Frame review of Horton's "Christless Christianity"

Discussion in 'The Literary Forum' started by mvdm, Oct 21, 2009.

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  1. Archlute

    Archlute Puritan Board Senior

    Knowing that this is coming from Frame, who left Westminster West for warmer and less confessional waters, I would view this as more of an attempted poke in the eye than a credible review. His footnotes on Mike Horton and other WSC faculty in his last work on ethics were so ridiculous as to make me skeptical that he will ever have anything evenhanded and worthwhile to say in the future about the institution or the men who teach there.

    Did you notice Frame attacking Horton for not being confessional in one of the final paragraphs? How ironic is that coming John Frame? This is the man whose theology is the fuel behind the fire in the Pacific NW presbytery of ditching any meaningful view of the confessions altogether; a man who has less use in his works for the confessions than an Oregonian has for sun screen?

    Remember, Frame also recently endorsed Norm Shepherd's latest work against the protestant doctrine of justification, and has in his latest volume on ethics completely garbled the relationship between the law and justification. For an example of his confused thinking check out his statement in footnote 20 of the review where he writes: "If we give 'gospel' a broader definition, as I did earlier in this review, it is possible to say that all Scripture is gospel. But it is similarly possible to say that all Scripture is law, worldview, ethical guidance, etc." Huh? Really? Why not just say that it means everything and nothing all at the same time?

    When Frame can begin to speak with some coherence about the classic articulations of Reformed doctrine in his own writings, I will begin to take his critiques of others more seriously. Until then, I just chalk this review up as an excuse to rant against an institution towards which he is still sore through one of its theologians.
  2. Hamalas

    Hamalas whippersnapper

  3. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    I think this article will offend Reformed Lutherans.
  4. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    Ad hominem is still a logical fallacy. Frame's shortcomings should not be read into this review, unless they are actually relevant.
  5. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    To close your mind to an article because it is written by a certain person that you dislike is certainly not going to benefit this thread, nor yourself. I am not a big fan of Frame, but the article contains some excellent points.
  6. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Raising an alarm can be useful to awaken an individual who slumbers in his ignorance or negligence. Frame chooses to make "Christless Christianity" a matter of gospel or no gospel in the vein of Galatians 1; but he might have charitably taken it in the same light as he would receive Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 5:14. Saying that someone sleeps and needs the light of Christ does not equate to calling them non Christians. It merely indicates their desperate need to wake up and start living what they profess.

    On the issues the review raises, I find it hard to believe that a Christian professor would criticise a Christian writer for maintaining that modern Christianity does in fact see God and Christ as supporting characters in our own drama. I don't know too many reformed pastors today who don't see and feel this as a reality every time he addresses his flock. We are a self-centred society (or should I simply say, group of individuals, because there is nothing social about selfishness), and this self-centredness permeates the church. Everyone acknowledges that "myspace" is not simply an internet phenomenon. It permeates all of life, including church-life. It is a continual battle to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, but it must be done whether people like it or not -- that is what being a servant of Christ entails.

    Latent in Frame's comments is a process of self-justification for his theology as application model. His model is full of holes and cannot be rescued. He should simply face the fact and abandon it. Theology does not merely meet needs, it creates the needs which require fulfilment. Frame fails to account for this reality. Yes, God is our fortress, but such imagery is only meaningful when it is placed within the context of a biblical worldview in which God Himself takes centre stage and man is seen as the servant of God.

    Horton correctly observes that cultural translation of the gospel removes the offence of the gospel thus making conversion something less than a miracle. Frame thinks this mistakes the relation between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Yet he nowhere addresses the problems involved with translation and contextualisation. He simply provides a counterpoint to Horton's point. Horton has provided biblical and theological reasons why the church should not remove the offence of the gospel, but the reviewer simply leaves these unanswered.

    The positives of this review are to be found in the criticisms of Horton's view of law, morality, and redemption. I think it can be sustained that Horton is representing more of a Lutheran than Reformed view of the law. He seems to espouse the "gospel of justification alone," with very little concern with the way the gospel changes man in the totality of his life. At this point some of Frame's criticisms are very pointed and well worth pondering in an age when reformed churches are falling prey to the "justification only" gospel.

