Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Are You Antinomian?

This word has been used a lot lately around the blogisphere in what my good friend and "heretic" brother in the Lord would call a theological cussword.

While their are many nuances to this word, my basic understanding would be that antinomianism is the setting aside of the law. So an antinomianist would be one who preaches lawlessness or disregard for law keeping.

Am I correct in this assumption? How do you see the position of the law in a believers life? How does the law of Moses relate to our christian walk?


Daniel said...

A very good and timely question Jim.

As I know while the word is formed as a compound "greek" word (anti [against] + nomos [law) it isn't in fact a biblical or even a standard Greek word, but was first coined by Martin Luther to describe a faulty doctrinal position regarding the relationship between faith and repentance that was originally held by a fellow named Johannes Agricola - though in a latter day letter (addressed to the Elector of Saxony) he more or less recanted of that unfortunate error.

The word itself I suppose has as its foundation in the idea that knowledge of the law brings condemnation and not salvation - thus in a practical way, the knowledge that one is a sinner (i.e. a law breaker) logically precedes the desire to do anything about it - that is, logically precedes repentance - and that since it was the undisputed position of every professing believer (at least until that point in history) that repentance preceded faith, it was understood that a knowledge of the law (or at the very least, a knowledge that one is condemned by the law) -must- precede faith. Thus because repentance was a gift from God and came after one was condemned by the law, it stood to reason that repentance must come immediately subsequent to saving faith.

I say, that was the opinion of the protestant church up until Agricola speculated that perhaps it was faith that preceded repentance!

In this new doctrine Agricola speculated that repentance was a "work" - and as such, it played no role in regeneration, but was in fact an immediate consequence of saving faith.

Really, the issue, as I understand it was about whether repentance happened the split second before you were saved, or the split second after. It wasn't as if Agricola was suggesting that you could repent at your leisure later - both sides understood that faith and repentance came (for all intents and purposes) together - what was argued was which one actually came first.

Practically speaking the precision was not that important - if you were a genuine believer you repented - that was understood. But the theological implications of Agricola's speculation were profound. The idea that you could receive saving grace without ever being humbled was not only unbiblical - it was dangerous - it was a new gospel.

In insisting that repentance played no part in saving faith - Agricola's position did away with the law as the moral instigator - hence the term "antinomian" - against the law.

While scripture teaches that the law is the tutor that brings us to Christ, and that god gives grace to the humble - the implications of Agricola's doctrine were that the law played no role whatsoever in bringing anyone to Christ, and that one could come to Christ and receive grace without humbling themselves before God in the slightest - which is no doubt one of the reasons Agricola recanted of his new gospel.

The word Antinomian isn't so much a cussword as an historical descriptive of anyone who imagines that they can come to Christ without first being convinced that they are a condemned sinner - and without ever repenting of their sin (humbling oneself before God and consequently receiving grace).

I think most reformed thinkers today would not insist that repentance "precedes" faith, because that suggests a chronological dependancy that scripture doesn't imply. But must would hold that repentance produces (leads to) faith, that is, there is a causal relationship between the two - even if in practice they always show up together.

Anyone who imagines that you can believe today, and repent later - either doesn't stand on the traditional, historical doctrines that formed the reformation - or hasn't done their homework as they ought to have.

The word Antinomian, therefore - rightly applied - refers not to the role of the law in the believer's life, but rather to the law in the unbeliever's life.

Daniel said...

Jim asked: "How do you see the position of the law in a believers life? How does the law of Moses relate to our christian walk?"

I wanted to answer this in a separate comment so as not to confuse my explanation of where the word antinomian comes from, with my opinion about the role of the law in the life of the believer.

Briefly (as if brevity were one of my gifts - pffft!), prior to conversion, the law leads the believer to see themselves as condemned, and therefore in need of a Savior.

Once a person is "saved" the role of the law is to convict them that they are not walking according to the Spirit.

