The Fear of Antinomianism

Friday, 28 Jan 2011

Fear is a powerful motivator. We’ve grown used to it being used in politics to argue for (or against) certain economic, immigration, or military proposals. We sometimes don’t recognize its misuse in the church.  This week, the fear of antinomianism (which means the rejection of God’s Law as a standard of righteous action required of God’s covenant people) has been raised.  There have been genuine antinomians in church history.  There are many today, who set aside God’s law as the standard for God’s righteous judgment, usually substituting their own prescriptions.  However, accusations have been raised over the last few days that target people who are decidedly not antinomian.  In a recent Christianity Today article by Jason Hood, the antinomian charge was directed at contemporary Reformed preachers and writers.  Elsewhere, the White Horse Inn was rebuked for encouraging this false teaching.

There’s no point in responding to accusations point by point.  Anyone who subscribes Lutheran or Reformed confessions is conscience-bound to repudiate antinomianism as a perversion of biblical teaching.  We do not deny the abiding role of God’s moral law in exposing our sin (first use) and guiding us in grateful and godly living (third use).  So if Reformation Christianity is “antinomian” (the perennial charge from Roman Catholic and Arminian quarters), then it would help if critics would let us know the new definition.

The conventional wisdom in many Christian circles is that “we need to find the right balance between law and grace, so that we don’t fall into legalism or license.” Although this counsel has a long history, its most recent expression was urged in Jason Hood’s article.  The author expresses concern that too many Reformed Christians today are encouraging antinomianism—or at least reveling in the charge.  The author especially criticizes appeals to the point made by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (on the basis of Romans 6:1) that if we aren’t accused of antinomianism, we haven’t preached the gospel properly.  In that verse, Paul asks the rhetorical question that he assumes his treatment of the gospel thus far will provoke: “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  The author of this article points out that Paul immediately answers in the strongest possible terms, “By no means!”  Yet his article implies that those of us who invoke Lloyd-Jones’ point might answer otherwise.

This misunderstanding can be cleared up easily by looking at what Lloyd-Jones goes on to say in that Romans commentary.  It could also be cleared up by looking at the sharp denunciations of antinomianism in the Lutheran Book of Concord and the Reformed (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort) and Presbyterian standards (Westminster Confession and Catechisms), as well as the Savoy (Congregationalist) and the London Baptist confessions.  With Paul, we answer without hesitation,

By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life (vv 2-4).

What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!  In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little!  They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.

The danger of legalism becomes apparent not only when we confuse law and gospel in justification, but when we imagine that even our new obedience can be powered by the law rather than the gospel.  The law does what only the law can do: reveal God’s moral will.  In doing so, it strips us of our righteousness and makes us aware of our helplessness apart from Christ and it also directs us in grateful obedience.  No one who says this can be considered an antinomian.  However, it’s not a matter of finding the right “balance” between law and gospel, but of recognizing that each does different work.  We need imperatives—and Paul gives them.  But he only does this later in the argument, after he has grounded sanctification in the gospel.

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.  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.  To be united to Christ through faith is to receive everything that we need not only to challenge legalism but antinomianism as well.

For more on this important distinction, please see my friend Tullian Tchividjian’s post and the post of my friend and colleague at WSC, R. Scott Clark.

UPDATE: some of you are asking for a more specific response to Frank Turk. A number of charges were laid against WHI, all in the spirit of brotherly concern. We appreciate the time that Frank took to write his six page letter, the 300 comments that it generated, and the interest that you are taking in the ongoing dialogue. But none of the WHI hosts has ever said that the Bible only has indicatives and imperatives.  And none of us has said that once you’ve said “Law & Gospel,” you’ve done your exegesis. Nor are we responsible for antinomian statements from people who listen to WHI (any more than Frank Turk is responsible for all the comments made after his blog post). We’re simply saying, with the Reformers and the confessional Reformed as well as Lutheran theologians through the ages, that Law and Gospel summarize the “two words” of that one Word that God has revealed to us.  There is narrative, poetry, wisdom, instruction, dialogue, parable, and other genres, but the most basic distinction to make when reading and proclaiming God’s Word is the one between Law and Gospel.  This is not only Luther, but Calvin, Bullinger, Ursinus, Perkins, Owen, Bavinck, Berkhof, Hodge and Murray.  Just as preaching “Christ crucified” doesn’t mean simply repeating the phrase, “Christ crucified,” but interpreting the whole of Scripture in the light of Christ, bearing in mind the distinction between command and promise is not just a matter of parroting the words, but of making sure that we don’t turn promises into commands and commands into promises.  There is a lot more that we have to bring to our study of Scripture, but when we get that wrong, everything is confused.



  • 27 Jan 2011
    Roy Miller says:

    Nicely done. Nicely done indeed.

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Mark VPol says:

    Excellent!! Thanks Mike.

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Tweets that mention The Fear of Antinomianism - White Horse Inn Blog -- says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joe Thorn, White Horse Inn, New Reformation Pres, Mark Lamprecht, Nathan W. Bingham and others. Nathan W. Bingham said: RT @WhiteHorseInn: The Fear of Antinomianism […]

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Micah Burke says:

    “What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!”


