Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Contra Johannem Frameum: Horton and Christless Christianity

Back in 2011, John Frame, a former professor at Westminster Seminary California and now at RTS (Orlando) wrote a book attacking what he called the "Escondido Theology." Since Frame was formerly a professor who left under a less than favorable situation, the book could be seen as the disgruntled whining of a former employee. Frame's charges were roundly rejected by the seminary and Dr. Michael Horton repudiated Frame's (mis)presentation of his views. That said, all of these are based upon their own judgments, and for some time I wanted to look at the charges myself. When I finally read it, I was astounded. The caricatures and misrepresentations are so bad and numerous one really wonders whether this libelous book is indeed the disgruntled attacks of someone who has a bitter personal vendetta against the seminary to the point of breaking the 9th commandment in order to "get back" at it.

I have graduated from the seminary, and I had tried to learn as much as I could there. I am no parrot and no follower of anyone but Christ, and just because I have graduated there does not mean that I necessarily adopt everything my professors believed and/or taught. That said, if what they teach is the truth, then of course I hold to it. And if one disagrees with what they teach, one needs to actually do so because the Bible says so, not because one does not like what they teach, much less reject a caricature of it. Sadly, the amount of strawmen burned by Frame blackened the sky with smoke. Lots of heat is produced, but not only is no light produced, but darkness covers the land because of his hack job of a book.

Frame's second chapter is an attack on Horton's book Christless Christianity. First of all, Frame misrepresents even Horton's position vis-a-vis the American churches. Frame claims that Horton makes a blanket condemnation of ALL churches and then backtracks later (pp. 23-4). The whole representation is ludicrous and one wonders whether Frame has problems with basic reading comprehension. In which world are general statements necessarily meant to be taken to be applicable to all of the particulars? This is the logical fallacy of division. Frame next reads Horton's saying that some professing Christians focus on good things as being a subtle distraction away from Christ, and mutates it into saying that Horton claims a two-tiered hierarchy of believers, the "higher" ones focusing on the best things and the "lower" ones focusing merely on the good things (p. 25). I must say this, and at various other point, I am rendered speechless as to how to even respond to such misrepresentations. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say perhaps because Frame reads this as speaking of actual Christians who are focusing on good things, while Horton is "denigrating" them for the purpose of setting up the "higher level" of those who focus on the "best things." But this is such a twisted thinking! Horton's point was that these "professing Christians" are in danger of falling away. Their conduct is not that of "second grade Christians," but conduct totally unbecoming of Christians in the first place! Throughout this chapter, Frame questions even whether anyone can be said to fall into this category. Does Horton have to name even more names and make what is clear even more evident? But I guess there is nothing that Frame sees as being unacceptable in the church, except for Confessional Reformed praxis it seems. How can anyone even defend the word-faith heretic Joel Osteen (p. 38) is beyond me. It has nothing whatsoever to do with reading Osteen in the "worst possible sense" (p. 38), for his theology is not hidden at all. Does Frame think that the Bible teaches that men are little gods and that they can claim God's blessings on demand, and only on demand? Does he thinks that it is perfectly in line with Scripture for people to say that God cannot do anything on this world without the express permission of men? Does he believe that it is perfectly legit for Christians to want to be rich and pay seed money to attempt to get a hundred-fold return on their "investments" into God's treasury?!

Frame defends the modern evangelical churches by claiming that there is nothing wrong with "application," since the Bible speaks about them (p. 30). Conversely, he accuses Horton (and the "Escondido Theology") of being against application (p. xxxvii). But this is nothing but a total misrepresentation of Horton's views. The problem is that Horton grounds application in right doctrine. One has to get the indicative of the Gospel before going to the imperatives of the faith. To just preach imperatives or even on "secular" topics is the very definition of "Christless Christianity." Frame does not even show the slightest hint that he knows that is what Horton is actually advocating. Instead, he sees an attack on "applicational preaching" and "preaching to felt needs" as being an attack on any forms of application at all (pp. 35-6), but this is a total non sequitur! Frame also thinks that Horton's critique of the language of "making him [i.e.Christ] relevant" is an attack on any and all forms of translating and communicating God's truth (pp. 35-7). I mean, how can one read a critique of saying that we should not soften the offense of the Gospel as saying that we should not translate the Gospel into another language like Hebrew, Russian, Japanese, or Chinese? Seriously, what world is Frame living in, to make such egregious errors in reading comprehension?

More examples of absolutely horrendous misrepresentations follow. A critique of pietism with its focus on one's emotional feeling of salvation becomes misinterpreted as a denial of the Spirit's witness to our salvation (p. 40). Horton's distinction between Law and Gospel under Frame's pen becomes the separation of Law and Gospel (pp. 44-7). Horton's critique of moralism becomes an attack on all forms of using biblical figures as examples (p. 48). After reading through this chapter, one wonders if there is anything, just ANYTHING, that Frame does not misrepresent.

Frame concluded his chapter with a so-called "summary" of Horton's arguments in Christless Christianity, which are all misrepresentations of his actual positions. They are as follows (pp. 58-9), with my comments.

  1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to God.
    Answer: Misleading. Attention to ourselves as primary necessarily detracts from attention to God.

  2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearer.
    Answer: Misrepresentation. Horton's argument is that we should not be focused on changing or watering down the message in the name of communicating the Gospel or making it relevant.

  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.
    Answer: Misrepresentation! The issue is not about working on sanctification, but about the Gospel and justification which is totally free and MUST be the foundation for sanctification.

  4. God's work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us (Here he backtracks some.)
    Answer: Misleading and misrepresentation. God's work of salvation is not at all subjective in the sense of our emotional feeling of it. The work of Christ in us (regeneration and faith) is objective, not subjective, since God is the one who does the work. It may be expressed subjectively, but the works themselves are not subjective. Furthermore, it is one thing to know of the Spirit's work internally, and another to feel it emotively.

  5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a "theology of glory," deserving condemnation
    Answer: Misleading. God does promise us earthly blessings, but God does NOT promise us "earthly blessings" of health and wealth. The focus of God's blessings is not on earthly gain, but on our sanctification. To desire "earthly blessings" is indeed a "theology of glory" because it desires the glory of the world instead of Christ.

  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.
    Answer: Misrepresentation. Law and Gospel are distinct, but not separate. When used as theological categories, they are not necessarily linked to the text like some simplistic idea of "Law" equals Old Testament and "Gospel" equals New Testament, or even "Gospel" equals the four Gospels.

  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.
    Answer: False! Misrepresentation! Preaching of the Gospel must never use biblical examples WITHOUT seeing them in light of Christ and the Gospel, not that they must never be used.

  8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.
    Answer: Misleading. A focus on redemption does not mean that other issues are not important, just that they are peripheral to the faith, and should orientate themselves with Christ and the Gospel in the center.

  9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.
    Answer: Misrepresentation! A rejection of contemporary "participation" in worship does not imply that the congregation is fully passive in worship

  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.
    Answer: Misrepresentation of much of American evangelicalism. It is not that they are applying Christ's person and work, as that they are using Scripture to preach on ethics without Christ and His work being central.

And this is just the beginning of Frame's misrepresentations...

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