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sample of lecture on “Of Creation”: a footnote on John Frame


This is a footnote from a lecture for this year’s conference.


88. Frame makes other assertions which are not reflective of the Reformed theological tradition. For example: “. . . relenting belongs to God’s very nature . . . Relenting is a divine attribute. . . . relenting is part of God’s unchangeable divine nature.” See John M. Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013), 370. Just how relenting can be “part of God’s unchangeable nature” is not explained with any degree of cogency. Relenting implies changeableness not unchangeableness. In Frame’s Salvation belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 29, he says: “The Bible teaches that God has all the emotions we have, though in a more perfect way. . . . Some say that because of God’s self-sufficiency he cannot suffer. That is called impassibility. Certainly, God cannot suffer any loss of his attributes or divine nature, but the grief we spoke about earlier is certainly a kind of suffering” (emphasis original). Later Frame says: “God can’t suffer, man can suffer. . . . God, who cannot suffer, has taken to himself a human nature, in which he can suffer, in Christ” (130). Can God suffer or not? Is God impassible or not? The WCF, SD, and 2LCF assert that God is “without passions” (2.2). Granted, in the latter statement Frame locates suffering “in Christ” but the way he states himself is not precise enough to distinguish between the acts of the Mediator who works according to both natures “by each nature doing that which is proper to itself” (WCF, SD, 2LCF 8.7). Frame says: “[God] can suffer, in Christ.” It is much better to say the Son of God incarnate suffered according to his human nature. God cannot suffer. Putting it this way preserves divine impassibility and upholds the revealed mystery of the distinct acts of our two-natured Mediator. Maybe this is what Frame intends by his words. If so, there are better ways to state oneself. For a review article of Frame’s Systematic Theology see Ryan M. McGraw, “Toward a Biblical, Catholic, and Reformed Theology: An Assessment of John Frame’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief,” in Puritan Reformed Journal, 8, 2, (2016): 197-211. McGraw points out several departures from more traditional discussions of various Christian doctrines. For example, McGraw says: “Much more could be said about Frame’s Systematic Theology that illustrates where he suffers from a paucity of historical theology, such as shifting from discussing God’s intent in the free offer of the gospel to something approximating English hypothetical universalism; misunderstanding the historical context of the lapsarian controversy; importing the two natures of Christ into pre-incarnate theophanies; careless language on the Trinity, such as referring to “three divine beings”; inadequate understanding of the relationship between eternal generation and aseity in Reformed theology; imputing to the Son “eternal obedience” and even “eternal subordination of role” in relation to the Father; importing Christ’s threefold office into the definition of the image of God, rather than describing man’s function in the world in terms of these offices; opening the door for those who say that Adam was the head of a pre-existing group of early hominids, rather than existing by the special creation of God; redefining the Reformed doctrine of total depravity and accusing the traditional doctrine as teaching that man is as bad as he can be; questioning the legitimacy of a logical order in the traditional ordo salutis; and urging the church to adopt elements of Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Episcopalianism simultaneously and at its own discretion” (McGraw, “Toward a Biblical, Catholic, and Reformed Theology,” 211; for each claim, McGraw cites page numbers for Frame’s book).


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