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The New Reformed Epistemology: A Critique by John Frame

 

Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff , Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983).  Below this book is abbreviated RF.

 

My (Ed’s) focus is on Frame’s discussion of their intent and his negative criticisms.  Reviewers can read DKG for what has been left out here.  It may seem unfair to present only Frame’s negatives, but  I do so to highlight errors associated with these authors of “Reformed epistemology.”  They have taken a stand on the historic (Biblical) Reformed faith, so they must be willing to face criticisms for this position.  Criticisms of their positions are too few.   While Frame has many positive comments, almost everyone else has high praise, or at least silent tolerance, of their writings, even now, more than 20 years after their introduction of this new epistemology.  At a later date on this site , I will write my own criticisms of their writings and question the Biblical legitimacy of their work. 

 

The following excerpts are from Frame’s DKG with page numbers cited in parentheses.  Italics are Frame’s emphases.  The bolding is my emphasis.

 

“The concerns of this book definitely overlap those of my Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (DKG).  (382)  In general I approve of their approach, but there are some areas of difference, both of emphasis and of viewpoint.” (383)

 

“The philosophers are arguably the most highly respected American thinkers in the field of philosophy of religion…. prominent and impressive thinkers.  (But) the evangelical Christian commitment of these philosophers, though certainly genuine, has not always been evident in their writings.  They have a tendency (even in RF) to write as if they were neutral observers, merely interested in the logical analysis of religious propositions for its own sake, without any particular religious stake in the outcome of the argument.  That stance is the common one among modern philosophers of religion, whatever their personal convictions may be, though it is quite opposite to the stance of Cornelius Van Til (of Gordon Clark), and indeed of DKG.[1] … One gets the impression (well, I do, anyway) that in these essays they are trying not merely to clarify concepts (though they do that admirably) but also to counsel fellow-believers who are struggling with real challenges to their faith.” (383)

 

“….  There is almost no interaction with Scripture itself … but there are genuinely biblical concerns expressed…. And Plantinga and Wolterstorff, at least … even express a sense of responsibility to the Reformed theological tradition.  Wolterstorff considers it an advantage that his viewpoint has some affinity with the Continental Reformed tradition, as do Plantinga and Marsden.  Wolterstorff is even willing to describe his view … as “Calvinist epistemology” or “Reformed epistemology” …. These authors, like me, see epistemic acts (believing, knowing understanding, reasoning) as subject to ethical evaluations, as are other human actions…. In RF the emphasis is on epistemic rights.  I am concerned about what we should believe; RF is concerned about what we may believe….” (384)

 

“A bigger difference concerns the source of epistemic value, whether permission or obligation.  I believe that the authors of RF would, as evangelical Christians, locate that source ultimately, somehow, in divine revelation.  But RF does not refer to that fact.  (Frame has a footnote that Wolterstorff admits this in his Introduction.)   DKG (and Ed) …  (are) concerned above all to expound the relations between … Scripture and human knowledge.” (384)

 

“In Plantinga’s brand of Calvinism, belief in God is by reason, not by faith!  (And that implies, interestingly, that 'theists and nontheists have different conceptions of reason, since a nontheist would not accept theism as a deliverance of his reason.') (389)

 

“Plantinga’s assertion that basic beliefs have ‘grounds’ but not ‘reasons’ has a paradoxical ring to it, suggesting that there are some problems of definition here.”  (393) (Frame then goes on to explain the nuances of his and Plantinga’s statements.)

 

End of quotes from Doctrine of the Knowledge of God

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In Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, Frames states in the context that for various reasons Van Til was isolated from "influencing theology and the church at large":

 

"Thus, Van Til is still not taken seriously by many people who ought, in my view, to very interested in what he is saying (e.g., the "new Reformed epistemology" movement of Plantinga and Wolterstorff)."

 

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Criticism via Amazon book review here.



[1] It is quite opposite of Gordon Clark, as well.


 

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