John Frame: Doctrine of the Christian Life

If you have read Frame before, then you know what you are getting: carefully argued positions, fair treatment to opponents, and a staggering amount of biblical reflection. His tri-perspectivalism is on display here, as in earlier books. I will address it as the review moves forward.

He defines ethics as “living under God’s law, in God’s world, in the presence of God himself” (Frame 3). Further, these are Lordship ethics, and Lordship has three attributes:

1) Control:
2) Authority
3) Covenant presence.

He begins with a description of ethics and a brief (too brief, perhaps) survey of autonomous ethics. He notes that autonomous ethics are hamstrung by rationalist/irrationalist dialectic: man proclaims his own reason as the standard yet denies it is able to reach knowledge of God.

Following this he gives a commentary on the Decalogue, noting key particular applications. I am not going to give a summary of each commandment. Rather, I will note some of his more controversial claims, his more helpful sections, and other notae bene he makes.

Per the Second Commandment, and the Regulative Principle:

RPW advocates see three categories for what is biblically permissible: 1) express commands, 2) approved examples, and 3) theological inferences. Well and good, but adding these extra categories mitigates the simplicity of the RPW. Even worse, it “gives considerable scope for human reflection, in even determining ‘elements’” (471).

What about the specific words of our prayers? They don’t fit in the above categories. Are they circumstances? They can’t be that, since they aren’t “common to human actions and societies.”

What about temple worship? Not everything in the temple was typological of Christ’s sacrifice. It had prayer, teaching, and praise, yet these weren’t abrogated.

On the sixth commandment he gives an eloquent, and quite frankly emotionally-moving, defense of the unborn, with some interesting history on Operation Rescue. On sexual ethics he points out the naturalistic fallacy in the Roman Catholic arguments against *some* birth control methods.

Politics According to the Bible (Grudem)

Old post from another blog

Grudem, Wayne. Politics According to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

This book was a pleasure to read. It combined warm piety with robust, pinpointing analysis. It addressed almost every relevant issue. As it was written in 2010, it is dated in a few respects, but even then it is quite interesting for the snapshot approach for where it sees America going. Indeed, I found myself reading the section on the Supreme Court, and Grudem’s passionate call for pro-life justices, at the same time that Justice Kavanaugh was being assaulted by the Principality of Moloch.

Grudem bases Govt in the Noahic covenant. There must be government to carry out the death penalty, as the family couldn’t do it. In God’s requiring death as the maximum possible penalty (demand a reckoning) he logically established the validity of lesser penalties for lesser crimes.

He somewhat cooks the evidence for a democratic govt. I believe there are cases where a democratic govt is wise, but the Bible ultimately doesn’t care. He is correct that popular involvement is a good thing in policy, but that can be found under a variety of systems. In any case, 50% + 1 of the population can tyrannize a minority as effectively as any monarch.

He has a great section on a godly patriotism. Nations are legitimate because: God has established nations on the earth (Gen. 10Acts 17:26Job 12.23). Nations divide and disperse govt power throughout the earth, providing a check against a one-world govt (110).

Patriotism is good because: A sense of belonging to a community. Sure, our primary sense of belonging is to the church. Gratitude for the benefits a nation provides. Gratitude is a virtue and should be practiced. A shared sense of pride in the achievements of others. This isn’t my glorying in their achievements, but my rejoicing in their achievements. A sense of pride for the good things a nation has done. A sense of obligation to serve the nation under the commonweal.

Ethic of Life

He has a moving defense of pro-life. He also deals with issues like ectopic pregnancies, which nuance is often beyond the typical AHA screeds.

My only quibble is that he never really defines what personhood is. He ties it indirectly with the image of God, and that’s true, but we really don’t have a definition. He also takes guys like Jim Wallis to task. When pacifists say, “Abortion is bad but we should care about all these life-issues,” what they are really doing is changing the subject and avoiding the question.

