Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology

By John M. Frame
Phillipsburg, N.J. : P&R (2006). 382 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 121-122

Temporarily digressing from expanding his Theology of Lordship writings, John Frame, well-known author and scholar, accepted an invitation from the Institute of Theological Studies to tape a systematic theology survey course for them. T his book is an enhanced version of that course. The same threefold approach taken in the lordship series, the reader is informed, will be adopted for this survey, namely, exegetical, Reformed, and focused on the lordship of Christ (ix-x). Although wondering whether the term “exegetical” is not perhaps an overstatement, it is the second term “Reformed” that signals disagreements which will most probably arise in certain areas, especially for readers who are not oriented to or accepting of covenant theology’s faults and foibles. Still, a well-written survey can prove to be valuable in providing students with an overarching perspective, the big picture, which Frame acknowledges may help the student learn important things which might get passed over when concentrating on the details. Commendably, the goal is to show that the Bible is not a miscellaneous conglomeration of ideas but a coherent, consistent system of truth “in which the major doctrines depend on one another” (ixx). The intended audience is beginners in theology, which the comments below have kept in mind.

The nature of the book allows the author to decide which issues are to be simply bypassed, minimally introduced, or acknowledged as being inconclusive, or as bringing no clarity to a certain subject or term, e.g., the nature of the days in Genesis (20), the debates over creationism and traducianism, trichotomy and dichotomy (93), the order of the divine decrees and the ordo salutis (182-83) or the use of the phrase “eternal generation” not helping out with interpreting monogenes (Frame prefers “only begotten” of the Nicene Creed rather than the meaning “unique, one and only,” 37), or the mode of baptism (37).

Scattered throughout the book are statements which cause eyebrows to rise or a quizzical look to linger momentarily on the reader’s face, e.g., inter alia on Spirit baptism’s being the initial regeneration (163), on the church’s being the people of God in all ages since Eden (233-34, 36), on the highly symbolic numbers in Revelation ruling out the reality of a literal millennium (301), on the return of Christ, the final judgment, one general resurrection occurring all at once (306), on believers’ children being members of the covenant of grace who ought to be baptized, and that Christians really should not break fellowship over this issue (281-82), which is somewhat naïve since behind the mode of baptism stands a doctrine of the church.

Were this book to be assigned as required reading for a survey course, or as part of a theology course, several rewrites would have to be done to make the book profitable, namely, (1) rewrite Chapter 9, “God’s Covenants,” taking pains to present properly the Abrahamic covenant, not taking away from his descendants their right to occupation of the Promised Land as per repeated prophetic promise with its careful geographical descriptions, definitely not allowing the biblical covenants to be subsumed under a supposed covenant of grace, (2) rewrite Chapters 18 and 21, “The Nature of the Church” and “The Sacraments,” in order to present clearly the believers’ church, not giving replacement theology free reign to do disservice both to the identity of that church and its ordinances, (3) rewrite Chapter 23, “The Events of the Last Days,” particularly so that the reader will come to understand that the differences between amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism are not just little differences of opinion, but are significant hermeneutical issues, and then finally, (4) insert exegetical notes to correct that reasoning which automatically equates an unlimited, broad, or remote extent of the atonement with universal salvation—not all who disagree with Frame are Arminians or are so inclined. Far from it.

The constant citing of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is somewhat distracting for those readers who are not oriented to the creeds, but given Frame’s theological background, its choice is understandable and thus tolerable.

Now the big question: Is this a good book, one to be recommended for private and/or classroom use? Since John Frame’s reputation as a worthy scholar of Scripture is well established, this reviewer hesitantly and uncomfortably advises that no real commendation is being voiced, neither is an outright rejection being expressed. Instead, the label on the cover would be “Use With Caution.”