A Reply To Richard Brooks’ Article “Antinomianism-The Present Confusion”
This article first appeared in The Free Church Witness in January 2005 but was subsequently posted on the Banner of Truth Trust website. The article seeks to identify me (and other Reformed commentators of repute) as ‘antinomian’. I have a number of objections to this article and am grateful to the Banner of Truth for their willingness to post this reply on their website alongside the article in question.
1. In citing ‘the leading contributors’ to ‘the present confusion’, the article lumps together several Reformed brethren (including myself) with extreme Charismatics. Since no caveat is appended, the article gives the impression that all those cited stand on the same theological ground (which is not the case) and the ascription of ‘guilt by association’ becomes a serious possibility.
2. This problem is much exacerbated by the statement which follows the various quotations and brings the article to a conclusion, namely: ‘These flavours [quotations] should be sufficient to show which way the wind is blowing in some “evangelical” quarters. It does not make attractive reading’. By putting the word evangelical in quotation marks, Richard Brooks casts doubt on the evangelical credentials of those he names (including myself, an Editor of Evangelical Times). This is unjustified and damaging to evangelical unity. Our overall unity and common engagement in Reformed truth, as fellow-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, is far too important to engage in such insinuations.
3. Although at one point the article pauses to distinguish between ‘practical antinomianism’ and ‘doctrinal antinomianism’ (correctly demonstrating that these are worlds apart) it nowhere applies this distinction. Thus it lambastes ‘antinomians’ without distinction, while those quoted in the final section of the article are also identified simply as ‘antinomians’ without distinction. The logical implication is that those quoted (including myself) are guilty, or potentially guilty, of the following:
a) They subscribe to ‘one of the greatest curses conceivable’, according to Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones. (I knew the Doctor well – talked with him, corresponded with him and entertained him in my home – and can assure the reader that he held no such opinion of me).
b) They ‘inevitably end up’ being ‘unbiblical’. (This charge is ironic since I am reproached for things I wrote in a Bible commentary on Galatians. Richard is entitled to disagree with my interpretation of Scripture but before he can call it ‘unbiblical’ he must demonstrate that it contradicts Scripture – which of course he fails to do).
c) They deny the permanent authority and sanctity of the moral law (I do precisely the opposite in my Galatians commentary Free in Christ; read the whole of Ch.18 from which Richard Brooks quotes selectively – remembering that ‘the law’ can mean both the whole Mosaic system or the Decalogue depending on the context).
d) They dishonour God, undermine holiness of life and ‘thrust at the veracity and authority of our Lord himself’. (No one who has read my Hebrews commentary A glorious high throne could possibly charge me with these crimes).
e) They follow in the Devil’s footsteps since he is an antinomian.
f) They promote the ‘curse of antinomianism’ as described in Bible passages such as Romans 6:1 (‘continue in sin that grace may abound’); Philippians 3:19 (‘whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly’); 1 Corinthians 5:2 (being ‘puffed up’ and abetting sexual immorality in the church). All the texts cited refer clearly to ‘practical antinomianism’ and the article gives not a single Bible reference that can be associated with so-called ‘doctrinal antinomianism’ or ‘New Covenant Theology’. It would appear as though, for Richard Brooks, all ‘antinomians’ are in fact practical antinomians, whether in practice or teaching.
4. I am not, and never have been an ‘antinomian’ (one who is ‘against law’) in any logical sense, whatever the historical usage of that term might have been. My position is ‘for law’, not against it. My understanding of New Testament teaching is that believers are under the law of Christ which includes the ten commandments but goes beyond them to encompass the whole moral teaching of Scripture. Believers are capable of obeying this all-embracing law of Christ because it is written on our hearts and its fruit is brought forth by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
To crystallise this, I will ask one question: is the law written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10) simply the Decalogue as Richard Brooks insists (in his second article)? John Owen did not think so. Commenting on Hebrews 8:10 he writes:
‘The “laws of God” therefore, are here taken largely, for the whole revelation of the mind and will of God. So doth “torah” originally signify “doctrine” or “instruction”. By what way or revelation soever God makes known himself and his will unto us, requiring our obedience therein, it is all comprised in that expression [in Hebrews 8:10] of “his laws”‘.
Clearly, to Owen, the Sermon on the Mount and all other morally relevant Scriptures are just as much the “laws of God” as is the Decalogue. That is precisely my own position, which is made clear, I believe, in my Galatians commentary. Owen may be wrong, of course, in his interpretation of Hebrews 8:10. But that does not make him (or myself) an ‘unbiblical’ antinomian.
Furthermore, if Owen is correct, and the laws written on the believer’s heart and mind are the whole moral counsel of God (not just the Decalogue), it is surely this totality of biblical instruction that must constitute the believer’s ‘rule of life’. Of course, one can say that every moral precept in Scripture is implicit in the Decalogue but this, I suggest, is more a philosophical construct than a biblical principle.
But even if it were true, we would be obliged to go to the rest of Scripture to ‘unpack’ the implicit meaning of the Ten Commandments – and so ultimately must finish up where Owen stands (and I with him)!
5. Finally, seeing that those Reformed brethren who are labelled ‘doctrinal antinomians’ believe:
i) that God is holy, and that believers must also be holy through obedience to Christ;
ii) that all Scripture reveals God’s holy will, which the Spirit writes upon our hearts;
iii) that believers thus have both the ability and a moral obligation/duty to obey God;
iv) that when conscious of failure we must sorrow over our sin and by faith appropriate afresh God’s forgiveness and the cleansing of the conscience through Christ’s blood;
– and since, in a word our only disagreement with mainline 17th century theology is over the precise relationship of the Christian to the Ten Commandments as such, rather than their moral content – would it not be a good idea to drop altogether the misleading term ‘doctrinal antinomian’? Whatever purpose it may have served historically, its use today is confusing and divisive.
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