When Biblicism Fails

Back in the day before Bryan Cross I was debating John Frame on worship. His tack was to say that his brief for contemporary worship was biblical while those who criticized Praise & Worship worship (note redundantly the redundancy) were simply historical or traditional. The innuendo was that Frame’s critics were in the position of Rome’s defenders of tradition while he was the one continuing the reformation of the church.

The trouble was that Frame rarely did exegesis. He could put biblical references in parentheses, but I took enough Greek and Hebrew to know that an open and closed parenthesis does not exegesis make.

Turns out that Mark Jones agrees in his review of Frames ginormous Systematic Theology:

It almost appears as though the “Bible-alone” approach handicaps Frame in places where he needs the Reformed tradition most. John Murray was radically biblical, but he was also vigorously exegetical, and did not simply engage in proof-texting. Frame is radically biblical, but not (in this volume, at least) vigorously exegetical – something he needs to be if he is not going to engage in serious historical-theological analysis where he departs from his own tradition on important doctrines.

That observation makes it hard to understand how Jones could also write this:

No one can ever accuse Frame of not loving his Bible, and making it pre-eminent in his theological discourse. For that I am grateful. No wonder his writings have been hugely beneficial to the Reformed, evangelical world. This work has, as its crown jewel, much of Frame’s thought in one volume.

10 thoughts on “When Biblicism Fails

  1. Scott Clark—For context, Shepherd publicly taught justification “through faith and works” with the result that, after several years of confusion he was dismissed from WTS/P. Leithart is a signatory to the Joint FV Statement of 2007. Sandlin is a theonomic Federal Visionist. Armstrong began his public life as a “confessional evangelical” who served on the board of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He directed Reformation and Revival (including a journal) and edited books as part of that project. Since that time, however, he has moved rather dramatically. He’s now a minister in the RCA and has allied himself with the Federal Visionists and the Emergent (as distinct from Emerging) Church movement, which is a theologically and ecclesiastically “progressive”
    appropriation of pietism, biblicism, and moralism.



  2. Venema: Just as Christ was obliged to live in covenantal loyalty and faithfulness to God, Shepherd maintains, “so his followers must be faithful in order to inherit the blessing” (p. 19). As we have noted, Shepherd is even willing to speak of Christ’s obedient faith being “credited to him as righteousness” ….

    “But this kind of parallel between Christ’s faith and ours would mean that the believer’s inheritance in the covenant of grace finally depends upon his following Christ’s example. Salvation and blessing are the (non-meritorious, though earned?) reward of the covenant for those who keep the covenant’s conditions and stipulations. Missing from Shepherd’s discussion at this juncture are several key features of the historic Reformed view of salvation. Shepherd does not make it clear, for example, that the believer can only obtain eternal life upon the basis of the perfect obedience, satisfaction and righteousness of Christ alone received by faith alone (compare the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 23 & 24). Nor does he make it clear (indeed, on page 62 he seems to deny it) that the believer’s imperfect obedience, which Christ by his Spirit graciously works in him, adds nothing to the work of Christ in respect to his standing before God and right to eternal life. Rather, Shepherd argues that the traditional Reformed view, which insists that the (sinfully imperfect) good works of believers provide no basis for their acceptance before God, fails to do justice to the genuine obedience of believers (p. 62). By this argument he fails to appreciate the classic Reformed conviction that Christ’s work as Mediator of the covenant of grace constitutes the ONLY ground for the believer’s justification and sanctification before God.



  3. Preachers preach. Organists…organize. All pianists play, but some perform and make a spectacle. They do NOT lead worship. Frames clearly tells us that he loves music, he is about music, thus he must find a way to make his feelings about, towards, and from music central. His bias is apparent.


  4. The clarity thing mystifies me, but perhaps I’m easily mystified.

    This may sound uncharitable of me, and a mere dig, but in the classroom, and in print, I have never found Frame particularly clear.

    Triperspectivalism doesn’t really lend itself to clarity… unless you wear those trifocal corrective lenses.


  5. Is Frame “The Man” in the PCA? Do seminary students read his systematic theology? Is he frequently quoted in Sunday School classes and the like? Does he reflect the PCA mainstream? Honestly I’ve read just enough of him to be inoculated from the urge to read any more.


  6. I was a little puzzled by Jones’ review of Frame. Despite noting various problems with Frame’s ST, Jones failed to criticise Frame’s defence of Norman Shepherd. Given that Jones has just written a book attacking Tullian’s “Lutheran”/antinomian gospel…..am I adding two plus two and getting five?


  7. Re Frame in the PCA: It depends on who you talk to. Up here in the Pacific Northwest I hear about him often. I get the sense that there’s not a few PCA guys who see Frame as some sort of guru. Just look at the tribute book “Speaking The Truth in Love.” But maybe Frame isn’t that big a deal. He’s just one of many that often speak up just to bash the Old School.


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