Did Calvin "add a little moral strength" to Geneva?

(Tim: this from Pastor Andrew Dionne) John Frame’s review of Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity ends with a summary of arguments from Horton’s work that cannot be justified by arguments from Scripture or classic Protestant confessions. Number seven from Frame’s list is this: “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.”

In Christless Christianity, we read the following helping us understand why Dr. Horton...

says the above principle must be followed:

I recently heard a sermon that ended with the appeal, ‘Are you going to accomplish great things for God?’ It is easy for believers with a sensitive conscience to come away from the average spiritual diet in church thinking they must be a Paul in evangelism, a Wilberforce in culture, and a Thomas a Kempis in spiritual disciplines. Radical discipleship in this triumphalistic vein seems rather far from Jesus’ invitation, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matt. 11:28-30).

Calling us to accomplish great things for God is part of the hype that constantly burns out millions of professing Christians. Telling us about the great things God has accomplished—and more than that, actually delivering his achievement to sinners—is the real mission of the church. And it might even put wind in the sails of those among us whom God has called to extraordinary achievements! But it will be enough if it puts wind in the sails of those whom God has called to ordinary and fruitful lives. On Monday, a congregation once again assured of God’s amazing grace to sinners, will be scattered into the world as salt and light. If we think the main mission of the church is to improve life in Adam and add a little moral strength to this fading evil age, we have not yet understood the radical condition for which Christ is such a radical solution (Christless Christianity, 210-211).
Read through chapters 11 and 12 in the book of Hebrews and ask yourself whether Horton’s vision of the life of faith captures what is portrayed there? After the chronicle of lives lived by faith producing extraordinary works in chapter 11, we're told these men and women are witnesses to us—examples of faithful living.

Hebrews 12:1-2

(1)  Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

(2)  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Why are comfortable Americans being burned out by being called “to accomplish great things for God,” while the recipients of Hebrews who were being threatened with the loss of all their earthly goods and their very lives are exhorted to lay aside every encumbrance and sin, to run with endurance, and to resist sin to the point of shedding blood? If only verse 12, where we're told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, wasn’t confused by the exhortation of verse 11.

Dr. Horton and others in his camp are always dogging pietists. If one believes calling people “to accomplish great things for God” leads to burnout, you'll not only shy away from calling people to rescue babies from the hands of murderers, but you'll avoid calling people to actual holiness. The calling to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ, to please him in all respects (Col. 1:10), is to accomplishment great things for God.

The exhortation to the young man struggling with depression or lust or anger or lying or cowardice will be “fix your eyes on Jesus” without what precedes: “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us.” The exhortation will be to coast steadily through the race rather than “run with endurance.” And not only his own life, but the Church, too, will be worse off for a man making peace with his sins.

Calvin's great accomplishment wasn't simply his publication of the Institutes. It was also his constant battle and overcoming of his sin of timidity (see the preface of his commentary on the Psalms).

Had William Farel shared the position of Dr. Horton, Calvin would have received a nice massage rather than the imprecations that led him to fear God and get to work shepherding Geneva.

Comments

I think Horton's concern about a focus on "accomplish[ing] great things for God" can be a very important and, in fact, appropriate statement. I do say this without having read "Christless Christianity" or any other work by Horton. Therefore, I admit that I may be missing the proper context of the above excerpt and Horton's views at large.

I have been in a church and in groups that were so swept up with doing something great for God that it surpassed any discussion of what Christ has done for us. Everything that we do must be enveloped in what has been done for us.

The article above states that "[t]he calling to walk in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ, to please him in all respects (Col. 1:10), is to accomplish great things for God." This appears to be your definition of doing great things for God, and I agree with that definition. However, those that I have encountered that focus so strongly on doing great things for God have not focused on areas of quiet, humble obedience. The focus was on the big, flashy, public, and popular displays of doing things for God. Almost a sense of "if I can't be Wilberforce then why bother?"

Hebrews 12:1-2 speaks of running the race with endurance and of fixing our eyes on Jesus. Those two things are areas that I'm concerned with the "doing great things for God" crowd because endurance is not as flashy as a sprint and fixing our eyes on Jesus distracts from the great things that 'we' can do.

To the extent that Horton is advocating not doing the hard things out of obedience to God, then I disagree with him. I'm just not sure that tells the whole story.

>>However, those that I have encountered that focus so strongly on doing great things for God have not focused on areas of quiet, humble obedience. The focus was on the big, flashy, public, and popular displays of doing things for God. Almost a sense of "if I can't be Wilberforce then why bother?"

