John Frame’s Newest Tome

John Frame has written a massive book (1069 pages including indices) on Christian ethics. This is volume three of his series A Theology of Lordship, the other two volumes being this one and this one. There is one more volume to come, on the Word of God.

Frame is known for his tri-perspectivalism (normative, situational, and existential). While some may question whether this fits all the places he chooses to use it, it does seem to fit very well in ethics, since goal, motive and standard correspond respectively to situational, existential, and normative. He does claim, rightly I think, that this way of thinking finds its natural home in ethics (p. xxv).

The book is divided into six parts, labelled Introductory Considerations (wherein he discusses definitions of terms, various forms of ethics, and his tri-perspectivalism), Non-Christian Ethics (which includes a detailed critique of existential, teleological, and deontological ethics), Christian Ethical Methodology (broadly outlining the tri-perspectivalism), The Ten Commandments (this constitutes the heart of the book, and is by far and away the largest portion of the book, weighing in at a hefty 467 pages. This section includes introductory considerations plus a very detailed exposition of the Ten Commandments), Christ and Culture, and Personal Spiritual Maturity. There are then 12 appendices dealing with book reviews and responses to various critics.

I would like to look briefly at the fourth part of the book, and give people a taste of what they will find. Generally speaking, I found the book edifying, detailed, and well-argued. And I agreed with most of what Frame is saying. I will share what I found most helpful: Frame’s view of the law as a whole. While not denying that each of the Ten Commandments has its own sphere, he also argues that the law is a single whole, and that each commandment is a metaphor for the whole law. I am going to quote the whole section on p. 398 to show this (I will take out the Scriptural references and leave just the argumentation):

1. In the first commandment, the “other gods” include mammon and anything else that competes with God for out ultimate loyatly. Since any sin is disloyalty to God, the violation of any commandment is also violation of the first. Thus, all sin violates the first commandment; or, to put it differently, the commandment forbids all sins.

2. In the second commandment, similarly, the sin of worshiping a graven image is the sin of worshiping anything (or worshiping by means of anything) of human devising. “Worship” can be a broad ethical concept in Scripture as well as a narrowly cultic one. Any sin involves following our own purposes, purposes of our own devising, instead of God’s, and that is false worship.

3. In the third commandment, “the name of the Lord” can refer to God’s entire self-revelation, and any disobedience of that revelation can be described as “vanity.” Thus, all sin violates the third commandment.

4. The Sabbath commandment demands godly use of our entire calendar- six days to carry ut our own work to God’s glory, and the seventh to worship and rest. So the whole week is given to us to do God’s will. Any disobedient or ungodly use of time, on the six days or the seventh, may be seen as transgression of the fourth commandment.

5. “Father and mother” in the fifth commandment can be read broadly to refer to all authority and even the authority of God himself. Thus, all disobedience of God violates the fifth commandment.

6. Jesus interprets the sixth commandment to prohibit unrighteous anger because of its disrespect for life. Genesis 9:6 relates this principle to respect for man as God’s image. Since all sin manifests such disrespect for life and for God’s image, it violates the sixth commandment.

7. Adultery is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor (indeed, more than a metaphor) for idolatry. Israel is pictured as the Lord’s unfaithful wife. The marriage figure is a prominent biblical description of the covenant order. Breaking the covenant at any point is adultery.

8. Withholding tithes and offerings-God’s due- is stealing. Thus, to withhold any honor due to God falls under the same condemnation.

9. “Witnessing” in Scripture is something you are, more than something you do. It involves not only speech, but actions as well. It is comprehensive.

10. Coveting, like stealing, is involved in all sin. Sinful acts are the product of the selfish heart. This commandment speaks against the root of sin, and therefore against all sin.

He goes on to note that we should not pit the narrow and the broad meanings of the Ten Commandments against each other. I find this approach helpful, even if I may not agree with his interpretation of every commandment.

For instance, I disagree with his interpretation of the fourth commandment, although our respective positions are a lot closer than I expected them to be. He does argue that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, along much the same lines as I do. He does argue that normal work that is not necessary is forbidden. And even where we differ (on the recreation clause and our respective interpretations of Isaiah 58:13), Frame has not only thought about the issues, but has provided argumentation. He does not cavalierly dismiss the Puritan view, but takes it seriously, unlike so many candidates for ministry today. This book will make you think, and Frame is clearly in his element in this book. I would therefore recommend it.


  1. August 20, 2008 at 10:28 am

    […] Newest Tome John Frame has written a new book of gargantuan proportions. I have reviewed it here. __________________ Rev. Lane Keister Teaching Elder, PCA, North Dakota (working out of bounds in […]

  2. TJ said,

    August 20, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Good review. Very helpful and even handed. Thanks!

    My ethics professor in seminary made much use of Frame’s perspectives on ethics. I’ve enjoyed his first two volumes and this sounds like a good one as well!

  3. Kevin said,

    August 20, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    His thoughts on the Second Commadment are off too. Since in Moses day the gods were never worshipped in the abstract (i.e. there was always an idol involved), idolatry is the forbidden sin of the First Commandment, or worshipping false gods. The sin of the Second is worshipping the true God improperly, i.e. by visual means or in any way not established by the Scriptures.

    But I preach to the choir. :)

  4. greenbaggins said,

    August 20, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Yes, I disagree with his view on the 2nd commandment as well. However, I didn’t want to sound too negative. And Frame was very irenic with the views with which he disagreed, and I felt that he actually understood my position.

  5. Vern Crisler said,

    August 20, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Every sin becomes a violation of every commandment. Right. It just goes to show how vapid Frame’s multi-perspectival method is. IMO, just another example of the baneful influence of Wittgenstein.


  6. jared said,

    August 20, 2008 at 11:22 pm


    Since all sin boils down to sinful self and since every commandment boils down to be against sinful self (i.e. a way of preventing the praxis of the sinful self); it seems to me that every sin is, indeed, a violation of every commandment. Why not demostrate “how vapid” Frame’s method is rather than asserting so? Moreover, how does this relate to either early or late Wittgenstein?

  7. ReformedSinner said,

    August 20, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    #5, if the 10 commandments can be reduced to “Love God and Love neighbors” I don’t think every sin is a violation to every commandment is such a stretch.

  8. August 21, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Thanks for this review.

  9. Ken said,

    August 21, 2008 at 4:25 am

    I can’t wait to get this book by Frame, when I get back to the states I will get a copy. I’m actually have way through his Doctrine of the Knowledge of God and read his into Systematic Theology a few months ago. I appreciate Frame so much for his work in ethics, systematics and apologetics.

  10. August 21, 2008 at 5:03 am

    Vern, Frame’s argument has this in its favour: it makes a lot of sense of James’ “Whoever keeps the whole law, but stumbles at just one point is guilty of all of it.”

  11. its.reed said,

    August 21, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Ref. # 6 & 10:

    Vern, when I read your comment (#5), I thought to myself, “hmmm, just another anachrostic comment frome Vern.” yet, not knowing enough about Wittgenstein I alos thought maybe you know something I don’t.

    Still, the notion that all the commandments are interrelated, that a violation of one is in some sense a violation of all, seems to me to be a common reformed understanding of the Decalogue.

    I think Jared and Philip have offered solid challenges to your criticism.

    Are you reacting to something different than what they are getting at? I.O.W., do you see Frame saying something different when he talks about the organic relationship of the 10 Commandments?

  12. Vern Crisler said,

    August 21, 2008 at 8:51 pm


    One of the criticisms of linguistic philosophy is that it smuggles nominalism in under the guise of analysis. The idea is that philosophical problems can only be solved by analysis of grammar and word meaning, how words and expressions are used in philosophical discourse. The emphasis then becomes clarification and puzzle solving, philosophical method as “therapy” for metaphysical ailments.

    Much of this stems from the later Wittgenstein, who famously used the example of “game” to illustrate relativity in meaning. This was a denial of the idea of real definitions and resulted in a nominalistic conception of meaning. There are no substantial realities corresponding to our terms, but only the way we use language. Standards are now regarded as field-dependent. Clashes between worldviews are not substantive but based on inability to understand one another’s “language.” So now the task of philosophy is to engage in linguistic archaeology.

    Obviously, Frame is not as extreme as the general run-of-the-mill analytic philosopher, but one can still see the influence of this way of thinking. “[A]ll of our perceptions of the world are influenced by our interpretations…” (Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, p. 100.) According to Frame, Christians know there is an extra-interpretive world, but only by faith. We only have contact with this world through our interpretations. “[T]he world we live in is to some extent of our own making.” (Idem.)

    IMO, all analytic philosophy of this sort is ultimately self-stultifying.

    The move toward nominalism leads to an overemphasis on interrelatedness, a move away from sharp distinctions. We see that in the claim that any sin violates every commandment. We also see it in Frame’s dislike of Hodge’s view of systematic theology as exhibiting scripture in “proper” order. Instead, Frame claims that theology’s task is not to place Scripture in an “ideally perfect order” but to apply it to different situations. (Ibid., pp. 76, 79; 184.) Thus we have a nominalistic movement from the abstract to the concrete, from theory to application, from systematic order to “poetry, drama, exclamation, song, parable, symbol.” (Ibid., p. 85.) In effect, says Frame, theology must speak the language of Scripture. [We’ve heard this before haven’t we? It may explain Frame’s tepid response to the Federal Vision.]



    P.S. On the question whether violating one law violates the whole, take care not to commit a logical fallacy, moving from a collective to a distributive meaning.

  13. Bob S said,

    August 21, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Thanks Vern,
    That was helpful and nails it.

    I was not impressed at all with what I read of DCL when it was posted on the web, primarily the two chapters on the Second Commandment. For instance, images of God are lawful because we are an image of God. Yeah, right. Can we say ‘gross non sequitur’? Rather somebody couldn’t reason their way out of wet paper bag.

    Question begging is the norm. Frame is intent on blurring distinctions and blending everything together rather than sharpening the focus and telling us what distinguishes this from that. In other words, he is a learned and pious fraud, however prolific, at least on the Second Commandment.

    For another instance, because the bronze serpent is an approved example of an image, we too may make images for teaching purposes, even of Christ.
    Rather what God commands is one thing whether in the Decalog or with the brass serpent; what we are allowed,permitted or commanded is another. But such simple and basic distinctions elude our pseudo philosphers who are ever learning and never able to come to the truth.

    If pictures, plays and puppets are permitted – and JF essentially knows of no reason why they are not, then the age old conflict between preaching and the eye candy trio commences once again, but this time with an zealous advocate within the Protestant camp. (The distinction of ‘for teaching purposes only’ is meaning less. For JF teaching is singing is praying is preaching is fill in the blank as he has told us repeatedly when discussing the elements of worship in WCF 21:5.) Yet does the good doctor wish to be known as Benedict Arnold or just Benedict the 17th?

    Thank you.

  14. its.reed said,

    August 22, 2008 at 6:16 am


    The words “pious fraud” are over the top. Please consider this a “moderator’s warning.

  15. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 22, 2008 at 9:41 am

    You know, it really kills me when someone disagrees with a godly, irenic, and learned christian brother like Dr. Frame, and finds it necessary to express that disagreement by maligning him as a pious fraud. If you’re familiar with Frame’s work, he handles controversial subjects with grace and tact. Labeling him as a pious fraud is absolutely ridiculous. I’ll assume that was due to an overzealous response that led to an off the cuff overreaction.


    Re: #12. Did James commit a logical fallacy then, when he stated that if you break any of the commandments, you’ve broken them all?


  16. greenbaggins said,

    August 22, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Vern, then is James committing a fallacy when he says that someone who is guilty at one point has broken the whole law (see 2:10-11)? Your argument only works if the law is a priori hermetically sealed off statements. If the law is a whole because the Law-Giver is one, then what James says makes sense. I don’t any difference between what Frame says in the above quotations (in the post above) and what James says. Frame does not deny that there is also a distinct sense for each commandment, a distinct field. One could counter that the fragmentation of the law is the result of the fragmentation resulting from the Enlightenment.

  17. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 22, 2008 at 9:43 am


    Could you elaborate on your disagreements with Frame on the 4th commandment? Is it the primary emphasis on rest over worship?

  18. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 22, 2008 at 9:44 am

    Whoa! Lane and I asked the same question almost at the same time. Spooky…

  19. greenbaggins said,

    August 22, 2008 at 9:53 am

    17- I agree with the Puritan interpretation of the 4th commandment: worship is the purpose of the Sabbath. I disagree that rest is for itself. It is a rest FROM work TO worship. That is the nature of the rest. Therefore, I find unconvincing Frame’s dichotomy of rest and worship. Look at the Israelites in Egypt, for instance. They were to be given rest from their slavery in order that they could worship. If Gaffin is right about Hebrews 4, then our ultimate eschatological rest is not divorced at all from worship but rather consists in worship. I also disagree with Frame about the no recreation clause in the confession, because I disagree with him in his interpretation of Isaiah 58:13.

    18- yeah I saw that.

  20. E.C. Hock said,

    August 22, 2008 at 11:34 am

    As one who did his doctorate work in Christian ethics, specifically looking at Frame’s work before it became a book, I can say that Frame’s threefold application of norm, motve and goal is not original to ethical theory. He does, however, effectively construct these areas into a unfied and complementary way so as, through the Word, we can see how they function and apply to Christian life while avoiding distortion inherent to human experience and analysis.

    As Christian doctrine is not merely bare statement but has its own dynamic of drama through linguistical study (i.e., See K. J. Vanhoozer’s new book, The Drama od Doctrine), so Christian ethics has this multiple, richer, varied perspective. Christian ethicists, conservatives among them, in the past too often pressed for one emphasis over another, or at the expense of another, thus too quickly simplifying or reducing ethical reality. Reformed ethics, in some spheres, overly stressed a law-ethic without due appreciation to other moral dynamics (i.e, the situation, the person) going on that contriubtes to ethical reality. Does that create a kind of ethical rationalism that may distort the richer biblical picture of human moral experience under God’s Lordship? Yes it can.

    Rather than tilt to one perspective over another, thus negating the value of combined influences, Frame cuts through the artificial distinctions we create (situationalism, rationalism, subjectivism) to help us to see how each contributes to the truth of what is going on ethically in any human drama. Yet he does this not in a way that undermines the authority and reality and presence of God’s Word, a Word that became flesh and dwelt among us in particular situations before it came to be preached and modeled. Thus in every passage I study, I can see and appreciate these three aspects at work: the norm, the motive and the goal in what the sovereign God is doing in and through us, and to what end, for His kingdom.

  21. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 22, 2008 at 1:49 pm


    This is totally off topic, but have you read a book by Frank Viola and George Barna named “Pagan Christianity?” ? The basic assertion of the book is that most of our modern church practices are from pagan culture and not from the NT. So the authors deny that there is a pastoral office established in Scripture, that we should have a church building, or preach sermons, etc. An open forum with every-member participation is stated to be the NT norm (as described in 1 Cor. 12-14, for example). Any thoughts? Perhaps you can do a review if you’re familiar with the book, I don’t want to get the comments here off on a rabbit trail. My apologies ahead of time…

  22. greenbaggins said,

    August 22, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    G.C, well…um…that is…um…quite a rabbit trail you got there! ;-) I am not familiar with that book, and from the sound of it, I will not be reading it anytime soon. If anyone else has read it, they may of course comment, but maybe they can interact with you on email, rather than rabbit-trailing this thread.

