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Episode 12 - Practicing Witness


Date: July 18, 2018
Run Time: 14:20
Host: Dr. Gregory R. Perry
Guest: Dr. John M. Frame
From the Series: Practicing Theology in the Christian Life

Program Notes

In our final episode of this season, Dr. John Frame considers our witness and the missional identity of the church. We look at questions such as:

  • How is Christianity very much a missionary religion?
  • What have Lesslie Newbigin and Harvie Conn contributed to this dialog?
  • Why should seminary be like boot camp?
  • Why is the gospel, and not just natural law, so vital to the church’s public witness?

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 12: Practicing Witness
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.

It's my privilege again to welcome Dr. John Frame back to our conversation this month as we've been delving into the practice of theology and also the practice of Christian ethics and applying Scripture to all areas of life. Last week we talked about applying Scripture to the practices of worship. This week we turn our attention to the church's practice of witness to our neighbors and to culture.


Dr. Lesslie Newbigin returned back to his home of Birmingham, England, after being a cross-cultural missionary in India, and he called for a missionary encounter with Western culture, between the gospel and Western culture. And this has had a tremendous influence on theologians and even biblical scholars in the recent decades. What is the contribution of missional theology to the practice of theology?

Dr. Frame: Well, missional theology is the practice of theology because Christianity is very much a missionary religion. Every church — and this is of course Newbigin's emphasis — every church even in the West… And we think of the West as being already Christianized and the West as already been through its missionary period, but that's not a fair generalization. There are so many people in our cities and so many people in our communities that are unbelieving, and perhaps they had some influence of the gospel growing up, but they've rejected that, turned away from it, become secularized. So every church needs to be "missional." That's the buzz term today. We need to not only proclaim the gospel in our worship services, but we need to be outward facing. We need to be directed toward our communities and present the gospel to people who don't know Christ. So every church is missionary church. And as Harvie Conn and others have said, in order to proclaim the word of God to our present culture we need to understand the culture. We need to understand what people are thinking. We need to understand something of their philosophies. We need to understand some of their political concerns. We need to understand some of the substitute faiths that they try to replace the gospel with.

Newbigin sort of famously said that God doesn't have a mission for his church, he's got a church for his mission. And if doing theology is applying Scripture to all areas of life, then our theology has got to be missional. It's got to be relevant to our neighbors and not just to our own theological tradition or our own needs as a church community.


It seems to me this way of reading Scripture that you and I have been talking about for this month, seeking its use in life, has profound implications for theological education and the way we train future pastors. You've written about this. Tell us a little bit about the kind of implications this practice of theology has for theological education.

Dr. Frame: Well, somebody asked my good friend Richard Pratt, who is the founder of Third Millennium, how he would set up a theological seminary, and he said, "Well, it's…" I may be putting words into his mouth but he said, "It's sort of like a boot camp." You bring people in, and of course they need some academic training. But most of the work of the pastorate, most of the work of the ministry is interacting with people. It's fending off objections and arguments, and people ought to be placed in positions where they need to roleplay and where they need to go into communities that aren't evangelized and get firsthand contact with people who don't know Christ and have that supervised by people who are more experienced and become self-critical in the way that they present the gospel, the way the relate to other people. I think given the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, we need to be particularly concerned with people who don't know Jesus yet, and we need to be able to understand how to apply the teaching of Scripture, the promises of God, the great message of salvation to people who just have never thought about it yet.

I think of the way in which Jesus sort of trained his disciples and how his parables in some ways are "on location Bible studies." They're not like, over here in this classroom, they're in the midst of life and on the way ministering to the sick and also to the angry and the hurting, as you've talked about.


Well, earlier you mentioned Harvie Conn, your colleague at Westminster Seminary. How long did you teach together at Westminster?

