Historiography in the Service of Theology and Worship: Toward Dialogue with John Frame -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:2 (Fall 1997)
Article: Historiography in the Service of Theology and Worship: Toward Dialogue with John Frame
Author: Richard A. Muller


Historiography in the Service of Theology and Worship:
Toward Dialogue with John Frame

Richard A. Muller

John Frame’s essay “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism: Reflections on Sola Scriptura and History in Theological Method” addresses the relationship between historical and systematic theology by examining a very broad swath of issues under the general rubric of the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura. The essay then applies its observations to the specific issue of Reformed worship. “Scripture alone,” Frame writes “gives us ultimate norms for doctrine and life” and does so in such a way that its norms apply to both “historical and systematic disciplines.” By way of comment and response, I would like, first, to narrow the scope of the subject. There should be no debate about the relationship of sola Scriptura to the faith and life of the church. Frame and I are in agreement here. I am also quite prepared to recognize, in agreement with Professor Frame, that a series of historical approaches belonging to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have proved, on principial grounds, to be inimical to the doctrine of sola Scriptura and have, therefore, been quite disastrous in their effect on Christian theology. Problematic application of historical method belongs alike to the relativistic “History of Religions School” and to the historical-critical “new quest” for the historical Jesus. So too is there a problematic appeal to “history” in various theologies that identify revelation as “event” but nonetheless as an event distinct from the order of what are usually identified as historical events.

1. Historical Method and Theological Norms

Where I differ with Frame, and where I intend to focus in this comment is over the nature of historiography and over the nature of the problem of applying historical categories to theology and worship. I am, in the first place, quite convinced that the problem cannot be rightly identified by a contrast between a rationalistic or “autonomous historical method” and “the methodological principles of Scripture” applied to historiography. There are several reasons for this disagreement. First, none of the applica tions of historical categories noted by Frame qualify as instances of “autonomous historical method”—all are highly theoretical models that use theologized or philosophized views of history as the foundation for a particular theological program. As such, all would be rejected, on purely methodological

grounds, by practicing historians. Second, I have severe doubts concerning the existence of what Frame calls “methodological principles of Scripture.” I doubt that Scripture eith...

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