Matt Lillicrap

About Matt Lillicrap

Matt's Blog
Matt lives in Cambridge, England with his wife and their 6 children. In a former life he studied medicine in North-East England and worked in general medicine and elderly care. In 2013 he moved south to Oak Hill Theological College (London) where he studied for four years. Since August 2017 he has been the assistant pastor at Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge.



All That Is In God Book Review

All That Is In God Book Review

All That Is In God

by James Dolezal
Length: Approximately 5 hours.
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Dolezal insists that God’s unchanging nature is vital to his faithfulness and our assurance. But he sees a growing tendency to favour a ‘mutualistic’ God open to change under the influence of his creatures, over the unchanging, eternal, ‘simple’ God of classical theology.

He urges us: don’t allow your God to become less than he is.

Who should read this?

1. Any Christian looking to deepen their understanding of the Classical doctrine of God, particularly immutability, impassibility and simplicity.

2. Any pastor faced with the pastoral effects (issuing in anxiety and lack of assurance) of a view of God which maintains our potential to cause God pain, sadness or disappointment.

All That Is In God Book Review 1

SUMMARY

‘All that is in God’ is a remarkably concise book (at just under 140 pages) given that it also provides a robust defence of Classical Theism and forms a thorough polemic against what Dolezal sees as significant errors in the doctrine of God expounded by large swathes of current evangelicalism, including modern Calvinism.  Little wonder that it has produced waves since its publication in 2017!

Although Dolezal’s language is inescapably and necessarily technical at times, his tone and style is certainly accessible.  In fact, although not many technical works on theology could quite be described as ‘page-turners’ this is one that comes close!  I was helped by Dolezal’s efforts to define terms as he developed his arguments, and also found myself drawn to his footnotes more often than in other similar books, where I regularly found further information and helpful clarifications.

In the end though a reader would probably benefit from at least some prior familiarity with some of the concepts at play, such as simplicity, aseity, immutability and the concept of ‘being’.

The major purpose of this book is to take aim at the increasing trend in evangelical circles to maintain that through creation and salvation history God enters a ‘give and take’ relationship with us as his creatures.  In short, Dolezal sees within much of contemporary evangelicalism the teaching that human creatures are able to cause change in God. This, he argues, is a denial of Classical Theism (CT), and potentially catastrophic for our understanding of who God is.

Since Dolezal writes in its defence, it is helps to know what CT is.  Doctrinally, CT emphasises God’s eternality, unchanging nature and utter transcendence.  The major ‘plank’ in CT is therefore the Creator’s absolute qualitative distinction from his creation.  Historically, CT is associated with theologians across the centuries, from church Fathers to the Reformers and beyond to figures such as Herman Bavinck.  CT in its fullest expression though is perhaps most associated with medieval theologians such as Aquinas and Anselm.

In All that is in God Dolezal focuses particularly on the doctrines of immutability (Ch 2; that God does not, indeed cannot change), simplicity (Ch 3-4; that God is a ‘simple’ being—not that he is simplistic but that he is simple in the theological use of the term, i.e. that he is neither a sum of parts, nor dependent on any composition or prior reality—in other words, “All that is in God, is God”), eternality (Ch 5; not that God is eternal in the sense that he extends into eternity history and future, but that he is entirely outside of the bounds of time itself and does not ‘experience’ in a successive way as time-bound creatures do), and the Trinity (Ch 6).  

Accordingly, his polemic has two targets.  Inevitably, Dolezal will argue strongly against any form of Process Theology and its understanding that God is a self-actualising being, experiencing time and history along with his creation, and being influenced by both creation’s response to him and his response to creation.  This is not his primary target however.

Far more pressing for Dolezal, and far more urgent for the evangelicals likely to read him, is his concern that a large part of the evangelical world teaches various forms of ‘Theistic Mutualism’ (his term), loosening the connections between early 21st century evangelical theology and CT as well as arriving at positions far closer to Process Theology than these teachers would be comfortable with or admit.  Dolezal certainly doesn’t hold back in his criticism of such arguments.

He is robust, and not afraid to bring an astonishing number of well-respected evangelical theologians into his cross-hairs, including William Lane Craig, Bruce Ware, J. I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, D. A. Carson, Rob Lister, John Frame and Kevin Vanhoozer.