The law simply paints (in words) what the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus looks like. As long as a person is walking in the Spirit, their behavior will conform to the "law" - since both their behavior and the law are reflections of the same Spirit of life. It isn't that they rigidly conform themselves to the letter of the law through their own efforts - that would be trying to please God "under the law" (c.f. Romans seven) - rather they walk in grace, and so long as they are humbled before God (surrendered) they receive grace to obey, and their obedience conforms to the law. These are under grace. The former have no peace, and no victory, because they are still carnal - still babes - they still try to obey the law by simply keeping the law. The latter keep the law because no one who is humbled before God will transgress the Spirit whose life is reflected in the law.

The role of the law therefore, in the believer's life is to identify carnality - for when one breaks the law, one is not spiritual, but carnal.

Daniel said...

You asked about the law of Moses - I think that was answered quite well at the Jerusalem council (c.f. Acts 15)

Jim said...

Daniel, thanks for the history of this word. You have done a good job of eliciting the details in this equation.

It seems to me there is a large debate between whether faith produces repentance or repentance produces faith. Would you have some scriptural support of the repentance-->faith scenario?

Secondly; do you see the law as still applicable to the believer today? IOW, should we be measuring our obedience by law keeping?

Jim said...

Daniel: I see you posted more comments while I was writing. I think you have basically answered the second part of this question.

Matthew Celestine said...

Historically, Antinomianism has tended to be a very mystical form of Calvinism quite distinct from Free Grace theology.

Antinomianism in its historic form was quite common in 18th and 19th century Canada.

Every Blessing in Christ


Antonio said...

The following is my adaptation of an article by Zane Hodges, that includes my own content as well.

If the word "legalism" is wrapped in obscurity these days, the term antinomianism is enveloped in Stygian darkness!

For instance, my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has only one definition for this word, which it designates as its meaning in theology. Listen to this: "antinomian n. Theology. A member of a Christian sect holding that faith alone is necessary for salvation." Well, how about that! If that’s all we’re talking about under the term antinomian, I cheerfully confess to being one. But I take great comfort in the fact that under the American Heritage definition, the apostle Paul himself should be classified as an unreconstructed antinomian!

I would like to suggest that today the term antinomian is largely what you make it. That’s unfortunate, but I’m afraid it’s true. But of course the root derivation of the word simply means "opposed to law." Not necessarily to the law of Moses per se, but simply to law as such. It would be nice if all parties in the current debate over the Gospel could agree to confine the term to those who are opposed to all forms of law in the Christian life. That is to say, an antinomian would then be one who held that there are no laws governing Christian behavior so that the Christian is entirely free from commandments and binding obligations. That kind of definition would clarify things a lot.

For one thing, under that definition, Paul was certainly not an antinomian. After all, it was Paul who said (1 Cor 9:21) that in seeking to win to Christ those who were "without law," he became "as without law"—but he hastens to add, "not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ." In another place he can say, "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). Regardless of the precise meaning of this text, it certainly shows that Paul could think in terms of Christian law. In addition, the NT everywhere asserts that our Lord left commandments that are binding on His followers today.

If we were to follow this definition, only those who are willing to bend the truth could accuse me of being an antinomian.

So you see what I mean. If we could confine the designation antinomian to those who will not acknowledge any such thing as a Christian law, we would clarify the situation greatly. But don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen. Antinomian is too good a Christian "cuss-word" to retreat easily to the fringes of theological debate in the way I am suggesting. It just happens to be a very convenient cudgel with which to bludgeon theological opponents whose attributes and theology offend us. I regret to say that Christian polemicists do not readily retire their most useful brickbats, anymore than the nuclear powers easily discard their nuclear arsenals. It’s nice to have something with which to blow your opponents off the face of the map, and antinomianism serves very well for that purpose in some theological circles, namely Reformed.

If I can be accused of anything here, it would be that the grace of God that brings eternal life is free: free from provisos, free from caveats, free from strings. Grace isn’t popular. Neither is certain assurance.

There are consequences to spurning holiness and the "Christian law" after receiving the absolutely free gift of eternal life.

But to say that it takes discipleship and commitment of life to get saved, ultimately conditions eternal life on works.

