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John Frame & Steve Childers record Q & A session for Applied Theology Project books and courses

Frame and Childers draw from their more than 70 combined years as seminary professors to help you renew your mind, heart, and life in this excerpt below from the first chapter and lesson in the Applied Theology Project: A Systematic Theologian and a Practical Theologian Apply Theology to Life by John Frame and Steve Childers. Sign up below to receive the latest updates.

So, Why Do We Study Theology?

We saw earlier how theology can be understood as a “study of God,” based on the meaning of the word theology. But the word logos, from which we get the word, theo-logy, conveys not only the idea of the study of God, but also the knowledge of God that is the result of that study. This brings us to a fuller  definition of theology as a study of God in Scripture to know God. But how can we, as mere creatures, know the creator? Isn’t it arrogant, or even delusional, even to claim we can know God?

Here we raise  another foundational pillar in our study of God. The Scriptures teach that God is incomprehensible. Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares his incomprehensible ways:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isa 55:8-9).”

In the New Testament, the Apostle echoes Isaiah when he writes,

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways (Rom 11:34-35)!”

Although the Scriptures teach God is incomprehensible, they also teach that God is knowable. Because God is incomprehensible does not mean he is unknowable. Of course, we cannot know God exhaustively and completely. Only God knows himself at that level. But we can still know God. Paul describes his knowledge now in comparison what his knowledge will be like in the age to come:

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Cor 13:12).”

Three Levels of Knowing God

Frame records lesson 19 of 24 in the Applied Theology Project.

In his classic book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer describes three types or levels of knowing God: 1) knowing about God, 2) Knowing about godliness, and 3) knowing God personally. These three ways of knowing God should not be understood as being contradictory but complementary. You must know about God in order to know about godliness and to know God. But the problem is you can know about God without being truly godly, and without really knowing God.

In all my (Steve) years as a seminary professor, I’ve known people who know far more about God than I’ll probably ever know. But I’m deeply sorry to say that some of them did not really know God. I’m not saying they were not sincere followers of Christ. But the testimony of almost all who were close to them, including their closest family and friends, is that they understood and taught the bible very well. But they did not seem to know the God of the bible very well.

Just as you can know a lot about a person and their ways and not really know that person, so you can know a lot about God and about godliness, i.e. spiritual disciplines, and not really know God. Our reason for studying theology is not merely to know about God and about godliness, but to know God personally.

Our reason for studying theology is not merely to know about God and about godliness, but to know God personally.

Prior to his conversion, the Apostle Paul knew a lot about God and godliness, he used the term righteousness, but he didn’t really know God. As part of his list of religious accomplishments, Paul included:

… circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Phil 3:5-6).

After reciting his prestigious, religious resume, giving clear evidence of his knowledge of God and godliness, Paul says he counts all that knowledge of God and godliness as nothing, in comparison with truly knowing Christ as Lord:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:8-11).

A Deeper Knowledge of God

The word Paul uses here for “knowing” Christ is the most common Greek word gnosis that can have a range of meanings according to its context.

Sometimes, when Paul wants to convey the idea of a deeper, more full, and intense knowledge, he uses the word epignosis adding the Greek preposition epi to the front of the Greek word for knowledge (gnosis).[1] In Colossians 1:9, Paul tells the Christians at Colossae that he is praying they will be filled with this deeper knowledge, saying:

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge (epignosis) of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

The deeper knowledge of God’s will Paul refers to here, is not just a general knowledge, but a knowledge rooted in “all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Sometimes, when Paul wants to convey the idea of a deeper, more full, and intense knowledge, he uses the Greek word epignosis.

We see this again, in Philippians 1:9, when Paul tells the Christians at Philippi what he is praying for them, using the same Greek word, epignosis:

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge (epignosis) and all discernment (Phil 1:9).”

The deeper knowledge Paul prays will be theirs is not merely a general knowledge, but a knowledge rooted in all discernment. When the Apostle Paul refers to the Jewish people, his dearly loved family and friends, he writes,

“ Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (Rom 10:1).”

