Review: The Collected Works of John M. Frame, Volume 1: Theology
By James N. Anderson
“The Collected Works of John M. Frame, Volume 1: Theology” is as descriptive and accurate a title as one could want for an electronic library. The first of three volumes to be released, it contains all six of Frame’s books on theological topics:
- The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God is the first book in Frame’s ‘Theology of Lordship’ series. It’s essentially a detailed exploration of what Scripture has to say on the subject of epistemology: what knowledge is, what we can and do know, and how we know it.
- The Doctrine of God, the second in the ‘Lordship’ series, is an exposition of the attributes and character of the God of Scripture, centred on His self-designation as ‘Lord’ (Yahweh). Among other things, it contains lengthy discussions of the problem of evil and the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
- Salvation Belongs to the Lord is an introductory systematic theology, based on a survey course Frame was invited to teach in 2004. As modern evangelical STs go, it isn’t a competitor to the weighty volumes by, e.g., Wayne Grudem and Robert Reymond, but neither is it intended to be. In keeping with Frame’s other writings, it’s clear, concise, reliable, readable, and edifying.
- No Other God is Frame’s critique of Open Theism, the revisionist view of God promoted by Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Greg Boyd, and others. One of the features that distinguishes it from other classical theist responses to openness theology is that it is explicitly and unashamedly Reformed. A large part of the book is devoted to refuting one of the driving presuppositions of Open Theism, namely, libertarian human freedom.
- The Amsterdam Philosophy is one of Frame’s earliest publications: a short but penetrating critical assessment of the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd and his followers. It isn’t as relevant today as it was in 1972, but it remains instructive as a critique of an influential movement that tended to put philosophy rather than Scripture in the driving seat.
- Perspectives on the Word of God contains the text of three lectures delivered at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1988, applying (with relative brevity) Frame’s triperspectivalism to the subjects of divine revelation and ethics. As such, it offers a preview of the final two volumes in the ‘Lordship’ series: The Doctrine of the Word of God and The Doctrine of the Christian Life.
I’ve only summarised the content of these books, since full reviews of most of them are readily available elsewhere and this is intended to be a review of the “Collected Works” as a software product. The collection also contains dozens of articles and book reviews by Frame (both published and unpublished), numerous lecture outlines and other study resources, not to mention over 70 hours of audio lectures in MP3 format. Rather than exploring these, it might be more helpful to say a few words about the person behind these works, for the value of the collection as a whole lies ultimately in the distinctive qualities of its author. (If you’re familiar with Frame’s triperspectivalism, you can think of this as a review from the ‘existential’ perspective!)
In my judgement, John Frame is a model Christian scholar. One of his most admirable traits is his unswerving commitment to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word — in practice as well as in theory. Sad to say, too many Christian scholars today pay little more than lip service to the orthodox Christian doctrine of Scripture. Not so with Frame, whose writings are soaked in careful biblical exegesis. His high view of Scripture is evident in one of his earliest published articles (’No Scripture No Christ’, 1972) in which he argues that professing Jesus as Lord and Saviour commits one to believing in “an inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible”. Frame’s commitment to Scripture is broad as well as deep; it’s clear from his works that he wants to take the whole counsel of God into account on any subject he studies.
Frame’s writings evidence a commitment not only to Scripture as inspired and authoritative, but to the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura — that is, to Scripture as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Although he has a healthy respect for Christian tradition, and particularly for the confessional Reformed tradition with which he identifies, Frame is prepared to deviate from tradition at any point where he is persuaded that Scripture speaks otherwise (or, in some cases, does not speak at all). One example is provided by his writings on worship, where he has defended some views at odds with the majority Reformed tradition. Likewise, Frame is quite willing to expose a naked Emporer or two when the need arises (see, e.g., his discussion of ‘anti-abstractionism’ in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God).
Other commendable qualities include his prioritizing of the church over the academy and his desire to serve the church through his scholarship. His own definition of theology as “the application of God’s Word by persons to the world and to all areas of human life” underlines his concern to do theology that is both relevant and practical (in the best senses). Moreover, Frame’s approach to any subject always carries a refreshing air of commonsense. While not afraid to defend unpopular views, his natural inclination is to be skeptical of extremes, ‘movement’ mentalities, and reductionisms. His instinct is to simplify an issue so far as the data will allow and no further.
As for style, Frame’s writings are exemplary in their structure and organisation (as the ‘analytical outlines’ provided in his ‘Lordship’ books illustrate), not to mention their clarity of expression. Some theologians write so obliquely that it’s hard enough to know what they’re actually claiming, never mind whether or not you agree with them! Agree or disagree with Frame’s conclusions, at least you’ll be clear on what those conclusions are and how he reached them.
On the topic of disagreement, Frame’s critical engagement with other thinkers is also worthy of emulation. He invariably strives to interpret their views in the most charitable and plausible way before offering criticisms. He’s respectful toward the person but can be forceful about the virtues and vices of their position. (I’m reminded here of one lecture in which he gave a very fair and charitable exposition of the work of one influential 20th-century theologian, commending various aspects of his thought, before concluding — apparently with some sadness — that in the final analysis this theologian had to be judged a “false teacher” because of his distortion of the gospel.)
So then, at the risk of tautology, I want to suggest that “The Collected Works of John M. Frame” are worth owning primarily because they are the collected works of John M. Frame, an exemplary Christian thinker. But why own them in electronic format? As a dyed-in-the-wool bibliophile, I find that there’s no substitute for a bundle of printed pages. Nevertheless, there are numerous advantages to having these works on DVD or CD-ROM:
- The entire collection is searchable. In effect, you have instant access Frame’s studied thoughts on any topic on which he has written.
- All in-text Bible references link directly to the Bible translation of your choice within the Libronix viewer application. (The library comes with KJV and ASV; other translations can be purchased.)
- According to the publisher, the cost of the same works in print would be well in excess of $600. The electronic library thus represents a saving of over 50%.
- The collection also contains MP3 audio lectures that can be copied directly onto your iPod (or cheap alternative, as in my case).
- Many of the articles, reviews, etc., would otherwise be difficult (and often expensive) to obtain.
- An electronic library is considerably more portable (and replaceable) than a physical library! (This first volume fits on 3 CD-ROMs.)
- Unlike some electronic versions of published books, all of the books in this collection are paginated, so they can be cited just as if they were the wood-pulp editions.
It should be clear that I consider the “Collected Works” to be a wonderful resource, and I look forward to obtaining the second and third volumes (’Apologetics’ and ‘Christian Life’, due in 2008 and 2009 respectively). I have only two minor complaints. The first is that the Libronix interface isn’t as intuitive to use as it could be; it took me some time to figure out how to access its different features. The second is that it’s not immediately obvious how to access the audio lectures (although this may be a consequence of the way I happened to install the library). Still, these are no more than specks of dust on a bed of diamonds.
© 2008. Used by permission.