It was Christ who committed to us because we had nothing to commit to Him. It was Christ who sold out for us.

Commitment of life on the front-side of salvation is made nothing but a contract between the sinner and God:

My responsibility:
I commit my life to you in the hard works of discipleship

Your responsibiity:
You give me eternal life
(as long as I persevere till the end)


Antonio said...

You might find this interesting, Daniel:

Regarding Calvin's doctrine of repentance, he believed that repentance came after faith: "Now it ought to be a fact beyond controversy that repentance not only constantly follows faith, but is also born of faith ... There are some, however, who suppose that repentance precedes faith, rather than flows from it... such persons have never known the power of repentance..." (Institutes III.iii.1) Why does he feel so strongly about this? John Calvin states: "a man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God." (Institutes III.iii.2) Repentance does not come until one is certainly assured of his eternal relationship with God through faith in Christ's death, says Calvin.

Yes I am aware that Calvin says that repentance is a necesary result of saving faith. That without both of them a man would not be saved (faith as the reception, and repentance as its result).

But it is significant that, for Calvin, repentance proceeds from faith, which he also defines as certainty of one's belonging to God.

So for Calvin:

Saving faith comes first, whereby one is certain that he has everlasting life, then follows repentance, as a necessary result of saving faith.

Jim said...

Antonio, I like that first definition you provided. Yet as you aptly point out, we are not "free" from the law, but under the law of Christ.

Daniel said...

I think when the term "antinomian" is tossed about today by Joe Pew-warmer it us typically used to describe someone who believes and/or preaches a view of the law that promotes or leads to immoral license, and I think if we didn't have a rich reformed history to examine, that would probably be where we left our definition. Surely the Greek words from which it is formed present us with that sort of conclusion - and only that sort of conclusion.

However, when we are talking to those of some historically savvy in the reformed persuasion, we can expect the word to be used in its historical context - where, as I have previously mentioned, the term antinomian is used to identify a person who believes that faith precedes repentance.

Luther considered the idea of faith preceding repentance as "not only misleading but positively dangerous ... a scourge, the spread of which, cannot be tolerated." Certainly anyone interested in what what the reformers believed, will find an English translation of "Against the Antinomians" or at the very least, look up men like Johannes Agricola, Melanchthlon, etc. to see what history has to say about the antinomian dispute. It was settled in Luther's time, and the "faith precedes repentance" side lost.

Calvin understood that repentence does not come before faith, and that faith does not come alone, but is accompanied by repentance. In the very same article you mention from Calvin, he writes, "For since pardon and forgiveness are offered by the preaching of the Gospel, in order that the sinner, delivered from the tyranny of Satan, the yoke of sin, and the miserable bondage of iniquity, may pass into the kingdom of God, it is certain that no man can embrace the grace of the Gospel without retaking himself from the errors of his former life into the right path, and making it his whole study to practice repentance." - which is to say, that we are saved by faith alone, but that the faith that saves does not lack repentance.

It is one thing to adamantly deny that repentance precedes faith, and quite another to say that faith comes in a "repentance free" vacuum. Calvin definitely did not write or teach, or even leave vague room for the notion that faith came without repentance. The two were bound together and where the one was, the other was always found.

My own personal thoughts are that God produces repentance and faith simultaneously, that just as Calvin said, "forgiveness of sins never can be obtained without repentance, because none but the afflicted, and those wounded by a consciousness of sins, can sincerely implore the mercy of God..." - Calvin wasn't suggesting that we behave as the papists do and regard the symptoms of sin as what must be repented of - as though we might repent of this sin on the left and be forgiven, while all the while cherishing and holding closely the unforgiven sin on the right. Calvin was referring to the moment of justification - the moment all of our sins are forgiven - that moment cannot be obtained without repentance. Not that repentance produced that moment - it didn't, God produced it - but that repentance was "in" that moment alongside faith.

That is my understanding of Calvin's position, and I am pleased that it agrees with my own opinion since I came to the same position without ever having studied Calvin.

