Friday, January 28, 2011
Antinomian Wars Continued
Jason's Hood CT piece continues to prompt controversy and discussion about the proud tag of being antinomian (see here, here, and here; and apparently Jason is even a United Methodist and an Arminiam too; note Jason's response to some here). Part of the problem is, I suspect, that there are schemes of theology that have an indicative but lack the grounds for articulating an ethical imperative that is based on the exhortations of Scripture (my earlier thoughts on this subject are posted here). Scott Clark responds to Jason Hood from a Reformed perspective in effect accusing Jason of promoting a theology of glory, perfectionism, and (heaven forbid) Weslyanism. Personally, I think it is clear that Jason is promoting none of these (though perhaps Clark is caricaturing for rhetorical effect and trying to warn of extreme versions of what Jason actually said). Any ways, a few thoughts in my polite rejoinder:
1. The "Reformed reading" of Romans 7 is rather elastic. Augustine initially regarded the wretched man of Romans 7 as a non-believer, but then switched to regarding him as a believer because it was just good ammo for ragging on Pelagius. While Augustine's latter view and Calvin's have mostly carried the day, it was not unanimous and not without significant variations on the details. I used to teach a course on "The History of Reformed Interpretation of Romans" and I always set my students the essay topic, "What is the Reformed View of Romans 7?". Their answer usually was that there isn't one. For instance, H. Ridderbos and J. Murray are not your standard candle bearers for Calvin, but are no less Reformed. Elsewhere I've listed what I think are some good exegetical reasons why Romans 7 is not talking about Christians who struggle with Law and Sin. Let's resolve this with appeals to Scripture and not just footnotes to Calvin as Calvin himself would have wanted.
2. My biggest criticism is reserved for what Clark says here: "Do I need exhortation? Sure, I need the law. It doesn’t produce perfection in me or even godliness, but it does drive me to Christ, who was and remains perfect for me. When the law and my sins accuse me righteously I confess but I also say, “If Christ is for us, who can be against us?”" As a preface let me say that Clark believes we should try to be better Christians and he rightly recognizes that Spirit and gospel are the instruments that achieve this in the Christian life. No disagreement here. Much like N.T. Wright the problem is not what he affirms, but in what he denies. If I read him correctly, Clark denies that exhortations in the OT/NT actually inspire us or drive us to do good. Now Imagine preaching through the Sermon on the Mount with this view. If I may caricature: "Don't worry folks, Jesus' doesn't actually expect any of you to do this stuff, he just said it to make you realize what rotten sinners you are and understand how much you need his imputed righteousness." Or imagine, preaching through James with this view. Hear again the fictive voice: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to believe more deeply in the doctrines of grace" (Jas 1:27 HPR [Hyper-Reformed Version]). Who could preach Matthew 5-7 or James 1:27 this way and get away with it? Jason Hood is not calling for perfectionism. Nor does prosecuting our sanctification with effort require a semi-Pelagian anthropology. To paraphrase Phil 2:13, we are to work out what God has worked into us.
Clark rightly captures Paul's anthropological pessimism about the nature of human sin and he wants to ensure the sola of sola gratia. I concur! Yet I think the perspective that he sets forth while big on sin and the need for the gospel, ultimately has a low view of the transforming power of the gospel itself. I have a hard time believing in a grace so radical that it will never change me. The exhortations we find in Romans 6 and Galatians 5 are there to be done, because they can be done, not perfectly, not infallibly, but in the power of the Spirit who indwells believers. The new creation actually creates good works in us. That ain't Wesley talking it's Jesus, Paul, Luke, John, and Peter.
I often set my students this essay question: "What better describes the state of Christians: (a) Sinners saved by grace; or (b) Saints who sometimes sin?" You could say that both are true, but there are slightly different nuances to them. Is it our pre-gospel state that defines our identity and behavior, or our post-gospel state that defines our identity and behavior. I favor the latter. I am no longer who I was nor will I ever be that person again. He is dead, crucified, buried, and raised to new life. Yes, the old me steeped in sin tries to resurrect itself, and when it does I try my hardest to put it to death, for I know it pleases my Lord to do so. Or, as I've said elsewhere, beware of exploding wolves!