    The review subsequently fails to do justice to Horton's concerns with regard to church, ministry and worship. Here, again, Frame simply engages in self-justification rather than genuine review. He obviously feels the sting of Horton's criticisms, and so he should. Frame has not acted responsibly in the way he has presented ministry and worship in his own writings. "Accommodation" rather than "perfection" has been his aim, whereas the true model of gospel ministry is set forth in the apostle Paul -- Colossians 1:28, "Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." The idea that "every man" is capable of warning and teaching every man is simply absurd, and could never truly aim at the "perfection" of the body of Christ since "every man" merely recreates Christianity in his own image.

    By and large Frame has offered a poor review to a book which is generally written in the apostolic spirit and with genuine concerns for the state of Christianity today. While the book has its weaknesses, it would appear that its weaknesses are stronger than the reviewer's strengths.
  7. Sven

    Sven Puritan Board Sophomore

    Well spoken, Mr. Moderator. Frame's critique was shameful. His track record shows that he would rather defend Evangelicalism rather than classic Reformed Protestantism.
  8. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    The law/gospel dichotomy that downplays, is critical of, is negligent in, or recasts any of the three uses of the law does not represent classic or confessional Reformed Protestantism. Frame may have a great deal amiss, and his formulation of law/gospel may be problematic, but he is closer to the Westminster Standards on this than a more antinomian approach.

  9. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Can your rephrase this so I can understand what you are saying? I am not getting your point? Are you saying that the three uses of the law are incorrect according to the Westminster Standards?
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2009
  10. Archlute

    Archlute Puritan Board Senior

    I didn't close my mind, I actually read it and considered it's content. However, I also know that Frame writes with an agenda against WSC, and saw some of that animosity driving his review. Well, a lot of that animosity driving the review would be a more accurate way to put it.

    -----Added 10/21/2009 at 11:57:39 EST-----

    So you are saying that Frame's moralistic confusion on law/gospel issues is somehow closer to the confessions than antinomianism?

    Btw, I'm not sure why folk insist on making the accusation that Horton/WSC "downplays, is critical of, is negligent in, or recasts" specifically the third use of the law (which is usually the charge). I know that Horton wrote a great essay on the third use, which seemed to me about as orthodox a formulation as anything you will find in the Westminster confession. If he has ditched the third use, please cite a clear statement from him in print or on air from WHI.
  11. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    I'm sorry for the confusion. All three uses of the law are required and heartily endorsed by the Westminster Standards.
  12. Archlute

    Archlute Puritan Board Senior

    They are relevant in as much as you cannot expect him to properly critique Horton's teaching in relationship to confessional theology when he himself has recognizable confusion on the very issue he is seeking to critique.

    Again, read footnote 20, and tell me how he can clarify anything with multi-perspectival redefinitions of that magnitude?
  13. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritanboard Commissioner

    Randy, my read was that many people critique the WSC crew for taking a more Lutheran than Calvinian view of the Law. Luther vacillated greatly in trying to bring himself to affirm what Calvin called the third use of the Law. Critics of WSC often try to make them out to have a more Lutheran than Calvinian approach. So, in his critique of Horton, it would not be unusual to make the standard objection to WSC profs.
  14. Josiah

    Josiah Puritan Board Senior

    I appreciate you mentioning this. I assume you are referencing the examination of the views of Peter leithart by the PNW Presbytery?
  15. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Is this true though? I noticed this accusation in Rev. Winzer's comments.

    I don't listen the White Horse Inn nor have I read much of Horton. I did read 'Christ the Lord' many many moons ago which was on the Lordship Controversy issue. I don't recall it being a 'gospel of justification alone' type of book. I like that phrase, "Gospel of justification alone." That is a catchy phrase and very descriptive. I just don't have the experience of hearing such teaching coming out of Reformed leaning men.
  16. mvdm

    mvdm Puritan Board Junior

    I don't think Horton himself would find the label "Lutheran" to be something negative. He often {and unapologetically} appeals to Luther for his natural law/ R2k theology. As just one example, listen to the 10/18/09 WHI entitled "Christianity and Secular Culture". {approx. 38 minutes}. The first part is an interview with a German journalist who says, among other things, that when speaking to an atheist, you cannot appeal to the Bible to condemn abortion, because the Bible is meaningless to the atheist. The journalist defends Luther and natural law theology. The WHI roundtable discussion is very approving of this-- and also of the idea that holding to the Bible/God's Law speaking to the civil realm is what leads to over-realized and apocalyptic eschatologies {Anabaptists, Jonestown, Waco, etc}.

