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Antinomianism

Mark Jones
P&R, 2013
Mark Powell

The church fathers used to say that, like our Saviour, the gospel is often crucified between two thieves – legalism and antinomianism. That is, people tend to over emphasise one of the two extremes. Jones obviously tackles the latter, which he rightly sees as the more prevalent over emphasis in the church today.

The book is basically a response to a popular book by Tullian Tchividjian published recently called Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway, 2011). Some readers of AP will more than likely be familiar with it and may even view it favourably. Jones, though, thinks that Tchividjian has gone too far and in particular takes issue with his position (which he labels as “antinomian”) that “sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to our justification.” In practice this means that not only are we saved by faith alone but we live out our salvation by faith alone as well.

This is an important subject and I think Jones puts his finger on a theological issue that definitely needs to be addressed. The book is relatively short (around 130 pages) and is well written. The arrangement of the chapters are also very helpful in developing his argument. If you are willing to dig then there is gold.

However, that said, be prepared to exert some serious spiritual sweat. Jones is an expert in historical (especially Puritan) rather than biblical theology. This is both the strength and weakness of the book. It is a strength in that he shows how vigorous and often acrimonious debates among Reformed Protestants in the past have produced much clarity on the topic, and in this way provides valuable insights for us today.

But it is also a weakness in that more attention could have been given to Scripture itself rather than various doctrinal confessions and quotations from famous (and not so well known) Puritans. For instance, no mention is made of Ezekiel 36:26-27 or Jeremiah 31:33-34, which I think are essential to the discussion. Not only that, but even New Testament passages such as Matthew 5:17-20 are treated in a cursory way.

A word of warning: the book seems to be especially directed at pastors or a theologically trained layperson. However, if you are willing to put the effort in, then it will deliver great rewards.

Mark Powell is part of the ministerial team at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, , NSW

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