The reader is also encouraged to consult John Frame’s Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp.717-732, which Grudem also references.

Civil Govts Should Define Marriage for All Citizens

Govt is to restrain evil, bring good to society, and bring order to society (221). Marriage, therefore, falls under this rubric. Further, no other institution has the jurisdiction to do this for an entire society (221). Without such a definition, there would be a proliferation of children due to polygamy.


Thesis: The Bible defends a system where property belongs to the people (262). This is implied in 8th commandment.

“On reason why communism is so incredibly dehumanizing is that when private property is abolished, govt controls all activity. And when govt controls all activity, it controls what you buy, where you will live, what job you will have (and therefore what job you are allowed to train for, and therefore where you will go to school), and how much you will earn. It essentially controls all of life, and human liberty is destroyed” (262).

God’s giving property to human beings is found in our being in the image of God. Economic development is also tied into the image of God. We develop and produce more of the goods from a land. Materialism is bad, but material productivity is good. “When the wealth of a nation increases, it becomes easier to fulfill many of God’s commands” (271).

National Defense

Grudem gave the standard just war treatment. He also dealt with the thorny issues of pre-emptive strikes, wiretapping, and interrogation. Did a fine job. I’m not as bothered by wiretapping as others, simply because I have always known the govt did it.

I can even go with a more positive view of the CIA, provided we make a few provisos.

So what about “interrogation?” Simply causing “discomfort” to someone doesn’t count as torture. Here are several things that are always wrong to do to an enemy:

1. To commit actions that are in themselves always immoral, such as raping a prisoner, or cutting off fingers, toes

2.To deny medical treatment

3.To carry out acts of sadistic humiliation

4.To attempt to force a prisoner to violate religious convictions that pose no threat to the U.S. or its defense

5.To carry out actions that would shock the conscience of a U.S. court and cause lasting physical damage

Here are things that are acceptable:

1. Acute pain that causes no permanent damage (ie. pressure points, etc.) .The Bible approves of the infliction of pain to compel right action in children, why not terrorists? (Prov. 13:24; see also 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15).

2. Sodium Pentathol

3. Waterboarding – performed on our own troops in SERE training, Senate rejected amendment to make illegal, no permanent damage caused when used within appropriate guidelines. Obama issued executive order to cease its use.

Problems with Grudem’s Analysis

He says that John Frame and Vern Poythress are theonomists (66). That is incorrect. They have published books criticizing theonomy, especially Poythress. Yes, they have stronger views on God’s law than say, RTS Jackson. But they aren’t theonomists.

In his otherwise fine chapter on the Supreme Court, Grudem bemoans that our founders would never have dreamed of such judicial activism (135). This isn’t entirely true. Certainly, even the more radical founders like Hamilton would have looked in horror upon a Ginsberg, but the Federalist Papers certainly give the Supreme Court that power, at least implicitly. Grudem restricts his analysis and never considers the pointed arguments of The Anti-Federalist Papers.

This book was written before the rise of ISIS, so much of his analysis on the future of the Middle East must be taken with a grain of salt. He argues that Muslim nations can function as democracies and that this would stop radical Islam. The problem is that the nations he mentions have long promoted terror and do not allow religious liberty to Christians (Turkey, Pakistan, etc.).

Aristotle’s Politics


I’ll put my cards on the table.  I actively dislike Greek philosophy.  I will be fair and admit that Aristotle is a fairly good communicator, and despite his worldview, he stumbles across the truth every now and then.  And while he never really gets to a coherent statement on justice, he’s important to read on that point.  Given that many “woke” evangelicals are talking about social justice (but never defining it), Aristotle is at least a starting point.

(1) Every community is established with an aim to some good.

Aristotle begins with the most basic social unit and moves outward (family, village, city).

1.1 If the family is natural, and the movements outward are natural, then the state is a natural unity.

The Art of Getting Wealth

Legitimate economics: managing a household

“Retail trade is not a natural part of the art of getting wealth” (1.9.17).  This is important and will doom his entire project.

