Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Nature of Doctrine

Here's a review from 20 years ago by John Frame on George Lindbeck's The Nature of Doctrine (Westminster Press, 1984). Frame accurately predicts its impact in his opening line: "This volume is highly technical and difficult, but it describes a theory of the nature of religion and theology which could become influential in coming years."

Here's the end of Frame's view.

Lindbeck tries very hard to show how on his theory doctrines may be regarded as superior to others, even infallible. I don't think he succeeds. Lindbeck offers us "rules," but doesn't offer us any adequate means of judging which ones we ought to use. I do think, however, that once we accept, as Lindbeck does not, an orthodox view of scripture, then we can learn much from his theory. He has, in effect, presented what is to most of us a new, and in any case interesting, perspective on the nature of doctrine which in my view complements, rather than replaces, the other two which he mentions. Doctrine is all three things: propositional truth-claims, expressions of the inner experience of regeneration, and rules for the speech and conduct of God's creatures. No one of these is prior to the others. Lindbeck's book is an excellent exploration of the third perspective, which is, undoubtedly, the one most neglected in present-day theology. We can learn from Lindbeck that, indeed, the purpose of doctrine is not to be simply repeated, but also to be "applied"--to be used for all of God's purposes in the world. And if we cannot use it, we cannot in any serious sense claim to "understand" it.

I've often wondered what the postconservatives would make of Frame's writings, which I think shatter many of their stereotypes about Reformational philosophical theology. Perhaps one of the reasons I find the postconservative description of evangelical theology so foreign is due to the influence of Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God upon my own thinking.

It would also be interesting to see Frame's take on The Drama of Doctrine by Kevin Vanhoozer--a former student of Frame's.