  23. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 22, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Well, maybe I have been paying too much attention to the press it’s been getting ;-)

    If you read it I would love to hear what you think. Check out the rave reviews on

    Now, back to your regularly scheduled thread…

  24. Ron Henzel said,

    August 22, 2008 at 4:54 pm


    I haven’t read this latest treatise by Frank Viola, but I have read some of his earlier stuff, and I somehow became involved in some correspondence with him on a different issue back in the ’90s. As I see it, Viola is simply rehashing much of the ecclesiology of Plymouth Brethren, especially as it is found in its Open wing, of which I was once a part. Except perhaps for a few of his own personal twists, he’s really not saying anything new, or that hasn’t been responded to many times over the past 150 years or so.

  25. Vern Crisler said,

    August 22, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Lane,

    No it’s not James who is committing the logical fallacy. He says to violate one law (distributive) is to violate all (collective). This is a fact, not an argument, so there is no fallacy in what James is saying.

    The fallacy is in taking James to be saying that to violate one law (distributive) is to violate all (distributive). I. e., he who steals is also guilty of idolatry, or he who commits adultery is also guilty of bearing false witness, and so on.

    The problem is similar to the nominalistic idea that all of God’s attributes can be reduced to his essence, or that they don’t represent real attributes, but merely names.


  26. greenbaggins said,

    August 23, 2008 at 9:41 am

    But then you are mistaking Frame, who does not say that to kill is to commit adultery, narrowly considered. What Frame is saying is that adultery is used metaphorically in Scripture to indicate all sin, all idolatry. See Hosea, for instance. Frame has a broad and a narrow sense for each commandment. To murder, in the narrow sense, is to commit adultery in the broad, metaphorical sense, not the narrow sense. Another way to put it would be to say that each commandment’s broad message describes a different angle on the whole law, such that the violation of a specific commandment constitutes also a violation of the whole law, which is very close to what you have said.

  27. Hermonta Godwin said,

    August 23, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Is your comment concerning “the nominalistic idea that all of God’s attributes can be reduced to his essense,….” also a critique of divine simplicity?

  28. Vern Crisler said,

    August 23, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    Lane, that’s why Frame’s method is so vapid, in that you can prove just about anything with it. Heaven is hell and hell is heaven. Law is gospel and gospel is law. Depending, of course, upon one’s perspective.

    It seems to me that the purpose of scholarship is not to be multi-perspectival, but to be accurate. For this reason, I prefer Hodge’s view vis-a-vis Frame’s.

    Hermonta, our human concepts cannot fully understand God’s nature, but in affirming divine simplicity we should never rob God’s attributes (love, holiness, power) of their reality and reduce them to mere names, or mere descriptions of the same thing — e.g., that holiness is really love, that love is really omniscience, that goodness is really x, y, or z, etc.


  29. E.C. Hock said,

    August 23, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Vern, please explain the phrase, “Heaven is hell and hell is heaven,” as it may reflect Frame’s presentation. I think he would be dismayed as well as confirmed that you’ve missed something. Frame is not saying any perspective when taken on its own still amounts to the same truth, but that truth, ethically speaking at least, cannot be adequately determined apart from taking other recognized perspectives into consideration under the Word. Surely the logic that he affirms which says, “all true ethical application requires a (biblical) norm, committed by a (image-bearing) person, in a specific (means to ends) situation,” is hardly something “vapid” that “nearly “proves anything,” but so very important when understanding what factors and context enter into the reality of Christian as well as human responsibility.

  30. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 23, 2008 at 9:56 pm


    #24. Thanks! Nothing new under the sun.

  31. Bob S said,

    August 24, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    John Frame in his recent DoCL, Chapt. 26 concludes that “I know of no reason to forbid pictures of Jesus. . . And there are positive reasons to use pictures of Jesus in the church’s pedagogy”. Consequently if preaching is teaching and is both pedagogical and part of the worship of God, however Mr. Frame may care to affirm that God will not be worshiped by images in Chapt. 25, the door to the pulpit is is still opened for at least Tony and the Puppet Apostles. The pulpits – and worship – of presbyterian and reformed churches. So at least the PCA church I once was a member of.

    If pictures are lawful in the church’s pedagogy.
    And preaching is a pedagogical part of worship.
    Then pictures are lawful in worship.

    Of course we suppose the rejoinder will be:

    Images become unlawful when worshiped.
    But images that instruct are not worshiped.
    Therefore instructive images are lawful.

    Yet the confessional reformed understanding is that:
    The Second Commandment considers idolatry to be not only gross idol worship, but also what is not commanded in the worship of God.
    Apart from baptism and communion, instructive images are not commanded in the worship of God
    Therefore instructive images are unlawful in the worship of God.

    Further, lest there are those who think the professor is made an offender for an errant phrase or an invalid argument or two, if not a word, vide the remark of that S. Presbyterian stalwart, R.L. Dabney:

    Man is essentially a logical creature; while capable of much shortsightedness as the ulterior outcome of his known opinions, and even capable of much intentional inconsistency in refusing to apply them squarely, he ever tends to work out the corollaries of his own theories. The erroneous theory may have stopped just now at inoffensive measures; it will not tarry there. If it is not refuted, it will be sure to advance to other measures, despotic and mischievous (Pract. Phil. ‘84, p.343).

    Add to those measures, idolatrous. Whatever the manifold multiperspectival excellencies of the good professor, we are not talking about a hole in the dyke the little Dutch boy can take care of all by his lonesome. Rather we are talking about a breach in sound doctrine wide enough for the pope to drive an armored column through. If the Word needs to be or even can be supplemented by pictures, its supremacy and sufficiency has been usurped and overthrown, however that does not occur immediately to the naked and untheological eye. Eyre, the papist, in his War Against Idols, tells us of the same at the time of the Reformation. If things keep going as they do in DoCL above, it will need to be fought again.

    Further could it be that the Federal Vision is for instance, is an easy and convenient whipping boy, being generally afar off as it is in the CREC, but when it comes to a teacher and mentor in the orbit of the two Westminster seminaries it is not so easy to see and repudiate their error? What else explains the silence when it comes to this aspect of Frame’s theology?


  32. its.reed said,

    August 24, 2008 at 8:13 pm


    Private comments are private. I’ve edited your post to help you avoid an offense I’m willing to assume you did not intend.

  33. Ruben said,

    August 24, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    Couldn’t you arrive at the point of view that breaking any commandment is in effect breaking them all merely by noting that they all require obedience, and so breaking any one of them is disobedience? Disobedience is the genus, false witness and idolatry et al are the species.

    Mr. Crisler, on the subject of God’s attributes and His simplicity, I think it is rather well put in this Protestant Scholastic remark:

    “God’s righteousness is His goodness, is His knowledge, is His will; or His mercy is His righteousness, etc. But it would be wrong for me to say that the concept I have of the righteousness is the same concept which I have of the deity, mercy or eternity.”

    (Braun, quoted in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p.59)

  34. Bob S said,

    August 25, 2008 at 12:29 am

    (Hi Reed)

    Again, my comments here, as above in 31 are an attempt to at least challenge 15 GC Berkley to respond to the substance of the argument minus the perjorative objected to in 13 and reprimanded in 14.

    Further does anybody remember or even care that most of those who are now associated with the Federal Vision, Schlissel, Jordan, Wilson, Leithart, Meyers and Horne et al cut their teeth on dissing the RPW along with or following the leadership/example of Frame? Neither has Frame to my knowledge condemned or commended the Federal Vision, though I would think neutrality hardly commendable.

    If Ron Paul is the champion of the constitution (however godless), how is it that a no count and erstwhile “troll” is the only defender of the confession here on this site? Or is that just the limited and cramped perspective of a troglodyte who lives under a bridge?

    Thanks again,
    Bob S.

  35. August 25, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Bob S,

    JMF hasn’t taught at Westminster Seminary California for 7 or 8 years and has made quite public his rejection of WSC as too confessionalist for his taste. David VanDrunen, our professor of ethics has written in defense of the confessional teaching on the 2nd commandment.

  36. greenbaggins said,

    August 25, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Bob S, your comments are over the top. You are not the only defender of the Confession on this blog. I regard myself as a defender of the confession (to which I have no exceptions at all). Reed is also a defender of the confession, as is Jeff Hutchinson, and David G (3FU), Gary Johnson, and Andy Webb. I have already voiced my disagreements with Frame about both the 2nd and the 4th commandments. That does not mean that everything Frame says is rot. All Christian readers have to be discerning when they read. That means that one has to be just as discerning when reading Calvin as one is when reading Leithart. We always need to test what we read against Scripture. But are you going to judge me for trying to find what is good in Frame, while I reject that with which I disagree? Hey, I do the same thing with much more liberal writers like Claus Westermann, who doesn’t believe Moses wrote a word of Genesis. He still has some good exegesis. If I am willing to read Westermann, and not only to combat liberalism, then all the more can I do the same thing for Frame. No, I probably would not vote to receive him into my Presbytery. But that does not mean that everything he said was worthless.

  37. August 25, 2008 at 12:04 pm


    I share some of Vern’s misgivings about John’s triperspectivalism. I am not a philosopher nor the son of a philosopher but I have the distinct impression that John’s application of triperspectivalism is a little more complicated than the version I learned at his feet from ’84-87. There is a good deal more subjectivism in John’s theological method than I detected then — of course my own views have changed since then as has my understanding of the nature of theology. Reformed folks should proceed with real caution WRT John’s ethics. Any ethic that turns the RPW on its head, that tolerates images of the deity (and does so by jeopardizing our Christology), and that promotes theocratic/theonomic politics should be handled with great caution by Reformed confessionalists.

  38. David Gray said,

    August 25, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    >MF hasn’t taught at Westminster Seminary California for 7 or 8 years and has made quite public his rejection of WSC as too confessionalist for his taste.

    Did he feel they were too confessionalist or too sectarian?

  39. August 25, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Well, if being confessionalist makes us sectarian, then we’re sectarian! I think Darryl wrote a nice piece on this very thing some time back in that confessionalist/sectarian magazine: the Nicotine Theological Journal.

    Any place with Mike Horton, Bob Godfrey, Hywel Jones, Dave VanDrunen, Steve Baugh, and Scott Clark, well, that’s a pretty sectarian place!

  40. Paul M. said,

    August 25, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    RSC and Frame have battled before (more than a few times), I tend to take some of the things Dr. RSC says with a grain of salt (and I know and respect RSC. He even taught my saintly mother in his night classes!).

    I frequently hear charges against triperspectivalism (TP), but hardly see any rigorous analysis of the (supposed) problem (other than “labeling” it and then dismissing it based on the nast label, viz., “nominalism”, “subjectivism”, etc).

    Anyway, as has been noted, Frame’s TP fits in with much ethical discussion. One could say that virtually all ethics books (secular or non) are guilty of some major problem, then.

    Also, it should not go unnoticed, that Frame (most of the time) “think[s] of [TP] more modestly, as a pedagogical device” (emphasis mine). (He also makes this claim in his ST primer, _Salvation Belongs to the Lord_.

    As an admitted pedagogical device, much of the sting any arguments against TP seem to have, simply vanish.

  41. Todd said,

    August 25, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I think the distinction needs to be made between perspectivalism as it relates to ethics verses doctrine. I tend to agree with JF that all ethics are at some level situational. Good sessions, when it comes to church discipline, must consider the situation, and not use the Bible as a cut and dried lawbook. For example, a new Christian convert who was sexually abused for years, and who one night falls into fornication in a moment of weakness, might be treated differently than a man with a wife and a good Christian upbringing who went online to find a sex partner. I wouldn’t necessarily call that perspectivalism or situational ethics, but ethics do have a situational aspect to them when applied by fallen creatures.
    The problem for me is when JF applies that idea to doctrine. One of the things I love about the Apostle Paul is that even though he can be difficult to understand at times, when it comes to the central tenets of the gospel he writes in clear distinctions that even a child can understand. There is Law and there is gospel; there is works and there is grace, there is the ministry of death and the ministry of life, there is only one way to be saved, etc…FV’ers follow JF in finding so many qualifications and nuances even in the central doctrines that the only clear distinction left is that there is God and there is man.
    I remember in JF’s class back in the early 90’s when a student questioned JF on our Lord’s words on the road to Emmaus, that the OT is about Christ’s death and resurrection, and JF responded that that is just one perspective; that Jesus could have just as easily said the OT is about the Holy Spirit. Again, disctintions become worthless with this mindset. That is why JF sounds so different from the Apostle Paul when JF writes that all law is in some sense gospel and gospel law. Paul never sounds like that because for Paul, clear distinctions were vital so people could clearly understand the gospel message.


    Todd Bordow

  42. David Gray said,

    August 25, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    >Well, if being confessionalist makes us sectarian, then we’re sectarian!

    I wasn’t saying you were one or the other. Rather that it seems unlikely that someone would reject a seminary on the grounds that it is too faithful to its doctrinal confessions, at least not JF. But perhaps I am mistaken? Maybe he actually phrased it that way?

  43. August 25, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Well, check out his essay, “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism,” in which he looks back fondly to the good old days at WTS when he doesn’t remember hearing much about the confession. In fairness, even R B Kuiper warned against “confessionalism.”

  44. Paul M. said,

    August 25, 2008 at 7:01 pm


    Seems to me, though, that your worry might be more with specific applications of his TP than with TP qua pedagogical device.

    I could just as easily find examples of where his TP analysis is satisfying for you.

    I would also like to see any FV try to use TP as a way to justify their faulty views.

    It’s one thing to claim that they could use it so, another thing to clearly demonstrate it. I suspect that some of those worries are bound up in a misunderstanding of TP.

    Or, getting at it another way, I might say something like: “The idea of covenant is fine in area A, but my problem is that FVers and PCers and any other Xer use it to justify their teachings. Therefore, CT is a bad thing.”

    I also don’t understand how you could claim that “distinctions become worthless with that mindset.” Indeed, you indicated a distinction to make that claim. A “distinction” between perspective X and perspective Y. I also don’t put much stock in claims about what happened in some class with some professor. RSC knows, and we’ve spoken on this before, how many times seminary students just “don’t get it.” How many times they fail to portray what happened in class. RSC had to tell me to ignore all his seminary students at one time when I was pointing out numerous things they said they were being taught at WSCAL.

    To piggy back on the above point about “distinctions,” Frame claims (in his primer on TP): “This does not mean, of course, that all ideas are equally true, or equally false. It does not mean that as our perspective grows larger we inevitably agree with everybody else ”

    I’d also add that your comments regarding TP are vague and ambiguous. As I noted in my post, I have yet to see any detailed, rigorous analysis of just what is supposedly so horrible about TP. I don’t agree with everything Frame says, or every application he makes (and I even find his finding of “threes” in nature to be somewhat arbitrary, I once came up with almost as many “fours”), but then again, I don’t claim that any one’s position must be free from any and all errors for me to appreciate it in the main.

