on July 16, 2004
This introduction by Frame is to be commended for recognizing proper apologetic priorities - that our biggest apologetic battles should not be with other Christians over apologetic method, but with non-Christians who are outside the Kingdom. Frame refuses to play contentious games over apologetic method, choosing instead to take what he believes is the best (the most Biblical) from each approach and incorporate it into a generally presuppositional approach that emphasizes his version of the transcendental argument.
Frame, following Van Til, spends a good bit of time in this book arguing that atheism in particular, and all non-Christian thought in general, is guilty of being both rationalistic and irrationalistic at the same time in ways that are incoherent. Frame strongly believes that only Christianity is capable of avoiding this serious problem, and that in our discussions with non-Christians, the incoherence of his system should be an important part of our apologetic in terms of playing offense.
His transcendental twist on more traditional forms of apologetics is good for several reasons. First, contra Van Til, Frame acknowledges that a transcendental argument, in order to be persuasive, needs to incorporate elements of classical and evidential apologetics (though Van Til was not totally against these things at all, he just seemed a bit reticent to incorporate them into his own system). The transcendental twist is clearly driven by Frame's conviction that metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics inform each other and are all essential to knowledge. Frame's basic point is that without God, intelligibility is impossible. We cannot understand concepts like cause, motion, evidence, ethics, or anything else without presupposing God. It is here that the reader will see Frame's Calvinist theology, where Romans 1 takes center stage in appraising man's ability to think rightly without God. Frame's discussion of what unregenerate man does and doesn't know about God, and how this impacts on how much 'common ground' the Christian and non-Christian share is quite good and in my view, is far more helpful than Van Til's or Clark's formulation of this problem.
The strengths of Frame's apologetic, first of all, is that it is flexible. His perspectivalism, coupled with his transcendental twist, really enables the Christian to start just about anywhere with a non-Christian in terms of apologetic discussion. Frame provides good tools for starting with metaphysics in dealing with philosophically sophisticated non-Christians, or for non-Christians who care far more about things like ethics, the Christian can start there as well. His appraisal of atheism as incoherent is also quite good, and he provides solid tools upon which we can demonstrate its incoherence to folks who subscribe to it. His secondary embrace of evidentialism as defensive apologetics is also welcome, as is his insistence that positive apologetics are needed in order to make a persuasive argument for Christianity, rather than simply doing negative apologetics in the hopes that people will see that Christianity is the only thing left standing.
Frame's treatment of the problem of evil is good, in that he attempts to erect a Biblically based theodicy rather than a philosophical one without Biblical warrant. As others have pointed out, his rejection of the free-will defense is courageous and absolutely correct as a matter of exegesis. However, his greater-good defense is something I found to be a bit lacking, in that it's good for as far as it goes, but actually raises serious concerns that Frame does not really address.
The other weakness is that while Frame does try to make presuppositional apologetics accessible at the street level (which was a major failure of both Van Til and Clark), I suspect many readers who are not fanatical about apologetics will still be confused and unsure of how to use a good bit of the central pieces of Frame's approach in their interactions with non-Christians. It seems somewhat clear to me that absent a background in philosophy and epistemology, too much of Frame's approach will fall on bewildered ears that don't know what to do with most of the material in this book. In this respect, while those who are familiar with Frame's perspectivalism will indeed find this book to be an introductory work, I suspect that most who are not familiar with Frame's approach will find this book to be far more difficult to get through and practically use.
So this is a good, but improveable effort.
on May 9, 2000
Frame, professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California presents an introduction to apologetics from a Reformed presuppositionalism perspective. He begins by laying out his basic presuppositional method, defending it against the charges of circularity and question-begging, demonstrating its consistency with Scripture and the Reformation tradition, and portraying it as the only apologetic method consonant with the central Christian doctrines of sovereignty and Sola Scriptura. Everyone, he avers, reasons circularly as a result of being the knowing subject and therefore lacking neutrality. He then outlines the general message of the apologist, i.e. the faith which the apologist intends to defend - the absolute personality, transcendence, and sovereignty of the Christian God, including his Lordship over epistemology and ethics.
Frame then turns to examine the concepts of faith, evidence, certainty, common ground, and proof, advocating a "presuppositionalism of the heart." He seeks a rapprochement between evidentialism and presuppositionalism, arguing that evidences have a significant role to play in apologetics, though never as an appeal to autonomous human reasoning. In this vein, he presents proofs for the existence of God, including the moral, epistemological, teleological, ontological, and cosmological arguments. Some of these, he notes, are more persuasive than others, but all are valid and convincing only to someone who shares Christian values - they would never persuade a convinced nihilist (though nihilists can never even approach consistency in their lifestyle).
All of the arguments for God, Frame shows, are ultimately presuppositional. They have their limitations, though, in that they can never prove the entirety of the Scriptures or all the attributes of the Christian God. To prove the details of the Christian faith, Frame points out the uniqueness of the Bible. It alone accords with the conclusions of the arguments for God presented earlier. Destructive Biblical criticism, a major opponent of Scriptural inspiration, is a failed and overly skeptical enterprise that, if taken to its logical conclusion, would leave us totally devoid of any reliable history. Scripture is its own witness and must be accepted as such.
Of all the arguments against the Christian faith, none has been more destructive than the argument from evil. Frame thus devotes two chapters to finding a solution, although he ultimately appeals to mystery. He first explores several dead-end defenses and theodicies. Then, he summarizes a Biblical response to the problem of evil. From Christian presuppositions, he asserts, the problem of evil is not as daunting as it might seem at the outset.
Frame concludes his book with a fictitious account of a conversation between an apologist and an unbeliever. Two appendices include a review and response to Classical Apologetics by Sproul, Lindsley, and Gerstner, and a response by Jay Adams to Frame's critique of his theodicy in The Grand Demonstration.
Apologetics to the Glory of God is an important work for understanding presuppositionalism, especially of the Vantillian variety. It contains numerous insights and deserves a serious reading by all who are interested in the defense of the faith. Some serious shortcomings, though, detract from the overall value of the work. Most stem from Frame's continued adherence to the teachings of his mentor - Cornelius Van Til - although Frame has modified and tempered much of Van Til's thought. Van Til and Frame's problems come because they are not presuppositional enough in their thinking. They still cling to Enlightenment ideals of certainty and proof, though they sometimes change the definitions of these words. Much of the controversy surrounding Van Til's teachings centers on this tendency. It certainly does not lend itself to clarity. Frame and Van Til fail to understand the nature of presuppositions. Throughout his book, Frame impugns the notion of "blind faith," but how else can presuppositions be chosen? The unprovable nature of starting points precludes any proof or certainty of the truth of the Scriptures. Certainty and proof exist only intrasystematically. We can never be certain of our axioms, but if we are to be certain of anything, we must posit axioms.
Frame also fails in his response to the problem of evil. While he is to be applauded for his censure of Plantinga and other Arminian theodicists who compromise central tenets of Biblical Christianity, his attacks on Gordon Clark and Jay Adams are neither well-reasoned nor convincing. Adams' response in Appendix II is cogent and persuasive. His Grand Demonstration and Clark's Religion, Reason, and Revelation are must reading for anyone interested in a theodicy that avoids the recourse to mystery, but simultaneously maintains the Biblical emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of God.
Frame's book is, in the final analysis, a valuable contribution to the evidentialist vs. presuppositionalist debate and would serve as a fine introduction to someone seeking insight into the Vantillian tradition.