January 24, 2002

Perspectives on the Word of God

Category: Bible,Theology :: Permalink

I first read John Frame’s Perspectives on the Word of God: An Introduction to Christian Ethics several years ago, before I went to seminary. Now that I’ve got a couple of years of the ministry (and a lot more reading and thinking) under my belt, I sometimes think I should go back and re-read some of the books I read in the past.

During this vacation, I took that opportunity and read through Perspectives once more. It’s a short book (only 56 pages of text) and it’s based on three lectures Frame gave at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, so it obviously can’t cover the material in any depth. And yet Frame does cover a lot of ground in this little book and does so in a very helpful and readable way.

The first lecture deals with the Word of God itself. The Word of God is not limited to Scripture. God created everything by His Word. His Word is His power, His authority, and His presence. In fact, God’s Word is even identified with God Himself and is an object of worship (Pss. 34:3; 56:4, 10, etc.).

The second lecture deals with the media of God’s Word, and here Frame makes a very important point:

All of God’s word to us is mediated, in the sense that it always reaches us through some creaturely means. This is true even when revelation seems most “direct.” For example, when God spoke to the people of Israel gathered around Mt. Sinai, and they heard the divine voice from heaven, even then God’s word reached the people through creaturely media. For one thing, God spoke human language. For another, he used the normal earthly atmosphere to transmit the sounds to the eardrums of the people. Further, it was the people’s brain cells that interpreted the sounds as words and interpreted the words as God’s message. God’s word never lacks media when it is spoken to human beings (pp. 19-20).

Frame goes on to discuss three means: events (history, redemptive history, miracles), words (divine voice, prophetic speech, written word, preaching), and persons (human constitution, examples of Christian leaders, God’s own presence). One could wish that Frame had also included the sacraments, perhaps as a subcategory (“rites”) under “event media.” 

Frame’s point is worth pondering, especially in connection with a trend in Reformed theology which wants to downplay God’s mediated work as “sacramentalism” or “sacerdotalism” and which emphasizes instead some kind of “immediate” (unmediated) work of God on the believer’s heart. But Scripture speaks of the preaching of the Word as Christ’s own voice (Rom. 1:14-15) by which God regenerates (1 Pet. 1:23-25). And many times in Scripture, we hear about the efficacy of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God delights in using means to work in the lives of His people, and as Frame says, He never speaks without using means.

The final lecture in the book surveys the three basic secular approaches to ethics (existential, teleological, and deontological), critiques them, and then proposes a Christian ethic which takes into account the strengths of all three. In our ethics, we must work with God’s objective Word as norm, the situation which we are confronting, and the nature of the persons involved. What is the situation? What does God want me to do about it? What changes need to take place in me (him, her) so that I (he, she) may do the right thing?

All in all, a helpful treatment, which whets my appetite for Frame’s long-promised but still unpublished Doctrine of the Christian Life.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:14 pm | Discuss (0)

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