Archives For Triperspectivalism

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While there are many books out there (and more to be published) that deal with new problems, this book is not one of them. In fact, this book may deal with the oldest problem of all. That issue, “at the very center of how biblical authority is established” is the problem of canon (16).

Working through the problem in a way that is simultaneously creative and orthodox, Michael Kruger is “concerned with the narrow question of whether Christians have a rational basis (i.e. intellectually sufficient grounds) for affirming that only these twenty-seven books rightfully belong in the New Testament canon” (20). This is issue of inherent rationality of belief in the New Testament canon is the de jure objection. Instead of focusing on the de facto objection (the belief in a New Testament canon is false), Kruger aims to provide sufficient grounds for Christians to think that they can in fact “know which books belong in the canon and which do not” (21).

Overview

In order to accomplish this goal, Kruger uses part 1 of the book to cover the various canonical models before turning to historical evidence for what belongs in the New Testament canon. Of the models Kruger examines, the first cluster holds that the canon is determined by the community of believers (chapter 1, where Brevard Childs and Karl Barth figure prominently among others), the second that the canon is historically determined (chapter 2), and the third that the canon is self-authenticating (chapter 3). The latter is the model of choice for Kruger and one he explains in detail in part 2 of the book.

Chapters 4 and 5 in part 2 detail the divine qualities and apostolic origins of the canon. The final three chapters focus in on the corporate reception of the canon of the New Testament. First, in chapter 6 Kruger explains the emergence of a canonical core. Then, in chapter 7 he gets into the manuscript discussion before closing out the book with a discussion of problem books and canonical boundaries in chapter 8.

Throughout all of this, Kruger is working within a kind of triperpsectival framework, though Frame himself is only mentioned in passing. As he sets the stage back in chapter 3, “the proper epistemic environment wherein belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed” (94) includes three component parts (parenthetical triperspectivalism is mine):

  • Providential exposure (the church is exposed to certain writings, i.e. a certain situation occurs)
  • Attributes of canonicity (the writings the church are exposed to have divine qualities, apostolic origins, and are generally well received across the church as a whole, i.e. they have certain normative qualities)
  • Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit produces the belief that these books are in fact of divine origin, i.e. an existential revelation occurs)

These parts work together and are not mutually exclusive. Typical of a triperspectival emphasis, Kruger points out that these parts are “mutually reinforcing” and that “if a book is examined that has one of these attributes, then that implies that the book also has the other two” (115). The self-authenticating model of the canon is both “self-supporting” and “self-correcting” and as Kruger summarizes:

The core strength of the self-authenticating model of canon, then, is the fact that it is three-dimensional. In contrast, the other models above tend to be one-dimensional and seek to authenticate canon by appealing to only a single attribute (116)

In short, it would seem that Kruger’s self-authenticating model takes on the strengths of the other models, but moves beyond them. It is able to first, adequately explain how apparent disagreements between NT books do not undermine those books’ canonicity. Second, it is able to work through the fact that some books were not written by apostles. Last, it is able to navigate disagreements within the early church and beyond concerning the status of certain books.

Strengths/Weaknesses

All of this taken together makes Kruger’s proposal very strong. Using the triperspectival framework definitely helps, but Kruger clearly knows his way around the scholarly literature and this book surely represents the culmination of years of research. Even with all that, Kruger writes in a very clear and readable style and is able to move arcane discussions into the footnotes. This is part of why I classify it as a Bible School read with seminary footnotes. Really anybody who has significant questions about the canon of the New Testament could take and read Kruger’s book.

Another strength is Kruger’s insistence that canon is a theological issue at its core (21-22, scattered throughout). This is just another way of bringing up the issue of presuppositions. Kruger helps to establish that there is no theological neutrality when it comes to the discussion and is very forthcoming with his own vantage point. In his initial survey of the the other models in chapters 1 and 2, he also points out the different theologies of canon at play. In the end, whether or not one agree with Kruger’s conclusions on the canon, it is at least a strength of the book to acknowledge and argue for theologically self-conscious canoncial models.

A weakness of the book, though it is by design, is that it is not aimed at proving the “truth of the canon to the skeptic in a manner that would be persuasive to him” (21). In other words, this book is something you might pass along to a Christian friend struggling with trusting that we have the right books in the canon, or as a textbook in a Bible school or seminary classroom. In this sense, it is not so much a real weakness with the work itself, but just an audience limitation that needs to be kept in mind before recommending the book.

