In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism: Reflections On “Sola Scriptura” and History in Theological Method -- By: John M. Frame

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:2 (Fall 1997)
Article: In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism: Reflections On “Sola Scriptura” and History in Theological Method
Author: John M. Frame


In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism: Reflections On “Sola Scriptura” and History in Theological Method

John M. Frame

Over the years I have sometimes engaged in playful banter with col leagues concerning the relative importance of church history and systematic theology. In these arguments, I was, of course, on the side of systematics, mocking the tendency of many of us academics to magnify the importance of our own fields of specialization. That was, of course, all in the spirit of good fun. I think that fair readers of my Doctrine of the Knowledge of God1 will grant that I have a high regard for church historians and the contributions they can make toward our understanding of God’s Word. Indeed, I tend rather to stand in awe of scholars in that field. My impression, which I have, of course, never tried to verify, is that writers in that discipline have typically mastered far more data and organized it more impressively than most of those (including myself) in the fields of systematics and apologetics.

Nevertheless, I do believe that the present situation in Evangelical and Reformed theology demands a more careful look at the relationships between the disciplines of history and systematic theology. The need is such that the playful banter will now have to give way, for a moment, to a more serious consideration of the issues.

I am here writing primarily to the orthodox Reformed community of theological scholarship that I inhabit. For that reason I will give little attention to some options that are important to the general theological community but not specifically to those addressed here. I recognize, of course, the importance for Reformed scholars to address the broader society, and I hope this essay will, among other things, enable us to do that better. But sometimes we must huddle together to think about what we should be saying to the larger world, before we actually say it.

My overall purpose here is to reiterate the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, the doctrine that Scripture alone gives us ultimate norms for doctrine and life, and to apply that doctrine to the work of theology itself,

including both historical and systematic disciplines. That point may seem obvious to many of us, but I am convinced that there are applications of this doctrine that need to be re-emphasized in the present situation.

1. History

The term “history” can be used in both objective and subjective senses. Objectively, it refers to the actual facts of past time, or to that portion of them which is significant for human beings. Subjectively, it refers to human recolle...

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