John Frame: To What Does the Apologist Appeal?
On Wednesday I expressed some frustration with my recent reading of John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction. But three points really did stand out to me, and have occupied my thinking a great deal since I finished the book. The first point I discussed yesterday: apologetics must lead to a fully-orbed view of God. The second point is this:
2. Everyone, at some level, knows God.
Given Frame’s Reformed soteriology, he raises this important question, which becomes a real linchpin in his presuppositionalism. What is the ‘point of contact’ for someone who does not yet believe in God? ‘What is there in him, if anything at all, that is capable of receiving God’s grace?’ (p82). The Arminian, he says, would answer “man’s reason and free will” but the Calvnist however, would argue that,
God made man in his image – an image that is marred by sin, but not destroyed. Van Til argues that part of that image is knowledge of God, which, though repressed (Rom. 1), still exists at some level of his thinking. That is the point of contact to which the apologist appeals. He does not appeal merely to the unbeliever’s reason and will, for his will is bound by sin and his reason seeks to distort, not affirm, the truth. We do not ask the unbeliever to evaluate Christianity through his reason, for he seeks to operate his reason autonomously and thus is deep in error from the outset, rather, says Van Til, we appeal to the knowledge of God which he has (Rom. 1:21) but suppresses. (p83)
I confess, I have not thought enough about this and the extent to which we suppress a knowledge of God that is implanted in us by virtue of us being made in His image. If Van Til and Frame are correct, as I suspect they are, then this has quite important implications for the way in which we make an appeal to those with whom we are in discussion. It also affects the level of faith we hold personally, when approaching apologetic discourses.
For Frame it means that he has a confidence in God’s communicative ability that causes him to believe deeply that God can connect with the heart of someone who does not yet believe, through Scripture he does not yet accept. Because there is an inner part of every man and woman that already knows God at some level. Although I still contest that the tone and packaging of Frame’s chapter-and-verse presuppositionalism would be off-putting to most people with whom I have dialogue, I do wonder if part of my squeamishness is because I’ve not taken this point seriously enough and whether I actually sufficiently trust God’s ability to communicate at a level that transcends the rational. I need to think further about this.
I also need to think further about the implications of this for the way I think and talk about exploring faith, appealing to people and the nature of conversion itself. I guess I tend to approach those matters as if people have no knowledge of God and need to be introduced from scratch, rather than having some knowledge of God which has been lost, neglected or otherwise suppressed. But if there is indeed a ‘divine spark’ in all of us, then apologetics becomes the art of reigniting that dwindling flame rather than straight-up unwanted arson! It’s maybe less about turning to God and more about re-turning.
Further pondering required…