The Evangelical Presbyterian W-w

Okay, remember this is a blog and most of the posts here are merely thinking out loud. And if all of us revealed all of our thoughts, we would likely surprise — even shock — many of those who know us.

So here is today’s conundrum: why is it that John Frame is almost as popular as Tim Keller? I say almost because TKNY obviously rocks. Yes, I concede a degree of envy. Any human, aside from Bryan Cross, would. Keller may not have the looks and charisma of a Billy Graham (neither does Frame nor — all about me — do I), but from his perch in NYC, the cosmopolitan capital of the world (for New Yorkers anyway, I’m not sure that Londoners or Romans or Istanbulus agree), and with his steady stream of books on the front shelves of national book chains and his easy access to religion journalists who don’t want to travel to Wheaton or Waco to report on evangelicalism, Keller is remarkably useful.

But what about John Frame? He has not (nor have I) been on any of the major conference circuits (Ligonier, T4G, TGC, ACE), he is not (nor am I) an exceptionally riveting speaker, and he has not (nor have I) broken through to the secular trade book market. Plus, for the last 30 years or so, he has labored in remarkably out of the way places (so have I) — the d’oh!s of Escondido and Oviedo. And yet, he continues to be the leading systematic theologian among evangelical Presbyterians. World magazine’s recent recognition of Frame’s Systematic Theology offers support for this conclusion.

Could it be that Frame’s appeal stems from his biblical literalism and devotional pietism? According to Paul Helm, these are the chief attributes of Frame’s body of work:

What motivates Frame’s theological work? I’d say, besides what has already been mentioned, a hermeneutic. The Bible, particularly the Bible’s language about God, is to be interpreted literally wherever possible. The genre of literal description is to prevail unless there s a very strong reason to disallow it. As Kevin Vanhoozer might say, the spirit of Carl Henry lives in KJV’s old teacher, John Frame. So wherever possible what God is said to be in Scripture, God literally is.

This hermeneutic is in evidence in Frame’s attitude to change in God, and to his various perspectives in time and in space, as we saw in our earlier piece on Frame’s outlook. ‘When he is present in our world of time, he looks at his creation from within and shares the perspectives of his creatures’. (570 ) ‘God engages in a conversation with man, as an actor in history. The author of history has written himself into the play as the lead character, and he interacts with other characters, doing what they do.’ (571) It would not be surprising if Frame has imbibed some of the modern outlook of the Christian religion as consisting in personal interaction between God and his creatures, despite holding that if one rejects libertarianism then the strongest argument for God being in time vanishes.

As already noted, another strong theme in Frame’s systematic theology is his concern that theology should be readily applied in the life of the believer. This is understood as having an everyday relationship with God as he interacts with his people. Such an interactive God must change, he thinks. It is important for obvious reasons that theology should be user-friendly, though it should not be forgotten that, say, Stephen Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God contains numerous ‘applications’ in the Puritan style. Charnock’s theology is by no means purely cerebral. And – while we are on the topic – the nature of the worship of God will clearly be affected by the worshippers understanding of God. Worshipping a God who is at our shoulder is likely to be different from worshipping one who is simply ‘Our Father in heaven’. But that’s another topic.

As insightful as the post is, I do disagree with Helm’s opening that Frame “generally does not present his views polemically.” That may be true for his systematic theology, but once a warrior child it’s hard to avoid the combat.

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46 thoughts on “The Evangelical Presbyterian W-w

  1. Redemptive HISTORY is, at the least , about God”s involvement in time, most especially in the temporary presence on earth of the humanity of the divine person, Jesus Christ, and His present ascension and absence until His coming.

    Bavinck—“To eliminate time from our thinking is to eliminate our thinking….Existence in time is the necessary form of all that is created

    Isaiah 49: 8 Thus says the Lord: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you

    Romans 16: 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were IN CHRIST BEFORE me.

    16: 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for LONG AGES 26 but has NOW been disclosed and through the prophetic writings HAS BEEN made known to all nations, according to the command of the LASTING God, to bring about the obedience of faith

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  2. “Why is it that John Frame is almost as popular as Tim Keller?”
    Yeah but have either of them gotten a shout-out from Anne Rice and Andrew Sullivan?

