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Posts Tagged ‘triperspectivalism’


For quite some time I’ve been utilizing triperspectivalism to understand, apply and communicate the Scriptures and theology. I have wished that John Frame would release an introductory book for people. It is tough to invite everyone to read books like The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. His shorter systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, has a section on triperspectivalism. But a small book that I could hand out to those intimidated by big books would be great.

If you read that first sentence and thought “what in the world is triperspectivalism?” this book is for you.

“Triperspectivalism is simply a teaching tool to help us grasp some of the deep things in Scripture. It highlights a pervasive pattern of three-fold distinctions, or triads, in the Bible.” Don Sweeting from the Forward

Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and Its Significance is incredibly short (about 90 pages) and each chapter has review questions to help people process the information. It is therefore a relatively quick read. Frame has chapters on:

  1. Perspectives
  2. Perspectives and the Trinity
  3. The Threefold Gospel
  4. Perspectives in All of Life
  5. The Normative Perspective
  6. The Situational Perspective
  7. The Existential Perspective
  8. What to Do with Perspectives

“A perspective, literally, is a position from which a person sees something. … Ultimately, all this knowledge comes to me through my own body- through my senses and the operations by which my brain organizes my sense impressions into knowledge.”

While Frame speaks of three perspectives on truth, these perspectives are distinguished but not separated from one another. They include each other. The normative has to do with authority. God possesses all authority and gives His Word to us as a source of authority. The Word does not simply give norms, but describes our situation and ourselves. God exercises His authority in controlling our situations (circumstances). These circumstances reflect both His norms and our influence as sinners. God exercises His authority and control as He is present in creation and with His people. He is not to be confused with creation, but is present. This provides a brief example of where John Frame goes with this.

“These are multiple perspectives, but they all are part of the general personal perspective that constitutes my experience and assessment of the real world.”

I will come back to blog on the Trinity and his understanding of God’s simplicity in particular. This has been the subject of a recent controversy. I will also come back to blog on apologetics and how he things triperspectivalism can rescue use from the tribalism that divides the church in terms of apologetics. He lamented this tribalism after the death of R.C. Sproul last week. He and Sproul were born in raised around Pittsburgh, had a love for philosophy and studied it, and both taught systematic theology. He expressed that the fact that he and R.C. were on different apologetic teams may have been part of why they didn’t become friends. The fact that spent most of their time teaching in different parts of the country (before the days of the internet) didn’t help either.

It is hard for me to fully judge this volume. I tried to suspend my knowledge and view it as one who doesn’t think triperspectivally. But I ultimately couldn’t. I enjoyed the volume and thought he communicated his material clearly. But I didn’t arrive to the book with contrary presuppositions or “innocence”. My presupposition was that he is on to something very helpful and illuminating.

So, if you aren’t familiar with triperspectivalism and read this let me know how clear it is. I’m not so much concerned with whether he convinces you but if you understand it when done with reading the book.

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I was confused by the beginning of Mark Bechtle’s chapter, Intentional Sharing, in Evangelism for the Rest of Us. It is a story of unintentional sharing. It was the story of a plane ride during which the passenger next to him kept asking questions. He does make a good point, be prepared and responsive to opportunities that God provides. That isn’t intentional sharing, or at least not what I think about when I hear the term.

“Our job is to genuinely love the people in our lives and share the experiences of life with them.”

He affirms much of what he’s been saying throughout the book. He adds that “we need to be intentional about our efforts” but doesn’t really help us think that through. For him, a large part of intentionality is about the need to be prepared. This is pretty much what I covered in my previous post.

He does mention a job he had in which everyone was asked to develop an “elevator speech.” A concise, thoughtout speech you could give to let people know “What you do?”. He applies this to “What is Christianity?” We should prepare ahead of time by having just such a brief articulation about the heart of Christianity. Or come up with a tweet that captures the essence of Christianity.

Applying triperspectivalism to this we can have three types of prepared messages to draw upon.

Normative: what does the Scripture say? Develop a few as mentioned previously: the Roman Road, The Great Story (a history of God’s dealing w/humanity: creation, fall, redemption, glory), or other.

Existential: how did God work in my life? This is your testimony, however unexciting. You may have grown up in the church, but at some point you owned it even if it was not dramatic. This connects the gospel with your life.

