The Christian Heresy of Antinomianism, Reprise

Well, after a long late spring/summer of relative inactivity on this site, it’s time to finish a few things previously begun. One of those things is a series I began in February on the Christian heresy of “Antinomianism.” I posted two general reflections on the subject in February, then got off on a tangent regarding Gnosticism and Antinomianism, and never got back to the general topic, which I now plan to do. But, to keep things current, I am re-posting the content of the first two writings again. They are below.

This week has reminded me afresh of the fact that this is THE central heresy of Protestant Evangelicalism in the early 21st century, and is profoundly rooted in Evangelical church in Greensboro, and I simply cannot sit on my hands and not address it.

Posted February 1, 2007

Back in the fall, before the election, in the aftermath of the sex scandal that hit the news regarding the evangelical pastor in Colorado, I framed that matter within the context of a heresy that has been running rampant in the evangelical church over the last decade or more, and which I described as the definitive Christian heresy of our day. I said I would go into it more later. Well, “later” is rather vague, and today qualifies as “later.”

This heresy is the heresy of “Antinomianism.”

The problem for me as I thought about writing on this subject on several occasions, is that Antinomianism is complicated. It has many forms. And, to make things more interesting it has wedded itself to a modern cheap version of good old fashioned Gnosticism. Add to that the fact that theologically “liberal” mainline chuches are almost all inherently antinomian, and one ends up in a complicated mess.

So I just decided, rather than developing some definitive outline, that I would just start writing and get to it all some how and some way.

Antinomianism has an etymological definition of sorts. It also has a particular definition within the stream of Protestant theology. And, it has kind of on-the-ground practical meaning. These all are related but different.

Etymologically of course the word just means “against-law” or “anti-law.” But because the word “law” itself is so terribly complicated, having so many different meanings (natural law, the moral law, the Old Testament “law” or Torah, the principle of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps in order to make God happy, etc.), I find even the word “law” not helpful in a contemporary context.

The basic idea of Antinomianism is this: a Christian is not required to be obedient to the commands of Christ and the apostles to be “saved.” Put another way, obedience is not a necessary part of Christian salvation. Put yet another way, one can be “declared righteous” without the need of “becoming righteous.”

In the Evangelical subculture and world view, that is, as it has been perverted and twisted by various forces of late, this means that there is a mindset regarding “knowing God,” “going to heaven,” and “being saved” that excludes the necessity of personal transformation. It involves a twisted and unbiblical view of God’s grace and its purpose and goal, and it creates a lingo maybe best articulated in various Nashville country songs that touch on Christian spirituality. It is amazingly parallel to declining standards in many other areas of our culture, such as in education, and as in cultural mores regarding sex and sexuality.

And lastly, for this first installment, it has devastated our own community, yes, the Evangelical community of Greensboro, and the possible greater positive impact such a community could have had on the city at large. It has been undermining many churches, ripping apart families, ruining pastorates, and rendering the collective witness of our Evangelical churches close to nil. It has undermined the ability of the Christian church to have any credible say in the important community-wide debates of the day. It has given permission to thousands upon thousands of Christians to be ignorant of their own Bibles and Christian theology in general, land azy as to understanding of the philosophical and cultural movements that impact Christianity. It has made Evangelicals as narcissistic and situational as the surrounding culture, and thoughtlessly accommodating of Christianized Madison avenue fads fed to them in Christian bookstores. This has all rendered the Protestant Christian church progressively more impotent and irrelevant.

And sadly, most sadly perhaps, it has left thousands upon thousands of people thinking they are Christians when they are not, and more thousands upon thousands of Christians without (paradoxically) deep assurance and power of witness.

There are so many subtle and complex nuances to this that it will take me many writings to bang it out as best as I can. I hope someone will throw questions my way as I go along, and I will do my best to answer them as I go.

Posted February 2, 2007

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.”

(Me here, not Packer) 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….



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