Constant Evaluation

Or, John Frame as an example of how we ought to read carefully.

September 13, 2016Filed under Theology#classwork#m.div.#reading#sebtsMarkdown source

I’m reading John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life, and find a great deal to commend in it, but also some real head-scratchers. The same page, for example (287), includes both of these quotes—

On rejecting mere traditionalism:

This [Paul’s example of self-sacrifice for evangelism] means that in our evangelistic methodology, and indeed in our worship (for that also has an evangelistic element, [1 Corinthians] 14:24–25), our goal must not be to please ourselves, but to bend and stretch, toa ccept discomfort and the trauma of change, in order to speak the Christian faith to the contemporary world.

On the Fathers:

We have had much more time to study Scripture than did the early church fathers like Clement and Justin Martyr. And in some ways, I think, contemporary orthodox Reformed theology has a far deeper and more precise understanding of the gospel than did the church fathers. I say this contrary to those evangelicals who are joining Eastern Orthodox churches in order to return to the supposedly more profound teachings of the early church fathers. Although the Fathers did wonderful work in their day, standing heroically for the faith amid terrible oppressions, their writings were confused on many important points, such as the Trinity and justification by faith. (287)

The first quote is an excellent summary of the Christian obligation to continually reapply the testimony of Scripture to the present. The book is full of these kinds of enormously helpful bits; I have written far more ✓ than ✗ marks—i.e., many more affirmations than rejections—in this text.

But that second quote makes me want to bang my head against the desk. When Frame waves his hand at “the Fathers” and declares “their writings” “confused on… the Trinity and justification by faith,” I am left saying: Which Fathers? and, even more importantly, Frame, where do you think we got our doctrine of the Trinity, if not the Fathers? To be sure, there is plenty of variation in quality and reliability of the Fathers. Origen is a brilliant, fascinating hot mess of a theologian, for example, while Irenaeus, Hillary, Augustine, Athanasius, and others are no less sure or reliable than any major Reformed author. Moreover: reading early Reformed writers makes it very clear that they thought the Fathers broadly reliable and helpful!

Every author has strengths and weaknesses. Even the most helpful require constant evaluation.