Though I highlighted the triperspectival dimension of the book above, I just wanted to reiterate how that strengthens the overall proposal. Or rather, let me let Kruger explain “one of the key implications” of the model:

It helps us recognize that canon is a complex and multidimensional concept that cannot be artificially flattened out. Canon has an ecclesiological dimension, a historical dimension, and an aesthetic/internal dimension. It is when a single aspect of canon is absolutized at the expense of the others that distortions inevitably arise. When these three aspects are kept in their proper balance, we can begin to see the controversial issues more clearly (293).

Conclusion

As I said a while back, this was one of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. Part of this is the triperspectival approach, but even that is in the background throughout the book. Kruger’s work helped to answer questions I have had brought to me over the past six months about the canon of the New Testament, and this is now my go-to book for that subject. I would hope that it gets the scholarly attention that it deserves and that it is widely read among evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike.

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Over at Provocations and Pantings, Timmy Brister is starting to unpack his vision for gospel-centered spiritual formation. It is also highly triperspectival, which is why I’m sharing it with you here.

So far, there’s three posts:

Because it is such a great image that Brister is unpacking, I thought you should see it here too:

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I’ll let him explain how it all works, but I may chime in here as the conversation continues. All of this has inspired me to get back into a triperspectival state of mind, and part of doing so means I made a new category here on the blog, and later this week, I’ll have a re-vamped categories page.

Stay tuned!

[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

Last week, I noted how Peter Jensen presents a triperpsectival gospel in The Revelation of God. I thought I’d extend that a little by showing how that applies to justification.

Consider this a kind of introductory thesis to “frame” (you should see this as a pun) my upcoming progressive review of Justification: Five Views. We’ll get into that next week, but in the meantime, here’s my perspective on the justification debates.

You probably don’t need me to tell you justification has been a hot topic in recent theological discussion (not unlike hell was about this time last year). Granted, at this point John Piper and N. T. Wright aren’t writing books to each other, but its still a dividing line in some circles.

I’ll come back to this, but for a minute, let’s consider what justification is. Here’s how I define it:

Justification is an action by God incorporating the Christian into his own righteousness

People will expand on this different ways, but the point of it all is the God, in Christ, by the Spirit, justifies a person who comes to faith and they are declared righteous. As a Christian, you are now clothed in Christ’s righteousness (which is another way of saying incorporated into) and stand before God justified.

With this as a starting point, let’s tease out some more explanation using a triperspectival framework. Continue Reading…

A Triperspectival Gospel

February 14, 2012 — 2 Comments

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[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

I’m only a couple of chapters into Peter Jensen’s The Revelation of God, but I’m already noticing triperspectival patterns showing up here and there. In his opening chapter, “The Gospel as Revelation,” he gives three grounds for believing that the gospel is the word of God:

  • The claim that Jesus is the Christ
  • The testimony born to Jesus by the witnesses and evangelists
  • The power it has to offer an authentic interpretation of human experience

As I see it, these are:

  • A new normative claim about the man Jesus
  • A historical situation that arose in response
  • An existential effect that the proclamation has

While I realize Jensen wasn’t intending to give a triperspectival parsing of the grounds for believing that the gospel is the word of God, his analysis is certainly conducive to it. In the following chapter, he unpacks the nature of the gospel, and again we can see it along triperspectival dimensions, though this time there are five points:

  1. The gospel is a word from God who speaks, creates, judges, and saves
  2. The gospel contains a warning of judgment to come on rebellious humanity
  3. The gospel centers on Jesus Christ as Lord, through his death, resurrection, and exaltation
  4. The gospel is a word of promise about God’s love and mercy
  5. The gospel demands repentance and faith in its hearers

If we were to re-arrange this triperspectivally, it might look something like this:

  • The gospel is a word from God declaring Christ is Lord (N, 1 + 3a)
  • The gospel centers on Jesus death, burial, resurrection, exaltation and promises love and mercy (S, 3b +4)
  • The gospel contains a warning of judgment for rebellious humanity and a demand of repentance and faith (E, 2 + 5)

I think we could further parse each of these perspectives, which would lead to further parsing. In this way, we have a gospel that we can never completely exhaust. Though this will have to wait for another post, I think we could also say that many times the arguments that arise over the nature of the gospel happen because either a perspective is lost, or people are disagreeing about which perspective is the most important.

The answer?

In this case, all of them.

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[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

Up until this year, I hadn’t really done any kind of lengthy interaction with B. B. Warfield. As much you can envision such a thing, I’ve metaphorically danced around his ideas (go ahead and picture that) but haven’t really read much of his writings.