It is interesting, in the context of this post at least, to recognize that even Calvin believed that one must see themselves as a condemned under the law (a sinner) before they can receive grace - which would mean that Calvin was no "antinomian" in the Lutheran sense - but held to the idea that the law produces an awareness of guilt that precedes that same repentance that accompanies saving faith.

Jim said...

Daniel, thanks for the background on Luther and Calvin.

I would tend to agree that repentance should follow faith in a closely bound relationship. However, I think the degree and continuity of repentance is what some FG advocates would question.

Nevertheless, my question was regarding the casual relationship between the two. Can you show from scripture how reformers believe repentance (precedes) produces faith?

I think that is the generally held view amongst all the reformed bloggers I have interacted with. I would like to see a short handful of verses that clearly spell out this relationship.

Daniel said...

Jim, I will give you a "handful of verses" (as per request) that I believe point to the relationship between repentance and faith - I shall do so, not as a spokesman for reformed thought however, but as a brother in Christ who is explaining why I am convinced from scripture of a particular thing - that is, I don't want to represent (and I am certain I would be a very poor poster child for) all of reformed theology by presenting a few prooftexts.

You see, I myself am seldom convinced of anything biblical simply because someone provides a few proof texts - Satan himself quoted scripture to Christ which ought to caution us against plucking a verse out of scripture and presenting the seed as though it were in fact the whole tree. Which is simply my way of saying, if we are convinced by a few prooftexts, our conviction is of that beggarly and tempermental sort, inclined to change with each new verse. Such a persuasion is not a very solid foundation, and I don't like to play with scripture as though it were a random mess of quotes - that is, while I may lift a verse out of its context to be gazed upon for its brevity in encapsulating some articulation of the greater truth reflected in abundant nuance elsewhere in scripture - yet I do not hold the verse as the "proof" - it is merely the briefest expression of what I am articulating and given as a shorthand way of demonstrating that whatever I am concluding does not reflect a theologically vaporous whim, but in fact reflects my understanding of the word of God as a whole.

Sorry for the length of the caveat, but I absolutely deplore prooftexting - not because I prefer to hold my opinions as though whatever airy-fairy whim I descend upon is valid simply because I believe it, and that there is therefore no need for me to fortify my opinion by demonstrating a real relationship between my peculiar fancy and the words of scripture - but rather that I believe that where one man reads the scriptures as a whole and identifies key passages which articulate the grand message he reads in scripture - and therefore supplies these passages in good faith as summaries of what he believes the whole of scripture echoes - yet another will read the bible as though it were a disjointed recipe book, reading here and there with no order, and building their faith upon a patchwork of passages all of which are taken either out of context, or coupled with verses that are taken out of context - and so builds up a hodge-podge argument for a position that scripture doesn't support - but that their "verses" purport to demonstrate. So great is my loathing for this second sort of prooftexting, that I desire to distance myself from it and its practitioners with all zeal.

Sadly, it is the latter group who are most abundantly found, and it is no doubt this same group who, under the puppet strings of our enemy, who have made such a wreckage of scholarly discussion.

Nevertheless, even though I disdain providing prooftexts for fear that some "schmoe" of the latter variety will come along with their hodge-podged noodle-mass "defense" against what I have said, and I shall be subjected to an eternity whereby as I pull the first noodle from the mess, and lay it out straight, this same debator cuts and pastes a tenfold more mass of noodles into the discussion and by his hodgery and podgery effectively strangles the life out of the discussion. The only solution to that sort of buffoonery is to sit and spoon feed the entire bible to one another in context. Not that such wouldn't be edifying - but that my life doesn't currently allow for such a profound effort (online).

So for what it is worth, I will give you the prooftexts you ask for, but only after couching them in my eternal disdain. ;-)

Seriously though, looking into scripture together, we do find some passages that illumine (in summary) the relationship between faith and repentance:

I suppose the first place to start would be in 2 Corinthians 7:10 - "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." [ESV]

Recall the scene? Paul had "greived" the Corinthians in a previous letter wherein he called them to obedience; their response was to repent. This change of heart was more than the standard weepy-eyed sorrow over what they had previously done, and the half-hearted (or even whole hearted) desire to someday stop being disobedient - it was an actual change in behavior - and it is -this- change in behavior that Paul is talking about when he speaks in general about repentance here - he is saying that godly grief is not simply weeping and feeling bad about the consequences, it produces repentance and makes the point by contrasting it against the repentance that brings "leads to" salvation.