The major charge with which the book leads is that many Calvinist evangelicals are attempting to have their cake and eat it.  While strongly denying any suggestion that God changes in his ‘essential being’ many simultaneously allow that God undergoes change in some ‘non-essential’ manner of being.  Indeed, it is thought that such changes in God are required if he is to enter genuine and meaningful relationships with creatures.  

The argument goes that since I must be open to allowing others to influence me, particularly in my emotional life, in order to have a genuine relationship with them, so this must also be true of God. Dolezal convincingly maintains that this is a flawed argument when speaking of God, illegitimately applying features of creature to Creator.

Further, he points out that Calvinist evangelicals often argue this to be a situation which God sovereignly allows himself to enter into, that is, God wills that he come under the influence of his creatures, in a way which affects only his non-essential being.

Dolezal’s main counter-argument is that this is an impossibility.  Simply put, there cannot be ‘non-essential’ being in God because ‘All that is in God, is God’.  This means that there cannot be any ‘part’ of God which is in some way disconnected from God’s very being as God.  For God to be in such a relationship with his creatures (even one which he has sovereignly willed) makes some features of God’s being dependent on those creatures.  The Creator-creature distinction fades.

Having laid this ground-work, Dolezal circles around this central feature of ‘Theistic Mutualism’ throughout the book, asking what further effects it may have on the doctrines of CT.  Divine simplicity and eternality are both at risk where genuine relationship with God is thought to be dependent on God himself crossing the Creator-creature distinction in some way that relates to his own divine essence.  

With respect to simplicity, Dolezal’s concern is that a univocal approach to scripture (receiving God’s self-revelation as though is speaks directly of his divine essence) results in an understanding of God’s attributes as being actually diverse in his very being, so that God is constituted by the many features which we might see in him (his love, his power, his wisdom, his knowledge etc) as though these form parts of God.  

Rather, says Dolezal, we must recognise the analogical language of Scripture, necessitated by the Creator-creature distinction.  If God is to reveal himself to time-bound and complex created beings, the only language available is creaturely.  God accommodates to such language so that we see God’s attributes in diverse ways (as wise, good, powerful, loving etc) however “the diversity of divine attributes lies on the side of God’s revelation to creatures, not in the being of God himself.”  

Similarly, eternality is at risk as God is described as though he must enter into and be affected by time in order to act within it towards creation.  Dolezal’s response is once again to uphold the teaching of CT that God, being simple and immutable, cannot be understood to experience states of being sequentially, as time-bound creatures must.

Ultimately, argues Dolezal, without the simple, immutable, eternal and distinct God of CT we risk obscuring or distorting the God of the Bible himself.

ANALYSIS

There are a couple of places in the book where I would have liked further expansion in this book.  First, I would appreciate more regarding an argument which is implied more than explicitly drawn out.  

Where Process Theologians, particularly in the Open-Theism camp teach a view of God’s attributes in which all divine attributes are understood to be subordinate to the primary attribute of love, I wonder if the Calvinist ‘mutualist’ approach tends very similarly towards a voluntarism, wherein God’s attributes (particularly his personal attributes and what might be seen as his ‘emotional life’) become subordinate to his will.

Second, Dolezal rightly (and understandably) majors on the implications of Theistic Mutualism for our understanding of God.  Taking a lead from John Calvin, though, any distortion of our view of God will very likely carry effects through to our view of ourselves too.  Dolezal touches on this once or twice, however it seems to me that this is another significant concern with a departure from some of the core tenets of CT.  

Just before reading this book I encountered two situations in my pastoral ministry in which a mutualistic view of God was having serious effects on a person’s view of themselves.  Basically, just as the mutualistic view of God seems to reduce the Creator-creature distinction by bringing him closer to us (in responding to us as we respond to one another for example) so it gives us too much power over him.  

The effect may be to give the impression that although in Christ we are given forgiveness from God’s anger at our sin, his responsiveness to our actions in a give-and-take emotional way inevitably makes him the Father who is consistently disappointed with us.  

We suddenly have the power to sadden him—to let him down in such a way that his happiness in himself and his rejoicing over us as his people may be obscured.  This was certainly the case for my friends struggling with marked spiritual depression. It was heartening to me to see the pastoral power of CT here, which is so often derided as being unfeeling and overly philosophical.