This was changed first, late last year, when I read and reviewed Right Reason and The Princeton Mind, which had a chapter more or less centered on his approach to theology, which defended him against charges that he overly concerned reason alone when it come to theology.

Now, it is further changing as I’m working through The Theology of B. B. Warfield. On top of that, I also took advantage of Logos FREE Book of the Month, and picked up Volume 1 of his Works: Revelation and Inspiration (which you can also see dovetails into the focus I mentioned yesterday).

All of that is merely to introduce 5 areas that Warfield thought constituted the specific focus of apologetics. For Warfield, apologetics was a kind of “ground clearing” activity that preceded theology and laid the foundation for it. You can see that in his outline of these 5 areas that were indispensable for the apologist to cover (p. 67):

  1. The existence of God as personal being (philosophical apologetics)
  2. Religion, which entails the study of man’s religious sense, philosophy, comparative religions, and the history of religions (psychological apologetics)
  3. Revelation, which entails the establishing of supernaturalism, God’s government of the world and how he has made himself known
  4. Christianity, which entails establishing “the divine origin of Christianity as the religion of revelation in the special sense of that word” (historical apologetics)
  5. Scripture, which seeks to establish the trust-worthiness of the Christian Scriptures as the revelation of God for the redemption of sinners (bibliological apologetics)

I found this helpful in laying exactly what I should focus on as a developing apologist. I may have an opportunity in the next couple of months to teach apologetics to some UCF students as part of an on campus ministry. As I prepare for an adventure like that, I want to think through how I would organize a talk, and looking at Warfield’s areas, I think I’m off to a good start if at least introduce each of those.

But, being the triperspectivalist that I am, I thought Warfield’s 5 areas could possibly be simplified to 3:

  • Theological apologetics (normative)
  • Historical apologetics (situational)
  • Psychological apologetics (existential)

Theological apologetics would combine #1 #3 #5 above, while #2 and #4 can stand alone and be fleshed out further.

Since I know you’re thinking it already, here’s how #1, #3, and #5 make an additional triperpsectival parsing within the normative perspective:

  • Philosophical (normative since it addresses the existence of God)
  • Revelation (situational since it addresses the situation in history of God making himself known)
  • Bibliological (existential since it addresses how persons can trust Scripture and see it addressing existential issues)

I suppose we could probably do the same for the other two areas (historical and psychological) but you get the idea. I think Warfield lays out the task of the apologist nicely, and I think Frame’s perspective helps us organize it.

What do you think?

The first part of my thesis was published by In Antithesis which is “an online journal focused on the Presuppositional/Covenantal variety of apologetic methodology.”

My thesis is titled Hollywood, Geneva, and Athens: A Reformed Philosophy of Film. I use Calvin’s aesthetics, Van Til’s apologetics, and Frame’s triperspectivalism to sketch out a way of watching movies.

You can check it out here: In Antithesis Vol 2, No. 1.

[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

Working off of the post last Friday mapping out John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, there’s an application we can make to how we read Scripture.

The more you understand the triperspectival Framework, the more you see areas where can be applied. The danger of course is to force fit it in places it doesn’t belong. However, I think if you don’t press it too far and agree that in places it does make sense that’s not the only way to look at/understand the subject, you should be fine.

So, keeping with how triperspectivalism works, these 3 ways are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are three ways of looking at Scripture that in principle include the others. You can however focus on one way or the other, and most of the time we actually move from the first to last.

First off, we can read Scripture philosophically. Doing this involves applying our understanding of language, grammar, and logic in order to accurately understand the text of Scripture. We can do this for a specific passage of Scripture, or can employ it across multiple passages to reconcile what may seem to be contradictory statements. In a way this is a normative way of reading Scripture since we’re applying norms of language and thought in order to interpret Scripture accurately.

Second, we can read Scripture theologically. Doing this involves applying our understanding of theology to our reading to see how it fits into the larger theological categories of Scripture. This would then be a situational way of reading Scripture since we are reading in light our theological commitments and reading individual passages in light of a theological situation drawn from the whole of Scripture.

Lastly, we read Scripture psychologically. Doing this involves applying our understanding of ourselves to the text. In doing so we can see how to apply Scripture to our own lives. But before we can apply, we need to recognize what is relevant to apply. This would then be an existential way of reading Scripture since it focuses on what we can learn about ourselves with an eye toward personal change.

