Triperspectivalism and the Movies (B)

March 25, 2011 — 6 Comments

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

Yesterday, I started working through presenting the content of my ETS paper on here. I summarized the basic foundation of John Frame’s general perspectivalism, and so today we can refine that a bit further and flesh out what triperspectivalism involves. Then, we can apply it to film studies.

A Trinitarian Example

Many times the approaches from various perspectives will result in an interlinking of the perspectives, which is known as special perspectivalism, or more commonly triperspectivalism. This triadic approach permeates the works of Frame and is also put to use by Vern Poythress.[1] In many ways, this method of triperspectivalsim is similar to how we understand the Trinity. In a certain sense, each person is offering a perspective on God as a whole. Each person is certainly more than a perspective on God, but certainly not less.

Frame clarifies to avoid heresy, “‘Perspective’ does not exhaust the ways in which the three persons are distinct. To say that the three persons are merely perspectives on the Godhead would be a Sabellian position, the idea that the differences of the persons are merely differences in the way we look at the one God. Such an approach would reduce the Trinitarian distinctions to distinctions within our own subjectivity. That certainly is not right.”(See more in “Primer on Perspectivalism.”) Each person is a person that interacts with and loves one another, yet at the same time, each person is in the other.[2] There is a sense then in which each person is separate person and separate center of consciousness, but also a sense in which they are united to the point of being a single center of consciousness (or one could say person) who acts in undivided unity in relating to the world of humanity.[3]

As Frame points out concerning our knowledge of God, “you cannot fully know the Son without knowing the Father and Spirit, and so on.” He adds that “Although the three persons are distinct, our knowledge of each involves knowledge of the others, so that for us knowledge of the Father coincides with knowledge of the Son and Spirit.”(PP) Our knowledge of God has a triperspectival dimension, but it seems so does God himself: “the Father is the supreme authority, the Son the executive power, and the Spirit the divine presence who dwells in and with God’s people.” Or, to put differently, “the Father establishes the plan, the Son executes it, and the Spirit applies it.” (PP) There is a sense in which these distinctions are economic, but they are also what we are given in Scripture, in God’s revelation of himself to us. So in this way, we are already employing a kind of triperspectival analysis when we seek to do Trinitarian theology.

In addition to fleshing out how we understand distinctions between the persons of the Godhead, triperspectivalism can also help in our understanding of the attributes. The attributes are perspectivally related as Frame sees them, and so each one is involved in and illumines the other.[4] What this means is that each of the attributes involves the other to some extent and cannot be explained in isolation without reference to the others. For example, one can see that a God who is fully present (omnipresence) with his creation maintains full control (omnipotence) over it, and in order to maintain control over creation, God would also be fully present with it in some way. Additionally, a God who is present with his creation and in control over it would also presumably know all aspects of it (omniscience).[5] This kind of conceptual overlap could be done with other attributes as well.

Triperspectival Epistemology and Method

Beyond the doctrine of God, triperspectivalism can be used as a general epistemological method. In any study, one must reckon with the subject (the knower), the object (what the knower knows) and the norms or rules of knowledge (Scripture, logic, reason, etc.). (PP) Concerning what can be known, there are basically three objects of human knowledge: God, the world, and the self.[6] Knowledge of each of these objects though can be a perspective on the other.[7] From God, we learn about Him, our world and ourselves;[9] from our world we learn about it by observation, about ourselves, and about God;[10] from ourselves we can learn about God, our world and about ourselves.[11] In this way, there is a kind of reciprocity between the different fields of knowledge. As you grow in one, you should, theoretically grow in your understanding of the other.

Taking these objects of knowledge as perspectives on each other is how we can arrive at a triperspectival method. The names used for each of these perspectives are: (1) the normative perspective (showing how anything functions as divine revelation); (2) the situational perspective (showing how it functions as an object in the world); and (3) the existential perspective (showing it functions as part of our subjective experience).[12] Tailored to a specific systematic theological inquiry, the perspectives would examine normatively, what Scripture says about a topic; Situationally, what other sources in our world say about a topic; and existentially, what we can learn from ourselves about the topic, or how we appropriate the knowledge gained from the study.[13] You could say these three perspectives are reflective of a rational, an empirical, and an experiential approach to theological knowledge, and may also notice that many theological errors can be the result of limiting knowledge to a single perspective, or being monoperspectival.

Now, having noted all this, we can shift to apply it to film studies, probably early next week or so.

[1] See Vern S. Poythress, God Centered Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R , 1999), Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R , 2001), In the Beginning Was the Word: Language – A God Centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009).

[2] Traditionally this is referred to as “perichoresis.” In a way, triperspectivalism is pointing out the perichoresis of perspectives in any field of knowledge.

[3] This was Van Til’s point when he said “Over against all other beings, that is, over against created beings, we must therefore hold that God’s being presents an absolute numerical identity. And even within the ontological Trinity we must maintain that God is numerically one. He is one person.” Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, ed. William Edgar (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 364. Van Til is using “person” in a sense different than is used in reference to the “persons” of the Trinity. His choice of word may be objectionable, but he is really not asserting anything than different than one is doing in employing a psychological analogy to describe the relations of the persons in the Trinity which is essentially treating the Trinity as a single person. In practice we tend to think of God as a single person, and in light of the Incarnation we come to know God as Trinity through a single person, namely Christ.

[4] Frame, The Doctrine of God. 41, explained more fully in Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. 62-75, 89-90, 191-94, 200-204, 206-12, 235.

[5] This also illustrates a curious phenomenon of triperspectival analysis. When two perspectives are examined in detail, sometimes a third emerges that completes the picture. As an example, in music, when two voices are locked in tight enough harmony, the aural illusion of a third voice of harmony will emerge. Two perspectives locked in unity with each other will tend to bring into view a third perspective.

[6] John M. Frame, “Appendix A: Directory of Frame’s Major Ideas,” in Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame, ed. John J. Hughes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2009). 978.

[8] What follows is from Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God. 121-122. The discussion is expanded though on pgs. 122-136.

[12] In Van Til’s terms this is theology proper, natural theology, and rational theology respectively.

[13] This would be physics, psycho-physics, and theologico-physics.

[14] This would be theologico-psychology, physico-psychology, and psychology proper.

[15] Frame, “Appendix A: Directory of Frame’s Major Ideas.” 978 See also Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 73-75; Frame, The Doctrine of God, 194-96; Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 33-37. Normative correlates to special revelation, situational to general and existential to existential.

[16] “The question of what one discusses under which perspective is largely pedagogical. Since the three perspectives cover the same ground, the question is not which choice is objectively true, but which choice is most helpful in presenting the material to people.” Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 239. Part of the advantage of a triperspectival analysis of any object of study is the flexibility to start with any perspective and then move on to any other perspective.



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