In a brief book notice here at Books At a Glance we mentioned the important new work by Dr. Mark Jones on antinomianism. We were happy to catch up with Dr. Jones to ask him to share some thoughts about his book with our readers.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
First, what is antinomianism? You point out that there are varieties – what are the leading or common traits of antinomianism?
The Scottish theologian John “Rabbi” Duncan (1796–1870) has rightly argued that “there is only one heresy, and that is Antinomianism,” for all sin, including heresy, is against God’s law. The apostle John essentially makes this point when he says that sin is lawlessness (anomia) (1 John 3:4). A history of antinomianism, when defined this way, could easily be derived from the Bible. Similarly, antinomianism, viewed either as breaking or opposing God’s law, is the picture of society at large and regrettably even the church. Nonetheless, the theological concept of antinomianism is a lot more complex than simply being against God’s law, either doctrinally or practically.
Antinomianism involves a certain “system” of thinking whereby the doctrine of justification can start to swallow up the Christian life in an unhelpful way. Connected to this issue are certain questions related to the nature of salvation and the Christian life, such as:
1. Are there any conditions for salvation?
2. Is the moral law still binding for Christians?
3. What is the precise nature of, and relationship between, the law and the gospel?
4. Are good works necessary for salvation?
5. Does God love all Christians the same, irrespective of their obedience or lack thereof?
6. Who is the subject of spiritual activity, the believer or Christ?
7. May our assurance of justification be discerned by our sanctification?
8. Does God see sin in believers?
9. Is a person justified at birth or upon believing?
Books At a Glance:
What is one of the reasons you wrote Antinomianism?
There is a dispute about sanctification – about how we grow in holiness. Against those with antinomian leanings I would say the following:
We agree on justification, on how sinners are declared righteous by God. We both agree that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But where we disagree is in how we then become holy in our thoughts, words and actions.
I dispute the claim that God’s unconditional love alone has the power to change us. There is a popular idea that fear, threat of punishment, the law, and so on, are not able to help us change. Rather, we are sanctified by looking to our justification.
My position is different. I believe that God uses many means to change us: the love of God, the fear of God, the fear of punishment and the promise of reward.
Books At a Glance:
How do you believe we grow in holiness? What does the sanctified life look like according to your book?
I believe God uses many means to change us. God uses:
The gospel. The love of God in Christ astounds me, it compels me, it assures me, and transforms me.
The fear of God. At the same time, I am also moved to obey God because I fear him (Lk. 1:50; Acts 9:31; 2 Cor. 7:1) He is God. Whatever happened to the biblical fear of God? It is the soul of godliness. Even Jesus feared his Father!
Fear of punishment. I also am moved to obey because I don’t want temporal punishments. I know that God is a good Father, and he will certainly punish me if I willfully sin (Heb. 12:5ff). I tell my children that when they obey me they please the Lord (Col. 3:20).
Promise of reward. Finally, the promise of rewards motivates me. In other words, I am moved to obey God out of a healthy self-love. Indeed, when I love my wife, am I not properly loving myself?
So the way that God changes us are many and varied. We need this variation in our lives, and they all hold together in a delicate balance.
Simply looking to our justification only is sub-biblical, and thus ultimately not an adequate solution to our complex human problems.
Books At a Glance:
What is the proper context for sanctification?
I do not believe pithy phrases ultimately solve the problem of our lack of holiness. I also don’t believe that talking about grace a lot is the answer. The primary manner in which we grow in holiness must be found in the faithful preaching of God’s Word, the administration of the sacraments, and worship that is filled with reverence and awe. The ordinary means of grace. When you miss church on purpose, you’re taking a massive risk with your soul.
But when we get to the “faithful preaching of God’s Word” we need to understand that God’s Word promises, encourages, corrects, teaches, and even warns believers. We can’t let a certain type of “theology” dominate our preaching so that biblical warnings, for example, are jettisoned.
Note: Stay tuned – we will continue our interview with Mark Jones here tomorrow.