Tuesday, September 12, 2006

John Frame's Warning Against Laziness

When I first got into Reformed theology, I thought that everything the popular and modern Calvinist did was "right", especially in relationship to church activities such as expository preaching, hymns, and worship service style, and if a church did not function like a "reformed" church, they were in "sin". Today, I still value and love the old hymns, and I still believe the best way to preach is expository, but I just don't know if the "Reformed" way is the only "right" way to do things at church. So what has caused me to change my view? Probably the greatest influence in changing my view has been a book by John Frame entitled, "The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God", this book simply humbled me, as I thought I knew what was the "right" way to handle and apply scripture to church and life.

Here's are a few quotes from John Frame's article "The Burden of Change: A Warning Against Laziness and Shortcuts" which will give you a flavor of John Frame's view of how Christians should think about Scripture and tradition in relationship to our present time.

1. Applying Scripture in the Present

Historical change is an important part of our ethical situation. As we apply the law of God, we must understand how it applies to each situation that comes before us. That work never ends. We may not assume that the Reformers or the Puritans, for example, finished the task, no matter how great our respect for these great ministers of the Word. The Puritans did not have to evaluate nuclear warfare, genetic engineering, modern science, or the “new age” from Scripture; but we cannot avoid those tasks in our own time.

2. The Danger of Unhealthy Traditionalism

For example, it is not scriptural to approach ethics with a mere traditionalism, a desire merely to emulate the Christianity of a past age. Whether or not we believe that past ages were “better” than this one, our mandate is not to repristinate or recreate a past situation; it is to apply the scriptures to the situation of today. I fear that some churches seek to be mere museum pieces: historical artifacts where people can go to hear old-fashioned talk and experience older forms of church life; spiritual versions of Colonial Williamsburg. On the contrary, Christian worship is to be contemporary, because it must be intelligible (1 Cor. 14), and the church’s preaching must adapt (insofar as Scripture permits) to the language and habits of the target population (1 Cor. 9).

3. Unnecessary Labels

The debate is confused, of course, by words like “conservative,” which are applied both to defenders of scriptural principle and to those who merely defend past ways of doing things without scriptural justification. But defending authentic Biblical principle is one thing; defending the continuance of past applications into our own time is something very different. Both shortcutters and critics of shortcutters need to be more aware of this distinction.

4. Danger of Selfishness

But what masquerades as a battle for Biblical principle is often at bottom a mere rationalization of selfish impulses, a desire to stay comfortable, to avoid having to change familiar patterns. Often, however, Scripture itself is on the side of change! 1 Corinthians 9 is an important text in this respect. Paul was willing to be a Jew among the Jews, a Gentile among the Gentiles, that some might be saved. He did not seek his own comfort, even his own rights. Indeed, he allowed his body to be buffeted, lest while preaching to others he himself should be a castaway. He tried "to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, that they might be saved" (1 Cor. 10:33). And note: Immediately after this verse, he urges, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (11:1).

This means that in our evangelistic methodology, indeed in our worship (for that too has an evangelistic element, 14:24f), our goal must not be to please ourselves, but to bend and stretch, to accept discomfort and the trauma of change, in order to speak the Christian Faith into the contemporary world


Anonymous said...

Your thoughts are close to my thoughts as I've been attempting to re-evaluate my assesment of things here. I don't mind the lack of hymns nor do I mind different sermon types. I like the modern "gospel" songs though I think more careful thought should be put into what is chosen especially when the lyrics skew heavily toward the "I will.." type. Even with preaching, expositional is the best but I enjoy all the other types out there. Unfortunately even when being charitable there when there is nothing about law and grace, Sin or even God's wrath or anger ever over the course of months or even years it becomes difficult to accept.


Geoff said...

It is always good to be humbled and I'm glad that Frame did that for you. If only more people had the problem of taking too much pride in the Reformers! Much of today's pride exists in the ignoring of history and thinking that we are the first generation of Christians to ask some fundamental questions on the church or worship or preaching. For those, it would be humbling to go back and study church history and realize that godly men have thought more deeply on these things than you and I ever will. They have also faced political circumstances in history and persecution and many other things from which we can learn. The larger trend within evangelicalism is much more towards ignorance of our Christian heritage.