10 Things You Didn’t Know About John Frame

We all know John Frame is a brilliant theologian and a prolific author, but here are ten things you likely didn’t know about him, as revealed in a personal bit published at the end of the new book, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1 (P&R, April 2014), 290–2:

  1. [As a family] we listened faithfully to Pittsburgh Pirate games from 1950–56, when the team had the worst record in baseball.
  2. As treasurer in our youth group, I used to harangue the kids every week to bring a quarter for the offering.
  3. The height of my piano study was Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto. On the organ I played over half the organ works of J. S. Bach.
  4. During my high-school years, I was on the verge of accepting an organ position at a Christian Science church, but chose instead a similar job at a Presbyterian church (PCUSA).
  5. I became a fundamentalist at Princeton, and more or less remain so. When I am called that, I’m not embarrassed at all.
  6. My first paper for Cornelius Van Til was 125 pages. People had told me that Van Til graded by weight. So I added seventy-five pages to some material from my Princeton thesis. He gave me an A, and that is what brought me to the attention of the Westminster Seminary faculty.
  7. My priorities for ministry were (a) missions, (b) pastorate, (c) academic theology. A visit to mission fields in 1960 ruled out (a). A year and two summers of pastoral experience ruled out (b). So I embraced (c) by default, as God’s calling.
  8. At Yale, I was bored to death by modern theologians. Still am.
  9. In my early career, I felt a strong tension between my interests and my abilities. The former were focused in practical ministry; the latter were almost completely academic. God has helped me to resolve the tension by writing up academic theological theories that glorify practical ministry.
  10. I did not marry until I was forty-five. God was preparing someone special.


Do All Humans Descend from Adam and Eve?

John Frame, in his forthcoming 1,280-page Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (P&R; Nov. 15), writes (805–6):

We should consider the possibility that Adam and Eve, though historical figures, were not literally the first parents of all present-day human beings. C. John Collins considers the suggestion that Adam and Eve may not have been the first human beings, but rather “king and queen” of a tribe. In this case, the passages referring to their special creation (Gen. 2:7; 21–22) would likely (though not necessarily) be intended figuratively, representing God’s investiture of this couple with special qualities (the image of God) and a special vassal kingship, including the covenant headship of Adam over the existing human race.

Covenant headship in Scripture does not necessarily presuppose biological parenthood: the relation of Christ to his people is adoptive. And such a hypothesis would more adequately explain some perplexing data of the Genesis history:

(1) Cain’s fear in Genesis 4:14 that someone might kill him to avenge his murder of Abel;
(2) Cain’s obtaining a wife in 4:17;
(3) Cain’s founding a city in 4:17 and the rapid development of culture, agriculture, and technology thereafter.

These data are not impossible to explain if we assume (as theologians traditionally have done) that Adam and Eve had many, many sons and daughters in addition to Cain, Abel, and Seth. But the supposition of a tribe or community contemporary with Adam and Eve makes the history somewhat easier to understand.

On such an interpretation we would also have to take figuratively the statement in Genesis 3:20 that Eve “was the mother of all living.” Of course in Scripture “father” and “mother” do not always refer to biological parentage. Scripture sometimes refers to kings and other authority figures as fathers and mothers, and certainly adoptive parents have the right to these titles. So it is not inconceivable that Genesis 3:20 refers to Eve as the mother of the human nation, given that status and title by God’s covenant investiture.

But the development of such interpretive hypotheses is in its infancy, and certainly no such interpretation should be made normative in the church.

On the other hand, we must also consider the possibility that the scientific consensus in favor of an original human race of thousands is wrong. Science constantly changes, and there is no place for the cocksureness with which some have insisted on this consensus view. The genetic arguments, like all scientific judgments about the past, are based on models, and the assumptions governing these models can be, and are being questioned.

It is interesting to note that the consensus among evolutionary scientists about the numbers of original humans have actually decreased — from millions to thousands. And if it is true that 150,000 years ago there were, say, 10,000 modern humans on the earth, that is a remarkable fact. Evolutionary scientists have generally thought that common characteristics imply common ancestry. Why should they not seek a genealogy of human characteristics earlier than the 10,000, that would account for the 10,000?

If the 10,000 sprang out of nowhere, their genesis begins to sound much like special creation. But if their genesis had a backstory, a backstory presumably different from the usual process of genetic transmission, couldn’t that backstory lead to a single couple?

Extrabiblical Books and Scripture’s Sufficiency

Without extrabiblical literature we cannot make use of the Bible, argues John Frame. He makes this point in a chapter on the sufficiency of scripture (ch 32) in his new book, The Doctrine of the Word of God (P&R, 2010), 220–238. On pages 232–233, Frame writes this of our need of extrabiblical books in order to properly apply Scripture to our lives:

All our use of Scripture depends on our knowledge of extrabiblical data. Scripture contains no lessons in Hebrew or Greek grammar. To learn that, we must study extrabiblical information. Similarly, the other means that enable us to use Scripture, such as textual criticism, text editing, translation, publication, teaching, preaching, concordances, and commentaries, all depend on extrabiblical data. So in one sense even the first premises of moral syllogisms, the normative premises, depend on extrabiblical knowledge. So without extrabiblical premises, without general revelation, we cannot use Scripture at all.