Usury: makes a gain out of money itself.  The proper use of money is exchange, not to grow money from money.

I used to hold to that argument. I’m not so sure anymore. It only works if we view value as something objective.  But value is anything but objective.  The whole point of an exchange is that we don’t place equal value on the object.

What is a state? Who is the citizen?  He notes that a citizen under one government might not be one under another. For the sake of argument he will assume democracy.  A citizen is the holder of a definite office, who legislates and judges, etc. (Book 3 ch. 1). A citizen shares in rulership. This is actually a pretty good definition, though it works better on smaller levels.

The chief end of a state is the well-being of the citizens

Justice: implies a relation to persons as well as things; a just distribution (Book 3; chapter 9).  He realizes this discussion is inadequate 9 pages later: “equality or inequality of what?” He hints that what is “just” or equal will be to the advantage of the common good.

Book 4

His famous discussion of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy.  And their perversions. He defines democracy as the form of govt where the free are rulers (IV.4).  He comes to a surprising and welcome conclusion: the best society is the one with a large middle class.  This comes very close to a biblical worldview. It is not a biblical worldview, however, for Aristotle despises things like retail trade.  But a society with a large middle class is one that understands the value of time, risk, and planning. In other words, it presupposes the doctrine of providence.  Aristotle, however, doesn’t really get this, nor could he.

This is why we should not go to Aristotle for economic wisdom.  For the godly man, time is not evil.  It is limited and under the curse, but it also provides the conditions for planning for the future and building wealth.

Book VII

This book begins on a chilling note: what are the most eligible forms of life?  This sounds a lot like the death camps we would have seen under the worst acts of the Affordable Care Act.  This is also good Greek philosophy.

Before we examine why Aristotle thought it was good to kill some of the babies, we need to see why he said it.  He didn’t believe an overly-populated city was a good thing. That’s a half-truth. Many large cities today aren’t very nice places.  He probably couldn’t see past the city-state idea. You can have many people in a country if you have lots of smaller cities. That’s one example.

With this background, his following comments, while evil, cohere with his system.  This is his argument:

(1) To the size of states there is a limit (1326a 35).

(2) The legislator must mold to his will the frames of newly-born children (1335a 5)

(3) As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live, but that on the ground of an excess in the number of children, if the established customs of this state forbid this (for in our state population has a limit), no child is to be exposed, but when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun (1335b 20-25).

Is it really necessary to refute this?  Where to start? I’ll leave with an observation: given Aristotle’s anti-market views, his state population would always be extremely limited. That made abortion a pressing reality.  Therefore, his bad economics upheld his pro-choice mentality.



Aquinas, Abortion, and Apollinarianism

No, no matter how awful his Aristotelianism is, Thomas wouldn’t have countenanced abortion.  The problem is deeper than that, in that he is a temporary Apollinarian.  Here is the problem:

Do babies in the womb who are younger than 40 days have a rational soul?

Thomas said no.  That means that Baby Jesus was an Apollinarian for a few weeks.  He writes,

Therefore the vegetative soul, which comes first, when the embryo lives the life of a plant, is corrupted, and is succeeded by a more perfect soul which is both nutritive and sensitive, and then the embryo lives an animal life; and when this is corrupted it is succeeded by the rational soul introduced from without: although the preceding souls were produced by the virtue in the semen.  (Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 89)

The Thomist has a possible response:  the vegetative soul is not actually a different soul, so Baby Jesus has a soul, of sorts.  But if you are a Reformed Christian, this answer won’t do, since Westminster says Baby Jesus took on a rational soul.