    Lastly, “I think the distinction needs to be made between perspectivalism as it relates to ethics verses doctrine.” That observation only works if there is no doctrine of ethics. :-)

  45. ReformedSinner said,

    August 25, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks Dr. Clark for the article.

    I have to say what Frame described in the 60s is how I would articulate my experiences to the Confessions and WTS in the 2000s. So in retrospect things have not gotten “better” as Frame’s said (but note my experience ends at 2005, so they may have well improved in this matter.)

    I was surprised that after 3 years at WTS I was not require to study the Confessions, and at best I was asked to read the relevant sections (but again with little or no discussions.) My only disappointment with WTS is how little I’ve learned the Reformed Confessions and Creeds, but luckily Dr. Trueman filled in the gap by offering a Ph.D. course on Reformed Confessions and Creeds.

    But I take Frame’s point to heart: as an academic institution WTS has decided to focus on “sola scriptura” and not just see themselves as training pastors for the OPC, but training “specialists in the Bible” – to this end I think WTS has done it’s job superbly. I used to lament that I didn’t learn much about WCF during my WTS years, but now I realized it’s a trade off.

    I would summarize it this way (feel free to critique it): instead of an institution that make students memorize and entrenched in the Confessions, WTS has chosen itself to be an institution that is training students with the ability to defend the Confessions, but unfortunately the flip side of that equation is that what is the student doesn’t believe in the Confessons in the first place? What is WTS training them to defend?

  46. todd said,

    August 25, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Paul M.,

    My anecdotal evidence of what happened in class should at least count as one perspective on the triangle. Seriously though, many others have already demonstrated the connection between Frame and FV, if I repeated them it probably wouldn’t convince you, and I don’t think FVers are all wet claiming Frame as a friend to their position, though Frame would not claim to be Fv in every way. But a distinction between perspectives is not the same as a distinction. You don’t find the Apostle Paul saying anything akin to: in one way we are saved by faith and in another way we are saved by works, just recognize the difference between these two perspectives. Paul’s distinctions are polar opposites, not perspectives of the same truth.


  47. ReformedSinner said,

    August 25, 2008 at 11:46 pm


    So when Paul says he suffered for Christ, and other times he says he suffered for “your sake” (i.e. different churches) I guess those are polar opposites and not making a distinction between perspectives?

  48. Todd said,

    August 26, 2008 at 9:43 am

    # 47

    No, but when Paul says the Law is the ministry of death (II Cor 3) and the gospel the ministry of life, and when Paul says that faith is opposed to works as a means of justification (Rom 4:1&2), these are polar opposites, not perspectives.

  49. ReformedSinner said,

    August 26, 2008 at 11:05 am

    #48, Todd,

    Do not change the substance of my question and the argument. Paul do talk about themes from different perspectives. Or would you like to limit yourself to faith oppose to works? But even then you will run into “problem passages” by Paul when he told the Philippians to “work for your salvation.”

    So Paul is not as black and white as you like him to be.

  50. greenbaggins said,

    August 26, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Scott, I don’t think that Frame’s tri-perspectivalism works everywhere he says it does, even in the ethics book. The only point I wished to make was that it fits very well with goal, motive and standard, which are the three components of ethics.

  51. Paul M. said,

    August 26, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Todd #46,

    Again, I see nothing from Frame, and I “showed a connection” between covenant theology and federal vision. You may think the connection is not there, or I’ve taken it too far (in fact, I do this to answer you on your own terms, not that I think there is any connection…other than a vague one), and so too with Frame.

    I’m not sure if you’ve read his Salvation Belongs to the Lord. There he gives his statement on justification. It sounds nothing like you’ve said…or FV would say. He affirms forensic declaration, imputed righteousness, and says works are evidence of saving faith. He claims that faith justifies “not by any connection with works,” it “justifies because it trusts.” Frame sounded very Pauline in his intro to ST (in that chapter, that is. SInce Frame affirmed postmillennaialism he didn’t sound Pauline in his eschatology! :-). Frame makes them polar opposites. I think you should ease the anti-Frame foot off the libelous pedal.

    FVers claim CALVIN is a friend to their position. They claim Turretin! They claim a whole host of reformers. They claim Van Til.

    So their claims as to who are their friends rings hallow to me. Rings hallow to a man without an axe to grind against Frame. Again, it seems I can match every charge you lob at Frame with someone (or something) you would agree with and not find problems with.

    But a distinction between perspectives is not the same as a distinction.

    I don’t even understand that. A distinction isn’t a distinction? Anyway, you claimed he made no distinctions, making everything meaningless.

  52. E.C. Hock said,

    August 26, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    One thing so far has not been mentioned with Frame’s multi-perspectivalism, which also impinges on confessional thinking, is the fatal dichotomy of theory vs. practice that ever runs through the academy and the church. This is another “ugly ditch” to cope with, and causes all kinds of mischief for both theology and ethics. Theology, we all affirm, involves a way of tlife, not just a set of beliefs. Doctrine is unto life and life unto doctrine. Theology ultimately then has to do with Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). As far as I can see, Frame is trying to address this problem that plagues church and academy and personal life all at the same time. Somehow, doctrine has morphed into theory rather than into life. The doctrine of God has become tantamount to the theory of God, and thus has more to do with what truth is seen with the mind’s eye, than is manifested through experience and practice. Doctrine arises from core practices in the church like sacraments, prayer and worship. Frame in my view, wants to move theology and ethics away from theoretical knowledge and re-orient it towards wisdom and life. Thus, his tri-perspectives under the Word are recognized distinctives, but not separated entities, as has often been the case in the theory/practice dichotomy (i.e., obective theory – knowledge – norm – standard on the one hand, and subjective acts – practice, situation on the other hand). There must be ways to bridge this divide more effectively and still express the truth of God in its fuller capacity. The cultural-canonical-linguistic emphasis of late within theology, as in today’s narrative analysis, is trying to do this as well. But Frame offers his own means and method, in doctrine and ethics, to bring theory and practice together within one Christian model of biblical truth. Before we cast aspersions of what weaknesses Frame may have, let us not forget the on-going elephant standing in the middle of the room straddling the tension between theory and practice that is quite inimical to the revelation of the Word in Christ Jesus.

  53. Todd said,

    August 26, 2008 at 4:45 pm


    I don’t know why you would assume I have an ax to grind just because I don’t agree with Frame. You may not agree with my concerns, but that doesn’t mean it must be personal. He’s never done me any wrong to make it personal. “Libelous pedal” is a bit overwrought, don’t you think? Should I suggest you might have an ax to grind with those disagree with him?

    Anyway, I think when he calls gospel law and law gospel (in some senses) he does affirm an important tenet of the FV. I never said he holds a wrong view of justification; not sure where you got that. My point is that when you do not make clear Pauline distinctions, it plays into the hand of those who do not clearly distinguish law and gospel; faith and works, as the Bible does IMO. Point well taken that everyone uses Calvin for everything, but I still think the FVer’s are finding in Frame some wriggle room that allows them to sneak in works to justifying faith, and law into gospel, whether Frame intends for that to occur or not.

    Finally, my claim that he makes no distinctions was hyperbole to make a point; and my saying distinction is different than perspective was saying that we cannot in any way say we are justified by our faith from one perspective, and from another perspective we are justified by our works, as long as we recognize the differences also. The Bible won’t allow that. So it it is not enough to affirm both but then say there is a distinction between the two; not that JF has stated this, just offering an example of what I was trying to say.

    # 49

    Remember, my point was that when it comes to the central tenets of the gospel, Paul does speak in clear distinctions, not about every truth in Scripture, and yes, Paul is black and white on the gospel, human souls depend on such clear teaching, and no, work out your salvation with fear and trembling does in no way change or challenge the clear Biblical distinctions between justification, sanctification, faith, works, law, gospel, and glorification; it actually makes those distinctions even clearer. By the way, remembering that the “you” in that verse is in the plural will help in understanding the communal nature of that command; Paul is not speaking of justification there.


  54. Paul M. said,

    August 26, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Hi Todd,

    i) It seems to me you have an ax to grind with Frame. Your unfamiliarity, uncharitableness, and repeated mischaracterizations of Frame led me to that conclusion. I consider publicly misrepresenting a man’s position akin to libel.

    I have an ax to grind with anyone, especially Christians, who publicly misrepresent other Christians and do not study to show thyselves….

    ii) As far as why I brought up justification, you said (of Frame position): “…in one way we are saved by faith and in another way we are saved by works,…” That comment, tied with your linking to FV, seems to me you had justification in the back of your mind (that doesn’t mean that you also didn’t have law/gospel distinctions in the back of your mind either). At any rate, I referenced where Frame contradicts your (mis)characterization of his position. I showed he clearly distinguished faith and works.

    Your claim about the FV and Frame and wiggle room is just another unsubstantiated charge of yours. It’s at the level of the Amyraldians who claim Calvin gave them the pedigree to deny particular redemption. Calvin “should have been more clear” on that. ;-)

    iii) One man’s hyperbole is another’s overreaching dogmatism. :-)

    You said:

    I never said he holds a wrong view of justification; not sure where you got that.

    And you also said:

    and my saying distinction is different than perspective was saying that we cannot in any way say we are justified by our faith from one perspective, and from another perspective we are justified by our works (emphasis mine)

    Seems incoherent.

    Anyway, I gave you the references where your libelous charges against Frame on this point are debunked.

    iv) So, from my perspective (!), you have not substantiated one of your claims, and have had some directly shown to be outright false.

    As far as simply saying we are “justified by works”, the Bible isn’t in line with you.

    James 2:24You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

    Of course you have to understand what James means by that. Same with Frame. But, even if I grant your point about Paul, other’s helped in giving us Scripture too. Say Frame said this:

    [1] If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

    And this:

    [2] “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”

    Then he’s said exactly what the Bible says.

    So when you say he’s said this:

    [3] “…we are justified by our faith from one perspective, and from another perspective we are justified by our works”

    then without asking as to the meaning of what is said or vocalized or instantiated by black marks on a page, then Frame as said by [3] what he said in [1] and [2], and [1] and [2], as we saw, are direct quotes from Scripture.

    So it seems to me that if we’re to be responsible, we should inquire into what Frame means by some of his claims. And what do we find when we do that? We find the traditional, Reformed understanding. We find him stating, unambiguously, that works are evidence (p. 205) of saving faith/justifying faith. What does Frame mean when he says what James says:

    “James 2:24, which speaks of justification by works, tells us that a faith without works is not saving faith, not true faith. So works are evidence of a true, saving faith (ibid).”

    Does Frame make a clear distinction? I dunno, let’s ask him:

    “But faith does not justify because of its connection to works. It justifies because its nature is to trust…That trust motivates is to please God and therefore to do good works. Since God has saved us from sin, this is the only appropriate response. But salvation is not through works but through the trust that motivates them. …Salvation is a free gift. We cannot work for it but only trust in the one who gives it. Faith is central because faith is trust. Of course, after we receive hat gift, it is important for us to show our gratefulness by our actions, and that is what we want to do” (ibid).

    He elsewhere indicates trusting in the righteousness of Christ and his imputation of his active obedience (203).

    Thus we can see the extra nos view of faith as trusting in the work of another. We can see the proper view of works as fruit that accompanies true saving faith as evidence of saving faith. Of a “fruit to root” inference.

    I could go on. For example he affirms morbid self-examination as one way we attain assurance (219), something too “subjective” for the FV.

    Do I think Frame is perfect. No? Do I agree with him on everything? No. Do I think his hesitance to come down on the FV harder than he has a desirable trait? No. Do I have disagreements with him apologetically and philosophically? Yes. So I’m no Frame yes man.

    I guess I’ll leave you with this: It appears to me you have not studied that which you are trying to critique…at least given it the proper attention it deserves to make public comments. I guess I’d just recommend familiarizing yourself a bit more. FWIW.

  55. Bob S said,

    August 26, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    36 Hi Lane,

    My comment was somewhat tongue in cheek. When it comes to Frame and his special pleading when it comes to the confession on the 2nd commandment, there really hasn’t been much of a peep about it here. (I’m still wondering what is “godly” and “irenic” about it.) It seemed like people were leaning over backward to say good things, when again imo JF gave away the farm. The image issue is a watershed issue – we are talking about pictures vs. preaching – and your synopsis of Frame on the 2nd above in the post is one thing, what he says something is essentially quite contrary when he actually gets to the commandment – at least from the previously posted chapters on the web that I am working off of.


  56. Bob S said,

    August 26, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    35 Dr. Clark,

    Thank you, a nice article by VDrunen, (though there is also an Appendix touching feast/holidays to the Assembly’s Directory – as in the negative.)
    But it goes farther and deeper than that. IMO with the abuse of reason and the WCF in order to justify instructive images in DoCL, whether of Immanuel or not, JF continues to undermine the foundation. Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is a secular effort, but correctly notes the antithesis between pictures and print. More to the point, Greg Reynolds in his Thy Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures would exalt the printed Word and the preaching of it over pictures of anything.
    Of course JF does not agree, but inconsistently for he continues to give us tomes instead of coloring books.
    Maybe one day.
    Thank you.

  57. Todd said,

    August 27, 2008 at 8:03 am


    Forgive me for not being clear. When I state my comments about the distinctions between faith and works, I am not quoting Frame; I thought I made myself clear on that. I am giving an example of the Bible not speaking in perspectives, but opposites. You seem to be centering on this as a possible accusation I am making against JF, and I am not.

    So let me try again. When JF 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…” I believe he is opening the door here, whether intentionally or not, to the confusion of many in distinguishing law and gospel the way the Apostle Paul does. I have a feeling my former professor might be much more gracious and willing to receive this as a valid disagreement than you do.


  58. ReformedSinner said,

    August 27, 2008 at 9:34 am


    1) JF’s statement might be in the background of the entire Canon, not specific in Paul. Law, as some in the Reformed Tradition would argue, still has grace element and is not just a demand of works. Here the word “Law” is understood with the much better word “Torah” – which is more than the propositions of what we would understood as “Law” today. I remember in my OT classes one particular class would argue that looking at books of Deuteronomy all the way down to Ezra-Nehemiah, we can still see an “indicative-imperative” relationship, and that grace and mercy is abound to the Israelite’s salvation, Torah is always pronounced on first who God is (and what He had done for you) and it’s on that foundation that in which the Israelites should respond in work (holiness, righteousness)… hence Frame is not too far out in his definitions of similarities between Law and Gospel.

    2) Even for Paul when he sets up the antithesis between Law and Gospel, it’s with respect to Christ’s superiority over the Law, not the content. Law, at the end of the day, is inferior to the Gospel of Christ. The distinction is not as much as the content of Law and Gospel (as Frame argued Law and Gospel are similar that both proclaimed who God is, what saving work He has done, and it is in the basis of that which requires obedience), but the effectiveness – Law at the end, cannot save because human beings are sinners and can never response in holiness, Gospel of Christ of the other hand, is superior and saves because of what Christ has done in his life and on the cross – Gospel is qualitatively better than Law because it also includes holy/righteous response that is achieved by Christ (which Law demands response but cannot achieve it for us, which at the end it has no other choice but kills, but Gospel gives life)

    I sincerely doubt Frame does not see the difference in Law and Gospel, but once again Frame is talking about the “content” of Law and Gospel and he found them to be similar, and in which I (and many other Reformed theologians) might agree. So in summary: Frame is not as cowboy and careless and ignorant of his tradition as you try to make us believe.

