August 24, 2018

A Justification of Christian Belief


Sola Scriptura, after all, does not require the exclusion of all extrabiblical data, even from theology. It simply requires that in theology and in all other disciplines, the highest authority, the supreme standard, must be Scripture and Scripture alone…There can be no objection to mentioning extrabiblical data in apologetics, as long as those data are not presented as “counsel of God” on the same level as Scripture.”


Over my three years of studying philosophy, I gradually stumbled onto similar, albeit far murkier, conclusions to Frame’s. This is the book that I wish that I had read before going to university. In doing so, I would have been more effective in my witnessing and in my studying, a strong claim. Frame is a proponent of what is often called “presuppositionalism” (Oliphint, author of the reviewed Covenantal Apologetics, would also operate under this label). Although the word can be used in different ways by different apologists, it can be helpful to see presuppositionalism as the marriage of two interrelated claims. First, Scripture is to be held up as the truth and that we must therefore compare all other truth claims against the Bible. Second, that there is no such thing as neutrality; each individual brings a cocktail of presuppositions to the debating party.


Frame provides a masterclass in both the theory behind apologetics, and how presuppositionalism can be put to work in a wealth of classical problems. Using precise language, he works from first principles in a wonderfully nuanced and crisply concise manner. In fact, Apologetics is written like an accessible, but still academic, philosophy textbook. Frame has achieved something really quite difficult, making a complex matter appear so simple and self-evident as to be inarguable. The book is utterly comprehensive, and topics outside (?) of the realm of apologetics are addressed unexpectedly well. The reader’s heart is warmed to the gospel and to God’s character (including a fantastically common-sense treatment of the Euthyphro dilemma); it is exciting.


One particular triumph of the book is maintaining a very high view of Scripture without succumbing to what can almost be a form of intellectual laziness. Phrases signposting the potential presence of the latter include “why not just preach the gospel?” as if there were some kind of evangelistic magic bullet.  Apologetics teaches us to proclaim the gospel to others, not just to say it at them. And yet Frame’s reverence for the Bible provides a personal challenge as to whether we are trying to impress our intelligent non-Christian acquaintances in our evangelism rather than looking to please God by trusting his Word.


Frame’s ability to gently lead his readers by the hand through his arguments, rather than to drag kicking and screaming (as it often felt with Covenantal Apologetics), allows him to present as soberingly matter-of-fact his disbelief in evolution. By the time one gets there, no eyebrows are raised. He achieves his intellectually rigorous but high view of Scripture by pointing out that it is impossible to make sharp distinctions between arguments based on the Bible alone and those based on a mixture of Scripture and natural revelation. He also pleasingly upholds the importance of an intelligent apologetic and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.


One chink in Apologetics’ armour is an incomplete discussion of meta-ethics; the nature of moral thought and practice. Frame never seems to satisfactorily put to death the argument that I often struggled to persuasively overcome; “morality is not an objective affair. What I believe to be right and wrong is equivalent to what I like and dislike. However, the strength of these likes and dislikes accounts for the experiential tug we all feel toward a belief in objective moral facts.” A second chink is that at various points in the book Frame’s conclusions are doubtlessly right, but I cannot help thinking that philosophers reading the relevant chapters would feel straw-manned by his presentation of them. This will not prepare Christians when presented with the strongest possible form of opposing worldviews. A third, smaller chink is that Frame is occasionally sharp with critics, and comes down strongly on liberals in particular. Oliphint was similar, albeit less gracious. Is this justified? However, many of Jesus’ (and the apostles’ for that matter) harshest words are reserved for those claiming to be God’s people yet disobeying him…


I think that everybody should read Apologetics. If you read one book on apologetics, and most people really ought to, then, as its title suggests, this is the one.



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