Absolutely. Thank you, Mr. Vincent.

Love,

Somehow it seems that when I set my face to do something little for God, something bigger often happens--and it usually happens when I understand that God's moral law is connected with His Character, and the nature of His Creation and the Church.

Dig deeper, gracious host, I'm reading and enjoying this.

Micah: Balance is the all important thing. We can be worn out doing good things, and miss the main thing. Witness Martha and Mary.

But, Mike's weakness is the categorical nature of his statement. We ought to ask people to attempt things for God --whether great or small.

Most pastors and churches don't ask anyone to do much of anything. Preaching is almost all advice on making life better, or, in our academically effete circles, all about rarified doctrine.

All of which is why I admire Wesley --he expected people to DO something with the truth they had.

Great or small --it really doesn't matter. Write, protest, pray, raise your kids right, evangelize, go to Africa, study up on the issues, teach others....

There is far to much pondering, and far too little doing, in Reformed circles.

Other Christians have the privilege of dying for Jesus. How dare we sit on our fat, well-powdered fannies and say, "What? God expects me to do something? Maybe I should get off the couch, turn off the TV, and be a blessing to somebody besides poor little old fat baby me?"

Pampered little infants --what most Reformed people are today. And Mike's encouraging that. Oh, yes.

>"There is far to much pondering, and far too little doing, in Reformed circles."

Amen.

“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.”

Would Michael Horton agree with this summation?

Or agree that this summation logically follows from his writing?

On the face of it, it seems rather difficult to believe that he would say such a (stupid) thing.

"Pampered little infants --what most Reformed people are today. And Mike's encouraging that. Oh, yes."

Yeah, because Mike just sits around all day doing nothing. Except of course wearing himself out for the sake of the gospel. I don't know when, or if, he sleeps.

You might want to get to know a person before you make such statements. Mike is both an example and a motivator to do great things for God, as is the preaching of the gospel.

That's the paradox of preaching grace. It doesn't make you lazy, it makes you work even harder because you know Christ has paid for all your sins and you don't have the crushing burden of the law or some pastor's contrived and artificial standards to live up to. You do it from gratitude.

What he, and others, wants to see is that the Church, as an institution, do what it is supposed to do, and the church as an organism (Christians) do what they are supposed to do. It's about vocation. To that end I recommend Veith's "God at Work" on the doctrine of vocation. It will open your eyes, as it did mine.

I've observed, listened to, wrestled with, and read Mike for years.

He is never held accountable for things he says. He has changed his views quite markedly over time, but never (at least that I've seen) acknowledged this.

And his careless oversimplification of issues is used by unthinking laymen and officers to tar pastors with the charge of legalist, because we ask people "to attempt great things for God?"

So, unless we preach like Mike, we're not preaching grace, Steve?

In the same way, RC Sproul was never held accountable for being a Y2K kook...

While we're tearing down idols, and not respecting persons....

Steve,

You do know that the Reformed position is that the Law is not always and only a "crushing burden" right?

I mean, there is a third use, is there not? Like the latter "third" of the Heidelberg Catechism? (actually its longest section is on obedience from gratitude).

"He is never held accountable for things he says. He has changed his views quite markedly over time, but never (at least that I've seen) acknowledged this."

so how did he reply when you questioned him about his changing views?

Steve,

It is perfectly acceptable for things issued as public discourse to be dealt with publicly.

Can we never write a critique of a book? Can we never take someone to task for what they put in print?

Was it wrong for Os Guinness to take Franky Schaeffer to task in Books and Culture for slandering his parents, if he didn't talk to him privately?

Of course not. Simple reason says that when things are put in print, they are public discourse.

You didn't answer my question about the Law. The Law does not crush the new nature, does it? Doesn't the inner man delight in the Law of God?

I've read Agony of Deceit, In the Face of God, Where in the World is the Church?, Made in America, and numerous articles from Modern Ref and listened to many WHI broadcasts.

Mike Horton tends to oversimplify positions he disagrees with...and there are some people that gobble that up. He opposes the cults of personality with regard to Pentecostals and Emergents only to find himself a member of the elite class that has reached cult status (albeit, a small cult)...I don't think I've admitted this publicly, but Modern Ref issued an apology about 8 years back to Open Theists...as a result of my sharing a Modern Ref article by Horton to a former professor at Huntington College (John Sanders).

He's been in the business of oversimplification for years...he has a seminary that perpetuates it and professors who are a little bit better at making it look academic.

