Calvin’s Commentary on Hebrews

Calvin, John.  Hebrews and I and II Peter. trans. W. B. Johnston, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963.

In one sense this commentary gives you everything you expect from Calvin (and for the YRR types, there is very little on predestination).  It is wise, judicious, and balanced.  In terms of authorship, Calvin does not hold to Pauline authorship (Calvin 1).

Christs’s Anointing

“He was anointed for our sakes, that we might all draw from his fulness. He himself is Christ, we are Christians depending on Him as streams from a fountain” (Comm.1:9).

2:9: “Taste death for everyone.” He did not taste death as an example for us, but “He means that Christ died for us, because He took on Himself our lot and redeemed us from the curse of death.”  Calvin leaves open the question of the extent of the atonement.

2:17: “Therefore the apostle teaches that He put on not only human flesh itself, but also all the affections which belong to men.”  This needs to be glossed more, but it is highly suggestive for debates about Christ’s human nature.

Relation Between Word and Faith

4:2: “It is such that Faith cannot be separated from the Word. On the one hand the Word separated from faith is ineffectual.”  


6:4: “There is a twofold fall: one is particular, the other is general.” The apostle is not talking about particular sins, but a complete falling away from the gospel.

The Old Covenant

8:8-9: The Old Covenant is the Mosaic covenant


9:14: “The beginning of true worship is reconciliation.”  Calvin does not really develop it, but this is in line with Christ as the new Liturgical minister.

Hebrews 11

11:7: “Faith comes from the promises.  “It is founded on them and rests on them.” Soon after, Calvin attacks the Roman notion of implicit faith. “There is no faith without the Word of God.” If faith is tied in some sense (to be glossed another time) with belief, then it is hard to see how implicit faith is possible.  Faith has an object.


This is an excellent introduction to Calvin’s commentaries on the New Testament.  He gives sufficient attention to the text but never wearies the reader with tedious remarks.


Theological Science (Torrance)

The Nature of Knowledge

Knowledge of God is a rational event (Torrance 11). It is knowledge in the proper sense of the word, understanding knowledge to be a “conscious relation to an object which we recognize to be distinct from ourselves but toward which we direct our thought as something intelligible and ascertainable” (13).

Open and closed concepts:

A closed concept is something we “can reduce to clipped propositional ideas.  An open concept is a reality that keeps on disclosing itself to us in such a way that it continually overflows all our statements about it” (15).

Classical mechanics is similar to closed concepts.  Their field is delimited by what is perceptible. Objectivity is thus bound to a certain causal determinism (295).

Theological concepts are open-ended toward God.

We must keep knowing and being together

Three Moments in the nature of knowledge

(1) God reveals himself to us in Jesus Christ in the media of our own creaturely existence and contingency (46).

(2) Christ’s work reconciles man and delivers him from his epistemological self-enclosure and restores him to true objectivity in God.

(3) Jesus provides us full and adequate reception of the truth (50).

The Interaction of Theology with Scientific Development

Theological science has God as its object, but not God in the abstract.  It deals with the heavenly father who enters into loving communion with his children (56).

Change in the doctrine of God

Medieval theology held to Aristotle’s unmoved mover.  This view of impassibility led to creation being seen as only objects of the eternal knowing and willing of God.  This fit in with a hierarchy of being which made it hard to deny the eternality of the world.

Nature, as a result, “was impregnated with ultimate causes” (60). You could read an eternal pattern of it.  That sounds good, but it left little room for the “contingency of nature,” making modern scientific experiments difficult.  As Francis Bacon pointed out, this overemphasis on final causes diminished the importance of physical causes.

Nature and Grace

The medieval world saw the nature sacramentally: we look through it to eternal realities.  This means, sadly, that nature has no scientific value in itself.

Knowing the Phantasms

Medieval Roman theology saw an active and passive intellect.  When I look at an object (species), I form an intelligible impression or phantasm (77). This might be inevitable to an extent, but what happens is that the phantasm forms a wall between my mind and the object.

The nature of scientific activity

Methods of Knowledge

Aristotle: science is characterized by unity and plurality (108). Problem of one and many.