  • 27 Jan 2011
    Timothy Haupt says:

    Dr. Horton and the rest of the WHI panel:

    I have been listening to your show and reading your books for two years now, and my life has been transformed by the understanding of the differences between “law” and “gospel” (an understanding which I had never heard through years of church attendance and even an evangelical seminary). Thank you so much for all your work and for clearly proclaiming a law that demands perfect righteousness and a gospel that provides perfect righteousness. May God bless all of you.

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Alonso says:

    Me thinks Horton is writing this in response to the treads below. This all started at the Puritanboard

    1)The Gospel can’t be lived. It’s the Law that’s lived.

    2) Open Letter to Michael Horton Pyromaniacs


  • 27 Jan 2011
    Jamison I says:

    I must say, I had to read that a few times before the truth of some of the statements sank in. I think Frank Turks letter was pointing out, that WHI misses the volition we have working with the Spirit after justification to make war on sin, as Paul says, “beating his flesh into submission”, acknowledging that we ARE new creatures, therefore we now can assert our will and walk according to the Spirit (Romans 8).
    WHI isn’t promoting false doctrine, as it is causing (slight?) confusion because without the exhortation to participate with the Spirit in sanctification, people can slip into not wanting to do anything that would/could be perceived as a “work”.
    Please help me understand WHI position on this, as well as how a Christian should respond. Am I reading both of your statements/letters right or am I confused?

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Mark says:

    Great post. I have recently met people who, under the demands of ‘christians ethics’ (law) now reject Christ completely in an effort to be free of judgement. Ironically, being driven by law alone, they have turned to antinomianism for relief instead of Christ. Dangerous thing, that fear is.

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Robert says:

    ‘Couldn’t say it better Mike. Big kudos.
    Those trying to ‘strike the right balance underestimate our power to go from ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt’. Believers make this move as fast as anyone. The balance fans claim to be concerned about license while they adjudicate how to fine tune their own righteousness. (…but I’ve done all this from my youth…)

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Brian Swearingen says:

    The Law is only the perfect will of God. Everywhere I am during the week the law is there. Driving my car, work, home, family, neighbors, the Gospel is very rare to hear each week. Every Sunday my pastor points to Christ for the forgiveness of my sins.

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Jason Hood, Frank Turk, Dane Ortlund, Mike Horton, and Antinomianism (UPDATE 3) « Heidelblog says:

    […] Tullian Tchividjian replies to Hood and gets it right.  Mike responds helpfully at the WHI blog, Out of the Horses Mouth, reminding us What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with […]

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Richard says:

    Is not this issue of Law/Gospel and antinomianism debated in Reformed circles today? Do not reformed folks like John Frame and Richard Gaffin take a different view on these issues from the one you are espousing? Its not just disagreements between the greater evangelical community and reformed, but between reformed and reformed, correct?

  • 27 Jan 2011
    Lane Chaplin says:

    Thank you, Dr. Horton. It may sound ironic at first, but only after learning of the proper law/Gospel distinction from the White Horse Inn years ago was I actually able to overcome some of the sin I had been battling for years. Before learning the distinction correctly, I was looking at my efforts in keeping the law with Christ as my “personal trainer” instead of Christ’s effort in having already fulfilled the law on my behalf. The statement, “What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!” is a good summary of what I have learned from the show.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Frederick Santal says:

    On the subject of Law and Gospel the 16th century book Pearl of Christian Comfort by Petrus Dathenus is possibly definitive for a concise and understandable presentation. R. Scott Clark brought the book to many people’s attention by including it on his reading list at his site. Much appreciated.

    On Sanctification vis-a-vis effort I think J. I. Packer’s way of explaining it is classic. This is from his Concise Theology:

    Once regenerated (which is monergistic) “God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort.”

  • 28 Jan 2011
    John D. Chitty says:

    I can’t help but relate this to Dr. Horton’s book, Christ the Lord, which addressed the “Lordship Salvation” controversy that erupted with the publication of John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus. Horton, Riddlebarger, Rosenbladt and others, I think, presented the Reformers’ views on the relationship of the Lordship of Christ and the believer’s salvation in order to provide a corrective to both sides of the debate–corrective, we read in the book, that Dr. MacArthur himself received very eagerly and even revised Gospel According to Jesus in response to some, if not all, of this counsel.

    The MacArthur-Calvinistic Baptist side of the issue (which corresponds in my mind with Frank Turk’s current position) has often seemed to tend toward a more rigid self-examination, seeming to seek primary assurance of salvation in their progress in sanctification, whereas, the Rerformed/Lutheran side emphasizes the objective work of Christ on our behalf as the believer’s primary source of assurance, believing with the apostle James that living, saving faith is seen BY OTHERS in the works of believers, while the apostle Paul very clearly proclaimed that we are actually justified by faith alone apart from works.

    I’m personally glad to see that this little online dust-up has brought me some clarity to this tension I’ve been pondering for some time.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    John D. Chitty says:

    Here’s the link to Westminster Seminary California’s bookstore listing of the recent edition of Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Charlie J. Ray says:

    Methinks Frank Turk is a theonomist. It is typical of theonomists to accuse Reformed folks of “antinomianism”. There is at least some evidence of this in that Frank Turk “appears” to support Doug Wilson in the comments section of the Blog and Mablog blog… That’s a tongue twister:)

    See: Father Hunger

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Open Letter to Michael Horton Pyromaniacs says:

    […] Horton responded here: The Fear of Antinomianism – White Horse Inn Blog …some of you are asking for a more specific response to Frank Turk. A number of charges were […]

  • 28 Jan 2011
    The Gospel, Antinomianism and Legalism | mgpcpastors blog says:

    […] both to Hoods original post and also to a very long post by Frank Turk on a similar theme: The Fear Of Antinomianism. Scott Clark refers to all of these with added commentary on the reformed confessional standards […]

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Reformant (Keanon O'Keefe) says:

    For those who want some clarification on an already clear point…

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Stuart says:

    Dr. Horton,

    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.

