John Frame has written a massive book (1069 pages including indices) on Christian ethics. This is volume three of his series A Theology of Lordship, the other two volumes being this one and this one. There is one more volume to come, on the Word of God.
Frame is known for his tri-perspectivalism (normative, situational, and existential). While some may question whether this fits all the places he chooses to use it, it does seem to fit very well in ethics, since goal, motive and standard correspond respectively to situational, existential, and normative. He does claim, rightly I think, that this way of thinking finds its natural home in ethics (p. xxv).
The book is divided into six parts, labelled Introductory Considerations (wherein he discusses definitions of terms, various forms of ethics, and his tri-perspectivalism), Non-Christian Ethics (which includes a detailed critique of existential, teleological, and deontological ethics), Christian Ethical Methodology (broadly outlining the tri-perspectivalism), The Ten Commandments (this constitutes the heart of the book, and is by far and away the largest portion of the book, weighing in at a hefty 467 pages. This section includes introductory considerations plus a very detailed exposition of the Ten Commandments), Christ and Culture, and Personal Spiritual Maturity. There are then 12 appendices dealing with book reviews and responses to various critics.
I would like to look briefly at the fourth part of the book, and give people a taste of what they will find. Generally speaking, I found the book edifying, detailed, and well-argued. And I agreed with most of what Frame is saying. I will share what I found most helpful: Frame’s view of the law as a whole. While not denying that each of the Ten Commandments has its own sphere, he also argues that the law is a single whole, and that each commandment is a metaphor for the whole law. I am going to quote the whole section on p. 398 to show this (I will take out the Scriptural references and leave just the argumentation):
1. In the first commandment, the “other gods” include mammon and anything else that competes with God for out ultimate loyatly. Since any sin is disloyalty to God, the violation of any commandment is also violation of the first. Thus, all sin violates the first commandment; or, to put it differently, the commandment forbids all sins.
2. In the second commandment, similarly, the sin of worshiping a graven image is the sin of worshiping anything (or worshiping by means of anything) of human devising. “Worship” can be a broad ethical concept in Scripture as well as a narrowly cultic one. Any sin involves following our own purposes, purposes of our own devising, instead of God’s, and that is false worship.
3. In the third commandment, “the name of the Lord” can refer to God’s entire self-revelation, and any disobedience of that revelation can be described as “vanity.” Thus, all sin violates the third commandment.
4. The Sabbath commandment demands godly use of our entire calendar- six days to carry ut our own work to God’s glory, and the seventh to worship and rest. So the whole week is given to us to do God’s will. Any disobedient or ungodly use of time, on the six days or the seventh, may be seen as transgression of the fourth commandment.
5. “Father and mother” in the fifth commandment can be read broadly to refer to all authority and even the authority of God himself. Thus, all disobedience of God violates the fifth commandment.
6. Jesus interprets the sixth commandment to prohibit unrighteous anger because of its disrespect for life. Genesis 9:6 relates this principle to respect for man as God’s image. Since all sin manifests such disrespect for life and for God’s image, it violates the sixth commandment.
7. Adultery is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor (indeed, more than a metaphor) for idolatry. Israel is pictured as the Lord’s unfaithful wife. The marriage figure is a prominent biblical description of the covenant order. Breaking the covenant at any point is adultery.
8. Withholding tithes and offerings-God’s due- is stealing. Thus, to withhold any honor due to God falls under the same condemnation.
9. “Witnessing” in Scripture is something you are, more than something you do. It involves not only speech, but actions as well. It is comprehensive.
10. Coveting, like stealing, is involved in all sin. Sinful acts are the product of the selfish heart. This commandment speaks against the root of sin, and therefore against all sin.
He goes on to note that we should not pit the narrow and the broad meanings of the Ten Commandments against each other. I find this approach helpful, even if I may not agree with his interpretation of every commandment.
For instance, I disagree with his interpretation of the fourth commandment, although our respective positions are a lot closer than I expected them to be. He does argue that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, along much the same lines as I do. He does argue that normal work that is not necessary is forbidden. And even where we differ (on the recreation clause and our respective interpretations of Isaiah 58:13), Frame has not only thought about the issues, but has provided argumentation. He does not cavalierly dismiss the Puritan view, but takes it seriously, unlike so many candidates for ministry today. This book will make you think, and Frame is clearly in his element in this book. I would therefore recommend it.