Descartes: scientia universalis.  Apply geometry to all other special sciences. This led to a sharp distinction between observation and thought

Husserl: epoche, disconnecting phenomena from the objet, in order to acquire clear grasp of it.  It is a suspending of judgment.  Does not imply Cartesian doubt.

Dialogical Theology

The object of scientific theology is God in His Revelation (131).  “We know only as we are known….knowledge of God entails an epistemological inversion in the order of our knowing, corresponding to the order of the divine action in revealing Himself to us.”

God as object is still “the indissoluble Subject.”  “He is the Lord of our knowing even when it is we who know, so that our knowing is taken under command of the lordship of the Object, the Creator Himself.  We can only follow through the determination of our knowing by the Object known who yet remains pure Subject” (131-132).

God as Subject does not dissolve into subjectivity (as we understand the term).  Torrance: “The order is in the Object before it is in our minds, and therefore it is as we allow the Object to impose itself upon our minds that our knowledge of it gains coherence” (138).

The Nature of Truth

The Truth of God

Truth: the reality of things as they necessarily are, and as they ought to be known and expressed by us (142).  Yet it is not purely intellectualist.  We must avoid reducing truth to ideas and the reduction of truth to statements (142ff).

Truth as Personal Being.  Jesus as Truth is incarnate. This Truth is in identity with the Being and Act of God (144).

Calvin: Christ is clothed in his gospel (Inst. 2.9.3).  Christ does not come to us apart from his own self-revelation in word and deed (Torrance 146). Since Truth is both Being and Act, he communicates and interprets Himself.

Knowledge of God: it is given to us in this Man, Jesus, but we do not leave this Man behind when we know him in his divine nature (149).

Jesus as concrete universal: he is the eternal Son but in concrete terms (182).  When we know a concrete universal, we are not beginning with abstractions, but rather “with a focal awareness of it in its own power and wholeness, aided by analogical reasoning that directs us away from symbolic formality to what is concretely real and self-evidencing” (243).

Thesis: “theological statements have a reference beyond and above themselves, and are not true in themselves but have their truth beyond them” (183).  This is basically correct.  A true statement about the Trinity is not the Trinity.  To miss this point is to affirm nominalism.  This is like Wittgenstein’s observation that we cannot produce a picture of the relation of a picture to that which is pictured” (Tractatus 4.01ff). 

N.B.: “Knowledge is real only as it is in accordance with the nature of the object, but the nature of the object prescribes the mode of rationality we have to adopt towards it in our knowing” (198).

Problems of Logic

Problem: What is the relation of knowledge or speech to being (204)?

The Logic of God

The Logic of God is the eternal Logos in the flesh.  Torrance: “Knowing the truth involves on our part a corresponding movement in space and time, a dynamic, living, active relationship…with the Truth increasingly, so that there can be no genuine knowing the Truth or speaking the Truth without doing the Truth” (209).

This chapter is probably the most difficult in the book.  Torrance explores numerous themes in philosophy of mind, mathematics, and logic.  Many of these discussions are quite fascinating, and Torrance’s grasp of the literature of mid-20th century philosophy of mind discussions is nigh encyclopedic.  Unfortunately, I think he attempts too much.  One point of interest, however, is his use of Godel’s incompleteness theorem.

Every system is necessarily incomplete since it contains within it propositions or sequences that are not definable from within the system.  This is why mathematics must always resort to another form of rationality:  that of language.  We are always moving between different logical levels.  For example, Aristotelian logic is workable to an extent, but it has to be transcended.  Something similar is at play with the dynamic between Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry.

There is the natural logic of everyday speech.  Then there is the meta-language of symbolic logic, which then gives rise to a meta-meta-language.  This top-tier language is useless for communication, but quite powerful in pursuing deductions (259).

This might be a way to save Kierkegaard’s poorly-phrased “leap of faith.”  In these logical systems one must always take a “trans-logical step” (261).

Bonhoeffer’s Apollinarianism: he desired to maintain the independence of the Lordship of God as subject.  Insists that knowledge of God is possible “only if God is also the subject of the knowing of revelation since, if man knew, then it was not God that he knew” (Act and Being, 92).  This is Apollinarian when applied to the humanity of Christ (Torrance 292 n1).

