Today we continue our interview with Mark Jones, as he talks to us about his book Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? If you missed Part 1 yesterday, you can catch up here.
Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
You speak about the law in your book. Can you explain how the preaching of the law relates to the topic of antinomianism?
The preaching of the law can have an effect on us, so that we are changed. According to Theodore Beza, the preaching of God’s commandments, in the context of a faithful gospel ministry, “begins to change the effect in us (after our disposition is changed) in such a way that instead of making us afraid, it comforts us (1 John 2:17; 2 Peter 1:11–12); instead of where it showed us our condemnation already prepared, it serves us now as a guide to show us good works (Jer. 21:33; Rom. 7:22) in which we are prepared to walk (Eph. 2:10). Instead of being an unpleasant and unbearable yoke, now it is agreeable to us, easy and light (Matt. 11:30).”
Others, like Thomas Goodwin, claim that God’s law is a “means of sanctifying us; and sanctification itself is but a writing of that law in the heart.” Likewise, Anthony Burgess argued that God’s commands not only inform us of our duty, but are also “practical and operative means appointed by God, to work, at least in some degree, that which is commanded.”
Thus, the preaching of indicatives (what has been done) and imperatives (what you must do) – always both, not one without the other – changes us when the Spirit accompanies both God’s promises and commandments.
Practically, then, I think we can command Christians to “try harder” and “do more” because God’s word commands us to “try harder” and “do more” (1 Thess. 4:10).
Besides 1 Thessalonians 4:10, where Christians are to love one another, “more and more,” the New Testament is filled with imperatives commanding us to “grow spiritually” (2 Peter 1:5; 3:18; Eph. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:2), while affirming that growth comes from God (Col. 2:19; Phil. 2:12-13). Sanctification involves 100% of the believer, but these works we do are prepared in advance for us by God (Eph. 2:8-10).
Even the faith we exercise is our faith. The act of believing is ours; the power comes from God.
In Romans 12:9ff. Paul gives specific commands to Christians, based on the assumption that 1) we need to increase in these Christian graces, and 2) we need specifics, not generalities. We are also told in Romans to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10). There is some healthy competition in the Christian life.
In addition, I need to be told to love my wife more. I remember being in South Africa and my friend rebuked me for not opening the car door for my wife. He was saying, “show love to your wife.” But he didn’t say, “Mark, I want you to look to your justification right now” in the hopeful expectation that I will suddenly realize that I need to open the door for my wife. And he didn’t say, “Mark, you aren’t looking to our justification because if you were you would have opened the door for your wife.” If he said that I’d think he was a weirdo. Sometimes in the Christian life we can give a rebuke without having it die the death of a thousand qualifications; and the rebuke can work wonders. (My wife drives when we are together, so I now make her open the door for me.)
Books At a Glance:
What is at stake in this sanctification debate?
The stakes are tremendously high. For me, what’s at stake are:
- The wisdom of God: I don’t want to be wiser than God and fail to preach on topics (e.g., judgment for believers who stop going to church, Heb. 10:25ff.) because it doesn’t fit my model of inspiring believers by “undiluted grace.”
- The glory of Christ: Christ is glorified by the holiness of his people (Jn. 17:10). We need holy Christians, who will reflect the mind, heart, and will of their savior. Their attitude to the law should reflect Christ’s attitude to the law.
- The vitality of preaching: hearing sermons that sound the same every single week ultimately leads to frustration among members of the congregation. Initially it might be “refreshing,” but in the long-term members start realizing something is amiss.
- The preciousness of justification: as I have said before, I think Tullian’s emphasis on justification will ultimately harm the doctrine. If justification is everywhere then it is nowhere. Justification cannot be read into passages that clearly speak of sanctification (e.g., 1 Jn. 5:3).
- The faithfulness (or lack thereof) of ministers: if what Tullian says is true then I am in a lot of trouble as a preacher because, on his account, I am a moralist. In fact, almost all of my friends in the ministry are in big trouble.
- The future of skinny jeans may experience a renaissance that no one I know wishes to happen any time soon.
Books At a Glance:
What makes a work truly good? And in what sense are good works necessary?
WCF ch. 16 is all you need on this one!
But, I will say this regarding an important distinction on the “right to” versus the “possession of” eternal life.
According to the seventeenth-century Reformed theologian, Francis Turretin, good works are required “as the means and way for possessing salvation.” Works do not contribute to the acquisition of salvation, but “still they should be considered necessary to the obtainment of it, so that no one can be saved without them.” He then goes on to argue:
This very thing is no less expressly delivered concerning future glory. For since good works have the relation of the means to the end (Jn. 3:5, 16; Mt. 5:8); of the ‘way’ to the goal (Eph. 2:10; Phil 3:14); of the ‘sowing’ to the harvest (Gal. 6:7,8) …of labor to the reward (Mt. 20:1); of the ‘contest’ to the crown (2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8), everyone sees that there is the highest and an indispensable necessity of good works for obtaining glory. It is so great that it cannot be reached without them (Heb. 12:14; Rev. 21:27).
John Owen’s position was made sufficiently clear in the original piece, so I will not venture to discuss his view in detail, except to say that Owen makes it quite obvious that holiness is the way of our “attaining and coming to blessedness.” Like Turretin, Owen affirms that good works are the necessary path believers must walk to final salvation. This is in keeping with Westminster Larger Catechism, Q & A 32, which speaks of good works as “the way which [God] hath appointed them to salvation.” WCF 16.2 speaks of “their fruit unto holiness” leading to the end, which likewise reflects the relationship between means and end.
Finally, Herman Witsius, a so-called “middle-man” in antinomian/neonomian debates in the latter part of the 17th century, affirms that the “practice of Christian piety is the way to life, because thereby we go to the possession of the right obtained by Christ.” But as I noted in my book on Antinomianism (p. 67), Witsius makes a distinction between the right to life (i.e., acquisition) and the possession of life. The former is “assigned to the obedience of Christ, that all the value of our holiness may be entirely excluded.” However, regarding the latter, “our works…which the Spirit of Christ works in us, and by us, contribute something to the latter.”
Books At a Glance:
Thanks for your work and for talking to our readers! Do you have any other books on the way that we should look for?
Yes, I am writing a book, titled “Knowing Jesus.” I’m very excited about this book. All of the chapters on Jesus are designed to help the Christian layperson know him better (Jn. 17:3).