Okay, remember this is a blog and most of the posts here are merely thinking out loud. And if all of us revealed all of our thoughts, we would likely surprise — even shock — many of those who know us.
So here is today’s conundrum: why is it that John Frame is almost as popular as Tim Keller? I say almost because TKNY obviously rocks. Yes, I concede a degree of envy. Any human, aside from Bryan Cross, would. Keller may not have the looks and charisma of a Billy Graham (neither does Frame nor — all about me — do I), but from his perch in NYC, the cosmopolitan capital of the world (for New Yorkers anyway, I’m not sure that Londoners or Romans or Istanbulus agree), and with his steady stream of books on the front shelves of national book chains and his easy access to religion journalists who don’t want to travel to Wheaton or Waco to report on evangelicalism, Keller is remarkably useful.
But what about John Frame? He has not (nor have I) been on any of the major conference circuits (Ligonier, T4G, TGC, ACE), he is not (nor am I) an exceptionally riveting speaker, and he has not (nor have I) broken through to the secular trade book market. Plus, for the last 30 years or so, he has labored in remarkably out of the way places (so have I) — the d’oh!s of Escondido and Oviedo. And yet, he continues to be the leading systematic theologian among evangelical Presbyterians. World magazine’s recent recognition of Frame’s Systematic Theology offers support for this conclusion.
Could it be that Frame’s appeal stems from his biblical literalism and devotional pietism? According to Paul Helm, these are the chief attributes of Frame’s body of work:
What motivates Frame’s theological work? I’d say, besides what has already been mentioned, a hermeneutic. The Bible, particularly the Bible’s language about God, is to be interpreted literally wherever possible. The genre of literal description is to prevail unless there s a very strong reason to disallow it. As Kevin Vanhoozer might say, the spirit of Carl Henry lives in KJV’s old teacher, John Frame. So wherever possible what God is said to be in Scripture, God literally is.
This hermeneutic is in evidence in Frame’s attitude to change in God, and to his various perspectives in time and in space, as we saw in our earlier piece on Frame’s outlook. ‘When he is present in our world of time, he looks at his creation from within and shares the perspectives of his creatures’. (570 ) ‘God engages in a conversation with man, as an actor in history. The author of history has written himself into the play as the lead character, and he interacts with other characters, doing what they do.’ (571) It would not be surprising if Frame has imbibed some of the modern outlook of the Christian religion as consisting in personal interaction between God and his creatures, despite holding that if one rejects libertarianism then the strongest argument for God being in time vanishes.
As already noted, another strong theme in Frame’s systematic theology is his concern that theology should be readily applied in the life of the believer. This is understood as having an everyday relationship with God as he interacts with his people. Such an interactive God must change, he thinks. It is important for obvious reasons that theology should be user-friendly, though it should not be forgotten that, say, Stephen Charnock’s Existence and Attributes of God contains numerous ‘applications’ in the Puritan style. Charnock’s theology is by no means purely cerebral. And – while we are on the topic – the nature of the worship of God will clearly be affected by the worshippers understanding of God. Worshipping a God who is at our shoulder is likely to be different from worshipping one who is simply ‘Our Father in heaven’. But that’s another topic.
As insightful as the post is, I do disagree with Helm’s opening that Frame “generally does not present his views polemically.” That may be true for his systematic theology, but once a warrior child it’s hard to avoid the combat.