Mark Jones Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? P& R Publishing, 2013. ISBN: 978-1596388154. 176 pages
Rev. Mark Horton
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Volume 32.Fall 2014.
I read this book with a great deal of interest. The very title intrigued me. It doesn't take an astute analysis to figure out that Christianity in America these days is suffering under a number of maladies. One of the most prominent is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." Many are hearing a religion of a loving God who forgives everyone no matter how they live. Cheap grace is really antinomianism. Both stem from an inner attitude that because of grace, law has no more say in one's life and conduct. Jesus did the suffering and we are free to live how we choose.
This whole discussion reminds me of the proverbial elephant in the room. I have wondered for years if the Calvinists did not see the lax attitude and careless living of many of their followers that have stemmed from an unbalanced view of grace. But to be fair, we Arminians need to acknowledge the elephant of legalism that often occurs in the lives of our own people as we emphasize the need to follow the example of Christ.
Jones is refreshingly honest in criticizing his Calvinist brethren. It will be interesting to see how the book is received in his own circles. He recognizes and asserts the place of human responsibility in one's walk with God. He calls faith, "both the gift of God and the act of man." He even goes so far to say that those who do not endorse antinomian theology can be practical antinomians by failing to preach on, "Loving our neighbor, praying, standing firm and resisting the devil." He affirms that, "the New Testament heightens, not lessens the place of the moral law in the life of the believer..." Wow! I agree.
Overall he sees the value of the moral law and the commandments of Christ and his apostles as God ordained "instruments" in the sanctification of the church. I do not know that I have thought of it in just those words before but I do not think I disagree with the concept. Even the law's early work of condemning a sinner and convincing him of his need of God is part of the process to bring him to holiness.
After asking what role does the law have in the New Testament, he then turns and queries what is the Gospel? Both questions are meant to clarify Jones rejection of the antinomian belief, "that there was an absolute contrast between the law and the gospel. He rightly points out that even under the law there was a promise of life, (Lev18:5, Deut 4:1, Ezek 20:21, Rom 10:5) and the gospel threatens at times. I think Jones clearly comes down on the side that there are warnings and threatenings that do apply to believers even citing the "authorized" Latin, Dutch and French versions of the Canons of Dort for support. He believes the English translation is weak. He acknowledges that, "the most severe warnings in the Scriptures are made to professing Christians such as Paul's statement in Romans 8 about living according to the flesh, Paul's letters and the letters to the seven churches and warns preachers that to view the gospel as a means to escaping the threats of the law are in essence to blunt the force of the threats and lose their intended application. All of this is good medicine and will help all of us if we comply.
But I think Jones leaves himself a loophole from outright declaring that a believer can lose his salvation by citing the Westminster Confession that a believer is one who, "yields obedience to God's commands, tremble at his threatenings, and embrace the promises (WCF 14.2). This allows him to be consistent with his objective in writing the book and preserve his beliefs. I do not criticize him for that. At least he is trying to get people to take holiness seriously.
Jones then wrestles with the question of whether God loves us more when we obey or less when we don't. Here I felt like I was going through mental gymnastics as I read his answer. In an effort to explain how God loves the elect when they sin, I think he weakens his whole argument for taking seriously the commandments of Christ. He breaks the love of God down into three kinds of love. There is the love God has between the person's of the Trinity or himself. Jones terms this love, "eternal and natural and necessary."
Secondly, there is the love God has for his creatures. This is "not necessary but voluntary." This love of God for his creatures is broken down into three counterparts. Apparently, however, it is possible for God to "love" us without choosing us for salvation.
Third, there is God's love for the elect and this love has three parts. I needed an aspirin. Doesn't Jesus pray in John 17:26 that the love with which the Father has loved the Son may be in the believers? Jones also makes a passing comment that "Arminians seize upon texts about the glorious truth of God's unconditional love and make them conditional ones and come to numerous unsound conclusions." But unconditional election is only glorious for the elect.
When a Calvinist writes to Calvinists I did not expect as an Arminian that I would agree with parts of it. But Jones' intent to challenge grace as a license to sin is needed everywhere in America these days. However, he dances around to explain how God sees the elect differently than the nonelect on issues of sin. I'm not sure he will accomplish his goal. If down deep people think there is a way to get away with sin and still go to heaven, what's the threat? This is another book where doctrinal positions rule over a common sense approach to Scripture.