The Doctrine of the Word of God

John Frame P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ November 1, 2010
Purchase

Frame holds the J. D. Trimble chair of systematic theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. This volume is the fourth and final installment in his Theology of Lordship series. His previous volumes focused on the knowledge of God, attributes and names of God, and the Christian life. In this volume the focus is on God’s Word. As Frame writes in the preface, he had intended to develop this work more fully, but reflecting on his own mortality led him to publish the present draft as “a more concise version of what I had originally hoped to write” (p. xxvii), with the hope that later he could expand it further.

In its present form nearly half the pages are devoted to appendixes, and about half of the seventeen appendixes are extended book reviews. While reading his interactions with authors like N. T. Wright and Peter Enns is helpful, future editions may benefit from having these insights integrated into the body of the text and discussed with related topics. Most, if not all, of the appendixes seem to be included in the present volume because they are related to the topic, not necessarily because they were written expressly for this book.

In part 1 Frame states his thesis: “God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us” (p. 3). “The main contention of this volume,” says Frame, “is that God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another” (p. 3). The biblical story is “a story of God speaking to people personally, and people responding appropriately or inappropriately” (p. 5). Because of this, “the idea that God communicates with human beings in personal words pervades all of Scripture, and it is central to every doctrine of Scripture” (p. 6). This is the basis of Frame’s “personal-word” model of divine communication, of which the present book is an “exposition and defense” (p. 6).

The book’s structure then proceeds along Frame’s triperspectival ordering. Part 2 is Frame’s situational perspective, “the theological situation in which we teach and preach the authority of God’s word” (p. 13). In chapter 3 he discusses modern views of revelation and presents a short historical survey. In chapter 4 he discusses the relationship of revelation and reason, and in chapter 5 he examines revelation and history with particular attention to Karl Barth’s dualistic concept of history. In chapter 6 he turns to the relationship between revelation and human subjectivity, interacting with Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, and Barth. Chapter 7 concludes the section with an observation that chapters 4–6 have presented “three aspects of a single approach, one that subordinates God’s personal words to human autonomous thought,” involving aspects that are “more right in what they affirm than in what they deny” (p. 40).

In part 3 Frame turns his focus to the normative perspective, which uses the voice of God in His word as the norm for teaching the doctrine of Scripture. Realizing some may find that argument inappropriately circular, Frame explains that “circularity is necessary when any system of thought seeks to defend its first principle, its supreme authority” (p. 46). Chapter 8 presents Frame’s definition of the Word of God. On Frame’s understanding, the Bible is the Word of God, but it is not the “only word of God that has ever been spoken” (p. 47). The category “Word of God” is larger than Scripture because Scripture “does not exhaust the word of God” (p. 47). Therefore Frame defines “word of God” as “God himself, understood as communicator” and “the sum total of his free communications with his creatures” (p. 49). Furthering his triperspectival analysis of God’s word, Frame discusses in chapter 9 God’s word as His controlling power; chapter 10 sees God’s word as His meaningful authority; and chapter 11 sees God’s word as His personal presence.

Part 4, Frame’s existential perspective on God’s word, is the longest section and is the heart of the book. Titled “How the Word Comes to Us,” this section presents Frame’s understanding of “how the word gets from God’s mind to our hearts” (p. 69). It is thirty-five chapters in length and is itself divided triperspectivally into the different “media” in which God’s word comes to us. The three divisions are God’s word through events, words, and persons that correspond to Frame’s perspectives of the situational, normative, and existential. Interestingly the chapters on the media through which God’s word comes to people mirror the chapters in part 2 that surveyed the modern theological landscape. Seeing God’s word come through events corresponds to seeing a relationship between revelation and history (chap. 5); seeing God’s word through words corresponds to revelation through reason (chap. 4); and seeing God’s word through persons corresponds to revelation through human subjectivity (chap. 6). The advantage of Frame’s triperspectival ordering is that he is able to see the value of what modern authors argued regarding revelation and God’s word, and it provides a framework that unites their observations into a coherent whole.

The majority of the content in part 4 is geared toward understanding God’s word through words. There is a single chapter on God’s word through events (chap. 13) before the focus turns to the divine voice (chap. 14) and then the prophets and apostles (chap. 15). From there Frame presents a “whirlwind” tour through the Old Testament (chaps. 17–20) and the New Testament (chap. 21), and then discusses issues related to canon (chap. 22), inspiration (chaps. 23–25), inerrancy (chap. 26), and the clarity, necessity, comprehensiveness, and sufficiency of Scripture (chaps. 27–32). Frame even covers issues related to text criticism and transmission of Scripture (chaps. 33–41). Chapters 42–44 shift the focus toward discussing God’s word through persons. Two chapters then present a summarization and an epilogue.

This book may well be the best concise resource on the doctrine of Scripture to be published recently. Frame covers the doctrine thoroughly, and the appendixes add additional discussion topics as well as his helpful reviews and interactions with other popular approaches to the doctrine of Scripture. While future editions of this book may be expanded by Frame as time allows, the precision and clarity of this present volume actually works to its advantage. Frame covers much ground and gets right to the point on a lot of topics. Certainly some will look forward to further elaborations, but as it stands, this book provides an excellent resource to help theologians young and old, professional and amateur, fully understand the doctrine of the word of God.

—Nate Claiborne with Glenn R. Kreider

January 1, 2012
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2012 vol. 169 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

Subscribe Today