    It’s this statement that makes the difference for those who are concerned about antinomianism springing from not striking the right balance between “law” and “gospel.”

    The “ultimate antidote” cannot be more law, more imperatives, more commands. Such an approach simply leads to more condemnation. This doesn’t mean commands don’t have a necessary place in preaching (they most certainly do!), but they are not the “ultimate” cure for our straying hearts. The ultimate cure is Christ himself and the good news he brings to sinners.

    A problem arises when we preach a truncated message of grace . . . as if the gospel only applies to forgiveness of sins, period. But as you rightly point out, “the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin.” So the fear of antinomianism being raised is a failure to see how the good news of Jesus not only deals with the penalty of sin but also the power of sin over us.

    Thanks for this.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    donsands says:

    Hey Chas J Ray, Frank is no theonomist. You’re wrong again my friend.

    I dropped a comment at TeamPyro’s, and wonder if I could share it here:

    Jesus says, …apart from Me you can do nothing. Then He says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

    In fact, a bit earlier Jesus says to His disciples, just after His last supper, and after He had washed their feet: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. BY THIS all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    So, there is no doubt whatsoever, we are commanded to love. Many people will say you can’t command love. Well, our Lord takes a different stand, doesn’t He.

    But, can we genuinely love one another?

    If I said to my Savior, Lord I can’t love this one guy. He drives me nuts.
    The Lord says, You must love him. You must care for him, and try to get along. My charge is to love others, as I have.
    For it is by our love,– not our Bible studies, nor our worshipping together, nor our fellowship dinners,–that ALL people will know we are Christians.

    But I can’t do it: Not without Christ in me.

    Yet, by faith, and in the Holy Spirit, I am able to love others, even people that hate me. So, faith in Christ, and His Gospel, and love for Christ, which I have only becasue He loved me first, work in harmony, like our blood system works withour bodies, both are needed to have life.

    I asked our Father to give me, and fill me, with His Holy Spirit today, so that I might live this day for Him; in His grace and love. And it was His grace and Spirit that helped me ask.-Don

    ps I love, and am edified very much by ‘Modern Reformation’. And I share it with others. Lord bless.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Dave says:

    I believe that one who is born again is set apart, and is to love mercy, justice and walk humbly with God. But brotherly concern from Turk? The pot shots and name calling to those who post on his blog (e.g. nut-jobs) is ironic. Turk needs to write an open letter to himself.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Two Ways To Realize Radical Obedience: My Indirect Response To Jason Hood  Tullian Tchividjian says:

    […] they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. As Mike Horton points out here, in Romans 6:1-4 the Apostle Paul answers antinomianism (lawlessness) not with the more law but […]

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Alex Guggenheim says:

    I believe the poor chaps at Pyromaniacs are suffering from cabin fever or theological cloister moister (they are all wet on this one and need to get out more). Possibly they are growing too accustomed to their own voices. The statements and distinctions WHI has made have been rather clear regarding Law/Gospel and application of such. It might be true that on occasion imprecise or ambiguous language may be used in some dialogue (and is by us all) to which others like Pyromaniacs, point, but they do so while ignoring much of the other statements you have made on the topic that would remedy their concerns. I do not believe they have given you are appropriate hearing and in fact, even now in your response, seek to ignore your clarity per their most recent articles. Unfortunate.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Derek Simmons says:

    Dr. Horton:

    Thanks for the “UPDATE” acknowledging the Open Letter from Frank Turk. Iron sharpens iron and I’ve found that each is subject both to rust and polish.

    Your Brother in Christ,
    Derek Simmons

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Charlie J. Ray says:

    The Reformed Episcopal Church has become an Anglo-Catholic denomination. It’s basically worse than the Federal Vision error–if that is possible.


  • 28 Jan 2011
    Grace and Accusations of Antinomianism — says:

    […] as Michael Horton wrote in The Fear of Antinomianism in response to Hoods article and also this recent attack on his teachings, What’s striking […]

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Paul Dohse says:

    Dr Horton: or anyone else,
    If we are sanctified by justification, and we don’t have a role in justification, how can we have a role in our sanctification? And if we can’t have a role in our sanctification, isn’t that antinomianism by default? I don’t have to obey / I can’t obey. What’s the difference?