There is one feature of this book though, which troubles me.  In his preface Dolezal unashamedly describes his approach as that of ‘contemplative theology’.  He is quick to point out that such an approach “need not be in conflict” with biblical theology, yet his tone then becomes somewhat dismissive of the latter.  

“Biblical theology, with its unique focus on historical development and progress, is not best suited for theology proper” since “God is not a historical individual.”  Further, “this places God beyond the proper focus of biblical theology” (pXV). Although I think I understand what Dolezal is driving at, I do not think this is helpful in the slightest.  

One is tempted to ask what, then, the proper focus of biblical theology actually is, if not God and his self-revelation. Dolezal is keen from the beginning to assert God’s eternality in being beyond time, however there surely needs to be a closer engagement with the fact that God does reveal himself in a progressive manner to time-bound creatures.  

I am concerned that such an approach at the beginning of the book will have two negative effects: First, large parts of the evangelical world to whom Dolezal addresses this work will be immediately repelled with the effect that Dolezal risks ‘preaching to the choir’. Second, I can understand why Dolezal has received the familiar accusation that contemplative approaches such this tend towards an elitist or even gnostic approach to scripture.  

While the warning against a univocal approach is well taken, a response to the Bible’s descriptions of God’s emotional life needs to be more nuanced than saying ‘it may say that but it only appears to be so.’  We mustn’t allow an emphasis on all the rightness of CT to leave us uncomfortable to speak about God in the way he talks about himself in his word.  For this reason I would have appreciated more engagement with biblical theologians and especially scripture itself.

Finally, all the talk of God relating to his creatures and the Creator-creature distinction suggests the need for one other vital theological perspective—that of the incarnation.  It is of course, here that God does act in a way that does bridge the divide between Creator and creature.  In Jesus we have a man who does experience human emotions, who does suffer, and in whom we can say that the Son of God suffers and dies as a man.  

It may have doubled the length of the book, it may warrant another book, but I would love to hear how the some of the impulses driving ‘Theistic Mutualism’ as Dolezal describes it are found met in the wonder of the incarnation.

CONCLUSION

This really is quite the book.  To cover so much ground so effectively in so little time is remarkable.  There is so much to engage with here that All that is in God could very effectively function as an introduction to CT and the doctrines tackled therein.

Moreover, I firmly believe Dolezal has put his finger on something very important.  He is right to note and challenge the evangelical tendency to re-formulate the doctrines of simplicity and immutability in a way which leaves us some distance from the teachings of CT, and at odds with large swathes of historical theology.  We would do well to consider just who we find ourselves disagreeing with by insisting on mutualistic conceptions of God’s dealings with us as creatures.

four-stars
By | 2018-05-31T02:30:54+00:00 June 5th, 2018|

The Goldilocks Zone Book Review

The Goldilocks Zone Book Review

The Goldilocks Zone

by Michael J. Ovey
Length: Approximately 10 hours. To read (300 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Theology affects everything. From the way we live out our self-understanding to the way we interact with others, what we think of God drives it all whether we acknowledge it or not. Ovey exemplifies this by applying his theological convictions to varying currents and trends in both Christian thought and wider society.

Who should read this?

As an example of biblically-driven and gospel-centred theology worked out practically this collection is essential reading for theological students and pastors (for whom most pieces were originally written) but should also be picked up and digested by any Christian wanting a model of how to engage theologically with cultural and Christian themes.

The Goldilocks Zone Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The ‘How’ and ‘Why’

Mike Ovey was the much-loved principal of Oak Hill theological college in London until his death in January 2017.  He was a brilliant theologian and a wonderfully passionate teacher of future gospel ministers. He never wrote as extensively as his depth of thinking and analytical mind suggested he could have done, instead devoting time and energy to the students under his care (who, as one tribute to Mike after his death put it, “were his books”).  

Where he did write, however, he addressed the many and frequent challenges to faithful gospel proclamation in the 21st century, displaying a deep love for the Lord and humble reverence for his Word coupled with a legally-trained mind and astonishing breadth of reading.  This collection brings together various pieces of writing that Mike did produce, as both a tribute and more importantly an opportunity for many more to benefit from his thoughtful theological approach.  

The Goldilocks Zone therefore functions like a greatest hits album with each ‘track’ varying in length, depth and focus.  Included are 15 short columns from the online journal Themelios, 7 longer Cambridge Papers, 2 essays on the gospel and atonement, and 3 transcripts of lectures given at the GAFCON conferences in 2008 and 2013.  Such variety does not mean that the album fails to hang together as a whole though. Rather, a number of key themes repeatedly surface, tying the ‘tracks’ together.

