Review of _The Escondido Theology_, General Considerations

Before I get to the review of this book, let it be officially known at the outset that I am not a WSCal toadie, whatever that might mean. I do not believe in the Framework Hypothesis. I have serious questions about the republication theory of the Mosaic covenant, though I firmly believe this to be an entirely intramural debate. My political views are what I might call “mild” two kingdoms. I would acknowledge the distinctions that the two kingdoms make without taking them as far as some WSC folks take them. In certain places I even agree with Frame’s critique of some aspects of WSC’s teaching. However, I do agree with the Law-Gospel distinction, and reject utterly the notion that it is only a Lutheran position. That is historical nonsense. It is also Reformed, and commonly so. Ursinus taught it VERY clearly in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. The Marrow of Modern Divinity taught it VERY clearly. The work of John Colquhoun teaches it VERY clearly as well. But I graduated from WTS Philly, and that does mean I have some differences from my WSC brothers. But I deeply respect them, and was therefore disturbed when I read Frame’s book, which amounts, in my opinion, to little more than a hit piece written by what appears to me to be an embittered former colleague.

John Frame has written a number of books that are helpful. I particularly found his The Doctrine of God to be helpful, as well as much of his book The Doctrine of the Word of God. So, I have found much that is edifying in Frame’s work. The Escondido Theology is not one of these kinds of works. It is not gracious, irenic, fair, or collegial, unless you already agree with his conclusions, as George Grant seems to do (I was very disappointed that Grant, for whom I hold a great respect, would put his name on this book). It is full of caricature and extension of arguments (I mean this in the logical fallacy sense). It is an embarrassment to the entire Reformed world. Only with this volume has a professor of one of the main Reformed seminaries descended to the level of attacking another entire seminary in the Reformed community. The gentleman’s agreement among the main Reformed seminaries has now been breached. I intend to get into specifics with a series of posts exposing the myriad slanders that Frame has leveled against the WSC folks.

For now, I would like to address two issues, and both in a general way. Firstly, is this book irenic, gracious, fair, and collegial, as George Grant claims (pp. vii, viii, xiv)? Consider the following quotation, given in context, though without Frame’s footnotes:

Horton has promoted the Escondido positions vigorously. His main contribution to the Escondido Theology is a great gift for communication. He is founder and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine and of the radio program White Horse Inn. He has written a great many books, both popular and scholarly, and has lectured and taught all over the world. In his popular books he writes with an engaging style. He is known as a forceful, if not always accurate, critic of modern American evangelicalism. It almost seems to me that anything a prominent evangelical says, Horton feels compelled to say the opposite, however implausible his argument may be. So, like Clark, Horton is something of a Reformed chauvinist (page 13).

So, in addition to being unaware of the implausibility of some of his own arguments when reacting against “prominent evangelicals,” Horton (and Clark, Frame meaning R. Scott Clark) is a Reformed chauvinist. Dr. Frame, how exactly is this comment gracious, irenic, fair, and collegial? Are the comments about Horton’s “engaging style” and “gift for communication” supposed to mask the comment about being a Reformed chauvinist? To someone not prejudiced against WSC, this strikes me as a sinful comment. Or was Frame unaware of how this comment would communicate (Frame being very concerned with how something communicates) both to WSC folks, and to those not biased against them?

Another example, this time on page 16 (Frame seems to have a particular aversion to Horton, as we will see, when Frame not only attacks Horton, but people Horton recommends, and people Horton has taught): “I would not be writing this book if it were not for another distinctive of the Escondido theology to which I have already alluded: the view that those who disagree with them are not orthodox, not to be considered Reformed. Here, see especially my review of Clark’s book. And on my analysis Horton’s Christless Christianity amounts to the claim that unless the evangelical church embraces (and ‘emphasizes’) the novelties and idiosyncrasies of the Escondido Theology, they are headed for Hell.” There are a number of problems with this quotation. Firstly, there are people on the faculty of WSC who don’t agree with the supposed distinctives of the seminary. Dr. Bob Godfrey is not a Two Kingdoms man, but is neo-Kuyperian. By the way, he’s the PRESIDENT of the seminary! Is Frame suggesting that the WSC folks are ready to throw Dr. Bob Godfrey out tarred and feathered? Secondly, have any WSC folks even remotely hinted at the idea that non Two-Kingdoms, non-republication, non-Reformed confessional, non-Law-Gospel-distinction folks are all headed to Hell? My impression is that WSC folks argue for certain positions from the conviction that the clarity of the gospel is at stake. That is a distinct question from whether said unclear views that WSC folk are opposing relegate their proponents to Hell. Frame appears not to understand this distinction.

The second general issue I would like to address about this book is the inclusion of Frame’s personal history at WSC. If Frame wished to avoid the appearance of bitterness at how he was treated, if he wanted to paint himself as a person in a good position to describe the Escondido Theology, why did he include these completely irrelevant details about how he left the seminary (they are irrelevant if Frame is supposed to focus only on the theological issues, which I believe he would be required to do in a book of this sort)? To prove that he knew what was going on there? His book reviews should prove by themselves that he had read these books (though not very carefully, as we will see) and knew what these guys were saying. Frame refers to his own credentials as a Reformed theologian way too often for this to be believable to me. Folks, this book is about revenge for how he was treated at WSC, make no mistake about that. That is my read of it, anyway. If he wanted to avoid that impression, he picked that absolute worst way of going about it. Most people would not have to dig too far to know that Frame once taught at WSC. If this book were only about the theological issues, then he should NEVER have dragged in his own story of how he was treated at WSC.

Is it a surprise that this book is not published by any mainstream publisher? I asked Horton about this on the phone. I asked him if he thought it likely that any WSC professor would EVER seek to get published by, say, P&R, if P&R had published this book. He said, “Absolutely not.” No mainstream publisher would have touched this book, you can count on that.

In short, folks, this book is an embarrassment to the Reformed world. I can’t imagine that Dr. Vern Poythress is pleased with this publication, either (Dr. Poythress and Dr. Frame share a website, on which they have published much of their work). The book is full of sin, and I call on Frame to repent of his sin. If you want a level-headed critique of some aspects of what is commonly taught at WSC, go to Dr. Cornelis Venema’s review of The Law Is Not Of Faith, published in the Mid-America Journal of Theology, year 2010. That is a truly irenic critique. He calls aspects of WSC’s teaching wrong. However, he does not caricature or extend what they say. He also doesn’t call them names like “chauvinist.” He deals with what they actually say.

I have condemned this book in strong terms. The fact is, I am both angry for WSC’s sake (hoping that this expose of Frame’s book will prevent any lasting damage to WSC in the future), and deeply saddened that Frame would do this. He will lose a great deal of respect for doing this, even among people who have serious reservations about WSC’s distinctives.