Subject, Object, and Person

Torrance gives an illuminating account of how the concept of person has shifted over the centuries:

Patristics:  he actually doesn’t define it here, but you can piece it together from his other writings.

Augustine: the person is realized in the interior of the soul.

Boethius: the person is a logically derived concept from a specific philosophy. The idea of substance is now a logical subject.

Descartes: the subject is now split off from the object and person is now self-consciousness.

More Biblical Notions of Person

Richard of St Victor: Person is ontologically derived from the Trinity.  (Ironically, for all of Richard’s rejection of the Greek term hypostasis, he comes to about the same position with person being a unique entity).

Duns Scotus: Active agent, voluntary object of thought.


Divine Will, Human Choice; notes 4 (Reformed Understandings)


Necessity, Contingency, and Freedom: Reformed Understandings

With Vos, Muller notes that the Reformed orthodox did use an architectonic framework of an “ultimate and absolute divine knowledge, identified as scientia necessaria,” which meant that God knew himself and all possibles (183). This meant that some possibles are indefinite.  Others are contingent.  Neither are necessary, since God doesn’t have to actualize all possibles (and a possible is a state of affairs which doesn’t entail a contradiction).

Calvin does remark on necessity and contingently, but not exhaustively.  While his comments are often ambiguous, “he is quite consistent in his assumption that God in no way causes human agents to act contrary to their natures or to will contrary to their own inclinations” (187; cf. Institutes I.18.2).

His contemporary Peter Martyr Vermigli, however, is quite exhaustive on the subject.  Divine knowledge doesn’t actually cause x, since knowledge isn’t a matter of will (Muller 194). We must, rather, identify the ground of a thing’s necessity. An interior principle means an intrinsic necessity. Think of fire burning, earth moving, etc.  Here’s where it gets interesting: these are necessary only in the usual course of the world.  God overrode these at times (Shadrach, etc., and Joshua and the Sun).  Therefore, it is a contingent necessity.

Vermigli then clarifies what the Reformed mean by “free will,” or more accurately free choice. He writes, “Choice (arbitrium) seems to consist in this, that we follow things that are appointed by reason….Then, without a doubt, the will (voluntas) is free what it embraces those things that are approved on the part of the knowing soul” (Vermigli, Loci II.ii.1).

In an interesting comment, Vermigli doesn’t reduce freedom to spontaneity.  That makes sense if you think about it.  If a free choice is one where the reason deliberates, then it isn’t purely spontaneous (although it doesn’t rule out spontaneity in other areas). What is important is the absence of coercion.

Zanchi, a few years later, continues the same line of thought concerning contingency and the two kinds of necessity.  Elsewhere, he modifies Vermigli’s comments on free choice by adding that the will also has the freedom of contradiction, “namely, potency to more than one effect” (Muller 200).

Steinmetz: Calvin in Context

Calvin and the Natural Knowledge of God

Calvin is somewhat unique in focusing on the noetic effects in Romans 1 (Steinmetz 29).  The natural order does not reveal God’s essence, but “knowledge accomodated to the limited capacity of human beings to comprehend God” (29).

Calvin and the Absolute Power of God

Calvin attacked the medieval distinction between potentia dei absoluta and potentia dei ordinata.  But maybe Calvin overshot his mark.  The goal of the distinction wasn’t to speculate “What could God really do?”  Rather, it clarifies what is logically possible and logically coherent, and what God has covenanted to do for his people.

Calvin on Isaiah 6

The problem:  Is God’s message to Isaiah negating human responsibility?  Calvin responds by several points: 1) God wills that Isaiah speak his word.  It is accidental to the nature of the Word that it blinds people (104).  But when it meets an adamant heart, it hardens it.  2) God foretells a state of affairs in which unbelievers are responsible.

Calvin and the Divided Self of Romans 7

Problem: Is Paul speaking of fallen or unfallen man?  For Calvin, as Steinmetz notes, “sinners are not divided against themselves.  Believers are” (111). Roman Catholics got around Calvin’s exegesis by positing 3 alternatives:

  1. Distinction between higher and lower faculties.
  2. Concupiscence is a punishment for sin rather than sinful.
  3. Difference between perfection possible in this life and in the eschaton.

