Friday, January 5

Book Review: Salvation Belongs to the Lord

An Introduction in Systematic Theology by John M. Frame

This book arises from lectures that John Frame gave for a survey course in Systematic Theology, and that makes it a good introduction to the discipline. If you've never ventured into the world of systematic theology before, this would be a good book for you to begin with. It's easy enough to understand, and written in what John Frame calls "a conversational tone." You won't find technical terms used without careful explanation, and--although you might find this hard to believe--at 342 pages of actual text, is much shorter than your average systematic theology. It is the simplest to read and understand of any of the systematic theologies I've read, and I've read a few, along with portions of several more.

That's not to say that the beginner won't have to do a little work to read and understand this book. When you go beyond the popular level in any discipline, you should expect to do a little work, and that's the way it is with theology, too. However, John Frame has managed to make things about as simple as possible for the reader, and that's the primary strength of this book.

Salvation Belongs to the Lord has another strength, and that's the fairness of John Frame's treatment of viewpoints that are not his own. John Frame is Presbyterian, and currently a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida; and as you might expect, he takes the conservative Presbyterian view on many issues. Still, opposing perspectives are presented quite clearly, with an even-handed explanation of the support, both scriptural and philosophical, for the differing standpoints. For example, I'm a credobaptist (that means I believe in the baptism of believers only) and John Frame is a paedobaptist (that means he believes in baptizing the infant children of believers), but I found his treatment of credobaptism and the justification for it to be straightforward and fair. The word that kept running through my mind as I read the discussions of various views is gentlemanly, so you'll probably not get your knickers in a knot if he disagrees with you.

As you might expect with a systematic theology, Salvation Belongs to the Lord covers many doctrinal topics, beginning, in Part 1, with the doctrine of God (Who is God and what has he done?), and onto the truths about God's revelation to us; the doctrine of humankind (Who are we and what are we like?); the doctrine of sin; the doctrine of Jesus Christ (Who is he and what did he do?); and the Holy Spirit. Next up, in Part 2, we have the doctrine of salvation; the doctrine of the church (What is it and what should it be doing?); a discussion of the sacraments or ordinances of the church; a discussion of heaven and hell and the events of the last days; and, finally, a discussion of how believers ought to live in light of all these truths. The book is complete, as you see, in the range of topics; but it is not, as is suitable for an introduction, exhaustive in its treatment of the various topics.

My one complaint about this book (and it's not much of a complaint) lies in something John Frame uses that he calls a hook or a pedagogical device, meant to show "how everything in the Bible is tied together." It is sort of a three perspectives method of looking at the various doctrinal truths, and this device runs through the whole book. This is something I found confusing, probably because I've already used my own devices to systematize theological truths. I learned early on in my reading to skim over these parts, so I didn't find this device too distracting. Since Frame is a teacher, I assume that he has found this tool helpful for many students and valuable because of that. You may find it useful, too, even though I didn't.

One of the things I've been doing over the past couple of years is collecting a list of recommended books on doctrine or theology that are suitable for the interested lay person, yet deeper than dandelion fluff. This is another book I'll wholeheartedly add to that rather short list.*

*Since this is list month here on the blog, maybe I'll share that whole list of books with you shortly.