    White Horse Inn
  17. SolaScriptura

    SolaScriptura Puritan Board Doctor

    After hearing him on the White Horse Inn and reading a couple of his more recent works, I tend to agree with you.
  18. CatechumenPatrick

    CatechumenPatrick Puritan Board Freshman

    “What are these subtle distortions? Evidently, what Horton is concerned with is an emphasis. The metaphors of “looking away from” Christ and putting something else on “center stage” have to do with the emphasis we put on Christ.”

    Having read most of Frame’s books (as well as Horton's), I cannot recall one in which he did not purport to resolve serious disagreements by his hand-waving “emphasis” pleading. More and more, it strikes me as a red-herring, and extremely unhelpful.

    I’ve never seen Frame so uncharitably, sloppily interpret someone than in this review. Just take a look at the conclusion at what he thinks are ten unconfessional, unscriptural theses in Horton’s work. All ten of them are appalling distortions of what Horton wrote. I’m quite depressed now.
  19. SemperEruditio

    SemperEruditio Puritan Board Junior

    " If we remove #1-10 as measuring sticks for the American church, the church does not look nearly as bad as Horton presents it."

    It seems that Frame and I are living in different America's. I suspect this is what happens to professors when they are completely immersed in orthodox academia. In the rest of the US or I will say in the churches I visited in a number of states the state of American Christianity is Christless. Well perhaps not christless but the Christ worshipped is not the Christ found in God's word. Unless I'm mistaken liberal theology is the norm and liberals claim that scripture is fallible, in error, uninspired, and is that not as bad as Horton or anyone presents the state of American Christianity?
  20. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    That is worse than Christless -- it is anti-Christ.
  21. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Excellent observations in this thread. I have to admit to a personal fondness for both men in spite of some differences (much more so with Frame than Horton). I would agree with those that note that Horton's theology on the Law is much more Lutheran and that is fairly transparent in the most recent WHI interview.

    Providentially I've been listening to Frame on Pastoral Ethics on

    I think that if I didn't know more about the Puritans and Reformed thought then I might find Frame's repeated swipes at Reformed theology in his presentation more compelling. He consistently sets himself up as a balance against the excesses of the Reformation, which he constantly refers to as "intellectual."

    My problem is not that he criticizes but that his criticisms are typically straw man attacks against Reformed positions. When he wants to posit a perspectival aspect of something in opposition to where the Reformed are in a matter he regularly mischaracterizes and shows little appreciation for the historically Reformed understanding of things. If he does understand them then this mischaracterization is inexcusable.

    I find myself increasingly saddened when I listen to Frame's teaching these days. What I seem to sense are those that are looking for a mythical "balance". Frame offers for them a way to "outgrow" Reformed theology by giving them tools to justify that the historic Reformed confessions are written by intellectualists who have no appreciation for the difficulties of life. Frame offers the out of his balanced approach that sees things as they really are. Where he ever (and its rarely) interacts with the Confessions it is usually to either criticize or often to recast.
  22. Marrow Man

    Marrow Man Drunk with Powder

    The WHI has responded: A Response to Professor John Frame » White Horse Inn Blog

    This part of the response (not by Horton) is included in the rebuttal:

    Last edited: Oct 22, 2009
  23. Archlute

    Archlute Puritan Board Senior

    Yes. Frame's theology was mentioned several times from the floor, and in particular the application of his tri-perspectivalism to a reading of the confessions. I believe it was Rob Rayburn who tried making the point that "there are paradigms within paradigms of how we read the confessions" in an attempt to deny the validity of the minority report's assertion that Leithart's views contradicted the confessions at several key points.

    I should clarify that I believe that this is a misapplication of Frame's theology, and I do not think that he would say it was being used as he intended it to be used. What was being done to confessional interpretation at that meeting by some of the men had more to do with post-modern hermeneutics than anything coming out of Frame's writings.

    The fact remains, however, that they were claiming Frame's theology as justification for divesting the confessions of any real authority in the presbytery trial for," if you can view it this way, and I can view it that way, who is to say which is the right perspective? Maybe they are all right!" (which actually comes a little closer to John Frame's way of thinking, since he does say all of Scripture can be law, gospel, ethics, etc simultaneously).
  24. Irish Presbyterian

    Irish Presbyterian Puritan Board Freshman

    You have to be very careful in making these kind of statements and give proof of these accusations. Just because others have said that Horton et al have a more 'Lutheran' view of the law rather than a Reformed view doesn't mean that we have to give the same unsubstantiated response.

