I’m a new-comer to the discussion of antinomianism. I’ve seen folks confidently toss the word around, the heptasyllabic term rolling off their fingertips and on to the digital page. Finally, disgusted with my own ignorance, I determined to ascend from the pit of theological cognitive stupidity in search of greater intellectual challenges.
In short, I looked it up on Wikipedia. I also read an article on narcissism in dogs.
As I understand the concept, antinomianism essentially claims freedom from all law, moral or otherwise, as an aspect of Christian living, justification, and sanctification. ”We’ve been saved,” comes the cry, “and have been declared righteous and sin-free! We’ve freedom from the Law through Christ! Can I get an ‘Amen’?”
As far as I can tell, the biggest moments in the history of this concept centered on a period of time during Martin Luther’s life and during the late 17th century in the United States. More recently, articles have popped up (see this) decrying a move towards what would essentially be an extreme position in regards to justification by faith alone. At least, if I’ve understood things correctly.
Understood from a theological perspective, it would seem that antinomianism goes too far. That is, it interprets justification by faith to be both the beginning and the end of the salvation and sanctification process. Heck, it would actually seem to refute the notion of “process” altogether. I’ll allow the trained, thoughtful theologians in the group to tease out the full meaning of all of this, but my overall point remains: theologically speaking, antinomianists seem to go too far.
To be completely blunt, though, it turns out I’ve been shaking my head at antinomianism without ever realizing it. Every time I open my Facebook page, there is it. Really.
My news feed abounds with comments from friends and classmates extolling the glorious wonders of Christ, God, the Bible, prayer, holiness, Jesus, and angels. Jesus is implored to take the wheel and various promises are routinely named and claimed. Philippians 4:13 comes up frequently as do verses about loving people. The only catch is that some of the folks who post these notions follow them with photos, language, and ideas that strike me as antithetical to their expressions of religious fervor.
I don’t want to call anyone out, so I’ll leave specific examples aside. It is sufficient to say that “God will bless you…” does not match well with the profanity-laced tirades, the insistence on the rightness of their sexual proclivities, the drunken photos, and the hateful attitudes they display with nonchalance.
I used to think they were a bit like I’ve been in the past: Christian, but not yet realizing the depth of commitment God required of me. I figured they were just struggling to mature in their faith, step by step, and the personal testimony part of their lives was just lagging behind. I had it wrong, I believe. They are, effectively, antinomianist in their views without being able to blame it on a different theological perspective.
A few theories…
1. The culture of tolerance in the US has been extended to apply to God. As Martin Luther put it, our thoughts of God are far too human. Never is that more obvious when we expect Him to extend to us the same, “Different strokes for different folks” philosophy we apply to ourselves. Even between denominations we usually have a your-way/my-way approach that can tend to reduce to “Whatever works for ya, man!”
2. Salvation-by-identification comes into play at times, especially when talking with adherents to non-evangelical faith traditions. In many predominantly Catholic cultures and peoples, mere identification as a “good Catholic” is causally equated with salvation. A good Muslim obeys the Koran to certain degree, but it is his strong identification with Islam that provides the greatest security for paradise. When a convert comes over to Christianity, too often their past assumptions come along for the ride. ”Hey,” the thinking goes, “I understand now I’m a Christian evangelical, and no longer a _______. I’ve identified with the proper faith and true church. That’s it, right?” The result is both a lack of realization that they’ve not gone far enough and an emotional resistance to being told they’re wrong.
3. Cultural Christianity blinds people to the fact that coming from a so-called Christian nation or godly family does nothing for personal salvation. They see themselves as Christian not because of personal conviction but due to the fact that they live in a Christian environment. This is a form of salvation-by-identification, but it differs in that identifiers often make conscious choices for their identification. Cultural Christians simply assume their salvation.
4. Postmodernism is a rather obvious boogeyman, but I think we would be wrong to eliminate it as a cause for antinomianism. Specifically, the tendency to assume that there is no metanarrative collides with a belief in the existence of God. The philosophically-syncretic result is a retention of a belief in the Creator God without applying the narrative that results; you know, sanctification and faith displayed by works and fleeing “evil.”
5. Over-reliance on the inner witness of the Spirit is not something most would consider, but it is something I believe that exists. Instead of careful study of Spirit-inspired words and attentive listening to those who teach it, Christians sit back and say, “Global Christendom is a mighty people, a nation of priests! Priesthood of the believer! The Spirit guides us into all understanding!” Effectively, they end up being people who follow whatever their untrained hearts and uneducated minds feel is good. Book learning and Bible study? No thanks.
The result in each case is, effectively, adherence to an antinomianist position. The cause, though, is not a careful yet flawed perusal of the theology of justification by faith; that would be going too far down a particular pathway. No, these philosophical or cultural antinomiansts exist because they’ve not gone far enough. That is, they’ve entered the kingdom or crossed the threshold or whatever metaphor you prefer and they’ve stopped right there. They have chosen some aspect of themselves or their faith or their thinking and have used it to justify going no further down any path of Christian thinking.
This is by no means a comprehensive listing, nor even the expression of an expert who has been researching the matter for months and years. More than anything, this is a first approximation for me. I expect I’ve been wrong at some point in this, and I appreciate those who point out my errors.