Most of my recent posts don’t have much to do with grace as they have to do with healing (mainly) and other charismatic issues. But I’m still very interested in grace. And even as I explore New Covenant messages and teachings on healing by Curry Blake, Andrew Wommack, Roger Sapp, Bill Johnson, etc.,Â I learn more of how grace and God’s love for us is really a foundation for all the healing and supernatural stuff we do. Too heavy a focus on obligations and imperatives and we become sin-conscious, guilty and tend to disqualify ourselves from receiving healing/blessings and moving in the supernatural.
In my many posts on grace and New Creation Church (and Pastor Joseph Prince) in the past, I quoted many people from the Reformed (Calvinistic) tradition in defense of the message of grace. Michael Horton was the first person who actually awakened me to my understanding of grace and the gospel about 10-15 years ago as I grappled with the “Lordship Salvation” controversy. I’ve quoted Reformed authors in defense of my view of grace not because I think the Reformed tradition is very grace-based.Â In fact, I’ve always maintained that I think there’s a large section of the Reformed tradition that tends to legalism. I say this from experience because before I read Michael Horton, I read many other Reformed and Puritan authors and they were saying really different things from Michael Horton! So there’s that divide in this tradition.
They say history repeats itself. And it’s true in this matter of grace, antinomianism and legalism. When people accuse New Creation Church and Joseph Prince and other grace-based preachers of “antinomianism”, guess what – it’s happened before. Down the centuries, people have come up on different sides in the Reformed tradition on these matters. And even as I speak, things are hotting up in the blogsphere and in the Reformed world. People (many Reformed Christians themselves) are challenging some Reformed Christians (like Michael Horton) on the way they preach the gospel and grace. Too much grace, they say. Gotta beware of antinomianism. Same charges that have been thrown at Pastor Joseph Prince and many others.
For those interested in grace and want to know what’s been happening in the Reformed world, the rest of the post deals with some stuff among Reformed Christians regarding grace and antinomianism that have been going around the Internet and blogsphere the past week:
It probably started with Jason B. Hood’s article in Christianity Today. Partly in response to Tullian Tchividjian’s article Don’t create a new law for yourself, Jason B. Hood wrote Heresy Is Heresy, Not the Litmus Test of Gospel Preaching in Christianity Today:
Antinomianism is lawlessness, believing and teaching an obligation-free version of Christianity. In certain quarters of the evangelical world, being accused of antinomianism is increasingly considered to be a symptom of a healthy ministry. This belief has a long pedigree; no less an authority than Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed there was “no better test” of gospel fidelity than the accusation of antinomianism.
Basically, Jason challenges Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ belief that there was “no better test” of gospel fidelity than the accusation of antinomianism. I wrote positively about Lloyd-Jones’ belief in my Thoughts on New Creation Church – Accused of Antinomianism post – so obviously I disagree with Jason.
Two good responses to Hood’s article:Â The Radical Gospel, Defiant and Free by Dane Ortlund and Two Ways To Realize Radical Obedience: My Indirect Response To Jason Hood by Tullian Tchividjian. I really, really liked portions of Ortlund’s response so I’m going to quote some chunks of it:
The gospel of grace is so radical, so free, so counterintuitive, so defiant of all the entrenched expectations of our law-marinated hearts, that it would be surprising indeed if our preaching of this gospel is not met with the objection anticipated by Paulâ€”â€œare we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?â€ (Rom 6:15; cf. 3:8; 2 Pet 3:15â€“17). The question is not whether Paul stood squarely opposed to â€œlawlessnessâ€ (your definition of antinomianism). On this you and I (and Paul, and Lloyd-Jones) are happily agreed. I am puzzled at the need you feel to explain at length that Paul opposed lawlessness. Of course he did.
…You underscore the way Paul vociferously refuted antinomianism, as if this refutation deflates Lloyd-Jonesâ€™s suggestion that charges of antinomianism may be compatible with gospel faithfulness.
Ortlund is spot on here. This is where I think Jason B. Hood misses the point. When Lloyd-Jones or whoever says that good, authentic and biblical gospel preaching will cause you to receive accusations of antinomianism, we don’t mean that we are for antinomianism or lawlessness! No, we aren’t. As Ortlund suggests above, being against antinomianism (lawlessless) is not inconsistent with your gospel preaching receiving charges of antinomianism. I know – this is profound. I’ll give you time to think about that…
We revel in that charge of antinomianism not because we advocate lawlessness, but because the radical preaching of grace and justification by grace alone through faith alone will make people think that we’re advocating lawlessness. But we’re not advocating lawlessness – just that you don’t get saved by your obedience or keeping the law.
The real question is not whether Paul opposed lawlessness, but (1) why the charge of antinomianism was raised in the first place, and (2) how Paul handled it. As for the first question, surely the answer is the sheer gratuityâ€”the puzzling, head-scratching, wonder-producing scandalâ€”of free forgiveness won for us by another. Forgiveness not only of our rotten badness but also our rotten goodness.
