Antinomianism Already? image

Antinomianism Already?

2015 is only a few hours old, and the antinomianism question is already being raised in my Twitter feed. Which is interesting, because I only just mentioned that I was going to give some time to thinking it through this year. Now, it seems, I will have to buy Mark Jones's book on the subject.

Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey in St Louis, quoted Benjamin Franklin:

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.”

Think about that for a second. How do you react, as a Christian, to the call to fighting your vices and improving yourself? Does it sound like sensible advice? Like legalism? Like drivenness? Why?

Anyway, a number of people responded. One simply replied, “Ugh.” Another, filling out the details somewhat, wrote, “The war is won and I’m at peace w/ God who finds me covered in the person & work of Jesus Christ, my righteousness.” From what I’ve seen, those are the two most typical responses you will get in some quarters if you exhort people to fight sin and grow in godliness: abject disgust and dismissal (Ugh! Legalist! You hate grace! Etc), or a reiteration of the reality of imputed righteousness, as if this somehow undermined the exhortation to contend against the flesh, pursue holiness and so on. Discussions of how imperatives and indicatives come together in Paul, let alone James or Hebrews or the Gospels, rarely take place; it is broadly assumed that the presence of the latter eliminates the need for the former.

Darrin’s response was to refer to three texts that backed up the threefold exhortation he was making:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Titus 2:11-12

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” Romans 12:16

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

Which, in my book, is fairly unanswerable. The New Testament commands certain things, so if your theological system doesn’t, then something has gone wrong somewhere. (The most pronounced example I know of is the people who won’t pray the Lord’s Prayer because they believe they’ve already been forgiven for everything.)

Clearly, Twitter discussions do not always provide the most helpful or nuanced articulations of important theological positions. (Who knew?) But in my limited experience, this is precisely how the discussion often goes; indicatives (you are, God has) are seen as ruling out imperatives (you must), let alone warnings (if you don’t ...). And that’s why I want to give some more time to thinking the whole thing through this year.

If that’s enough to confuse you but not enough to satisfy you, then I really recommend Kevin DeYoung’s piece on the sanctification debate with Tullian Tchividjian last year, which is here.

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