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Frame's Negative Review of Horton's Christless Christianity

John Frame--who was Michael Horton's professor (and mine) during his time at Westminster--has published a decidedly negative (and to my mind, mean-spirited and completely wide of the mark) review of Michael Horton's book Christless Christianity.

Frame's review can be found here:

Here's a reply posted today on the White Horse Inn blog:

Michael is perfectly capable of defending himself.  He'll do that when and how he sees fit. 

But given Frame's lament about "Machen's Warrior Children," his open disdain for the law-gospel distinction, his long-standing support and defense of Norman Shepherd, his rosy assessment of contemporary American Evangelicalism, and his history of muddying Reformed theological distinctions (perspectivalism, anyone?) sadly, Frame's negative review comes as no surprise.

Reader Comments (28)

How about Horton starts a new series on the WHI blog: "Frame Fridays"?
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Divito
I wish someone would take perspectivalism by the horns, put it out of its (our) misery and bury it. I wish that it had been addressed in Frame's departure from WSC, because (like Shepherd's error) it keeps on living, reproducing and mutating, and (unlike the Shepherd case) Frame can go about his perspectival business with nary an ecclesiastical cloud over his head precisely because no one will address it. The politics surrounding his departure were just weird.

I say no one, but Mark Karlberg wrote a short essay about it in JETS. There needs to be a thorough, academically rigorous book written to refute perspectivalism. Who will do it?
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Can someone direct me to a relatively concise explanation of perspectivalism?
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJesse
Yeah, please, me will save KR the time of answering my dumb question!
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpb

According to Frame, truth has a normative perspective (God's law), a situational perspective (God's Lordship over the world) and an existential perspective, (God's personal relationship with his creatures). As Frame says in his critique of Horton, according to one "perspective" all of Scripture can be "gospel" yet from another perspective, it can be "all law." This not only comes close to the old "double-truth" theory of medieval philosophy (some things can be true in science but not in theology), but it blurs important theological distinctions (like that between law and gospel) and amounts to epistemological relativism. Frame turns sharp theological edges into gumdrops, and then thinks he's being helpful.

I think it nothing but trouble
October 22, 2009 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
Here is an introductory article on perspectivalism from Frame himself:
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Divito
Thanks for this information. It seems like this view takes the rather interesting fact that God sometimes groups concepts into threes (like the three offices of Christ) and runs way too far with it and finds all these triads all over the place.

Has anyone read this critique of Tim Keller's use of perspectivalism regarding Willow Creek? I found it kind of frightening.
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJesse
Sounds like Frame did not understand Horton's book at all.
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTiminator
Kim's summary is very helpful. It is also important to keep in mind that at least within Reformed circiles there are two varieties: tri-perspectivalism (Frame) and multi-perspectivalism (Vern Poythress).

I have not read anything by Poythress about multi-perspectivalism, but Frame says some alarming things about tri-perspectivalism in his book "The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God." Specifically, he says three things about the three perspectives:

1) All three perspectives are inter-related
2) All three perspectives are equally ultimate
3) All three perspectives are ultimately identical.

I think #1 is obvious and harmless. But #2 is already troublesome. Given that Frame is working with epistemology, I don't think it is helpful to make ANYTHING else equally ultimate with God's Word. (And as Karlberg points out, at the end of the day, Frame is divorcing human knowledge from God's objective Word by rooting meaning in human language.) #3 is where the epistemological relativism can be clearly seen.

Frame's tri-perspectivalism allows him to say that each perspective is really just a different emphasis on one aspect of the same thing. In other words, two antithetical things can now be put on a continuum, rather than contrasted. So Frame actually says that Greg Bahnsen and Meredith G. Kline were really saying the same thing, though emphasizing different perspectives: Bahnsen was emphasizing the normative law, and Kline was emphasizing the situational redemptive-historical. But if Bahnsen and Kline could agree on ANYTHING, it was that vehemently DISAGREED with each other!
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris
As a friend, I have to say I disappointed in the responses to Frame. I won't defend Frame or his critique, but all I see in the responses to him are more of the same. Frame quoted directly from CC to support his criticisms. He may be wrong, but readers would be better served if WHI (really Horton himself) actually engaged Frame's arguments and explained what Horton intended to argue in CC rather than dismissing out-right Frame with such condescension, or saying he's not really Reformed, or some other form of name calling. Whatever personal issues everyone involved has, it doesn't warrant the lack of civility and love between Christians apparent in Frame's critique or WHI's response. I don't know Frame, so I don't know if his personal attacks are common to his character. I do know WHI, and I'm disappointed.
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Overton

I suggest you read the WHI blog which responds directly (but briefly) to Frame's criticisms as you lament was not done. No doubt, you noticed that was the essay to which I first directed people. Or did you miss that?

