Classical Theism and Theistic Personalism: Part 1, Understanding the Issues Between James Dolezal and John Frame

The nature and attributes of God ought to be considered one of the fundamentals grounding each doctrine of the Christian faith. In recent years there has been a debate between classical theists and theistic personalists. It is my contention  this debate touches not only on theology proper, but the doctrine of creation and our confession of Christ’s incarnation; specifically, our understanding of historic Chalcedonian Christology.

For example, no book has caused as big of a stir in Reformed communities as Dr. James Dolezal’s book, All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. Dolezal is a professor at Cairn University and received his PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary. Not only did he critique evangelical theistic personalists, he also critiques varieties of theistic personalism inside Reformed churches and seminaries. Keith Matthison reviewed Dolezal’s book, observing:

The first time I read the manuscript, it became abundantly clear within only a few pages that the book was going to create some waves. Why? Because in this book Dolezal argues that a number of contemporary evangelical and Reformed theologians, whether wittingly or unwittingly, have rejected and/or wrongly redefined elements of classical Christian theism. In other words, they have rejected and/or wrongly redefined elements of the Christian doctrine of God. That is a serious charge, and if accurate, a devastating one that cannot be ignored or brushed aside. Not only does Dolezal argue that many evangelical and Reformed theologians have abandoned classical Christian theism, he also names names. Because some of these names are the names of very popular and influential figures in the contemporary evangelical world, it was inevitable that this book would ruffle some feathers.

Matthison indicates that one of the men named by Dolezal is Dr. John Frame, retired professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary and former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. Frame is recognized as one of the most influential theologians and apologists of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. Numerous people, including myself, have benefitted from his writings. Frame is loved and respected, and his works will be remembered for their faithfulness to evangelical and Reformed orthodoxy. Nonetheless, Matthison notes:

Frame is one of the most popular and influential Reformed theologians writing today, and yet he is one of the men named by Dolezal as holding to significant errors regarding classical Christian theism. That is no small matter. If Dolezal is wrong, he has misrepresented the work of an important theologian. If Dolezal is right, then Frame’s widespread influence and popularity over the course of many decades may have had a profoundly negative theological influence on the church’s doctrine of God. Frame has, not surprisingly, written a lengthy response to Dolezal’s book in an online article titled “Scholasticism for Evangelicals: Thoughts on All That Is In God by James Dolezal.” Having read both Dolezal and Frame, I am convinced that there are some serious problems in Frame’s response that must be addressed. However, before examining Frame’s response more closely, we need to understand the issues that concern Dolezal as well as the charges that he has made.

I think we should focus on the following points from Matthison’s quote: 1) If Dolezal is correct, then there are serious theological errors in John Frame’s theology proper; 2) If Dolezal is incorrect, then he has misrepresented the works of numerous theologians, John Frame in particular; and 3) We need to understand the issues that concern Dolezal as well as the charges he has made.

With these provisions in place, I would like to focus upon point three (We need to understand the issues that concern Dolezal as well as the charges he has made). Below, I will: 1) Provide videos to help delineate the differences between classical theism and theistic personalism; 2) Provide hyperlinks to articles between Dolezal and Frame, related posts, and books defending classical theism.

(NOTE: remember, this document will be updated as new information is released. Therefore, this should not be considered an exhaustive list).

With these points in place, I would like to emphasize a few things: 1) I want it to be clear I affirm classical theism; 2) I do believe that Dolezal’s criticisms are valid; and 3) I do not think we should throw away all of Frame’s books, nor disregard the significant contributions he has made to Christian theology, philosophy, and apologetics over the past 50 years. Rather, we should approach Frame’s writings like we do all other works:

We must use discretion and reject any claims, arguments, or doctrines we believe are contrary to Scripture. Moreover, we should treat Frame with the respect due to him as a Christian brother and teaching elder in the Church.  

Videos

In these videos, Dr. Elmar Kremer (Emeritus, University of Toronto) introduces two theories of the nature of God: classical theism and theistic personalism. These videos are good primers to delineate the issues of the debate.

