The Reformed blogosphere is (or was) abuzzed it seems with Prof. John Frame's review of Prof. Michael Horton's book Christless Christianity. Frame's review has been answered by Darryl G. Hart, Kim Riddlebarger, R. Scott Clark, and the staff of the White Horse Inn. My friend Stephen Macasil has entered the fray also with his latest blog post, which attempts to go deeper and interact with the topics raised.
When I was first directed to Frame's review through the article on Gospel-centered Legalism (ie a totally different topic), I was rather stunned by the review. Having owned and read Horton's book Christless Christianity, Frame's review was the worst misrepresentation of a single book I have ever seen. The most ludicrous part was when Frame semi-defended Joel Osteen (?!) against Horton's charges. Osteen is a Word-faith heretic, and Frame who is supposed to be Reformed defends a wolf against Horton? Amazing!
The state of the Church in general was another point where I just have to shake my head in amazement. Which planet is Prof. Frame living on? The "Ivory Tower" planet? It most definitely is not earth! America is awash with heresy as the Emerging Church movement, the Word-faith cult, and the Contemplative Spirituality nonsense is destroying the faith of many, yet according to him, the Church is still doing fine and "There is a greater interest in sanctification (not just justification), on Christianity as a world view, on believers’ obligations to one another, on love within the body of Christ, and in the implications of Scripture for social justice"? Even discounting America (which has a really bad habit of thinking they are the center of the world), the rest of the world is in really bad shape. But let us go back to America. What about the heresy of Federal Vision and Neolegalism wrecking havoc in Reformed and Presbyterian circles? Oh wait, Frame defended the heretic Norman Shepherd while he was still in WTS.
In their response to Frame, the White Horse Inn staff Eric Landry has picked the 10 points with which Frame accuses Horton of teaching, and refutes them all. I think it would be instrumental to just let Landry speak in this regard here (Dark Red Italics refer to Frame's points).
1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to Christ.
No, it can detract from Christ. But it does not necessarily detract from Christ. When it comes to the gospel, “we preach not ourselves, but Christ,” because the gospel is not about us at all. Confusion over this matter does detract from Christ. However, the good news about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection has implications on the way we live, and so we must give some attention to ourselves as we let the light of the gospel shine in every dark corner, which challenges us to rethink our actions, self-centeredness, etc.
2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearers.
Relevance and context are clearly different than pragmatism. To which has the evangelical church at large given itself?
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.
This is an outright misrepresentation and we’re disappointed that Professor Frame should characterize Horton’s theology in this way. He is not a hyper-Calvinist and nothing in Christless Christianity or anything else that he has written bears this out.
4. God’s work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us. (Here he backtracks some.)
This is another caricature. Horton’s argument is that the gospel is completely objective and external to us: it’s the Good News about Christ’s person and work. However, Horton clearly says that God’s work of salvation includes regeneration and sanctification. The Spirit applies the redemption that the gospel announces.
5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a “theology of glory,” deserving condemnation.
Horton’s critique is that we are trying to use God to attain our best life now, rather than to see God as the object of our faith and worship, for “every blessing in heavenly realms in Christ” (Eph 1:3-4). Lost in exaggeration, Frame’s caricature of this argument misses the point.
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.
This is a longstanding complaint by Frame. Not only does he consistently misrepresent the Lutheran view on this point; he seems to be unaware of the consensus of Reformed theologians that the confusion of law and gospel is the heart of theological errors. This point has been made not only by Calvin, but by Beza, Ursinus, Perkins, Owen, and Spurgeon all the way to Louis Berkhof and John Murray. In Christless Christianity (and elsewhere), Horton very clearly affirms that law and gospel are to be distinguished but never separated. The one thing that Professor Frame accurately says about the book on this point is that “There should be no good news in the bad news and no bad news in the good news.” That’s why the law reveals our sin and misery (as the Heidelberg Catechism and Westminster Shorter Catechism confess), and the gospel reveals God’s saving grace toward us in Jesus Christ. One should be far less bothered that Professor Frame is confused about Christless Christianity than that he seems confused about the difference between commands (imperatives) and declarations of God’s promises (indicatives).
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.
Of course there are moral examples in Scripture, and Horton affirms this in his book; the point is that the Bible is to be read as an unfolding story of redemption, with Christ as the hero. All we ask is that if you use a character as a moral or spiritual example, be sure to include not just the exemplary things that he or she did but also the tragic sins that made it necessary for even a “friend of God” or a “man after God’s own heart” to look forward to a Redeemer. Don’t stop with the example, look to where the example actually points: to Jesus Christ. And ground your practical ethical issues in the new creation, just as the New Testament writers do. For more on the relationship between doctrine and ethics, see Horton’s People and Place.
8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.
This is baffling. Is Frame intentionally misrepresenting the book or is he unable to read the book without even a modicum of Christian charity? Stunning.
9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.
Read Horton’s A Better Way for a substative rebuttal. That Frame and Horton have differences of opinion on what happens or should happen in a worship service is an understatement, but point 9 does not reflect either the points made in Christless Christianity or A Better Way. Horton has consistently argued that worship is dialogical; the congregation is a participant with God in the worship service. God serves us in Word and Sacrament, and we respond in songs of praise, prayer, confession, and attention.
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.
If churches actually saw their focus on other things as extensions and applications of Christ’s ministry, we wouldn’t have an issue. But the facts (as cited in the works of both unbelievers and believers in many different traditions) just don’t bear out Frame’s optimism about mainstream evangelicalism here.