Paul then describes the kind of knowledge about God that was held by his beloved Jews:

“For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (epignosis). For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness (Rom 10:2-4).”

Paul is saying that the Jews have a sincere knowledge and zeal about God and about godliness (righteousness), but it is not a true knowledge of God (epignosis).

Eternal Life is Knowing God

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, the Bible tells us He lifted up His eyes to heaven and prayed to the Father on behalf of all His followers, saying,

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).”

Although Jesus uses the more common word for knowledge here, gnosis, the context makes very clear that this knowledge of God is the very essence of eternal life–not merely knowing about God, or about godliness–but truly knowing God with a deeper, more personal, saving knowledge, that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Frame summarizes it for us this way: “If you say that theology is ‘knowing God,’ you make it a personal activity, rather than an academic one. Knowing God is something more than knowing about God. It is a personal relationship, like knowing a close friend.”

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[1] J.B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, London: Macmillan & Company, Limited, 1927, p. 136

After 49 years of distinguished service as a seminary professor at three seminaries, Dr. John Frame retired last month. He has been a mentor, faculty colleague, and dear friend–as our seminary offices have been next to each other for the last 17 years. He has distinguished himself as a prolific author and one of America’s foremost theologians and philosophers—significantly shaping the thought of Evangelicalism today.

Many of today’s most influential Christian leaders and authors, like Tim Keller and John Piper, readily acknowledge the significant impact John Frame has had on them. Although widely known and deeply respected in church leadership and academic circles for decades, his works are now, finally, becoming well known to the general public.

This is the fourth of a four-part series taken from Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.04.39 PMthe foreword I wrote for his book, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1, by P&R Publishing. I wrote this with the goal of helping to introduce Frame and his writings more widely to the general public, with the hope that more people would begin mining the rich theological, philosophical, and practical gems that have for too long been mostly in the hands of academics and church leaders.

“You are a gentleman and a scholar.” 

It’s a phrase used in the Catcher in the Rye. But it’s been used for centuries throughout the British Isles to describe a rare person worthy of being considered not only a scholar but also a gentleman. Not all scholars are gentlemen. Not all gentlemen are scholars. John Frame is both.

john_frame sketch

One would understandably think that a scholar with Frame’s intellectual rigor and theological acumen would likely carry with him an aura of haughtiness. Instead, as one who has had an office next to him since 2000, I can tell you firsthand that John is a man marked by a rare blend of remarkable intellect and authentic humility.[1]

He is a model of living out what he writes about in his popular booklet Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus[2] (his grandfatherly advice written originally for incoming students at RTS-Orlando).[3]

Those who engage John in theological or philosophical debate (and there are many) experience his charitable and fair spirit—his genuine willingness to take a serious look at both sides of an issue. He’s well known for treating an opposing view graciously and respectfully, even while deconstructing it.

Many don’t know that John is also a classically trained musician (piano and organ) and a critic of film, music, and other media. His passion for and writings on worship and music have provoked controversy, especially in Reformed circles, because he regards contemporary worship music, and even liturgical dance, as biblically permissible and even enjoyable in worship.

John often confuses people because on a Sunday he can enjoy leading a new church plant in informal worship by playing an electric keyboard as part of a contemporary music ensemble. Then on Wednesday of the same week, he can greatly enjoy leading the seminary community in formal worship by playing a sixteenth-century hymn on the majestic, custom-built organ in the RTS-O chapel. Chapter 38 of this book is titled

“Twenty-five Random Things That Nobody Knows about Me.”

This list came from a Facebook game that his students “dragged [him] into.” What I love about this final chapter is that it gives you a glimpse into the personal life of this renowned theologian and philosopher. Here are a few of my favorites:

#3: I was always the last guy chosen for sports teams, and with good reason.

#4: We listened faithfully to Pittsburgh Pirate games from 1950–56, when the team had the worst record in baseball.