    Furthermore, you continue to say that biblical imperatives are always preceded by indicatives. In many places, experiencing the fullness of God’s grace, albeit freely given in full by legal declaration, is clearly contingent on our obedience, or us doing something first. I think 2Pet chapter1 is a good example.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Rick says:

    I truly understand Frank Turk’s fears, but having been raised in a denomination that was nothing but law. I am ever so thankful for the WHI.
    I think fearing the outcome of too much emphasis being placed on theological correctness is much like the Roman Catholic Church telling Luther that “we can’t allow the common folk to have the scriptures because they’ll come up with all sorts of strange beliefs” (paraphrased).
    As true as that may have been…I’m glad Luther didn’t listen and we got the scriptures.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Lou G says:

    Excellent post, Dr. Horton. In agreement with Alex above, I find that the guys at Pyromaniacs have gone off the rails on this one. Frank hasn’t really engaged with your theological points (or Dr. Clark’s) at all in the past two posts, so I think deep down he knows he got it a little wrong this time.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Paula says:

    Dr Horton thank you for responding on this. I have been so thankful for your ministry over the last several years. I found the WHI in the middle of the Romans Revolution when we were discovering what “seeker sensitive” REALLY means in our liberal evangelical church. I remember one of you using the phrase about really coming to understand grace and how it was like being born again-AGAIN. That is exactly what it was like for me, too, and the WHI Romans Revolution was instrumental in that.

    I am sorry to see that Frank Turk doesn’t think over the last two years that you have explained this very well. In the parts he quoted as having an issue with, you couldn’t have been clearer. I am left to come to no other conclusion that he doesn’t yet quite understand grace in the way that lets him get off the hamster wheel and rest. I pray he will someday.

  • 28 Jan 2011
    Brent says:

    Frank has decided ( not a work of Spirit but flesh) that he will write 52 letters this year, once a week ( the Spirit doesn’t use numbers like this to get spiritual points out to the Body of Christ) to anyone he has chosen in advance or on the spot if the end of the week gets near and to fulfil his flesh desire to accomplish his own task.
    I wouldn’t look for anything spiritual from any of them because of the way it was born and the way it can only die… when Frank is done with his work ( 52 weeks ), then may the Spirit be able to move past the wood, hay, and stubble of it.
    I think it is sad and not of spirit and I have stated it on his site in the comment thread from the beginning letter. His objective is to get accalaids from his readers and to get traffic flowing to his site and to win at all cost whatever he has written. He wouldn’t have the spirit to actually call one of these people and tell them the things he is planning on writing to them in public. He is very blind with fulfilling his 52 week campaign and I personally don’t think he will stop until he has a pile of virtual paper to sit atop and grin from.

  • 29 Jan 2011
    From the Twittersphere  Week Ending Jan 29 | says:

    […] RT @WhiteHorseInn: The Fear of Antinomianism […]

  • 29 Jan 2011
    Reg Schofield says:

    To just weigh in,I have grown more,repented more and been blessed more to grow in holiness thanks to the White Horse Inn and Dr.Horton’s books then any other.As a Baptist who has moved away from influence of perfectionism within the Baptist circles , all I can say is thank you.In seeing the beauty of the gospel and what Christ has done for me , it has freed me from constant doubt and despair. We need more gospel and clear distinction concerning law and gospel . Thanks for setting me free from the chains that were of my own making.

  • 29 Jan 2011
    A Crib Rattling Complaint: Frank Turks Moralism Vs Hortons Gospel Driven Sanctification « A Rose by Any Other Name says:

    […] One commenter in response to Michael Hortons response to Frank Turk, pointed out the salient difference. Just as our regeneration is first monergistic which produces our active participation, our sanctification is first monergistic and produces our effort. If, as the apostle Paul is saying, there is any truth in reference to the Philippians salvation, any participation in the Spirit, then we ought to have the same mind as Christ: Therefore workout& because it is God who works in you the willing and the doing of his good pleasure. […]

  • 29 Jan 2011
    Brian Mann says:

    I have not been following the whole exchange on this blog, but my comment is this, I am greatly appreciative for the reformed theological viewpoint that puts the Law and Gospel in its proper perspective. Moreover I delight in the words in this article: “Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification” and the idea that sanctification is grounded in the gospel. Can I also recommend here to fellow commentor-s to check out Horton’s new book on theology, The Christian Faith. Blessings!

  • 29 Jan 2011
    Bruce Russell says:

    Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and the Reformed have this in common: the Christian is either in the flesh, in the Spirit, or wavering between the two. Paul taught something different:

    So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead, to bear fruit to God.

    The Law/Flesh dominion was fulfilled by Christ himself on the cross, and the Grace/Spirit dominion was inaugurated by His resurrection. Believers don’t re-enact there own personal version of this dominions, they believe into Jesus Christ, and possess all the advantages of the Grace/Spirit dominion. They are no longer in the flesh.

  • 31 Jan 2011
    Paul Dohse says:

    I would challenge all of the readers here, as well as Pyro, to read “Biblical Sonship” by Jay Adams. Dr, Horton’s views are identical to Sonship Theology. In fact, it is more than likely that Jack Miller, who conceived Sonship, is the founder of most of the “gospel driven” theology running about in Reformed circle today.

  • 31 Jan 2011
    The law: legalism or antinomianism « knoxville says:

    […] around the web last week. Frank Turk wrote a letter to Michael Horton about a perceived imbalance. Horton responded, as did Scott Clark (to which Turk then replied). And quite apart from these interactions […]

  • 31 Jan 2011
    Gospel Grace, the Pursuit of Holiness, and the Charge of Antinomianism  Justin Taylor says:

    […] responses were written by Michael Horton (excerpt: What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with […]

  • 31 Jan 2011
    Steven says:

    I really appreciate your point that the real antidote to antinomianism is the realization that the gospel swallows not only the guilt but the tyranny of sin. I hope that’s something that people in our churches are hearing. I’m afraid it often isn’t. In fact, I hear a lot of teaching along the lines of, “you, Christian, can do nothing but sin, sin, sin.” This sounds about the same to me as “you, Christian, are under the tyranny of sin.” Thank you for striking this note. I think it’s a much needed one.

