I can’t seem to escape the works of John M. Frame at the moment (not that I would want to). As well as reading “The Doctrine of God” I’ve come across two papers by him in Ecclesia Reformanda (The journal of British Reformed Theology) where he critiques the work of Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity. (I’ve not read this work, though I have found Horton’s “God of Promise” very useful and I have quoted him elsewhere on this blog on the relationship between grace and works.)
Horton’s book has the sort of health and wealth prosperity message in mind, where church becomes a place of management speak in self-help seminars, focussed on enjoying life and doing good things. His accusation is that this sort of Christianity is Christless.
Frame is not convinced by Horton’s argument. In his final section of his critique, Frame shows where Horton confuses two messages in the book. The first is the need to focus only on the work of Christ to the exclusion of what Christian believers do and enjoy. The second message is to acknowledge these good and enjoyable things but not to overemphasise them. Horton’s second message obviously contradicts the first.
Frame outlines the way of thinking which can resolve this conflict in Horton’s message:
In my view, the key to this is to think, not in terms of ‘Christ and other things,’ as Horton does, but of ‘Christ and the applications of his work.’ The relationships between Christ and other things vary considerably, and are very complex. Horton does not succeed in giving us anything near an adequate presentation of this complexity. But in regard to ‘Christ and the applications of his work,’ the matter is clear. This formula unambiguously sets forth the content of Scripture and the entire work of the church. Anything the church does that fails to serve and promote Christ and the applications of his work is indeed Christless, and a church that fails to promote Christ and the applications of his work is truly apostate. Any church that refuses to implement an application of Christ’s work compromises the truth of Scripture.
Yet the phrase ‘Christ and the applications of his work’ also implies a hierarchy of focus or emphasis. Some applications are more central others, and they ought to receive more attention in the church. Justification by grace through faith alone is a central application; the mode of baptism is less central, though advocates of one particular mode will see it as an application of Christ’s work.
To speak of ‘Christ and the applications of his work’ is not to speak of two different things. For there is no Christ without these applications. To believe in Christ is to believe in the Christ of Scripture, the Christ who became incarnate, taught, worked miracles, died as our sacrifice, was raised to glory, and will come again to judge the living and the dead. It is also to believe that his atonement secures our effectual calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification. So it secures the Spirit’s presence in order that we may serve Christ and receive his guidance in all areas of life. To believe in Christ is to believe in all of this, and also to believe in the law of love, his new commandment to his disciples (John 13:34-35). To believe in Christ is to seek his glory in all areas of life (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1).