John Frame’s 9-Point Checklist for Evaluating Theological Writings

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Theologian John Frame sets forth the criteria he uses—and tries to avoid—when evaluating theological writings.


1. Scripturality

  • Are the ideas teachings of Scripture?
  • Are they at least consistent with Scripture?
  • This is, of course, the chief criterion.

2. Truth

  • Even if an idea is not found in Scripture, it may be true—for example, a theory about the influence of Bultmann or Pannenberg.

3. Cogency

  • Is the author’s case adequately argued?
  • Are his premises true, his arguments valid?

4. Edification

  • Is it spiritually helpful?
  • Harmful?
  • Hard to say?

5. Godliness

  • Does the text exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, or is it blasphemous, gossipy, slanderous, unkind, and so forth?

6. Importance

  • Is the idea important?
  • Trivial?
  • Somewhere in between?
  • Important for some but not for others?

7. Clarity

  • 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?

8. Profundity

  • 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.]

Emphasis

  • 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. . . .

Comparability

  • 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.

Terminology

  • 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.

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