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The young John Frame teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia

Dr. John M. Frame 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.

“I should like to think that tomorrow’s Reformed leaders will add John Frame’s name to that list; I believe they should.” – J. I. Packer

Commenting on the continuation of protestant reformation theology since the time of Martin Luther and John Calvin, J. I. Packer writes in his foreword to Frame’s Systematic Theology:

“Three parts of the world have since made major contributions to the Reformed heritage, each engendering its own conflicts and loyalties:

  • England saw the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Puritan development, from William Perkins to John Owen, exploring life in Christ in and through the Holy Spirit;
  • nineteenth-century Holland produced the Kuyperian theology of human and Christian culture within a Reformed frame; 
  • and the twentieth-century witnessed, within the conservative Presbyterian world, the ongoing quest for Reformed methodological authenticity, in which B. B, Warfield, Geerhardus Vos, J. Gresham Machen, and Cornelius Van Til are, by common consent, the leading names.

I should like to think that tomorrow’s Reformed leaders will add John Frame’s name to that list; I believe they should.”

After 49 years of distinguished service as a seminary professor at three seminaries, Dr. John Frame retired in 2017. But his influential writing ministry continues today. 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.

Framing John Frame: 4 Parts

With the goal of helping introduce Frame and his writings more widely to the general public, Childers wrote this four-part series below called “Framing John Frame,” that was later published as the foreword for the book, John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings, Volume 1, by P&R Publishing. The goal of this series is to help more people begin mining the rich theological, philosophical, and practical gems that have for too long been mostly in the hands of academics and church leaders.


The Applied Theology Project

Since 2016, John Frame and Steve Childers have been collaboration on the Applied Theology Project. The mission of the Applied Theology Project is to provide accessible, affordable, seminary-level courses to underserved church leaders in their language and adapted to their culture wherever they live and serve.

The vision for the Applied Theology Project is to use the latest advances in educational technology to help bring all the loci of Systematic Theology to the millions of church leaders, especially in the developing world, who have no access or cannot afford high quality traditional seminary education. – John Frame

Childers and Frame have written 9 book manuscripts so far and published their first four online courses called Foundations of Theology, Essentials in Theology, Perspectives in Theology, and Applications in Theology – on the Pathway Learning online library of courses. Books and courses on Justification in Theology, Gospel in Theology, Theology of Faith: Apostles’ Creed, Theology of Hope: Lord’s Prayer, and Theology of Love: Ten Commandments coming soon.


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The Vision for Mercy

Two thousand years ago God’s kingdom entered our world in a new way through the person and work of Jesus Christ. In Luke 4, Jesus begins his public ministry by giving his inaugural address in a Jewish synagogue in Nazareth. After standing up to speak, Jesus unrolls the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, finds the place we call Isaiah 61, and reads these words:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus’ audience represents generations of Jewish people longing for God to send his promised anointed one, the Christ, the seed of King David, to restore God’s kingdom to Israel and rule over it forever. Isaiah prophesied that a King was coming who would usher in a new kingdom on earth.

God promised them that the dominion of his coming kingdom would never end. And his anointed King will defeat all of his and their enemies and then cause righteousness, peace, and justice to rule over all the earth forever. When God’s anointed King arrives, he will proclaim this good news to the poor.

Who are the poor? Isaiah describes the poor as captives who will be liberated, blind who will receive sight, and the oppressed who will be liberated. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the lame will walk.

But centuries past for the Jewish people with no anointed Messiah King. Instead, the Jews listening to Jesus in the synagogue that day were suffering under the harsh oppression and injustice of the Roman government. They were wondering if this king and kingdom would ever come.

What happened to them next came as quite a shock. After reading this passage from the scroll of Isaiah, Luke 4 tells us he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Jesus is telling them that he is God’s promised, anointed King they’ve been waiting for and he has come to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the poor.

To the surprise of many, the essential message Jesus came to preach was not only the good news of forgiveness of sins. It includes forgiveness, but it’s much more. This is the good news that, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God is at work restoring his fallen humanity and creation to its ultimate intended destiny, the kingdom of God on earth.

This is the good news that 2000 years ago God’s kingdom came to earth in a new way through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit. And our God is now reigning over all things through the ascended King Jesus as he advances God’s kingdom on earth today through his Church.

And it’s the good news that God’s kingdom will come in all its fullness when Jesus returns to bring heaven back down to earth, restoring God’s rule over all spheres of human life and creation forever. Everything in our badly broken and corrupt world will be brought back under Christ’s authority as Jesus makes all things new.

Therefore, central to Jesus’ mission and ministry is proclaiming the good news in word and deed to the spiritual and physical poor:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal … And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere … Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 9:1-2, 6, Luke 10:9)

Although Jesus did not immediately overthrow the Roman government and establish himself as an earthly king, his focus on caring for the spiritual and physical poor was proof that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah who was bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

So, how is King Jesus continuing his ministry of word and deed today to the spiritual and physical poor? He continues his kingdom mission on earth today as head of his visible body the Church. His Church is the only institution on earth he promises to build and bless. Jesus promises, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).

Jesus’ church is not just individual believers scattered throughout the world, but also local, visible gatherings of believers who are carrying out ministries of word and deed to the spiritually and physically poor in their communities under the oversight of church leaders. God gives elders to the church for overseeing these ministries of word and prayer and deacons for overseeing the ministries of deed.

But the Church is not only God’s primary instrument of kingdom mercy to the spiritually and physically poor. It’s also the primary sign of God’s kingdom on earth. Just as Old Testament Israel displayed a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom to all the pagan nations by how they cared for the poor, so God means for his Church today to be a “sneak preview” of what the world will look like when Jesus returns and makes his invisible kingdom visible over all things.

