Frame and Horton on Christless Christianity

While I am somewhat late in posting something on what is a trendy, yet relevant, topic on the Reformed blogosphere at present, I want to make a recommendation concerning John Frame’s critique of Mike Horton’s Christless Christianity. If you have not read Horton’s work you really must. You should then, and only then, read John Frame’s critique. After that you should read the White Horse Inn’s response. Then you should read James Grant’s post on the subject here. Grant offers, what I believe to be, a knowledgeable, fair and balanced analysis. Finally, you will want to read R. Scott Clark and D. G. Hart’s responses to Frame. I will say, at this point, I agree more with Horton’s argument in the book and  analysis of the American church at large. While both Horton and Frame have good things to say in many places, no one should be received uncritically. If you have read Horton’s book, Frame’s critique and any of the posts linked above I would love to hear what you think.

15 Responses

  1. Richard

    I have read Horton’s book–and many of his other books. I was dumbfounded reading John Frame’s critique; I found many of his criticisms to be unfair, and, at times, almost personal.
    I have attended evangelical churches for many years before joining the PCA; I find Horton’s criticisms (and those of David Wells) of what I heard from evangelical pulpits spot on. I’m truly not sure what planet John Frame is living on when he misses the absence of the Gospel in many evangelical churches.

  2. I don’t think Frame was directly facing the issue of the state of the American church. He was more concerned with Horton’s exaggerated and unproven language. Like so much of what comes out of Escondido, Horton has fallen pray to the Premature Remnant Syndrome. Theological error is a sin, but disunity within the Body of Christ is also a sin. I think Frame is just pointing out Horton’s failure to exercise the Judgment of Charity and his misuse of inflammatory language in the title (which he quickly backpedals out of).

  3. Richard

    Well, Robert, I guess we disagree–I don’t find Horton’s language extreme at all. And Frame’s statements were pretty inflammatory themselves–and not very charitable to a brother in the Reformed faith. For some reason, he found it easier to praise Joel Osteen than Mike Horton.

  4. It is certainly possible that Frame went too far in retort. I just felt like his point was “berate the stupidities of other Christians all you want, just don’t ever drop the ‘Another-Gospel’-bomb without rock-solid warrant.”

  5. Dr. Shaw,

    I almost asked the same question. While Horton is most certainly addressing those within “evangelicalism,” as well as those outside (i.e. Osteen), it is absurd to think that he is not accurate on some level. If we had more Christ-centered, Gospel preaching churches the health of the church would be evident to all. Satan’s main work is to get the Gospel out of the churches. Isn’t this is the reason we had a Reformation in the first place. The Reformation was a “defense of the Gospel in every sphere of life.” I for one am thankful for what Horton says in this book, even if it makes me look like a narrow-minded, schismatic pastor.

  6. I don’t think Osteen is reall preaching the Gospel.

    But to say that the Gospel that Horton is preaching is the only one that isn’t “Christless” reveals a sectarian bent that is not probably fruitful towards fellowshipping with “other” Christians outside of the Westminster fold. Isn’t this what Frame is underscoring?

  7. Nicholas T. Batzig


    I am not sure that Horton is saying that everyone outside of the WSC fold are preaching another Gospel. I, for one, would consider myself to be outside of the WSC fold to some extent. But I whole-heartedly agree with Horton’s anaysis. It is the biblical criteria that matters.

  8. And I agree, Nicholas. Of course the biblical criteria is what is under consideration, is it not? And isn’t it the presuppositions and a priori theological commitments that shape our engagement of the “biblical criteria” that is really under consideration here?

    Anyway, thanks.

  9. Bobby,

    I mean I didn’t go to WSC, and I am not entirely in agreement with some of the professors there in regard to their formulation of “Two Kingdoms theology,” or their articulation of the precise relationship between justification and the other benefits of the ordo salutis.

    I would consider myself “Two Kingdoms” since I believe that the church and the state are separate entities with distinct functions. I prefer to be labeled as a proponent of the “Spirituality Doctrine of the Church.” But as someone who believes Cornelius Van Til was correct, I have to insist that the Bible speaks to all men, in all their roles and positions in God’s world. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 1 that the law is for the unrighteous. What law? Natural Law? Well, only in so far as natural law is the natural acknowledgment of the moral law as codified in the 10 words. Paul, at least recognizes the second table of the law in 1 Timothy 1.

    I do agree that justification by faith alone has a preeminence in the Christian life (because by it we are “once and for all” accepted as righteous in God’s sight, only because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us). But I personally understand “union with Christ” to be what makes all these benefits possible. I accept what Gaffin and many others call a “three fold union” (i.e. decreetal, redemptive-historical, and existential). In the realm of existential union, faith is the alone instrument that unites us to Jesus. At the end of the day, I have great affinity for the professors at WSC, but would be more in line with the professors I had at GPTS.

  10. Thanks, Nick!

    I would be inclined towards what you’re saying with Gaffin and others; but I would want to ground all of that in Christ’s Vicarious Life for us. Which would side-step the decrees (as typically framed) and supplant and ground that stage of things directly and immediately in God’s life of grace and love (Covenant of grace reified). In this way then, God’s ontological life is univocal and the antecedent to His economic life revealed in Christ (Jn 1.18).

    So I agree with you on the Unio mystica, but not w/o some qualification.

  11. I am glad that you guys are able to have a good discussion on here without it turning into name calling. Now to the point of fallowing under the Westminster (either the seminary or the confession) if we were to understand the history of Mike Horton, where he came from and the guys who he meets with each week on the White Horse Inn, it would be difficult to say that Horton would have a “sectarian bent” in terms of the Gospel. It is the same Gospel that the Reformers were fighting for in light of it becoming obscure in the Roman Catholic Church, and here we are again seeing it being obscured by either the Seeker Friendly Churches, or Emergent or Emerging Churches, or even in the small house churches and Theater Churches that keep popping up around the country. I agree with Mike Horton that there needs to be a 2nd Reformation. My website / blog is my call to the church to return to preaching the Gospel. I ask for your prayers and advice too. My church is not reformed, but they have been very strong in preaching the Gospel on a regular basis. But, right now we are without a Sr. Pastor to lead our church. Now the staff and leadership think this is their chance to “grow the church” which is where I am seeing right before my eyes a sort of pragmatic approach to move towards a “seeker” or even “emergent” style of worship and teaching and activities to try and reach people in our community.
    I have spoken to one of the elders in our church about the selection of our next pastor and the importance of preaching the Gospel. And it was well received. But, it seems that the actions of the staff are heading in a different direction. I guess I need to talk to the Elder again.
    Please visit my blog, and let me know if you have any suggestions at this critical point in our church. I’d hate to see this church become just another statistic in catering the message and worship to felt needs of people who aren’t even true believers in the first place.
    Sorry for all this….
    Grace and Peace,

  12. Randy in Tulsa

    I have read Christless and Frame’s review. I agree with Frame 100%. I am sorry I wasted the money on Horton’s book. The last thing the church, particularly the American church, needs is more preaching about grace. The only thing that might save the church and our country is preaching the law of God to the regenerate, as well as to the unregenerate. Interesting that the Westminster divines don’t even have a section on “the gospel, per se” but they do spend half of the LC on the duty God requires of man, focusing on the moral law of God, the wrath of God, and what is necessary to escape that wrath. I spent too many years at a “Reformed” church where the pastor preached the same “flee to Christ” (Reformed version) sermon week after week. It nearly killed my soul, my marriage, and my life. Horton’s book is little better than that. I stand with Frame. If anything, he was too kind.

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