Thursday, June 28, 2007

Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame

Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame, P&R, 2006, 383pp.
If you are looking for a one volume introduction to systematic theology, then this is it. The book is aimed at those who wish to dip their toes into systematics for the first time rather than the seasoned student of theology. The aim of systematic theology is to give us a disciplined knowledge of the God who has revealed himself in Scripture. Systematics works through the whole gamut of biblical revelation in a logical and orderly way beginning with God himself and ending with eschatology, the last things. Frame leads us gently through his systematic theology, with a fatherly, conversational tone. He explains technical terminology and seeks to root his teaching in the Scriptures.
Frame discusses systematic theology under the rubric of God's lordship. This entails a triad of divine control, authority and presence. Three basic perspectives flow from this triad, the situational - how God controls all things, the normative - how God exercises authority over all things and and the existential, how God presences himself with his people. These "lordship triads" form the framework upon which the writer constructs his theological system.
John Frame writes with insight and clarity on all the major biblical doctrines. More experienced students will sometimes wish that he had devoted more attention to a subject, but they are directed to his more substantial Theology of Lordship series (here & here). His discussion of the Trinity, while helpful and sound, leaves several questions hanging in the air. Unlike some works of Reformed theology, Frame gives due emphasis to the resurrection of Christ. He makes the resurrection of the believer and the renewal of creation, rather than dying and going to heaven the focus of the Christian hope.
The work is written from the standpoint of the Reformed faith. Frame is strong on controversial issues such as inerrancy and eternal punishment. But here is a truly generous orthodoxy. The theologian refuses to be dogmatic or sectarian where the Scriptures are not clear. The old argument over infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism is a case in point. Robert Reymond spent pages arguing in favour of supralapsarianism in his New Systematic Theology, but Frame simply admits, "I don't think that Scripture really addresses the order of God's decrees." (p. 182). While the writer is a convinced Presbyterian and an infant-baptist, he writes respectfully of other views of church government and baptism. He deals even-handedly with the diffferent millenial views. Frame does not blindly follow the dictates of Reformed tradition. He makes some fresh proposals on the marks of the church and argues that the churches should be contemporary in their approach to worship.
According to Frame, "Theology is the application of the Word by persons to the world and all areas of human life." A chapter is devoted to reflecting on how doctrine should affect the Christian life, How Then Shall We Live? The writer's tradic perspectives are brought to bear on Christian ethics. We are to live under God's lordship. This means that the commands given by his authority are our ethical norm. We are subject to his control in everyday situations as those who have been redeemed by his grace. The believer lives in God's presence; his indwelling Spirit directs how we live personally and existentially. Some helpful examples are given of how this approach may play out in practice. A final, somewhat repetitive chapter summarises the book and shows how every doctrine is illuminated by the lordship triad.
This is the first book that I have read by John Frame. Reading his enjoyable introduction to systematic theology has whetted my appetite for his works on the Theology of Lordship. Earlier, I devoted a post to Frame's theological method. His admiration for John Murray's approach to systematics prompted me to do this series.


Jonathan Hunt said...

Almost thou persuadest me to get this book!!!

Guy Davies said...

I would that thou not only almost, but altogether wast persuaded!

Gary Brady said...

I've just bought it (at EMA) so I was pleased to see your review. Frame is a good writer though his impulse toward flattening things out (as with infra- supra- questions) can be problematic. Read him on worship if you don't believe me.

Guy Davies said...

Sometimes Frame bends over backwards to be nice and accommodating. In endnote 1 to chapter 11, he says that although he disagrees with Norman Shepherd on justification, he thinks that his views are "within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy". That's being a bit too generous.

But I appreciated his gentle and gracious tone, much better than the Reymond with his fundamentalist streak. Did you see what RR had to say about baptists?