 Theologically, Mike delighted in the Creator-creature distinction, Jesus’ genuine Sonship of the Father revealed by Christ himself, and the centrality of his substitutionary work of atonement on the cross.  Personally, Mike rejoiced in being a creature of that Creator, dependent on his revelation for any true knowledge of him (or true knowledge of anything else for that matter) and redeemed by that atoning substitutionary work.  His theological approach is therefore marked by wonder and humility before God and his Word, prompting careful exegesis and reasoning from Scripture, as well as a desire to point others towards him coupled with a determination to refute any thinking and teaching that would draw people away from him.  These themes are evident all the way through the Goldilocks Zone and drive the arguments forward.

The What

This is a difficult book to review because of the sheer variety of writing on offer in the one volume, but we must start somewhere, so let’s begin with the title!  ‘The Goldilocks Zone’ may seem confusing at first, but is actually drawn from the first ‘title-track.’ In various ways, this sets the stage for what follows as Mike asserts the need for a theological ‘Goldilocks zone’ between twin idols which undo the Creator-creature distinction by putting humanity into the position of God.  On the one hand, ‘global’ theologies tend towards arrogant claims to exhaustive knowledge and dismiss disagreement as though it were disagreement with God himself.

On the other hand, there are ‘local’ approaches to theology (Mike suggests black, Pentecostal, Liberation and Charismatic theologies as examples, but does not exclude local approaches which lack ‘official’ labels such as ‘white Western middle class’ theology).  However, these cannot provide a solution to the problems posed by ‘global’ theologies because a focus on particular contexts tends towards excluding all others, resulting in paradoxically arrogant assertions of ignorance beyond specialist areas (‘I do not know, and therefore I assert that no one else can possibly be sure either’).

Instead Mike argues that we need a ‘goldilocks zone’ theology that is ‘just right’ – held in tension between these pitfalls by reliance on that central theme, the Creator-creature distinction.  Since God’s knowledge is exhaustive, ours is always only derivative.  Our limitations should drive us to be humble, remembering that we do not have access to God’s complete knowledge.  Yet, this is a confident humility, fuelled by the knowledge that because God does communicate to us the things we can know from him are true.

Humble confidence and confident humility.  The tone is set for the rest of the book as Mike charts his course between arrogant assertions to exhaustive knowledge, raising humanity into God’s place, and arrogant assertions of ignorance, bringing God down and denying his sovereign authority as a knower.  One of the disarming features of Mike’s writing is his ability to so often address approaches which appears so very reasonable in our eyes and uncover a root of human pride dressed up in respectable humility.

For example, in ‘Sorrow at another’s good’ (ch 3) Mike uncovers the envy that can lie at the root of the respectable seeming drive towards equality. A self-focussed insistence that ‘I am just as entitled to the good another person receives as they are’ belies envy of that other.  Mike does not leave it there however, taking the challenging next step of pointing out our envy of God’s position and desire to assert supremacy over him.  Again, Mike urges us to humility before our Creator.  Similarly, in ‘Courtier Politicians and Courtier Preachers’ (ch 10), Mike uncovers a potential danger in democratic society where an ‘echo chamber’ can develop.  Since leaders are repeatedly congratulated, and perpetuated in office for echoing majority thinking, Mike notes that they may therefore become unable or unwilling to challenge that majority, even where its desires or views are problematic.  

For Christians this means that society may listen avidly when we echo its own views (for example on social justice) but if we begin to suggest that there may be areas in which God disagrees with society’s actions or approach—that there are areas of truth which God communicates which we would rather not know—then we will be very quickly dismissed.  Again, though Mike does not leave the challenge ‘out there’ but aims at our hearts by noting that what is true of society is too often also true of the church.  As pastor teaches agreeable truth to congregation they may be repeatedly affirmed, but this can lead to an inability and unwillingness to communicate more disagreeable things which are still nonetheless true.  

Mike warns us of the potential for “a beautiful church with beautiful people and nothing so ugly as a God who demands things from us that we do not already wish to give.” Again, humility driven by the Creator-creature distinction is required.  This combination of incisive analysis of cultural trends, and a heart for pastors and the church characterises all of the writing in this book.

