A Frame Point of View

Some more thoughts from John Frame have been posted at New City Church’s blog:

John Frame on Christ and Culture

Frame expresses a transformational view but he may be tip-toeing a little:

…if you are a Christian artist, car repairman, government official, or whatever, you should be seeking to do this work as a Christian, to apply God’s standards to your work. As Paul says, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Frame writes broadly enough as not to leave much room for argument. But I think he leaves plenty of room for follow-up questions and discussion.

Sure, as Paul instructs, we must do all things to the glory of God. And yes, of course we do our work “as Christians” because we are Christians. If a Christian does something, anything, he’s doing it “as a Christian”. No “seeking” is required. But this doesn’t mean that the Christian has come up with a uniquely Christian way of doing it. The common activity has not become sacred. Frame doesn’t go here. I think he’s being careful.

Frame goes on:

A transformational approach does not mean that every human activity practiced by a Christian must be obviously, externally different from the same activities practiced by non-Christians. There is always a difference, but often the difference is that of motive, goal, and standard, rather than anything external. The Christian seeks to change his tires to the glory of God, and the non-Christian does not. But that’s a difference that couldn’t be captured in a photograph. When changing tires, Christian and non-Christian may look very much alike.

Again, he doesn’t give us much room to argue. If we change tires for a living, we may apply God’s standards by doing it right, not cutting corners, not cursing while we do it, and not cheating the customers. But the task is still common; there is no uniquely Christian way to perform it. If Frame is just talking about changing our own tires by the roadside, both Christians and non-Christians have the same motive, goal and standard of getting back on the road, making it home safely, and doing it well enough so it doesn’t fall off. We may still change the tire to the glory of God, but how is this transforming the task of tire changing? If the difference is internal and cannot be “captured in a photograph,” and if the process and end result look alike, then what makes it culturally transforming?


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10 Responses to A Frame Point of View

  1. Zrim says:

    To second Rick’s general point, Rick said, “If we change tires for a living, we may apply God’s standards by doing it right, not cutting corners, not cursing while we do it, and not cheating the customers.”

    So may “they.” In fact, when I was “they” I did stuff “right, without cutting corners or cursing or cheating” all the time. Moreover, now that I am “we,” I cannot say that everything I do as a “we” is up to that criteria. In other words, what do we do with the reality that Xians can be worse than non-Xians?

    To Frame, I always wonder, “Well, just what is the word ‘transformative’ supposed to mean if we are not to expect anything obvious, external or objectively measureable?”

    I always think in terms of being a covenant-keeper, not a transformer. Frame is right to direct things inward, but the notion of transforming simply implies something outward. (Imperfect)Covenent keeping certainly seems worlds different from what the very word ‘transform’ implies. The former seems so much more sober and realistic, while the latter seems so idealistic and sort of childish, naive.


  2. Rick says:

    I had a line in there that I couldn’t figure out how to word right. A line along these lines:

    “The non-Christian too seeks to do things honestly and excellently, motivated by a natural sense of what ought or ought not be done”

    But I think the point was made anyway.

  3. Zrim says:

    Calvin said that every believer goes to his death with an unbeliever in him. His point was different, but sometimes I like to put on my unbeliever cap in these discussions. I like to think that my life as an unbeliever was such a helpful template; I know what it is like to be quite conscious of a non-acknowledgment of God. I know what it is like to have feet in both worlds (now if I could be a woman for a day to understand my wife better).

    I put my unbeliever cap on and listen to John Frame (or whoever) go on about how they are transforming the world, etc., etc. and I can’t help but see the enormity of the arrogance. My unbeliever tells my believer, “Whatever you do, don’t go telling me you are better than me because I see right through that. I can live with you being a covenant keeper, but this stuff about changing the world seems really disingenuous and flighty. You and I both know nobody’s changing anything. Changing tires to the glory of God? C’mon, changing tires is changing tires.”

    His going to hell doesn’t mean he’s not right about a few things.


  4. efwake says:

    I just realized that I could totally mess with y’all and change Steve’s post below to make it look like he’d vote for John Frame today. That’d be funny.

