Chantry vs. Frame

by Sep 8, 2014Books, ChurchLife, Theology2 comments

A blog reader sent me this post some months ago, a critique of John Frame by Reformed Baptist pastor Tom Chantry (son of Walter). I’m certain Tom is a brother in Christ with whom I would share a great deal of agreement, and I had no wish to write a public critique of his Frame take-down. I didn’t want to raise its profile, either. Frankly, I felt it was a good example of a more-heat-than-light blog post that should never have seen the light of day. One of my esteemed professors tried, graciously, to reason with Chantry, to no avail. I left it at that.

But yesterday I saw Chantry’s critique quoted approvingly by one of fundamentalism’s only published systematic theologians, and I had to weigh in—precisely because I am on public record as saying that fundamentalists should read John Frame.

So let me offer a fairly small critique of Chantry’s post:

  1. It ought to be at least a little surprising that Piper, Grudem and a huge collection of other evangelicals-that-fundamentalists-generally-appreciate would endorse Frame’s Systematic Theology if indeed Chantry is right that “John Frame is one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today.” Chantry may be seeing something that Piper, Grudem, Chapell, Mohler, Packer, Duncan, Kruger, Adams, Helm, Kistemaker, Letham, Merrill (BJU grad! =), and Ware did not see. But Chantry’s going to have to work hard to convince me.
  2. Chantry’s critique that Frame favors the revolutionary and the new and is therefore un-Reformed seems too vague and anecdotal to be helpful. And here begins what should be a major theme in any review of Chantry’s post: give me the footnotes! If you’re going to attempt a take-down of a major Reformed systematic theologian, demonstrate that you did your homework. Chantry appears to have quoted Frame’s voluminous writings (easily searchable online) precisely once.
  3. The meat of Chantry’s critique seems to be that Frame is a straight-up relativist. Frame has a “relativistic hermeneutic—plain and simple.” But when Chantry gets into the explication of his charge, he makes a blunder any presuppositionalist should be able to spot:

    The Reformed thinker…may acknowledge that his personality and his context play a role in his reading of Scripture, but he views this as a shameful fact, a result of his fallen nature and continuing sin—something to be fought against with all the power of the Spirit. The Word is to take precedence over our own prejudices. Yet to Frame, this distinction is either non-existent or insignificant. The Word, our persons, and our contexts are all of God and should all be honored equally.

    Here’s the error: you can never transcend your status as a subject, and a situated one. Not even in the new earth. Of course the Word is to take precedence over our own prejudices; Frame wouldn’t deny that. Through God’s word we have access to a transcendent standard. One of his most important triads is the “control, authority, and presence” of God. Frame is not saying, not in a tri-million of years, that my prejudices have a right to trump God’s word. But we can’t crawl out of our skins to access that standard; we can’t find a neutral place to stand on while reading and applying God’s word. We might as well make our God-given finiteness and God-given viewpoints explicit parts of our epistemology. Another error Chantry makes is to make Frame’s normative perspective equivalent to God’s word. That’s an easy error to commit, and not an easy one to dispense with quickly. But I’ll at least offer that the word of God itself makes general revelation authoritative (Ps 19; Rom 1–2). General revelation is not verbal revelation, and it’s not salvific for anyone, but it carries the control, authority, and presence of God. God’s authority is expressed preeminently, but not solely, in Scripture. Gravity is an expression of His divine authority, too.

  4. Chantry’s next paragraph is, admittedly, commonsensical. I know what he means, and it resonates with me. He wants exegesis, hermeneutic, and systematics to follow in a line, to create a hierarchy with exegesis at the top. But a self-critical exegete and a self-critical systematician would have to recognize, I think, that neither of them can ever bracket the other. One of the goals of the good systematician is to let exegesis correct his system, but one of the goals of an exegete should be to allow space for the system to correct his exegesis. An exegete knows he will always bring a larger context to his exegesis; a systematician knows that a successful system will not override exegesis. This is the hermeneutical spiral: you’re always going from general to particular and back.

I’m actually in the hospital with my wife and baby and I’d better just stop here. I think I hit the main things.

Once again, I encourage every fundamentalist to read Frame. Chantry was uncharitable, alarmist, irresponsible, and incorrect in his critique. He certainly has intellectual gifts of his own (and I was pleased to see his charitably positive comments about Frame, as well as his [accurate, IMHO] criticism of Frame’s book on Escondidio Theology), but if Chantry wants to combat Frame he’s going to have to do a lot more homework.

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  1. mitrellim

    Well, Mark, as you know I am writing my dissertation on Frame and his perspectivalism. I don’t tend to post on SI, so I don’t want to get engaged there.

    I will say, however, that I am finishing a chapter in which I argue that Frame’s TP is not Trinitarian enough in that he does not allow order and priority in the perspectives. In other words, because he bases PP on perichoresis, I think that opens the door to priority and order in the perspectives.

    For instance, Frame notes that Metaphysics is normative, epistemology is situational, and axiology is existential. But what we know/can be known (epist.) flows out of what is (meta.). Further, what we should do/value (axiology) comes from what we know about what is. Thus, the third perspective flows out of the other two. [perhaps there might be evidence for the fililoque here, but I don’t press that point]

    In terms of Frame’s view of Scripture, I agree that Scripture is in each of the perspectives, but Frame himself notes that it is best represented in the normative realm. In other words, it is natural to think of it as our ultimate norm. If he embraced processional perspectivalism (what I am offering as an alternative to his method), he could note why Scripture as our ultimate norm is foundational for the situation and existential experience. Not sure if this short expression makes sense.

    I also critique Frame’s modification of VT’s apologetics along the same lines. Frame notes that the transcendental argument is the same as traditional arguments, because included in every fact is a norm. Thus, Frame believes, we can start with facts and get the right norms (presuppositions). However, we call them presuppositions because they have priority! Processional perspectivalism shows why they have priority. Further, to get existential persuasion, we should start with the proper presuppositions (i.e., we must at least suggest them to the unbeliever) aligned with the facts of experience. Thus, the line goes from norms to situation to existential.

    There is more to be said here, but time and energy fails me 🙂 If you want to see the fuller chapter, let me know.

  2. Mark Ward

    After reading your last chapter, I think I want a popularization of this one. =)

    I confess to feeling a little chary, like my sense that the three perspectives were perhaps sourced in the Trinity is getting tested by your effort to press that analogy further, into trinitarian hierarchy. But then again, I’ve always felt like I can see why the “normative” perspective is the top one.

    As Frame says, triperspectivalism is a helpful heuristic. It doesn’t have to be anything more, and it is surely at least that.