Calvin among the Thomists

Given that Calvin praised Bucer as the near standard, and given that Bucer was a Thomist, are there Thomist leanings in Calvin?  Not really, but Steinmetz compares and contrasts Calvin’s reading of Romans 9 with Bucer’s and Thomas’s.

Thomas is quite clear that Jacob’s election isn’t based in any foreknowledge or anything Jacob had done (“Expositio in Omnes Sancti Pauli Epistolas,” in Sancti Thomae Aquinatis Doctoris Angelici Ordinis Praedicatorum Opera Omnia 13 (Parma 1872), 95, quoted in Steinmetz 144).  Bucer and Calvin clearly agree. Bucer develops Thomas in that “God works in such a way as to make human beings the agents of their own acts” (149).

Calvin doesn’t specifically draw from Thomas.  Rather, as Steinmetz concludes, all three draw from Augustine.

Calvin and His Lutheran Critics

Luther’s ubiquity:

Definitive presence–an object’s dimensions (Christ’s person) do not correspond to the container.

Local presence–its dimensions correspond exactly to the container.

Repletive presence–what God’s presence in the universe is.

The risen Christ is present in the unconsecrated bread but inaccessible until the word of promise.

According to Steinmetz, Calvin’s Lutheran critic, Tilemann Hesshusen, rejected that element of Luther’s theology.  The debate doesn’t get much further than that, though.  Hesshusen thinks Calvin is a Zwinglian.

Steinmetz’s thesis is that one can’t abstract Calvin’s Institutes from his larger body of exegesis. We move from the Bible to the Institutes and then to the Commentaries.


Eternal Word in Broken Bread (Letham)

Letham, Robert. The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2001.

The Reformers wrote more polemics on the Lord’s Supper than anything else, yet you wouldn’t know this from a survey of American Christianity today.  This booklet should be on every Reformed church table.  

He briefly surveys the New Testament data on the Lord’s Supper and then moves into a historical survey.  He notes the problems with transubstantiation. I won’t spend too much time on transubstantiation, since refutations of it can be found in most good dogmatics texts.  I do want to show some problems in memorialism, though.  Let’s first start with a good Calvin quote:

“Accordingly, he shows that in his humanity there also dwells fullness of life, so that whoever has partaken of his flesh and blood may at the same time enjoy participation in life…

…in like manner the flesh of Christ is like a rich and inexhaustible fountain that pours into us the life springing from the Godhead into itself” (ICR 4.17.9).

Memorialism, by contrast, asserts that there is nothing “more in the Lord’s Supper than the action on the part of the recipients in focusing their minds on Christ” (Letham 25).  Letham lists some problems:

1) If by the Holy Spirit Christ is present everywhere, it seems odd to stress his absence in the Lord’s Supper.
2) It can’t make sense of Jesus’s realism language in John 6.
3) It divorces sign from thing signified.

Letham, following Calvin probably, advocates “Real Spiritual Presence” (28ff). We do more than just think about Jesus.  Rather, “Christ gives himself to be eaten and drunk in faith.  This eating and drinking is not physical but is nonetheless real and true” (28). Christ is present to us by his Holy Spirit, yet he is also united to his flesh.  This is the objective pole.  The subjective pole is that we must receive him by faith.

More on the Reformed Doctrine

The supper signs and seals in our consciences the promises of the gospel. As Christ “is the sum of the Supper, the true communication of Christ is vital to understand” (33). Even though the bread and wine are signs, “the name and title of the body and blood are attributed to them since they are instruments by which Jesus Christ distributes them to us.”

Christ “pours his very life into us,” even if we don’t get his flesh (Calvin 4.17.32).

Reformed Practice

1) The Word creates the sacraments.

2) Single loaf (Letham 50).  This is where Letham probably loses people.  I get the argument for a single loaf. I just don’t know how that will work in a huge church. That said, we should do away with the “chiclets” approach to the Supper, which having no resemblance to bread (or even food), cannot function as a sign.

3) Single cup.  Same thing.

4) Wine. 

5) Leavened bread.  If the Lord’s Supper is not the continuation of the passover, then there is no point in using unleavened bread. Rome, by contrast, needs unleavened bread because the bread, being Jesus’s body, would crumble if it were leavened.  Further, the NT consistently uses artos, not azymos.

