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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

John Frame on Michael Horton's "Christless Christianity"

I have thought for quite some time that Westminster Seminary California (WSC) is not only theologically incorrect on many issues, but often historically mistaken as well. WSC is wrong on Natural Law; wrong on Two Kingdom theology; wrong on the Covenant of Works; wrong on Redemptive Historical preaching; wrong on Molinism; wrong on Law-Gospel; wrong on John Frame – yet had they got Frame right, they probably would not be so wrong on so many things. They would probably draw finer distinctions than they do. (NOTE: Natural Law, Two Kingdoms and Covenant of Works are all biblical ideas. WSC simply misunderstands them. Redemptive Historical is an excellent manner of preaching. WSC simply places undo emphasis upon it. Molinism implies heresy. WSC simply has little appreciation for what distinguishes it from Open Theism, let alone the metaphysics implied by libertarian freedom. Law should be distinguished from gospel regarding the way of salvation, but not dichotomized into mutually exclusive messages. In a word, WSC knows enough to be dangerous about many things.)

That WSC is wrong on so many issues wouldn’t be as bad if the seminary didn’t fancy itself as the keeper of the Reformed faith, another thing they’re wrong about.

In any case, in 2009 John Frame reviewed Michael Horton’s book: Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Although I have not read the book and, therefore, cannot comment on truthfulness of the review, I provide the link as information. My only hope is that those young, impressionables out there who have placed their trust (if not also their tuition dollars) in any institution, whether in Moscow, Idaho, Escondido, California or Glenside, Pennsylvania would consider all they are taught with a critical mind.

In summary, Frame contends that Horton’s criticisms of the American church presuppose more than ten major principles that although he says Horton does not maintain with utter consistency, they are necessary for Horton’s case. Not only does Frame observe that Horton does not maintain with consistency his own critical strictures, Frame also asserts that “Horton’s argument depends on ideas that cannot be justified by Scripture, or by the classic Protestant confessions.” In short, “Horton measures the American church with a defective theology” says Frame. Frame concludes that “Christless Christianity is essentially an evaluation of the American church, not from the standpoint of a generic Protestant theology, but from what I must regard as a narrow, factional, even sectarian perspective.”

Below are the unvarnished “ten points” that Frame argues are foundational to Horton’s thesis:

1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to Christ.

2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearers.

3. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are a zero-sum game. The idea that man must do something compromises the absolute sovereignty of God.

4. God’s work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us. (Here he backtracks some.)

5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a “theology of glory,” deserving condemnation.

6. Law and gospel should be utterly separate. There should be no good news in the bad news and no bad news in the good news.

7. Preaching of the gospel must never use biblical characters as moral or spiritual examples. Nor must it address practical ethical issues in the Christian life.

8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.

9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.

10. Analysts of the church must compare the Church’s focus on Christ with its focus on other things, rather than considering that many of these other things are in fact applications of Christ’s own person and work.


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10 comments:

Chuck said...

"5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a “theology of glory,” deserving condemnation."

Impossible to live consistently with this, thank God.

Reformed Apologist said...

Yes, Mike's broad brush gets him in trouble.

Puritan Lad said...

I have read Frame's book "Escondido Theology", and often wonder if both sides are painting each other with a Broad brush. On one hand, Horton's criticism (I haven't read the book either) of American Christianity may well be justified though I wouldn't necessarily refer to all churches as "Christless" though they may have serious errors.

I think that Horton and D.G. Hart (whose book I have read) are reacting to "seeker-sensitive", entertainment based, man-centered worship. Maybe they take it too far, or maybe it's a matter of symantics. For example, Frame criticizes Hart for stating that the church should not seek to be "relevant". I guess it depends on what one means by "relevant". As Hart states, worship is the time when the church declares it's "other-worldliness", not it's "relevance". On that point, I agree with Hart.

Reformed Apologist said...

Hi Puritan Lad,

I think Frame is accurate in his depiction. I don't agree with all the conclusions he draws but I do think he states the facts correctly. Horton is sloppy in his generalizations and as John points out Mike often ends up giving back with the other hand that which he took in the first place. Mike is a pop-theologian and radio host. I have no use for such a personality teaching at a seminary. He's an historian at best.

As for Hart, I agree with many of his conclusions but how he arrives at them sometimes is another matter. He is not a critical thinker by any stretch. Both he and Mike should be sitting at John's feet.

Anonymous said...

You guys are tough I also don't know if you mix with the church st large, I mix with many of the "other side" the charismatic, word of faith, missional and found Hortons remarks although a little extreme, very helpful, most of what Frame said would not even be understood by most ordinary Evangelicals, fact is we, all of us are in a mess, so let's try to solve the problem and beg God to help us :-)

Reformed Apologist said...

Tough? How so? Extreme remarks, as you put it, violate the ninth commandment. We can work together best by not being downright reckless.

Hughuenot said...

RE Ron,

Please indicate how these assertions are true, i.e. please direct us to evidence & arguments for them.

WSC is wrong on Natural Law;
wrong on Two Kingdom theology;
wrong on the Covenant of Works;
wrong on Redemptive Historical preaching;
wrong on Molinism;
wrong on Law-Gospel;
wrong on John Frame...


Thank you,
Hugh McCann

Reformed Apologist said...

Hi Hugh,

I'll assume you know their positions on these matters. Accordingly, all that's left is to refute those positions, which I've done all over this Blog both positively and negatively. For the sake of progress, I might suggest you look for those discussions on this Blog.

There is one exception to the matter, which would be the confusion over Middle Knowledge and Open Theism. That can be found on Scott's blog here.
http://heidelblog.net/2010/04/molinism-and-westminster-seminary-california/

Hughuenot said...

Thanks, R.A.

I have little time to delve into both your blog archives and refer back to the sources to see how accurate you may be. I would have hoped you might provide me a link or two to your succinct synopses & insightful critiques.

That you had not read Horton, and merely presupposed his errors as well as the Frame review's soundness isn't terribly helpful, informationally.

So, I offer the following as one who's read Christless Christianity, to one who likes information:

1. Was Frame's Review of Horton's "Christless Christianity" On Target? ~
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2009/11/11/was-frames-review-of-hortons-christless-christianity-on-target/

2. Frame's anti-Hortonism weighed & found wanting: www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2009/10/22/a-response-to-professor-john-frame/

3. One of your own ecclesia (and more fun than anyone): http://oldlife.org/2009/10/erdman%e2%80%99s-passive-aggressive-step-grandson-in-law/

Yours,
Hugh McCann

Reformed Apologist said...

I have little time to delve into both your blog archives and refer back to the sources to see how accurate you may be.

Hugh,

If you want to see if I'm accurate on R2K, for instance, there's not much more I can do than refer you to interactions I've had with people like Darryl Hart on this Blog. It would seem that you want to check whether I'm accurate yet you don't want to take the time to see whether I'm accurate. Seems a hopeless case.

I would have hoped you might provide me a link or two to your succinct synopses & insightful critiques.

Try the tags that are on the sidebar.

That you had not read Horton, and merely presupposed his errors as well as the Frame review's soundness isn't terribly helpful, informationally.

Ah, but I have read Horton and do interact with some of his mistakes on this site, like his mistakes about logical conditions and the covenant of grace.