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A conversation with John Frame

BENYOLA: We were talking earlier about scholars like Karl Barth, and liberalism as a distinct movement within the visible church. What are your thoughts on the New Perspective on Paul?

FRAME: Well, that’s a little bit hard to say. There are gray areas, but my problem with the New Perspective on Paul is that they don’t seem to have a clear view of justification by faith alone through grace alone. They seem to redefine justification as a process by which God brings Jews and Gentiles together, and although I think it’s very important to bring Jews and Gentiles together, especially for Paul, I don’t think that’s a good definition of justification.

BENYOLA: Would you put N.T. Wright in the category of liberal, as well?

FRAME: Well, N.T. Wright teaches a kind of modified version of the New Perspective on Paul. There are a lot of things Wright says that I like, I agree with. There are a lot of things of Barth that I like, I agree with. These are the gray areas, as I say. When you get down to the central things, what a thinker considers to be central and distinctive, I think for Barth, that amounts to a kind of liberalism. For N.T. Wright, probably not. I don’t think N.T. Wright is consistent enough holding to a kind of liberal tradition, although there are things in Wright that are more consistent with liberalism than not.

BENYOLA: If we negotiate attributes of Scripture such as inerrancy, sufficiency and perspicuity, we open ourselves to all kinds of error. Would you agree that the central problem with doctrinal error is an incorrect view of the doctrine of Scripture?

FRAME: That’s what seems to define liberalism, rejection of the final authority of Scripture. I don’t want to say that’s the most important thing, I mean, obviously Christ is the most important thing. The real question that we ask is, What do you think of Christ? That’s the question that Jesus asked His disciples. So what will happen sometimes is, I’ll run into somebody who has, what I think, is a defective view of Scripture. But he’s just obviously so passionate as a disciple of Christ, that I couldn’t deny that he and I are on the same side. That’s the complication of putting labels on people. If you’re going to teach theology, if you’re going to help students understand the dynamics of the different movements, you have to start off with some definitions, and that means labels, and that means defining liberalism and defining what’s not liberalism. And there may be a lot of gray areas, there may be some subdivisions within each general label, but you need to have the general labels.

BENYOLA: So since this book is “An Introduction to Christian Belief,” and it’s bigger than a brick, then what follows the introduction?

FRAME: Well, it’s the Bible. Theology is the application of the whole Bible to all areas of life. You can summarize it in various ways, but you can never exhaust it. Every day you wake up in the morning and there are new situations in your life, there are places you’re going that you’ve never been before. There are people that you talk to, sentences that you utter that you’ve never uttered before, and every time there’s a new fact in your life, that’s a new challenge to apply the biblical teaching to that fact.

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