  1. Classical Theism 1 (Two Conceptions of God).
  2. Classical Theism 2 (In Favor of Classical Theism).
  3. Classical Theism 3 (God’s Omnipotence).
  4. Classical Theism 4 (God’s Omniscience).
  5. Classical Theism 5 (God’s Goodness and Justice).
  6. Classical Theism 6 (Evil and Goodness in the World).
  7. Classical Theism 7 (Atheistic Arguments from Evil).

In these videos, Dr. James Dolezal will give interviews and lectures on classical theism. Dolezal provides his arguments and evidence in support of classical theism. He also describes the specific nature of his critiques against theistic personalism and those he believes are evangelical detractors.

  1. Interview: James Dolezal.
  2. Theistic Personalism and the Erosion of Classical Christian Theism.
  3. Divine Simplicity and the Grammar of Classical Christian Orthodoxy.
  4. Divine Simplicity and Its Modern Detractors.
  5. God Without Parts: The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity.
  6. Divine Eternity and the Challenge of Creation.
  7. Substantial Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  8. Divine Impassibility.
  9. Panel Discussion on Divine Impassibility.

Articles

  1. A Review of James Dolezal’s All That Is in God by Joseph Minich, The Calvinist International(August 31, 2017).
  2. All That Is in God by Malcolm Yarnell, Reformation21 (August 2017).
  3. Scholasticism for Evangelicals: Thoughts on All That Is in God by James Dolezal by John Frame (November 25, 2017).
  4. Reviewing Frame’s Review of Dolezal by Mark Jones, The Calvinist International (November 27, 2017).
  5. Response to Frame’s Criticism of Dolezal on Theistic Mutualism by Jordan Cooper, Just and Sinner (November 28, 2017).
  6. All That Is in God by Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition (November 29, 2017).
  7. Book Review: All That Is in God by James Dolezal by Keith Mathison, Tabletalk (November 2017).
  8. The Exegesis of Immutability by Matt Colvin (November 29, 2017).
  9. Biblical Personalism: Further Thoughts on Scholasticism and Scripture by John Frame (November 30, 2017).
  10. Unlatched Theism: An Examination of John Frame’s Response to All That Is in God by Keith Mathison, Tabletalk (November 30, 2017).
  11. Simplicity, Scholasticism, and the Triunity of God by Mike Riccardi, The Cripplegate (December 1, 2017).
  12. Scholasticism and Creation by John Frame (December 1, 2017).
  13. Immutability and Reformed Theology by Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition (December 7, 2017).
  14. Scholasticism and the Gospel by John Frame (December 16, 2017).

Related Posts

  1. What Motivates Oliphint’s Proposals? by Paul Helm (June 1, 2014).
    1. Tolle Lege: A Brief Response to Paul Helm by K. Scott Oliphint, Reformation21 (June 2014)..
    2. Modifying Classical Theism: Chalcedonian Theology Proper and Reformed ‘Tradition’by Nate Shannon, Reformation21(July 2014).
    3. Objections to K. Scott Oliphint’s Covenantal Propertiesby James Dolezal, Reformation21 (July 2014). Here
  2. What Is Protestant Scholasticism? (A Primer) by Mark Jones (August 8, 2017).
  3. John Frame – God, time and space by Paul Helm (April 1, 2014).

Recommended Books on Classical Theism

  1. Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2 by Herman Bavinck (Baker, 2004).
  2. The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock (Baker, 1979).
  3. God and Time: Four Views edited by Gregory Ganssle (IVP, 2001).
  4. Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas.
  5. Summa of the Summa by Peter Kreeft.
  6. The Battle for God: The Challenge of Neotheism by Norman L. Geisler and H. Wayne House.
  7. Systematic Theology, vol. 2, God/Creation by Norman L. Geisler.
  8. God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness by James Dolezal.
  9. Confessing the Impassible God: The Biblical, Classical, & Confessional Doctrine of Divine Impassibility edited by Ronald S. Baines and Richard C. Barcellos.

 

 

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