Dr. Frame: Well, I began to teach at Westminster in '68, and Harvie was a missionary to Korea at the time, and he became famous among us because Harvie didn't just stand up and preach in local churches, but he went to brothels and evangelized prostitutes. He became very famous going into places and areas where Christians were not supposed to go. And he was just a very bold and dynamic witness for Christ. And at one point Westminster Seminary, where I taught, decided that they really needed a person like this both to instruct but also as an example to the seminary students who were preparing for ministry. So, Harvie came back from Korea. He taught apologetics, and then after three years or so, about 1975, he started teaching exclusively in missions and became very well known as an advocate of contextualization, that is, we take the word of God and we present that word in terms particularly that the unsaved people can understand.

Harvie seems to be doing that kind of theology that you've been talking about for this month, which is not just in the classroom, but on the streets in all areas of life. "Grace with skin on," right? What do you think the ongoing contribution of Harvie's academic work is?

Dr. Frame: Well, that's what I've been calling application, of course, going back to the very first session in this series that theology is the application of the word of God to all situations of life. And of course Harvie was focused on the application of Scripture to cities. And Manny Ortiz of course focused on that too. I think of Tim Keller today who is a Presbyterian pastor in New York City. This is the way he preaches. He will present an idea from the Atlantic Monthly or the New York Times or something that people are debating and discussing in the cultured circles, and then he brings it down to, you know this is a wonderful idea, but it won't work unless you know Jesus Christ. If you try to do this in your own strength, you're only going to fail. So, the only way that you can show real compassion to other people in the city is by seeing the compassion of Jesus. So I see Tim as being kind of a follower of Harvie and Mannie in that.

Yeah, he has said himself that Harvie Conn has had a great influence on him.


One last question — we've been giving you so many easy ones, so we're going to keep it up. At a time when our civil discourse has become less civil, why is the gospel and not just natural law so vital to the church's public witness and theology.

Dr. Frame: Well, of course there are a lot of people who say that if you're going to enter into secular discussions, you shouldn't mention the Bible. You shouldn't quote Jesus, you shouldn't mention his name. You should just talk about general principles: what works and what doesn't work, what ideas have been tried, and so on. And just as we have been saying, I don't want to say that that's wrong necessarily, because God has made this world in such a way that compassion accomplishes good purposes. And even in a secular society, wisdom can accomplish good things, and foolishness accomplishes bad things, so you can follow through on the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs is a wonderful part of the Bible, but the wisdom of the book of Proverbs doesn't work without the wisdom of Jesus Christ himself. He is wisdom. And usually when people try to follow what's sometimes called natural law, just the way things work in the creation, they really can't make lasting change because their hearts have not been changed, the hearts of the people have not been changed. And so, we see today there are all kinds of people who have good intentions, good purposes, and yet again and again scandals arise. Again and again we find that people who we had admired are, to a large extent, in it for the money and in it for immoral purposes and so on and so forth, and it's just not accomplishing anything serious by way of transforming society. So we need something that goes a lot deeper than that. In order to attain that depth, we need to think about Jesus as the one who died for sin and rose again, and the Holy Spirit as the one who transforms our intentions and our motivations to help us to use the wisdom of Christ in a way that doesn't just serve ourselves but serves the Lord.

Dr. Frame, thank you so much for the time you have given us. You've been very generous. It's been such a pleasure to talk with you this month and to talk about how to apply Scripture to life and for you to call us back to that. So thank you so much for teaching ministry and for the time you have given us here 4 the World.

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

4 the World is a production of Third Millennium Ministries where we are reimagining biblical education for Christian leaders in a global church. We want to thank those who have listened to 4 the World. We'll take a short summer break starting next Wednesday, July 25th. In the meantime, we'd love to hear your feedback about the podcast. So, email us what you love or what you think we could improve at 4theWorld@thirdmill.org. That's 4theWorld@thirdmill.org. We'll be back the Wednesday after Labor Day, September 5th, with Dr. Steve Brown and many more guests in our new season. Have a safe summer break. 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 China Partnership and by listeners like you. Thank you.