    At any rate, things are blurry here, and Frame’s use of ideas and words only excagerates one’s confusion. (Neo-)Kuyper(ian) College anyone? It is called Biblicism and it stems from imprecision in the way that we talk about this stuff.

    How does one “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” and must a man know this answer (or perhaps even have some inclination as to the question) to be motivated to correctly align my wheels or balance my tires? Obviously not. If I go to a guy who happens to know the answer, will he do a better job than the guy who doesn’t? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Should he do his best as if he is working for God and not man? Absolutely. Does he glorify God and enjoy Him therein? Absolutely; or at least he ought to. God gave him the work, the means by which to feed himself and/or his family. Is he transforming anything beside uneven treadwear? No.

    The thing that really chaps my khakis is when Frame jumps from this crap to suggesting that all of life is worship. Of course, he does so in an effort to relieve himself and his contemporary worship-loving followers of the burden of the regulative principle of worship. And in a sense he is correct; in a broad sort-of (blurry, inexact, ethereal) sense glorifying God and enjoying Him is worship.

    Of course, the last I knew Frame was a man with a bit too much professorial experience under his belt to settle for blurry, inexact, and ethereal language… except when he has an agenda. Just like those who have made him the patron saint of so-called “Evangelically Reformed worship,” he is walking with one foot in the confessional community through his subscription and another in the broader Evangelical community with his practice. And all because people these days seem to think that it is “too Roman Catholic” to suggest that what we do on the Lord’s Day is sacred while what we do the other 6 days isn’t as sacred.

    This is the crap that I dealt with at Christ Church. The man turns you around in circles so you don’t know which way is up, misreads church history, applies a biblicist’s hermaneutic to Scripture, and VIOLA! The RPW now applies to all of life, and of course we can’t suggest that stodgy hynms and psalms are the only music worthy of the worship we observe all 7 days of the week!

    Remember the video for Lionel Ritchie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling”? I think Frame is still there, and his followers don’t even know they’re dancing (likely a liturgical one, BTW) right along with him.

  5. Echo_ohcE says:

    The Westminster Confession of Faith makes clear, in its chapter on good works, that the difference between a Christian’s good works and an unbeliever’s “good” works is a matter of the heart, a matter of motive.

    If then, we take this as our starting point, then we can say that when I do good because of the motive of my heart, and yet I do the same thing as an unbeliever, then what is different is not the culture, but my heart. The culture is that which is done outwardly.

    Transformationalism seems to labor under the impression that we can see an outward difference resulting from different inward motives. This is not so.

    Take your tire changing example. Let’s say that I, the believer, change a tire in order to get to church on time. I am changing my tire to the glory of God. I may even be upset and frustrated, may curse and act totally unbecoming a believer, but nonetheless, my concern is getting to church on time. Say that an unbeliever, however, is more patient, changing his tire without cursing or losing his temper, but his concern is getting to the bar to meet some new girl for a one night stand.

    I, the believer, have good motives for changing the tire, while the unbeliever has bad motives. Yet I am the one cursing and carrying on. Which one changes the tire in a morally correct way? Which one changes his tire to the glory of God? I do.

    Is my tire changing imperfect? Yes it is. But my heart was in the right place. The unbeliever has done the same task, and has even exercised more self control than me, and been more morally just in his outward appearance in his tire changing than me. Yet I am the one who has done it to the glory of God.

    Where’s the cultural transformation? Which one of us would our culture approve of, the one who is patient and calm (but going to a bar), or the one who is frustrated and cursing, not controlling himself, but going to church?

    Cultural transformationalism necessarily confuses morality with outward morality, making no distinction. They, like the Pharisees, must necessarily become bogged down with issues of outward appearances. They cannot truly affirm that morally good actions necessarily are a matter of motivation. Only those actions performed in service to God can even begin to be morally good in God’s sight. Transformationalism cannot, because of its concerns, capture this distinction in any tangible way. It must be focused on the outward appearances, rather than the heart.

    Transformationalism therefore undermines the true nature of the law of God, and thus undermines the gospel.

    I doubt what I said was clear, so I leave it to you to work it out more clearly.

