"God be merciful to us & bless us, & cause His face to shine upon us.
That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.
Oh, let the nations be glad & sing for joy!"
P&R Publishing Company
P.O. Box 817
Phillipsburg, NJ 08865
ISBN: 9781596388154; $17.99; November 2013
Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Deus
Heavy and Hearty – 3 1/2 stars out of 5
There come times
when a singular Christian teaching will take center stage, drawing all the attention
to itself, getting all the fanfare and coopting all the press coverage. Usually
it happens as a remedial reaction to perceived, or actual, deficiencies in the
Church. But trouble begins to boil to the surface when that singular teaching starts
to take over the platform, pushing all others stage-right or stage-left,
attempting to re-write the whole play around itself. It’s at this point that
some of the biggest fans commence to voice concerns and critical reviews, endeavoring
to alert others that something has gone awry.
Mark Jones, Senior Minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA)
and Research Associate at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein,
South Africa, does such in his new 176 page paperback, “Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?”
Jones seeks to signal to theologians and pastors, with the help of a delightful
forward from J.I. Packer, that things have gotten a bit skewed on the Reformed
stage, and the new, naughty Prima Donna
is primarily a work of historical theology, showing how we’ve been here before,
how the problem was laid out and diagnosed, and the way it was momentarily
corrected. In this regard, Jones moves the reader through the first chapter by
a summary rehearsal of the antinomian controversies from the Reformation into
the seventeenth century, to include the Marrow men and their detractors. What
becomes clear is that “history is messy” (17), especially with all the
in-fighting and label-tossing. Rightly, the author brings out four concluding
thoughts from this foray into the past: “First, the right questions need to be
asked. ( . . . ) Second, Christology will always prove to be decisive in
debates on antinomianism. ( . . . ) Third, the importance of historical
theology to the tasks of exegetical and systematic theology cannot go
unnoticed. ( . . . ) resurrected errors require resurrected answers ( . . . ).
Finally, ( . . . ) the term “antinomianism” is a lot more complex than its
etymology might suggest” (17-8).
In the second
chapter, Jones unpacks the sticky topic of Christ as not only our holy
salvation, but our example of holiness. Christians being united to Christ have
Christ’s own obedience, holiness and vindication (23) imputed to them
(justification), receiving it by faith alone. But then that faith works out the
consequences of these gracious gifts with a life of holiness (sanctification) that
walks in union with Christ, by the empowering strength of the Holy Spirit. It
is not God doing the works of holiness for them, but through Christ and by the
Spirit making believers able to follow Jesus in holiness. The author’s point is
that God’s imputing Christ’s righteousness and his imparting righteousness must
not be blurred or conflated (29); we are not to collapse sanctification into
justification. To put it in a way that might make Calvin smile, justification
and sanctification are to be distinguished but not divorced.
The next two
chapters tackle the Law and the Gospel, and builds the case that “the
antithesis between the law and the gospel ends the moment someone becomes a
believer” (54). With regard to the law, Jones shows how the moral law’s
requirements are intensified for the Christian because of the great privileges
and work of God in Christ. As the author states, “Because of the greater
indicatives of the new covenant, the imperatives are not relaxed, but in fact
are strengthened” (37). Here he is drawing a straight line from the claim made
in the Westminster Confession of Faith as it explains the present significance of
the Moral Law for believers in chapter 19.5. “Neither doth Christ, in the
Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” In respect to
the gospel Jones shows how the gospel is often stripped down to become
synonymous with justification (40), in which case the gospel has “nothing to do
with what happens “in” believers, but only with what happens “for” believers”
(46). The author then discloses that the gospel, narrowly understood, is purely
indicative – what God has done for us; but the gospel, taken largely, includes
both indicative and imperative – what God has done for us and what he wants
from us (47). And in the gospel, taken largely, there are found gospel
threatenings (47-50), for “God’s commands, threatenings, and promises for
believers are all derived from the gospel, largely understood. ( . . . ) gospel
threatenings are for the good of believers, in order that they may persevere to
the end in renewed obedience to the one who is both lawgiver and rewarder” (50).
Over the next
three chapters of “Antinomianism,” Jones deals with motivations for our good
works. In essence, the author constructs the defense that our good works are
necessary in our salvation, and so “there is a relation between good works on
earth and rewards in heaven” (75). These good works do not earn or cause our
salvation, but are “consequent conditions of our having been saved” (65). The
author’s thrust is a Christological one, based upon our union with Christ, for
“whatever is true of Christ ultimately becomes true of his people because of
our union with him” (76). There are then at least two corollaries that flow
from this. The first recognizes that though the Father loves us deeply, he can
be displeased with us (thus, the earlier arguments about gospel threatenings);
a point made in the Westminster Confession of Faith as it is discussing none
other than Justification: “although
they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their
sins, fall under God's fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His
countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins,
beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance” (11.5). Though the sixth
chapter, where all of this is brought out, makes fitting conclusions – both
confessionally and biblically – I found the framework the author used of God’s
benevolent love and his beneficent love rather knotty. The second corollary is
that good works are helpful in strengthening our assurance of salvation (103),
something specifically noted in the Westminster Confession of Faith 16.2.
The final two
chapters wind down the book. The one warns about the unhelpfulness of the hot
rhetoric that was used on this topic by our forbearers. Though most of the
examples he rehearses are from the antinomian perspective, nevertheless his
point is well taken. The other chapter wraps up with something of a summary for
the book, concluding with solutions already noted throughout.
is a book that, in the words of J.I. Packer’s forward, is “primarily for
pastors” (xi). It is a technical – sometimes thick and sometimes tense – work.
There are rough places here and there where the fiber sticks out, and would
benefit from a gentle sanding down. All
in all, Jones has pulled together important material that needs to be digested
and worked through so that, as pastors, we can rightly shepherd the flock “in
which the Holy Spirit has made us overseers” (Acts 20:28). I recommend the
Thanks to P&R
Publishing for the print copy provided for this review.
[As always, feel free to post or print this review; and please give credit where credit is due. Mike]
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