The later 3 sections of the Goldilocks Zone (Cambridge papers, essays on Gospel and Atonement and lectures given at GAFCON 2008 & 2013) are longer ‘tracks’ which allow Mike’s approach to breathe a little more expansively —the ‘deep-cuts’ of the album requiring a little more digestion. For example, chapter 18 engages the difficulty society has with understanding human identity without an adequate understanding of God in whose image that identity is made.  

Mike’s theological ‘specialism’ was Trinitarian theology, and which shines through as he demonstrates that the Triune unity and personal distinctions of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are precisely the answer we need for a society which struggles to marry the values of equality and diversity.  Using a similar method of argument, ch 23 focuses on the challenge of pluralism to the claim that God has communicated ‘truth’ at all. Mike demonstrates his breadth of reading by engaging Isaiah Berlin’s thesis of incommensurable values—the idea that human values and goals are not just separate, but constantly at war with one another.  

Hence, liberty and equality are seen to be incompatible at a fundamental level. Mike demonstrates the polytheistic result of such thinking, which (drawing on the patristic theology he specialised in) descends to anarchy and atheism. Instead, humble confidence in God’s self-revelation can answer such a challenge. Mike masterfully draws on God’s simplicity as demonstrating that his attributes are never in competition and draws us to the cross and Christ’s substitutionary atoning work as the demonstration of such commensurability–where justice and mercy meet.

I hope that whets your appetite!  There really is so much more in this book of value, addressing topics as varied as the how and why of theological education, the idolatries demonstrated by the political capital gained in recent times by drawing on various societal fears, the challenge of postmodern deconstructionism to confidence in God’s ability to communicate truth in his word, and much more.  To try and review it all would probably require something approaching a short book in itself—better to get hold of a copy, hit the play button and enjoy each track as it comes!

ANALYSIS

As one of Mike’s former students, I admit I am pre-disposed to rave about this book!  Attempting to be as objective as possible though, I certainly feel that The Goldilocks Zone achieves is aim of introducing the reader to Mike’s theological analysis.  Many of the articles are available online, particularly those drawn from Themelios, but having them available as one volume edited so ably by Chris Green allows the reader to garner more insight into the comprehensiveness of Mike’s approach.

If there is a weakness, it is perhaps the technical nature of some of the writing.  This is not a book you can pick up half-alert and feel you have got to grips with, but it will repay careful reading and concentration.  Having said that, the brevity of the articles and essays mean that each does not take long to read even when read (and re-read) slowly and carefully.  Preachers picking up this book will find their preaching enriched by the frequent connections with societal trends and human thought. Apologetics will also be enriched in depth and insight as presuppositions are repeatedly uncovered and their shaky foundations exposed.

CONCLUSION

Sitting in Mike’s lectures I often wished that many more could learn from this most winsome and incisive of theologians.  Although the requirement for this book’s existence is bitter on a personal level, with The Goldilocks Zone in hand I rejoice that now they can.  I would urge you to get hold of a copy, dip into it, read and re-read the various tracks on offer, and find your heart warmed and your thinking sharpened as you do.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • [Remaining in the theological ‘goldilocks zone’] “helps or requires me to be humble before truth (for I am a creature, not God), yet confident in truth (for I am a creature to whom God has spoken and whom God has created to be spoken to).”

  • “If I do not want to be on the receiving end of a courtier spirit, I must dare to let people tell me truths I do not want to hear.  And at that point as a modern Christian teacher, I must confront my own appetite to both be on the receiving end of the courtier spirit (it is nice to be flattered) and to offer it, because courtiers do get rewards.  In this life anyway.”

  • “Perhaps I should be more ready … when faced with God’s revelation in the Bible [to] point less to a defect in the text (lack of clarity) but more to a defect in my understanding (subjective limits).  Perhaps we should be less certain that parts of Scripture are ‘uncertain’.

  • “Our repentance is largely reserved for those things which the world finds offensive.  The acid test of whether our repentance is really towards God is when God and the world disagree.  Is our repentance really turning to God, or acknowledging the world?”
five-stars
By | 2018-03-24T07:30:30+00:00 March 24th, 2018|

Theology in Three Dimensions Book Review

Theology in Three Dimensions Book Review

Theology in Three Dimensions

by John M. Frame
Length: Short! (90 pages, approximately 3 hours reading time)
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Triperspectivalism is less intimidating than it sounds! Frame introduces us to this “way of seeing things” – a biblically-rooted, God-centered, Christ-exalting approach to theology.  Far from remaining intellectual, triperspectivalism invites us to worship Jesus Christ as Lord.

