Saturday, February 11, 2006

Westminster's westering star

I see that Scott Clark has chosen to launch a public attack on John Frame:

http://mongrelhorde.blogspot.com/2006/01/its-not-vegas-butpart-3-of-3.html

It would have been preferable to avoid a public scene, but like a screaming kid who hurls her cup of soup in the face of the waiter, Clark’s outburst necessitates some firm adult intervention.

Since Scott Clark is not the only one with inside information on the past controversy, I’ll take the occasion to put his distortions in perspective.

1. Back when I was there (1993-1994; 1999-2000), WSC, as it now calls itself, was quite cliquish. One reason, I think, is that it's so much easier for factions to fester in a smallish seminary than one of the larger institutions where the sheer size and rapid turnover of the student body naturally diffuses and dilutes that divisive tendency.

2. Among other factions, there was a Klinean coterie, represented by Kline himself as well as the then-librarian.

They venerated biblical theology as the only heaven-sent theological method.

In addition, Kline has a view of church/state relations which resembles Anabaptism.

This ended in the train-wreck of Lee Irons' heresy trial.

3. Then you had Joey Pipa. Pipa's a deep-fried S. Presbyterian. I think he's still fighting the War of Northern Aggression.

He's since taken the helm of Greenville Seminary, which views itself as heir to the grand mantle of Dabney, Thornwell, and Girardeau.

We might dub it Confederate Calvinism! :-)

4. Then a major change took place when our man Godfrey become Prez.

i) Bob Godfrey is a church historian. So he has shifted the theological orientation away from exegetical theology to historical theology, teaching Reformed theology out of the creeds and confessions rather than straight from Scripture.

ii) This reorientation is seconded by the fact that Godfrey identifies himself with the Dutch-Reformed tradition. Dutch-Reformed theologians like Bavinck, Berkhof, Hoeksema, Hepp, and Berkouwer are far more in the groove of historical theology than exegetical theology.

As the Prez, Godfrey is in a position, through hiring and firing, to remake the seminary into his own image.

5. By contrast, Frame stands in the Princetonian tradition of exegetical theology. Charles Hodge, J. A. Hodge, Warfield, Machen, Vos, and Murray were all exegetes, writing commentaries and/or exegetical monographs. Obviously, this tradition goes all the way back to Calvin himself, the premier commentator of the Protestant Reformers.

6.Another flashpoint of controversy was the regulative principle of worship. At one level, I’ve never known what all the fuss was about since, to my knowledge, none of the faculty ever worshipped in the auld Skreegh-me-dead style.

If you want to get a flavor of the debate, go here:

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/1998HartDebate.htm

In my opinion, Hart came out of this encounter in about the same shape as a possum challenging the business end of an eighteen-wheeler, but I leave it to each reader to judge the performance for himself.

7.Yet another source of friction was overemphasis on the objectivity of assurance at the expense of the subjective dimension.

Frame takes the traditional position, but others, like Horton, overemphasize the objective dimension.

I’m not quite sure where this is coming from, although it may have something to do with Horton’s checkered theological background, as he’s drifted from fundamentalism to Anglicanism to Presbyterianism, with some carryover from each. If you combine Anglican sacramentology with the residual antinomianism of eternal security, so popular in fundamentalist circles, you can easily end up with a doctrine of assurance in which the objective aspect eclipses the subjective.

8.Scott Clark’s equation of the traditional Reformed theological method with the archetypal/ectypal axis is incredibly parochial.

By his provincial criterion, Calvin, Cunningham, Helm, Hodge, Murray, Owen, Turrettin, Vos, and Warfield aren't doing Reformed theology.

Truth be told, while there’s definitely such a thing as Reformed theology, there is no one Reformed theological method.

9. Notice too, and this is typical of Scott Clark in my personal experience, how he doesn't actually show where Frame goes wrong. All he does is to say that Frame isn't quite Gordon Clark, and isn't quite Van Til. But, of course, that's not an argument for or against any of the three parties. Nor is theological cloning always a virtue.

10. Likewise, Frame doesn't both affirm and deny that we can know God. Rather, Frame carefully distinguishes between the ways God can and cannot be known. Scott Clark simply disregards the nuances.

11.The same holds true for his simplistic summary of Frame’s position on Biblicism.