  59. Todd Bordow said,

    August 27, 2008 at 9:55 am

    “So in summary: Frame is not as cowboy and careless and ignorant of his tradition as you try to make us believe.”

    # 58 Who ever said JF was ignorant or careless of Reformed tradition? Where did I ever even mention Reformed tradition? I know you and some Reformed theologians agree that the “content” of law and gospel are similiar – I just think you, and JF, are wrong on this. Why is this so hard to understand?

  60. Paul M. said,

    August 27, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Todd, 57,


  61. Paul M. said,

    August 27, 2008 at 10:57 am

    I should add, too, that I think you’ve misunderstood him on L/G as well. I always took him to be making those comments against some Lutheran construals of L/G. He does focus on the Formula, afterall.

    Maybe he phrased things poorly. Perhaps he was using “hyperbole” :-), but I took him as trying to uphold some traditional Reformed worries, such as phrases like “evangelical obedience.”

    Notice what John Brown includes in his catechism on L/G:

    Q. Wherein do they differ?
    A. The law requires good in and from us; but the Gospel declares Christ hath done, and will do all for and in us, and freely brings all good things to us, Romans 10:4,5.

    And again:

    Q. How doth the gospel honour the law?
    A. It brings in Christ as perfectly fulfilling it as a covenant; and it strengthens and encourages us to obey it as a rule.

    Seems to me Frame wants to make sure the “in us” is still included in the discussion. Seems he just wants to make sure the “encourages us to obey” is still included.

    That’s how I view it, charitably, anyway.

    I’d also say that I’m not sure I agree with Frame’s rejection of two kingdoms in his paper. Or with the way he put things in there. So, again, I’m not a “yes” man.

  62. Todd said,

    August 27, 2008 at 11:38 am



    I’m not a “no” man on JF either; his concerns against the strict application of the regulative principle in Reformed circles resonates with me somewhat, but I’m not sure JF is simply agreeing with John Brown above, nor am I thrilled with Tri-perspectivalism as it relates to some core doctrines, or, as you say, his rejection of the two kingdoms, but I appreciate the reminder of charitable reading.



  63. August 28, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Where exactly, besides writing a blurb for the ET of Turretin, has John interacted extensively with the Reformed tradition? I see it in Bavinck, Hodge, Kuyper, and Murray to name but a few modern theologians, but I see little of it in Frame. True, there’s very little of it in CVT, and that’s a fault, but he didn’t endeavor to write an entire system either.

    As to being cavellier or even high-handed with the tradition, has anyone here read, “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism”? Arguably Wells and Muller have spent a little more time wrestling with the tradition and what do they get for their efforts? They’re accused of not doing enough biblical exegesis (even when, in the instances cited it wasn’t their mandate). Systematics and Ethics must stand on its own two exegetical and theological feet but the usual practice is to do so in dialogue with the tradition. Horton is able to do this (and biblical exegesis) in the multi-volume series for WJKP.

    Isn’t the whole point of John’s method to dispense with the tradition? If theology is “application” and John gets to determine the correct application via his evolving version of triperspectivalism, who, and especially dead guys, can argue with him? The “Biblicism” essay is a perfect example of the oil and water chemistry that results when John’s method meets the tradition or representatives of the same.

    As to theory and practice, there have been two sometimes competing but usually complementary definitions of theology in the Reformed tradition: Theology is partly doctrine and partly practice (e.g., Turretin) or theology is living to God. Even in the latter case (e.g. Ames) theology was structured in terms of doctrine first and then application to particular cases (ethics and piety). To define theology as application is, it seems to me, to put the cart before the horse.

    Finally, I haven’t read the latest tome, but I did take the course many moons ago and I have read DKG and the DoG vols. Where exactly is all the detailed biblical exegesis or interaction with modern biblical scholarship? I see a lot more of that in the Horton series than I do in the Frame series.

    Is anyone here reading the Horton series?

  64. greenbaggins said,

    August 28, 2008 at 10:05 am

    I have read the latest Horton book (Covenant and Salvation), and thought it outstanding, although his vocabulary and writing style are a bit obtuse. I have the other two volumes, and have dipped into the first one occasionally. Horton has two writing styles, one for popular writing and one for scholarly writing. The latter is almost impenetrable at times. However, that small criticism aside (because I can understand him), I certainly agree with you that Horton does heavy lifting both in exegesis and in interaction with the Reformed tradition.

  65. Joseph Minich said,

    August 28, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Dr. Clark,

    Perhaps I have mis-read Frame, but don’t you think he’s using “application” more broadly? Doesn’t the word of God regulate our theology in a similar way to regulating our ethics? For instance…we don’t find the word “Trinity” in the Bible, but we believe that we OUGHT (ethically) to speak about God in terms of Trinity. Doesn’t Vanhoozer suggest that, to a certain extent, scripture’s regulation of doctrine is a regulation of Christian speech (the way we talk about God)? As such, theology might be called application inasmuch is it IS the word of God as “translated” by the church.

    By the way, (despite my love for JF) I absolutely LOVE Horton’s WJK series. I’m counting the minutes till volume 4 (just 5 more days!). Surely they both benefit the kingdom in their own unique way.

  66. greenbaggins said,

    August 28, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Joseph, thanks for letting me know about Horton’s newest book. I had no idea it was that close to publication.

  67. Joseph Minich said,

    August 28, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Yes! The contents are on Amazon actually. It looks very good. I have been thoroughly impressed with the previous three.

  68. E.C. Hock said,

    August 28, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    R.S. Clark poses this question: “Isn’t the whole point of John’s method to dispense with the tradition?”

    I suppose one needs to ask, and I do not mean to be facetious, it depends on what perspective of the tradition you address, and why it may be a help or a hindrance. Eventually one’s on-going dialog with the tradition needs to give way to the “now what?” question.

    Frame is a Reformed theologian, thus has already attached himself to its tenets, past and present. But if Frame’s concern in his method is not to wave the banner on tradition again, but help us to get beyond some of the thorny questions lingering in our tradition, then yes, one might not expect him to emerse himself on this matter. If his aim is to bridge the “ugly ditch” that persists between theory and practice, so that the task of theology and ethics is ultimately to behold and express Jesus, not as the doctrinal theory, but as “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6) as well as Jesus, the word and wisdom, the revealer and redeemer, the sanctifier and justifier (1 Cor. 1:30), then yes, I can see where tradition does not need to be reinforced, but analyzed through fresh categories. He does this with the law-ethic approach that fails to address the fuller questions and complexities and nuances of a Christian ethic incarnated in the world of norm, person and situation.

    After all, The purpose of doctrine is to help thinking Chrtistians who bear His name to walk in His way. But if traditional ways of categorizing, confessing and expressing biblical truth are not doing this adequately, then we need devout men to arise with a new method to investigate where our perspective must be re-viewed. If we are going to stop failing and fighting the traditional battle in our churches of “why does doctrine seem irrelevant to life?” (though I would confess that it’s always relevant), then we need to present the beautiful doctrines of grace with a different model. Afterall, even our own tradition at one decisive point in church history came about by this iconoclastic effort (and I may add, in conflict with church traditionalists).

  69. ReformedSinner said,

    August 28, 2008 at 2:24 pm


    Dr. Clark, interesting point here:

    “Systematics and Ethics must stand on its own two exegetical and theological feet but the usual practice is to do so in dialogue with the tradition. Horton is able to do this (and biblical exegesis) in the multi-volume series for WJKP.”

    I just want to read you right: so you are saying without a dialogue with the traditon, if one purely writes them on exegetical grounds, that it’s actually an inferior work?

  70. Darryl Hart said,

    August 28, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Ref. Sin.: how is it possible that a creed and catechism to which you’ve subscribed as the summary of your own personal faith would not inform your exegesis? Does subscription only apply at ordination time as a badge to get in and then once credentialled you can teach whatever you want out of the Bible? It’s not just a question of tradition. It’s a question of the self.

  71. greenbaggins said,

    August 28, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    RS, #69, a point of clarification: are you saying that if one writes a work on exegetical grounds ASSUMING the creedal position or NOT assuming it? I see a world of difference between the two. I could foresee, for example, someone writing a book on ethics without engaging the tradition but only Scripture, as long as he assumed a creedal stance to start with. I would say that if one is going to agree with the confessional position on a point, there is *somewhat* less need to engage it (though pointing it out with quotations from the original sources doesn’t take a whole lot more effort, and is always beneficial: why wouldn’t one?). However, if one is going to *disagree* with the confessional position, then there is considerably more onus to engage the tradition and show why it is deficient. My two cents.

  72. ReformedSinner said,

    August 28, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    #70 and 71:

    How about ASSUMED the Reformed Creed and Confessions?

    Dr. Hart, interesting rebuttal. I have no idea how can you jump into the idea of “doing whatever you want” with the Bible. And I have no idea “exegesis-only” carries such a negative connotation nowadays, especially from a Reformed faculty. I always assumed doing careful exegesis and expertise over the original languages is a given in our Reformed Tradition.

    So once again I asked simply: author X wrote a “theological/ethics book”, all of his arguments are exegetical based, but after careful analysis we found his exegesis to be consistent with the Reformed Tradition, would that still be an inferior approach to a theological book in your opinions?

  73. ReformedSinner said,

    August 28, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Sidenote: I appreciate the interactions. Now I see why some in the Reformed Tradition are “concern” over how WTS teaches its curriculums…

  74. Darryl Hart said,

    August 29, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Ref. Sin.: before answering 73, could you answer a more fundamental question? It is: if you are a Van Tillian and believe that no one can approach the Bible neutrally, and if you taken vows that say a creed expresses not just a church’s faith but also yours, how could your exegesis ever be independent of your basic convictions? You see, I think Frame’s effort to separate biblicism from tradition is really a vindication, ironically, of an Enlightenment hermeneutic which allows the autonomous rational self to trump the self’s membership in a communion and the vows that constitute that communion. I understand Van Til well enough that Frame might say the point of presuppositionalism is only about belief and unbelief, with all sorts of beliefs (from evangelical to Reformed but for some reason not Lutheran) being on the right side of the anti-thesis. But that position doesn’t do justice to the unbelief that afflicts even some believing exegetes. Can anyone say Arminianism?

  75. August 29, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Yes, any Reformed work that attempts to do theology purely by exegesis is, in my view, an inferior work. Any work that assumes that we have nothing to learn from the tradition is an inferior work. Any work that assumes the superiority of contemporary theology and exegesis is an inferior work. I read the tradition and I learn from it all the time.

    If we lived in a time when everyone was well read in the tradition and conversant with it, there might be a place for assuming it but when we live in a time when most of our people and apparently most of our ministers are oblivious to the tradition it hardly seems wise to assume it or to ignore it.

    No, subscribing a confession isn’t sufficient. Subscribing is not the end of one’s relation to a confession, it’s the beginning. The idea that we can assume either the confession or the tradition in our work is exactly the idea that relegates the confession and tradition to the shelf and breeds dead orthodoxy. Orthodoxy only lives when we practice and teach it.

    The confession only lives when the confession is open and being used. We kill orthodoxy when we say, “Oh yes I’m Reformed” and then proceed to substantially contradict the Reformed faith in theology, piety, and practice. This happens when, despite the unequivocal teaching of the confession, we advocate tolerance of views that are patently at odds with what the Reformed churches confess.

    John openly contradicts the RPW. He plainly contradicts the judgment and confession of the Reformed churches that God the Son did not become incarnate to make work for carvers and artisans (Bullinger, Second Helvetic Confession). Where do the Reformed churches confess that God is one person and three persons?

    Yes, I’m quite aware CVT wrote that God is one person and three persons and he was wrong. That language ought to have been tested in the courts/assemblies of the churches. At best it was a radical experiment. At worst it was an error tending to heresy if not outright heresy. The triune God is personal, multi-personal, and tri-personal but by definition is not and cannot be unipersonal no matter what perspective one uses. Color me fundamentalist on this one.

    JMF has not only embraced that error but advocated tolerance of the FV. I may be stupid and Machen’s Warrior Child (and proud to be the latter) but I’m grateful to God that so many of the NAPARC churches have not taken John’s stance toward Norm Shepherd and the FV. Further, he has also facilitated theonomy for decades.

    He’s arguably wrong or latitudinarian (tolerant of error) on the Trinity, images of God the Son, justification, worship, and theonomy. If an ostensibly Reformed system contradicts the Reformed confessions on so many important issues why should it be viewed as a contribution to Reformed theology? If it’s permissible to contradict the Reformed faith on these questions, why not on the sovereignty of God or do we implicitly accept the notion that ours is really just a single-issue theology and that everything else is negotiable?

  76. ReformedSinner said,

    August 29, 2008 at 5:06 pm


    yike, seems like JKF has a history with Reformed folks that I’m not aware about. I will plead ignorance in American Reformed atmosphere as I am only entering into the Reformed world since 2001, and I have no idea the history of interactions between you guys, but from what I’ve read, it is very emotional and to the core, to which I will not pursue the issue.

    I am aware of the debate Dr. Hart and Dr. Frame had on the Regulatory Principle over the internet, very interesting, but I think I’ll stop here and watch from the sideline more, and read more historical books on American Presbyterianism.

  77. ReformedSinner said,

    August 29, 2008 at 5:10 pm


    It’s interesting that you bring in CVT, I do not believe Frame’s articulation of Van Til is really Van Til, so yes I disagree with Frame’s summary of Van Til.

    Anyway, I’m just trying to (and beginning to) understand why some of the Reformed folks I met (on net or in churches) are “concern” over WTS theological methodology. And why the Gaffin-esque “exegetical theological teaching style” is not only not appreciated, but being suspiciously of. But like my #76 I will plead the fifth and jump back to the sideline more as I try to grasp the atmosphere of 19-21 century American Reformed world.

  78. greenbaggins said,

    August 29, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Scott, I am quite certain that Van Til meant by saying that God is a person that God is personal. You can talk to Lane Tipton, who is the world’s expert on that phrase in Van Til. I would much rather go with Bahnsen’s interpretation of VT than Frame’s.

  79. ReformedSinner said,

    August 29, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Oh yes, I forgot about that. One of my biggest regreat is not taking Tipton’s “Van Til’s Trinitarian Theology” course at WTS. Everyone I know who took it said it’s the most clear and in-depth exposition of Van Til’s Trinitarian model ever taught. I’m sure they (WSC-WTS) faculty will interact more on this in the future.

  80. August 29, 2008 at 11:17 pm


    I’ve read Lane’s account and defense of CVT. It’s not convincing.