Who should read this?  If a theologian is simply someone who has thoughts about God, then all Christians must strive to be God-centered theologians.  This is a book aimed for any Christian, providing a doorway into Frame’s work, and perhaps theology in general.  

It would be particularly ideal as a ‘handbook’ for those considering reading Frame more deeply.

Theology in Three Dimensions Book Review

 

Summary

The Why and How (purpose, aim and how they’re achieved) 

For decades John Frame has been teaching theology using the approach he calls ‘triperspectivalism’ (TP), influencing scores of pastors and teachers.  Frame himself describes TP as a highly effective method for slowing down to teach and apply the Bible to all of life, “i.e. doing what theology is supposed to do” (Preface, xiv).

Although so many have been helped by studying under or reading Frame, TP undoubtedly suffers from a couple of barriers.  First, the terms Frame uses for his three perspectives (Normative, Situational and Existential) are drawn from philosophy and may seem as intimidating and opaque as the title given to the system itself.  Second, a thoroughgoing TP approach takes time and, because Frame insists that no perspective can stand without the other two, can initially seem a tad repetitive and even laborious, an impression perhaps reinforced by the sheer size of many of his books (notably, the Theology of Lordship series which are currently buckling a shelf in my study).

Frame’s records that many who have been helped by TP have sought out a simple introduction.  Theology in Three Dimensions aims to be precisely that; an appetizer to TP.  The result is a wonderful book, whose brevity belies significant depth.  It is written in an accessible style, aided by its short chapters, some of which are just 4-5 pages long, and by the use of minimal footnotes, largely to cross-reference Frame’s other published writing (particularly useful for those who wish to delve deeper).  These short chapters are further broken down into digestible chunks by clear sub-headings.  Although digestion is certainly required, Frame helps us along with the inclusion of glossaries of technical terms at the end of each chapter.

Most strikingly for a book which is, after all, an introduction to a theological approach, is the practical and personal nature of Frame’s writing.  The longest (and final) chapter (“What to do with Triperspectivalism”) is taken up with practical application of TP in Bible study, Christian living, approaches to Philosophy and apologetics.  More importantly, this and every other chapter finishes with questions for review and personal reflection.  Frame is writing just as much (if not more) to the heart, as to the head.

The What (content)  

The early chapters outline the approach in broad terms.  A perspective is defined simply as a way of looking at things; “a view (1) of something (2) by someone (3) from somewhere” (p2).  With this (no less than triperspectival!) definition in hand, Frame goes on to emphasise the gulf between human knowledge as creatures, and God’s knowledge as Creator.  Acknowledging that all human knowledge requires us to view things from our own limited space in our own limited ways is key to the humility which Frame exhorts in our quest to know anything, let alone anything about God.  Such humility does not mean that our knowledge is fatally limited, however.  

Frame goes on to demonstrate that knowledge grows if we are humbly prepared to incorporate others’ perspectives, a process which requires judgments to be made regarding what perspectives on which realities can and should be trusted.  This brings Frame to the most vital step in his approach, and indeed of Reformed Theology as a whole.  Since God’s knowledge is perfect he knows all of reality from every conceivable perspective (hence he is not just omniscient but also ‘omniperspectival!’).  He alone is the perfect knower, and therefore the final criterion of truth.  Crucially, he has revealed himself (and his ‘omniperspective’) in his Word.  This is the foundation on which TP and all of Frame’s theology is built.  

As a result, humbly recognizing the creaturely limitations on our knowledge breeds confidence to incorporate God’s revealed perspective as Creator into our knowledge of reality, and our knowledge of him in particular.

Frame goes on to argue that perspectivalism is rooted in God himself, who can be described according to his attributes (love, holiness, knowledge etc. etc.) but whose attributes cannot be separated as though they were different parts.  Rather, Frame argues, they are best understood as different perspectives on the being of God himself.  As perspectives on the same reality, they include one another—God’s love, for example, is viewable from the perspective of his revelation of his love itself, and also of his holiness, his knowledge, etc.  

