Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?
Philadelphia: P&R Books, 2013.
£12.99, pbk, 176pp
Antinomianism is a familiar pejorative term. Many hyper-Calvinists in the seventeenth century were accused of it; their riposte was to accuse their accusers of Arminianism or of legalism. The arguments prompted more heat than light. This book by Mark Jones throws some helpful insights on the arguments and sadly shows that it is not just a debate that was left in the seventeenth century.
The initial impetus for this book was the response to Jones’ review of Tullian Tchividjian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Jones shows how Tchividjian’s book has antinomian tendencies. In Jones’ book he carefully shows how antinomianism is a “system of thought that has to be carefully understood in its historical context”. Antinomianism isn’t simply a rejection of moral law.
Jones maintains that the first antinomian was Adam in the garden and he shows that antinomianism isn’t a “monolithic group”. Diverse Calvinists such as John Eaton (1574/5–1630/31), Tobias Crisp (1600–1643), John Saltmarsh (d. 1647), John Traske (c. 1585–1636), and Robert Towne (1592/3?–1664) have all been described as antinomian.
Jones provides a helpful set of questions around which the issue(s) of antinomianism arises:
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?
The book is however not merely a historical survey - but he does show how important is an historical understanding. The great strength of the book is that it places the discussion in a clear Christological context: “The solution to antinomianism must be to understand and love the person and work of Christ”; “Christ is not only the pattern for our Christian life, but also the source of our Christian life.” "In essence, the mistakes of legalism and antinomianism are Christological errors."
Those not familiar with the historical context may find this book a little hard-going at times, but it is worth persevering with. Jones has done an excellent job in analysing the issues that surround antinomianism and show how the past can help us understand the present.
Foreword by J. I. Packer ix
Editor’s Notes xix
1. Lessons from History 1
2. The Imitation of Christ 19
3. The Law 31
4. The Law and the Gospel 43
5. Good Works and Rewards 61
6. Amor, Amor 81
7. Assurance 97
8. Rhetoric 111
9. Toward a Definition and a Solution 123
Index of Scripture 137
Index of Subjects and Names