    Reformed theology has always said that God is personal and multi-personal but never unipersonal. That’s the problem. “Unipersonal” is not the same as “personal.” As a predicate for the Triune God, “unipersonal” or “one person” as a predicate of the Triune God is always and necessarily false. JMF and Lane have appealed to Warfield and Hodge as precedents but neither said any such thing.

  81. Bob S said,

    August 30, 2008 at 2:26 am

    68 “Frame is a Reformed theologian, thus has already attached himself to its tenets, past and present.”

    Rather historically and confessionally, to be reformed means to be reformed in doctrine, worship and government. (In presbyterianism anyway, the Solemn League and Covenant, the original oath of subscription to the Westminster Standards – not just the Confession – makes it clear that those Standards on doctrine, worship and church government were a package deal.) Reformed – as compared to the deformed doctrine, worship and government of the Roman church from which the Reformed church seceded on the basis of Scripture.

    But when JF gets done in Chapt. 25&6 deconstructing the Second Commandment and repudiating the WCF on the RPW and what is not commanded in worship, the unlawfulness of images and the confessional distinction between elements and circumstances in worship, JF is not reformed at all in worship. For the life of him, he cannot give us one good and necessary reason to forbid Mel Gibson’s Passion from being screened at the Sunday afternoon Lenten matinee services. None at all.

    If that were not bad enough, JF’s arguments are generally on par with the one where he says that since there were images of Christ on the retina of the apostles’ eyeballs at the time of his first coming, ergo images of Christ are not only possible, but lawful. Yet if we may be excused, our copy of the confession says good and necessary consequences, not irrational and idiotic.

    Has this kind of nonsensical reasoning and sloppy methodology carried over into other areas besides that of the Second Commandment, the RPW and worship? I don’t know, but I am not going to waste too much time and money trying to find out.

    Re: tradition, according to Solzhenitsyn, the Russian proverb says a man with one eye over his shoulder on the past stumbles, but a man with both eyes on the present is blind.
    As Thos. Brooks says, let the reader make the application.

  82. Vern Crisler said,

    August 30, 2008 at 12:34 pm


    While I’m critical of Frame’s method, I think it’s important not to go overboard. The RPW was meant as a principle of freedom from imposed liturgies and empty rituals. It should not, however, become a new principle of intolerance (anti-Christmas, exclusive psalmody, etc.). Pictures or paintings of Jesus are fine since Jesus was a man, not a vampire (who you can’t see in a mirror). Such pictures should not be worshipped, however.

    Van Til and Frame’s view of the trinity is unfortunate (one person, three persons), and the use of the term person is ill-advised in describing God’s unity. However, we still cannot avoid THINKING of God as one person, while still thinking of HIM as three persons. IOW, we think modally, even if we confess trinity.

    I believe that’s what VT and Frame were driving at. They did not want God’s unity to be seen as some sort of impersonal backdrop to the three persons. So I agree with their concerns, but not with their terminology. One in essence and three in person may not be as precise as we’d like it to be, but it’s as far as our minds can understand, and we should leave it at that.

    Just some thoughts,


  83. ReformedSinner said,

    August 30, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    “Van Til and Frame’s view of the trinity is unfortunate (one person, three persons), and the use of the term person is ill-advised in describing God’s unity. However, we still cannot avoid THINKING of God as one person, while still thinking of HIM as three persons. IOW, we think modally, even if we confess trinity.”

    So what term should we use to describe God’s unity? “God?” That is functional unitarianism despite our confessional trinitarian. CVT saw the flaw in the tradition and aims to correct it, while his answer is not perfect but his insight is still valuable. If we don’t take CVT’s challenge seriously we will always be in danger of unitarianism lurking in the background.

  84. Darryl Hart said,

    August 30, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Vern: just out of curiosity, do you think the second commandment is somehow less binding than the sixth or the eighth? I mean, you wouldn’t say, would you, let’s not go overboard and make the protection of human life a new form of intolerance to restrain good forms of death? Why not be as concerned about idolatry as murder or theft?

  85. Vern Crisler said,

    August 31, 2008 at 12:02 am

    RS, the best term is “essence” — and anything beyond that is just asking for it, theologically speaking.

    Darryl, I don’t equate the RPW with the 2nd commandment. In fact, the temple itself had representations (the cherubim, pictures on the ceiling). The problem is not with art, but with attempts to localize the divine being, i.e., through worshipping representations or symbols of the divine. Many have seen the basic sin behind idolatry (localization) as attempting to control God.


  86. Darryl Hart said,

    August 31, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Vern, if you look at every Reformed catechism on the second commandment you see the RPW. Your appeal to the images in the temple actually proves the point. God commanded those images so they have biblical warrant. Without such warrant you are working of the imaginations of men, a very flimsy basis for binding the consciences of God’s saints. (Which is why it’s crazy for Frame to try to apply the RPW to all of life. That’s exactly what the fundamentalists I grew up with did. But even Frame doesn’t have the nerve to say that smoking is a sin — he allows it for those addicted. Huh? That’s not what the biblical counselors say where addiction is idolatry. Wow!)

  87. Bob Suden said,

    August 31, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Hi Vern

    If you are so critical of Frame’s method, how come you are found mouthing the same vain conclusions he comes to on the basis of that same special pleading and question begging ?

    And while Darryl beat me to it, again that God commanded images in the OT temple, is not an approved example for us to imitate by dragging pictures into church today. Rather is a gross non sequitur, as well as complete nonsense.

    But if the Second Commandment forbids all idols of our own devising, physical and mental, while Ps. 115:8 says all that make idols become like them, perhaps that explains all the rotten and wooden reasoning that Frame subjects us to in DoCL, Chapt. 25&6.

    Further the Appendix on Days and Places of Worship and the “Singing of Psalms” in the Westminster Assembly’s Directory for Public Worship, much more the Minutes of the Assembly make it only too clear what the original classic presbyterian position is on feastdays and psalmody vis a vis the RPW.

    The Second Commandment properly understood is not only intolerant of, but actually forbids all worship that is not commanded, either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence in Scripture. Van Dellen and Monsma’s Commentary on the Church Order of Dordt also admits the same in the beginning for the Dutch churches re. psalmody, feastdays and musical instruments.

    But modern American moderate Calvinist churches that are ignorant of their past insist that they know better, however incompetent to the question they really are.

    As re. pictures, if the Scriptures are not an adequate/sufficient revelation of the Word become flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, then they are nothing and the floodgates are wide open to all the vomit of the Vatican.

    Paul tells Timothy that from a child (brephos-infant) he has known the Holy Scriptures, which are given by inspiration of God “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:15-17) And if all good works, what good work is left unto pictures? There is none. But if pictures, why not moving pictures? And if movies, why not plays? So the fretting leprosy spreads.

    Yet some things never change. The the worship wars with RP1 and RP2 continue, the ark still needs to be steadied and the word of God supplemented by the clever and devious little mind of man.

    We think not.


  88. ReformedSinner said,

    August 31, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    “And while Darryl beat me to it, again that God commanded images in the OT temple, is not an approved example for us to imitate by dragging pictures into church today. Rather is a gross non sequitur, as well as complete nonsense.”

    I do not use the OT argument, the simple fact is God gave us the gifts of His images, and as His image bearers some of us have artistic gifts. I see no issue with having pictures of Christ in the church as long as we don’t treat it as idols. This argument that no images are allowed in the church is as dumbfounded as the fundamentalist argument that drinking alcohol is unbiblical. Stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    “But if the Second Commandment forbids all idols of our own devising, physical and mental, while Ps. 115:8 says all that make idols become like them, perhaps that explains all the rotten and wooden reasoning that Frame subjects us to in DoCL, Chapt. 25&6.”

    Or you’re not a deep thinker as Frame is. So in your logic I can’t look at my wife, because her beauty will make me in awe of her, and she’s my new idol, and in turn I’m breaking the second commandment. So I guess the solution is to cover her with clothes and only allowed her to show her eyes.

    “As re. pictures, if the Scriptures are not an adequate/sufficient revelation of the Word become flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ, then they are nothing and the floodgates are wide open to all the vomit of the Vatican.”

    Yes, and let us ban all good works in the church because that will make Christians confused about work righteousness and open to all the vomit of the Vatican

  89. greenbaggins said,

    August 31, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    I can hardly believe there are so many comments on a book review! Let me clarify again what I mean by posting this review. I do not endorse everything that Frame says. Indeed, my pointing out what I thought were helpful points about his book should not be interpreted as a full endorsement of the book. I have reservations about the book, as I have said before. But just as I seek to learn from anyone who will teach me anything, and as I seek to read with discernment, and would encourage any to read this book (and all books!) with discernment, so also I seek to learn from Frame, even when I have to grit my teeth sometimes to do it. I’m not quite sure if this is sufficient to convince Scott and Darryl that I am not going hog-wild down the tubes. If they do not want to call Frame Reformed, that is their prerogative. I have questions myself about how Reformed he is. But my reviewing a book does not mean I am saying it is Reformed. I have reviewed or recommended many books on this blog that are not Reformed. Nowhere in the blog post do I mention whether the book is Reformed or not. So, I hope this clarifies what I am trying to do with this post. I am not in the habit of throwing out everything someone says if they are wrong even on more than two major points. Let’s say Frame is wrong on everything that Scott and Darryl say he is wrong on (which may very well be true!), that still doesn’t mean I can’t learn from him.

  90. Darryl Hart said,

    August 31, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Ref. Sin.: how in hades does the fact that some believers have artistic gifts allow images of Jesus? I mean, you certainly wouldn’t want to use that logic with sexual prowess, I imagine. Also, I understand that a Reformed creed or catechism is not holy writ. But I do wonder how you find youself within a tradition that could assert, as the Heidelberg Catechism does, the following: 97. “May we then not make any image at all? A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Although creatures may be portrayed, yet God forbids making or having such images if one’s intention is to worship them or to serve God through them.” 98. “But may not images be permitted in the churches as teaching aids for the unlearned? A. No, we shouldn’t try to be wiser than God. He wants his people instructed by the living preaching of his Word — not by idols that cannot even talk.”

    So what would be the point of having an image of Jesus? To encourage the artistic vocation?

    GB: no need to account for your review. It hit a nerve.

  91. Bob Suden said,

    August 31, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    First things first, I suppose, Lane.
    It is not that one cannot learn from Frame – some imo learn the wrong thing – but rather a prevailing P&R cult of personality(?) that seems to exist and which has largely pre-empted Frame from any real criticism on the gross deficiencies of his theology. (Anything he writes on at least worship is both preposterous and bogus, though he has gotten better at attempting to cover his bases.) But to repress it, means the backlash will bubble up somewhere later. Like here, much to anybody’s surprise. Which means I wholeheartedly agree and applaud Scott and Daryl’s assessment and even think it long overdue.

    RS, as regards the argument from the images in the OT temple, it is one of Frame’s. That is what is under discussion. It is not only invalid argument, it betrays a profound misunderstanding of what the Second Commandment is all about, a sad state of affairs for a purportedly presbyterian professor of theology. In short the idolatry prohibited is much more involved and sophisticated than Frame understands or will even admit.

    (Further, it could be argued that the reformed understand that to have a artistic picture of Christ is ipso facto an idol, in that it is not only uncommanded, it also an image of our own imagination and devising of God, even before one brings it into worship or bows down unto it, but one can of worms at a time, eh?)

    “Or you’re not a deep thinker as Frame is. So in your logic I can’t look at my wife, because her beauty will make me in awe of her, and she’s my new idol, and in turn I’m breaking the second commandment. So I guess the solution is to cover her with clothes and only allowed her to show her eyes.”

    As a deep thinker, perhaps you can tell me what looking at your wife has to do with the public worship of God and the Second Commandment. Is it an element, circumstance or one of Frame’s erroneous applications? In short, don’t be ridiculous.

    “Yes, and let us ban all good works in the church because that will make Christians confused about work righteousness and open to all the vomit of the Vatican.”

    Good works are commanded in Scripture, even the good work of obeying the Second Commandment, but pictures of Christ are never commanded, explicitly, implicitly or by approved example. Rather the Word of God explicitly declares itself to be more than adequate to teaching us who the Word become flesh is.

    But Frame insists that instructive images are lawful in the church’s pedagogy and that means he has already figuratively bowed down to the power and ability of images to do a better job than the preached or spoken word. Hence, the charge of idolatry, though it is not so blatant as Baal worship or some Stone Age adherents of a Cargo cult.

  92. Vern Crisler said,

    August 31, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Bob said, “If you are so critical of Frame’s method, how come you are found mouthing the same vain conclusions he comes to on the basis of that same special pleading and question begging.”

    Bob, your style of arguing reminds me too much of the followers of John Robbins — your descriptions carry a meanness that inspires hostility rather than interest. So long.

    Darryl, I’ve taken the time to read some of your and Frame’s writings on the web about this, subject, and bottom line is that I’m more in favor of Frame’s view rather than yours. If Frame didn’t convince you, what chance do I have? In any case, this is a subject too vast to tackle here. I’d have to answer it in one sentence or in a million.

    But time is short. All I wanted to do was to distance my own criticisms of Frame’s multi-perspectivalism from Bob’s trash talk.



  93. ReformedSinner said,

    September 1, 2008 at 12:29 am

    I think I will stop too. For one I have no idea Frame’s name is so negatively viewed by some Reformed folks. I’ve always known his multi-perspectivalism has concerned some people, but after reading Clark and Hart I think it goes deeper than mere concerns, the battle line has been drawn, and I have no interest to get involve in them.

    For the record I’m no Frame lover, and I personally think he tends to underappreciate what Van Til is really saying, and over anxious in his critique of Van Til. Having said that, I think Frame’s multi-perspectivalism has its value, in the right context, and his debate on the RPW was pretty impressive to say the least.

    Ok, I’m out of this one. Thanks for the sharings.

  94. Darryl Hart said,

    September 1, 2008 at 10:36 am

    Vern and Ref. Sin.: it seems to little old me that if you’re familiar with Calvin, Heidelberg, and the Westminster Divines on the RPW and you still prefer Frame on worship you may suffer from Reformd Deficit Disorder.

  95. greenbaggins said,

    September 1, 2008 at 11:56 am

    RDD, I like that! LOL

  96. Vern Crisler said,

    September 1, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I can’t help quoting from Vern Poythress, a primary practioner of multiperspectivalism:

    “Thus, within Aristotle’s system, syllogisms can operate only with unitarian ontology. Hence syllogistic reasoning is itself tacitly unitarian. Only so can one claim that the reasoning is mechanically valid.” (“Reforming Ontology and Logic in the Light of the Trinity: An Application of Van Til’s Idea of Analogy,” WTJ, 57/1, 1995.)

    Oh well, anybody up for a debate over sabbatarianism? ;-)


  97. ReformedSinner said,

    September 1, 2008 at 11:36 pm


    1) It seems to me that comments like #94, even on a free for all board like greenbaggins, suffers from RHD – Reformed Humility Disorder.

    2) I know how to read thank you, and to be frank you are far from being the authoritative orthodox representative voice of the Reformed Tradition. So I hope you don’t mind if I take your comments with just a grain of sulfur.