Letham ends this chapter by commending the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. I am not arguing for weekly communion.  I am simply arguing against bad reasons opposing it.  Please don’t say it sounds too Catholicky. 


Outline: Book 2, Calvin’s Institutes

Book 1.

Summary of argument so far:  Doctrine of the Knowledge of God –> Man’s problem –> Ten Commandments –> Old and New Covenants  –> Person of the Mediator.


Chapter 1: Fall of Adam, Original Sin

  1. Two problems with self-knowledge (2.1.3)
    1. How do we acqurire it?
  2. Original sin: we are corrupted not by derived wickedness but by inborn defect.

Chapter 2: Man Deprived of freedom of choice

  1. The faculties of the soul, situated in mind and heart, are also corrupted.
  2. What is free will?
    1. Necessity does not mean compulsion (2.2.7).  God is necessarily good, but he isn’t “compelled.”
    2. Choice belongs to the sphere of will rather than that of understanding (2.2.26).
      1. The power of free choice is not in a certain natural instinct or movement of the will.
      2. Calvin means that the will follows the mind, and not an inclination of nature.
      3. Appetite: not an impulse of will but rather an inclination of nature (bottom of page 286).
  3. Calvin rejects the idea of “mere nature” as a faculty of the soul voluntarily able to choose the good (sec. 27).

Chapter 3: Only Damnable Things Come forth from man’s corrupt nature

  1. The whole man is flesh.  Calvin is here concerned to rebut the idea that “flesh” refers only to the sensible parts of the soul.

Chapter 4: How God Works in Men’s Hearts

  1. Scripture doesn’t quite make the distinction that God only knows of evil happenings by foreknowledge (2.4.3).  God blinds and hardens the reprobate (Isa. 6:10).
  2. When God wills to make way for his providence, he bends and turns our wills even in external things (2.4.7).
  3. Definition of natural law: “Natural law is that apprehension of the conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony” (II.2.22).

Chapter 5: Refutation of the objections commonly put forward in defense of free will

  1. Can sin which is of necessity be sin (per Erasmus)?  We reply that it is not from creation that men sin, but from corruption of nature.
  2. Does this teaching negate reward and punishment? First, per reward, if it is the grace of God working in us, then it is grace, not we, who is crowned.
  3. Does this obliterate the distinction between good and evil?  Chrysostom’s argument is that “if to choose good or evil is not a faculty of our will, those who share in the same nature must be all good or all bad” (p.319).  We reply: it is God’s election that distinguishes.
  4. Does this negate exhortation?  We reply–God works in his elect in two ways: within, through his Spirit; without, through his Word (322).

Chapter 6: Fallen Man Ought to Seek Redemption in Christ

  1. Key transitional argument: Move from knowledge of God the Creator to Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ.

Chapters 7-11 examines the relationship between OT and NT, with a thorough exposition of the Ten Commandments

  1. Gospel = clear manifestation of the mystery of Christ (2.9.2).
  2. Differences between the two covenants:
    1. OT is called “bondage” because it produces fear.
    2. OT is called “Law” in the sense that the gospel was not clear (2.11.10).

Calvin on the Mediator

  1. Human and divine properties are predicated of the mediator, not of the other nature (2.14.3).
  2. His kingdom’s being spiritual proves its eternity (2.15.3).
  3. Christ’s cry from the cross: “God was not angry with him” (2.16.11). He bore the weight of divine severity.  Calvin did not believe that God “damned” Jesus, as some critics of Reformed theology maintain that we believe.


  1. Truly inaugurated his kingdom (2.16.14).
  2. The ascension allows him to rule from heaven with more immediate power.
    1. Opened heavenly kingdom (2.16.16; Eph. 2.6).
    2. He is our intercessor
    3. His might (Eph. 4.8–gave gifts to men)
  3. Christ’s merit: grace is diffused from the head (2.17.1).  God’s first Cause is the beginning of merit. Christ did not acquire merit for himself.

Review: Calvin and the Calvinists (Paul Helm)

Overview:  early summary of the Calvin vs the Calvinists debate but excluding the Barth factor.

Application for today:  Good early rebuttal against some Federal Visionists who sometimes tend to pit Calvin against Calvinists.

