Taking a break from Bill Johnson and my critiques on his book When Heaven Invades Earth (such critiques can be found here, here, here, and here), I’ve decided to finally write a review on Mark Jones’ Antinomianism, provided to me by P&R Publishing. One can only hope I remember how to write reviews. Besides Johnson’s book, my last review was Moo’s The Old Testament in the Gospel Passion Narratives on July 19th. So, it really has been a while for me.
And I have been a bit busy. I’m teaching and interning at the Calvary Chapel Bible College in York, UK, where my main duty is to teach 2 Corinthians. Just with that, getting engaged, and sorting through the visa process, things can get a bit hairy. But nonetheless, onwards toward freedom.
What is Antinomianism?
an·ti·no·mi·an; noun [an-ti-ˈnō-mē-ən]
Anti- means ‘opposite, against’ and nomos means ‘law.’
“One who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation”. —Merriam-Webster’s dictionary
And That’s a Problem?
All technicalities aside, in antinomian history, the historical debates that have occurred have focused more on specific areas of the Christian life rather than the entire OT law. In fact, Jones says their beliefs are not much different than legalism for “Pharisaic selective obedience is disobedience” (pg. 2).
“Antinomians rejected the idea that the law, accompanied by the Spirit, is a true means of sanctification. It was untenable that God would actually use it in our life in accordance to the Holy Spirit’s work.
“But the antinomians tended not only to ridicule the idea that we must attempt to conform our lives to the pattern of Christ, but also to suggest that any work we perform is not our work but Christ’s” (p. 125).
Our faith and works are gifts from God and lead back to God for His glory. While His promises and justification in our lives do provide assurance, both the gospel and God’s promises include our renovation (i.e., regeneration, continuing good works) which is a ground of assurance for ourselves and for those looking on.
“[T]he key error of antinomianism in all its forms has been to treat our union with Christ as involving in effect some degree of personal absorption into Christ, such that the law as a voice from God no longer speaks to us or of us directly. Thus, with regard to justification, antinomians affirm that God never sees sin in believers; once we are in Christ, whatever our subsequent lapses, he sees at every moment only the flawless righteousness of the Savior’s life on earth, now reckoned as ours” (ix-x).
While I can’t discuss much about that statement (especially the last sentence), we can at least contrive from this that antinomians think that once one is justified in Christ, he is all set and ready to go. Basically, believers don’t need to live a better life because Christ already did it for us. Of course, this poses a problem not only in daily life, but in reading the Bible as a whole (Rom 6.1,22-23; 2 Cor 5.10).
While Christians don’t need to follow the law for their own righteousness, we now have the Holy spirit and can, are able, and should follow God’s commands (Ezek 36.27)! To say we don’t need to because Christ did it all for us is to miss the point of some very important Old Testament prophecies. We have His Spirit, which none of the Old Testament believers possessed consistently, and now, being under the New Covenant, we want to follow God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut 30.6; Mk 12.30-31).
The Chocolate Milk
Jones’ audience is “readers [and] particularly pastors” with the goal “to help [them] understand certain tenets of antinomianism, which will allow them to connect the dots, so to speak, in the contemporary scene” (xv-xvi).
He intends his readers to “see, [that] a Reformed understanding of Christ’s person and work—not necessarily more imperatives, though they belong in our preaching—is the true solution to the problem of antinomianism. This issue is above all a pastoral one, and there would be no reason to write a book on such a controversial subject if people’s souls were not at risk. But love for Christ demands that his glory and honor be defended” (xvi).
Jones places a large Christological focus in his book, and what better way to attack the antinomian ideal than to point to Christ and what he has done for us? And I would have to say that Jones does a terrific job at this point. Chapters 2-8 place the emphasis on what Christ has done for us giving us all the more reason to live for Him, rather than to live as Antinomians and think ourselves to always be in the right solely because we are justified.
Of all the chapters, Chapter 9 “Toward a Definition and a Solution” was by far my favourite. One reason was that it was the most readable chapter of the entire book. Where chapters 1-8 evaluate the history of antinomians and their debates with Reformed theologians, Chapter 9 shows some of the intricacies of their doctrine against the Reformed in a compact, yet simple, way. He shows us the antinomian characteristics (having a poor Christology) and then points us to a solution, that being they must “understand and love the person and work of Christ” (p. 128). We as believers, reformed, arminian, baptist, pentecostal, non-denominational, and whichever else you ascribe too, are to always be doing and striving to do the same: understand and love the person and work of Christ.
Jones aims at being gospel-centered. In light of what Christ has done, what does that mean for my life? How should I be living now? He doesn’t simply write a polemic against antinomians, but in the process he shows believers the way to put Christ first and glorify Him as the highest.
Not a History Book
As Christocentric as this book was, it is just as density on historical names, places, and the beliefs of those individuals. I must state that this could be a problem to those readers/pastors who have no knowledge in church history, the reformed tradition, or antinomianism. In Chapter 1 it felt like there was more name-dropping than the Golden Globe Awards. As one continues reading for the next seven chapters, the amount of names doesn’t stop; they merely slow down. This will only be a hindrance if you aren’t familiar with the names (which was the case with me for many of the names).
Jones usually doesn’t give much background on who he’s talking about, and seems to assume that you’ll know too. What’s important is that one does know these names, and if one wants to learn about antinomianism, then one must learn some church history (which seems like they would go together). Or, at least, be ready to look up each person in this book and find out why that was significant.
J.I. Packer (who writes the Foreward) is right to say, “Those with some expertise in post-Reformation Reformed theology are likely to pick up on the subtleties of antinomian thinking that is abroad today” (xii-xiv). For one, one would do well to have some expertise in post-Reformation Reformed theology. But secondly, one would pick up on the subtleties of their thinking in today’s culture as well.
Chapter one shows what historic antinomianism looked like, whereas then after that specific concerns are brought up and looked at. Antinomianism rejected forms of moral law and departed from Reformed Orthodoxy in several ways. We see these ways as Jones moves through his book by looking at the historical events and evaluating the history of antinomianism.
Jones’ work is an excellent one, to say the least. He has certainly done his homework, and really cares for the hearts of believers and antinomians. He doesn’t want believers to slip into antinomianism, thinking that they can live solely on the basis of their justification. But their faith should be shown by their works.
This book will not be for the lay-reader, and perhaps not even to the one who is simply inquisitive of Antinomian beliefs. But to those familiar with (or possessing ‘expertise’ on) church history, or those who have a yearning to know more about what constitutes antinomian beliefs and how it has developed through history, then this book was made for you.
- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: P&R Publishing (November 15, 2013)
[Special thanks to Julia at P&R Publishing for sending me this PDF for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]
Buy It on Amazon
“Briefly, apart from the gospel and outside of Christ the law is my enemy and condemns me. Why? Because God is my enemy and condemns me. But with the gospel and in Christ, united to him by faith, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend. Why? Because now God is no longer my enemy but my friend, and the law, his will, the law in its moral core, as reflective of his character and of concerns eternally inherent in his own person and so of what pleases him, is now my friendly guide for life in fellowship with God”
– Richard Gaffin (p. 54).