#18: My priorities for ministry were (a) missions, (b) pastorate, (c) academic theology. A visit to mission fields in 1960 ruled out (a). A year and two summers of pastoral experience ruled out (b). So I embraced (c) by default, as God’s calling.

#23: I did not marry until I was forty-five. God was preparing someone special.

#24: In 1999, I led a worship team of myself, a saxophonist, and a trombonist. The other two musicians were in their late seventies, but we really rocked.

John has shared with me how he is sometimes concerned about spending so much time in the privacy of his office writing, rather than being more actively involved in public ministry. So my role over the years we’ve worked together has been to periodically reminded him of what he already knows and teaches – that

There’s nothing more practical than sound theology.

I’ve seen firsthand how his theological writings are having a significant practical impact on the lives and ministries of Christian leaders around the world.

John is much more than a theologian, philosopher, and apologist. He is also a loving husband to Mary, father to his grown children, and grandfather to his rapidly growing gaggle of grandchildren. He is a humble and quiet man who prefers writing in the solitude of his office to coming into the public limelight.

All this is to say that it’s worth your time to read through these rare theological and philosophical gems in Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings. Here you will find his “Primer on Perspectivalism”—a clear, concise summary of triperspectivalism that will enhance your knowledge of God, yourself, others, and the world. Other chapters include foundational topics such as these: “What the Bible Is About: One Thing and Three Things,” “The Gospel and the Scriptures,” “Introduction to the Reformed Faith,” and “The Main Thing.”

Then enter more deeply into Frame’s ongoing humble but bold dialogues by reading essays such as “Reformed and Evangelicals Together,” “Is Justification by Faith Alone the Article on Which the Church Stands or Falls?,” “N. T. Wright and the Authority of Scripture,” “Cultural Transformation and the Local Church,” “The Bible and Joe the Plumber,” and, of course, the rest of the “Twenty-five Random Things That Nobody Knows about Me.”

If you’re new to reading the works of Frame (or theological works in general), let me strongly encourage you to take the time to explore his other writings. Here are just a few introductory readings I recommend that you consider to begin priming your theological pump:

  • Salvation Belongs to the Lord[4]—a brief mini-systematic theology that is easily accessible to the average reader.
  • Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus—practical advice for incoming seminary students and all new students of theology.
  • Browse his website, http://www.frame-poythress.org, where you’ll find many of his writings. He shares this website with Vern Poythress, Calvinistic theologian, philosopher, New Testament scholar, and one of his former students.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 9.04.01 PMWhether or not you’re new to reading Frame’s theological works, sooner or later you must own and begin making regular use of his magnum opus—Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief [5] with a Foreword by J.I. Packer. This remarkably accessible and practical work is the culmination of his nearly fifty years of studying, writing, teaching, and applying the Word of God to all aspects of life. World Magazine recently recognized it as “Book of the Year.

I am extremely grateful to God for this man and his ministry. This is why I so strongly promote the reading of his books and articles in all my seminary classes at RTS-Orlando and at the church leadership training events where I speak and teach in North America and abroad.

It is a great privilege for me to commend this book to you. Here you’ll find a wide array of important topics written in Frame’s inimitable style of robust charity. Enjoy mining the rich truths in these winsome and provocative essays.

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 1: Introducing The Man and His Message

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 2: Influencers on His Thought

Click here to read Framing John Frame Pt 3: Why It’s Hard to Frame Frame

Coming Next: The 100 Books That Have Most Influenced John Frame’s Thought by Frame and Childers

COMING SOON: “Applied Theology: A Systematic Theologian and a Practical Theologian Apply Theology to Life and Ministry.” By Childers & Frame

Don’t miss out on the latest updates on the Applied Theology Project!

Click here to sign up with your email.