Therefore, in the first passage that describes the church in the book of Acts, we read, “There were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). This is the same vision God gave to his people Israel in Deuteronomy 15:4, saying, “There shall be no poor among you.” When the people of God care for the poor in their midst, the world catches a glimpse of God’s coming kingdom on earth.

The Scriptures teach that God’s people are to show mercy to everyone who is poor, but especially to the poor within the church. Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). God calls his people to eliminate poverty within the church but to also help alleviate poverty outside the church.

In his church, God creates a new society that is not only his instrument to bring good news to the poor, but also his vision of what all of life will one day look like when Jesus returns to restore the kingdom of God on earth forever.


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The Marks of Mercy

When God created the world everything was perfect. Humanity and creation flourished according to God’s original design. But Evil entered the world through a real villain, Satan—who enticed humanity to sin.

Then something horrible happened. God’s paradise on earth was lost. All of humanity and creation came under the just curse of God. Our broken relationship with God resulted in brokenness in all our vital relationships of life, producing poverty, disease, violence and injustice. This is why things are not the way they’re supposed to be.

But the good news is that God, in his mercy, entered our broken world in the person and work of Jesus Christ to redeem and restore fallen humanity and creation.

This good news is that our just God has shown us his mercy in Christ and calls us, as his image bearers, to reflect his mercy in our broken world. Our awareness of God’s astonishing mercy toward us in Jesus Christ is meant to be our driving motivation to be channels of his mercy in the church and the world.

In the Old Testament, there are a cluster of Hebrew words that are often translated as “mercy” depending on their context in the Scriptures. These words refer to God’s enduring love and steadfast loyalty to his people. Probably the chief Hebrew term is hesed (ֶח ֶסד ) referring to God’s covenant “lovingkindness.”

The New Testament echoes these Old Testament concepts and points us to the greatest display of God’s mercy in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the salvation God offers to the world through him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes mercy as an essential mark of all those who are truly in his kingdom, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matt 5:7)

In the Gospels we see Jesus strongly reprimanding the religious leaders of his day for emphasizing all kinds of religious activities but neglecting mercy. Quoting the prophet Hosea, Jesus tells them, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt 9:13)

In Paul’s writings, he refers to the heirs of salvation in Christ as “vessels of mercy.” (Rom 9:23) He describes his privilege of being in gospel ministry as a display of God’s mercy (2 Cor 4:1). And he refers to mercy as a common blessing of one believer to another (2 Tim 1:16, 18) and often includes the hope of mercy in the opening greetings of his letters (1 Tim 1:2, 2 Tim 1:2).

So, what is a biblical understanding of mercy? Let’s look at four key marks of mercy found in Scripture:

1. Mercy is an attribute of God we are to reflect
First, mercy is an attribute of God he reveals to us in Jesus Christ that we are to reflect. Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36). The Apostle Paul calls us to “be imitators of God” (Eph 5:1) and be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29). And just as mercy is not only what God does but who he is, so mercy is not only what we do, but who we are.

2. Mercy is the alleviation of suffering from broken relationships
Second, the essence of mercy is the alleviation of human suffering caused by the Fall of humanity into sin. Because of sin, mankind’s relationship with God was broken, causing all man’s other vital relationships for life and joy to be broken – including our relationships with ourselves, others, and creation.

The Scriptures teach that all the brokenness in the world is merely a symptom of the deeper problem of brokenness in these four relationships that lie at the heart of the human condition. As a result of sin, humanity is under God’s curse and our perfect world is now corrupt and broken, not just spiritually, but also socially, culturally, economically, and politically.

This is why there is so much suffering, poverty, disease, violence, and injustice in the world. And this is why the world is in such desperate need of God’s mercy to help alleviate this suffering and bring restoration of these broken relationships according to God’s design.

Although the focus of biblical mercy should be on helping alleviate human suffering in all mankind’s broken relationships, the Scriptures make clear that there is no act of mercy as great helping restore people’s broken relationship with God through Jesus Christ. No suffering can compare to eternal suffering in hell.

3. Mercy is the integration of word and deed
Therefore, biblical mercy includes the integration of word and deed, helping to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of people. Although we must acknowledge the priority of evangelism as a word-ministry, sometimes people are suffering so much physically they can’t hear your words until they experience your deeds of mercy.

Every person is created by God as a whole being with a soul and a body. In the resurrection of Jesus and the coming final resurrection of all his followers we learn that God restores humanity in both soul and body. Therefore, our ministries of word and deed should be seen as two sides of the same coin that often need to be held in tension in mercy ministry.

4. Mercy is a mark of true spirituality
Finally, the Bible presents the ministry of mercy as a vital mark of true spirituality. In Micah 6:8 the prophet describes the kind of spirituality the Lord requires of his people to please him, saying:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

The word translated “kindness” is the Hebrew word hesed (ֶח ֶסד ) that can also be translated as covenant lovingkindness or mercy. Here God commands us not just to show mercy but to love mercy as the Lord loves mercy. This means we are not only to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, a warm welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, and visits to the sick and imprisoned. We are also to love and take great delight in doing these things.

Notice in this verse that true spirituality always manifests itself in two ways: outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly it’s revealed by doing justice and loving mercy. And inwardly it’s revealed by walking humbly with God.

The New Testament also teaches that true spirituality always reveals itself outwardly and inwardly. In James 1:27 we find a very clear description of true spirituality. James calls it “religion that is pure and undefiled before God” when he writes:

Religion that is pure and undefiled
before God the Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,
and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Notice again the outward and inward marks of what God considers true spirituality and how the outward acts are again mentioned first. The outward acts are visiting orphans and widows in their distress. And the inward acts are keeping oneself unstained from the world. Like the Prophet Micah before him, the Apostle James presents us with the ministry of mercy as a vital mark of true spirituality.


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