    Though I loved the positive statements you made, I was very confused at the beginning of this post when you said that Jason Hood accused Reformed folk of antinomianism. I never saw that charge in his article. What he objected to was Reformed folk who say that the charge of antinomianism is a badge of honor. I never read him say that the charge of antinomianism was accurate of these same Reformed folk.

  • 31 Jan 2011
    What Is The Core Sin Of Antinomianism « Antagoniz says:

    […]  Michael Horton  “What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!  In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little!  They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification. […]

  • 31 Jan 2011
    Everyday Mommy says:

    I must ditto Dave, Alex Guggenheim and Brent (and others) on this.

    Wondering how an open letter to Pastor Phil Johnson, asking that he consider admonishing his Pyro cohorts, would go over?

  • 31 Jan 2011
    Theopolitical » Calvins evangelical law says:

    […] from both confessionalists and New Calvinists, including Tullian Tchividjian, Dane Ortlund, Michael Horton, and Scott […]

  • 31 Jan 2011
    Dan says:

    Can someone set me straight – who are the Pyromaniacs/Frank Turk, what do they stand for, do they deserve an ear and if so, why?

  • 01 Feb 2011
    Everyday Mommy says:

    @Dan…Who are the Pyromaniacs/Frank Turk?

    Frank Turk compares himself and his fellow Pyromaniacs to Paul, Apollos and Peter (1 Cor. 1:12).

    “One of the things Phil takes a lot of heat for at TeamPyro is the fact that we call out people who, frankly, want to be “of Johnson, of Phillips, of Turk” and don’t impress us with their approach and practice – because it is seen as unwarranted “friendly fire”.”

  • 01 Feb 2011
    Frank Turk says:

    Hey! The comments are back open! Thanks WHI!

    As the person now listed as probably worse than Torquemada when it comes to the Reformed blogsophere, I appreciate the opportunity to answer some of the objections listed in this thread from people who, it seems to me, haven’t really read my letter at all. Dr. Horton has plainly read my letter in the spirit I intended, and for that I am grateful.

    So my first comment is this: if there was ever evidence for what I refered to in my open letter, it is the overall content and intention of this thread. How exactly can I open and close a letter with a clear and cogent affirmation of a man’s life work and still be villified for denigrating him is beyond me — but leave it to the “discernment bloggers” to find a way. There are people in the blogosphere who are allegedly-reformed, and allegedly reforming, who have yet to put themselves in the dock to see if their approach, and theology, and actual concern for the lost and those falling away can be measured in anything but angstroms — and that is entirely my concern for the way Dr. Horton said what he said in my citation, and in other ways in other episodes which I have not cited.

    This is not a dire theological emergency: it is a pastoral matter which, I think, requires some urgency and will take little-to-no effort to correct from those who influence these offenders the most. And to that end, you can see what a paltry objection will garner from the crowd I am objecting to — imagine what anything with real teeth would evoke from those who have never made a mistake and never apologized in spite of a transparently-weak track record.

    So the aim of my charge, then, is love which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. That is: let’s not take the third use of the law for granted — given our robust defense of the first two uses.

    To the charge that I am grinding an axe against “watchblogger”: guilty. To the charge that I am a hypocrite: I can’t stop laughing long enough enter a plea. See: the anonymous people who are upset by my on-going disapprobation think I am saying, “nobody should talk about theology publicly,” and that, again, is a conclusion only a watchblogger can make. The two key attributed I have repeatedly named as indicators of “watchbloggers” is [1] anonymity, and [2] lack of spiritual accountability from a local church. I think there are other criteria for determining who is a “watchblogger” (for example: would this person be disqualified from being an elder? Would they qualifiy in the first place?), but if we stick to those two, so many horrifically-bad advocates for the faith would be washed out immediately.

    I wonder: will anyone here ask Dr. Horton & Co. this question — “If a person wanted to rebuke someone else theologically and publicly, but he/she demands anonymity and refuses spiritual accountability, should they continue their efforts?” I think the answer to that question will start a much bigger fire than my simple concerns.

    Now, one of the commenters here has tweeted me to ask why I can blog and, apparently, nobody else can. I have no idea why — I’ve never advocated for such a thing. What I am categorically against is irresponsible people hurling theological half-truths around and creating a stereotype which damages the legitimate work of apologetics.

    Here’s another thing I am against: blogging your own pastor or church when you will not talk to them. That is: trying to gain a public forum for your private/local grievances. The person questioning me about this apparently does not see the difference between writing a book review and printing tracts against an offense you have from your neighbor or fellow church member — which is a matter of scope, among other things. I am sure that this also makes me persona non grata with the people who will do such things, but it unfortunately does not make me an enemy of free speech or public discourse: it makes me an enemy of enmity and spite.