[1] With his nearly five decades of participation in seminary convocation and commencement ceremonies, I know of no one who has worn academic regalia more often, and holds wearing it in more disdain, than Frame.
[2] John M. Frame, Studying Theology as a Servant of Jesus (Orlando: Reformed Theological Seminary, 2002).
[3] As one of the “Fathers” (older professors) at RTS-O, Frame has also had a significant personal influence on all the “Brothers” (younger professors—including me). For instance, almost every time I see him, he asks me the same question: “Tell me again, how’s your book coming along?”
[4] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006).
[5] John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013).

Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers compiled the top 100 books that have influenced the thought of Frame. This list is published in John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1, by P&R Publishing.

 

Anselm. Works of St. Anselm: Proslogium, Monologium, An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool, and Cur Deus Homo. Forgotten Books, 2007.

 

Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Provinc. Christian Classics, 1981.

 

Athanasius. On the Incarnation. Empire Books, 2012.

 

Augustine. The City of God. Translated by Marcus Dods. Hendrickson Publishers, 2009.

________. Confessions. Simon & Brown, 2012.

________. On the Trinity. Edited by Paul A. Boer Sr. and William G. T. Shedd D.D. Translated by Rev. Arthur West Haddan B.D. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

 

Bavinck, Herman. Our Reasonable Faith. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.

________. Reformed Dogmatics. Baker Academic, 2008.

________. Selected Shorter Works. Monergism Books, 2011.

 

Berkouwer, G. C. Studies in Dogmatics: The Providence of God. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952.

 

Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries, 23 Vol. 500th ed. Baker Books, 2009.

________. The Institutes of Christian Religion. Edited by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne. Reprint. Baker Academic, 1987.

 

Clark, Gordon H. Christian View of Men and Things. 3rd ed. Trinity Foundation, 1998.

 

Clowney, Edmund P. Called to the Ministry. P & R Publishing, 1976.

________. Christian Meditation. Regent College Publishing, 1979.

________. The Church. IVP Academic, 1995.

________. How Jesus Transforms The Ten Commandments. Edited by Rebecca Clowney Jones. annotated ed. P & R Publishing, 2007.

________. Preaching and Biblical Theology. P & R Publishing, 2002.

________. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. Crossway, 2003.

________. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 1991.

 

Edwards, Jonathan. Freedom of the Will. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

________. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

________. Religious Affections. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2009.

________. Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

________. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Empire Books, 2012.

 

Gerstner, John H. Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology. Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2003.

________. The Problem of Pleasure: Why Good Things Happen to Bad People. Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, 2003.

________. Reasons For Faith. Nabu Press, 2011.

________. Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. 3rd ed. Nicene Council, 2009.

Gerstner, John H., Arthur W. Lindsley, and R. C. Sproul. Classical Apologetics. 1st ed. Zondervan, 1984.

 

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. Reprinted 1981. Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.

 

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Edited by Marcus Weigelt. Translated by Marcus Weigelt and Max Muller. Revised. Penguin Classics, 2008.

 

Kline, Meredith G. Images of the Spirit. 0 ed. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1999.

­­________. The Structure of Biblical Authority. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1997.

 

Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1943.

________. Particular Grace: A Defense of God’s Sovereignty in Salvation. First ed. Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2001.

________. Rooted & Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution. Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, 2013.

________. Sacred Theology. Sovereign Grace Publishers Inc., 2001.

________. To Be Near Unto God. Forgotten Books, 2012.

 

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity [Deckle Edge] Publisher: Harper San Francisco; 3th (third) Edition Text Only, 2001.

________. Miracles. HarperOne, 2001.

 

Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Empire Books, 2012.

________. Commentary on Galatians. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

________. Commentary on Romans. Translated by J. Theodore Mueller. Kregel Classics, 2003.

________. The Freedom of a Christian. Edited by Mark D. Tranvik. Fortress Press, 2008.

________. Luther’s Large Catechism: A Contemporary Translation With Study Questions. Concordia Publishing House, 1988.

________. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses. Translated by C. M. Jacobs. Fortress Press, 1957.

________. Treatise on Good Works: Luther Study Edition. Luther study ed. Fortress Press, 2012.

 

Machen, John Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism. BiblioBazaar, 2009.