Situational: how has God sustained me? This connects the gospel message (normative) and your life (existential) with circumstances in the life of the person you are talking with. It can be as simple as “the political chaos drags me down at times, but then I remember ….”. Or it can be a story of finding hope in the midst of loss, affliction etc. Be honest about your struggle with sin and/or misery. What you are looking for here are entry points for the gospel.

Bechtle wants us to make friends intentionally. Apart from making friends with non-Christians you’ll be limited to talking with people on the plane or clerks at stores. It bears repeating: genuine friendships, not repent or I won’t be your friend pseudo-relationships. We had friends in FL with whom we’d share the gospel when opportunities arose. The change in our friendship came because we moved, not because they didn’t repent and believe like we’d hoped.

So…

  1. Choose to be around non-Christians. They aren’t lepers! And you shouldn’t be a Pharisee (see Luke 15 and the parables of the lost things).
  2. Remember it is a team effort. If they are in your life they may meet others who are in your life who will also communicate the gospel to them.
  3. Build trust. You aren’t a salesman, so consistently love them before offering the gospel in a way which comes off as weird and unnatural. Don’t try too hard. “This pretzel reminds me of the Trinity….”.
  4. Be patient. It may take years of faithful witness. It will also take time for you to develop skills in evangelism. I tell my kids, every good thing takes practice. You don’t master anything in 3 hours. It takes thousands of hours.
  5. Find your own voice. I tell  this to young preachers too. You aren’t x, y or z. You are you. God made you to speak truth, and who you are will shape it to some degree. I believe it was Stott who called preaching “truth through personality.” Your personality & experiences will also shape your evangelism. But if you’re using Chick Tracts, repent.
  6. Be involved in community life, not just church community life.
  7. Leave a trail of bread crumbs. Don’t hide that you are a Christian. When appropriate mention church. “My pastor loves that restaurant.” “Our community group at church was discussing that last week.”
  8. Point people to Jesus. We are like floodlights, helping people see the One who matters. He is the hero of the story, not you.

One thing I’d like to add. Ask permission. Don’t just launch into your gospel presentation at any opportunity. Try something like “I’ve struggled with that too. My faith in Christ helped me through that struggle. Can I tell you about that?” You are respecting their boundaries, loving them. They will be more likely, from a human perspective, to listen than if you force the message on them.

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The last few weeks have been really busy for me; both in ministry and at home. In the midst of that I received a contract offer from a publisher. I had submitted that book a few years back.

This publisher had approached me just over a year ago. They were interested in it, but wanted me to pay for the publicist. That just wasn’t going to work for me financially.

A few weeks ago they made me a new offer in which they would cover the cost of the publicist. In the meantime another company looked at it. They liked it, overall, but believed it needed some major editing in places. I had asked someone to read the book and make some suggestions to help me identify those places that I needed to re-write to fix the problems.

Making a decision was not easy. I thought my process might be helpful for other people as they seek to make decisions.

Essentially, I used a triperspectival method as John Frame explains it in a number of his books. The 3 perspectives are the normative (what does the Bible say), the existential (who am I in this decision) and the situational (what are my circumstances in this decision).

Normative. The Scriptures note that of the writing of books there is no end. I think my book provides a different approach to the subject at hand. It could be a helpful addition to the many very good books on the subject matter.

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John Frame has, I think, done the Church a great service in writing The Doctrine of the Christian Life. It is the material from his course on Christian Ethics. The 3rd section of the book is Christian Ethical Methodology. As expected, he breaks this into 3 parts: normative, situational and existential.

“In general, a Christian ethical decision is the application of God’s revelation (normative) to a problem (situational) by a person (existential).”

The normative aspect of Christian Ethics is revelation. God exercises His lordship by communicating His character and will to us. Unlike non-Christian views of deontological ethics, we have a recognizable standard. Frame affirms both general and special revelation as part of that standard. Both can be misinterpreted by sinners such as us.

We don’t just have a Law given to us. God expects us to imitate Him. He is the ultimate norm for us. There is an aspect of “What Would Jesus Do” that is accurate.

But the overall focus is the authority of Scripture. He spends time on inspiration and the attributes of Scripture. He has an important chapter on the sufficiency of Scripture. This is often misunderstood. The Westminster Confession formulates the sufficiency of Scripture “concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life.” It does not limit this to explicit statements (a problem I often run into in theological discussion), but also includes “any good and necessary consequence.” In other words, doing theology is not merely quoting Scripture but THINKING through the consequences of what Scripture says. As a result, the divine words we have are sufficient for our needs.