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  3. Hello, this weekend is fastidious in favor of me, for the reason that this point in time i am reading this fantastic educational piece of writing here at my home.

    OK — confession: stolen from one of OL’s ESL blog spammers.

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  4. Frame may get as much press as Keller from Together for the Coalition but I never knew anyone outside of some intertwined Reformed social circle who heard of or cares about him.

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  5. DGH–”
    sdb, so why do “odd” RCs take notice of MEE!?”

    You are a few degrees off plumb in the Presbyterian world, as they are in the American RCC world, so it isn’t at all strange that you find each other. Besides, you write more interesting and thought provoking books (based on A Secular Faith and Calvinism).

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  6. The last link (to “Love That Bob (Godfrey)” is a good one.

    John Frame’s greatest asset may be his name “John Frame”. It’s just solid. Also sounds like “John Wayne”, and who doesn’t like him?

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  7. I had John for apologetics at WTS. He was a fairminded and friendly person. He is also musically talented. But where I am disappointed in him is in his political theology. It is very narrow minded and strongly appeals to political conservatives. And since he states views in an intelligent way, Christian political conservatives find in Frame not just an ally, but a resource.

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  8. I don’t see anything that special about Frame. Pietistic biblicists are a dime a dozen.

    Keller is a bit less of a biblicist, and does a better job of connecting with issues that cultural elites care about. Frame connects better with the pleated-pants crowd.

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  9. “But where I am disappointed in him is in his political theology.”

    I’m disappointed in most North American Reformed believers in their political theologies. Few are truly able to think ‘outside the box’ (I know, itself a cliché, but still) in political matters; most are either hook-line-sinker neo-cons. (I know this is not true of Dr. Hart, due to his being part of Front Porch Republic, of course.) The remainder generally consist of various flavours of theocrats, libertarians, theocrats posing as libertarians, admirers of them proto-fascist theocrat Puritans and/or Covenanters of old, or various neo-Confederate weirdos.

    Count me out of all of the above. Isn’t anyone up for liberal democratic parliamentary constitutional monarchy besides me?

    God Save the Queen!

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  10. @Will S

    And it’s not just on foreign policy that evangelicals are confused. In act, the confusion is even more evident on social issues.

    Although I don’t agree with Peter Leithart’s covenantalism, he is a perceptive observer of the culture. He wrote a piece a couple of years ago that contrasted “traditional marriage” (which pretty much dies out with Jane Austen) with “pornographic marriage” (which is what predominates today). As Carl Trueman has noted, once you adopt pornographic marriage as the norm, it’s hard to offer any coherent opposition to same-sex marriage (unless you just admit to being a bigot). Therefore, I’m fairly confident that evangelicals will largely come to embrace same-sex marriage: Pornographic marriage has become so central to the subculture of evangelicalism that it’s hard to imagine when evangelicalism would look like without it.

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  11. Bobby, I think marriage is in serious trouble. But how would you, Leithart, or Trueman know what constitutes a pornographic marriage except from personal experience? And do we really want to go there?

    For all the openness about sex these days, discussions remain remarkably timid in my estimate. Why so many Cialis ads if men are having trouble in the bedroom? Where is the movie about poor sexual performance? And how about those nasty STD’s? And where on earth does Don Draper’s drive/performance come from?

    For my part, I think it’s better to lay off sex unless you’re the new Kinsey (and even then I’m not sure how accurate all that was).

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  12. @ Bobby: “And it’s not just on foreign policy that evangelicals are confused. In act, the confusion is even more evident on social issues.”

    Indeed…

    @ DGH: “Will S., the Queen who is head of the church and usurped Christ’s authority? That one?”

    The very same! Our Northern Ireland Reformed brethren have no trouble being politically loyal to Her Majesty while NOT recognizing her as head of the Church; same as early Christians were not disloyal to Caesar while not worshiping him as demanded.

    Your Yankee colonists should have done likewise, instead of being rebellious Cousin America, run off with a Presbyterian parson, as Horace Walpole said…

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  13. @ Bobby: I assume you are referring to this article of Leithart’s?

    I’m not sure I fully get what Leithart is trying to say; I find him not very direct and clear.

