Reply to Richard Muller and David Wells -- By: John M. Frame

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:2 (Fall 1997)
Article: Reply to Richard Muller and David Wells
Author: John M. Frame


Reply to Richard Muller and David Wells

John M. Frame

I do thank Muller and Wells for participating in this discussion. I will examine their replies in alphabetical order.

Muller’s position is quite straightforward: “Whereas sola Scriptura must be the doctrinal watchword in all matters of faith and life, it does not stand as a principle that can be applied to historiography.”1 On this point, he and I simply hold opposite views. I do think there is much truth in his analysis of the use of history to support heresy. He says that people who use history in this way are not in fact autonomous or neutral, but they are themselves operating on theological assumptions. I agree, although these writers typically do make claims to neutrality. But that fact raises the question of whether there is such a thing as historiography that is theologically neutral.2

Muller thinks such neutrality is not only possible, but normative: “Historiography ought not to be grounded in theological assumptions.” He does accept that “historiography does have assumptions and presuppositions,” but he tends to think that “they are minimal and belong to the realm of common sense rather than to the realm either of theological or philosophical system.” He encourages a historical method which elicits “the meaning of texts with as little tendenz as possible.”

But I keep asking, what does Muller do with the central biblical and Reformed claim that God’s word is to rule all areas of human life? If “all things” are to be done to the glory of God, does that include historiography, or does it not? And if not, why not? Muller himself says that “sola Scriptura must be the doctrinal watchword in all matters of faith and life.” How can he then turn around in the very next clause and say that it does not apply to historiography? Surely historiography is part of life, something we do either to the glory of God or in the service of an idol.

Perhaps he is putting a special emphasis on the word “doctrinal,” as if Scripture is a doctrinal watchword, but not, perhaps, a methodological watchword. But if doctrine bears upon all of life, then surely it bears on methodology as part of life. We do today sometimes speak of “doctrine” as a discipline focused on the subject matter of church confessions, but Scripture itself does not limit the scope of its authority to any particular area of life. If we are to speak of doctrine in a biblical way, there is surely a sense in which it applies to everything.

This is not, of course, to say that Scr...

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