I just finished reading The Escondido Theology by John Frame, which is perhaps the strangest title for a book, ever! The subtitle of the book – “a reformed response to two kingdom theology” – gives the average consumer a gist of the content, and yet I still find it to be an absolutely awful title for a book. The world “Escondido” means absolutely nothing to the average person, unless he or she happens to know that it’s a town in California where Westminster Seminary California is located. The cover design doesn’t help sell the book either, it’s pretty bland to say the least. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but honestly we all do. So this book has literally nothing going for it, except perhaps that it was written John Frame, who is one-beast-of-a-theologian (I mean this in a positive sense).
Anyway, blah, blah, blah, none of that really matters. I decided to read this book at the recommendation of a friend, who said he thought it offered a compelling critique to some of the writings of Michael Horton. I should mention that both myself and the aforementioned friend like Michael Horton and John Frame, and have read several of their collective works. But no one’s theology is perfect, so it’s good to read one point of view and then to hear counter arguments. If theological critique is done in a loving and irenic spirit, then arguably, everyone is the better for it. I should also add, that I’m a church planter and I named the church that I’m currently planting “Basileia Church.” Basileia is the Greek word for “kingdom,” and our church’s mission statement reads, “For the Kingdom of God in East Nashville.” If there’s any one branch of theology that I geek-out about, it’s kingdom theology. I find it an absolutely transfixing theological subject that is exciting and often overlooked.
A little bit of the backstory to this book is that John Frame used to work at Westminster Seminary California with many of the men that he critiques in this book. He was not fired from the school, but claims that in the 1990‘s his theological views were increasingly scorned at the school because they differed from many of the other professors. Due to this development, Frame took at job at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Now years later, Frame has written a book that is essentially a collection of longer, technical book reviews that critique many of the works that the men at Westminster Seminary California have published. Frame argues that increasingly the professors at Westminster have formed a unique theological school of thought within the reformed movement that he refers to as “Escondido Theology.”
Frame assures the reader that he has not written this book to “get even” with his former colleagues, but because:
“The Westminster California professors have written prolifically, and though there is some good in this literature I believe the net effect of their work has been dangerous…Unfortunately, many have supported the Escondido literature, without, I think, quite understanding it…But anyone who thinks the Escondido theology is merely a conservative movement within the Reformed community has not seen it rightly” (Frame, xli).
So there you have it, a book of reviews, critiquing the particular brand of Two Kingdom Theology that has developed in the last 30 or so years at Westminster Seminary California.
Specifically, Frame reviews the following works:
- Christless Christianity – Michael Horton
- Recovering the Reformed Confession – R. Scott Clark
- A Biblical Defense of Natural Law – David Van Drunen
- Kingdom Prologue – Meredith Kline
- Covenant and Eschatology – Michael Horton
- A Secular Faith – Darryl Hart
- Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down & A Royal Waste of Time – Marva Dawn
- A Better Way – Michael Horton
- With Reverence and Awe – Daryl Hart & John Muether
- Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet – Jason Stellman
He ends the book with two short chapters titled, “In Defense of Christian Activism” and “Is Natural Revelation Sufficient to Govern Culture?” In my opinion, these two small chapters are actually some of the most helpful in the book, and I wish Frame had done a little less reviewing and a little more personal writing on the topic of the kingdom and two kingdom theology.
My opinion of this book is that it’s interesting at times, ultimately unsatisfying, and not nearly as useful as it could have been. Despite Frame’s intention to keep personal wounds from affecting his assessments, it still seems as if he unfairly criticizes his former co-workers. In his reviews, he repeatedly mentions portions of their books that he agrees with, but he also seems to aim unnecessary jabs in their direction. Perhaps most telling, is that if one searches the web, he finds Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary, and many others claiming that Frame failed to fairly represent their views. It would have been more helpful to write a book that explained the two kingdom view of the Escondido school and then compare it to the one kingdom view of Frame and others. In this proposed book, if the Escondido Theologians had agreed that Frame adequately represented their views, then the two sides could have discussed which view more adequately represented the content of Scripture, rather than just taking pop shots at one another. I fear that instead, neither side completely understands the other, and they just keep talking over each others’ heads.
That being said, I do agree that a conversation needs to be had regarding the Scriptural appropriateness of the Escondido school’s two kingdom theology. Is the two kingdom view the best way to formulate Scripture’s teachings on the interaction between the church and culture? I personally don’t think it is. At times when I read the Escondido Theologians, I feel as if they’re advocating an unhealthy separation between Christianity and culture for fear of falling into some sort of Nuevo-social-gospel-liberalism or as a reaction against the mistakes of the religious right. So I actually find myself in agreement with Frame on many points, I just wish he had written a different sort of book. Perhaps he felt he needed to take an aggressive approach to get everyone’s attention, or maybe this book was meant to be a launching pad for further discussions on the topic, but ultimately different sorts of books will need to written on this subject if any headway is going to be made.
2.5 of 5 black cups of coffee.
Not a book for most people, but interesting if you know the players or are already part of the discussion between one kingdom and two kingdom views. Someone please write a more concise book that fairly represents both sides and allows readers to make an informed decision on this theological topic.