Then he writes:

None of those considerations detracts from the primacy of Scripture as we have described it. Once we have a settled conviction of what Scripture teaches, that conviction must prevail over all other sources of knowledge. So Scripture must govern even the sciences that are used to analyze it: textual criticism, hermeneutics, and so on. … Scripture must remain primary. …

Frame’s argument culminates here:

Certainly, it is a misunderstanding, then, to think that the sufficiency of Scripture rules out the necessity of extrabiblical information. At every stage of our use of Scripture, we should legitimately refer both to the content of Scripture and to extrabiblical revelation. But each in its proper place: when we are convinced that a teaching is the teaching of Scripture itself (even when we used extrabiblical information in reaching that conviction), that teaching must take precedence over any conclusion derived from outside Scripture.

Ethics course with John Frame

Thanks to Dr. Richard Pratt and his organization thirdmill.org a number of seminary-level courses are available online (for free) and ethics with Frame is one of the offerings. Titled “Making Biblical Decisions” the 10-part course is nearly 10 hours in length and includes the following sessions:

  • Ethics in Scripture
  • Normative Perspective: God and His Word
  • Normative Perspective: The Attributes of Scripture
  • Normative Perspective: Parts and Aspects of Scripture
  • The Situational Perspective: Revelation and Situation
  • Situational Perspective: Pursuing Our Goal
  • Situational Perspective: Understanding the Facts
  • The Existential Perspective: Being Good
  • The Existential Perspective: Intending Good
  • Existential Perspective: Choosing Good

The lectures are all currently available as video downloads and many of them are available as mp3 audio downloads, too. But getting to the files can be like buttoning the cuff of a shirt sleeve. Here’s how to find them: Click here and let the page fully load. Then look for the link that reads “Making Biblical Decisions” (see near the bottom of the left-hand column).

On a related note, Frame is the author of a very helpful textbook on ethics, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (1,100 pages!). It’s worth owning and reading carefully.

Book review: Salvation belongs to the Lord by John M. Frame (1596380187)

Book review:

Salvation belongs to the Lord by John M. Frame

God is in sovereign control. He has the right to tell people what to do and what not to do. He is powerful, wonderful, holy and awesome (in the true sense of the word). This big-God matrix frames everything else in John Frame’s new systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord.

Written in a warm, conversational, and engaging style for readers, Frame explains the main subjects of systematic theology. It is a great book for beginners, though the content is consistent with seminary level courses.

The content is very similar to Wayne Grudem’s, Systematic Theology. Frame considers Grudem “The best one-volume systematic theology written in recent years” (p. 351), and quotes him in many areas. The two however, do not agree on all things. Frame writes from a cessational perspective and Grudem from the charismatic.

The book is divided into two halves: (1) objective and unrepeated and (2) the subjective and the repeated. For example, the division is between the incarnation of Christ (unrepeated in history) and regeneration (repeated over and over in history with each believer).

I especially enjoyed the section on the church. He argues for a plurality of elders in each church, and his section on church discipline is very clear and helpful. Frame explains not only how to do church discipline, but why church discipline is important. He writes,

“There are at least three purposes of discipline. The first is to restore a sinning believer (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 5:5; Gal. 6:1; 1 Tim. 1:20; James 5:20) … church discipline is not a cruel thing but a loving thing. Second, discipline exists to deter such sins by others, to instruct the congregation as to what is and is not acceptable (Heb. 12:15; 1 Cor. 5:2, 6-7; 1 Tim. 5:20). Third, discipline exists to protect the honor of Christ and his church (Rom. 2:24; 1 Cor. 6:6; Eph. 5:27). When churches ignore sin, the world despises them and the reputation of Jesus Christ himself is dragged through the mud” (p. 243).

This excerpt reveals the biblical depth, firm convictions, and pastoral concern of Frame in engaging and contemporary words. The entire book is marked with these characteristics.

The book is solidly reformed, quotes frequently from the Westminster Confessions, and uses the ESV translation. Frame is not shy about rebuffing falsehoods like Roman Catholic ‘justification’ and annihilationalism. He argues for padobaptism and sides with Postmillinialists. Frame displays a full awareness of the distinctions between errors that undercut the central tenants of biblical Christianity (justification) from secondary issues (like spiritual gifts and eschatology). He is strong and resolute on the first, and open and fair on the second.

John Frame has given us a wonderful gift. Such a high view of God’s holiness and Lordship; such a reminder of God’s presence with us; such an enjoyable read! I heartily recommend John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord.

Binding: Paperback
Pages: 383
Topical Index: yes (excellent)
Textual index: yes (excellent)
Bibliography: yes (excellent)
Photos: 0
Charts: 1
Reading level: Adult / moderate
Publisher: P&R
Price: $24.99
Where this book fits into my library:
(1) Systematic Theology > General

Salvation belongs to the Lord, John M. Frame, 978-1-59638-018-9, 9781596380189, 1596380187, 1-59638-018-7