Re-Framing Reformed Baptist Doctrine + Follow-up [Tom Chantry]

Frame
John Frame

As a graduate of Westminster Seminary in California during the mid-1990s, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is some variant of, “What did you think of John Frame?”  The question is unsurprising.  By 1992, when I entered seminary, Frame was among the better-known professors in Escondido.  Just a few years after I graduated he had also left Escondido after a prolonged and not very secret dispute with the Westminster administration – largely over the matter of worship.  Then in 2011 he published The Escondido Theology, a wide-ranging attack on his former employers which suggested that Westminster Seminary in California has departed from Reformed tradition.

 

That such a colorful figure invites curiosity is not surprising.  Furthermore, Frame is a thinker whose unique philosophical system and its accompanying linguistic usage is not immediately accessible to the reader.  It is to be expected that I hear periodic questions about him.  I have interacted some with these questions online, and following the publication of The Escondido Theology my letter of support for WSC was published on their website.  More recently, though, I have begun to see some Reformed Baptists referencing Frame in a positive light!  This is to my mind a most distressing development.

 

To lay my cards on the table from the outset let me say this: it is my firm opinion that John Frame is one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today.  His ideas are so disruptive of any system of doctrine and ultimately of any reasonable approach to holiness that I find myself distrusting of those who cite him.  Perhaps this is unfair.  Perhaps they have not read far enough, or understood sufficiently.  But when I see John Frame referenced favorably among those who are meant to be confessional Reformed Baptists, I find that I am terrified by what is coming in our movement.

Read more: here [25 min. readout]

Tom Chantry’s letter to WSC: A Letter To The Editor About John Frame’s Book

Update Feb. 20, 2014: Confessional Redefinition and the Virtue of Honesty [9 min. readout]

15 Replies to “Re-Framing Reformed Baptist Doctrine + Follow-up [Tom Chantry]”

  1. I am no defender or partisan of John Frame. I’ve enjoyed some of his stuff immensely. Other stuff I’ve scratched my head about.

    I am, however, also puzzled about some of Chantry’s polemics. If you read it carefully, he calls Frame a liar (“Frame’s response could only be characterized as spectacularly ignorant
    or intentionally deceptive, and no one ever accused Frame of ignorance”).

    That’s particularly shocking after, just back in 2008, he called Frame “a kind man of real piety” (http://bibchr.blogspot.com/2008/02/new-appreciation-john-frame.html).

    In this most recent post that you’ve featured, Chantry is also quite aggressive/condescending in the comments section. For instance:

    – He says “A few are good men, and their endorsements sadden me. Others are New Calvinists or charismatics or both.” he betrays that he can’t conceive of men who differ on these issues as being good men.

    – He then goes on to discount the list of “J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, D.A. Carson, Richard Gaffin, Mark Futato, K. Scott Oliphint Jay Adams, Bryan Chapell, Dan Doriani, Lig Duncan, Michael Kruger, Mike Milton, Al Mohler, John Piper, D.Clair Davis, Doug Wilson, Richard Gamble, Mark Garcia, Wayne Grudem, Douglas Kelly, Simon Kistemaker, Donald Macleod, Vern Poythress, Derek Thomas, Bruce Ware, Sam Logan” with a dismissive “It isn’t that impressive a list to begin with”. Now, of course, truth is not established by name dropping–so I would expect him to probably say something like “yes, that’s an impressive list, but…”… but he does nothing of that sort. He just dismisses it with “It isn’t that impressive a list to begin with”.

    Whatever one thinks of Frame, Chantry’s polemical exaggerations, such as where he calls Frame “one of the most dangerous characters in the broadly Reformed world today” seem to be flagellations and counterproductive. So is using the term “anti-confessional” loosely.

    It seems Chantry may be taking a few too many of his dancing moves from a certain RSC’s bag of tricks. As a Reformed Baptist I am ashamed that this style of grandstanding polemic is being associated with the good name of Reformed Baptist confessionalism.

    If you ask me: We generally need more statesmen and less bulldogs.

    1. I find it spectacularly amusing that I am assumed to be following R. Scott Clark because he happened to concur publicly with my evaluation of Frame. My interaction with Clark has been somewhat uneven – and the critical bits have generally been in public. That said, he clearly has a better grasp on what it is to be a Presbyterian than does Frame.

      As for using “anti-confessionalist” losely, I stand by that absolutely. To quote G.I. Williamson, who also graciously commented at my site, Frame’s approach is “demolition through redefinition.” That is anti-confessionalism of the most dishonest sort. Has his dishonesty grown more evident since my interaction with Dan Philips? Yes – in 2011.

      1. Hi Tom,

        Except maybe for the whole bit about Clark not even attending a Presbyterian Church :)

        I did not mean by my RSC comment to imply you were a follower of RSC.

        I merely meant that you seem to be us ing his method or style in polemic. (I suppose you can interpret that as polemic that is winsome and gracious and take it as a compliment ;>)

        I almost thought I had inadvertently stumbled upon heidleblog.

          1. Hi Dr. Clark,

            It was really more a comparison based on a subjective impressions of your style/method gathered from years of reading your blog and online interaction.It is more of a value judgment than an objective statement.I do think its correct, but rather its not culled from a specific list of “proofs”. It is more the mood and focus conveyed than specific line I’m sure if I reviewed what I’ve previously read, I could pull very specific examples, but fundamentally, it is more an overarching impression I have than a collection of several instances that I’ve documented.

