Dear Dr. Clark –
After I wrote my open letter to Dr. Horton on Wednesday, I was hoping for some fair dialogue from someone on the WTS-West side of the discussion. My thanks for your level of engagement on what turned out to be a hot topic this week.
Your recent post, which I had sent to me by a faithful reader, is a classic from you, following what I perceive to be your normal pattern of dealing with people who are not in your normal circle of confessional associates. Your pattern, of course, it to malign those who would say something you think is bad, then cover that version of their argument with your erudite cape, mutter the magic words of the catechism or the confession, and Volente! the matter is closed (especially the comments). For example, you mis-quote me as saying that I have listened for 20 years when in fact you cannot find that in my open letter -- and then you leverage that to intimate I am either dishonest or perhaps stupid because of the amount of time WHI spends on the matter of the uses of the Law. You state plainly that I am accusing Dr. Horton of fostering heresy, and then argue against the presence of that heresy. A fun game to play, but not actually very convincing.
Here’s how you start your volley:
At Pyromaniacs, Frank Turk has published an open letter to Mike Horton, apparently on the basis of a single episode of White Horse Inn, accusing the WHI guys of fostering antinomianism. Turk writes, “The first is a general complaint: I think you fellows have taken the right-minded theological distinction 'Law and Gospel' too far; you have made all of human life and God’s interactions with man into either an imperative or an indicative — missing the point that some things in life (especially in the Christian life, and in Christian theological anthropology) fall under the subjunctive mood.”Now, sadly, I did cite two episodes of WHI – but to notice that would mean reading the whole article carefully. I actually had a rather lengthy list of episodes in which the exact same sentiments and concluding statements were made -- each in turn from all of the WHI cast of characters -- but the open letter was already 6 pages long. Did I really need to document the history of this rhetoric suitable for a full Doctoral Thesis in order to make my specific point? More importantly: would you deny that the excerpts I provided (and transcripted generously – cleaning up spoken-word incoherencies and overlapping talk) reflect the substance of the discussion generally made at WHI on this subject? If so, please indicate in what way these statements are not reflective of the general tenor of that on-going discussion. You have the text before you, and it would be a great pleasure to see your hermeneutical prowess in action.
Now that said, the far-more egregious error on your part is to say that I have accused Dr. Horton of “fostering antinominanism”. That’s a suspicious statement if for no other reason than I studiously avoided saying that. I didn’t copy you on my edits, so perhaps you can be forgiven for not knowing my heart.
What Dr. Horton specifically said – which I think is a staggering admission on his part – is this:
Dr. Horton: Now: [Reformed traditions] have problems in [relational virtues], and there are passages in Scripture that talk about hospitality, generosity, and all sorts of things that we need to work on in our traditions. But if you don't have hospitality, and you don't have generosity, and you don't have relationality (whatever that means) you don't have kindness, gentleness, humility—all of those qualities that are so important for inter-personal relationships, you're not healthy, and you don't have a healthy church. If you don't have the preaching of the Gospel, you don't have a church.I had a rather long-ish excursis here into the book of Galatians to talk about the fruit of the Spirit, but here's what I'll say about it instead: it is utterly a matter of confessional consistency to admit, without qualification, that a faith without works is a dead faith. We can use a Lutheran form to say that, or a Presbyterian form, or a Reformed form, but it all comes to the same thing: it is not merely "unhealthy" to see the fruit of the Spirit as optional or worse -- as a result of some therapeutic treatment the local elders would administer at some point. It is actually spiritually-dead to be hearers and not doers of the word of God.
That said, the first right-minded thing to do is ask: does Dr. Horton believe or teach this, especially in the excerpts provided?
It is an utterly fair question because if the answer is yes, your defense of him is utterly pointless – it’s an admirable attempt to defend a colleague, and a nice show of solidarity and loyalty, but pointless because in that case he would be guilty. Saying he teaches at a place with a theologically-sufficient confession would not save him if he was actually "fostering antinomianism".
