As we continue in this ongoing series on the Christian heresy of Antinomianism, I want to draw your attention to a short but excellent treatment of it in a well know evangelical book written in the 1990’s.
J. I. Packer, in his excellent 1993 book, ‘Concise Theology,” still in print and available to purchase, devotes an entire chapter to “Antinomianism.” He does this in the section on the Christian life. He also has a chapter on “Legalism.” I find it interesting that of all the particular heresies of the church over the ages that he could have spent chapters addressing, he chooses these two.
His chapter on Antinomianism is subtitled “We Are Not Set Free to Sin.” His chapter on Legalism is subtitled “Working for God’s Favor Forfeits It.”
I have said that Antinomianism is a many headed monster, and is complex in its association with other modern cultural philosophical and spiritual tendencies. Hopefully I will get to all these in time. But I thought it would be worth noting the six manifestations of Antinomianism that Packer delineates. I will quote him in full as regards each manifestation. I will have much more to say later regarding each of Packer’s manifestations, and will throw in a few of my own observed manifestations as well.
1. Dualistic Antinomianism
“Dualistic antinomianism appears in the Gnostic heretics against whom Jude and Peter wrote (Jude 4-19; 2 Peter 2). This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health, so one may behave riotously and it will not matter.”
2. Spirit-Centered Antinomianism
“Spirit-centered antinomianism outs such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct. In the first 150 years of the Reformation era this kind of antinomianism often threatened, and Paul’s insistence that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word through Christ’s apostles (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 7:40) suggests that the Spirit-obsessed Corinthian church was in the grip of the same mind set.”
3. Christ-Centered Antinomianism
“Christ-centered antinomianism argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, providing that they keep believing. But 1 John 1:8-2:1 (expounding 1:7) and 3:4-10 point in a different direction, showing that it is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace a sinful way of life.”
4. Dispensational Antinomianism
“Dispensational antinomianism holds that keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for Christians, since we live under a dispensation of grace, not of law. Romans 3:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 clearly show, however, that law keeping is a continuing obligation for Christians. “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,” says Paul (1 Cor. 9:21).”
5. Dialectical Antinomianism
“Dialectical antinomianism, as in Barth and Brunner, denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written. The inadequacy of the neo-orthodox view of biblical authority, which explains the inspiration of Scripture in terms of the Bible’s instrumentality as a channel for God’s present day utterances to his people, is evident here.”
6. Situationist Antinomianism
“Situationist antinomianism says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of Scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at anytime disregard. But Romans 13:8-10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces.”
I will try to draw these out further and apply them to our current situation, as well as throw in some additional nuances, as I go along. Since 1993 the spirit of antinomianism amongst Western Protestants has grown exponentially, absorbing and co-opting more and more anti Christian and anti-Biblical world views and perspectives, being aided greatly by Madison Avenue takeovers of Christian publishing houses, and of late the new and hip and trendy “emerging church” movement. All in good time.