    'Christless Christianity' must also be read in it's own context as a critique of large parts of an Evangelicalism that seems to neglect justification altogether. If Horton places an emphasis on this particularly that doesn't automatically suggest that he neglects regeneration and sanctification (read 'Covenant and Salvation'). Remember that this is the 'diagnosis' and 'The Gospel Driven Life' is the 'remedy'. A wiser man than I once said "we cannot say everything we want to say, every time we say anything at all". Read Horton's Covenant trilogy, read his book on the Ten commandments, read God of Promise and then, just maybe, we can all get away from this 'Lutheran' view nonsense.
  25. Myshkin

    Myshkin Puritan Board Freshman

    Matthew, Adam B., Mark, Ben, Rich, and others,

    I think that too often the assertion that WSC et. al. are "more Lutheran" regarding law and gospel is never challenged or made to be clarified.

    I'd like to ask those who think that Horton is teaching a "Lutheran" view of law to please define exactly what they mean and why it is uniquely "Lutheran" as opposed to Reformed?

    So far in this thread, a "Lutheran" view of law has been defined as:
    1. natural law
    2. Two-Kingdoms
    3. a denial of the third use of the law
    4. "justification only gospel" (which I assume is meant "Christ as Savior but not Lord")

    I would submit that until Theonomy arose, natural law was considered classical protestantism (i.e. Lutheran and Reformed). Same with 2K, despite the differences of application (i.e. Theocratic among the magisterial reformers, principled pluralism today).

    And to suggest that a denial of the third use of the law is a Lutheran position shows that one has simply not read the Lutheran confessions.

    Regarding point four, all one has to do is read "Christ the Lord" which Randy mentioned above.

    Perhaps this misreading of Horton and others is due to individual circumstances (or not actually engaging all of his written material). Those critical of "his" view of Law and Gospel seem to be persuaded that the third use of the law is being denied at an alarming rate. I would agree and state that it is being replaced with a general moralism and a view of the third use as in itself sanctifying. But it is also the case, in my experience and in the experience of those that Horton is reaching, the second use of the law was either never taught on our way into the faith, is never used in the life and worship of the converted/church, or is explained as only useful for when one first believed but now is irrelevant (i.e. part of the "assumed gospel"). Anyone who thinks Horton has denied or neglected the third use of the law simply needs to read more of his writings and quit repeating well worn phrases by those who don't, and won't, agree with his views.

    So, again, please define what exactly makes Horton's view "Lutheran"? Perhaps if I understood more clearly what is meant by this, I could then also see something I am presently missing.

  26. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    Please listen to the latest WHI episode where Horton interviews a Lutheran ( - Christianity and Secular Culture). I'm not saying that Mike is wholly Lutheran in his theology but on the Law/Gospel distinction he can be heard to agree with criticisms aimed at some Puritan formulations in this interview.

    Regarding what the concern is, I believe Matthew already spelled it out:
    Don't get me wrong, I love Mike Horton. I consider him a dear Brother in Christ and an important voice for the Gospel of Grace. I also note, however, that the WHI has a problem with some of our Confessional notions where there is an "oughtness" to the Gospel. Romans 6 is as much a part of the Gospel as Romans 8. Both are grounded in what God has accomplished through the power of Christ's death and resurrection for us His own.
  27. Irish Presbyterian

    Irish Presbyterian Puritan Board Freshman

    Please substantiate the claim that there is an 'oughtness' to the Gospel in the Confessions and how the WHI have a 'problem' with it.

    Also, you say:

    "Both are grounded in what God has accomplished through the power of Christ's death and resurrection for us His own".

    The death and resurrection of Christ (that object work) is the Gospel (good news, proclamation) (1 Corth 15). The walking in newness in Romans 6 and life in the Spirit in Romans 8 are the 'result' of the Gospel, so I don't see the point being made here. Sorry.
  28. Archlute

    Archlute Puritan Board Senior

    I know that Horton and WSC fully agree with the guilt, grace, gratitude paradigm of the HC, which teaches that our response is driven by a thankfulness for the grace given us in Christ. This is no different than the Westminster Confession which states that our sanctification comes also by faith and not by law (14.2).

    I believe that what gets people tied in a knot is that they want the law to be the driving force behind our sanctification, rather than a guide to it. The scriptures and confessions agree that it is the Spirit of Christ in us that works conformity to God's will. The external demands of the law cannot produce that in the Christian.
  29. Irish Presbyterian

    Irish Presbyterian Puritan Board Freshman

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