About a month ago I gave a talk at the local chapter of Pub Theology. The topic was “triperspectivalism” and the book I read in preparation for it is a recently published introduction to the subject. John Frame’s Theology in Three Dimensions: A Guide to Triperspectivalism and its Significance (TTD) is a helpful resource for those new to this way of looking at, well just about everything.
Yeah, I know. With that first paragraph I’ve probably turned off many of my readers. “Triperspectivalism” is admittedly a terrible label for what I and many many others have come to find an uniquely insightful method for getting out of my own limited perspective, for understanding reality a little better, and for personal growth in humility when I’m tempted to think I’ve got a corner on the truth. Others have proposed various alternative names: multiperspectivalism (not much better!) or perspectivalism (has a creepy Nietzschean connotation). Honestly I don’t have any better ideas. Perhaps “trifocalism”? Ha!
Anyway, for a short book-length (under 100 pages) trip into the world of considering reality from the “normative,” the “situational,” and the “existential” perspectives, Frame’s little treatise is a fine place to start. Each of these perspectives is a view from somewhere. The normative view looks at things to answer the “ought” or “should” question. It is concerned with what ought to be believed about something, and then how one ought to respond to that belief. The normative perspective looks at that something from a standard that is outside oneself and others. It attempts to answer the question: what are the universal norms for this topic? The situational view looks at things to answer the “but what about” question. Whenever a particular issue is defined in black-and-white terms, often the next step in discussion is to test that standard with real-world and hypothetical cases. How does the norm work out when given legs in this or that situation in the messy world we live in? And finally, the existential view attempts to answer the “personal” or “experiential” question. How do I react and respond to this issue? How does this issue affect me and others in a personal way? How does this issue make me feel? One way to illustrate how all of the perspectives relate to one another and come together is the personal metaphor of head-hand-heart. Each of these is a perspective on the whole and unified person. Because a person is not a brain-on-a-stick, or a bleeding-heart ignoramus, or even a soul-less automaton, we can speak of a person as a head-hand-heart being. Take away any one of these perspectives on what it means to be human and you lose the essence of humanity. But head, hand, and heart are not parts that add up to the sum of humanity. Each is a perspective on the whole integrated self. Such are the three perspectives. Taken together they give you a richer and more nuanced understanding of whatever it is you are looking at. They are like different camera angles or lenses we peer through to get a bigger picture of what we are viewing. As Frame defines a perspective, it is “a view of something from somewhere by someone.” Just as gaining the counsel of others who are different that you can make you wiser, so also systematically and intentionally employing the tools of triperspetivalism can broaden your horizon and increase your wisdom. Continue reading