This is an early response to the line of argument that said Calvin taught the sweet doctrines of the Reformation until the Puritans came along and ruined it. Paul Helm responds to RT Kendall’s book on Calvinism. While Helm vindicates Calvin, that is secondary in my opinion. The book is a fine, short read and gives helpful ways of thinking about Christ’s work.

Unity of Christ’s work of intercession and death. 

The question of the hour: Did Calvin teach Limited Atonement? Kendall takes Calvin’s silence as a “no.” Helm rebuts by showing what the atonement actually means for Calvin. It produces actual remission (Helm 13).

We are going to jump ahead and examine a claim by Kendall: Christ died for all but intercedes for the elect. Helm points out that such a view means Christ’s death wasn’t enough. The efficacy had to be completed by his intercession. But this is not what Calvin said: Christ discharged all satisfaction by his death (Inst. II.xvi.6). If that’s true, then what remains to be accomplished by his intercession (Helm 43)?

The Christian and Conversion

Kendall said that Calvin saw faith as God’s act; it is passive. The Puritans saw faith as man’s act, and Kendall quotes Inst. III.13.5 for proof of the former. Helm, however, shows that Kendall moves too quickly. Calvin said in that passage that faith as regards justification is passive, but not faith simpliciter.

The final problem Kendall has with the Puritans is their emphasis on “preparationism.” He sees them as proto-Arminians, as though man can prepare himself to be saved. But this isn’t what the Puritans meant. They denied man could prepare himself, but they affirmed that man could find himself in a state of being prepared (that is, by using means such as hearing the Word, etc.).


I read this book in about an hour. It is short and clear. Highly recommended

Speak ye not of Calvin

I’ve read through the Institutes 3 times.  It’s good, I guess.  I just don’t really resonate towards Calvin.  And until 1800, that was more or less the impression in the Reformed world.  So why are people so concerned to tag us as Calvinists?  I debated Orthodox Bridge on this point 3 years ago.  They couldn’t even understand the question.

Where Calvin is interesting is not predestination.  You can find the same thing in Aquinas (and harder and more stern).  He’s interesting on union with Christ and church government.

Rutherford is a good example:

John Coffey notes in his glorious study on Rutherford concerning how marginal Calvin was for Reformed scholastics:

“Yet contrary to the common assumption, Calvin did not tower above all other Reformed theologians in importance. In *Pro Divina Gratia* Rutherford referred to Calvin only four times. William Twisse…was referred to 12 times… “Rutherford never called himself a Calvinist” (Coffey, *Politics, Religion, and the British Revolution*, p. 75)

On the mediator, some sources

My sources come from an old debate at Lane Keister’s blog.  The main Reformed guy in the debate has since apostasized, so I am not using his name–and in any case, I “internalized” these sources and made them my own years ago.  He merely cited the evidence.  The finer points of the arguments are my own.

Christ is recognized as the mediator in his union with human nature; this does not mean he becomes the mediator via that union, for such would be Nestorianism or Adoptionism.

“it is nevertheless only in union with human nature that we recognize the person of the mediator.” (Christ and the Decree, by Richard Muller [The Labyrinth Press: Durham, North Carolina, 1986] pg. 29).

“Calvin does, in fact, speak of the ‘person of the mediator’ prior to the incarnation, in reference to the Old testament witness…The eternal Son is designated as mediator prior to the incarnation and performs his office in the communication of God’s Word to man.”(pg. 29).

This is why later Reformed would speak of the Covenant of Redemption–without the Covenant of Redemption, we are easy prey to heresy charges.

The “predestination of Christ,” such as it is, goes much deeper than a mere predestining of his human nature.

“It is not intended to intimate that Christ was possessed of a two-fold sonship, as he was divine and as he was human. Upon this point I must confer with Dr. Candlish in opposition to Dr. Crawford. His sonship is eternally one. Had he become the Son of God as human, and thus in addition to his divine sonship, assumed human sonship, the consequence would be involved that he became a human person, since sonship supposes personality. That doctrine the church has always rejected, The last attempt made to support it, by the school of the “Adoptionists” failed to receive the suffrages of the Roman Catholic Church, and has not been approved by the Protestant. …We are thus, if believers, first, made one with God’s Son by community of nature-we become his brethren and therefore sons of God with him. Secondly, we are partakers of his life, because partakers of his Spirit and are as he is in God the Father’s regard. Thirdly, we are possessed by imputation of filial obedience, which performed the condition upon which we are indefectibly instated as sons in the fatherly favor of God.”

