Saturday, September 22, 2012

“Family Feud”; or, “Our American Christian Heritage”

Steven Wedgeworth has posted a brilliant review of John Frame’s The Escondido Theology: A Reformed Response to Two Kingdom Theology.

It’s brilliant not merely because he addresses (in an irenic way) the substance of all the contentions that are made in that book, not least of which is Two Kingdoms theology. He discusses the issue of who is the proper bearer of “the Reformed tradition”. He brings a sharp focus to bear upon “Christless Christianity” (and it’s “Gospel-Driven” counterpart, the “Lost Soul of Protestantism, and more). He discusses Protestant Scholasticism and Richard Muller (the real heroes of this story); and lots, lots more. (The whole thing is more than 7500 words, but still, I highly recommend giving it a look).

But beyond the issues, he talks about something that’s a lot deeper:

Michael Horton, who ends up bearing the brunt of the critique, described the book as “a new low in intra-Reformed polemics.”

To be the nastiest and most unfair polemicist in the Reformed community would be quite the accomplishment. Prof. Frame would have to outpace several of the Escondido men themselves, along with any number of Clarkians and theonomists – and that would only take into account the American cranksters! As biting and even sometimes inflammatory as some of Prof. Frame’s writing may be, this book does not take the prize for nastiness. And it is certainly a long way off from the battles of those golden years of Reformed confession-writing. We should never forget that the debates carried out by our Reformed ancestors, even the men now idolized by the Reformed gatekeepers, at times involved literal hatchet jobs.

Wedgeworth is spot-on when he says “We should never forget that the debates carried out by our Reformed ancestors, even the men now idolized by the Reformed gatekeepers, at times involved literal hatchet jobs”.

I’ve been hanging out at D.G. Hart’s blog recently because of his fun interactions with Bryan Cross. I came to Reformed theology largely through Hart’s books about Machen, whom I came to regard as the heir of Calvin through “Old Princeton” (though I tend to tune out Hart’s disagreements with Turretinfan over 2K views). While I agree with Steve Hays that “natural law” fails to address some very difficult moral issues, I don’t think anyone is going to hell over the Westminster “Two Kingdoms” theology, either.

I’ve known Scott Clark for about as long as there has been an Internet through which we could email. I’ve met Michael Horton. I write for a blog where Steve Hays, who calls himself a Biblicist, has been strongly influenced by the writings of John Frame (and presumably his “Something Close to Biblicism), which I like a lot, and with which I fundamentally agree. Clark writes scathingly about Frame. Clark is not well-regarded by Hays, but I’ve learned more about historical theology from Scott Clark than anyone else, I think.

Cyril of Alexandria was apparently a pretty good theologian. But he was just simply a thug as well. He can be a lesson for folks today.

Yes, I cringe when I watch Joel Osteen. But I found the graphic nearby on the front page of his website. I can honestly say, I know someone who has turned to Christ because of Joel Osteen. And while Osteen’s particular messaging is, I think, not helpful in ways that have been amply described, what would happen if he were to do a sermon series on, for example, “the history of the Reformation”? His audience is probably bigger than several whole Reformed denominations.

American Christianity certainly has its problems. But Christianity has always had problems. And despite the problems in American Christianity, it is our Christianity now.

I’m no fan of things like “bishops”, but I’m a very big fan of an old fart who goes by the handle “Embryo Parson”. There was a time when I despised him, but our more recent friendship shows us how (“in the Lord”) such transformations are possible. And I do think he has a very healthy attitude toward American Christianity.

Wedgeworth does not simply point out the problems. He points to a solution:

Instead, we do need a Reformed ressourcement. It needs to move forward by building upon the tradition. It should be a Reformed irenicism that is really Reformed, having clearly-stated and definitively Reformational principles. It should be an irenic catholicity that achieves peace through courageous and rational dialogue and debate, charitable but assertive. And it must always be truth-telling, with regards to itself and its opponents. Prof. Frame possesses the latter qualities of peace and honest integrity. The Escondido men aspire towards the former qualities of consistency with the great Reformed tradition, ….


We think we have begun to point to a way beyond the dead ends and impasses of ultra-confessionalism on the one hand, and a Neo-Calvinism so “neo” it is no longer really Calvinist on the other. And we are finding that many young pastors and churchmen, seeing the problems of the two opposing camps which have so far dominated the American Reformed world, are quite ready to step out onto that road.