Of course, name-calling is not proper, but identifying where someone like Frame stands within (and in relation to) the tradition is very important. You may not like it, but that is how theologians evaluate who is who in the zoo. Frame's views place him in a particular camp. There's is nothing wrong with pointing out that connection, which, once established, explains a great deal about why Frame did what he did.

Frame misrepresents Horton repeatedly and IMHO mean-spiritedly. Michael will respond to specifics when and where he sees fit. Yes, there is a history here--I'll leave it at that.

I suggest that you read carefully Scott's and Darryl's posts for further elaboration as to where Frame goes off the rails from a confessional Reformed perspective, specifically in relation to broader American evangelicalism and its latitudinarian spirit (which Frame obviously endorses).

If you are disappointed, you'll just have to get over it. Responding to Frame's very negative review is neither condescending, nor unloving--given the serious nature of Frame's accusations (that Mike is "unscriptural"), it is required.

I think you missed the point, my friend.
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKim Riddlebarger

Thanks for this assessment.

Mr. Frame's 'spirit' is alive and well in many churches calling themselves reformed. I, at times, thought myself insane, but now sense some relief and vindication as you and others have drawn the same conclusions concerning these issues and doctrines.

I am very grateful

October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEric

My disappointment is rooted in the WHI response; I certainly read it. As I said, it doesn't interact with Frame's arguments. It replies to the summary of his points. If someone did that as a critique of one of your books, you'd say it was a rather poor response at best. Furthermore, the condescending language of the WHI response is no better than Frame's "mean-spirited" remarks. I agree with you that a response is a good thing (and I would say necessary given Frame's stature in most people's eyes), I just wish WHI offered one that didn't stoop to Frame's level. I'm disappointed because I expected better from the WHI crew (I don't know who is actually responsible for it)- I wanted to see a great response that engaged Frame's critique in a charitable and loving manner. Yea, I'll get over it. It's just sad to see. This sort of exchange between Christians is not what the body of Christ should look like.

My comment about dismissing Frame because he's not Reformed and name calling was directed at Scott's response. Maybe I'm wrong. I'll leave that at that. I think Hart's response was the most helpful of what I've seen.

I'm sorry that the first words we've shared in so long are over disagreement. I hope things are going well with you and your family and CRC.
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Overton
Correction: I said "I don't know who is actually responsible for it." I know a person named Eric Landry wrote it. What I meant is that I do not know if the response speaks for all of WHI- my impression is that it does.
October 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Overton
If anyone wants some more background info:
October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

It is rather tough to offer a comprehensive response to Frame when White Horse Media did not even know of it until Tuesday of this week. Gimme a break.

Horton will respond to this when and where he sees fit. I am not even sure if Frame's piece merits that kind of a detailed response given his long history of antagonism toward the WHI and MH. Why bother to respond to someone who implies that Joel Osteen might be more faithful to the biblical text than Horton? I seriously doubt that anyone who reads that piece with any modicum of objectivity will buy Frame's basic premise. Scott is right. It is a hit piece. Consider the source.

There's a reason why Darryl Hart identifies Frame as the passive-aggressive step-grandson of Charles Erdman. It is also not a surprise that so many of Frame's defenders manifest that same basic personality trait.
October 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger

Yes, I wrote it. Yes, it is the official response from WHI. We were not about to interact with 27 pages of a poorly written "review." I think our three points speak for themselves: the premise of Frame's response is that CC is wrong on evangelicalism, the style of Frame's response is personal, the substance of Frame's response (as summarized in his ten point conclusion) is unsubstantiated. There is a significant difference between engaging a book critically and proof-texting.

Eric Landry
October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEric
"There's no fights like church fights"...but seminary / theologian fights are a close second.
The observation that "there's a history here" probably tells us all we need to know. How sad and counterproductive.
October 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpb

Not much of a fight--more of a "dust-up."

Time to issue the "nothing to see here . . . Move along . . ." order.
October 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
True 'dat, KR...and many church "fights" are also cured by a good leaving alone...
October 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpb

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