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Episode 9 - Practicing Theology


Date: June 27, 2018
Run Time: 13:05
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Dr. John M. Frame
From the Series: Practicing Theology in the Christian Life

Program Notes

Is theology only an academic discipline, or are all Christians called to doing theology as we apply the Scriptures in every part of our lives? Dr. John Frame joins us to discuss:

  • The story of how he became a follower of Christ and began to do theology vocationally
  • What it means to know God personally
  • The definition of theology
  • How every Christian is called to be a theologian

Dr. John Frame is Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary. He was a founding faculty member at Westminster Seminary California, where he taught for more than 20 years, and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Dr. Frame is a prolific writer, having authored numerous books and articles and contributed to several theological reference volumes. Most notably, his book, The Doctrine of God won the 2003 Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, and his A History of Western Philosophy and Theology won a 2017 Christian Book Award. Dr. Frame is the Host of Third Mill’s series, Making Biblical Decisions.

Podcast Transcript

EPISODE 9: Practicing Theology
Guest: Dr. John Frame

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we believe every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. To study Scripture deeply or to learn more about how you can partner with us to provide Biblical Education. For the World. For Free. download our App to your phone or visit our online classroom at Thirdmill.org. And now, your host 4 the World, Dr. Greg Perry.

Welcome back everyone. We're glad you've downloaded 4 the World, the weekly podcast of Third Millennium Ministries, where we believe that every Christian deserves a well-trained pastor. I'm your Greg Perry and it's my privilege to talk today to one of the world's leading Reformed theologians, Dr. John Frame. Dr. Frame is the author of many books and articles including A History of Western Philosophy and Theology that won the 2017 Christian Book Award, of course, his four-volume Theology of Lordship series, his Systematic Theology, and other works on Christian apologetics and ethics, including our own multimedia series Making Biblical Decisions. You'll find some links on our program notes to some of these resources. Dr. Frame and his wife live and worship here in the Orlando area. We're so glad to have this friend of Third Mill with us today. So, Dr. Frame, welcome. Thank you for taking the time to come and talk with us today.

Dr. Frame: Thanks Greg. Good to be here with you and with your listeners.


One of the emphases of your writing is on just the personal nature of doing theology. Tell us a little bit about your own story, how you became a follower of Jesus and then experienced a call to do theology vocationally.

Dr. Frame: Well, I was raised in the Pittsburgh area. My parents were not deeply religious, but they thought that their children ought to have a religious education, so they brought us to church and Sunday school, and it just happened in God's providence that one church they brought me to was an evangelical church that focused on the Bible and the gospel. So during my teenage years, my early teenage years, I was really confronted with the fact that I personally was a sinner, and I needed the salvation that only Jesus Christ could provide through his sacrifice on the cross. So I came to trust in Christ about age 13 or 14 and then discovered as I progressed through the youth ministry of the church and the choral ministry of the church that people wanted me to lead meetings and things like that. So I became interested in studying the Bible. I became interested in conveying it to other people. There were some theologians in my early life—Rev. Bob Kelly, who taught at the Pittsburgh seminary, attended our church, and Dr. John Gerstner, who was very influential on R.C. Sproul, for example. John Gerstner did not attend our church, but he often led youth meetings and was a very famous conference speaker in those days, and I became personally acquainted with him. And he became a great role model for me as a theologian, a very intelligent person who was able to give answers to difficult questions that people had. So eventually I began to believe that God had called me into that kind of ministry.


I wanted to start with Calvin a little bit. He famously, you know, opens his Institutes with that passage about, sort of, the covenantal shape of knowledge, that we can only really know ourselves or come to know ourselves fully and rightly if we know God, and we can only really get to know God well if we know ourselves. Help us unpack that a little bit in terms of this covenantal shape of knowledge and what it means to come to know God personally.

Dr. Frame: Well, God is, of course, our Creator, and he has made us in his image. So the most important thing to know about myself, or to know about any human being, is that human beings are made in the image of God, that God has made us to be like him. And so the most important thing for me to know about myself as I try to get to know myself (and that's something philosophers are always trying to do) is to understand my relationship to God and the fact that I am his image and that I'm made to obey him. And of course I can't know God without knowing myself either because, of course, I can't get out of my own skin. Anything that I know I have to know with the equipment that God has given me — the mind, the sense organs and all of the means of knowing.