…The next and most important question, then, is how this radical obedience and personal holiness are to be encouraged. And here we come to the real crux.
One way is to balance gospel grace with exhortations to holiness, as if both need equal air time lest we fall into legalism on one side (neglecting grace) or antinomianism on the other (neglecting holiness).
The other way, which I believe is the right and biblical way, is so to startle this restraint-free culture with the gospel of free justification that the functional justifications of human approval, moral performance, sexual indulgence, or big bank accounts begin to lose their vice-like grip on human hearts and their emptiness is exposed in all its fraudulence. It sounds backward, but the path to holiness is through (not beyond) the grace of the gospel, because only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of Godâ€”grace so free that it will be (mis)heard by some as a license to sin with impunity. The route by which the New Testament exhorts radical obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home all the more deeply.
So the charge of antinomianism was raised in the first place because the radical grace and forgiveness offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ means that we don’t earn our forgiveness but Christ earned it for us! But how did Paul address this charge, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Did he try to use a bit of fear so that Christians don’t be too lax and continue to sin? Did he try to balance grace with adding some law? That’s what many people think would cause Christians to flee sin. They think that too much grace and you’ll give them a license to sin. We need some godly fear to motivate them to live holy lives! John Wesley wrote:
If we took grace too seriously especially the doctrine of election it would undermine our only basis for pursuing a holy life, fear of punishment and hope of rewards.
But did Paul think like that? Did he try to temper the free love of God with a bit of fear and lots of focus on doing good? No! He actually counters charges of antinomianism by preaching more GRACE! This seems so counter-intuitive and backward. Surely we promote holiness by preaching holiness and the fear of God and all those kinds of things right? WRONG! As Ortlund wrote and this bears repeating again (bolds too),
The solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of Godâ€”grace so free that it will be (mis)heard by some as a license to sin with impunity. The route by which the New Testament exhorts radical obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home all the more deeply.
Whatâ€™s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel! (Rom. 6:2-4)Â In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little! Â They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sinâ€™s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.
…The ultimate antidote to antinomianism is not more imperatives, but the realization that the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin. Â It is enough to save Christians even in their failure and not only brings them peace with God in justification, but the only liberation from the cruel oppression of sin. Â To be united to Christ through faith is to receive everything that we need not only to challenge legalism but antinomianism as well.
Or as Tchividjian wrote:
The irony, in other words, of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christâ€™s.
To summarize, the true radical biblical preaching of the gospel should (as Paul’s gospel preaching did) attract accusations of antinomianism. That doesn’t mean we’re promoting antinomianism or lawlessness. One can be against lawlessness yet be charged with preaching a gospel that seems to promote lawlessness. Paul is definitely against sin and lawlessness but he understood that true gospel preaching will attract such charges. When he was accused of antinomianism, he didn’t soften the freeness of the love and grace of God in Christ in order to prove that he’s against sin. He didn’t start balancing grace with law. He didn’t pull back and start to preach holiness or fear or whatever. Rather, he preached more grace and gospel. In fact, he preached identity and union with Christ (which is for another post altogether). He preached more indicatives before later going on to imperatives. But he preached enough grace and indicatives before he moved on to the imperatives so his audience clearly knew that all imperatives and calls to holiness are totally grounded in the gospel and grace of Jesus Christ. As Horton wrote:
We need imperativesâ€”and Paul gives them. Â But he only does this later in the argument, after he has grounded sanctification in the gospel.
P.S.: For those who have read this blog and my many posts in the past regarding grace, you’d realize that I quote from a lot of Reformed Christians like Michael Horton on grace and the gospel – often in the context of demonstrating that people like Joseph Prince who preach grace and the gospel radically are not alone. However – and I’ve mentioned this before – that doesn’t mean I think Michael Horton and Joseph Prince would have a lot in common or that Joseph Prince is Reformed in theology! Not at all. Well, I do think Joseph Prince is teaching good Reformed and Reformation theology when it comes to the doctrine of justification. But other than that, Michael Horton would be against Joseph Prince’s view on things like prosperity and healing. Michael Horton, contra Joseph Prince but like most Reformed Christians, would also believe in the third use of the law, viewing the 10 Commandments as a guide for the Christian. However, in an essential aspect of the gospel and grace message (and the doctrine of justification, not sanctification), I would argue that Joseph Prince and Michael Horton are pretty much on the same page. In addition, I think both would be in agreement on the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ being central to Christian preaching and the whole Christian life, and the fact that it is the supernatural wisdom and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ (not good advice, psychology, principles or law) that transforms and empowers the Christian to live for God and man.
P.P.S.: The conversation continues with Jason B. Hood responding to Dane Ortlund with his We Who Have the Spirit Have the Power to Change and Dane having the last word with his Major Agreement, Minor Disagreement, Moving On. I hope to address these posts and this topic once again in a future post on grace-empowered sanctification.