Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Escondido Theology Chapter 2

The meat of Frame's critique starts with a look at Michael Horton's Christless Christianity. Horton has a response out, but Horton is reviewed three different times.

Frame immediately takes umbrage with the title. Frame sees the Christless as part of the absolutizing tendency he finds so bad at Escondido. This is all in spite of the fact that Horton immediately states that the title is an overstatement and it is more of a direction rather than a current condition in the evangelical church. Frame notes the clarification, but it does little to lessen the criticism.

Frame takes a few things in Horton's book differently than I did. Horton not wanting to "translate" the gospel is something that Frame finds repugnant. I took this to mean that Horton was against trying to be hip and trendyin how we deal with Scripture and our attempts to make the gospel pleasing by hiding the bitter and unpleasant truths, not as a refusal to apply it or make it understandable or even in modern languages. Perhaps here Frame has legitimate gripe about Horton not being clear enough in defining terms, but as Horton points out in the response, Frame makes a large complaint out of something that Horton does not really believe.

I think a lot of the differences between Frame and Horton can best be illustrated with Joel Osteen, who is a frequent target in Horton's book. Ask yourself, do you believe that Osteen and his teachings are beyond the pale of Chrsitianity? Are they Christless? Frame's answer in this book is a clear no, Osteen is within the pale of Christianity. Horton's is a pretty emphatic yes, Osteen is beyond the pale (or at least trending that way fast). I agree with Horton on this one. And so does the Library of Congress for the record since they place Osteen's book in the Self Help section not the Christianity section. But let me illustrate further with some of Frame's discussion.

On Pg. 45 Frame quotes Horton claiming Osteen is "law-lite" and an "upbeat moralism" with "no justification". Frame likens this emphasis of Horton on using the Law to condemn with the Lutheran controversy about whether or not the law should ever be preached to believers. He accuses Horton of not using the Third use of the law for believers and a lack of teaching on sanctification. But more than that Frame defends Osteen even further stating that Scripture does tell us how to be happy in this world referencing the blessings promised and particularly Josh 1:8. Not directly stated, but implied is that Osteen's preaching One's Best Life Now is therefore a biblical concept and not outside the pale of Christianity. Perhaps even something Frame thinks Horton could learn a little from it.

This ties into Frame's major problem with Horton (in my opinion) and it comes from this statement made in Horton's Christless Christianity:
The central message of Christianity is not a worldview, a way of life, or a program for personal and societal change , it is a gospel (pg.105).
This is Horton's main point. Preaching then should primarily be the announcement of Christ and the retelling of His gospel. After all it is the central message. Horton does not deny Scripture speaks on finances and marriage and other things, but it is not the main point. This accounts for Horton's view of Two Kingdoms, worship, and preaching all of which Frame critiques in this chapter. Frame rather responds:
"the Bible presents a a worldview that is utterly unique among all the religions and philosophies of the world . . . And if the gospel is to be presented to them [unbelievers] clearly, they must understand that it presupposes a way of thinking about the world that is unique in the history of thought. (pg. 51).
Thus, the debate. Is the worldview contained in the Bible central to being able to understand the gospel and present it rightly? And is that worldview a complete and all encompassing worldview? Frame unashamedly asserts that the gospel then is a program of personal and societal change (same page). I wish Frame had spent all of the chapter discussing this one central point. Upon it all seems to hinge. Rather, he goes for the laundry list approach. This discussion was far too short.

Frame's great weakness in this chapter is related to what I described about the title. Frame constantly points out Horton backing off of generalizations. Frame wants to argue that all the difference is a matter of emphasis, and it is hard to condemn an emphasis. Frame says Horton is too much on justification, although Horton speaks on sanctification, which is read as Horton backing off and only an emphasis. Horton speaks of the centrality of the gospel, but admits Scripture teaches about finances, thus, it is just a difference of emphasis. It seems a little to me like Frame fails to grasp two things in relation to this. One, is that this is popular writing. Horton is not trying to enumerate every possible exception or be scholastic in his treatment of stuff. Some leeway must be given in this type of writing. Two, a persons emphasis can be unhealthy and easily lead to heresy. In fact, a case can be made that Christlessness does indeed begin with a misplaced emphasis in many cases. Emphasis on "do this and do that" can indeed be interpreted by many as works righteousness, and indeed might be. Emphasis on "do this for earthly blessings" can similarly be understood as self centered and works righteousness. It may be a matter of emphasis, but unhealthy emphases can be rightly condemned.

Oddly enough Andrew Sandlin breaks into the book here with an addendum. It is rather jarring, and frankly of little use. Sandlin restates what we just read and by so doing gives the impression Frame was too wordy and needs him to organize it. He quotes some OT examples in favor of Frame, and that is about it. Not needed. Any time you have quotations from your own book only a few pages from the actual occurrence of the quote, something has gone wrong.

Overall, I found Frame helpful in setting the question as whether or not the worldview of the Bible has to be presupposed to understand the gospel, but I wished the question discussed at greater length. I also tend to agree with Horton about the state of modern evangelicism and in that emphasis can be condemned as leading down a Christless path.