Now, you've added a third perspective. You call it the situational perspective on knowledge, that it's not just knowing myself and understanding myself, and it's not just hearing God's Word, but it's also relating to a context.

Dr. Frame: Well, Calvin is not just interested in self-knowledge. He's interested in our knowledge of the world that God has made. God has created us to be part of the universe, and so Scripture says that God is clearly revealed in the things that God has made. Calvin had a very deep sense of that, that God makes himself known, not only in the Bible, not only in my own human nature in the image of God, but also in the whole creation: the sun, the moon and the stars, and the whole universe reflects God glory. And so, as we try to get to know God, it's important to correlate those three things, to correlate what God says to us in Scripture, to correlate that with my own nature in God's image, and to correlate it with the revelation of God throughout the creation.


So these three perspectives inform how you have sort of famously defined theology. I wonder if you could just explain your definition of theology for our listeners and say a little bit about what that means about your theological method and also doing theology in the church.

Dr. Frame: The term "theology" is not found in the Bible itself, so we find ourselves using the term because of our culture and because of our history. But we need to learn how to use it in a way that doesn't mislead us as to what Scripture teaches, that it gives us a biblical view of what it means. And I think the best way to define the term theology is to say that theology is the application of Scripture by human beings to all areas of life. And that gets all three perspectives in there. That gets the speech of God, which I call the normative; the persons who do the applications — that's ourselves — and I call that the existential perspective; and then we apply the word of God to all areas of life, that is, every situation that we find ourselves in, and I call that the situational perspective.

So, theology is applying God's revelation, God's Word, by human persons to all areas of life.

Dr. Frame: That's right.

So, if that's how we understand theology, then how do we listen to God? Where can we hear God's word? I think you've written famously in your Doctrine of the Word of God, the word of God is more than just the Bible, although the Bible is the word of God.

Dr. Frame: He's given us this Bible, this written document, which is the covenant constitution of his people. I have a lot of definitions and things I like to say about that, that it's inerrant and that it's infallible and so on and so forth. So, in a sense, theology is limited to the Bible. If you make a statement to me about what I have to believe about God, I'm going to say, "Well, where do you find that in the Bible?" That's what we call sola Scriptura — that's the sufficiency of Scripture. But, of course, you can't understand the Bible unless you understand other things too. If I'm going to grow in Christ, I need to understand some of the sins that I've committed so that I can correct those using the Word of God. If I'm going to talk to people about the history of the earth comparing Scripture and science and so on, I have to know something about science, I have to know something about the universe and not just about the Bible.


So this gets us into other areas of interest that you've written about in terms of like apologetics, for example, and how we bear witness to unbelievers and that we need to know our neighbors, we need to know our culture and know what questions people are asking so we can investigate the Scriptures properly.

Dr. Frame: This opens our level of our need of education wide because, of course, not every Christian is called to do exactly the same thing, but every Christian is called to some area of involvement in God's world so that we need to become knowledgeable in those things where we apply the Scriptures. And so some people will be concerned with science and they'll be concerned with the theory of evolution and the history of living things.

Though there is a place for a professional theologian and academic theologian in terms of a teacher of the church that in some sense every Christian is called to be a theologian, to apply, whether they're a business person who's starting a new business, whether they're involved in government in questions of justice, or just as a student at school as you're exploring relationships with other cultures and with your teachers, that everyone is really called to investigate the Scripture in how we can not only obey God, but love our neighbor well.

Dr. Frame: And we who are professional theologians need to learn from Christians who are called to different fields. If I want to make a theological statement about politics, I really need to understand what the Christian politicians are discovering in God's world.

This gives us a lot to talk about. And we're thankful you're here for a few episodes with us. Thank you, Dr. Frame.

Dr. Frame: Good to be with you, Greg.

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. Each week we bring you conversations to cultivate your curiosity about God's word, to inform your intercessions for God's people, and to equip your efforts in God's mission for the world. Our host is Dr. Greg Perry. Our sound engineer and editor is Christopher Russell. Our web designer is Ra McLaughlin. Production assistance is provided by Stephanie Mathis. And I'm your announcer, Cindy Sawyer. Today's podcast was brought to you by the new book Christianity Considered, written by Dr. John Frame, available now on Amazon Smile. Please remember to select Third Millennium Ministries as your charitable organization on Amazon Smile. And thank you for subscribing to 4 the World.