Next Step Resources, Inc. is the publisher of a new book on Norman Shepherd and the controversy that led to his dismissal from Westminster Theological Seminary. The author of Trust and Obey is Ian Lewiston and John Frame writes the foreword. Why a company that specializes in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School materials would publish a dissertation from an obscure academic institution (Highland Theological College) is anyone’s guess, almost as hard to fathom as Nelson Kloosterman’s endorsement of the book:
From this point forward, only the person who has read Ian Hewitson’s study deserves to speak and be heard … The Ninth Commandment requires nothing less.
But Frame’s foreword is more arresting that Kloosterman’s blurb if only because of the contrast between sympathy for a man who botched the gospel and hostility to men who don’t agree about Christ and culture. On the one hand, Frame agrees with Hewiston’s assessment of Shepherd:
[His] credentials — his moral integrity, personal courage and humility, impeccable scholarship, and commitment to the authority of Scripture — have given to the church and to the academy the pattern for Christian piety and scholarship. His commitment to, and passion for, “exploring the riches of divine revelation” coupled with his recognition that systematic theology is never a finished science, will provide a sure defense against “heterodoxy” for succeeding generations.
On the other hand, on closer inspection Sheperd’s scholarship may not be the bulwark against heterodoxy that Hewiston alleges. For when Frame comes to the specifics of Shepherd’s teaching he does an intellectual impression of Michael Jackson’s moonwalk (that’s the one where he walks backwards, right?):
I think Shepherd was right about James 2:14-26, but he should have presented it not as a new idea but as Reformed tradition: “It’s faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is never alone.” I can’t imagine that such a way of putting it would have aroused the controversy that Shepherd’s view raised. But to some extent, he evidently wanted to create controversy, since he believed that typical evangelical, Lutheran, Baptist, and even Presbyterian preaching, for example, wrongly pitted grace and faith against gospel obedience. . . .
Further, I am not convinced of Shepherd’s view of election, or of his more recent denial of the imputation of Christ’s active righteousness. Still, even on these matters, Shepherd made serious arguments based on the Scriptures and Reformed confessional tradition, better on the whole, I believe, than those of his critics.
Frame’s mention of Shepherd’s faults may sound pretty negative but Frame bails out his former colleague by concluding that Shepherd bettered his critics. Frame fails to mention that Shepherd’s argument and scholarship did not persuade Frame. But then, no one ever pleases John Frame.
Logic aside, Frame’s foreword is striking. He is willing to add his name in support of a biased account of the Shepherd controversy. He is also willing to vouch in glowing terms for Shepherd’s scholarship even though justification has come under serious attack for the last thirty years. (He also doesn’t mind that Shepherd, one of Machen’s would-be warrior children was combative.) But when it comes to two-kingdom theology, Frame is more than willing to take off the gloves over a topic that is hardly the main hinge on which religion turns.
The reasons remain obscure.