From here, Frame moves to argue for three core perspectives, which are rooted most particularly in the concepts inherent to God’s Lordship over creation, namely his authority, control and presence.  As ever Frame is quick to caution against opposing or fragmenting these facets.  Each is a perspective which incorporates the other two—for example, God’s authority implies and requires his control over and presence in creation (p21).  

Studying these three perspectives on God’s Lordship over creation yields three perspectives from which all of reality within that creation can be viewed.  The normative perspective (outlined in chapter 5) maps onto God’s authority in setting moral norms and obligations for life in this world and revealing these through Scripture.  The situational corresponds most closely to God’s control over everything that happens, every situation.  For Frame this requires gathering information about God’s creation as we seek to know him better, so to consider the world as it is as we interpret Scriptural norms within it.  

Finally, the existential perspective arises from God’s personal presence in everything, and with his people in particular.  Thus, personal and subjective questions of inner certainty and ‘cognitive rest’ over questions of knowledge and meaning are to be taken into account.  Frame insists that all theological thinking, indeed all knowledge is affected by who we are, by the faculties which we bring to bear in our efforts to know anything.  

Knowledge of ourselves is therefore key to knowing anything rightly (p66, picking up on the famous passage with which John Calvin opens his Institutes).  Once again, however, revelation from God as the source and criterion of truth is close at hand, since Frame points out that for fallen and finite humanity, true self-knowledge can only come from the God who made us.

Throughout Frame’s argument one vital theme arises again and again.  Since they are perspectives, they all exist within one another, and can even be viewed from one another.  Hence, any situation includes scriptural norms within it.  In turn, those norms were given in particular situations, and elicited responses from particular people, which further means that we cannot separate the norms from their situation, nor examine them without asking how we should respond in turn.

Analysis

Frame has produced a concise overview of his triperspectival approach, as intended.  As a long-time reader who has sought to take and apply the approach of TP to my own study of theology and its implications, I found Theology in Three Dimensions a wonderfully concise refresher.  

I am concerned, however, that despite its introductory intentions, the reader unfamiliar with Frame will find the going tough in places, particularly where concern for brevity leads to density in explaining the nature of each perspective.  There are occasions when greater time spent explaining terms would benefit, and moments when it feels as though prior knowledge has been assumed.

Nonetheless, for a reader prepared to spend time with the glossaries and re-reading more difficult sections, this is the sort of book which will see the margins quickly filled to overflowing with thoughts prompted and implications drawn.  In many ways reading this book feels like examining a large iceberg.  There are all manner of interesting contours and crevices to explore on the surface, within this small book itself, but it rises up from and points down into vast depths of learning, thinking, and searching in the wells of Scripture.

Most notably, for all of its depth, the practical applications with which the book concludes, and the questions for reflection at the end of each chapter demonstrate that Frame’s theology is no mere academic exercise.  The theologian—the Christian even—guided by the norms of scripture applied to the situation in which they find themselves, will be personally affected and deeply transformed.  In other words, for Frame himself not only does theology lead to worship, but the very process of considering the person and work of God himself is an act of worship—one that I found to be infectious as I read and was led to worship myself.

Conclusion

This is a volume which should prove highly valuable to anyone interested in exploring Frame’s thought as a significantly influential theologian of the last half-century.  It is a great place to start.  I would also recommend it to any Christian who wishes to embark on a theological adventure, thinking more deeply on the being of God and the implications for life in the world.  If nothing else, echoing Frame’s Christ-exalting tones of humble confidence in worship before God’s revelation would stand us in good stead as we seek not to master God as a subject of study, but to be mastered by him as our Creator.

Quotes

p9: “God’s knowledge is … the criterion of ours.  Our beliefs are only true insofar as they measure up to God’s.”

p11: “Humility and wisdom require us to distinguish when we have certainty and when we don’t.  And when we are uncertain we should be eager to benefit from the perspectives of others—especially the omniperspective of God but also the limited perspectives of our fellow human beings made in God’s image.  The way to knowledge and certainty is the way to of seeking additional perspectives, deeper perspectives.”

p89: “The significance of triperspectivalism is that it keeps us focused on the bottom line, that God is nothing less than the Lord, and that his lordship is fully revealed in Jesus Christ.”  

four-stars
By | 2018-01-31T02:27:02+00:00 February 1st, 2018|

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