Note: repentance itself, that is, the change in behavior from disobedience to obedience is not salvation - it merely leads to it. The Greek actually says, repentance "into" salvation which doesn't carry the chronological baggage of the translation "leads to" - but it does demonstrates a quantifiable relationship between repentance and saving faith.

One might argue that the salvation Paul is speaking of is not justification - that is, it is not salvation from sin (c.f. Matthew 1:21 "He will save his people from their sins...") but merely some sort of temporal easing of tension - a salvation from a difficult situation - but that is pretty weak. If one has repented from doing something, one no longer needs to be "saved" from doing it, and quite frankly, the salvation spoken of here is passive (I am saved by something else) as opposed to active (I am saving myself by what I do). Thus I don't buy the idea that Paul is speaking about salvation from the disobedience they have already repented of since the text speaks of repentance into salvation and not repentance as salvation itself. Surely, Paul remarks elsewhere on repentance with regards to justification - that just as we received Christ Jesus (i.e. in repentance) so we should walk in Him - that is, when Paul encourages us to walk in the same submission by which we were saved - we conclude that some act of repentance is present at the moment of salvation - that is, we recognize a relationship between saving faith and repentance - even if we haven't defined how it works - we still do well to acknowledge that the one does not exist without the other.

In the gospel of Matthew we read in Matthew 21:32, "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. " [ESV]

The word translated here as "change your minds" is used only once in the NT that I am aware of (metamellomai) and is the more general synonym for metanoia which is normally translated as "repent" - the KJV translates them both as repent, but the newer translations recognize that metamellomai (compared against the Septuagint) doesn't produce a change in behavior necessarily, but means a change of heart, where metanoia carries the meaning of a change in behavior that flows from a change of heart/mind. The former therefore does not imply a change in behavior as the latter does. I mention the distinction up front to avoid anyone thinking that I am infusing greater meaning into the word in order to make some sort of case for a relationship built on the grammar of the text. I am not. But I do hope to describe why I think this verse still demonstrates a real (albeit general) relationship between repentance and faith.

In the context, Christ is rebuking the chief priests and elders because (as he demonstrates) those with far less knowledge of the scriptures than priests and elders (the very people whom they hold in contempt) are entering the kingdom of God. Consider that. The priests and elders have witnessed firsthand a profound repentance by the very people whom they themselves have given up on - having regarded them as sinners beyond the scope of human hope - that is, the Chief priests and elders are witnessing a repentance amongst the very people that their religion has painted as so entirely lost and beyond the reach of any call back to the faith that they are without excuse when they see these same people repenting in droves - because it clearly demonstrated that Christ was doing a work that according to their own continuing failure to affect any change in them even with all their knowledge and ministry - was humanly impossible - this repentance that they were witnessing was a work that only God Himself could be doing - yet they themselves refused to change their minds (relent) about "who" Jesus was - even having seen it firsthand with their own eyes.

We see therefore that the reason the chief priests and elders could not come to a saving faith was first and foremost because they were blinded by their own theology - and their stoic refusal to re-examine it even in the light of enough evidence to warrant a full and detailed examination - they refused to do so because changing their mind about who Jesus was was "out of the question." This changing of their mind, this failure to relent of their wrong opinion in the light of its clear and obvious error barred the path to enlightenment - it choked out all possibility of saving faith - and if a mere refusal to change their minds superficially (metamellomai) about whom Jesus was did in fact bar the way to the tree of life, how much more so would a deep and granite-like refusal to change their behavior (metanoia) - impede saving faith? That passage paints a relationship between willful ignorance and failure to enter the kingdom. How much moreso willful rebellion (unrepentance)?

