The Theology of John M. Frame

Larger Frame Photo At least thirty or more years ago I began to read Professor John M. Frame. At the time I did not know him personally, or that much about him. I knew he taught at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and then at Westminster Seminary in California. I did not devour his work because I was too "denominationally chauvinistic" (a term John employs in his thinking about the downside of denominations) to get into a writer who was not in my own tribe. Over time I realized there were some great writers and teachers beyond my small circle of Christians and I began to read much more widely. (Two things will change your life for sure: (1) The people you meet; (2) The authors you read. Frame appealed to me because he was thoughtful and original, in a remarkably fresh way. He thought for himself and dared to raise great questions, albeit from within very conservative Reformed quarters.

Then I was invited to speak in chapel (on two different occasions) at Westminster in California. Before I spoke I noticed that there was this very happy, friendly guy who played the piano (or was it an organ) during the chapel service. I later asked, "Who was that man? He seemed to enjoy himself and was excited about leading us." The answer was, "O, that is Professor Frame." I was impressed. A professor who was delightful, happy, loved music and led worship. (Worship at many seminaries is notoriously routine and often dead and dull!)

In time I would get to know John and become his friend. We are not close, as in talking often and sharing our lives day-to-day, but we are friends. I respect John, indeed I pray for him and his family personally. When possible we have made time to get together and talk in person. We even shared the platform a few years ago, both speaking on the unity of the church at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. That was a particularly memorable time since I heard John speak in person, answer questions, respond to others in private, etc. I saw that this was a humble man, a lover of people and a faithful teacher who did his work for the benefit of the whole church, not just to write books and pay the bills. (Of course, he loves to write and needs to pay the bills!)

Frames CD Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company is presently preparing a festschrift (an academic volume of essays to honor a person) for Professor Frame. This volume will be released this November. I am writing an essay for this book, to be completed by June 22 if all goes well. My assignment is to write on the ecclesiology of Professor Frame. I have been reading and re-reading his work in this area the entire week. I have discovered, once again, how much I agree with Professor Frame but also several areas where I do not agree. If I didn't do both my essay would not be worth a great deal in my view.

The really neat thing about this work is Professor Frame himself. He knew that I would not be a "yes" voice but I would think for myself and respond accordingly. He knew this subject was my deep interest and that I had written a great deal more on this subject than he has. I demurred from this assignment at first but John really wanted me to do it. I am glad I said yes. I hope John agrees when he reads my essay, which is not subject to his approval.

Here is the central point I want to make (at least for now). John M. Frame is a humble theologian. He stands under the authority of Christ and the Word of God and listens to friend and foe alike. He is not defensive, angry or angular. He is open, filled with love and joy, and truly seeks the kingdom above all else. He thus welcomes disagreement and encourages discussion. This is all too rare among the academic theologians I have known over the years. (Saying this is not a blanket indictment since I could name dozens of good friends like John Frame who are humble and joyful theologians!) The point is to say that we need more men like John, men who do not take themselves too seriously while they take their work very seriously. Men who are teachable and yet faithful enough to tell their peers things they may not want to hear. (John is a PCA minister and writes and says things that some in the PCA do not like at all. He does this because he loves the church more than human opinion!)

Regardless of what I write for this essay over the next few days my friendship with John will not be altered one iota. (I will mostly agree with him so do not misunderstand my point.) In fact, during this process I have emailed John several times, to clarify a point or two, and his responses have reminded me of the man that I know and love behind the massive writing he has undertaken for a lifetime. John, my friend, I truly wish their were more theologians like you in the conservative Reformed world. My guess is that most of the enemies of this ecclesial community that I have met would be pleasantly shocked if they met a person like you. You would force them to hear what you are saying by the sheer power of your arguments joined with the force of your Christ-like humanness. Happy is the theologian who loves Christ, the church and cultivates humility and joy!