Just compare his tendentious characterization with Frame in his own words:

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/Biblicism.htm

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/1997ReplyMuller.htm

12.The same holds true for his simplistic summary of Frame’s position on analogy.

A pretty shabby performance, all and all. But perhaps his comments read better in the original Latin.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Steve,

    It's an honor to be featured in the famous Triablogue.

    "Attack?" Really? By what definition? I suppose if disagreeing with John is an attack, then yes; but most folks don't define "attack" so narrowly. I also said and continue to say that I learned a great deal from John, but I have come to have and express some significant differences with him. That's okay isn't it?

    John is quite conscious of his differences with the tradition. That was one of the major points of his "Biblicism" essay, wasn't it, to say that Wells and Muller aren't biblical enough in their theology?

    If you had read my essay in the Strimple festschrift, then you might write a little differently. You might also want to see Richard Muller's 4 vol Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics where he demonstrates the pervasive use of the archetypal/ectypal distinction in Reformed orthodoxy. There is a summary of this research is this excellent essay too:
    Willem J. van Asselt, "The Fundamental Meaning of Theology: Archetypal and Ectypal Theology in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Thought," Westminster Theological Seminary 64 (2003): 319-35.

    All the theologians you cite did make the TA/TE distinction either implicitly or explicitly, but most importantly Van Til made it the hallmark of his method. It's just a fancy way of saying Creator/Creature distinction. They did not all use the language, but the substance of the distinction was certainly present.

    As to the status of alma mater, things are quite pacific now and have been for years. We still read the Bible in Greek, (Steve Baugh has written two Greek grammars and is a recognized and published expert in NT backgrounds) Hebrew, and Aramaic (Bryan Estelle is publishing first class biblical research). The rest of us also read the Scripture from time to time (Dennis Johnson has published two NT commentaries), Iain Duguid has published two biblical commentaries at least, Julius Kim is at work on one, Hywel Jones has published one and is at work on another and I'm at work on Olevianus' commentary on Romans. David Van Drunen has been busy offering a cogent and coherent alternative to theonomy and defending the biblical and confessinal doctrine of justification, among other things.

    You're right that there were, once upon a time, folk on campus who took a fairly extreme view of biblical theology, but that was several years ago and we think we've struck a good balance now between the departments.

    As a faculty we meet weekly to talk and pray and discuss our work. We're united in our commitment to do our theology biblically and to read Scripture in the light of our confessional commitments.

    Bob Godfrey can defend himself, but most folk would consider his stand for biblical and confessional Christianity in the CRC and his defense of the Reformation Sola's heroic -- I know I do. He's done so at considerable personal and professional cost.

    Gratia et pax,

    Clericus

    ReplyDelete
  2. For what it is worth, Frame has clarified some of his views back at my blog in the comments section. Clark has also added a reply.

    I'm always happy to see good discussion, but my modest reflections on my visit to the WSC conference were hardly intended to fan the flames of old disputes or bad blood between professors and ministers (both of whom I respect and profit from) or theological institutions. I've asked myself "how on earth did this spark a blog war?"

    With great love for the saints - David G.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thus far I don't see a blogwar. Just a few puffs of smoke from a firecracker or two. More like the Fourth of July than WWIII!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Scott said he was not attacking me, but only disagreeing. But at Mongrel Horde he said, "John is committed to a method of theological analysis that is not compatible with historic Reformed theology and certainly not with Van Til: tri-perspectivalism." Get that? My whole method of doing theology, not just one or two of my ideas, is incompatible with Reformed theology. That is a pretty broad-based disagreement, (one, I think, that is out of all proportion any of his more specific objections). I won't quibble on the words "attack" and "disagreement." I just want readers to see how big these issues actually are in Scott's mind.

    I would say that we "disagree." I think that, whatever you want to call it, Scott is saying much more.

    John M. Frame

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mr Frame said:

    Get that? My whole method of doing theology, not just one or two of my ideas, is incompatible with Reformed theology. That is a pretty broad-based disagreement, (one, I think, that is out of all proportion any of his more specific objections). I won't quibble on the words "attack" and "disagreement." I just want readers to see how big these issues actually are in Scott's mind.

    I would say that we "disagree." I think that, whatever you want to call it, Scott is saying much more.

    Response:
    Mr Frame it seems as if you are trying to argue if the disagreement is large it is more than a disagreement. I read over the exchange and don't see anything like an attack. Just my .02 cents.

    ReplyDelete