Of course, we have the very obvious references, such as Acts 20:21 where Paul speaks about the gospel he was preaching to the gentiles - "repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" or Hebrews 6:1 where we learn that the elementary foundation upon which our hope rests is "repentance from dead works and faith toward God." - These are described as the foundational and elementary principles of Christ - that is, those things that produce Christianity as opposed to those things which flow from it.

We see in Acts 5:32 a very clear and straight forward reference to whom God gives the Holy Spirit. He doesn't give the Holy Spirit to the unregenerate, and the moment you receive the Holy Spirit you are joined to the church (saved) - so the reference is to those who are saved, and so when we read, "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him" we understand that those who do not repent do not receive the Holy Spirit.

Now there is nothing in these verses that demands a chronological understanding of repentance - that is, while we understand that no one can receive God's spirit who does not repent, we do not prescribe repentance as the works-doorway to the faith that saves - rather we recognize that the faith that saves includes repentance.

If this subtlety is overlooked - you get some pretty shrill voices crying a rather tired old tune - that repentance is a "work."

I want to be unequivacable here - repentance is clearly not a work, but a gift granted by God as we see in Acts 11:18, "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”", and 2 Timothy 2:25, "in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth," (this same truth, I might add, is what "sets you free").

If anyone wants to call the free gift that God grants (in the process of regenerating a sinner through the gift of faith) a "work" they have earned whatever derision and ridicule their claims generate.

As for me, I am persuaded that faith and repentance are so profoundly intertwined that examining one at the expense of the other is not only folly, but error. I would consider myself the greatest fool to insist that one preceded the other - as it is clear to me that they come as a pair. Likewise I see no benefit in pressing my opinion that one causes the other - for even though I might hold an opinion on that, it produces no effect on my theology since I regard the two as duality not unlike the trinity in complexity. Should I say that faith is begotten of repentance or even that repentance is begotten of faith - even here I enter into a precision that I feel cannot be rigorously defended by scripture.

What can however be rigorously defended is the idea that faith can exist without repentance, or that repentance can exist without faith - I would gladly die on some hill defending that idea - for it is the gospel itself that is in jeopardy of corruption on that point, for if we suggest that faith is mere assent to facts, we err to the damning of souls. We build upon the foundation of the church, not with the gold, silver and precious stones of genuine converts, but with the wood, hay and stubble of worthless, vacuous, "counterfeit converts" virgins with no oil in their lamps, tares all dressed up as wheat - self deceived and deceiving others, souls for whom is reserved the gnashing of teeth, and the empty cry "Lord, Lord!" when they have never bent their knee to anyone's sovereignty but their own.

But if someone wants to bandy about which produces the other, the chicken of faith, or the egg of repentance - I may have my opinion (and I might even feel that my possition is biblically superior), but frankly that is all smoke and glass - the real issue is whether or not faith accompanies repentance and the answer is ABSOLUTELY.

I was planning on posting this on my own blog and just linking to it here - but I have been doing that a lot lately - so I am going to post it here in toto, and put it on the blog (with no link).

Jim said...

Thanks Dan, I will try to read this as soon as I can.

Jim said...

Daniel, while I understand your disdain for proof text dropping, even the Lord Jesus used scripture to rebuke Satan.

Perhaps you are a bit too concerned with making sure your listener/reader understands fully the nuanced meanings behind the text. That can be the case the longer we are in the word. But I do think we need to trust more in the simplicity of simply asking, "What sayeth the scriptures".

Anyways, I understand your concern. I also appreciate your reservation to be dogmatic over this issue. So your final conclusion is that repentance will always accompany faith, and the two are inextricably linked.

Bobby Grow said...

I am an "antinomian" in the sense that I see discontinuity between the Law and the Gospel. I have some articles and examples of Puritan antinomians (i.e. John Eaton)at my site.

I like the "denotative" usage of this word . . . I realize there are other contexts of usage for this word.

Daniel wrote alot, and emphasized one aspect of antinomian . . . I like to emphasize another.

When I have the time, I'll try to read all of Daniel's "paper" on his view here ;~).