    So finally, to the question, “who do I think I am?” I think I’m just a guy with a blog. I think my opinions are free, and they get a pretty wide distribution even if I am not as well known as Billy Graham or Lady Gaga. And I think that being part of the public discourse is a pretty serious responsibility. So to that end, when Dr. Horton says, “we responsible for antinomian statements from people who listen to WHI (any more than Frank Turk is responsible for all the comments made after his blog post),” it’s a less-than-responsible view for one’s role in the overall culture we are creating and participating in. We ought to disown and rebuke those who use our good names and our right-minded theological statements for ill. They are not our friends, even if they are our family — and all the more then that we should seek to turn them away from their mistakes.

    My thanks to WHI for allowing more comments on this topic, and for hosting them here. Anyone can contact me at any time if they have other questions at

    • 02 Feb 2011
      Eric Landry says:

      Glad that you found your way here, Frank. I’m not sure, however, what you mean by the comments being back open. They were never closed. We don’t sit by the moderation panel and wait for comments, so sometimes a whole slate of comments will appear at once.

      Eric Landry
      Executive Director

  • 02 Feb 2011
    The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification  Tullian Tchividjian says:

    […] that this article by Jason Hood began last week (generating a response from Dane Ortlund, Mike Horton, Scott Clark, and me) was an important and stimulating one. In fact, these are the kinds of good […]

  • 02 Feb 2011
    Charlie J. Ray says:

    Frank said, “The two key attributed I have repeatedly named as indicators of “watchbloggers” is [1] anonymity, and [2] lack of spiritual accountability from a local church.”

    That’s assuming a lot. What if the only option I have is Arminian or some confused PCA that doesn’t teach from the Confession or expository preaching?

    The real criteria for speaking the truth is actually knowing what the truth is. Belonging to your local christless christianity synagogue only means you’re following the blind.

    I would agree that the ideal is to belong to a local church. But these days the local churches are few and far between that rightly preach the law and the gospel and rightly administer the sacraments.

    I’m glad to see Frank is at least acknowledging the distinction between the three uses of the moral law.



  • 02 Feb 2011
    Frank Turk says:

    Eric —

    No offense meant at all — I could have sworn the comments were closed when I stopped by here Sunday night. If I made a mistake there, i apologize.

  • 04 Feb 2011
    Rev. Paul T. McCain says:

    I appreciate this blog post and the things said in it, are very well said. My advice to WHI is not to pay much attention to the Calvinist watchbloggers out there, the “Truly Reformed” types who are itching, constantly and forever, for a fight, for a debate, for an extended and protracted argument, for whom incessant arguing on blog sites is their hobby.

    You’ve got better things to do with your time.

  • 07 Feb 2011
    live the gospel | Charles Spurgeon says:

    […] live the gospel? Disagreements on the answer to this question can be seen from Open Letters to The Fear of Antinomianism. I wonder if the disagreements lie within what one means when challenging others to live the […]

  • 08 Feb 2011
    The Fear of Antinomianism (via The White Horse Inn blog) « Pilgrimage to Geneva says:

    […] The Fear of Antinomianism Jan.27, 2011 by Michael Horton in General […]

  • 10 Feb 2011
    Mike says:

    Well I just finished reading both blogs (here and at Pyromaniacs) and slogging my way through both comment threads and I really wanted to contribute my two cents….

    I think you’re both pretty neat.


  • 15 Feb 2011
    Brady says:

    Rev. McCain,

    When remarks such as, “Let’s be clear about something. Calvinism is not a faithful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is not an authentic, genuine and true presentation of the Reformation, but an unfortunate deformation of it.,” do you not think they deserve a strong response? Are you not making such biting and uncharitable remarks like this in anticipation of “a fight, for a debate, for an extended and protracted argument,…”? You seem to forget yourself, sir. Allow me to remind you:

    Let us remember, blogging was not created yesterday and some poor discourse is an unfortunate side effect of the medium. The people that blog their point-of-view should expect a bit of this rhetoric, (which seems to be part and parcel of the ENTIRE blogosphere, not simply attached to the so called WHI/Calvinist watchbloggers), or are expecting it for their own benefit. Along with those who respond, the ones who first expound should do so with charity to their brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. Although, Rev. McCain, that may only be a select few Lutherans in your view.

    To be fair to Mr.Turk, he was generous and well intentioned in his letter, no matter how off course he is on this issue. I believe the responses he received from notable church teaching elders and theologians were quite sufficient and charitable.

    We should all learn well from them Rev. McCain.

    Mean spirited remarks by you and others make my heart heavy.

    In love.

  • 15 Feb 2011
    Charlie J. Ray says:

    I may not agree with our outspoken Lutheran friend, Mr. McCain. In fact I saw the dispute at McCain’s blog about the Reformed teaching in Germany and Reformed outreach. I chalked it up to a misunderstanding on McCain’s part.

    The trouble with Frank Turk is that the tone of his open letter was not meant to be charitable. It was in fact seething with a lack of charity.

    Even more troublesome was Turk’s complete ignorance of the place of the moral law in the Reformed Confessions and in the liturgical order in most Reformed churches… Excepting those which are in the broad evangelical line of things.

    I like McCain. He stands for the truth of Holy Scripture and for his Lutheran tradition. What more could you ask of a man who is a confessional Lutheran?

  • 15 Feb 2011
    Brady says:


    I see your point regarding Mr. Turk, and ignorance may fuel his letter with a lack of charity (or what would seem to be). Perhaps now he knows better now. It reminds me of so much half-truth in political radio talk shows and it seems the motivation behind the letter is the same, to get everyone very excited.