            Ok, hum, this is awkward. Are you looking for me to establish what I find problematic in your way of discourse? Or are you asking me to prove why Chantry shares some elements of your method? (I’m assuming the former)

            But, again, I think this a subjective assessment or impression based on reading your work, not necessarily a list of evidence. But, let’s see what I can come up with quickly here without spending too much time on this:

            Calling a professing Christian (even if in error) a “Mullah”?
            Saying John Piper had more in common with a Quaker than John Calvin?

            Throwing the word “stupid” around (in regard to people) loosely?
            Your comments about Baptists?

            I unconvinced that that list is totally representitive of what I had in mind or that it fits this particular context–but there it is for what it is worth.

          2. We agree that we’re dealing with subjective impressions.

            1. The mullah comparison was unfair to mullahs. They don’t pretend to believe the gospel.

            2. What I wrote was “Arguably, however, on essential questions of Reformed theology, piety, and practice, Piper has more in common with the Quakers than he has with Calvin.” That’s true.

            3. Stupid means “thoughtless” or “sleepy headed.” Sometimes it’s apt.

            4. I love my Baptist friends, as I’ve said many times. If, however, “Reformed” = holds the Reformed faith as confessed by the Reformed churches in 60+ ecclesiastical documents since the early 16th century. That’s not a comment. That’s a historical claim. I’m guessing you won’t let me call myself a Baptist. Fine. I can live with that. Why isn’t it so offensive that I don’t call Particular Baptists “Reformed”?

          3. Dr. Clark,

            I will let whoever may be reading this to decide what to think about your answers in light of you being a minister of the gospel and a church history professor.. I don’t feel much of a need to comment much further on your answers.

            I would like to, however, point out that #4 seems to depend on on an implicit syllogism that goes something like this: Baptist Confessions Are Not Reformed -> Only Those Who Subscribed To Reformed Confessions Are Reformed -> Baptists Are Not Reformed. You conclude Baptists are not Reformed because they don’t hold to Reformed Confessions. On what basis do you exclude the Second London Confession of 1689 from an expansive list of confessions? Apparently because it’s not Reformed… :-)

          4. Mark,

            The Reformed faith was well established by 1689. We had been confessing infant baptism against the Anabaptists since 1520. That’s 169 years.

            Further, infant baptism is a symbol of the profound hermeneutical differences between the Reformed and the Baptists. We read the history of redemption very differently.

            The differences are so profound that the Reformed churches have never recognized the particular Baptists as Reformed. The nomenclature “Reformed Baptist” is quite modern. The historic self designation of predestinarian Baptists is Particular Baptist.

            The problem arises in part because adherents to Particular Baptist theology consistently underestimate the extent and depth of the differences between historic, confessional Reformed theology and particular Baptist theology, piety, and practice.

            This problem is exacerbated by Reformed folk who also underestimate the differences. There has been a strong tendency in the modern. To reduce Reformed theology to the inerrancy of scripture and predestination. That, of course, is a giant mistake.

            As I have argued here and on the Heidelblog, it seems to me that for particular Baptists to use the adjective Reformed to describe themselves they must redefine Reformed. But there was an established definition and usage already. So how is this redefinition not theft? You won’t let me call myself a Baptist but you insist that I allow you to redefine the adjective Reformed?

          5. Dr. Clark,

            I think what’s missing here, though, is that the debate over the subjects of Baptism is far more core and central to the identity of the term “Baptist” than the question of the subjects of baptism is to the term “Reformed”. (And trust me, I’m not trying to downplay the importance of paedobaptism in historic Reformed thought)

            It is one thing to claim something has been practiced consistently for 169 years. It is another thing to actually address the issue of what elements are intrinsic.

            It is glaringly obvious, even based on mere nomenclature, that a Paedoabaptist can’t be a Baptist. That a Baptist can’t be Reformed is a much harder question to settle. You might be right, but its not self evident and it requires a lot of decisions in how to prioritize things. Even if you are right that a Baptist can’t be Reformed, you would need to do a lot more work before you could make that assertion. Much of that work would be consumed in persuading your own “tribe”–let alone Baptists who call themselves Reformed.

            For this and other reasons, I would suggest that your analogy between Baptists wanting to be Reformed and you (hypothetically) wanting to be called a Baptist is specious. You do not reject a major doctrine of the Baptist, you reject the defining doctrine (if there is one) of the Baptists. I believe a much better comparison would be if you were hypothetically a Credobaptist who held to Presbyterian church government. Then we could all debate how central church government is to Baptist identity, and I’m sure there would be a spectrum of answers similar to the “Can Baptists be Reformed?” question. That would be a more genuinely interesting and discussion worthy comparison and capture some of the tension between the terms “Baptist” and “Reformed”.

          6. “There has been a strong tendency in the modern. To [sic] reduce Reformed theology to the inerrancy of scripture and predestination. That, of course, is a giant mistake.”

            If Dr. Clark thinks these are the only things Confessional Baptists have in common with his own Reformed tradition, he should spend more time at ConfessingBaptist.com!

          7. ps. Our Lord used quite pointed language about the enemies of the kingdom. Jesus attacked them as “hypocrites” (Matt 23:13), sons “of hell” (v.15) and “fools” (v.17); this from him who issued the command against calling someone a “fool” in (Matt 5:22). St Paul warned the Philippians to “watch out for the dogs” (3:2), i.e., for the Judaizing legalists who were corrupting the doctrine of justification. What burden of proof did Paul meet before wrote? (hint: “Inspiration” is cheating) Was he “divisive?” In Paul’s context, “dog” was rather worse than “stupid.”

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