Sinclair Ferguson: Antinomianism takes various forms. People do not always fit neatly into our categorizations, nor do they necessarily hold all the logical implications of their presuppositions. Here we are using “antinomianism” in the theological sense: rejecting the obligatory (“binding on the conscience”) nature of the Decalogue for those who are in Christ. Antinomianism, it was widely assumed in the eighteenth century, is essentially a failure to understand and appreciate the place of the law of God in the Christian life. But just as there is more to legalism than first meets the eye, the same is true of antinomianism. Opposites Attract? Perhaps the greatest misstep in thinking about antinomianism is to think of it simpliciter as the opposite of legalism. It would be an interesting experiment for a budding doctoral student in psychology to create a word-association test for Christians. It might include: Old Testament: Anticipated answer → New Testament Sin: Anticipated answer → Grace David: Anticipated answer → Goliath Jerusalem: Anticipated answer → Babylon Antinomianism: Anticipated answer → ?
Sinclair Ferguson: “What is the opposite of antinomianism?” Would it be fair to assume that the instinctive response … would be “Legalism”? It might be the right answer at the level of common usage, but it would be unsatisfactory from the standpoint of theology, for antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why the scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both. The wholesale removal of the law seems to provide a refuge [for the antinomian]. But the problem is not with the law, but with the heart – and this remains unchanged. Thinking that his perspective is now the antithesis of legalism, the antinomian has written an inappropriate spiritual prescription. His sickness is not fully cured. Indeed the root cause of his disease has been masked rather than
Tony Reinke: We can rejoice that Sinclair Ferguson succumbed to years of pressure to turn his three (now somewhat famous) Marrow Controversy lectures into a book, and the book is done and launches soon from Crossway under the title, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance — Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. [Download the original audio files here: part 1, part 2, part 3.] Yes, this old Scottish theological debate matters, and Ferguson’s three lectures proved life changing for me. I doubt I will ever forget the place I was walking when I first heard Ferguson explain why antinomianism is not the antidote for legalism, and why legalism is not the antidote for antinomianism. One deadly poison cannot cure another deadly poison, but each poison calls for the counterpoison of grace. Here’s how he says it in the new book (pages 151–170): Perhaps the greatest misstep in thinking about antinomianism is to think of it simply as
. Tullian Tchividjian writes: There seems to be a fear out there that the preaching of grace produces serial killers. Or, to put it in more theological terms, too much emphasis on the indicatives of the gospel leads to antinomianism (a heretical version of Christianity that believes there is no place for God’s law in the life of a Christian). My problem with this fear is that I’ve never actually met anyone who has been truly gripped by God’s amazing grace in the gospel who then doesn’t care about obeying him. When our hearts are genuinely grasped by God’s unconditional love, the last thing we want to ask is, “What can I get away with?” Those who conclude, “Goody, I can now continue in sin til my heart’s content” prove that they don’t get grace. As I’ve said before: antinomianism happens not when we think too much of grace. Just the opposite, actually. Antinomianism happens when we think too little of grace.
This is excellent from Tullian Tchividjian: Legalism, they say, happens when you focus too much on law, or rules. Lawlessness, they say, happens when you focus too much on grace. Therefore, in order to maintain spiritual equilibrium, you have to balance law and grace. Sometimes, legalism and lawlessness are presented as two ditches on either side of the gospel that we must avoid. If you start getting too much law, you need to balance it with grace. If you start getting too much grace, you need to balance it with law. But I’ve come to believe that this “balanced” way of framing the issue can unwittingly keep us from really understanding the gospel of grace in all of its radical depth and beauty. It’s more theologically accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel—legalism—but it comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the
JJ Sherwood briefly reviews the book at TGC Reviews here. (HT: Dane Ortlund)