This isn’t of course an exhaustive way of looking at reading Scripture, nor are these the only ways. However, pretty much every attempt to read and understand Scripture will involve applying our minds to understand the text (N), integrating it into a larger system (S), and then applying what we learn where applicable (E). Within each of these fields, there are normative, situational, and existential consideration.

Maybe in another post, we could parse those out further. But for now, what do you think of what I’ve got so far?

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[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, we’re reading through John Frame’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (DKG) in the reading for The Marturo Collective.

We’re reading through chapters 2 and 3 this week, and it’s at that point that Frame first introduces his notion of perspectivalism. I’ve written a longer explanation as part of a paper I presented at an ETS regional meeting, and you can read that here.

What Frame is probably more known for though, at least at the popular level is his triperspectivalism. Again, I’ve got a longer explanation here, but here’s a shorted rundown and then a map for how that makes sense of the structure of his book.

First off, here’s Frame’s three perspectives:

  • The normative perspective
  • The situational perspective
  • The existential perspective

These are derived from the three aspects of God’s lordship: authority, control, and presence. If we were to enter a field of study, observations from the normative perspective evaluate what God has authoritatively said on the topic. Observations from the situational perspective would evaluate facts from nature, history, science, or a combination of similar disciplines. Observations from the existential perspective would evaluate how the study relates to our subjective experience.

To help you intuit a little how this works, I’ll give you a few of Frame’s triads with the appropriate letter in parenthesis so you can see which perspective it would be considered:

  • Objects of knowledge: God (N), the world (S), ourselves (E)
  • Christ’s offices as mediator: Prophet (N), King (S), Priest (E)
  • Our union with Christ: Justification (N), Adoption (S), Sanctification (E)
  • Factors in ethical judgment: Scripture (N), the situation (S), the moral agent (E)
  • The nature of theology: Application of the Word of God (N), to all areas of life (S), by persons (E)

I could go on, and in fact the list does go on in Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John Frame. But for now, hopefully that’s enough of a taste to help you piece it together.

When we turn to DKG though, careful observers will notice the book is split into three parts:

  • The objects of knowledge
  • The justification of knowledge
  • The methods of knowledge

I could let you guess, or I could just add the letter at the end so you can see it:

  • The objects of knowledge (S)
  • The justification of knowledge (N)
  • The methods of knowledge (E)

For the first section the real question is “what objects are available to know in the world,” which is a situational question. The second section then deals with how knowledge is justified which is a normative consideration since we are bringing certain norms of though to bear on the situation. The third section is concerned with people must do in order to grow in knowledge.

What is interesting about Frame’s structuring though is that it involves perspectives within perspectives. So for instance, the first section has three chapters, which could parsed this way:

  • God, the Covenant Lord (N)
  • God and the World (S)
  • God and Our Studies (E)

Similarly, after an introductory chapter in section 2 (The Justification of Knowledge), chapter 5 evaluates from justification from the normative, situational, and existential perspectives. Then in the last section concerning methods of knowledge, we examine the topic from the normative perspective (use of Scripture), the situational (use of language, logic, history, science, philosophy) and the existential (what kind of person is suited to grow in theological knowledge).

Hopefully that helps if you’re following along in the reading. It can be confusing at times since Frame tends to see triads everywhere. But I’ve found at least once you grasp his basic idea, it actually helps you account for things you’d normally overlook in your studies and generally has enhanced my ability to interact with theological debates with more charity.

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[This post is part of the Perspectives on Triperspectivalism series]

Over the past several days, several prominent reviewers have turned their eyes to Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s What is the Mission of the Church?

Ed Stetzer offers a round up some of the criticisms before giving his own take on the book (to which DeYoung and Gilbert responded). In his pre-review summary, he observes that “most of the reviews appreciate how they have worked through the biblical text, focused on the gospel, and did not denigrate social justice. Yet, there were several areas of concern,” which can be narrowed to two areas:

  1. The book narrows the mission, particularly missing the connection between discipleship and the actions that flow from such.
  2. The book is written to the convinced and does not accurately engage the views of those who differ.

As just a validation of that last concern, take for example Rachel Stone’s review. Though Stone makes a less than compelling case for her own position, you can see her disdain for DeYoung and Gilbert’s position. Their “exegesis” of Scripture (she used the scare quotes) wasn’t at all convincing to someone who already had their mind made up that the point of the church’s mission lay elsewhere.

Now, I haven’t read the book, and don’t particularly plan to at this point. I passed over it for a review option from Crossway, and I’ve read enough about it elsewhere to have my fill. I do however want to make a quick point about how triperspectivalism helps mitigate some of the controversy.