“The sufficiency of Scripture does not rule out the use of natural revelation (“the light of nature”) and human reasoning (“Christian prudence”) in our decisions, even when those decisions concern the worship and government of the church.”

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As I previously mentioned, I would be going through John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life in accordance with the sections of the book. The second section of the book is an examination of Non-Christian Ethics. This section of the book is extremely helpful for understanding politics, not just ethics, since politics is often a large scale expression of ethics.

As one should expect, Frame utilizes both his understanding of Lordship attributes and triperspectivalism to analyze the numerous ways that non-Christians have done ethics. He starts with the biblical tension between transcendence and immanence. The biblical concept of transcendence includes God’s control and authority. Immanence focuses on God’s presence. Since God is Lord, he is present, in control and has full authority.

Non-Christians (and some poor theologians), obviously, in rejecting the testimony of Scripture separate them and emphasize one over the other. Or completely ignore one. Deism, for instance, rejects the immanence of God. He is not present in creation but set it in motion. Rabbi Kushner embraces God’s presence but rejects his control and authority. Shirley McClaine is even more radical in stressing God’s immanence by thinking she is part of God.

Politically, an unbiblical transcendence makes the State god who determines right and wrong as well as dispensing rights (as well as taking them away according to who is in power). An unbiblical immanence places all the power in the self and gives rise to forms of libertarianism that reject external authority, like Ayn Rand.

Frame does the same thing with irrationalism and rationalism. We are rational beings, being made in the image of God. Yet, being finite, our knowing is not autonomous. We admit that there are things we cannot understand as a result of our finitude and our sinfulness. We see our irrationalism as a function of the Creator-Creature distinction.

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I am approximately 50% of the way through John Frame’s mammoth The Doctrine of the Christian Life as part of his Theology of Lordship series. I thought I ought to handle this book in light the larger sections John Frame creates in the book.

Thus far this is an excellent, challenging book. It is challenging intellectually, and it is challenging spiritually. It is a book I would heartily recommend because there is so much to wrestle with here beyond just “do this” and “don’t do that.”

“The Christian life is not only a matter of following rules of morality, but a dynamic experience: living in the fallen world, in fellowship with the living God.”

The first part, Introductory Considerations, is a mere 3 chapters and 40 pages. This section is mostly orienting people to how he does theology just in case they have arrived to the series mid-stream.

He begins with the question of why we should study ethics. He admits that he has been put off by many non-Christian approaches to ethics. But since the Bible deals with ethics from beginning to end, as a Christian we should think about ethics. But we have to think about them biblically.  We have to walk between the (anti-gospel) extremes of legalism and license.

“The liberal tendency to find loopholes in the moral law, to justify apparent sin, has given casuistry a bad name. The conservative tendency toward harshness and austerity has given moralism a bad name.”

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In my second year of seminary, John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God became required reading in the first year. Oh, well. It has only taken me about 20 years to read the book.  I began to read it 2 years ago, I think, while I was home “watching” the kids while CavWife taught a group exercise class on Monday afternoons. Last year I spent that time studying and developing a curriculum for the Book of Revelation. Though I no longer watch the kids on Monday afternoons, I resumed reading the book this Fall as time permitted. It was worth the work.

The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (an interesting title) is the first in Frame’s A Theology of Lordship series, of which I have already read The Doctrine of God (Salvation Belongs to the Lord is a shorter version that is quite readable). The title of this book suggests the main concern of the book- how can we know God. This is a book about epistomology, the study of how we know. We often take this for granted and never think through it. Those presuppositions drive many of the debates and arguments we have with people. We often fall into bad argumentation (logical fallacies for instance).

“Our criteria, methods, and goals in knowing will depend on what we seek to know.”

Frame wants to examine our presuppositions, and argue for a presupposition understanding of how we know what we know and what we can know.  He starts with knowing God, as Calvin did in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. But he starts with God as Covenant Lord. As Covenant Lord, He made us to think and understand as receivers of revelation. As Covenant Lord, he determines what is revealed to us.

“We do not come to know God, or anything else, in a vacuum. … Still, one has to start somewhere; he cannot relate everything to everything else at once, for otherwise he would be God.”

He touches on subjects like transcendence (God as head of the covenant) and immanence (God’s nearness or involvement with creation), authority,  control and presence, knowability and incomprehensibility etc. He moves out of the theoretical at times to show how these tensions reveal themselves in theological debate, particularly the disagreement between Van Til and Clark. In other words, he examines many of the implications of the Creator-creature distinction.

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