I have been slowly making my way through John M. Frame’s “Doctrine of The Christian Life”. Frame has done an excellent job of challenging the way I approach ethics, by removing some of the fallacies that I have accumulated through my life in secular institutions. I wanted to share a quote that I came across earlier this morning that I found interesting.
“I have indicated that it is not a naturalistic fallacy to argue, “God commands x; therefore, we must do x.” This argument might seem like a forbidden argument from what is to what ought to be, from fact to obligation. But that is not so, for God is not only a fact, but also a norm. That is so because anything God says is normative. His word is inherently authoritative, as well as powerful and present. God’s very nature is normative. This is to say, authority is an aspect of the lordship that defines him.”
I like this quote because much of the study of ethics is seeking to discover what is normative. As Christians we can at least establish that there is one sure authority that is normative.
This sounds like a sort of “divine command” theory, i.e. what God commands is good because God commands it. Of course, there is the nuance that we affirm God is inherently good in his nature, so no command could be evil, so he always commands what is good, so again we come to the command of God being the definition of good.
Does Frame relate it to that theory?
@Brian: he has not taken it that far at this point in the book. I can only assume that us what he is getting at however. What do you think of divine command theory?
@Josh: I don’t know if I settled on that yet. In some sense I must say I affirm (1) God is good and (2) God is the moral standard and (3) God’s commands would never deviate from His own nature, so one would think I would have a positive approach. That being said, I haven’t read enough “for” or “against” in my life time to say I have thought about all the consequences.
You may be interested to know there was a blog post written in response to this one: http://clayboy.co.uk/2011/02/the-problem-of-what-god-says-who-says-so/
@Brian and Josh,
God as the norm sounds wonderful and so true, but it is so abstract that Christian action winds up being underwhelming in the real world. I’m with Doug; it all is in interpretation, and knowing Frame’s work, I am pretty sure this means submission to the conservative branch of the Reformed tradition.
@Rod: This being my first time reading any Frame I was beginning to wonder if that might be the case. I hope it is not as simple as all that. That would be disappointing.
I am currently taking Frame’s Ethics class and we are working through the book as well (go figure.) I am interested to see what you continue to get from the book. I have very much enjoyed Frame’s availability to his students, you may want to try and shoot him an email if you have any specific questions and see if he responds.
For my course paper I am planning to defend Christian nonviolence as a viable option for today’s Christian. I know Frame is a Just War guy, and he and I have dialoged a bit about the matter. When you get to that section of the book it might be worth having some conversations over the matter!
I see from your blog you live in Flower Mound, Texas. Chad and I are down the road in Fort Worth. Glad to see you defending nonviolence at RTS.
Did Frame ever bring up the idea of divine-command theory in your class? Or is he saying that his proposal is more nuanced?
@Jon: I just started reading his section of the book devoted to just war. It is not agreeing with me at all! I am not very far into it, but the initial perspective he gives is not to my liking.
How did your paper go?
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