Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? By Mark Jones. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2013. 145 pages. Paper, $14.48.
Mark Jones is the pastor of a PCA church in Canada. Since those in the Free Grace movement are often accused of being antinomian, the title of this book caught my eye.
This book, however, does not address the contemporary scene. Instead, it deals with how Reformed theologians dealt with antinomianism after the Reformation. There is a particular emphasis on the seventeenth century. The author spends a great deal of time on how the writers of the Westminster Confession and the Puritans dealt with the various problems concerning this topic.
Jones says that antinomianism is a very complex issue. It comes in many forms. In all these forms there is an error in Christology. Antinomians emphasize the imputed righteousness of Christ at the expense of how He lived His earthly life as well as His high priestly ministry.
One of the primary ways antinomianism manifested itself in history is a denial that the Christian is under the moral law of the Old Covenant. But Jones lists at least nine other ways, some subtle, in which antinomianism expresses itself (pp. 7-9). These include how one sees predestination, arguing that works are not necessary for eternal salvation, or whether the assurance of our justification can be discerned by our sanctification (pp. 4-5). He recognizes that antinomianism does not necessarily equate to a sinful lifestyle.
The issue is also complex because sometimes theologians who opposed antinomianism did not use their words with caution. Luther and John Cotton both said things that led some to conclude they were antinomian. In the case of Luther, Jones says the Reformer simply used strong rhetoric to argue against the Catholic Church. We must interpret the words of these past theologians in the context they were uttered.
A couple of the chapters provoked my interest. Chapter two is entitled, “The Imitation of Christ,” and deals with sanctification. Jones says that antinomians saw sanctification as being completely the work and responsibility of Christ. Jones refers to this as “immediate” sanctification. The orthodox Reformed theologians said the believer has a role, because the believer retains his or her own will. The Holy Spirit infuses grace in the believer so that he or she is now empowered to act in a holy way. Jones calls this “inherent” sanctification (pp. 25-26).
Chapter five is entitled “Good Works and Rewards.” Jones says that the antinomians denied that God will reward good works in heaven. Interestingly, the opponents of antinomianism state that good works do not provide evidence of faith, but they do contribute to final salvation. These works are a ways or means, but not the cause, of salvation. He says that the human heart cannot always understand this subtlety (pp. 64-68). This reviewer has a difficult time understanding these “subtleties” as well.
Jones says that there will be rewards in heaven according to the Reformed theologians. There will be differences in glory between the saints. This idea of rewards allows the believer to serve the Lord cheerfully. He regrets that the doctrine of rewards is not taught enough today (pp. 74-77).
Chapter seven is entitled “Assurance.” Jones says that the Reformed theologians insisted that there are both objective and subjective aspects of assurance. Both are necessary. The antinomians said that the only grounds of assurance are faith in Christ and the Gospel. This is the objective sense. In addition, the “orthodox” maintained that assurance is not essential to faith (pp. 98-99).
For the Reformed theologians, good works are not the ground of assurance, but do provide a subjective ground. Good works inevitably follow justification (p. 100).
This book does not exegete passages. It mostly quotes or alludes to what Reformed theologians said about the topic. Therefore, it is basically a book on theology and history. There are a couple of things about the book that might interest readers of the JOTGES. One is that the contemporary issues raised by the Free Grace movement are not new. Issues like assurance, the relationship of works to justification, and rewards, were discussed as long as there has been Reformed theology and Puritan thought.
It is also interesting to see Reformed theologians arguing for things normally associated with Free Grace theology. They argued, for example, for rewards in the coming Kingdom and that the believer has a role in sanctification.
This book indicates that the charges leveled against the antinomianism of the seventeenth century are not always the same as that leveled at Free Grace people. For those who are interested in how these various issues were discussed by theologians immediately after the Reformation, I recommend this book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society