Theologian John Frame sets forth the criteria he uses—and tries to avoid—when evaluating theological writings.
- Are the ideas teachings of Scripture?
- Are they at least consistent with Scripture?
- This is, of course, the chief criterion.
- Even if an idea is not found in Scripture, it may be true—for example, a theory about the influence of Bultmann or Pannenberg.
- Is the author’s case adequately argued?
- Are his premises true, his arguments valid?
- Is it spiritually helpful?
- Hard to say?
- Does the text exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, or is it blasphemous, gossipy, slanderous, unkind, and so forth?
- Is the idea important?
- Somewhere in between?
- Important for some but not for others?
- Are the key terms well defined, at least implicitly?
- Is the formal structure intelligible, well thought out?
- Are the author’s positions clear?
- Does he formulate well the issues to be addressed and distinguish them from one another?
- Does the text wrestle with difficult, or only with easy, questions? . . .
- Does it get to the heart of a matter?
- Does it note subtle distinctions and nuances that other writers miss?
9. Form and Style
- Is it appropriate to the subject matter?
- Does it show creativity?
[Frame also lists what he considers to be unsound criteria for evaluating theological writings. In other words, these are the sort of things not to use.]
- In this kind of criticism, one theologian attacks another for having an improper “emphasis.”
- But there is no such thing as a single normative emphasis.
- An emphasis becomes a problem only when it leads to other sorts of problems. . . .
- Here a work is criticized because it resembles another work that is poorly regarded.
- Such resemblance, however, is never sufficient ground for criticism.
- The strengths and weaknesses of each work must be evaluated individually.
- Criticizing the terminology of a work—its metaphors, motifs, and definitions—is never sound unless the terminology causes some of the problems listed above in criteria 1-9.
- The terminology itself is never the problem.
- This sort of criticism falls under our condemnation of “word-level,” rather than “sentence-level,” criticism.
Adapted from John M. Frame, “Appendix E: Evaluating Theological Writings,” in Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1987), 369–70. Used with permission.