    3) I love interactions and I love the fact that on greenbaggins the gloves are off and we go at it with bare knuckles. But most of all I only appreciate arguments that actually advances knowledge and depth. If we are only going to throw labels around then thanks but no thanks.


    Superbowl party at which Reverend’s house this season? ;)

  98. John Muether said,

    September 2, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Reformed Sinner: I think you are making a faulty diagnosis of RHD. Wouldn’t submission to the “authoritative orthodox voices of the Reformed tradition” (i.e. Westminster and Heidelberg) be a symptom of Reformed humility? And wouldn’t suspicion toward those voices characterize its absence?

  99. reformedsinner said,

    September 2, 2008 at 2:09 pm


    Dear Muether:

    1) No where am I suggesting we should not be humbled under the Reformed Confessions and Creeds. I uphold them with no “exceptions”

    2) No where am I suggesting that I agree with Frame, my posts merely reflect the fact that he made some good challenges to the Reformed world that I do not think someone has adequately refuted him on (hence I like to read him because he is “interesting”), Dr. Hart’s debate with him on the internet included. That does not mean I’m sold that we can use hip-hop punk music to praise God, but like I said Frame made some good arguments that at best the responses tend to be: “You’re a fool and not Reformed, go back and read the Confessions and when you’re ready to repent then we can talk.” Sorry if I don’t find this type of answer engaging nor challenging even when I’m sympathetic to it.

    3) I think you have confused the authority of Reformed Tradition with the authority of Dr. Hart. Are you suggesting Dr. Hart is the final voice of Reformed Tradition with us today?

    4) Let me reiterate I am not here to pick a bone with Dr. Hart. I read everyone of his books and his writing style is engaging and arguments fasinating. It’s definitely within his right for him to believe that he’s “got it” and some of us don’t and he’s here to lecture us. But it’s also this writer’s opinion that he’s not as “pure Reformed” as he likes to believe he is. He calls me RDD, I called him RHD. Looks like fair game to me – throwing around labels.

    5) I realized (slowly) that Frame seems to touch a nerve, and I do not want to come across as some type of Frame-defender going up against WSC faculty, to tear open old wounds from old battles. I’m only writing a response because you have quoted me directly.

    6) Nice Van Til book, I read it twice and bought numerous more as gifts to others. It’s long overdue. I do not mean to redirect attention nor change the focus, but as a Van Til biographer how do you view his take on God is one person and God is three persons?

  100. Darryl Hart said,

    September 2, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Ref. Sin.: When have I ever said “read my books” to understand the Reformed tradition? It seems to me that I have advocated reading the likes of Calvin, Ursinus, and the Divines on worship and the RPW. Maybe you have read them, and maybe you still think Frame impressive. But I’d be hard pressed to figure out how anyone who reads those older theologians and Frame could conclude that they were making the same points about worship.

    So Frame could be right and Calvin wrong. But wouldn’t that be a case of challenging rather than receiving the tradition?

  101. E.C. Hock said,

    September 2, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    #98 – John,

    You are right in one sense: a lack of submission would exist in a man of letters if authoritative voices in the Reformed tradition were ignored, or trivialized, or given surface attention. By “submission,” I speak of taking time to study and respect a tradition, not necessarily to affirm all of it. One must do that before he earns the right to disagree with it.

    Many of us study and respect Martin Luther’s contributions to Reformation thinking on a position, especially as he tilts towards Reformed thinking. Just listen to R.C. Sproul. But when must I “submit” to Martin Luther? I only submit where I also study Scripture along side of Luther, and find where they are in accord (cf. WCF I.10). But even then it is really submission to the Scripture, not submission to Luther as a figure. On his view of sovereignty I often say “amen”, but not so much on his view of the sacraments. I have a healthy suspicion about that! But, I still practice a charitable form of humility towards the man and his contribution, as I understand his life and context, do I not?

    I want to be a part of a great theological tradition as much as the next person. But when we apply the term “submission” on these kind of things, let us make a distinction between a studied respect of Reformed voices, and veneration of Reformed voices (at least some), earlier or recent. The latter view will be as if they have to be the last word ever in matters of method, exegesis and interpretation, or as a kind of submission a Roman Catholic might have for a patron saint (short of praying to it). No Reformed voice that I know of, Puritan or otherwise, would countenence that as proper form of humility to the past, even of their own. If theological tradition is what we have in view, and not mere novelty, then let’s keep going back to the most pretigious, permanent and elevated tradition of all – a studied submission to the canonical tradition of Scripture!

    (That is, as an example, what I like about J. Frame, for instance on the 2nd commandment, as he is not afraid to interact more deeply or widely on the matter with the OT and NT, as well as question old premises, and press us to do the same lest theological arthritis sets in. He does this even if it might cost him some respect where a veneration of past Reformed voices are expected. Is that not the kind of courage our Reformed voices encouraged and modeled?)

  102. John Muether said,

    September 2, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    RS: Thanks for the kind words on CVT. Regarding his trinitarian formulation, I tend to agree with RSC (see #80).

    ECH: Your “studied respect” of the WCF leaves something to be desired. It sounds as binding as PCUSA ordination vows. Do you really want to place Luther on the same level as the constitution of your church? (I assume you are PCA.) The courage which our a-confessional age demands the hermeneutics of submission not suspicion.

  103. Darryl Hart said,

    September 2, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    ECH: can someone buy a vow around here? I assume that you think husbands and wives should submit to the vows they have taken, not to mention the submission that wives promise to their husbands. But why do you expect church vows to be less binding? I’m not wild about chap. 22 of the WCF; I think it reflects more 17th century UK politics than our American situation demands (and ch. 22 makes much more sense to Covenanters who still subscribe the Solemn League and Covenant that the Westminster Divines affirmed). Even so, its language is instructive about the submission invovled in vows:

    “An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation, or mental reservation. It cannot oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man’s own hurt. Nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics, or infidels” (22.4)

    Imagine then how binding an ordination vow is for a man in the PCA where heretics and infidels are as rare as evangelicals at the Democratic Convention. Doh!

  104. E.C. Hock said,

    September 2, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    John and Darryl,

    The issue here is not simply about my vows, nor yours for that matter. The vows taken by our Reformed fathers did not keep them from pushing to new heights of biblical discussion, clarification and in some cases revision. If not, then we just become brittle and stagnate as we presume the mine no longer will yield more gold.

    No one is advocating a departure from the vitals of the WCF, certainly not I in this blog, exceptions understood. In principle the question is what role a theological tradition has in necessaarily supporting, yet properly advocating, theological growth and honesty that is in keeping with the one true standard of sola scriptura. For instance, Frame has questioned the rigorous way the Larger Catechism #109 worded the matter of the mind’s eyes as it pictures God’s earthly revelation of Himself, Jesus included. Is that meant to reflect the intention of the 2nd commandment? Is that even possible to exclude given the vivid nature of the gospels and the expectaton of memory about Jesus the apostles exercised (1 John 1:1-3)? Many more than just Frame have raised this question as they struggle with their own experience in preaching the word by systematic exposition. Is this a matter to just forget since Reformed voices of the past seemed settled on it? Could this not be debated without charging that someone in doing so has taken their vows lightly?

    There has always been a “Progress of Dogma” within the church, based on the church’s reflection thus far, even in Reformed conservative circles as our appreciation of biblical theology attests to in the 20th C. The best of her (Reformed) theologians have understood that more light can be expected to break forth from the depths of Scripture as new minds in new ages apply new methods, tested and affirmed, in digging out its truth. Did the esteemed Reformed voices of the past (into the present) exhaust that capability for all ages?

    Yes, we submit to the fathers of our church and creed, as part of what it means to submit to “the faith”, including how they framed biblical tenets and conviction. But do we remain simply the mezmerized theological preservation society until Jesus comes? That is all I am asking us to think about. Is Reformed theology only a monument, or is it also a mission for today? That could be another way of saying we are too smug to dare investigate further what gold and gems lays deeper in the tunnel of the gold mine.

  105. Bob Suden said,

    September 3, 2008 at 1:31 am

    Come on, Vern. Since when does an abusive ad hominem assertion stand in for a genuine argument or a substantive reply?

    I thought you had a perceptive criticism of Frame’s method in 12 and told you so in 13. How then in 82 and 85 do you justify giving us a verbatim repetition of Frame’s bogus conclusions that flow from his unreasonable and historically illiterate application of the RPW, all the while you tell us you are still critical of his method? OK, maybe you got there some other way and I didn’t frame my question as irenically as I could have, but I was still flabbergasted and it’s still called history.

    If you think Christmas, hymns and pictures are oK, that’s one thing, but to claim as you did that the RPW is intolerant or has essentially been hijacked by those who have an axe to grind against feastdays, uninspired song in worship and images, is again – to be blunt – historically illiterate. Not that that is the unforgivable sin, we all start out there, but when it’s willful, that’s a different matter. It’s your choice.

    Again, there are some folks out there in favor of uninspired hymns – Warfield for one, I believe – that have enough integrity and honesty to admit what the original position and intent of the Westminster Assembly and Standards were. And then there are some that don’t.
    You of course, may call it what you will, trash talking or whatever, but the facts of history and the reformed confessions remain untouched by any of your remarks.

    Darryl has repeatedly appealed not to his own opinion, but the reformed confessions in arguing that Frame is an anomaly in reformed history. Yet your replies have contained nothing at all, never mind substance from those same confessions. That he finally replied with a sly dig can be understood, though perhaps not approved.
    There was no interaction with his position regardless that you go on to tell us that is exactly what you love about GB – rather hypocritically and disingenuously IMO with any further talk about a grain of salt only demonstrating someone’s own myopia.
    GB is not a pizza, beer and football affair. If that’s what you expected, I can understand why you are disappointed, but don’t blame it on Darryl, please.

  106. Bob Suden said,

    September 3, 2008 at 1:36 am


    I don’t mean to be smug, when I say about the only comment missing from yours was the perennial ‘the reformed church is always reforming’. Well, it is, but not always in the way people seem to think. As in reforming its practice to match its confession. Doctrine is not always evolving. As to reforming the confession, that is another matter. Generally the church builds upon it, rather than tearing it down and starting over which is what Mr. Frame seems to want to do. Suffice it to say that while he might, for instance, have some legitimate questions about LC 109 and mental images of Christ, Mr. Frame unfortunately does much much more. As in dismissing the RPW and the confession on the 2nd Commandment after caricaturing it and resorting to logically invalid arguments and generous helpings of historical ignorance at least in his audience, if not also on his own part. But if you can’t give us the genuine confessional position and reasoning, you are hardly qualified to reform it. It instead becomes a hit or miss proposition.

    Has the last word been said on the issue by reformed theologians? Hardly. Only that Mr. Frame is categorically not qualified to add anything of substance to the discussion. He is an evangelical enthusiast and “biblical” theologian, if not fundamentalist on the topic. After all, if there were images in the temple or God commanded the Israelites to make the bronze serpent, so too today, images are lawful in worship. In other words, Mr. Frame cannot tell nonsense from a non sequitur and sadly more than a few of his nominally reformed readers can’t tell the difference either.

    Further I repeat myself to say that when Mr. Frame is done deconstructing the Second Commandment he has no good reason at all to forbid screening Mel Gibson’s modern version of a medieval passion play during the intermission at worship, in that (moving) pictures are lawful in the church’s pedagogy. I’d say that was quite a jump from mental images, but hey, it doesn’t seem to bother Mr. Frame, nor can I imagine it would bother Mad Max.
    It’s still not cool or confessional though and that’s the real issue.

    Only when the church has enough discernment to send Mr. Frame’s fraudulent arguments packing, can we then talk profitably about building more on the reformed foundation.

  107. Darryl Hart said,

    September 3, 2008 at 5:04 am

    ECH, at the risk of piling on, you say this is not about the “vitals” of Reformed theology. That seems patently wrong to me. Worship has a lot to say about how we regard God and ourselves. I’ve always been struck by the God of Reformed theology as one who is transcendent, holy, sovereign — someone not to be messed with. The RPW makes perfect sense if you worry about offending God, whether you want to call it idolatry or blasphemy. We only worship a holy and righteous God the way he tells us to worship him (not according to what we imagine might please him). I don’t see what could be more vital — what we believe about God and what duty he requires of us.

    You also say this is not about vows. I don’t get it. But if not surely our integrity is at stake. People regularly mock the American cafeteria Catholic who picks and chooses among the items on the church’s menu according to what he likes or doesn’t like. Reformed Christians, for some reason, don’t seem to think they have a similar problem.

  108. ReformedSinner said,

    September 3, 2008 at 10:16 am


    bob, carefully read the whole thread and then post your opinion. You will realize

    1) There’s clearly some bad blood between Frame and some people here, and the replies are bordline hostile because they view me as a Frame-defender (which I am not.)

    2) I repeated said I like Frame’s challenges, I like to play devil’s advocate in arguments to get the conversation going to a deeper level, but somehow that got translated into me being a Frame’s lover and I’m suffering from RDD.

    3) No sorry Bob unlike you I don’t find Hart’s posts here helpful (sometimes.) Sometimes he would just spew his strict Reformed views, make some witty comments, builds a strawman, and then knocks it down. Not my idea of knowledge advancement.

    4) If you read the whole thread I only expressed two opinions: a) would a theological writing be inferior if it’s only exegetically-based (yes according to Dr. Clark and Dr. Hart), and b) I find Frame’s challenge to RPW interesting and challenging (but somehow this means I am RDD – I guess that’s better than declaring me not Reformed as they have declared Frame to be.) I am still confused how I become an antagonist in this thread.

    5) I am playing the game Dr. Hart wants to play -throwing around names. I think that’s fair game. But you are right, he’s not suffering from RHD. That’s a misdiagnosis and I believe he’s a humble man who takes his belief seriously, enough to make wars with anyone anywhere. I have another diagnosis in mind but I think it should stop here and move on.

  109. ReformedSinner said,

    September 3, 2008 at 10:28 am


    “As in reforming its practice to match its confession. Doctrine is not always evolving”

    So Bob, do you believed the current Reformed Tradition got everything right, and you believe there’s nothing more the Bible can tell us that will advance our Tradition but rather will only help us conform to our tradition?

    “Generally the church builds upon it, rather than tearing it down and starting over which is what Mr. Frame seems to want to do.”

    Where has Frame said he wants to tear down the Confession and start over?

    “As in dismissing the RPW and the confession on the 2nd Commandment after caricaturing it and resorting to logically invalid arguments and generous helpings of historical ignorance at least in his audience, if not also on his own part. But if you can’t give us the genuine confessional position and reasoning, you are hardly qualified to reform it. It instead becomes a hit or miss proposition.”

    Read Frame carefully. He HAS given us his opinion of the confessional position, refined by his exegesis, and makes the argument that the Reformed folks should boldly advance into new terroritory. Now you may disagree with him, but you can’t simply declared him pretty much a slick writer that appeals to his audiences ignorance with invalid arguments. He teaches philosophy, I think he knows what a valid argument looks like.

    “Has the last word been said on the issue by reformed theologians? Hardly. Only that Mr. Frame is categorically not qualified to add anything of substance to the discussion.”

    Oh, a strong statement, let’s see what you say to back this personal attack up.

