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.

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.


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.  



Frame: Medieval Philosophy

Frame draws heavily from Leithart’s essay on medieval philosophy.  It is a standard treatment in many ways, starting with Boethius and ending with the nominalists.


Since we are temporal, this means we lose some of our being as time passes.  Not so with God (124).  Boethius takes the chain of being ontology and applies it to time.

His definition of person is problematic:  A person is an individual substance of a rational nature.  As Frame says, “If each person is a substance, then the whole Trinity is one substance and three substances” (125).


Standard summary of his arguments.  Tries to make him a presuppositionalist.  The best we can say is that Anselm presupposes the dogma of the church.   Within that he can use reason and not Scripture.

Towards Scholasticism: Avicenna, Maimonides, Averoes

Heavy influence of neo-Platonism.  Creation is seen as an eternal act of God, not an event in the beginning of time (141).


Standard treatment.  Quite fair to him.  Frame has a fascinating footnote on p.150.  Many traditional theologians say we can know the “who” of God, but not his essence.  Greek theologians denied we could know the essence because in Greek philosophy knowing was a form of dominatingAbsolute knowledge erases differance. One who has the concept of “a thing” has the thing.  Concept is domination.  Knowledge is knowledge only insofar as it “seizes” the thing and has complete certainty.  

It is not surprising, then, that Christian theologians say we can’t know God’s essence.  We certainly cannot bring God under our domination as a thing.  But this raises a problem:  why is Christian discourse obligated to define knowledge this way?

Let’s completely disregard the above def. of knowledge.  Why not rather say with the better moments of the tradition that knowing presupposes–at least in some cases–a loving bond between subject and object?

Intro to Warranted Charismatic Belief

I typed these around May.   Never got around to finishing the argument for time reasons.   Still, maybe these notes will flesh out some stuff.

With proper acknowledgment to Alvin Plantinga on the title.  In reading modern Protestant criticisms of “kingdom power” (or continuationism) and ironically Eastern Orthodox criticisms of Protestantism’s sola scriptura, I have seen a strange alliance: both sides operate with a similar understanding of Sola Scriptura.   This understanding goes as follows:

(~1) The Bible is the only source of theological knowledge.

Traditionally, however, Protestantism has taught:

(1) The Bible is the final authority/source of knowledge.

In this essay I plan to show why (~1) is self-destructive for Protestants and advance a claim of “Warranted Charismatic Belief” (WChaB) that will allow a belief in Sola Scriptura immune to TradCathOx Defeaters.  If WChaB obtains, Protestants will have to abandon their typical arguments against Jesus’s Kingdom Power.


I.  What is Warrant?

I.1 Problem of Criterion

I.2. Degrees of warrant

II.  Inadequate understandings of Sola Scriptura

III. Defeaters to (~1)

IV. A Way Forward

I.  Warrant.

Do you know? Do you know that you know?  Do you know that you know that you know?  What is the criterion of knowledge? Knowledge is typically defined as “justified, true belief” (k=JTB). It’s a helpful definition.  I know something if I believe it to be true and have proper reasons for believing it to be true.  Developments in epistemology about 50 years ago cast some doubt upon that definition.  Those are Gettier Problems.  I don’t think they full refuted k=JTB. They did show some difficulties, though, and it allowed thinkers to use the concept of “warrant” to explore new avenues of justification.

What is warrant?  According to Plantinga,

To have warrant, a belief must also be such that the purpose of the module of the epistemic faculties producing the belief is to produce true beliefs. Finally, the design plan of the faculties in question must be a good one; that is, that there be a substantial objective probability that a belief of that sort produced under those conditions is true (Plantinga 395).

Warrant differs from justification (and k=JTB) because the knower is not obligated to satisfy “duties of belief.” Such duties mean I am obligated to believe according to the evidence or to give reasons to satisfy some criterion of duty.  I believe these approaches are fraught with danger.

I. 1 Problem of Criterion

In short, I am not obligated to keep on giving justifications for my beliefs (which in turn will force me to give justifications for my justifications, and on to infinity).  Will this satisfy the atheist?  Probably not.  But it should force the theist, particularly the Orthodox and Reformed theist to take notice.  Here is how it is relevant to the Charismatic debate.  After “TRs” go on about how the miraculous has ceased, I tell them that God has given me “words of knowledge.”   Their first response is along the lines of Luke Skywalker,

Then they will ask, “Well how do you know it was from God?”  This is known as the problem of criterion.  On one level it needs to be answered (and I can provide an answer) but more importantly, it is not a sufficient enough objection to overturn my position.  Here’s how.  If I am to know how I know something, I must have both an object of knowledge (p, word of wisdom in this case) and a criterion to validate p (we will call q.).  I must also have something else: r, the fact that p satisfies q.

But this raises a problem.  One can now ask “How do you know q and r?”  What justifies my choosing this as a criterion?  I must now satisfy the conditions with q’ and r’.   But that isn’t good enough.  How do I know q’ and r’?  I must now satisfy those new conditions with q” and r”.

But to point towards an answer: I had asked God a question (which was kind of personal and doesn’t concern you) and immediately, before I had a chance to reflect on anything, a distinct proposition was in my head.  The proposition glorified God, attacked Satan’s kingdom, and furthered my trust in Jesus. If that isn’t a sufficient criterion, nothing is.

I.2 Degrees of Warrant

Not all beliefs are equally powerful, and it is here where the apologetic against TradCathOx begins.  I can hold one belief stronger than I hold another.  For example, the testimonium Spiritus sancti internum is a stronger control-belief than my take on historic premillennialism.  Further, God’s speech-act is a stronger belief than the canon of Scripture.

II.  Inadequate Understandings of Sola Scriptura

(And here is where my notes leave off.  At this point I will attack some recent Reformed understandings of Sola Scriptura that tend to equate the Bible with Knowledge.  Not surprisingly, Orthodox and Roman Catholics have a field day).


Plantinga, Alvin.  “Precis of Warrant: The Current Debate and Warrant and Proper Function.”  Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. LV, No.2, June 1995.

A Reidian Internalist?

Thomas Reid is seen as the predecessor to Alvin Plantinga.  The latter holds to a “warrant” view of epistemology:  I don’t have to justify endless justifications for foundational beliefs.  Plantinga draws heavily from Reid.

Yet here is a thought:  can one hold to an internalist epistemology (knowledge = justified, true belief) and incorporate many of Reid’s insights?  I think one certain can on issues like anthropology and the will.