Dear John Frame,
I have recently been reading through two of your books (The Doctrine of the Christian Life and A History of Western Philosophy and Theology) and have found them extremely helpful. However, I have a question about how Christians can apply such views in secular work. My questions is: given that the goodness and badness of human action can only ever be truly justified with an appeal to theology, how then should Christians living and working in secular workplaces seek to speak and write about ethics? In my role as a healthcare professional, I know that many would discount arguments that appealed to theology for their justification. I am seeking to glorify God through my work, and I am trying to figure out how best to do this when making suggestions for healthcare practice which are ultimately based on theological assumptions. Of course, it is possible not to mention underlying presuppositions, but then the arguments lack justification. The other option seems to be explaining the tension between such perspective without God, but I can imagine there may not be patience for this among busy clinicians. I wondered if you had responded to other queries like this and might have advice?
Good to hear from you. Thanks so much for your interest in my writings and in the web site.
Well, the way you argue in a particular case will depend on the situation to some extent. It will take account of the specificity of the question (about a single patient? About general policy? About the philosophy of medical care?Etc.) It will also take account of the amount of time you have to reach a decision. If you have only five minutes, then there will likely be no time for general philosophical analysis. But if there is a lot of time (e.g. if you are trying to put together a major book on medical treatment like your dissertation), then you may have time to discuss broad issues, or choose not to participate if you disagree with your advisors, or your publishers and editors.
I agree that without some consideration of epistemology it is impossible to completely justify a proposal. But sometimes a complete justification isn’t needed and may unnecessarily delay your action. Sometimes if you are the supervisor, you just have to say, “Let’s do this” and hope the other team members have the sense to go along. Rom. 1:18ff tell us that God is clearly revealed to everybody. And though they try to suppress the truth, often they just accept without thinking the theistic conception of the world. So they know in their hearts that the theistic position is correct, and will sometimes instinctively accept your procedure without raising issues.
I hope that these comments have to some extent addressed your concerns. May God richly bless your labors in this important area.
Blessings in Jesus,
Dr. John Frame
Professor of Systematic Theology & Philosophy
Reformed Theological Seminary