Let’s say it a different way:  can you terminate the life of bodies with vegetative souls?  Decent human beings would say no.  Are they people?  It’s harder for them to say yes.  Paul Helm, an otherwise excellent theologian, writes (Human Nature from Calvin to Edwards)

The product of a human father and mother that was solely in a vegetative state would not be a person in the way in which someone who was born without legs but was otherwise “normal” would be a person, as one who is incomplete, handicapped, or “challenged.” A person who is born in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) would be entitled to be cared for and treated decently in life and then in death; that person would have human parents and would be possessed of a characteristically human form and not be a member of any other species; but that one would not be a person, or fully a person nor have the potential to be one. What does the one born in a PVS ab initio lack? We might say that he or she–for this one in a PVS would have a biological gender–lacks a mind. If that one could, with help, come to think and to feel sensations and make judgments and perform actions and feel emotions, going beyond the feeling of physical sensations of pain and pleasure, then we’d be correct to call that being a person.

This is where Thomism leads.

Review: God Incarnate

I’ve gotten to the point that if someone asks me for a basic book on Christology, I point them to Oliver Crisp. Any of his works. I learned more Christology from this book than in my week long Christology course in seminary. Crisp’s stated goal is to use to the tools of analytic theology to focus on key areas in Christology. Show problems and point to solution. He succeeds magnificently.


try to find the picture where he has a beard

The Election of Jesus Christ

Standard received Reformed view: the sole cause of election is the good pleasure and will of God (Crisp 36). Turretin and others want to deny the claim that Christ’s foreseen merit is the ground of predestination.

Moderate Reformed view: Christ is the ground of election in just one important sense. God decrees election, and he decrees that Christ be one of the ends. Here is where the MRP view points out a tension in the standard treatment: if all of the ad extra works of the Trinity are one, Logos must also be a cause of election, and not just a means.

This section could have done more. I think he pointed out a key insight of the Moderate Reformed group, but he didn’t deal with Bruce McCormack’s reading of Karl Barth (he acknowledged it, though). There is still blood on the ground from the “Companion Controversy.”

Christ and the Embryo

This is where the money is. Chalcedonian Christology demands a pro-life position. If you aren’t willing to use your theology to fight a war to the death against Moloch, then go sit down. This honor isn’t for you. And it gives sometimes strange (yet welcome) implications. For example, human personhood and human nature aren’t the same thing. Christ is fully human, but not a human person.

We need to be clear on this, otherwise we fall prey to Apollinarianism. All humans are created with something like a built-in God-shaped port that the Word can upload himself at the moment of conception. Where this divine upload takes place, the Word prevents the human nature from becoming a human person (107). In other words, if God the Son doesn’t “upload/download” himself into human nature’s hard drive, then personhood begins at conception.

While the demons at Planned Parenthood probably don’t care about Apollinarianism, that line can work well against those who claim a high church conciliar Christology, yet are scared to fight this war. I have in mind the Rachel Held Evans and Calvin College faculty.  If you don’t believe personhood is live at conception (be it divine or human), then you are an Apollinarian.  Now, that should bother the “ancient/liturgy/conciliar” crowd. If you are in that group and you reject the Apollinarian implication, then you probably don’t need to be voting Democrat.  I am not saying you should be Alt Right and posting Crusader memes, but you need to move in that direction.

Materialist Christology

The upshot: not all alternatives to substance dualism are physicalist. Global materialism: the idea that all existing things are essentially material things; there are no immaterial entities. Christian materialists do not necessarily hold this view, as they would acknowledge at least two existing immaterial entities: God and angels.

Global substance dualism: all existing things are composed of matter or spirit (mind), or both matter and spirit. This position can include Christian materialists-about-the-human-person.

The problem in question: can a Christian materialist about the human person hold to Chalcedonian Christology? It initially appears not, as Christ’s has a rational soul? If Christ’s divine mind/soul were to substitute, then Apollinarianism would follow.

Reductive materialists: a human’s mental life can be reduced to some corporeal function.
Non-reductive materialism: the human’s mental life cannot be reduced to some corporeal function.
Property Dualism: a substance that has some properties that are mental and some that are physical.
Substance: a thing of a certain sort that can exist independently of other things of the same sort, has certain causal relations with other substances, and is the bearer of properties (145). A property is an abstract object that either is a universal or functions like one.

