In a recent blog over at “Chantry’s Notes” Tom Chantry takes surprisingly pointed aim at John Frame. It was shocking for me, as I imagine it was for most who read it, to hear from Chantry that Frame, one of today’s leading and most respected Reformed theologians, is in fact “one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today” and that his ideas are “disruptive of any system of doctrine and ultimately of any reasonable approach to holiness.”

What could warrant such harsh denunciation of this senior Reformed statesman? It is Frame’s famous tri-perspectivalism by which he, according to Chantry, elevates situational and existential considerations to the level of the normative. That is to say, according to Chantry, Frame is a relativist — for him, one’s context and personality are as normative as Scripture. Certainly this will be surprising to anyone who has read Frame. (For that matter, I suspect it will be surprising to Frame also!)

But there is more. According to Chantry, Frame’s treatment of the Regulative Principle of Worship is dangerous and “intentionally deceptive.” It seems, according to Chantry, that through “logic-bending rhetoric” Frame twists and warps the Regulative Principle to make it fit his own preferences and personal tastes.

From here Chantry goes on to extol the necessity of his application of the Regulative Principle and the virtues of his brand of confessionalism. The Confessions come to us with the wisdom of the church through the ages and thus should rule. Scripture is the rule, Chantry tells us. Yet it is the Confessions that must set the boundaries for our interpretation of Scripture.

I have to say that I do find that logic mind-bending — Scripture rules, yet it is the Confession that sets the boundaries for understanding it. So Scripture or the Confession — which is normative after all? And at this point one might wonder who is the situationalist. We might ask specifically, if the Confession is written to defend infant baptism and Presbyterian order, which is authoritative, Scripture or the Confession? As a Baptist of course Chantry would want to say that the boundaries of the Westminster Confession are incorrect. What about the boundaries of the Baptist Confession of 1644-1646? Were they binding? Or suppose others do not like the boundaries of the 1689 Baptist Confession? Who decides? Chantry says that his Confession has set the boundaries for how he reads the Bible. Is this allowing a normative role to Scripture?

In the judgment of charity, of course, it would be out of place to describe either Chantry or Frame as a subjective relativist. We all try faithfully to shed those influences that mistakenly color our reading of Scripture. We are never neutral, but we try to be objective. For Chantry that means the 1689 Confession. Fair enough. For Frame it means something else, and thankfully of those who read his tri-perspectivalism, whatever else they may think of it, not many will judge Frame himself to be a dangerous, deceptive, subjective, relativist.

Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary  and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.

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16 Comments

  • I think you have misstated the context and intent of Chantry’s position. He is NOT saying that the Confession should rule any debate; he is saying that the Confession sets a boundary for integrity WITHIN any church or institution which claims to follow it. The criticism, as I read it, is NOT merely that Frame’s views are inconsistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith. The criticism is that, as one who avows that Confession, Frame undermines it by his conclusions, and does so without candor. Of course, this assumes that Frame understands the inconsistency of his position, but we give him credit for not being naive. We all would claim to believe that the Bible is the final authority, not any uninspired Confession, whether Presbyterian or Baptist. However, once one claims to adhere to a Confession, one’s conclusions are fair game for scrutiny according to that Confession. If they are inconsistent, and obviously so, then one at least is being disingenuous, if not dishonest. Not knowing Frame I am in no position to judge. However, having been his student for years, Chantry is.

  • Fred,

    Apparently you’re not “confessional” enough for Tom to regard your comments with any credibility.

    For the record, Tom doesn’t understand his former professor adequately enough to re-state his position accurately–a sure sign he cannot refute it. Frame doesn’t make a one to one equation of the normative perspective with Scripture. He has corrected Tom about this elsewhere, but I guess that hasn’t deterred Tom from continuing to repeat this error.

    What Tom is doing is a classic case of “poisoning the well”. I would love for him to actually engage Frame’s exegesis and argumentation, but like many of Frame’s critics, bluster takes the place of substance.

    What this brand of “confessionalism” does is produce a narrow circle of those Christians who “really” love the “real” Jesus as expressed in our “ever-so near to the true truth of the Bible” Confession of Faith. This mindset needs to be repented of, and avoided.

    Thanks for the post

  • By referring to Frame’s “1996 book, Worship in Spirit and Truth, and its 1997 sequel, Contemporary Worship Music, a Biblical Defense” did not Chantry show where Frame opposes the Regulative Principle?

  • No, since Frame maintains his position is a legitimate application of the Regulative Principle. Tom needs to show how it isn’t in light of Scripture. If you can point me to that, I will be glad to be corrected.

    • Of course “Frame maintains his position is a legitimate application of the Regulative Principle.” That is what Chantry’s point was: that Frame maintains it is, when obviously it is not. To quote Chantry: “It seemed fairly clear to Frame’s students that he was not teaching this view of worship at all. . . . one of my classmates asked directly, “Do you or do you not uphold the Regulative Principle?” Frame’s response [was]. . . . ‘Of course I believe in the Regulative Principle of worship,’ he responded, ‘only, I believe that worship ought to be regulated by the same regulative principle which regulates the rest of our lives’.” Chantry said Frame said this. If so, it makes the Regulative Principle so broad as to have no practical meaning. “The regulative principle which regulates the rest of our lives” is NOT the Regulative Principle.

  • Thomas,

    If Chantry was simply expressing his opinion, fine. But this is bald assertion without an argument.

    If he’s asserting his position is the biblical position, he needs to provide actual counterarguments dealing with what Frame has said.

  • Chantry’s “one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today” description of Frame is yet another example of why his brand of Reformed Baptist is a but drop in the bucket of slop.

  • We are not talking about a matter of indifference. We are talking about the Second Commandment of our Holy God! The “Regulative Principle” is but a shorthand way of saying the Second Commandment. Any fair reading of Frame leads inescapably to the conclusion that he believes it is acceptable to add to the New Testament manner of worship. One does not need to “make an argument.” The evidence speaks for itself, IMHO.

  • Thomas,

    Who in the world suggested the Second Commandment was a matter of indifference? If you think Frame is adding to the NT manner of worship, quote his works and show with Scripture how this is so.

    If the “evidence” speaks for itself, it shouldn’t be too hard for you to make your case (or Chantry). I think you’ll find your arguments, once formulated, will not be as air-tight as you seem to think they are.

    If I defended all my positions with “the evidence speaks for itself”, you wouldn’t find that very convincing, would you?

  • With regard to the article you site, I’m shocked “The Confessional Presbyterian” would disagree with Frame’s position. However, that article doesn’t quote a single text of Scripture. If I missed it, I will be happy to be corrected.

    I’m still waiting for Frame’s to be engaged on the Scriptural level. Haven’t come across that yet….

  • I guess at the heart of my concern about Tom Chantry’s diatribe is the notion that confessionalism requires that every jot and tittle of the confession be adhered to, or the entire confession (and attached denomination) be renounced. It seems to me that there would then be, not 41000 Christian denominations (Gordon Conwell study cited at http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm), but 2 billion denominations.

    What if
    1. I agree with 95% of a confession, including its most salient points, and
    2. I especially believe that Christ’s church is to be one as he and the Father are one (thus not needlessly divided), and
    3. The 5% of a confession that I disagree with is broadly accepted in other denomination traditions; however, I am only 70% in agreement with any of those other traditions …

    What am I to do? Start my own denomination, so that I can agree with the confession 100%. Even if I did this, I well might have to start another denomination in another year or two because I came to a better understanding of point X, and no longer expressed it exactly as I did earlier.

    Puhleeze

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