  1. Thanks, John and Stephen, for thoughtful responses to my book. I cannot tell you how I enjoyed the respite from the ad hominem snarling in the general blogosphere. Of course we disagree on a number of points and a number of characterizations. But there is much here that I need to think more about. Certainly TET is not my best work, but I thought that before I die someone needed to make the points that this book contains.

    1. Dr. Frame -- my wife told me to tell you that I love you, you're the greatest thing since sliced cheese! (She sees the pile of books by my bedside).

      But seriously, I am grateful for your work, as I am grateful for all the those who labor to teach men to proclaim the Gospel in an honest and meaningful way. More than ever in our day, I think, this is what we need our world today.

    2. John, thanks so much for this encouragement. May God bless your studies, witness, and worship. In Jesus, JF

  2. "To be the nastiest and most unfair polemicist in the Reformed community would be quite the accomplishment. Prof. Frame would have to outpace... any number of Clarkians... the American cranksters!"


  3. If the Scripture says, to take the log out of one's own eye before casting stones at another, the problem imo with Prof. Frame's book is his previous track record which undercuts his credibility on the confessional reformed faith.

    1. His naive and enthusiastic biblicism has done much to undercut the confessional and reformed doctrine of worship, i.e. the Regulative Principle, in our day. True, most modern P&R churches might not have even heard of the RP, but one might expect more from a teacher in the faith regarding the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment.

    2. Many of his understudies on worship have gone on to the Federal Vision. In that the NAPARC churches to their credit have condemned FV, does the professor concur? I am unaware that Prof. Frame is anything more than undecided on the matter, contra his decded take on 2K and the law/gospel.

    3. Taking a cue from John of Damascus, Prof. Frame repeats the same arguments for the lawfulness of images of Christ - at least for teaching purposes? But in that he has already blurred the distinctions and confused matters regarding the parts of worship with his novel distinction of "applications", it might seem that the nod is given to pictures instead of preaching, in that the two are ultimately incompatible as far as the reformed faith goes.

    As for the review, that Wedgeworth sides with Hooker over Cartwright's supposed RP that covers all of life leaves one flabbergasted. Really? I'd like to see W's references for his understanding of Cartwright.

    Thank you.
    Bob Suden

    1. Hi Bob -- I am a relative newbie when it comes to the Reformed world, and I have relatively less invested in things like the RPW than some other folks. I don't think Frame is a "biblicist" so much as he espouses "something close" to it. I too have some concerns about the FV, though again, I would think the association seems closer to Frame's old teacher, Shepherd, than to Frame.

      You can ask Steven himself about Hooker; I think comments are on over there.

      Though I personally am on the side of the 2nd commandment folks, I know that Steve has taken what seems a lot like a Lutheran position on images.

      The way I look at this, Bob, is that we all have more in common than what divides us; in that regard, I think there are things to fight over, and there are some areas where I'd rather not fight, even though I don't totally agree.

      Thanks for your comment.

    2. Cartwright certainly applied RPW beyond matters of worship. Consider:

  4. Andrew,
    Off the top of my head, I don't think Cartwright is talking about the RPW, but rather about the abiding validity of the OT law. Again, I think you could find some Westminster divines in the same boat. Would we agree with them? Probably not/no. But when it comes to Anglicanism vs. puritanism, well that is what the West. Assembly was all about. Prelacy/episcopalian govt. and anglican worship were repudiated.

    We're all called to peace - but with God first. The reformed church is reformed in doctrine,worship and government. Not so anglicanism. (Worship and govt. are adiaphora.) Or John Frame's principle of worship.

    But when John starts making the kind of arguments that allow for the matinee showing of Mad Max's Passion of Christ at your nearest presbyterian church, one might be tempted to go ballistic.

    Pictures vs. preaching was what the Reformation was all about. And while I expect that from papists, it's kind of hard to swallow from those who are supposed to be presbyterians.
    Frame is anglican/lutheran in worship. If he were honest about it, if he even realizes it, he ought to admit it and stop undercutting the classic WCF position.

    bob S.

    1. With all due respect Bob, the Reformation was a learning process. The first question was, "how are we right before God?" and closely associated with that, "how do we know?". The issue of "pictures vs preaching" are not what the Reformation was all about. It was a later issue (not much later, but it was not fundamental), and it's not a place where I'm going to say "Here I stand."

      There are bigger fish to fry.