    I don’t mean to be disrespectful of Rev. McCain. If I have been unfair I apologize. My point is that anyone who shoots off their mouth (misunderstanding or not) on the internet using strong language should expect a strong response. I’m not sure I remember if McCain ever apologized for his misunderstanding (if he actually believes he misunderstood the video). His blog post was quite a knee-jerk reaction. That is perhaps an issue with the blogosphere, you can write what you want and not even have to retract it if you are incorrect. At least these opportunities allow us from time to time to clarify our Reformed positions.

    I have no issue with McCain defending his confession, as that is what his tradition calls him to do. We need healthy debate within the Church. But it would seem he puts himself out on the fringe of Lutheranism when he makes statements like the one quoted in my post above.

    I am sure he is a strong leader in the Lutheran Church. He would not be in the position he is in if it were not so.

  • 16 Feb 2011
    Reforming the Lives of Wanton Libertines (Like Me) : Toward Real Liberty says:

    […] 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. (Original post) […]

  • 19 Feb 2011
    Bill says:

    OK, here are my thoughts:

    1) Charges of antinomianism do not apply to the White Horse Inn, listened to the program to many times and the obedience that arises from the gospel being embraced by the believer has always been emphasized

    2) Michael Horton’s response here in his blog is adequate and I can not add to it.

    3) With the above said, a legitimate question needs to be asked. Is the chief purpose of the White Horse Inn to clarify theological issues that are murky in today’s evangelical church? If the answer is yes, then the White Horse Inn does pretty much a perfect job.

    4)Is the purpose of the White Horse Inn to preach the word to believers? If the answer is yes, then with all due respect the Law ought to be preached more and expounded in more detail. It is not enough to say that good works will follow from the gospel, or that the law needs to be preached. It actually needs to be preached (not just saying that it needs to be preached), and by that I mean we need to speak about covetousness, about stealing, about murder, about adultery, fornication, and all sorts of sexual immorality. Like Christ did on the sermon on the mount, or the book of proverbs does. I have yet to hear a series on the sermon on the mount or the book of proverbs, and yet if we preach to believers this can not be left out. The law guides believers like Horton says, then the preaching needs to guide believers as well by expounding the law in detail and reminding christians to meditate on the law (like David meditated on God’s law) and monitor their progress against God’s holy standard. Yes what Jesus did is the foundation, but it’s done, yes we ought to be reminded constantly, but also we ought to do our part and it needs to be preached in detail what that means. The gospel is the foundation, but the law needs to be preached to christians as much as the gospel. Paul’s letters to strong disciples like Timothy and Titus contain Law, a lot of it, so should the preaching at the White Horse Inn.

    • 19 Feb 2011
      Eric Landry says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Bill. To answer the question in your fourth point: No, it is not the purpose of the White Horse Inn to preach the Word. Your pastor in your local church preaches the Word, but not the White Horse Inn.

      Thanks again,
      Eric Landry
      Executive Director

  • 19 Feb 2011
    Paul Dohse says:


    Micheal Horton believes that we should preach the law, but only to drive Christians to “despair of self-righteousness.” M. Horton believes that we are unable to keep the law, so preaching the law serves to drive us back to the gospel. M. Horton also believes that any attempt at good behavior to glorify God before others is trying to “be the gospel” rather than presenting the gospel (read pages 117-119 “Christless Christianity”)He also believes that Sunday worship is a completely passive affair where Christians are dead bones being brought back to life by the gospel (read pages 189-191 of CC). He also believes that the Holy Spirit only sanctifies when the word is viewed through the gospel, or what Christ did, not anything we do.

  • 19 Feb 2011
    Bill says:

    Thanks Eric for clarifying. This completely answers the legitimate question that may be raised about why don’t the hosts of the White Horse Inn preach more exhortations or rebuke Christians more as Paul taught Titus in his letter to do. Well, I guess the answer is that we shouldn’t expect the White Horse Inn to do the job of the Church, and the content of the White Horse Inn program serves a different purpose from the weekly sermon.

    When it comes to teaching what the christian faith is, the relationship between law and gospel, the role of the church, etc. the White Horse Inn does a job second to none. I go further to say that Michael Horton’s books Christless Christianity, the Gospel Driven Life, Putting Amazing Back into Grace, and Introduction to Covenant Theology have helped immensely in my understanding of the Word. Thank you for an incredible Ministry.

  • 19 Feb 2011
    Mark says:

    Just a thought here….because I keep getting email reminders that someone else has commented on this post since I made a comment long ago, and I think it a good discussion from what I have read of it. But the thought occured, and I could be wrong, but I believe that anybody who is truly antinomian is not going to spend one iota of their time reading, responding or pondering this post and the discussion, because they simply don’t care. So I find it ironic that by definition, if you participate in this, you obviously regard the law enough to care…which to me, defines you as not an antinomian. Meanwhile, I know there are many people who could not give a rip about this discussion because they truly have shoved it out of their radar long ago. My experience in general is that these people have heard the law…and heard it…and heard it…and nothing else. And now they are antinomian, which I am beginning to see is much more antinomian than what is usually described as antinomian…it’s like antinomianism on steroids. Just my thoughts, thanks for WHI!!!