    “He is an evangelical enthusiast and “biblical” theologian, if not fundamentalist on the topic.”

    You back up your premise by making conclusions with no evidences (i.e. throwing around derogatory labels.) Is this your idea that GB is not a pizza and beer place? Thanks for showing me how it’s properly done here.

    “Only when the church has enough discernment to send Mr. Frame’s fraudulent arguments packing, can we then talk profitably about building more on the reformed foundation.”

    Your post is not a starting point that’s for sure.

  110. E.C. Hock said,

    September 3, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    #107 – Darryl

    Steady on Bro! Setting your pile aside, please let’s focus on Frame’s ethical views, rather than be presumptive over personal vows, yours, mine, or Frame’s, which if you read note (#104) more carefully, I do not denegrate.

    Why is it that some staunch theological traditionalists, when asked about the tensions within and between our Reformed theologies, then and now, shift and cry foul on vows and loyalties, as if that helps or ends the matter? The assumption seems to be that one is not allowed to examine biblical texts afresh, or that to be ‘truly Reformed’ in the PCA means that “all divine mysteries are solved,” so just work on memorizing the beloved Institutes and Catechisms. (I am glad G. Vos didn’t think so; he discovered how to express the transcendent and holy God of Reformed thought in a rich and satisfying way; that is still being done as the fabric is not finished). Frankly, the shift to a “vow charge” looks to be more like a red herring to shut down discussion.

    Also, who ever said worship was not central to the vitals of confessional faith and the marrow of Reformed doctrine? Who inferred the RPW is being set aside by such a discussion? Frame does not. I did not when I commented on a matter Frame brings up in his review concerning a wider application of the 2nd commandment in LC #109. I hope we are a little more nuanced in our reflection than either/or thinking in problematic areas. Whatever disagree- ments one may have with Frame over all, including what he may say on the RPW, he states many issues well, raises excellent questions and points to make us probe more deeply in the Word, and perhaps revise over-stated phrases of the past. (Ex – It most unrealistic, if not impossible, to meditate and preach, for instance, through the gospel of Luke, frame by frame, on the unique life and times of Jesus, be gripped by the drama of his ministry and doctrine, and not come away with mental images or pictures of our blessed Jesus, God’s Son, in our minds. If not that image, then there will surely be a false images of him in its place. That IS worth trembling about).

    The apostles had it also in their memory of his physical features that touched them and became an image to their minds carried with them and were finally woven in their public testimony (1 John 1:1-3). You do not hear them denying it, or scolding each other, out of fear of the 2nd commandment. Frame then is right to raise such a point that form questions about the tensions within interpretations of the RPW. If not, then our worship is without meaningful reflection.

  111. Darryl Hart said,

    September 3, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Ref. Sin.: What I wrote when I “was throwing around names” was this, “you may suffer from RDD.” It was written in response to Vern and you. Somehow Vern did not take offense. But the “you” people I had in mind was anyone who reads the tradition. I hardly think this qualifies as name-slinging.

    ECH: You were the one who said that the vitals or Reformed theology were not at stake in this discussion. You also say lets stick to ethics, but somehow the ethics of worship don’t apply. I believe that Frame’s books on worship were damaging to the Reformed faith. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who read my debate with him. I can only imagine that someone who tries to imagine what the apostles remembered of their Lord’s appearance as the basis for not taking seriously the RPW is a good student of Frame’s methods. But it’s hard for me to believe how such a person would deem Frame or Hart as more authoritative for the tradition, if not providing better theology, than the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity, which also happen to be the confession of the church, not the speculations or historiography of individual American Presbyterians.

  112. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 4, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Is it a violation of the 2nd commandment to think of Jesus as a man? That involves a mental picture, does it not? Or do we confess such thoughts as sin and ask for forgiveness?

    And shall we scrap the Sistine Chapel and other such works of art as simply idolatry?

    I’m asking in earnest, as there seems to be some discrepancy with the theological position and the actual practice of it. Should we not think of Jesus as a Man with a face? It seems odd that God the Son became a Man, but we cannot think of Him as such with regard to His physical appearance.

    I would appreciate the thoughts of the “panel”. thanks

  113. ReformedSinner said,

    September 4, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I have a hard time distinguishing a Protestant Church and the local IT company. I have a hard time distinguishing my home from my atheist neighbor’s home. Now, of course I know the “right answer” to be: the Church is worship, not a business. The Church and home has the Word of God as the center, not mere self-glorification but God-glorifying. I am not talking about that.

    My question (or my hard time) is the aesthetics between the two. Is it wrong to speak of aesthetics of God in Church and home? Why would God give us the gifts of artistry, a sense of aesthetics, when at the same time the argument is somehow God forbids us to use any of these gifts in Church and home?

    It seems like nowadays churches almost need to apologize when there’s a cross hanging down the wall (if not removed already.) In fear of “idolatry”, let alone pictures of Christ and His disciples. At home it’s almost impossible to put on any symbols of Christianity without being suspicious of “semi-Catholicism.” At best we are allowed to put bumper sticker style quotes: “The LORD is my Shepherd”, but we are not allowed to put up a picture of Jesus as the Shepherd surrounded by sheep, that’s semi-Catholicism.

    Has the baby gone out with the bathwater? Protestants seem to fear idol-worship of aesthetics so much that they have deem the whole enterprise idolatry, without wise discernment. No wonder Christians have virtually little if no influence in the area of art and aesthetics, we have given up on an area that God created, but I guess God only created them for the sinners and mark that off as part of His domain.

    The new modern churches look like your typical small company. Christian homes look like atheist homes. This also makes it hard to teach children. Now kids, there is a man Jesus that died for you 2000+ years ago, but don’t you dare try to draw him or what he did historically, you’re only suppose to read about it, no mental pictures! Daddy, can you draw the death and resurrection of Christ please? No son, that’s idolatry, shame on you, go repent to the LORD for daring to ask such question.

  114. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 4, 2008 at 10:48 am

    And where have the “arts” gone without the prominent Christian influence of days passed?

    Down the tubes.

  115. Darryl Hart said,

    September 4, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    GCB: Hey, what about Thomas Kinkaid?

    Also, maybe you could help me out with the biblical warrant saying we must have an image of Jesus or a conception of his face’s appearance? As I seem to recall, the RPW was not about what God permits, but about what he requires.

    Ref. Sin.: Maybe you could also help me out with biblical warrant saying art is so important. I’m not going to defend modern church architecture, nor is your defense going to give young churches the financial position to hire a good architect and general contracter. My point simply is why do you favor art and not plumbing, or painting and not cooking. I could imagine chefs in OT Israel thinking the priests constantly overcooked the meat in the Holy of Holies. But maybe the point of the service then and now was so different that aesthetics (or cullinary arts) were not as high a priority as you make them.

  116. Bob Suden said,

    September 5, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Dear RS,

    How come in all the abundance of your comments (108,9) you fail to mention the one thing necessary? For those who haven’t been paying attention to the development of this thread, John Frame begins with a scruple regarding LC 109 and mental images of Christ and literally ends (DoCL, Chapt. 26, p.22) by saying he sees no reason not to use pictures of Christ in the church’s pedagogy.

    But if the fellow travelers don’t understand the implications of this comment, the understudies of our philospher king know full well what it demands. It means that Mel Gibson’s (obscene) latest will be coming to a presbyterian church near you. Your presbyterian church. Soon. In live and living color. In other words, John Frame heroically sails where no man has ever gone before – except for the Roman and Orthodox church, who have been there for . . . at least a couple of centuries before the Protestant Reformation. (Oops.)

    There’s a war going on, RS. John Frame has declared himself on the wrong side. Not only has he explicitly denied the reformed understanding and exposition of the Second Commandment on the basis of some shallow arguments, he has bowed down and offered incense to the putative proposition that images are a necessary and lawful supplement to the Word of God and the preaching of it. In other words, he is an idolater. If pictures can do what the printed and preached word can do, he has done no more than made peace and common cause with popery.

    “1) There’s clearly some bad blood between Frame and some people here . . . ”

    You are correct here. Those who have been bought by the blood of the Lamb, the Word become flesh, take all this poorly. They know full well that the valley of dry bones doesn’t rise from the dead when the Word has to share the pulpit with coloring books, comics and Caviezel’s version of the life of Christ, if not that it is driven into exile by the same pretenders to its authority, purpose and efficiency/sufficiency.

    As regards the difference between valid arguments and volvo automobiles, since we have already addressed the “arguments” that images are lawful because we are made in the image of God and there were images on the retinas of the apostles’ eyeballs, yet another ethical Rubiks cube for our logicians in training. If images in the temple, the Second Commandment notwithstanding, are an approved example as per Frame for images in worship today, so too God’s command to Abraham to kill Isaac, the Sixth notwithstanding, is an approved example of an evangelical argument for abortions today, yes or no?

    If yes, then Dr. Frame could also be said to be the Dr. Kervorkian of reformed medical ethics, as well as the ethic of worship. If no, then the wind has been knocked out of his sails and his arguments.

    Thank you.

  117. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 5, 2008 at 9:04 am


    Well, Thomas Kincaid has been great for Christian greeting cards. Revolutionary, really.

    The RPW may not require that we have an image of Jesus or a conception of His face, but we still do. I’m not saying I want pictures of Jesus in my church, I don’t. But what of the works of Rembrandt? Of Michaelangelo? Or what about thinking upon His physical appearance? It seems odd that God would reveal Himself to us through His Son as a man, made like unto us in every way, yet without sin. And yet, we cannot think upon His appearance without it being idolatry? Doesn’t add up…

  118. Darryl Hart said,

    September 5, 2008 at 9:11 am

    GCB: there’s a lot about the gospel that doesn’t add up for which I am grateful.

    Just out of curiosity, since the Reformers were surrounded by great works of art in ways very different from us, why do you think they decided to whiten the churches and remove the images? Were they simply kill joys? In other words, I’m wondering how you add up their affirmation of the RPW.

  119. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 5, 2008 at 11:34 am


    I would add it up by recognizing the theological atmosphere in which they lived and moved and had their being. They were reacting against the idolatrous errors of Roman Catholicism. Reaction against error can produce an imbalance in the opposite direction. That is why we have to be careful about interpreting Scripture through the grid of our confessions. We certainly shouldn’t abandon them, but be mindful of the danger and not usurp Sola Scriptura with our traditions, dear to us though they be…

  120. Darryl Hart said,

    September 5, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    GCB, say what? You just admitted in 117 that there is no biblical demand for images. So how is it that the Reformers were overreacting to their context when just as plausible is that they were adhering to the RPW?

  121. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 5, 2008 at 3:13 pm


    The Reformers prohibited images period, not just in worship. That is the overreaction.

    Is it a sin to think of the physical appearance of Christ, yes or no?

  122. Darryl Hart said,

    September 5, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    GCB: you da man. So you’re doubling down on the s-word. I call. To think of Jesus having a face, as you claim in 112, would not be a sin. It would be stupid to read Isaiah and not think that Jesus had a face. But that wasn’t the issue the Reformers were addressing. They were actually concerned with creating an image of Jesus with a face.

    If that is how you understand their interpretation of the second commandment, I hope you do a better job of reading your hand.

  123. Vern Crisler said,

    September 5, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Hmm Darryl, didn’t the 7th ec. council settle the theology in this area?


  124. ReformedSinner said,

    September 5, 2008 at 9:55 pm


    Sorry I need to break my promise of dropping my thread here with you… :)

    But I’m a bit confused.

    Creating an image of Jesus with a face in my mind: Biblical.
    Creating an image of Jesus with a face on paper: not Biblical.


    2nd commandment exegesis: you should not create an idol. The exegesis of the word idol demands worship, not just bans any images. I.e. images in themselves are not idols unless there’s acts of worship.

    Therefore, I would say:

    Creating an image of face of Jesus on any form: Biblical
    Creating an image of face of Jesus on any form AND worship it: not Biblical.

    Your critique?

  125. Darryl Hart said,

    September 6, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Ref. Sin: I see you’re a good reader of Frame. Thinking leads to creating so to say that thinking of Christ with a face is akin to creating an image of Christ with a face. Sort of like the way Frame argues for drama in worship — it’s like preaching.

    Still the question was about thinking, not creating. I can’t think of Christ with out a face any more than I can think of him as a man without legs and feet.

    Dave VanDrunen has written about images and the second commandment in several places. One of the points he makes is this:

    “Another point often made by Reformed theologians comes in a variety of forms, but it might be summarized in this way: no image of Christ can be authentic. Sometimes theologians make this point by stressing that the visual representations that we produce can never capture the mystery of the Incarnation, the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in one person. At other times, though not as frequently, theologians make this point by arguing that because we cannot know how Jesus looked—that is, what his physical features were and are—we can never produce a picture of him that really represents him. In my judgment, this is a more important argument than has often been appreciated. We must not forget that in the Incarnation the invisible God did in fact become visible! Jesus spoke these profound words to Philip as this disciple sat looking at him: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). This statement ought to give pause to anyone who would presume to create an image of Jesus. God became visible in Jesus—and in no other. God revealed himself visibly in the body of Jesus of Nazareth, with particular facial and physical features. Any other body, any other face, is not the incarnate revelation of God. But since we do not know how Jesus looked, any representations of him that we might make would necessarily be of someone other than God incarnate.”

  126. Kyle said,

    September 6, 2008 at 9:57 am


    It appears here also two of my comments have disappeared. Not sure what’s going on as they did show up last night.

  127. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 6, 2008 at 8:37 pm


    Thinking about committing adultery is, in a sense, committing adultery. Is it not? However, you want to say you can *think* about Jesus having a face and that would be fine, but put that image down on paper and *presto* you have a sin.

    Just because any image made of Jesus would not look exactly like Him in every detail is not a sufficient argument to therefore *never* produce any image of Him. He was a Middle Eastern Jew with a beard. I think we can get in the ballpark without offending the Almighty–who prepared for Jesus a body and gave Him a face.

  128. Darryl Hart said,

    September 6, 2008 at 9:29 pm

    GCB: what, no legs or feet?

  129. Darryl Hart said,

    September 6, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    BTW: I can think of Jesus having a face without actually thinking that I want to paint him with a face, just as I can think of what might cause a friend to commit adultery without actually thinking I want to go to bed with the friend’s “lover.” GCB, I hope you can see the difference between thoughts. So your point blank question about whether thinking of Jesus with a face does not cover the range of thoughts possible about a particular situation.

  130. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 6, 2008 at 10:38 pm



    I covered that in the “who prepared for Jesus a body” phrase :-)


    If thoughts are the seed of actions, then *thinking* something is attached to *doing* it. If the action, namely painting a picture of Jesus, is a sin–then the thinking of what you would paint is a sin as well. I don’t see how you can disconnect the two, except that you know you sometimes think of Jesus’ physical appearance but don’t want to label that a sin. Since Jesus was and is a man, us thinking of Him that way with a particular face (imagined though it be) is natural, even if we draw it on paper. As long as we don’t worship the picture we made, or the paper we drew it on, I don’t see where the 2nd commandment is broken…

  131. Darryl Hart said,

    September 7, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    ECH: so is having an image of Jesus really that important to you or is this the wedge by which to have art? If the latter, do you have any RPW friendly ways of determining good images of Jesus from bad ones?

