Kind of slow to getting to the blog after a long week of unusual amount of ministry.
I’ve been meaning to respond to a certain Tom Chantry who has made some accusation against theologian John Frame. A few months ago someone attending Westminister Seminary at Escondido sent me a link to Chantry’s blog attacking theologian John Frame titled “Re-Framing Reformed Baptist Doctrine.” I have seen this link go around elsewhere on facebook. (The post and blog has since been made private). Now personally I don’t get riled up when Christians disagree, so long as it is done charitably. But I thought the post was rather off the mark by a long shot; it was as if Chantry had an ax to grind.
One of the troubling claim Chantry made was the relativism of John Frame’s theological method. Chantry’s claim of relativism and subjectivism goes together. In this post I want to document Chantry’s claim and also demonstrate that’s not case from looking at John Frame’s own words.
Since that link is no longer working I have found that Chantry wrote that Frame’s theological method amounts to relativism in a comment on another blog:
I was a student of Frame’s at Escondido. He is a kind and godly man. However…
…Opponents of Van Til have long tried to paint him as a relativist. Van Til was not a relativist, but the case can be made much more forcefully of Frame’s VanTilian construct. I do not believe he is consciously or intentionally a relativist, but his epistemological approach amounts to a tacit acceptance of relativism.
Note the last claim about John Frame, that “his epistemological approach amounts to a tacit acceptance of relativism.” I was blown away that John Frame responded in the same blog clearly saying he himself is not a relativist nor his method espouses relativism:
I have answered the relativism criticism a thousand times, probably scores of times when Tom was my student. If Tom doesn’t buy my explanation after all that, I don’t know what I can say. For the rest of you, please see the “Primer on Perspectivalism” that Mr. Mellen referred to. The main point is that the perspectives are perspectives on something objective, the real world as God has made it, and the objective revelation God has given to us. So truth is not relative, but absolute. What perspectivalism says is that only God’s thought is perfect, always correct.
Tom Chantry’s response was to say to Frame that he might be wrong about misrepresenting Frame’s theology. That was in February 2008. But then in 2014 Chantry posted on his blog asserting again the relativism charge. It left me scratching my head.
It seems that Frame himself cannot be a relativists in his teachings. It is hard to claim Frame is a relativist when he believes the Bible is objectively God’s Word:
The Bible is objectively God’s Word.
That was from page 308 from Frame’s Doctrine of the Word of God that I read this morning.
Its hard to see John Frame espousing relativism when he himself does not think subjectivism is a sound theological method. Frame critiques of others’ theology also fault them when it ends up in subjectivism (among other things) as seen in a review posted on his website (click here).
Frame’s discussion of theological method is nuanced in the sense that he see a biblical theory of knowledge has a subjective side to it; but that’s not the same thing as saying it is ONLY subjective. Noting a subjective aspect is not the same thing as embracing subjectivism no more than believing truth is rational means one then is a rationalist.
Two paragraphs from page 726 of Frame’s systematic theology is worth posting here and I hope readers will see the naunces:
What I have represented as a biblical epistemology is not rationalist, empircist, or subjectivist, though it has some affinities with each. With the rationalists, Scripture recognizes our needs for norms and rules governing knowledge. With the empiricists, Scripture recognizes the facts of God’s creation as our objects of knowledge. And with the subjectivists, Scripture recognizes that knowing is a mental process, something inward. But it refuses to isolate any of these three aspects of knowledge.
To isolate the norm, as in rationalism, gives you a rule for nothing. Isolating empirical facts gives you unordered, unstructured data. And isolating inward subjectivity keeps us from acknowledging any truth outside ourselves…
Notice the part I had in bold. Frame clearly is not a subjectivists. He thinks that would isolate us from knowing truth outside ourselves. Frame believes also there are objective knowledge of facts. He also believes there are rules concerning knowing things. He also see Scripture being his authority that shapes how and what he knows. Frame’s not a relativist or a subjectivist in the typical use of the term.
Personally I think Chantry was trying to frame John Frame for something he’s not. Don’t get enchanted by the argument of someone who say they were a student of Frame and was confused in his seminary class; that is a poor argument.