This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Monday, January 31, 2011

More on the Charge of Antinomianism as a Badge of Honor

With my previous entry, Have You Been Charged with Antinomianism?, I offered no comment or commentary. I will not post a response or commentary, but I will post some instructive material that is necessary to understand what stands behind the recent discussion on several blogs.

Particularly instructive concerning how many Reformed folks read the Scriptures through their interpretive lens of "the law and the gospel," is the Open Letter to Michael Horton by Frank Turk. The following brief excerpt from a White Horse Inn broadcast of January 2, 2011 is instructive.

Mike Horton (MH): The Gospel can't be lived. It's the Law that's lived. We obey the commands that we find in Scripture, we do not—the Gospel is not anything for us to do. The Gospel is an announcement for us to take to the world, and on the basis of that Gospel we do live differently in the world, but that isn't itself the content of the Gospel: it is the effect of the Gospel.

Kim Riddlebarger (KR): I think you made a brilliant point. I know there will be a number of people who will hear us, who are familiar with us, and they'll say to themselves, "well, there they go, they've been on the air two minutes talking about the Great Commission, and they're back to Law and Gospel again!" But your point is absolutely spot-on: we believe the Gospel, we obey the Law—and if you are not clear about that, then you're going to go off on a mission and as you risk, as Jesus warned, making people more fit for Hell than they were before. If you're telling people that the Gospel is doing certain things, acting certain way, behaving in a certain way, then you're just accelerating their demise and decline.
Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, R. Scott Clark and many others believe that we should regard all the commands of Scripture, including those in the New Testament, other than those that command faith, to be of the law not of the gospel. This is what some identify as "the Lutheran view." Of course, it is not strictly "Lutheran," since many who are not Lutheran but Reformed embrace the view.

In order to understand what is going on, one needs to recognize that there are two series of "threes" that stand behind the view.

First, we need to understand that "the Lutheran view" of the law entails the notion that the law of Moses consists of three distinct parts, what theologians call the "tripartite division of the law."
  1. The ceremonial law consisting of all that elements that concern worship, sacrifice, the prieshood, etc.
  2. The civil law consisting of all the elements that concern Israel distinctly as the covenant nation, such as regulations concerning crime and punishment, clothing, foods--clean and unclean, and the like.
  3. The moral law consisting of all the elements that concern moral and ethical behavior before humans and before God, such as those identified in the Ten Commandments.
Those who hold "the Lutheran view" or the "tripartite division of the law" regard the first two parts of the law as rendered null and void. Hence, Christians are not bound by by either the ceremonial or the civil law. We rightly no longer have concern about mixing fabrics in the clothing we wear, and we offer no animals in sacrificial ceremony.

However, adherents believe that the third part, the moral law, is binding in perpetuity. And when the New Testament commands, exhorts, or warns without specifically calling for faith, those commands, exhortations, or warnings all of these belong to the law  in the sense of "the moral law." They do not belong to the gospel.

What do they mean by the moral law? They believe in the classic "Three Uses of the Law." By this they mean "Three Uses of the Moral Law." When the Reformed and Lutheran scholastics talked about God’s moral law (lex moralis), they taught that there are three basic uses of the law (usus legis). They are:
  1. The civil use (usus politicus sive civilis). That is, the law serves the commonwealth or body politic as a force to restrain sin. This falls under the general revelation (revelatio generalis) discussion in most of the scholastics as well as natural law (cf. Rom 1-2).
  2. The pedagogical use (usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus). That is, the law also shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves. In Muller’s summary, this is “the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ” (p. 320). This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 2-4.
  3. The normative use (usus didacticus sive normativus). That is, this use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works. It “acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom the grace of God works the good” (p. 321). This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 32-52.They believe that all New Testament commands, exhortations, and warnings that do not specifically call for faith belong to the "Third Use of the Moral Law." This "third use of the law" has created controversy among Lutherans. Many Lutherans have rejected the "third use of the law," because they contend that the law always accuses, so it cannot be used as a moral norm by the Christian. So, for Lutherans, the third use of the law essentially reverts to the second use as it drives believers to Christ again and again and away from unbelief. 
Understanding "the Lutheran view's" articulation of these two series of "threes" concerning the law of Moses is vital to understanding why some may regard being charged with antinomianism as a badge of honor. Because, in their belief system, the New Testament's commands, exhortations, and warnings that do not specifically call for faith belong to the law not the gospel, the gospel imposes no moral demands upon anyone. That is the law's work and function, not the gospel's work. The gospel is strictly the announcement of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. The gospel does not issue any requirement upon us except one, faith.

