The Doctrine of the Word of God

September 9, 2011 — 3 Comments

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John Frame is the J.D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at RTS right here in Orlando (and by Orlando, I mean Oveido). He used to teach at Westminster California and before that, Westminster Philadelphia. He has, as some might say, been around the block, and is quite the prolific writer in the Reformed stream of theological reflection.

Overview

This volume is the fourth and final installment in his Theology of Lordship series. His previous volumes focused on the knowledge of God, God, and the Christian life. In this one, the focus is on God’s word. As Frame writes in the preface, he had intended to develop this work further, but reflecting on his own mortality led him to publish the present draft as is, “a more concise version of what I had originially hoped to write” (p. xxvii), with hopes of potentially expanding it at time allows.

As it stands, 684 pp may seem sufficient, but the text itself is actually only 334pp with an additional 300pp of appendices (17 total). Roughly half of the appendices are extended book reviews interacting with various other authors on the doctrine of Scripture. While helpful to read his interactions with authors like N. T. Wright and Peter Enns, future editions may benefit from having these insights integrated into the body of the text and discussed with related topics.
Most, if not all, of the appendices seem to be included in the present volume because they are topically related, not necessarily because they were written expressly for this book. Regardless, they are valuable additions, and perhaps the most helpful are Frame’s defense of theological method, a view he calls “something close to Biblicism,” and his critique of traditionalism.

In the body of the text itself, Frame splits the contents along his typical triperspectival ordering. Prior to that, part one presents a short introduction where Frame states his thesis, “that God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us” (p. 3). “The main contention of this volume,” says Frame, “is that God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another” (p. 3). For Frame, the biblical story is “a story of God speaking to people personally, and people responding appropriately or inappropriately” (p. 5). Because of this, “the idea that God communicates with human beings in personal words pervades all of Scripture, and it is central to every doctrine of Scripture” (p. 6). This is the basis of Frame’s “personal-word” model of divine communication, of which the present book is an “exposition and defense” (p. 6).

Given that focus, the book then proceeds along Frame’s triperspectival ordering. Part two is Frame’s situational perspective, “the theological situation in which we teach and preach the authority of God’s word” (p. 13). In this perspective, Chapter 3 covers modern views of revelation and presents a short historical survey. Chapter 4 discusses the relationship of revelation and reason, while chapter 5 examines revelation and history with particular attention to Karl Barth’s dualistic conception of history. Chapter 6 turns to the relationship between revelation and human subjectivity, interacting with the Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, and Barth again. Chapter 7 concludes the section with an observation that in the end, chapters 4-6 have presented “three aspects of a single approach, one that subordinates God’s personal words to human autonomous thought,” that are “more right in what they affirm than in what they deny” (p. 40).

In part three, Frame turns his focus to the normative perspective which uses the voice of God in his word as the “norm” for teaching our doctrine of Scripture. Realizing some may find that circular, Frame explains that “circularity is necessary when any system of thought seeks to defend its first principle, its supreme authority” (p. 46). Chapter 8 presents Frame’s definition of the Word of God. On Frame’s understanding, the Bible is the Word of God, but it is not the “only word of God that has ever been spoken” (p. 47 emphasis his). The category “Word of God” is larger than just Scripture because Scripture “does not exhaust the word of God” (p. 47). Therefore Frame defines “word of God” as “God himself, understood as communicator” and “the sum total of his free communications with his creatures” (p. 49). Further his triperspectival analysis of God’s word, in chapter 9 Frame discusses God’s word as His controlling power; chapter 10 sees God’s word as His meaningful authority; and chapter 11 sees God’s word as His personal presence.

While the first three parts comprise less than seventy pages, the last part, Frame’s existential perspective on God’s word is more than three times longer and is the bulk of the main body of the book. Titled “How the Word Comes to Us” part four presents Frame’s understanding of “how the word gets from God’s mind to our hearts” (p. 69). It is thirty-five chapters in length and is itself divided triperspectivally into the different “media” in which God’s word comes to us. The three divisions are God’s word through events, words, and persons which correspond to Frame’s perspectives of situational, normative, and existential. Interestingly, the chapters on the media through which God’s word comes to us mirror the chapters in part two which surveyed the modern theological landscape. Seeing God’s word come through events corresponds to seeing a relationship between revelation and history (chapter 5); seeing God’s word through words corresponds to revelation through reason (chapter 4); and seeing God’s word through persons corresponds to revelation through human subjectivity (chapter 6). The advantage of Frame’s triperspectival ordering is that he is able to see the value of what modern authors argued regarding revelation and God’s word but provide a framework that unites their observations into a more coherent whole.

Conceptually, Frame’s approach is more balanced, but the majority of the content in part four is geared toward understanding God’s word through words. There is a single chapter on God’s word through events (chapter 13) before the focus turns to the divine voice (chapter 14) and then the prophets and apostles (chapter 15). From there, it is a rather whirlwind tour through the Old Testament (chapters 17-20), the New Testament (chapter 21), and then issues related to canon (chapter 22), inspiration (chapter 23), as well as inerrancy (chapter 26), and the clarity, necessity, comprehensiveness, and sufficiency of Scripture (chapters 30-32). Frame even covers issues related to text criticism and transmission of Scripture (chapter 33-45), as well as so-called Bible problems (chapter 28). Chapters 42-44 then shift the focus toward discussing God’s word through persons before Frame presents two chapters of summarization and an epilogue.

Conclusion

It is not a stretch to say that this book may represent the best concise resource on the doctrine of Scripture to be published recently. Frame covers his bases well in working through the doctrine itself, and the appendices add additional discussion topics as well as his helpful reviews and interactions with other popular approaches to the doctrine of Scripture. While future editions of this book may be expanded by Frame as time allows, the precision and clarity of this present volume actually works to its advantage over the other volumes in the Theology of Lordship series. Frame is able to cover much ground and get right to the point on a lot of topics. Certainly some will look forward to further elaborations, but as it stands, this book provides an excellent resource for theologians young and old to fully understand the doctrine of the word of God.

Book Details

  • Author: John M. Frame
  • TitleThe Doctrine of the Word of God
  • PublisherP&R Publishing (November 1, 2010)
  • Hardcover: 684pg
  • Reading Level: Bible School/Seminary level (very smooth read)
  • Audience Appeal: Prophetic in orientation, but triperpsectival in explanation of this important doctrine
  • Gratis Review Copy: No

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Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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