Weirdly inaccurate concerns about Tri-Perspectivalism

To understand where this fits into the Reformed theological tradition in particular, we can put it this way: Frame’s TP is a creative attempt at expanding on John Calvin’s and Cornelius Van Til’s Reformed epistemologies. I think in many ways I can say he has succeeded. His work is full of profound insights. But I still think his experimentation, if it does not risk some real theological precipices, it will at the very least risk some serious misunderstanding. In the first couple chapters of his institutes of the Christian religion, Calvin laid out a Reformed (and quite historically catholic) epistemology of the word. This was called the knowledge of God and self. There he proposed that man knows God through knowledge of himself, and man knows himself through the knowledge of God. Yet for Calvin, both the knowledge of God and Self is facilitated by the man encountering the word of God (the law) primarily. As we encounter the word, we learn both more of who God is and who we are. To sharpen that, we learn more of how righteous and holy God is and how we are not. We further learn from revelation what we are becoming because of Christ. My concern with Frame is that though he only calls the knowledge of self a “perspective” that is not independent of the knowledge of God, it does practically risk being another medium for true knowledge. What this means is that it risks operating apart from the law/word on the one hand, or collapsing word revelation and natural revelation on the other.

via “Tri-Perspectivalism”: An Introduction to John Frames Reformed Epistemology (Part I).

Hopefully this critic is just being premature in going to press. The whole “But for Calvin..” line starts a startlingly inaccurate line of reasoning. Frame is equally clear that all autonomous interpretation of reality is sin. He defines theology of the application of all of life.

The critic seems to be missing the point that, in encountering the word of God, one is also encountering the experience of that encounter. One’s knowledge of the Bible (This is what is said by the words on the page faithfully transmitting and translating the text the Holy Spirit inspired to be written and subsequently preserved and providentially transported) and ones knowledge that one is reading the Bible (My eyes are looking at these words and my mind is reading them) are both interrelated. Thus Calvin’s own statement that he doesn’t know which comes “first.”

Here is John Frame:

“On the first page of his Institutes, Calvin observes that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self are interrelated. We might expect Calvin (as a good Calvinist!) to add to that of course of course of the two, the knowledge of God “comes first”. remarkable, however, Calvin says instead that he doesn’t know which comes first. This comment I take to be enormously perceptive. The best way to look at the matter is that neither knowledge of God or knowledge of self is possible without the other, and growth in one area is always accompanied by growth in the other. I cannot know myself rightly until I see myself as God’s image: fallen, yet saved by grace. But also I cannot know myself rightly until I seek to know Him as a creature, as a servant. The two kinds of knowledge, then, come simultaneously, and they grow together. The reason for this is not only that each of us is part of the “situation” that is essential to the knowledge of God but also the additional fact that each of us is made in God’s image. We know God as He is reflected in ourselves. Furthermore, all the information we receive about God, through nature, Scripture, or whatever source, comes to us through our eyes, ears, minds and brains – through ourselves. Sometimes we dream fondly of a “purely objective” knowledge of God – a knowledge freed from the limitations of our senses, minds, experience, preparation, and so forth. But nothing of this sort is possible, and God does not demand that of us. Rather, He condescends to dwell in and with us, as in a temple. he identifies himself in and through our thoughts, ideas and experiences. And that identification is clear; it is adequate for Christian certainty. A “purely objective” knowledge is precisely what we don’t want! Such knowledge would presuppose a denial of our creaturehood and thus a denial of God and all truth.” (From The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John M. Frame, P&R, 1987, p. 65-65).

There is absolutely nothing in this that implies we can know ourselves apart from God’s revelation of Himself. And nothing in Frame’s writings would lead to that idea.

Of course, even when we learn about God, we know also that we are his creatures. So, again, knowledge of God (our Maker) and of ourselves (His creatures) are always interrelated.

I don’t understand how the critic can produce a concern about an “independent medium.” Nothing in Frame’s writings allows for independence. And to deny any kind of creaturely medium would be to deny that God gives external revelation at all..

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