A couple of months back, I introduced the review series for John Frame’s Systematic Theology. Then, a few weeks ago, we looked at the first part, Introduction to Systematic Theology. Today, we’re looking at the second section, “The Biblical Story.” Much like Bird’s placement of eschatology in his systematic, Frame puts his discussion of the kingdom of God sooner rather than later. Before that, he explains his understanding of the covenants.
The Lord’s Covenants
Frame thinks that “a preliminary sweep over its landscape” is important before a detailed study of the theology of Scripture (53). This helps to set the context, which is important to avoid the negative version of proof-texting. Frame is for proof-texting, when it is done right. What he means is that “anyone who seeks to validate a theological idea must be willing to show where his idea comes from in Scripture” (55).
To set the context, Frame sees three valid perspectives. Under one, you can map the landscape of Scripture according to the covenants. This is the focus of the current chapter. The other perspectives are the Kingdom of God and the family of God, the next two chapters. Attentive readers will notice this is Frame’s normative (covenant), situational (kingdom), and existential (family) perspectives on the biblical terrain.
As he moves through the chapter, Frame unpacks the following covenants:
- The Eternal Covenant of Redemption (among the persons of the Trinity)
- The Universal Covenant (God’s covenant with creation in general)
- The Edenic Covenant (God’s covenant with Adam and Eve in particular)
- The Covenant of Grace
- The Noahic Covenant
- The Abrahamic Covenant
- The Mosaic Covenant
- The Davidic Covenant
- The New Covenant
With a list of covenants that would make a dispensationalist proud, Frame offers an extensive map of Scripture. I think it is a bit hard to prove a formal covenant on the universal scale. Likewise, the eternal covenant of redemption, to me, is ontologically problematic. In normal person speak, it is hard to have a covenant among the persons of the Trinity before creation. That is unless you are comfortable with the covenant being somehow part of the divine nature. The concept can help explain the intentions of God in creation and election. But it is perhaps a stretch to suggest an actual covenant existed. Scripture suggests plans, but does not invoke the concept.
Beyond this, readers will find Frame’s exposition of the other covenants helpful and concise. If you want a good overview of the covenants in Scripture, Frame provides just that. He will help you see how they make up the framework of the Old Testament. In the end, he makes a case for how the time-transcending covenants (Eternal, Universal, and New) are triperspectivally related (you can guess how).
The Kingdom of God
Having parsed Scripture according to the covenants, Frame turns to doing the same according to the kingdom. This is Bruce Waltke’s organizing motif in his Old Testament Theology (which is the best you can buy), and it’s a good one. Waltke’s focus is on the irruption of the kingdom of God as Scripture moves along. All I could think of was Van Halen, and how much I needed to improve my tapping. Frame’s approach here is more generalized and less exhaustive. He explains the overlap of the ages, as well as the theme of God and then Christ as king. This leads to a discussion of the gospel of the kingdom, as well as the distinction between law and gospel. For Frame, this entails a short deconstruction of two kingdom theology. In case you didn’t know, Frame is not a fan of it, especially the kind that emanates from Escondido.
The Family of God
Finally, to complete the triangle, Frame offers a third map. This time, he focuses on the family of God and God as Father. This is a much more intimate understanding. Whereas in the covenant, God is Lord, and the kingdom God is King, in the family God is Father. To underscore this, Frame spends a considerable amount of chapter space explaining why God is Father and not Mother. As the footnotes flex their muscles, Frame points out the use of feminine images in Scripture. But, he explains the theological importance of masculine imagery. For Frame, it comes down to Father as a revealed title, feminine imagery is understand of light of that, not the other way around.
Overall, this section offers the helpful context Frame aimed to provide. The covenants receive the primary extended focus, while kingdom and family motifs receive much shorter space. While they could each receive more exposition, this does fit with the biblical emphasis (for the most part). The covenants loom large in the Old Testament. Kingdom connects the two testaments. Family is more of the focus in the New Testament. In this way, God’s relationship with his human creatures grows more intimate. Frame provides connective tissue for holding together our understanding of Scripture. He also sets the stage well for his next section on the doctrine of God. Whereas this section was around 70 pages, the next is almost 400. Because of that, I’ll be breaking it into two treatments, which you can look forward to next month.