The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame is the third installment in his Lordship series. The preceding work, The Doctrine of God is the most influential book I have read to date, outside the Bible. Every seminary student and pastor should carefully read The Doctrine of God. The contents are sure to revolutionize one’s life and ministry.
The Doctrine of the Christian Life is a superb addition to the Lordship series. Since the book is nearly 1000 pages, this format makes it impossible to review this work in a comprehensive way. Hopefully, a few highlights will lure some prospective readers in.
Dr. Frame’s book may be considered an extended meditation on ethics. Frame utilizes his well-known triperspectival framework. Ethics is viewed through three lenses, namely, the situational (the history of ethics), existential (Christian ethics), and normative (the ethical pattern of the ten commandments).
The author links ethics with divine lordship in keeping with the overall tenor of the series. The Lordship attributes are control, authority, and presence. Our God controls and accomplishes all that he intends. Everything he ordains come to pass. Frame argues, “Control means that God makes everything happen.”
God’s authority is “his right to tell his creatures what they must do … authority means that God has the right to be obeyed, and that therefore we have the obligation to obey him.” Additionally, “God’s authority is absolute. That means, first, that we shouldn’t doubt or question it … The absoluteness of God’s authority means that his lordship transcends all our other loyalties … God’s authority covers all areas of human life.”
God’s presence is the profound reality that he promises to be with his people. Frame adds, “When God takes us to be his people, he fights our battles, blesses us, loves us, and sometimes gives us special judgments because of our sins.”
These lordship attributes govern the ethical life of a Christ-follower:
- “By his control, God plans and rules nature and history, so that certain human acts are conducive to his glory and others are not.”
- “By his authority, he speaks to us clearly, telling us what norms govern our behavior.”
- “By his covenant presence he commits himself to be with us in our ethical walk, blessing our obedience and punishing our disobedience.”
Dr. Frame adds, “Three lordship attributes, three mandatory responses: faith, obedience, worship. These responses are the foundation of our ethical life. Faith corresponds to control, obedience to authority, and worship to presence.”
In part two, the author reviews non-Christian ethical frameworks. Perhaps most helpful is the section describing how unregenerate people are both rational and irrational at the same time. Arguing with Cornelius Van Til, the author writes, “They [unconverted people] claim that their own reason has ultimate authority (rationalism), but they acknowledge nothing that will connect human reason with objective truth (irrationalism).”
Part three summarizes Christian ethical methodology in a very comprehensive fashion. Dr. Frame utilizes the normative, situational, and existential perspectives to drive home the basis for Christian ethics.
Part four is an excellent summary of the ten commandments that readers should turn to again and again for fresh perspective on the decalogue. Perhaps most helpful here is the assertion that “grace precedes and motivates works.”
Part five is a section on Christ and Culture. The author defines culture and answers the question, “What role (if any) should a Christian have in culture?” Dr. Frame’s answers are illuminating and motivating. His answers are worth the price of the book in my estimation.
Finally, Dr. Frame ends on a practical note. Part six focuses on personal spiritual maturity and includes a helpful section on progressive sanctification.
The Doctrine of the Christian Life is not for the faint at heart. But it is highly recommended. I will utilize this resource for many years to come. And I can’t wait for the final installment of the Lordship series, The Doctrine of the Word of God.