Review of Frame’s Western Philosophy

This review is dedicated to Kevin Johnson.

I won’t give a whole review of each thinker in this book.  I’ve done some of that here.
https://patristicevangelism.wordpress.com/category/john-frame-2/

What new material can a survey of Philosophy cover? I was wrong.  Frame’s text has numerous ‘lagniappe’ that you won’t find in other texts (links to audio, references to modern Reformed thinkers, etc).  In other words, it’s fun. But more importantly, it’s conducive to piety.  Frame defines theology as the application, by persons, of God’s word to all of life (Frame 4).  Sure, there is a Kuyperian thrust and that can be abused, but on the whole I appreciate it.

He reduces metaphysical discussions to: Is reality One, Many, or Both?  (Hint: It’s both). *God is absolute tri-personality (16-17).  He relates to his creation in terms of Lordship.  Lordship is explained as authority (normative), control, and presence.

I think this is a good move, but there is a subtle anti-substance metaphysic involved.  Substance metaphysics would usually say that reality is “cut at the joints,” meaning a universe of parts, whole, etc.  That’s fine as far as it goes and few would disagree.  Traditionally, though, that concept would get applied to God.

Frame (perhaps subconsciously) does not allow that.  We aren’t now speaking of God’s transcendence in a way that he is spatially “above” or separated from the universe (though certainly not identical with it).  The language is no longer spatial, but covenantal.

Perspectives on Human Knowledge

*Our knowledge is related to God in 3 ways (19):

  1. Control (our situation governed by his providence)
  2. Authority (what God reveals in his Word and Creation)
  3. Presence (Covenant)

Frame’s account is light on early philosophy and focuses more on early modern and recent philosophy.  

His thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology. Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)? Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

After the Enlightenment, Frame makes the rather strange suggestion that the two worst heresies the church faced are Deism and Liberalism (220).  I…um…don’t know about that.  But it does explain much of the book.  He defines liberal as anyone who doesn’t submit to the authority of Scripture (216ff).  This definition of liberalism is very important for Frame’s text and it allows him to misinterpret a number of key thinkers.

Frame has a magnificent chapter on Kant and Hegel.  Without explaining Kant’s philosophy, it allows Frame to make another important observation: the conservative drift in liberal theology.  Liberals began to use more conservative language while retaining liberal constructs.

His chapter on Barth is just bad.  I’ve blogged on it elsewhere.  His take on Pannenberg is slightly better, though ruined by Frame’s definition of liberal theology.  Pannenberg is not a liberal just because he doesn’t hold to inerrancy.  

But when Frame sticks to material in which he is an acknowledged authority, such as linguistic analysis, he shines. The chapters on Russell and Wittgenstein were outstanding.  He ends his text with a survey of recent Evangelical theologians.

Evaluation

Should you buy this text?  I think so.  It has a number of drawbacks and he only rarely engages in more than a surface-level analysis, but it is better than most one-volume treatments.  Frame includes annotated bibliographies, pictures, diagrams, and links to audio lectures.  

 

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Frame: Early Modern Thought

This is the densest chapter so far and represents the thrust of the book.  Frame’s text is lighter on early and medieval thought and more weighted towards the modern era.  Not a criticism.  Just an observation.

Thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology

Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

John Calvin

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)?

Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

Secular Philosophy

No point in examining each individual thinker, except where I think Frame is more than usually clear.

Descartes:  doubt is an activity of the mind.  I cannot doubt my mind’s doubting.  Decent discussion on mind-body dualism.

Spinoza: “substance is that which is in itself and is conceived through itself” (183).  Thus, “God” is the only substance (though there are an infinity of modes of that substance). God is nature naturing.  The world is nature natured.

Leibniz: idealist atomist.  Mind is the most basic category of reality.  These monadic minds have no windows but they are mirrors towards the other.  While there are problems here, some have suggested that Leibniz anticipated modern computer languages.

British Empiricism

Too much ink has been spilled on these guys. I won’t go into it here.

Torrance: Theology in Reconstruction

Torrance advances the argument that theological knowledge and its communication must make use of the thought-currents and speech in the world. He makes the claim that Homoousion as the basic logical economy which governs theological grammar in accordance with the pattern of God’s own self-communication in the Incarnation (Torrance 31-35).

He explains that the Reformation made both breaks and advances in the structures of thought. God so objectifies himself “for us in the incarnation that far from negating he rather posits and fulfills our subjectivity in Christ” (70). Indeed, this claim ties in with election. We do not know God through acting upon him but through being acted upon by him. Reformed theology operates with a view of truth that upholds both sides of the knowledge relationship, the side of “the object over against the human knower, and also the human subject in the form of his knowledge.” Since the Truth is the eternal moving into time, reason must move along with it in order to know it. This means it has to break with older habits of knowing. We see similar parallel in physics: Einstein needed a conception of space and time which didn’t depend on the notion of absolute rest. Torrance: “We have to move across a logical gap between knowledge and knowledge we have yet to acquire, which cannot be inferred logically from what we already know, but which is so rational that it entails a logical reconstruction of what we already know” (73).

His most interesting chapter is the Knowledge of God according to Calvin. Thesis: JC worked through the transition from the medieval mode of thinking in theology to the modern mode. We know God through his speaking to us in his Word (Word, being Logos, inheres in the divine being). There is a compulsion of Veritas on our minds. Knowledge of God, like all true knowledge, is determined by the nature of what is known (86).
*arises out of our obedience.
*evidence: evidence of ultimate reality, which means it is self-evident.

Our intuitive knowledge is in and through God’s Word. It is reached by hearing, not seeing. The Word of God we hear in Scripture reposes in the divine Being. That is the objective ground in our knowledge of God.

His final chapter, “A New Reformation?” summarizes the scope of the book and offers one more conclusion: The Reformation applied the homoousion to the acts of God. Jesus as homoousion is reality of God. He is the divine provided Form and Eidos. The early fathers stressed homoousion as the Being of God in his acts. The Reformation stressed homoousion as the Acts of God in his being. When God gives himself to us in Him, it is no less than God who is at work. Homoousion snaps the medieval doctrine of grace. for grace is none other than Christ–God gives himself to us. This led to a more robust doctrine of the Spirit.

There are two basic Torrancian introductions to his corpus: this work and Mediation of Christ. They cover the same ground, except this work is a bit more advanced.

Reading thinkers, not individual books

You will often see it suggested that one is better served by reading the corpus of major thinkers rather than simply individual books.  I think there is some wisdom to that.  So here is my reading list for 2016, Deo Volente:

Barth, Karl.  Church Dogmatics vols II/2-III/4.  If I wanted to, I believe I could finish the whole thing, but I am realistic.

Calvin, John. ICR vol. 1 (Battles Edition).  Commentaries on Acts, Romans, John, Isaiah.

Torrance, Thomas.  Most of his stuff.  I have a friend that has most of his works but not all.

Yates, Dame Frances. Giordino Bruno and the Hermetic TraditionOccult Philosophy in Elizabethan EnglandThe Art of MemoryThe Rosicrucian Enlightenment.