For starters, notice that the subtitle of the book is “Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission.” The reader is immediately given three dimensions, which triperpsectivally, I would sort this way:

  • Social justice is the situational perspective on the church’s mission
  • Shalom is the existential perspective on the church’s mission
  • The Great Commission is the normative perspective on the church’s mission

Because social justice is focused on fixing situations and changing the world (or at least aiming to do that) it is the situational. Its focused on the here and now and attracts activist minded individuals. I am guessing that shalom is focused on bringing peace to either the world in general, or to individual people (helping them find true peace with God and then with their other relationships as well), and so it is the existential perspective. Lastly, the normative perspective should be self explanatory. The gospel, and the command to carry it to all the world and make disciples, is the normative perspective on the church’s mission since the church. Each of these perspectives could additionally be parsed into its own tri-perspective. Just so you can see how this works itself out, here’s all three parsed out further.

The Great Commission

  • Normatively, the Great Commission is declared by Jesus on the basis of his death, burial, and resurrection (i.e. it announces a new norm)
  • Situationally, the Great Commission is repeated by the church as it spreads into all the world (i.e. into all situations)
  • Existentially, the Great Commission is a command to be applied by the church as it makes disciples.

Social Justice

  • Normatively, social justice is a result of the coming of the new creation that was inaugurated by Christ’s death, burial, and resurreciton
  • Situationally, social justice is changing the injustices of this world to match the justice of the new creation
  • Existentially, social justice is an activity of the people of God, carried out in an attempt to more fully love their neighbors

Shalom

  • Normatively, shalom between God and man was acheived by God reconciling the world to himself through Christ
  • Situationally, shalom is communicated through the church as it expands into all the world
  • Existentially, shalom is brought to individuals through faith in the saving work of Christ

If you were asking me, the church’s mission should have this 9-fold approach. I would imagine, though am not going to take the time to run this to ground, that each review that highlights a criticism points to one of these 9 areas as not being emphasized to their liking.

Certainly this is the case with Stone, who is clearly arguing for more emphasis on the situational perspective of the church’s mission. Stone is clear she doesn’t deny the normative; she just thinks the situational should be primary. While there is nothing wrong with wanting more emphasis on the situational, you can’t really make a case exegetically or otherwise that it is the primary mission of the church. If anything, you could argue only the normative perspective is unique to the church, since non-Christians can certainly work for social justice. But, even then, social justice should be done with an end toward the normative.

In other words, an implication of seeing the church’s mission triperspetivally is that all three perspectives need to be interlocking and working out in harmony. Emphasizing one aspect or the other may come naturally to one particular group or another, but all three need to be actively expressed for a church to actually be on mission.

Everyone will have their favorite facet in the multi-faceted church mission:

  • Prophets will gravitate toward the normative and toward declaring the gospel and preaching the word
  • Priests will gravitate toward the existential perspective and helping hurting people
  • Kings will gravitate toward the situational and devise systems and plans for remedying the injustices in the world

These characterizations aren’t mutually exclusive, because like I showed above, each perspective can be further tri-parsed. Some prophets will want to preach (prophet-prophet), some will want to start teach and send out others (prophet-king), and some will want to be intimately involved in the discipleship process (prophet-priest).

The same kind of parsing could be done for people who gravitate toward social justice. The point is that every person is naturally going to want the perspective they are most comfortable with to be the primary perspective. Nobody, that I’m aware of, argues that an aspect of the church’s mission that they are not heavily invested in should be primary.

To riff on Ed Stetzer’s thought (HT: Trevin Wax), sometimes the disagreement comes down to theologically minded individuals thinking deeply but engaging weakly arguing with activist minded individuals who engage deeply but think weakly. I think both sides should listen more patiently to the other, but I also think Frame’s triperspectivalism helps to synthesis the differing perspectives and show how in principle they all fit together and shouldn’t be sharply separated.

This series is derived from the research for my thesis, which structurally and conceptually relied heavily on John Frame’s triperspectivalism. I found though that this kind of thinking  has numerous applications outside where Frame has made it and where I made it (film) and so this series is exploring those different vistas. So far we’ve got:

You can help give this series shape and definition by suggesting topics. Don’t even understand what triperspectivalism is? Read the first post and second post listed above.

Wonder how that way of looking at things affects eschatology? That could be a post. Wonder how it makes sense of ethical decision making? That could be a post. You tell me what you’d like to know more about, and I’ll make it a post.