Salvation Belongs To The Lord
An Introduction to Systematic Theology
Publisher: P&R Publishing
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
I have a good selection of systematic theologies on my bookshelf. They range from the very readable to the almost hopelessly complex. Some of the authors are clearly very knowledgeable but have not been blessed with the ability to easily communicate that wealth of knowledge. Others are great communicators but, unfortunately, do not have as great an understanding of theology. Sometimes, though, these gifts come together in the form of a person who both knows a great deal about theology and is able to communicate his knowledge in a clear, understandable way. The latest addition to these volumes is Salvation Belongs To The Lord, written by John Frame. While smaller than most systematics, at only 360 pages, it is, to borrow the words of William Edgar, both "vigorously orthodox and sweetly pastoral."
Frame is a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida where he teaches Systematic Theology and Philosophy. He previously served several decades on the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary. A number of years ago, Frame began to write a multivolume series of studies that examine major biblical concepts from the perspective of the Lordship of God (The Theology of Lordship series). Since that work had begun, he had often been asked if he would compile this series into a complete systematic theology and had always answered "no." But then, in 2003, he was asked to teach a survey course in systematics for the Institute for Theological Studies in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He delivered the lectures in 2004 and they formed the basis for Salvation Belongs To The Lord. The systematic theology came into being despite his best efforts to the contrary. This book is related to his ongoing Theology of Lordship Series but is not part of it. "This book will not be part of the Theology of the Lordship series, but readers of those books will find here the same approach: exegetical, Reformed, and focused on the lordship of God and of Jesus Christ."
Frame wrote Salvation Belongs To The Lord to be an introduction to systematic theology. And an introduction it is, as evidenced by its small size compared to other systematics. By way of comparison, Grudem’s Systematic Theology weighs in at almost 1300 pages and Hodge’s is far larger still, extending through three very dense volumes. Frame’s book "is not directed primarily to readers of the Lordship series but to beginners in theology, people who are seeking a basic introduction." To target this audience, he has endeavoured to define all technical terms and has adopted a conversational, pastoral tone. He considers this work to be college or seminary level in its difficulty, though I suspect even a high school student who was sufficiently dedicated would be able to benefit from reading it.
One of the hooks Frame employs throughout this book is "a system of threes,…lordship triads, which runs through the whole book. This system is mainly a pedagogical device, but I hope it will show you some important ways in which everything in the Bible is tied together. As you will see, the Bible is not a miscellaneous collection of ideas but a coherent, consistent system of truth in which the major doctrines depend one on another." While I appreciated this pedagogical device, I did not find that it contributed a whole lot to my reading of the book, though it also did not prove burdensome. I can see that it would, for some people, prove a valuable addition and it does accomplish what Frame hopes it will. It points quite clearly to a unity within Scripture.
The book is divided into two sections, the first dealing primarily with objective truths such as: "The nature of God, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit." It deals largely with truths and events that are once-for-all and will never be repeated. The second section discusses events that are more subjective and repeatable, such as justification and sanctification–events that happen in the life of each believer. In this second section, Frame follows closely in the path of John Murray and his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied. After discussing the ordo salutis (or order of salvation) he discusses the nature and task of the church, the means of grace, the sacraments, heaven and hell and the last days. Fittingly, he closes with a chapter asking "how then shall we live?"
Frame quotes liberally from Grudem’s Systematic Theology and there is a fair resemblance in much of their theology. He agrees with Grudem in most points, the most notable exception being a differing understanding of the miraculous gifts. The connection between Grudem and Frame is explained in the dedication of Grumdem’s book. He writes, "This book is dedicated to eight people." Among these are "Edmund Clowney, John Frame, and Vern Poythress, Westminster Seminary professors and friends, who influenced my theological understanding more than anyone else, and who taught me Reformed theology in humble submission to every word of Scripture." It is little wonder, then, that the two men share so much common ground.
Here is a brief summary of some of the more important positions Frame has adopted: In soteriology, he is Calvinistic. In eschatology he is, when backed into a corner, reluctantly post-millennial. In his understanding of ecclesiology he is Presbyterian (and thus, sacramental and paedo-baptistic) and when considering the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, he is cessationist. I was somewhat surprised to see that, when discussing the task of the church, he teaches that the church must be missional, and he thus places greater emphasis on the Great Commission than would many Reformed and Presbyterian believers. Despite this long list of labels, he is charitable, willing and able to discern between first-order and second-order doctrines. He draws firm lines only where they need to be drawn, affirming his appreciation for all who are committed to the gospel.
Salvation Belongs To The Lord is not an exhaustive systematic theology, for it is, and is intended to be, only an introduction. And as an introduction it succeeds admirably. Clearly the result of much study and much thoughtful meditation, this book is clear and understandable, while at the same time expressing many of the deepest truths of the Christian faith. The reader would be remiss to skip over the lists of recommended reading at the end of this book, for Frame lists many excellent resources in "systematic theology and theological method" as well as many solid "introductions to the Reformed faith." I trust that, for many, this book will prove to be only the beginning of a lifelong, fruitful study of the Christian faith. I eagerly recommend Salvation Belongs To The Lord to anyone who seeks to know more about the great God we serve. This book is sure to edify all who study it, whether they be long-time believers or recent converts. It will prove to be a delight to read.