Crisp probably should have said why property dualism is false while he was at it.  Nevertheless, a simply grand book.

Ensoulment, the CREC, and abortion

While it might look like I am attacking Botkin, that is certainly not the case.  I strongly applaud her precisioned take-down of Wilson’s theology and pray more posts come.

Kate Botkin’s most recent post, while most of it was an excellent critique of Wilson’s deranged practices, offered a troubling piece of argumentation.  Note, she isn’t endorsing abortion (at least not in this post) but she is advancing the argument that a man who’s molested dozens of children isn’t a better human being than a woman who gets an abortion at 8 weeks.  I think some kind of rebuttal like this was inevitable, given that Wilson immediately deflects to abortion whenever he gets in trouble.

I won’t enter that line of debate.  What did intrigue me was her following suggestion:

You don’t have to agree that abortion is Ok to understand that some women do not view early abortion as evil, based on biology and the belief that the soul enters a child along with consciousness, or at a certain stage of development.

So, does a unborn baby gain a soul at consciousness or at conception?  Most pro-life Christians want to say at conception, but since they lack a coherent doctrine of the soul they really struggle with this point.  Part of the difficulty is that consciousness is a faculty of the soul and so Botkin’s suggestion isn’t entirely in left field.  I think she is wrong but for different reasons.

Maybe this isn’t even Botkin’s position.  I’ll grant that.  I know what she is doing.  Every time Wilson begins to feel the heat, he deflects the issue back to abortion:  “Gee golly, I know shielding pedophiles is bad, but it’s not as bad as abortion.”  Well, you’re just saying that because you can’t answer the question.  Botkin then takes you up on your point and since you guys have an anemic doctrine of the soul, you can’t answer her.

I think I can.  Let’s rephrase her argument:

(And I am using “soul” and “person” as more or less synonymous.  There are some nuances but most Christians think along these lines).

P1: An unborn baby gains a soul/becomes a person at the gaining of consciousness

P1*:  Consciousness is what makes a soul/person.

P1’: Body and soul aren’t the same thing.

I think that is a fair summary.  Here is why I think it is wrong.    With J. P. Moreland I would say

P2: “the soul is an individuated essence that makes the body a human body” (Moreland 202).  

Botkin would agree so fair. P1’ and P2 make the same point.   I add another premise:

P3: The soul has capacities.  Capacities come in hierarchies.

P3 is important in the euthanasia debate.  I can have a capacity for something yet not be exercising it.  At the moment I have the capacity for speaking Russian.  This is called a 2nd-order capacity.  Sadly, I cannot speak Russian right now, thus I do not have a 1st-order capacity.

Souls also have faculties.  

P4:  a faculty is a compartment of the soul that contains a natural family of related capacities (204).  Mind, will, and spirit.  And consciousness.  

The problem with the ensoulment argument (P1) is that it identifies the soul/person with actualized capacities.   Therefore, when the person is no longer exercising an actualized capacity like consciousness, then he is no longer a person.  Like when you are under anesthesia.  

There is another, albeit more technical, problem with ensoulment.  If consciousness is the sine qua non of what it means to be a person/soul, but if I’ve established that consciousness is rather a capacity of the soul’s faculties, then the following reductio obtains:

P5:  An unborn gains a soul at the gaining of a soul (1, 1*).

True, but not very helpful.    The difficulty is that advocates of ensoulment are defining a soul by what the soul could do.  Defining by function is always dangerous.  A person under general anesthesia cannot function.  Does he cease to be a person?  Why not?  As Rae notes, “To appeal to some higher-order capacities as determinate of personhood” cannot be done without acknowledging that personhood is not dependent on lower-order capacities (Moreland and Rae 251).  These higher-order capacities are latent, just as they are with the unborn.