John L. Girardeau, ed., George Blackburn, Discussions of Theological Questions (reprint,Harrisonburg, Va: Sprinkle Publications, 1886; Richmond: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1905), 487-488. Footnote.

Girardeau anticipates the adoptionist charge and cuts it off at the pass.

Review of Frame’s Western Philosophy

This review is dedicated to Kevin Johnson.

I won’t give a whole review of each thinker in this book.  I’ve done some of that here.

What new material can a survey of Philosophy cover? I was wrong.  Frame’s text has numerous ‘lagniappe’ that you won’t find in other texts (links to audio, references to modern Reformed thinkers, etc).  In other words, it’s fun. But more importantly, it’s conducive to piety.  Frame defines theology as the application, by persons, of God’s word to all of life (Frame 4).  Sure, there is a Kuyperian thrust and that can be abused, but on the whole I appreciate it.

He reduces metaphysical discussions to: Is reality One, Many, or Both?  (Hint: It’s both). *God is absolute tri-personality (16-17).  He relates to his creation in terms of Lordship.  Lordship is explained as authority (normative), control, and presence.

I think this is a good move, but there is a subtle anti-substance metaphysic involved.  Substance metaphysics would usually say that reality is “cut at the joints,” meaning a universe of parts, whole, etc.  That’s fine as far as it goes and few would disagree.  Traditionally, though, that concept would get applied to God.

Frame (perhaps subconsciously) does not allow that.  We aren’t now speaking of God’s transcendence in a way that he is spatially “above” or separated from the universe (though certainly not identical with it).  The language is no longer spatial, but covenantal.

Perspectives on Human Knowledge

*Our knowledge is related to God in 3 ways (19):

  1. Control (our situation governed by his providence)
  2. Authority (what God reveals in his Word and Creation)
  3. Presence (Covenant)

Frame’s account is light on early philosophy and focuses more on early modern and recent philosophy.  

His thesis: The two renaissance themes–humanism and antiquarianism–couldn’t be integrated.  Do we gain knowledge by reflecting on the past or do we gain knowledge by using our autonomous reason divorced from tradition (167)?

The Reformation

Presented alternatives in metaphysics and epistemology. Luther: in his metaphysics he turned away from the NeoPlatonic “One” and back to the absolute and personal God of revelation (169).

Calvin marks a new move: he begins his Institutes with the knowledge of God.  Knowledge of God is never apart from reverence and love towards him.  This also determines man’s self-knowledge: “how can we imagine knowing anything without knowing ourselves, that is, knowing our knowing” (Frame 173 n16)? Calvin’s epistemology breaks with Renaissance and medieval models. Correlated with Calvin’s absolute personal theism.

After the Enlightenment, Frame makes the rather strange suggestion that the two worst heresies the church faced are Deism and Liberalism (220).  I…um…don’t know about that.  But it does explain much of the book.  He defines liberal as anyone who doesn’t submit to the authority of Scripture (216ff).  This definition of liberalism is very important for Frame’s text and it allows him to misinterpret a number of key thinkers.

Frame has a magnificent chapter on Kant and Hegel.  Without explaining Kant’s philosophy, it allows Frame to make another important observation: the conservative drift in liberal theology.  Liberals began to use more conservative language while retaining liberal constructs.

His chapter on Barth is just bad.  I’ve blogged on it elsewhere.  His take on Pannenberg is slightly better, though ruined by Frame’s definition of liberal theology.  Pannenberg is not a liberal just because he doesn’t hold to inerrancy.  

But when Frame sticks to material in which he is an acknowledged authority, such as linguistic analysis, he shines. The chapters on Russell and Wittgenstein were outstanding.  He ends his text with a survey of recent Evangelical theologians.


Should you buy this text?  I think so.  It has a number of drawbacks and he only rarely engages in more than a surface-level analysis, but it is better than most one-volume treatments.  Frame includes annotated bibliographies, pictures, diagrams, and links to audio lectures.