Some who hold that even New Testament commands, warnings, and admonitions belong to the law not the gospel are willing to wear the charge of antinomianism as a badge of honor, because they insist that the gospel lays no moral requirements upon anyone. Only the law places moral restraints and requirements upon us. Yet, some of these same folks are not necessarily shy to reverse the accusation of antinomianism against those who do not hold their view of the law, but when they do, their charge has nothing to do with the moral or ethical demands of the gospel, since the gospel makes no moral or ethical demands. The gospel requires only one thing--faith--faith for justification. Rather, their accusation of antinomianism concerns the moral law and sanctification. Anyone who does not hold to the "tripartite division of the law" and the "three uses of the law" may be suspect. People who believe that the gospel lays commands, admonitions, and warnings upon all who hear the gospel may be charged with being "legalists" with regard to justification, but they also may be charged with being "antinomians" with regard to sanctification.

This is why one who has engaged in the recent discussion returns the charge of antinomianism against evangelicals who do not share his view of the law.

Antinomianism? I’ll show you antinomianism: defiance of God’s holy will as revealed in the fourth commandment. Reformed Christians confess that God has given ten commandments. What about the fourth commandment? Most of the evangelicals I’ve known, who are wound up about the “Lordship Controversy,” are antinomian (lawless) when it comes to the fourth commandment.
Yet, simultaneously, this individual might accuse the same non-sabbatarian evangelical with legalism with regard to justification.

Yes, I realize that it is all quite confusing, but such is the nature of the discussion. I could say much more and may yet do so in another entry. However, for now, does Titus 2:11-14 have anything to say with regard to the notion that because the gospel is of grace that the gospel lays no moral or ethical demands upon us but that all commands, admonitions, and warnings derive from the law?

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Am I misunderstanding this passage to point out that Paul does not say that it is the law that "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age" but that it is the grace of God in the gospel that teaches us these things?


Unknown said...

As always, your summaries are helpful. I appreciate your efforts to bring some clarity to non-academics like me.

I take it you do not embrace this two-series-of-threes paradigm. Is that true? Can you recommend any further reading on this specifically? I find the law/gospel issue particularly vexing.

abcaneday said...

It's nice to hear from you again.

You infer correctly. I do have problems with the Lutheran-Reformed Law-Gospel distinction in which all NT commands, warnings, and admonitions that call for obedience that leads to life, eternal life, are relegated to the law (moral law) and not regarded as integral to the gospel.

My friend Andrew Sandlin wrote an essay on this some years ago. Find it here. He has written a short book on the issue titled Wrongly Dividing the WordOvercoming the Law-Gospel Distinction. Click the link and you will be able to preview a portion of the book. I actually wrote a blurb for it.

Here's my blurb.

Several years ago P. Andrew Sandlin’s brief but instructive essay, “Lutheranized Calvinism,” in Reformation & Revival Journal came at a time when increasing numbers of Calvinists were embracing the Lutheran distinction between the law and the gospel. Since 2002, reaction to the burgeoning impact of the so called “New Perspective on Paul,” largely attributed to N. T. Wright, seems to have increased the Lutheranizing of Calvinists, if not numerically, surely their intensity. The size of Dr. Sandlin’s, Wrongly Dividing the Word, may deceive, for its timely worth and argument is disproportionate to its size. He cogently demonstrates that to receive as Law anything in Scripture that entails a command joined with the promise of life, such as, “Do this and live,” wreaks havoc upon Scripture and the gospel rather than protects them as argued by those this little book takes on. After all, “Believe and be saved” entails a command joined with the promise of life. Certainly, Scripture requires us to distinguish between the Law as covenant and Gospel as new covenant, but the distinction is not found where Lutherans and Lutheranized Calvinists locate it.

—A. B. Caneday
Professor of New Testament Studies & Biblical Theology
Northwestern College
Saint Paul, Minnesota