 

Miller, C. John. A Faith Worth Sharing: A Lifetime of Conversations About Christ. P & R Publishing, 1999.

________. Outgrowing the Ingrown Church. Zondervan, 1986.

________. Repentance. Christian Literature Crusade, 2009.

Miller, C. John, and Barbara Miller Juliani. Come Back, Barbara. 2nd ed. P & R Publishing, 1997.

 

Murray, John. Christian Baptism. Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 1980.

________. Collected Writings of John Murray: Lectures in Systematic Theology. Banner of Truth, 1991.

________. The Covenant of Grace: A Biblico-Theological Study. P & R Publishing, 1987.

________. The Epistle to the Romans: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

________. The Imputation of Adam’s Sin. P & R Publishing, 1992.

________. Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957.

________. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955.

 

Packer, James I. Fundamentalism and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles. Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1965.

________. Knowing God. 20th Anniversary ed. IVP Books, 1993.

 

Pascal, Blaise. Pensées and Other Writings. Edited by Anthony Levi. Translated by Honor Levi. Oxford University Press, USA, 2008.

 

Piper, John. Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Rev Exp. Multnomah Books, 2011.

 

Plato. Meno. Empire Books, 2012.

________. Phaedo. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012.

 

Poythress, Vern S. In the Beginning Was the Word: Language–A God-Centered Approach. 1st ed. Crossway, 2009.

________. Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization. 1st ed. Crossway, 2012.

________. Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought. 1st ed. Crossway, 2013.

________. Philosophy, Science, And The Sovereignty Of God. Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 2004.

________. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. Crossway, 2006.

________. Redeeming Sociology: A God-Centered Approach. Crossway, 2011.

________. The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses. Reprint. Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 1995.

________. Symphonic Theology: The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology. P & R Publishing, 2001.

________. What Are Spiritual Gifts? P & R Publishing, 2010.

 

Rushdoony, Rousas John. The Institutes of Biblical Law. P & R Publishing, 1980.

 

Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. 2nd ed. IVP Books, 2006.

________. A Christian Manifesto. Crossway, 2005.

________. Escape from Reason. IVP Books, 2006.

________. The God Who Is There. 30th Anniversary ed. IVP Books, 1998.

________. The Great Evangelical Disaster. 1St ed. Crossway, 1984.

________. He Is There and He Is Not Silent. 30th ed. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1994.

________. How Should We Then Live? (L’Abri 50th Anniversary Edition): The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. L’Abri 50th Anniversary ed. Crossway, 2005.

________. True Spirituality. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989.

 

Shepherd, Norman. The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism. P & R Publishing, 2000.

________. The Way of Righteousness. Kerygma Press, 2009.

 

Van Til, Cornelius. Christian Apologetics. Edited by William Edgar. 2nd ed. P & R Publishing, 2003.

________. A Christian Theory of Knowledge. First ed. Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co, 1969.

________. The Defense of the Faith. Edited by K. Scott Oliphint. 4th ed. P & R Publishing, 2008.

________. Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God. Edited by William Edgar. 2nd ed. P & R Publishing, 2007.

________. Why I Believe in God. Westminster Theological Seminary, 1976.

 

Warfield, B. B. Counterfeit Miracles. Banner of Truth, 1972.

________. Faith and Life. Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.

________. Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. 2nd ed. P & R Publishing, 1980.

________. The Person and Work of Christ. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1989.

________. The Plan of Salvation. 1st ed. Fig, 2013.

________. Saviour of the World. Banner of Truth, 1991.

________. Selected Shorter Writings. Edited by John Meeter. P & R Publishing, 2001.

 

Westminster Assembly of Divines. The Westminster Standards. Great Commission Publications, 2003.

 

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Edited by P. M. S. Hacker and Joachim Schulte. 4th ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.