John Frame on Augustine on Evil: A Complaint

John Frame has thought a bit about “the problem of evil.” He first wrote about it in Apologetics to the Glory of God (1994) and then incorporated that material into a chapter in The Doctrine of God (2002) which has been basically reprinted in his Systematic Theology (2013). The first book has been expanded and reprinted now as Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief (2015), which I will quote from.

In tackling the problem, Frame first wants to take note of what the Bible “does not say,” and the first view to be considered here is “The Unreality-of-Evil Defense” (161). Here’s the opening paragraph:

Some Eastern religions and Western cults (e.g., Buddhism and Christian Science) maintain that evil is really an illusion. Even some respected Christian thinkers, such as Augustine, have suggested that evil be classified under the category of nonbeing. Augustine does not quite mean to say that evil is an illusion, but rather that it is a “privation,” a lack of good being where good being ought to be. Still, he does use this idea to remove responsibility from God. God creates all being, but he is not responsible for nonbeing (161).

Frame dismisses this explanation as “quite inadequate,” and not  biblical (162).

I don’t wish here to enter into Frame’s argument, only to register a serious complaint about his method. In dismissing Augustine, arguably one of Christian history’s greatest thinkers, he doesn’t offer a single citation of any of Augustine’s works. Not one. Is he referring to The Confessions? The City of GodOn Free WillOn the Nature of the Good? Somewhere else entirely? Where should the reader go to see for himself what Augustine actually claimed and whether in fact it is Biblical? Frame doesn’t say.

Nor is this merely the case with Apologetics. His chapters in The Doctrine of God and Systematic Theology start with the same dismissal of Augustine and are similarly devoid of any citation to any of Augustine’s works. What about his bibliography? Nothing:


He spends some time in DG interacting with Thomist scholar Étienne Gilson, and cites his work there, so he certainly is capable of it when he wishes.

This is deeply disappointing to me. It’s hard to take an argument seriously which hasn’t demonstrated itself to have actually wrestled deeply with the sources it claims. To dismiss a theologian of the stature of Augustine in this manner is simply unacceptable in my estimation. Perhaps Augustine is wrong, and Frame is right. If so, it should be simple enough to demonstrate that to the reader, rather than to merely assert it.