there was anything God couldn’t do. Well, as John Frame explains in his excellent book The Doctrine of God (pp.518-521), there are several things He can’t do, namely:

1.) Logically contradictory actions, such as ultimately saving and condemning the same individual, making a round square, or making a rope with only one end. God’s illogicality is prevented by His righteousness, faithfulness, truth, rational speech, knowledge, and wisdom. In other words, because of His strengths, not weaknesses.

2.) Immoral actions, like lying, stealing, coveting, and breaking His promises.

3.) Actions appropriate only to finite creatures, like buying shoes, celebrating one’s birthday, or taking medicine for a cough. God’s inability to do these things is not due to any lack of power. He is quite capable of taking on human form and doing all these things. His “inability” exists only in His nonincarnate state, and in that state, the reasons He “cannot” do these things pertains to His strengths, not His weaknesses.

4.) Actions denying His own nature as God, such as making another god equal to Himself, abandoning His divine attributes, or absorbing the universe into His own being. God necessarily exists as the one true God. If He were to perform any of these actions, He would no longer exist as the one true God. The world would then no longer be a theistic universe, but rather a chaos. But in fact there could be no such world. So these actions are impossible. Even God cannot perform them.

5.) Changing His eternal plan. God’s eternal plan is unchangeable.

6.) Making a stone so large that He cannot lift it. This is the famous “paradox of the stone,” loved by philosophers. What keeps God from making such a stone is His infinity–again, not a weakness, but a strength.

So, even God’s “weaknesses” and “inability” are due to His strengths. How awesome then is our God?

C.M. Granger