A Brief Discussion with John Frame on Systematic Theology

frame systematicIt is always a joy and delight to talk with Dr. Frame. With the release of his new Systematic Theology I wanted him to share with us all a bit about this volume and the benefits it can provide to the church. Dr. Frame has long been recognized as a theologian who writes expressly for the church – this new magnum opus is no different. So join me for this brief conversation about Systematic Theology with John Frame, and then go out and buy the book!

JF: Thanks for your interest in the book and your help in promoting it.

DD:  I have been thoroughly enjoying it. Your initial chapters on introductory matters are especially helpful for discussing theological methodology. I also greatly benefited from your chapters on the Biblical Story. What prompted you to write this Systematic Theology?

JF:My editor suggested that I could abbreviate my big Lordship books and expand my Salvation Belongs to the Lord and have a systematic theology. It wasn’t quite that easy, because I needed to rethink everything. But it was a useful exercise, and I think my theology will be more beneficial to the church in this form.

DD: You’ve also written a four volume series on Lordship theology. How does this single volume differ from that set?

JF: Mainly, it’s shorter. I’ve deleted a lot of material that was interesting, but not necessary for basic comprehension. Again, my goal has been to make it more useful to the church—for pastors and all students of biblical doctrine.

DD: What sort of unique contribution does your volume make to the field of systematics?

JF: Perspectivalism (see next question). Also, I have tried very hard to avoid rabbit trails and focus on what is essential.

DD: What is perspectivalism and what role does it play in your approach to theology?

JF:There are two kinds of perspectivalism: (1) the general thought that since we are finite we cannot know everything all at once. We need to go round and round a subject, seeing it from different angles. (2) A Trinitarian understanding: Although all three persons are involved in all the acts of God, there is some division of labor: the Father sets forth the universal divine plan for history; the Son carries it out; the Spirit applies it to people and creation. These correspond to three ways of looking at the world: as an expression of the Father’s command (“normative perspective”), as a historical program carried out by Jesus (“situational perspective”), and as a deep personal subjective life in fellowship with the Spirit (“existential perspective”). We can therefore look at anything three ways: as a revelation of God, as part of history directed by God, and as a personal experience in fellowship with God.

DD: There are some who have criticized this volume as being weak on the doctrine of the church. How would you respond to that criticism?

JF: Well, there are a lot of things that are “not adequately addressed,” because a systematic theology is not the Bible. I have had to make choices, based in part on my own abilities and interests, but also based on my views of what is needed at the moment. I readily confess, however, that there are more complete accounts of the church available—particularly Edmund Clowney’s The Church and the two books on the church by James and Douglas Bannerman.

DD: I noted in the work that you seem to refer often to the subject of two-kingdom theology. Why do you feel this is an important issue to address in your systematic?

JF: I think the form of two-kingdom thought that has entered the Reformed theological discussion in the last fifteen years is wrong, and therefore should be addressed. (Every systematic theology addresses errors current to its writing.) The main problem with this particular two-kingdoms view is that it discourages Christians from seeking biblical answers to the questions of culture and politics. In my view, 1 Cor. 10:31 is sufficient refutation of that approach. Of course I am not opposing every view that might be called “two kingdoms.”

DD: As a final world, maybe I could get you to address your definition of theology. In the very first chapter you define theology as application. Why do you insist on this definition? What value do you think it provides the church?

JF: In that chapter I address the question, why do we need theology when we already have Scripture? The answer: God has not only given us Scripture, but he has also appointed pastors and teachers to edify his people by bringing Scripture to bear on their lives. That “bringing to bear” is what I call application. To my mind, that is the only biblical justification for “theology” in addition to the Bible. This implies that theology cannot be confined to the abstruse questions of academic debate, though it certainly includes those. Theology includes all the church’s teaching: preaching, youth ministry, family devotions, etc.

DD: Thanks again for you time Dr. Frame, always a pleasure to talk with you. Pick up your copy of John Frame’s Systematic Theology today, you will be greatly edified by it.

* Image courtesy of Justin Clark

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