    If he’s saying that people are mistakenly looking for a ‘soul mate’, and seeking completing in him / her rather than finding mutual happiness through having Christ at the centre of their marriages, and growing closer together as they grow in faith and knowledge of Him, because they’ve bought into the world’s absurd fairy-tale / romance novel notions of romance, then absolutely, I agree.

    The biggest problems in marriages today are that they happen too late, neither party are virgins, and one of the two sexes in particular feels especially free to ‘frivorce’ (portmanteau of ‘frivolous divorce’) if they don’t continuously feel ‘haaaapy’ a la romance novels (the ‘highs’ at the start of a marriage), because they know the courts will side with them, and redistribute their spouse’s wealth to them. Also, many Christians ignore Paul’s injunction to not deny themselves to each other except temporarily sometimes, and have unsatisfactory levels of physical intimacy; and these are often supported by misguided leaders and advice columnists who teach that the one has to continually fight for physical access to the other, rather than spouses being freely giving to each other. And wives manipulating their husbands by dangling access like a carrot, given as a reward for taking out the trash, etc., using it as a bargaining chip… And men tolerating this, because they’re afraid of being taken to the cleaners in the courts by their wives in a frivorce…

    Those are the problems of a ‘pornographic marriage’, or as some of call it, a ‘Marriage 2.0’, rather than the original ideal kind of marriage we are meant to enjoy.

    Porneia bears much responsibility, but in addition, the other biggest culprits are feminism, easy ‘no fault’ divorce, and silly fairy tales / romance novels…

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  14. I appreciate Leithart’s regard for Austen but that’s about it. The first paragraph mentioning the decoupling of sex from fertility as a cultural problem makes sense, but instead of using “pornographic” as the foil for “traditional” marriage, why not simply “selfish”? Marital problems are incredibly difficult to generalize (at least outside of echo chambers like evangelicalism or the FV, itself a subset of evangelicalism), but you cover everything with that one.

    Will, each marital difficulty you list is either primarily the fault of women or even more applicable against widows ever remarrying. I’m not sure that our cultural problems boil down to men not wearing the pants in the family, although considering Gentry and Phillips, maybe.

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  15. “Will, each marital difficulty you list is either primarily the fault of women or even more applicable against widows ever remarrying. I’m not sure that our cultural problems boil down to men not wearing the pants in the family, although considering Gentry and Phillips, maybe.”

    Yes; by and large, they generally ARE the fault of modern women in our society today – but that isn’t blaming men for not ‘wearing the pants’ in the family, as people like Doug Wilson always assume (that any problem is ultimately the man’s fault and therefore complete moral responsibility).

    Unlike his ilk, I place the blame on those guilty, rather than transferring it to the innocent. (Only Christ is supposed to do that, for us.)

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  16. @Will S.

    Yes, that’s the article I was thinking of. My interpretation is similar to yours.

    People marrying late has a lot to do with the economy. Very few of my legal colleagues got married before 30, and most get married somewhere around 35. Most won’t finish law school until 26 or 27, which is followed by at least 3-4 years of working 80 hours a week at a large law firm. Then, it takes 1-2 years to meet someone and decide to marry.

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  17. D.G. Hart,
    His work on government and politics promotes a tribalism that was seen in the European countries of WW I where patriotism became an excuse for Christians to kill Christians and the impetus for the people of each country to claim that God was on their side. We need a broader perspective that allows Christians to act as a prophetic witness to their own government and country.

    His view of war in general does nothing to show what the victims of war must live through. I did a critique of his view of war in the post below:

    Frame’s view of war

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  18. @ Bobby: “People marrying late has a lot to do with the economy.”

    Indeed. Of course, back in the day, when women placed a higher value on finding a husband, and starting a family, they didn’t fritter away their most fertile years on post-secondary education and getting established in a career; all that was of lesser importance, and we had earlier family formation, as a civilization.

    Feminism really is to blame. As are fathers who encourage their daughters to ensure they ‘have something to fall back on’ in the hypothetical case of ‘what if my daughter gets abandoned’, instead of doing their fatherly duties in such a scenario and letting their daughters know they’re their for them, that they can return home, and will be looked after, in such unfortunate cases.

