Thursday, April 05, 2007

John Frame on the task of Systematic Theology

John Frame
Today I took delivery of John Frame's Salvation Belongs to the Lord, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, P&R, 2006 (here). Taking a preliminary flick through the book, I skimmed through Chapter 6, What is Theology?
Frame puts forward a two-fold definition of the theological task: "theology is knowing God, and theology is the disciplined study of God." (p. 73.) He is critical of Charles Hodge's definition, "the exhibition of the facts of Scripture in their proper order and relation". Hodge seems to be saying that the facts of Scripture are in some kind of improper order and that the task of the Dogmatician is to organise them better. Frame suggests that "Hodge didn't have a very clear idea of why we need theology." (p. 79.) We need theology says Frame, "for the sake of people. Theology is the application of the Word by persons to the world and to all areas of human life." (p. 79.) True theology is applicatory. It enables the people of God to live out the Word of God in the present day context.
The method of theology is primarily Biblical exegesis, "in the final analysis, systematic theology should be exegetical. Whatever else it does, it must set forth the teaching of Scripture first and foremost." (p. 84.) Frame commends the theological method of his mentor, John Murray, as set out in Murray's essay Systematic Theology (Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 4: Studies in Theology, Banner of Truth Trust, 1982. p. 1-21). Murray's article makes very interesting reading. Amongst other things, he argues that systematic theology should be deeply rooted in exegetical and Biblical theology. I hope to return to Murray's far reaching methodological proposals after Easter.
Frame's emphasis on the applicatory purpose and exegetical method of systematic theology ties in nicely with Vanhoozer's canonical-linguistic approach doctrine. Vanhoozer argues that the task of doctrine is to enable the people of God to play their Biblically scripted roles in the unfolding theo-drama. "The task of theology as scientia is to determine what God has said in Scripture, thus to take the measure of reality. Theology in its exegetical mode involves cultivating interpretive virtues, habits that put us into cognitive and covenantal contact with the script, the theo-drama, and the triune God alike." (The Drama of Doctrine, WJK, 2005, p. 241.)
This is what we need, a systematic theology that grows out of interaction with the form, shape and contents of Scripture. A theology that is orientated towards practical performance by the people of God.

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