John M. Frame. Selected Shorter Writings Volume Two. Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2015. 382 pp.
This book is the second volume of John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings that contains some of John Frame’s essays that are outside of his Theology of Lordship Series. I have previously reviewed volume one of Dr. Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Although I highly recommend both volumes I actually enjoyed volume two more in comparison with volume one. As usual with John Frame’s writings, I appreciate what he has to say since he makes me think more deeply about the inter-connectedness of Biblical doctrines, theological foci and various method and divisions of theology and philosophy. Readers will not be disappointed. Frame’s characteristic way of writing that stresses the authority of Scripture, his exploration of the inter-dependence and inter-connectedness of perspectives along with his straight forward and clear way of writing is evident throughout the book.
The book is divided into seven parts: There are miscellaneous theological topics, theological education, theological method, apologetics, ethics, the church and a personal section. All seven parts of the book contained essays which were very stimulating and eye-opening. I have read thousands of pages of Frame’s work and I found that there were still things I learned from reading this book. Anyone who thinks a book titled “Selected Shorter Writings” means that this is a stale collection of ad hoc old ideas is badly mistaken. I was highlighting a lot of materials as I was reading through it. In what follows I want to share some of what I appreciated from the book.
PART 1: Theological Topics
- I appreciated the first chapter of the book that was adapted from Frame’s ETS presentation in which he talked about inerrancy and how Evangelicals must not be naïve to think that the question of inerrancy can be resolved with liberals and non-believers by simply talking about facts since methods and presuppositions are important. Using Alvin Plantinga’s famous essay on the role of Christian philosophers’ project being for the Christian community rather than just appeasing the secular academic world, Frame also calls Christian scholars to embrace inerrancy “as a place to live” in one’s academic career.
- Concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology I thought chapter five presented the most succinct presentation of the Van Tillian perspective: theology and philosophy need each other, theology and philosophy are similar although it uses different language and terminology to describe the world and the nature of ultimate reality and of course there is a need for philosophy needs to examine itself from a biblical theological perspective, etc.
PART 2: Theological Education
- The first three chapters in this section comes from the first three chapters of his book titled The Academic Captivity of Theology and Other Essays, published by Whitefield Publishers. This is one of Frame’s lesser known work but after reading these chapters I admit I want to read the rest of the book to see Frame further articulate his distinct philosophy of theological education. He has a lot to say that those involve in leadership of Christian institute of higher education needs to hear. He has a good point concerning the problem of Evangelicals idolatrously seeking doctorate programs in schools that does not honor God’s Word. I thought it was fascinating that he noted how in the past famous Christian scholars such as Machen and Warfield did not have earned doctorates but were nevertheless highly effective with their masters’ degree. Frame also talked about seminary desire for academic respectability from the world sets it in conflict with its aim to train men for the ministry at the church. He argues that in the end it is the church who has the authority to evaluate the means and goals of a seminary and not a secular accreditation agency. Accreditation agencies often making a seminary do more unnecessary and unhelpful work in order to be accredited. There is so much more than I can summarize here in this review.
- His essay on the demise of systematic theology also demonstrated the difference between a liberal philosophy of education and the biblical aim of seminary education. A doctorate in systematic theology at centers that does not have a high view of Scripture would only teach guys to teach theology that becomes more of a kind of historical theology that only states what other scholars believe; but this kind of method is inadequate in an Evangelical seminary where the skill requires is finding out what the Word of God says about a respective subject.
PART 3: Theological Method
- The chapter “Arguments and Conclusion in Theology” is partly in response to WSC and those who advocate “Escondido Theology.” However it’s usefulness extends beyond the debate of Radical Two Kingdom Theology. Frame rightly point out that some systematic theologians today are weak in logical thinking. Case in point: Those whom Frame critiques in his book Escondido Theology responded to Frame’s book by denying the conclusion of Frame’s argument. But the critics have not interacted with Frame’s actual argument that lead to his conclusion. It is not enough to say one does not like the conclusion but one must also demonstrate why the argument does not lead to the conclusion.
PART 4: Apologetics
- This was by far the longest part of the book! It is also the section of the book that demonstrate Frame at his best!
- I appreciated that Frame in his opening chapter to the section looked to the Scripture first concerning why it is hard to believe in God and at the same time why it is easy to believe in God. A good editorial decision that lays the foundation before the other chapters look at some intense apologetics’ matters.
- Chapters 19-22 were on Van Til. Some of these were short summaries of Van Til but then you also have chapter 21 titled “Van Til: The Theologian.” This chapter was originally published years ago as a pamphlet and also as a chapter in a Festschrift for Van Til that was published by theonomists in the 1970s. When I read this essay many years ago it totally revolutionize my own theological method and how I looked at theology so it was refreshing to re-read this essay again now that I am older. “Van Til: The Theologian” was what got me going with teaching systematic theology in such a way as to try to portray how doctrines from Scripture beautifully integrate and mutually support one another. This essay has ever since moved me to doxological fervor in teaching the inter-connectedness of theology in order to deepen our worship and further a coherent apologetics by showing how a truly Biblical system of theology have doctrines “cohere” with one another while also maturely handle theological paradox.
PART 5: Ethics
- His chapter on the failure of non-Christian ethics is a very good summary of the problem of trying to ground morals and ethics apart from the Christian God. Excellent! It is worth reviewing from time to time.
- I must say though that the weakest chapter of the book was found here: Frame sees Joel Osteen as less of a problem than I would like and I wish Frame could have considered the question as to what Osteen believes concerning the role of repentance and the Gospel.
- “But God Made Me This Way” is a neat chapter and very relevant in light of the advancing agenda of homosexuality and Same Sex Marriage in today’s culture. Good response.
PART 6: The Church
- Good discussion about the problems of denomination and also church unity.
PART 7: Personal
- A light hearted chapter on Frame’s Triperspectivalism applied to the issue of eating and dieting.
Again there is more to the book than my highlights mentioned here.
After finishing the book I’m convinced that this book is useful for Christians across all spectrum of theology and familiarity with the John Frame. I think the nature of short essays make it helpful as an introduction to those who are new to John Frame’s work. The book also has a “theological devotional” flavor to it that makes a wonderful read for those who want something to stimulate their minds more deeply in terms of devotional materials. I believe it would make a wonderful “devotional” for the theologian in which one can read a chapter a day (give or take for the longer ones) where one has something theological that is God-centered at the same time it exercises one’s mind to love God’s truth (that was practically how I did read this book). For those who consider themselves “John Frame buff” or experts of his theology, this book is still worthwhile to purchase the book as there are still things in this book that I think is new to chew on. It also serves as a good refresher to Frame’s Theology of Lordship.
NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.