Friday, September 04, 2009

Perspectivalism as a Epistemological Lens

It would be a very fair accusation to call me a "perspectivalist" in my general hermenuetical/epistemological perspective and approach to life. To be even more specific in your critique, and if you hang around my courses very long, you could easily call me a: "Triperspectivalist" (OK, can I be any more pretentious in my use of polysyllabic words). As proof, look to the right on this blog; Church's Min. people will recognize the framework for our entire course: Glorifying, Missional, Community. And Effective Bible Teaching people: Cognitve (Know); Affective (Feel); and Volitional (Do).

Theologian, Dr. John Frame has produced a very useful summary article of Perspectivalism, and in it, he begins to make the case for a more specific biblical form and preference of perspectivalism called: Triperspectivalism. All this has been on my mind lately as we roll back into the swing and flow of things in the classroom, so I thought it would be good to call your attention to the concept and to the Frame (mostly because he is far more knowledgeable and capable of explaining these concepts than I am).

Here are a few of his introductory thoughts . . .

A general introduction to Perspectivalism:

God knows absolutely everything, because he planned everything, made everything, and determines what happens in the world he made. So we describe him as omniscient. One interesting implication of God’s omniscience is that he not only knows all the facts about himself and the world; he also knows how everything appears from every possible perspective.

... But we are different. We are finite, and our knowledge is finite. I can only know the world from the limited perspective of my own body and mind. The effects of this finitude, and even more of sin, should caution us against cocksureness in our claims to knowledge. I am not saying that we should doubt everything. Certainly my limited perspective gives me no excuse to doubt that I have five fingers, or that 2+2 = 4, or that God exists.5 Our finitude does not imply that all our knowledge is erroneous, or that certainty is impossible.6 But we do, in most situations, need to guard against mistakes.

One way to increase our knowledge and our level of certainty is by supplementing our own perspectives with those of others. When our own resources fail us, we can consult friends, authorities, books, etc. We can travel to other places, visit people of other cultures. Even to get a good understanding of a tree, we need to walk around it, look at it from many angles. (p. 2-3)

On applying it to our perspective of theological issues:

Now if perspectivalism is true in general, it is an important part of human knowledge to focus on specific differences of perspective. So, for example, New Testament scholars often give attention to the samenesses and differences of the four Gospels. This is a legitimate study, though it is often done without adequate regard to the unity of Scripture. In my forthcoming Doctrine of the Christian Life, I argue that the Ten Commandments provide ten perspectives on human life. It is not that each commandment deals with a part of Christian ethics; rather, each commandment deals with the whole, from a particular perspective. We might call such an approach to Christian ethics deca-perspectivalism. (p. 5)

An example of application to the work of redemption:

Generalizing, we gather that 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.

Now of course redemption is meaningless without all three of these aspects. Without an authoritative plan, an effectual accomplishment, and a gracious application, none of these has meaning. The application is necessarily the application of Christ’s finished work according to the divine plan. The atonement is necessarily the fulfillment of Father’s plan, and without the Spirit’s work it does not save. So the plan is not efficacious without the atonement and the application.

So we cannot know any of these adequately without knowing the others. Although the three are distinguishable, our knowledge of each is a perspective on the others and on the whole. To know the Spirit’s work, we must see it as an application of the Son’s work (p7-8)

Some conclusions:

How is perspectivalism useful? There are some moments when I think it is a kind of deep structure of the universe and of Bible truth. Other times (most times) I think of it more modestly, as a pedagogical device. Certainly, as a pedagogical device, it gives students some hooks on which to hang bits of theological knowledge, or to change the metaphor, some string by which to tie things together. But I think that it is of even more practical significance.

... Second, it encourages us toward balance. Preaching that focuses all the time on law (normative) and not grace (situational) will be corrected by an understanding of the true relation between these. Same vice versa. People who emphasize the objective (normative and situational) while disparaging human experience and feelings (existential) can be corrected by a multi-perspectival understanding. And vice versa. Perspectivalism is a way of checking ourselves.

... So I think that perspectivalism is an encouragement to the unity of the church. Sometimes our divisions of theology and practice are differences of perspective, of balance, rather than differences over the essentials of faith.18 So perspectivalism will help us better to appreciate one another, and to appreciate the diversity of God’s work among us. (p. 11-12)

Read the antire article here >>

I have also referenced this idea before in terms of a leadership construct: A Biblical Model of Leadership.

3 John 8
Bill H.

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