I think the right answer is this: an uncharitable person would say, “he certainly does when he gives people who are personally cold and ungracious a pass as being only ‘unhealthy’.” But that is, as I said, uncharitable. It’s reading the admonition there as only excusing and not in some way noting the real fault. So let’s take it for granted that Dr. Horton in no way has endorsed an antinomian view – which is a generous and friendly assumption, and gives a lot of grace to the therapudic formula he uses to express his sentiment.
The second question has to be this: did I say he was antinomian, or fostering antinomianism?
Here’s what I said:
I think you guys allow for a lot of fruitlessness by default — and it comes across in the culture of the people who listen to you a lot and are disaffected by their local church. They don't see it the way John saw it: they see it as wanting "basic Christianity" to want the Gospel — the perfect Gospel, perfectly declared — with a willingness to bypass fellowship (including the sacraments) to get it, usually via podcasts and books.Further, the question was posed to me in the open comments of that post, “do you think Dr. Horton is antinomian?” and my response was plain: No, not at all. For the record, I did say this explicitly in the comments of my open letter, but obviously you do not anticipate comments to blog posts, so I forgive you for not noticing.
See: as part of the culture I am decrying here, you think that the world is bifurcated into to venn diagram circles labeled “orthodox” and “heresy” which cannot overlap (true enough), but that no other categories exist. So if I am not saying, “Mike Horton is an icon of pure orthodoxy with no admixture of any error,” then I must be saying (which is clearly your perception), “Mike Horton is guilty of theological treason, so let’s get out the posse and the noose before someone says something reasonable to change our minds.” What if I am instead saying, “You know: is it possible to say what any Reformed confession says and take it too far, so that the balance of teaching is off the center mark and it causes people to make mistakes?”
That’s what I am actually saying about WHI: orthodox guys all of them, from different traditions, and all of them with a right-minded concern that we not get the imperative before the indicative. But they are willing to excuse gaping holes in their own traditions for the sake of saying something theologically-correct about the use of the Gospel while minimizing the necessary consequences of the Gospel. That doesn't make them heretics: it makes them human. They are not people making others suitable for hell (you know: like Dr. Riddlebarger has said of people who would say we should “obey the Gospel” [cf. 2 Thes 1; 1 Pet 4]). I think they are guys who have a history of saying something a certain way -- maybe using a kind of "shop talk" to make a point -- but then are responsible because of their influence for creating a culture, frankly, I think they each would be glad to say is unacceptable.
But that option is not available in your discernment matrix. It must be that I’m a detractor of the White Horse Inn and of Confessional traditions – when in fact all I’m saying is this: doesn’t it actually make more sense, if Confessional/Reformed types really believe what they are saying, to make a minor correction in rhetoric and cultural course rather than excusing the behavior of people who Dr. Horton willingly admits are short on “hospitality, generosity, kindness, gentleness, humility” as merely “unhealthy”? Since when do we see the Gospel in therapudic terms?
There is not one iota in any reformed confession they have to subvert to make this change. There is not a single clause of any reformed catechism which will need revision. No one will even actually have to change their views of the subjunctive mood. There’s not actually even anyone to excommunicate, no Baptists to ecclesiastically-disown – which I know ruins your weekend plans, but we all have our crosses to bear. All I have called for – and really, in a pretty generous way, given the manner of real disapprobation handed out weekly on WHI toward squishy evangelicals – is that Dr. Horton & Co. do what they actually ask everyone else to do – and clean up their sloppy short-hand for the sake of improving the culture they have assisted in creating over the last 20 years.
That said, thanks for mentioning my critique specifically because it does show that, at least, you understand the difference between gossip and debate -- between inuendo and discussion. My hope is that, by restating everything I wrote the first time, you’ll actually read it this time. And while banking on you recanting of any of your, um, conclusions is probably a poor investment, I’m going to hope for the best.
Good luck to you; God bless you as you enjoy your Sabbath rest this weekend. Give my regards to our readers in Escondido as you all have a lovely city down there. Next time I’m in town, let me invite you to dinner -- on me.