    So in that sense, I do blame some men, not for failing to lead, yada yada, but for enabling feminism when they think it’s in the ostensible interests of their own daughters, not caring about the societal impact of encouraging women to delay family formation during their best child-bearing years.

    Newspapers and magazines today are filled with articles by middle-aged single or divorced women whose ovaries have dried up, full of regrets that they never stopped to have children, that they placed education and career as their highest priorities, and missed the window of opportunity to become wives and mothers…

    And unless and until we face this as a society, we’ll never fix the problem; it will be exacerbated, instead…

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  19. http://alphagameplan.blogspot.ca/2014/07/white-knights-on-twitter.html

    The worst White Knights are always the feminized gamma fathers:

    Vox Day ‏@voxday Jul 9
    Darwin + Title IX = Idiocracy. The more women are educated, the less intelligent society becomes.

    Paul Mikelson ‏@pablo79raider
    @voxday my daughters will be educated so they don’t have to rely on some asshole for their next meal.

    Vox Day ‏@voxday now
    @pablo79raider In that case, you should probably buy them their starter cats now.

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  20. Frame:

    ‘When he is present in our world of time, he looks at his creation from within and shares the perspectives of his creatures’. (570 ) ‘God engages in a conversation with man, as an actor in history. The author of history has written himself into the play as the lead character, and he interacts with other characters, doing what they do.’ (571)

    That’s really cool, although it butts up against “process theology.”

    Nevertheless it is true that Protestant scholastics were generally too uncritical of the Greek philosophers and of the Medieval systems. Therefore, particularly on the doctrine of God, their thought was not always firmly grounded in Scripture.

    Helm:

    Ditheism is no doubt far from Frame’s mind, but here he is proposing a Lord of Eternity who transcends the creation, and another, the Lord of Time, (there must be another for the Lord of Time possesses a set of incompatible attributes to those possessed by the Lord of eternity, and vice versa), immanent within it.

    Good point. But I would think the Trinity is a response to just that problem: The Father is eternal and unchanging; Jesus lived as a temporal man, born, live and died; the Holy Spirit is immanent.

    [Interesting when this functions as a theological society.]

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  21. Tom, Jesus has always been fully God. He assumed (put on) a human nature but never ceased to be God. There was time he was not Man but there was never a time he was not God — in his divine nature just as “eternal and unchanging” as God the Father. You may know or be assuming that, just wanted to clarify.

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  22. Well, there are a lot of problems with Frame and his systematic theology/doctrine of God.

    For one wethinks he conveniently forgets WCF 2:2 where it says: “To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them”.
    Sovereignty is so cliche to the Me generation, not to mention his fundamentalist read of the Second Commandment on his way to breaking the Ninth when it comes to the Standards on the G&N consequences of the Second, i.e. the RPW.

    But hey, that kind of naive pious devotional biblicism fits in well with all the rest of his Worship Children, who have gone on to the external visible covenant of the FedDivision, never mind the evangelicals who can only confess they never agreed with the WCF in the first place. So John’s got fans everywhere. (Baptism is baptism for Petros Leithart, but that not all Israel is Israel is over his pay grade.)

    Keller? The Evanjellyfish don’t like evolution yet and John has never touched that, much more trinitarian sounds biblical and perspectivalism has got to be the coolest updated version of what used to be called “wooview”.

    IOW mebbe someone’s hearin footsteps now that the evangelical Newsweek replacement has weighed in.

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  23. Chortles weakly
    Posted July 14, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink
    Tom, Jesus has always been fully God. He assumed (put on) a human nature but never ceased to be God. There was time he was not Man but there was never a time he was not God — in his divine nature just as “eternal and unchanging” as God the Father. You may know or be assuming that, just wanted to clarify.

    Thx, CW. John 1:1-4. I was mostly questioning the charge of “ditheism.” Seemed unfair, like when Muslims charge Christians with polytheism.

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  24. So here is today’s conundrum: why is it that John Frame is almost as popular as Tim Keller? I say almost because TKNY obviously rocks. Yes, I concede a degree of envy.

    Oh?

    Any human, aside from Bryan Cross, would.

    Well that settles it.

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