Reviewed by Steve West
Theology of My Life is a rich account of the life of one of contemporary evangelicalism’s premier theological and philosophical thinkers. If you enjoy the work of John Frame, you will enjoy this book. If you haven’t read many of Frame’s works, this is still a book from which you can benefit, and it may lead you to discover more of his writings. Even if you have never heard of Frame before, there are lessons to be learned in Theology of My Life that will repay the reading. For those who are familiar with his thinking, Frame ends his Preface with these words: “For those readers who are interested in my perspectival triads: my Systematic Theology is normative, my History of Western Philosophy and Theology is situational, and the present volume is existential.” The Framean corpus is enriched by this existential and edifying addition.
It is difficult to place this book into a stereotyped genre. It is definitely biographical (with all of the selectivity that such narrative writing requires), it is certainly theological, and it is also personal. Autobiographical writing isn’t always personal—sometimes an author can cover-up their deepest feelings as they describe the events of their lives. Frame avoids this type of cover-up; he is transparent about both the joy and pain that he has experienced. Seeing this reality in such an accomplished theologian is very valuable. Many individuals in vocational ministry continue to believe that the grass is greener in another field (whether another church, mission, or academic setting). Very few evangelical professors have had the academic success that Frame has enjoyed—some of us believe that our lives would be fulfilled and we would be satisfied if we just had a publication record like Frame’s. We teach that only God can satisfy, and yet we act as if ministerial success is what really matters. One of the very best parts of this book is Frame’s honesty about some of the pain he has experienced in life and ministry. Churches have struggles and problems; seminaries split; faculties and synods pitch battles where people get hurt; pastors and professors are not immune from sin and pain. We all know this, but Frame’s narrative is refreshingly honest and helpful for those in vocational ministry. It can be difficult to identify with someone’s successes, but we can all identify with heart-ache and disappointments.
Frame develops the narrative thread of his life around the grace and calling of God. He can trace the hand of the Lord at every stage, but this does not preclude him from identifying his own sin and facing up to some real trials that he has experienced. Obviously there is more than Frame’s side of the story when it comes to the disputes and difficulties that he sometimes discusses, but he does seem to try to deal with past hurts and controversies with grace and even-handedness. Whereas some autobiographies are filled with self-righteousness, or self-pity, or bitterness, this one is not. In fact, at times a palpable sorrow comes through—not because Frame believes he has been wronged, but because of the sin and grief that are part of living in a fallen world. There are times when Frame acknowledges errors, foolishness, unkindness, and sin. C. S. Lewis remarked that many people will look back on their younger years and laugh about the wrong that they did and the hurt that they caused others, mistakenly thinking that the passing of time absolves them, and that their sin can be funny if only it was a long time ago. This attitude is conspicuously absent from Frame’s retelling of his past. The reader gets the impression that Frame is genuinely remorseful for any of his attitudes and deeds of the past that hurt others and dishonored God. In this respect, Theology of My Life provides an example for us all.
There are many general lessons that can be drawn from the specifics of Frame’s experience. His particular life provides multiple examples of truths that apply not only to him but to all. Christians will be able to identify with many of the things he describes—there is a universal quality to much of his experience, even though his talents are extraordinary. Frame is one of the most brilliant Christian thinkers and writers of his generation, but his life is still a human life, redeemed by the grace of God through the work of Jesus Christ. He is a professional theologian, but he is first and foremost a follower of Christ and a worshipper of God (sadly, this is not always what one finds amongst those in ministry). Evangelical theology, philosophy, ethics, and the church’s worship, have all been influenced positively by the academic work of John Frame. Theology of My Life is a unique book that provides some new colors to the tapestry of his life’s work. Frame has given us many valuable gifts throughout his career, but this one is personal and special. It is not an argument to be analyzed, but an existential narrative to be experienced.
Steve West is Lead Pastor of Crestwicke Baptist Church in Guelph, Ontario; Adjunct Professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary; and an Assistant Editor here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
Theology of My Life: A Theological and Apologetic Memoir