He's made a living calling others out for their error...and I'm certain that men like Steve eat it up (and some of it is pretty good, actually...see the Robert Schuller interview as an example). When Horton publishes his ideas, disseminates them publicly, he must realize he's opened himself up to criticism.

Horton is supposed to be about the business of preparing men for the pastorate, it seems fitting that his own works come under scrutiny by pastors.

If you doubt me that Horton is an oversimplifier, ask yourself: "When Horton criticizes an opposing idea (or one he's not able to fit within R2K), does he have a formulaic response?"

Yes he does...doesn't his critique entail references to:
Finney
Pietism (never defined)
Consumerism (w/out acknowledging the irony that R2K is decidedly consumeristic with its antinomian appeal and personality cult)
A theology of the cross, which ironically, never seems to allow the Divine to come into contact with the world.

No one ever seems to mention Horton's near sacerdotalism that divorces sacrament from Word and an individual's and gives them a power not all that different from Lutheranism or Anglicanism...after all, if we have to believe in order for a sacrament to convey spiritual reality, that would become a work in the R2K schema.

For all the talk of justification by faith, it seems R2K really just means the doctrine, not the faith which expresses itself in works.

While I'd qualify the following quote (nearly to death), there is one aspect that is entirely appropriately applicable to the piety (lack) produced by R2K:
"[W]e must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride." -Herman Bavinck

Still fighting against the old R2K in my flesh,

Craig,

you have just said what I have tried to say, and far better than I have said it.

Fascinating quote from good old Bavinck.

Craig French: "Still fighting against the old R2K in my flesh"

May the current R2K'ers be able to say the same thing as you Craig!!!

Pssst, Craig, the hosts of this blog are friendly with a guy who countenances what some regard as sacerdotalism in the church where Peter Leithart pastors. Do you think you should warn the Baylys' about such dangerous ideas?

Dr. Hart,

I have already warned the Bayly's about such dangerous ideas.

Error one one side does not countenance error on another, brother.

Dr. Hart fails to see that elements within R2K are the other side of the FV coin.

Where the 2 coincide, they are opposed on this blog.

Pssst, Darryl...I'm a member of Christ the Word church. If you followed Tim's advice some time ago, you'll note who is senior pastor there.

"Pampered little infants --what most Reformed people are today."

Sorry - almost missed that glaring oversimplification.

Ken, I didn't respond to your question about the third use of the law earlier, because 1) I was out doing great things for God by fixing copier machines at a godless state university (and no, I'm not being facetious) and 2) I had already mentioned it in my first post. ("You do it from gratitude." - that part)

As to the public dispute thing - I didn't say it was inappropriate to dispute public things publicly, though historically those kinds of disputes have been directed at the individual in question, even though published for all to see - but rather, that when I am questioning someone's views on something I generally like to ask them, if they aren't dead, just what their views are. That kind of makes sense to me. Mike has an email address just like anyone else.

And, as long as we're sitting on our "well-powdered fannies", Craig, you make some interesting statements like "the irony that R2K is decidedly consumeristic with its antinomian appeal and personality cult". Huh? You gotta help me out on that one.

And - "that elements within R2K are the other side of the FV coin." I'd love to hear what that means. Did you post on this elsewhere?

Good quote from Bavinck, I've heard Horton say similar things many times, at least along the lines of the last part. What's your point?

Steve,
I have posted things loosely related...for instance, Velvet Calvin: http://www.antipelagian.com/2009/11/velvet-calvin.html

While I didn't necessarily have R2K in mind on the following entry, it is entirely applicable: http://www.antipelagian.com/2009/03/blessed-are-peacemakers.html

You may find it difficult to connect the dots on the second entry, but suffice it to say that the R2K format where God rules His Church by His Word and the world by "Providence" usually means God has given his Word to a hierarchy and that God set the world in motion and stepped away...you know, "providence". R2K wants the pure Gospel preached, but when it is preached outside of the walls of the Church, some start getting huffy. In fact, when men begin interpreting predetermined natural events in a supernatural fashion...well, that's crossing the Word over to the domain of "providence" (where we know God isn't active and providence doesn't speak).

So where does R2K and FV seem to coincide? They function on the same principle of mechanistic Christianity...it looks different and says different things...but what it comes down to is a mechanistic approach to the faith. Where faith is not an activity of God in man that man lives by, where sacraments do things mechanistically, where forms (whether robes or smells and bells) take prominence...it's about arranging our worship ducks in just such a way that the atmosphere is appropriate for worship...where we say it's about giving God glory when we really know that if that duck quacks when it shouldn't be quacking, we're brooding the rest of the service. Where our "sanctified" personal taste and refinement looks more like the New York Times and doesn't connect with the hooker on the other side of town. One wonders if the gospel could begin to have effect on the hooker until she understands the redemptive/historical method...and that the love a Christian shows her, that that example has in no way communicated the Gospel or God's love.

