Reformed vs. Reformed
His review of Horton’s “Christless Christianity” is a gentle rebuke of epic worth.
Many of you know that I have been increasingly concerned over the division and sectarianism in my own tribe.
Dr. Frame has expressed these issues for me (and I hope others) in a way we needed to hear.
Here’s a sample;
“He comes on to the reader as a generic Protestant Christian with a passion for the historic doctrines of the atonement and of justification by faith alone. He writes engagingly. Naturally, then, other Protestants tend to resonate to his arguments. But Horton is not just a generic Protestant or even a generic Reformed theologian. He holds certain positions that are not warranted by the Reformed Confessions and which in my mind are not even Scriptural. To review, he advocates the following:
1. Attention to ourselves necessarily detracts from attention to Christ.
2. We should not give attention to the way we communicate the gospel, or to making it relevant to its hearers.
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.
4. God’s work of salvation is completely objective, external to us, and not at all subjective, internal to us. (Here he backtracks some.)
5. God promises us no earthly blessings, only heavenly ones, and to desire earthly blessings is a “theology of glory,” deserving condemnation.
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.
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.
8. A focus on redemption excludes a focus on anything else.
9. In worship and in the general ministry of the church, God gives and does not receive; the congregation receives and does not give.
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.
Horton considers adherence to these principles essential, so that departing from them constitutes Christlessness, and failure to emphasize them sufficiently leads to a false gospel. But not one of these principles is found in any Reformed confession. (#6 is found in the Lutheran confessions, but it is controversial among other Protestants.) And in my view, none of them are Scriptural.
So Christless Christianity is essentially an evaluation of the American church, not from the standpoint of a generic Protestant theology, but from what I must regard as a narrow, factional, even sectarian perspective. Readers need to understand this. If we remove #1-10 as measuring sticks for the American church, the church does not look nearly as bad as Horton presents it.
There is great danger here of further division within the body of Christ, as if there were not already enough. Arguments over redemptive-historical preaching (#7) have already split congregations apart. When one group presents these principles as the only orthodox position, but others (understandably) are not convinced, and the principles themselves are often unclear, we have a recipe for disaster.
And the church would do well, in my judgment, not to add principles 1-10 to its creed. The results could include intentional irrelevance (1-2), especially on social matters (5, 7, 8), Christian passivity (3, 9), intellectualism and impersonalism in our relation to God (4, 9), artificiality in preaching, not drawing on the richness of Scripture (2, 6-8), elimination of lay ministry (9), and poor theological analyses and evaluations of the church (10).
So I must render a negative verdict on this book, though commending the author’s passion for the purity of the church and for the gospel. In doing this, I must disagree with many friends and respected colleagues, who have commended this volume lavishly. They should have known better.”
John MacArthur needs to read this too…I need to read it again.