  132. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 8, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    DH, I assume you meant GCB above instead of ECH?

    If so, images of Jesus aren’t that important to me personally. However, I think there is room for differences among us regarding this issue. In my opinion such images are fine in other venues outside of worship. If someone were to evaluate pictures of Christ in an RPW friendly way, they should consider what little the Bible says about His appearance. He was a Middle Eastern Jew with a beard, and since He was a carpenter he probably had a manly physique. I think it would be safe to stay within those perimeters, which would disclude the blue-eyed Western European (and sometimes effeminate) pictures of Jesus that are prevalent in our day…

  133. E.C. Hock said,

    September 8, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    If we are back again on images of the incarnate Jesus, rather than swing back and forth by discussing it in extremes, which most folk recognize as such, Frame discusses where they may and may not be appropriate. He is more of a centrist here. He points out, as others have done, how the Reformed world view in the past often excluded the pictorial arts too quickly in its bid to influence and shape culture. There can be a case for moderate use of images depicting a sense of Jesus in his earthly ministry as the gospels vividly bring out for pedogogical settings.

  134. Darryl Hart said,

    September 9, 2008 at 5:07 am

    Can anyone say Rembrandt? I don’t know all of his work, but it’s not as if the Dutch Reformed forbade painting or failed to “transform” culture. If having a picture of Jesus is really about the integration of faith and culture, then just say so. But when did Reformed Protestants ever forbid art (I thought everyone has read Schaeffer), and why would Reformed worship ever be the baseline for cultural expression? As I wrote above, we don’t have faucets and drains in worship but has anyone ever thought that Reformed Protestants have prohibited in-door plumbing?

  135. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 9, 2008 at 10:24 am


    Didn’t you say that painting a picture of Jesus was a sin? Or did you mean that having such a picture in worship was a sin, but otherwise was OK? So Rembrandt and the Sistine Chapel are safe…whew!

  136. Darryl Hart said,

    September 9, 2008 at 10:59 am

    GCB: yes, I do think that images of Christ contravene God’s revealed will as summarized in the Decalogue. You also seem to think that using such images for worship is a sin. What I’m struggling with is the logic that says pictures of Jesus equals more Christians in the arts and better cultural life, and which implies negatively that no pictures of Jesus means handing over cultural life to God’s enemies.

  137. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 9, 2008 at 1:15 pm


    I’m trying to refrain from going beyond Scripture on this issue. Whether more pictures of Jesus will mean more Christians involved in the arts I couldn’t say. Look at the arts right now though….ruled by God’s enemies or no?

  138. E.C. Hock said,

    September 9, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Darryl, your struggle with the either/or logic (as you oddly express) is of your own making, not of anyone I so far have read of here, be it in Frame or on this blog. The matter of corporate worship was not even mentioned above by me. I mentioned usage more simply as a pedegogical matter, but you re-phrase it to be doxological matter to make it a “red meat” critique. And, interestingly, you mention one artist, a Dutch Continental ‘Reformed’ artist (up to a point), has been more the exception, not the rule. And have we seen any modern Rembrandt’s following in his train? Not really. An affirmative relationship between theology and culture, or ethics and culture, arises by implication before it ever shows signs of subtle transformation.

    But no one is saying (Frame or myself at least) that a Reformed worldview, in principle, forbids art (very wide topic). Yet look at just the last century in terms of the poverty of that relationship, and how secularism has rifled through the media and arts because of (I believe) an over-reaction to Christian religion in art, a subset of which is, not surprisingly, picturing the ministry of Jesus through the calculation of what human eyes saw, human hands touched and human hears heard concerning the Son of God. Rembrandt’s greatest paintings involved events and drama in keeping with the religious calendar, no doubt commissioned by the church. But why do we need always to go to Rembrandt (16th C.) to find our token artist? Schaeffer is one contemporary example of trying to wake up the Evangelical-Reformed community to engage these issues more assertively and creatively and theologically.

    But let us ask? What gave rise to this twentieth century poverty of theology in the drama of art to begin with long beforehand? Why did it take a Schaeffer, from our own ranks, to call us back to realize what we had abandoned? What lead to this abandonment in post-Reformational centuries since the Enlightenment? Could it not be a too strident attitude to the arts that arose from too narrow an interpretation of prohibiting even mental images of the Son of Man (in a certain era of history), creating in turn an over-reactionary attitude in the conservative church to art as a friendly medium? When Christians howl every time religious images, even done realistically, tastefully, are depicted from stories of the Bible, even in a flannel graph, it has a way of being, culturally at least, like yeast levelling the whole artistic loaf of Protestantism. American fundamentalist attitudes (save Bob Jones) since the 1800’s have particularly been simplistic and harsh in this arena for decades. The fear of a slippery slope is the spectre ever set before us, rather than balanced debate and dialogue, has paralyzed people on this for too long. Frame is a modified Reformed voice that raises the matter in a positive tone. But what took so long?

  139. Darryl Hart said,

    September 9, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    EC and GC: I think we may have finally hit on the real issue among us in this thread. I’m not as convinced as you both seem to be that the “rule” of the arts by unbelievers is as bad as you say. Sure, there’s plenty of bad art. But regeneration hardly guarantees good art — Thomas Kincaid or Tim LaHaye anyone? Plus, there’s plenty of good art by unbelievers. (Having just finished The Wire I am particularly bullish right now on HBO.) And then there is all the low key off the radar art by ordinary people (believers and unbelievers) in the quiet of their homes or on their porches. So I don’t think the answer to the arts problem is a Reformed worldview, a Rembrandt, a Schaeffer, or even better pictures of Jesus. It could be that Aristotle offers more possibilities than a Christian aesthetic.

  140. Zrim said,

    September 10, 2008 at 1:39 pm


    Aye. It is an odd thing what true faith can do to a sinner that he begins to think his heavenly citizenship has some direct and obvious bearing on his earthly one. What’s even more remarkable is how routinely ignored it is that regeneration doesn’t mean that. But if regeneration never made me better with numbers I am not sure how others all of a sudden bloom when it comes to art.

  141. E.C. Hock said,

    September 10, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Darryl: I think we are now both moving towards the constructive middle on this matter. I also think there is good art and good media out there, whether or not it is explicitly Christian, or run by religious people, or people sympathetic to a moral framework that Christians can appreciate and identify with, more or less. I am not trying to banner wave an exclusive Reformed worldview in this vast area as the answer, and then import images into that worldview as the solution for cultural transformation. I am trying to argue, at least this much with Frame, that when we do look at, and look through the lens of, our Reformed worldview as exercised today, there are good reasons for reviewing and softening some of the more strident crtiques made that are unrealistic, and have had overtime a pejorative impact on how biblical-minded Christians approach the arts, and depicting the Son of Man specifically, as in the statements made in in LC #109. As ethics is a matter of how best to define the boundaries and apply doctrinal tenets drawn from the biblical narrative, this is one area worth revising without trying to claim anything more in terms of culture. At this point, enough has been said, at least by me, over this surprisingly drawn out discussion. Thanks.

  142. Darryl Hart said,

    September 11, 2008 at 5:26 am

    EC: at the risk of drawing this out, I’m still left uncomfortable by the way you so easily transition from the 2nd commandment to artistic endeavor. This is relevant to Frame because of his own blurring of the RPW and asserting that it applies to all of life, not just worship. His own logic — using the Bible as a standard for every day of the week as opposed to just the Sabbath — is the one that would hamper art by making the Bible a manual of aesthetics. The Reformerss understanding of the 2nd commandment, however, recognized that ecclesiastical and cultural affairs while overlapping in some ways were distinct. If you want good art, leave the Bible out of it, both as a rule for aesthetics and as a source of subjects. John Singer Sargent didn’t seem to be hurt by not being able to paint a portrait of Jesus.

  143. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 11, 2008 at 8:10 am

    Actually, JSS was very bitter about not being able to paint Him. His Protestant upbringing laid this prohibition on his conscience like an anvil, and besides, his mother absolutely would not allow it. So, he settled on Presidents and dancers. Oh well, what might have been….

    (the above is not based on truth whatsoever)

  144. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 11, 2008 at 9:34 am

    One final comment on this, when Christians stay out of the arts (with regard to religious imagery, not Thomas Kincaid lightscapes) then you abandon the cultural battlefield to pagans who will put forth their concepts and ideas about Christianity. What you’re left with are things like a painting of the Virgin Mary smeared with cow dung, or a crucifix floating in a jug of urine. Those are not the only images I want the world to be exposed to…

  145. Zrim said,

    September 11, 2008 at 11:24 am


    That makes perfect sense if you begin with a cultural battlefield instead of a cultic one. But in keeping with the counter-intution of the gospel itself, when those starting points are turned around you’d be surprised by the reversal of odors. At the end of the Framian logic what you really end up with is cultural religion, which way worse than anything Mapplethorpe came up with.

  146. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 11, 2008 at 2:32 pm


    Not sure I compute, please elaborate…

  147. Zrim said,

    September 12, 2008 at 9:50 am


    All the same points DGH is making, really. All I am trying to point out is the cult/culture distinction. That all of life is worship (Frame) wants to blur that distinction, and eventually what happens is folks are upset about jars of excrement. But the Most High wasn’t upset with the Mapplethorpes amongst Israel’s neighbors; He was concerned with the golden calves His own people were constructing. Isn’t it odd to be concerned with how pagans convey God instead of with how His own people do? I anticipate your response to be perhaps more American and declare that you want it all, that both pagans and believers should be getting it right. But, search as I might, I don’t find that principle at all in the Bible, a book from front to end with a mind toward a very particular people.

  148. E.C. Hock said,

    September 12, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    I was planning to leave this discussion until this matter arose. The discussion about Frame and worship has stumbled into a thorny patch, especially when we consider worship as conveyed more widely within the NT. Why is Frame at fault here when he speaks of “all life as worship”? It looks like he is merely following where Scripture and redemptive history takes him (and us) on the matter.

    Yes, we talk of corporate worship in Christ’s body as one prominant form of it. But what justification is there to limit the biblical language of worship to a cultic domain when Scripture expands the theme? (This is why biblical theology needs its place in the sun.) Frame is hardly alone in advocating life as worship, or worshiping God with all your life, under Christ’s Lordship. Romans 12:1-2 is clear enough on that wider understanding. Thus, what we do in giving God glory in corporate worship as well as giving Him glory as cultural beings is to show how all of life is worship. I mean that all the life of a Christian is glorifying God in one capacity or another. And though judgment may begin with the household of God, a God jealous for His glory is indeed concerned with how all the Mapplethorpes in history convey Him, given that they fall under His moral judgment? I fear that in wanting to maintain a culture/cult distinction, we have faltered into a secular/sacred distinction that betrays the spirit of Protestantism.

  149. Darryl Hart said,

    September 12, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    ECH: but the problem with Frame’s expansive view of the RPW is that it doesn’t allow for freedom of conscience in the cultural arena. The RPW was designed not to allow for freedom of conscience in the cult. When the church does something it must have a thus sayeth the Lord attached to it. But in the culture, Christian may or may not eat meat offered to idols. I don’t have the same liberty to decide whether I pray with the pastor in the pastoral prayer or think about the Eagles game starting at 4pm.

  150. GAS said,

    September 12, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Darryl: You have left unanswered Evan’s key question. Do you hold to Zrim’s extreme position that the cultural dimension should be free from any Religious (response) considerations or do you take a modified position the Religious (response) considerations is still valid for the cultural dimension but distinct from the cultic dimension.

  151. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 12, 2008 at 8:17 pm


    You said, “But the Most High wasn’t upset with the Mapplethorpes amongst Israel’s neighbor.” Huh? He wasn’t upset with Sodom and Gemorrah? I thought the smoking pit that was left over after He reigned down fire from heaven was a sign if His displeasure ;-)

  152. G.C. Berkley said,

    September 12, 2008 at 8:26 pm


    I can agree with you on the RPW, but we disagree on the cultural part. I think the Reformers dealt with the issue of images in a very cautious way as products of their time. However, we often overstate the case when we’re defending a truth, i.e. no images whatsoever. I think the biblical position (which displays biblical balance) is with regard to worship: no images of Christ prescribed, when it comes to culture: no images of Christ prohibited. The difficult part of this is how we address the question of what images of Christ are acceptable, and in what context they are acceptable in. The simple answer is to just discard the whole thing and say they’re never allowable–that way we don’t have to wrestle with the issue at all. That, I think, is the overreaction.

    ECH said:

    Frame is hardly alone in advocating life as worship, or worshiping God with all your life, under Christ’s Lordship.

    Is this not the Puritan position?

  153. Darryl Hart said,

    September 14, 2008 at 9:02 am

    GAS and GCB: I can’t speak for Zrim, but a fundamental distinction is being lost here and I think Frame is someone who illustrates the problem. It is the distinction between creation and redemption. I myself am comfortable talking about culture in religious terms if by that you mean applying the doctrines of creation and providence. I am uncomfortable applying the categoreis of redemption. (This is what Frame does by saying that RPW is for the cult and the culture. This is category confusion.) Simply saying Christ is Lord of everything only adds to the confusion because the Reformed tradition (and I bet this applies to the Puritans as well) could talk of Christ being Lord in different ways, that is, his redemptive lordship over the church is different from his creational lordship over all things.

    So I’m happy to talk about the culture in religious terms, if you’re willing to say that Christ’s lordship extends even to Robert Mapplethorp and Saddam Hussein.

  154. Zrim said,

    September 14, 2008 at 6:12 pm


    Re Sodom, I think Darryl’s key point about confused categories might have some bearing here. Sodom was guilty of crimes against creation (culture), not redemption (cult). But lest that gets badly applied and we think Ike is another example of God’s judgment against America for you-name-the-hobby-horse, I think we may do well to remember that we live in the pilgrim-era this side of the cross instead of the theocratic one. Sodom is “typomatic” of the final judgment where wrath is being stored up. Until then, God’s people alone are the focus. Name on NT epistle addressed to the world instead of the church of God. 1 Cor 5 (especially 12-13), anyone?


    Speaking of modified and extreme positions, I recall my Arminian pastor saying of the Reformed doctrines of grace, “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.” His point was that full-on grace only leads to antinomianism, which helped explain the suffocating moralism, etc. He was right, but not the way he thought he was. One man’s extreme is another’s liberty. Funny how his modified position only led to moralism; I can’t help but think the same might be true here when it comes to worship: a modified position only leads to all sorts of silliness and consciences inappropriately bound, which is Darryl’s point @ 149. I sit really so extreme to want to guard a conscience?

  155. GAS said,

    September 14, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    I would agree that the distinction the law holds over the Cult (gratitude) is different than it’s hold over the Culture (order). OTOH, at the other extreme, claiming the Cult has no influence over the Culture, at least as a secondary means, seems to dismiss the role the Church has in teaching the Culture the Creational order.

    If one believes the conscience is free from the Creational order than I would say that one is an antinomian.

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