On the Road to “Emeritus”: In Honor of John Frame
Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL is a wonderful place for theologians to retire. And its students are the true benefactors. One of of my greatest delights at RTS was spending time with our professors emeritus and gleaming from their wisdom. Advice was readily available from them about the practical application of theology. Simon Kistemaker’s lunchtime discourse on prayer, Bruce Waltke’s exhortations for marriage in my car on the way to the airport, Charles MacKenzie’s delightful engagements at the local gym, and even just the sight of Roger Nicole in the hallway bolstered my seminary education significantly. Most of what I learned at RTS was from my professors; the best of what I learned from my professors emeritus.
Dr. John Frame bridged the gap between professor and professor emeritus just as he bridged the gap between professor of systematic and practical theology. My favorite interactions with him were at Community Lunches, but I was blessed to also have him as a professor. This past week, Dr. Frame taught his last class for RTS before his retirement from teaching to become Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. The title is new, but he has long embodied the same wisdom in practical theology.
As I think about what I appreciated most about studying under Dr. Frame, three primary things come to mind. And like a good student, I will arrange them triperspectivally. I am particularly grateful for Dr. Frame’s lucid theological writing, his faithfulness in ministry, and the joy he exhibited in doing theology.
Dr. Frame is the clearest theologian I have ever read. His works are sometimes complex and his thinking always unique, but there is rarely any question what he is saying. His short Body of Divinity, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, would be helpful to an advanced scholar or a new Christian. I used it beneficially for an English theology discussion group of Japanese students my first year in Japan. I later saw one of our students drawing a triangle diagram from the book for an informal Bible study of non-Christians. This articulate communication makes his works immensely helpful for church ministry.
Triperspectivalism can take a little while to figure out how to use, but when it is used well, it is an excellent pedagogical tool. It’s not simply the tool itself, but the important balance it brings to thinking and communication. There are triangles everywhere in contemporary Reformed evangelicalism! You will see them wielded in academic lectures, sermons, Sunday school classes, and even on paper napkins as former students and devout Perspectivalists try to explain things. Personally, I have used the model in most courses I’ve taught and often in coaching sessions with team members and students. Dr. Frame is an articulate writer and instructor, even as he wrestles with the deepest truths of theology.
While at RTS, I never knew of Dr. Frame missing a class for any reason. He was present for every chapel service I can remember, often leading us in worship by playing the organ. Walking through the professor’s wing, I would almost always see Dr. Frame sitting at his desk through cracked office door, hard at work.
After decades of faithful instruction, he has impacted thousands around the world in profound ways. As Dr. Frame was being honored in Orlando, I was attending a church planting training event in Taiwan where the trainer utilized triperspectivalism for a room full of church planters from across Asia. During that same presentation, I was sitting in front of a friend and teammate who has been in ministry for nearly thirty years. He also studied theology under John Frame. Oh to leave such a legacy!
Joy is expressed in a variety of ways, and it may not be the first thing you would think of when hearing a lecture by Dr. Frame. But he approaches theology with passion. In my last course with Dr. Frame, he was beginning work on his Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, and we got to see his fire. He was drawing triangles all over the whiteboard, and we were caught up not just in his profound thought, but in his joy. I could imagine the generations of students like Wayne Grudem, Tim Keller, and more who saw him light up like that as he was developing his The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, and the rest of his works.
One time in class, a student’s phone rang with a loud musical ringtone. We all braced to see how Dr. Frame would respond to the interruption as the student had trouble finding the phone and the ringing continued. The noise finally stopped and the student apologized admitting his phone had played the music. Dr. Frame replied quickly, “I thought maybe it was a time to dance,” and did a happy little ballet move in front of the whiteboard. We all laughed at his humor, but that jovial image has stayed with me when I think about his work. Dr. Frame delights to study theology as a servant of Jesus.
Dr. Frame’s last lecture was for his “History of Philosophy and Christian Thought” course. Just a little less than eight years ago, I sat in that same course — my first theology class as a new seminary student. Dr. Frame’s retirement is delightful and sobering at the same time. It is delightful because he finished his career faithfully and fruitfully and he is now honored by the title, “Emeritus”. It is sobering because I remember sitting in that class like it was yesterday. Eight years of life and ministry have passed in an instant, as I imagine forty-nine years of life and ministry must have passed for him. I pray for his faithfulness and fruitfulness to continue in this new season, and that we may all learn well not simply from his writings, but from his example.