When she has questions about the worship service we're probably able to quote specific men and tell her what magazines can be subscribed to and what books may be purchased...maybe even a conference could be attended for only a couple hundred bucks.

In thinking it over, Steve...I'm not sure what made me think there was any element of consumerism to the Reformed world.

Craig,

If you send me $29.95, I will send you my book on consumerism in the Reformed world.

Or, better yet, I have a Reformed celebrity cruise coming up next month. Cruise Alaska sitting in a dark room listening to me and a host of other Reformed luminaries pontificate on topics.

And, of course, a book table with signing to follow.

Just listen to my radio broadcast for details on how to register. You will love hanging out with a bunch of angry Lutherans!!

Craig French: "R2K wants the pure Gospel preached, but when it is preached outside of the walls of the Church, some start getting huffy."

Therein lies the stupidity of R2K.

Craig, if 2kers object to preaching outside the church -- and it actually rare that we do -- it is because that preaching is nothing more than moral hectoring. Preaching should include some acknowledgment of forgiveness of sin, not just a catalog of offenses.

As for a mechanistic view, the 2k approach follows directly the Shorter Catechism: "The sacraments become effectual means of salvation not by any virtue in them on in those that administer them but only the blessing of Christ and the work of his Spirit in them that receive them by faith." In other words, 2kers affirm that Christ needs to bless the sacrament, the Holy Spirit needs to work, and the recipient needs faith.

How is that mechanistic.

Craig,

I understand that in the heat of debate we rachet up the rhetoric but seriously, do you believe someone who holds to the RH hermeneutic believes we would have to explain it to the "hooker" before preaching to her the Gospel of free grace. That is just silly.

It would be like me saying all people trying to read "providence" are akin to Pat Robertson trying to read into the backstory of the Haitian earthquake.

If it were true that R2K folks were upset about the Gospel being preached outside the four walls of the church I would join you in the protest.

If by "preached" you actually mean "preached". As long as you are not trying to fill in "preaching" with the kind of doing that both men and women may share in, both ordained and nonordained (like for instance showing the love of Christ as “preaching the Gospel”. Isnt my wife allowed to “preach” that way? So now "women" preachers are acceptable...or we could just not redefine all the terms and avoid the problem posed).

You see we cant fight for Biblical manhood and womanhood inside the four walls of the church and keep the preaching to men, but then redefine preaching and gospel outside the four walls and make preaching the mandate of all, both male and female. For some of us the distinctions arent just because we like to split hairs, they do have real life ramifications.

I think Horton is correct on this.

If we believe in a sovereign God, then we must also believe that He will perform in us and through us His will . It is the works we do to please ourselves or the Pastors or ministries that are filthy rags..

If we work out our salvation with God giving out the work orders even sweeping floors is great work for God

I found this post today because of a link to it on Old Life by Dr. Hart.

I've obviously criticized Dr. Horton in the recent past, but I do believe it's important to understand his comments here in context.

When Dr. Frame criticizes Dr. Horton for saying, in Frame's summary words... 

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.

... what Horton was doing was criticizing so-called exemplary preaching. That means going to the Bible and picking out characters as examples of how modern Christians should act. Criticizing exemplary preaching has been a staple of Dutch Reformed preaching theory for a long time, long before Horton, and long before anything resembling the modern Two Kingdoms movement.

The point the Dutch were trying to make is that we're supposed to be preaching Christ and Him crucified, not using the Bible as a moralistic book of examples. That road leads to liberalism, and is based on the wrongheaded liberal notion that Christ's death was merely an example for us of good self-sacrificial conduct, not the orthodox view of Christ's death as the only possible atonement for our infinite sin against a sovereign God.

The problem with the Dutch Reformed rejection of exemplary preaching is that the Bible does give examples of how believers and unbelievers lived their lives -- with the believers providing both good and bad examples, thereby proving that we can look only to Christ because only Christ is a proper example of perfect obedience.

It seems to me that while Horton is echoing standard Dutch Reformed preaching practices, we need to go back and look at the original intent behind those preaching practices.

Yes, we need to focus on Christ and Him crucified, and any sermon focusing on human examples to the exclusion of Christ is biography, not preaching. But that doesn't exclude the fact that some texts were given to us with an exemplary purpose.

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