Framing Systematic Theology part 2: A three sided frame.

black-and-white-game-match-chess

My previous post introduced some highlights from the recently published systematic theology by John Frame. Moving on from his introduction, he caps off a helpful summary of his thinking by emphasising the following attributes of God’s Lordship as being a central feature of his overarching theological framework (puns intended). In a nutshell, they are:

Control:

“So Yahweh controls the entire course and nature of history for his own glory and to accomplish his own purposes.” [1]

Frame justifies this classic Reformed theodicy mostly with a shallow reading of the exodus narrative, and snippets of Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Genesis 1 and Psalms. Presumptions abound and the New Testament is nowhere in sight at this point.

Authority:

“The relation between control and authority is between might and right. Control means that God has the power to direct the whole course of nature and history as he pleases. Authority means he has the right to do that.” [2]

This section is considerably lengthier, and Frame makes the point that whilst Authority is not synonymous with Control, neither are these two attributes mutually exclusive.

Presence:

“Since God controls and [authoritatively]  evaluates all things, he is therefore present everywhere, as present as an incorporeal being can be.” [3]

Frame’s ordering of his affairs (thus far) seems to suggest that God’s omnipresence is dependent upon his omnipotence and (as Dr Greg Boyd might put it) ‘divine sovereignty defined as meticulous control’. [4] This certainly seems to fit with the standard Reformed view of determinism; which is a view Roger Olson takes to task in his seminal book called ‘Against Calvinism’, wherein he critiques the perspective championed by R.C. Sproul, amongst others. [5] In closing, Frame’s second chapter sketches his tri-perspectival approach to Theology, which can be loosely summarised as a model of human knowledge by which we view the world from ‘normative’, ‘situational’ and ‘existential’ perspectives, as a consequence of God’s Lordship. [6]

In plain english, all of this seems to me to be suggesting a method, or recipe for cooking up our Theology based upon God as the ultimate master chef. Frame’s God not only dictates and micromanages every aspect of the cosmic kitchen, he also makes sure that every sous-chef knows their place in the pecking order and doesn’t get any misguided notions about free will. Frame’s image of God is laden with presuppositions (as indeed would be the case for everyone) and he seems to be quietly reinforcing them from the outset. If you hadn’t already guessed, I struggle most with this aspect of his thesis (so far).

Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that I once again find myself sitting atop the lofty shoulders of a serious theological heavyweight and barely keeping pace. The sheer breadth of wider reading and subject knowledge Frame possesses ought to make any nascent scholar a touch nervous about their own grasp of the literature by comparison. Next up, God’s transcendence vs his immanence, and opposing world-views as spiritual warfare (I’m as intrigued as you are!).

M

1. Frame, John M, “Systematic Theology: An introduction to Christian belief” (Kindle edition, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, USA, P&R Publishing Company, P.O. Box 817: 2013) Loc 1553

2. Frame, Systematic Theology, Loc 1600.

3. Frame, Systematic Theology, Loc 1772.

4. Boyd, Gregory A, God at war: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict (USA, Inter-varsity press: 1997) 32.

5. Olson, Roger E, Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s reputation from radical reformed theology (Grand Rapids, MI, USA, Zondervan: 2011) 77-79.

6. Frame, Systematic Theology, Loc 1853.

Framing Systematic Theology – Part 1

Any day now, I am due to start an MA in Integrative Theology at LST, whereby I shall be largely specialising in the study of systematics. Since numerous people have recently asked me the obvious question “What is Systematic Theology?” of late, I thought it fitting to begin doing some preparatory reading around that very question.

One of the voluminous tomes which I have begun delving into is none other than Professor John Frame’s Systematic Theology, wherein he attempts to answer the very same question, albeit from an unashamedly Reformed perspective.

Briefly then, some highlights from the first chapter:

“THEOLOGY IS FULL of definitions of things. One of the useful features of a systematic theology is that you can turn there and get quick definitions of terms such as justification, glorification, or hypostatic union. Definitions are useful, but we should be warned that they are rarely, if ever, found in Scripture itself. Such definitions are themselves theology in that they are the work of human beings trying to understand Scripture. This work is fallible, and theological definitions are almost never adequate in themselves to describe the complex ways in which language is used in the Bible.”  [1]

“In seeking a definition of theology, we need to emphasize not only its continuity with Scripture, but its discontinuity, too. The former is not difficult for orthodox Protestants: theology must be in accord with Scripture. But the latter is more difficult to formulate. Obviously, theology is something different from Scripture. It doesn’t just repeat the words of Scripture. So the main question about theology is this: what is the difference between theology and Scripture, and how can that difference be justified?” [2]

“In my view, the only possible answer is this: the theologian states the facts and truths of Scripture for the purpose of edification. Those truths are stated not for their own sake, but to build up people in Christian faith.” [3]

“In defining theology, it is not strictly necessary to align it with a single biblical term, but it is certainly an advantage when we can do this. I propose that we define theology as synonymous with the biblical concept of teaching, with all its emphasis on edification.” [4]

“Evangelical denominations and schools need to seek new methods of training people to teach theology, educational models that will force theologian candidates to mine Scripture for edifying content. To do this, they may need to cut themselves off, in some degree, from the present-day academic establishment. And to do that, they may have to cut themselves off from the present-day accreditation system, which seeks to make theological seminaries conform more and more to the standards of the secular academic establishment.” [5]

So, for Frame at least, Theology must be bible based, done primarily for the purpose of edification (or the ‘building up’) of the church (understood as the people of God rather than a literal building or institution), and to some extent detached from contemporary secular academic endeavours and/or paradigms/methods/assumptions/ways of thinking.

I’m intrigued to see how these core convictions play out in his treatment of systematics, and how this interacts with various different scholarly perspectives on the same subject matter.

Comments welcome.

M

1. Frame, John M, “Systematic Theology: An introduction to Christian belief” (Kindle edition, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, USA, P&R Publishing Company, P.O. Box 817: 2013) Loc 1115.

2. Frame, Systematic Theology. Loc 1203.

3. Ibid.

4. Frame, Systematic Theology, Loc 1215.

5. Frame, Systematic Theology, Loc 1310.