A review of The Doctrine of the Christian Life. By John Frame.

Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books)

I am very impressed with this book. It really does an outstanding job of providing a very comprehensive and detailed examination of biblical ethics. It is a massive undertaking (well over 1000 pages) and really does cover all the bases.

Frame is a very competent theologian within the Reformed tradition. He is professor of systematic theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. He has written on both theological subjects as well as ethical issues. His many years of lecturing are reflected in this important volume. He has thought through things very carefully, read widely, and integrates ethical theory and practice with a thorough grounding in Scripture.

This is the third volume in a projected four-volume series, A Theology of Lordship. The first volume, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (1987), is over 400 pages in length, while the second volume, The Doctrine of God (2002), is nearly 900 pages long. When the fourth and final volume – The Doctrine of the Word of God – eventually appears, this will be a solid, scholarly yet accessible systematic theology which should meet the needs of both pastors and students.

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The Doctrine of the Christian Life (A Theology of Lordship) by John M. Frame (Author) Amazon logo

This volume looks carefully at ethical theory and philosophy, but as it does so, it deals with virtually every important particular ethical issue going, be it war and peace, bioethics, sexual morality, wealth and poverty, population and the environment, marriage and family, slavery, capital punishment, nuclear ethics, and so on.

The first 400 pages discuss in some depth various ethical options, theories and approaches. Plenty of practical ethical issues are discussed along the way. The next major section, of over 450 pages, is an extensive and detailed look at the Ten Commandments. It examines in detail the biblical, hermeneutical and theological background of the Decalogue, and provides numerous applications and examples of both old and new ethical dilemmas.

Consider the sixth commandment for example. The prohibition here is not directed at killing per se, but murder. What the commandment forbids is killing that is not authorised by God. Capital punishment, self-defence and just warfare are all examples of killing that may be morally permissible. So Frame looks in some detail at a number of contentious issues involving life and death: war and peace, pacifism, the death penalty, euthanasia, abortion, and suicide.

The final section explores the broad issue of Christ and culture, and how believers should interact with the surrounding culture. The book finishes with a number of informative appendices which focus on particular topics, ranging from the case for Christian activism, to an assessment of Rushdoony’s theonomy movement.

Those looking for broad-brush principles, theories and philosophies of ethical reasoning and ethical systems will find much of value here. But those wanting to put flesh on these bones, and find out how they relate and apply to individual ethical issues will also find a wealth of information, wisdom and insight.

Thus both the big ethical worldview issues, as well as practical applications, are tackled here. Frame is thoroughly conversant with theological and biblical concerns, and they take priority as he assesses various ethical systems and moral topics. He is fair to those with whom he disagrees, and shows a wide understanding of how various ethical debates are being conducted.

Because of this superb blend of faithfulness to Scripture, and awareness of the ethical battles of the day, and because of the nice match of wide-ranging theory and practical detail, this book really does do the job as a first-rate volume on ethics.

Individual chapters can be read on their own, or the whole volume can be carefully savoured. But of the many hundreds of books now available on biblical ethics, this has to be at the top of my list. I will turn to it again and again both for theoretical concerns as well as for specific help on the many hot-potato ethical debates of the day. It is a superb achievement and deserves a wide readership.

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2 Replies to “A review of The Doctrine of the Christian Life. By John Frame.”

  1. It is strange that some denominations and biblical scholars don’t find death penalty support. Religious positions in favor of capital punishment are neither necessary not needed to justify that sanction. However, the biblical and theological record is very supportive of the death penalty. Many of the current religious campaigns against the death penalty reflect a fairly standard anti death penalty message, routed in secular arguments. When they do address  religious issues, they often neglect solid theological foundations, choosing, instead, select biblical sound bites which do not impact the solid basis of death penalty support. The strength of the biblical, theological and traditional support for the death penalty is, partially, revealed, below.

    1)”The Death Penalty”, by Romano Amerio,  a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council. http://www.domid.blogspot.com/2007/05/amerio-on-capital-punishment.html titled “Amerio on capital punishment “, Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007
    2) “Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty”, at http://www.homicidesurvivors.com/2006/10/12/catholic-and-other-christian-references-support-for-the-death-penalty.aspx
    3) “Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective”, by Br. Augustine (Emmanuel Valenza) http://www.sspx.org/against_the_sound_bites/capital_punishment.htm
    4) “Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice”, Prof. J. Budziszewski, First Things, August/September 2004 found at http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles4/BudziszewskiPunishment.shtml
    5) “The Death Penalty”, by Solange Strong Hertz at http://www.ourworld.compuserve.com/HOMEPAGES/REMNANT/death2.htm
    6) “Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says”, Dr. Lloyd R. Bailey, Abingdon Press, 1987. The definitive biblical review of the death penalty.
    7) “Why I Support Capital Punishment”, by Andrew Tallman, sections 7-11 biblical review, sections 1-6 secular review http://andrewtallmanshowarticles.blogspot.com/search?q=Capital+punishment
    8 ) Forgotten Truths: “Is The Church Against Abortion and The Death Penalty” by Luiz Sergio Solimeo, Crusade Magazine, p14-16, May/June 2007, http://www.tfp.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=957
    9) “A Seamless Garment In a Sinful World” by John R. Connery, S. J., America, 7/14/84, p 5-8).
    10) “God’s Justice and Ours” by US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, First Things, 5/2002, http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2022
    11) “The Purpose of Punishment (in the Catholic tradition)”, by R. Michael Dunningan, CHRISTIFIDELIS, Vol.21,No.4, sept 14, 2003, http://www.st-joseph-foundation.org/newsletter/lead.php?document=2003/21-4
    12) Chapter V:The Sanctity of Life, “Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics” By John Murray. http://books.google.com/books?id=phoqAAaGMpUC&pg=PA107&lpg=PA114&ots=mFvByHqGSy&dq=Murray+%22It+is+the+sanctity+of+human+life+that+underlies+the+sixth+commandment.%22&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html&sig=ACfU3U1b0mdM3BfpNSXnhrwFYXaE_9Ij9A
    13) “MOST CATHOLICS OPPOSE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT?”, KARL KEATING’S E-LETTER,   Catholic Answers, March 2, 2004, http://www.catholic.com/newsletters/kke_040302.asp
    14) “THOUGHTS ON THE BISHOPS’ MEETING: NOWADAYS, VOTERS IGNORE BISHOPS”, KARL KEATING’S E-LETTER, Catholic Answers,, Nov. 22, 2005, http://www.catholic.com/newsletters/kke_051122.asp

    70% of Catholics supported the death penalty as of May, 2005, Gallup Poll, Moral Values and Beliefs. The May 2-5, 2005 poll also found that 74% of Americans favor the death penalty for murderers, while 23% oppose.

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, Houston, Texas

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