  6. Zrim says:


    Your example is much too simplistic and two-dimensional: you have me going to church and Joe Unbeliever going to meet some floozy (what’s wrong with going to a bar? I wish I could do it more often).

    I think it is because you are making very simplistic divisions between “us” and “them.” And my split personality does not like it (see my above comment about Calvin’s un/believer within).

    With all this heart language, you seem to be employing the same sort of logic the Transformers usually do to make their points, well, the kinder, gentler ones anyway. If what separates me from the unbeliever is my heart or my motivation, I am awash in utter confusion.

    You are saying the motives of the heart are what make the difference. This is what post-modern Transformers like Tim Keller do as well. Modern Transformers want to change the institution; think Religious Right, they talk a lot about laws, etc. they are very objective. Their time is waning and they are now being replaced by the softer post-modern Transformers who say, “Don’t change the institution, change the individual.” But this is akin to saying, “Let’s get rid of laws and just make people better.” Think about that. It would never fly at city hall and for good reasons, saith this Calvinist! What is offered is simply the other side of a skewed coin. You are actually helping Frame here when he turns things inward and downplays the outward and makes the fulcrum mere motivation. Frame could easily avoid your charge of “outward moralism.”

    But even the heart of the saint is full of sin. No believer’s heart is ever, as you say, “in the right place.” My motivation to go to church is even tainted and full of sin. We have been over this before elsewhere. You began your post by pointing to the WCF. I will point to some myself, the same ones I point to against the Transformer’s arguments that we are somehow better than the unbelieving lot of men, which I would contend, is really what you are saying as well:

    BC Article 24

    “In the meantime, we do not deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable; and although we could perform such works, still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them.”


    “Question 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?
    Answer. Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.”

    WCF, XIII (Of Sanctification)

    “II. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
    III. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”


  7. RubeRad says:

    My first exposure to Frame was via investigations into (against) Theonomy, where I thought he looked great, in his negative review of Rushdoony’s “Master”work, and his non-Theonomic essays “Toward a Theology of the State”, and “Penultimate thoughts on Theonomy”. And I liked “Machen’s warrior Children”. You can find links to all of these, as well as further thoughts of mine, from these two links: one,

    But now I’m learning he is soft on RPW, I wasn’t convinced by his book defending Contemporary Worship Music, and I hear he is soft on NPP/FV, so I’m beginning to think that Frame is too much for compromise for compromise’s sake. And what’s up with this “perspectivalism” stuff?

  8. Zrim says:

    I have always considered “Machen’s Warrior Children” to be tossed into the soft pile, as it furls its brow at the old-school spirit.

    I am not sure how any perceived “anti-theonomy” helps Frame. What is he against when he is so transformational? I see these two things as expressions of the same thing. One is just nastier than the other and both are clueless about fulfillment. Theonomy is modern and trans’ism is post-modern expression of the yet high view of man that wants to bring the eschaton to earth by man’s own might.

    In general, Frame, to me, represents that element in conservative Presby circles that has made peace with broad Evangelicalism. Unfortunately, he and his army have really won the day and we in the Outhouse would do well to remember that. But that much seems in keeping with the nature of that scarlett thread…

    Theonomists (and by extension, their kinder, gentler cousins the Transformationalists) are Calvinism’s version of Methodists.


  9. Rick says:

    I didn’t mind “Machen’s Warrior Children” for years but now I view it with different lenses. The FV folk love it, they point to it as some cry for peace, saying, “let’s just all get along because we’re all Reformed” and “you’re just being a Machen Warrior, lets stop this infighting and look around at the real threats to orthodoxy”

  10. Zrim says:

    The funny thing is that I have great sympathy for reducing undue rhetoric and needless divisons and “much toiling about words” that don’t amount to anything worthwhile (what’s that about useless arguments). I just don’t think what old-school does is that. Sure, the tendencies are given to it, but really no more given to it than where problems are other than doctrinal. In fact, the more you make the issues doctrinal the more real liberty you allow for.

    It is funny that when you play out Frame’s “all of life is worship” you end up destroying Xian liberty and raising up moral police that want to have a say over what sorts of movies might be in your home library.

    I find old-schoolers some of the most liberal and charitable souls around, while Framians tend toward busy-bodiness, etc.


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