  • 20 Feb 2011
    Leading Calvinists refute antinomian accusation  Part 2 « Churchmouse Campanologist says:

    […] they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. As Mike Horton points out here, in Romans 6:1-4 the Apostle Paul answers antinomianism (lawlessness) not with more law but with […]

  • 24 Feb 2011
    Another Week Ends: Facebook Blues, Freshman Blues, Bowling Blues, Val Kilmer and The Office | Mbird says:

    […] presented pastorally. Our friends at the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton to be exact, have posted a helpful take on the current discussion around this issue. Dane Ortlund of The Gospel Coalition also weighed in […]

  • 05 Mar 2011
    John Thomson says:

    I greatly appreciate much that M Horton says. I greatly apprerciate the emphasis on gospel and the emphasis on keeping looking to gospel. Where I part company is in his great reluctance to allow obedience and exhortations to obedience a place within the gospel framework.

    The view that all imperatives are law is where the damage lies. Firstly, it muddies considerably the Pauline view fo law. Paul sees law as a)a covenant b) a principle of works gained righteousness and life c) the pentateuch d) any principle. What I do not see in Paul is a clear cut gospel=indicative and law=imperative.

    Actually, I understand the legalism that Mike et al are keen to combat. However, I think the problem here lies not so much in the idea of exhortations and commands (based on gospel realities of course) but the dominance of the word ‘law’ in Reformed language and thinking.

    I think the more we think of obedience in terms of law-keeping the more we will have ‘a spirit of slavery that causes us to fall back into fear and bondage’. Law makes God a legislator and not a Father. It connotes ideas of punishment and curse. The ‘freedom of sonship’ by contrast connotes all that is to do with nearness, intimacy, family, love, and acceptance.

    In my view, the biblical answer to a legalistic mindset is not to place all obligation under the rubric of law and distance it from gospel but to rid our minds of the dominance of the word law. We need the obedience of sons not slaves.

  • 25 Apr 2011
    Another Week Ends: Facebook Blues, Freshman Blues, Bowling Blues, Val Kilmer and The Office | Mockingbird says:

    […] presented pastorally. Our friends at the White Horse Inn, Michael Horton to be exact, have posted a helpful take on the current discussion around this issue. Dane Ortlund of The Gospel Coalition also weighed in […]

  • 03 May 2011
    Dave says:

    Fascinating and germain discussion! I do have a question I would like us to ponder. . .If legalism can be defined as “abuse of God’s Righteous Will, and antinomianism can be defined as “abuse of God’s Gracious Will”. . .Is it always the case that the the antidote for the latter is more gospel?

    I am thinking of Christ’s temptation where Satan’s aim is to get Jesus to jump from the temple top. Because of God’s Grace and His promise that He will send his angels to guard Christ, lest he dash his foot against the stone. . .

    Christ’s response, of course, was not Gospel at all, but an imperative, based on Scripture. . .

    Therefore “erring on the side of grace” in one’s preaching can often be very much in line with that antinomian deception which puts God to a foolish test!

    Just a thought!

  • 03 May 2011
    Mike says:

    I think we’re almost duty-bound as believers to answer that the gospel is the solution to everything.

    But, I don’t think there is too much error in using sound logic, and at the risk of over-simplifying the issue, if a recipe needs salt, it would seem that the logical thing to do would be to add salt…with discretion.

  • 03 May 2011
    Charlie J. Ray says:

    Legalism is not an abuse of the law of God. Legalism is a failure to grasp that NO ONE keeps the law of God PERFECTLY. It is in essence self-righteousness and self-justification. The ONLY righteousness that can make anyone in right standing with God is the imputed righteousness of Christ.

    Antinomianism is not an abuse of Christian liberty. It is a failure to understand the demands of God’s law and that Christ alone kept those demands. True conversion is not about change, transformation, or one’s level of sanctification. Rather it is being so grateful for God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace that the new believer gratefully submits to God. That submission is never perfect and there are many failures along the way. But at least the antinomian knows that only God’s mercy and grace count. Salvation is not kept or earned or merited.



  • 05 May 2011
    Dave says:

    Hi Charlie,

    I certainly agree that legalists do recognize the problem of sin, brought about by God’s Law, and that legalists do indeed fail to grasp man’s inability to fulfill the Law perfectly. Therefore, their self-righteousness will necessarily eschew God’s free grace and forgivenes for not only themselves, but everyone else as well.

    But I am not sure that the antinomian even understands the deep pervasiveness of sin at all. That is, because they see the Law as having been nullified and pre-empted (rather than predominated) by the Gospel, their view of the world is one of innocent victims who seek redress of injustice, rather than a world full of sinners in need of redemption. As such, although they give lip-service to the word grace, in reality they want justice. Thus, the antinomian Gospel simply enables rather than justifies.

    Just my experience. . .

  • 05 May 2011
    Charlie J. Ray says:


    My experience is that the vast majority of folks in churches across this land are experts in the law but have no clue that they themselves are antinomians since they do not keep God’s law as well as they think they do. Lowering the standard so one can appear righteous before men does not remove the fact that God’s standard is so high that no one keeps it.

    As for antinomianism it seems to me that folks who are more concerned about antinomianism than pelagianism don’t recognize the fact that pelagianism is the much bigger problem these days.

    True antinominians don’t bother with church. They feel justified in sinning without any conviction of sin. In fact that’s why liberal churches die out.

    Legalism creates a performance trap and makes lots of money for the false prophets, which is why Rome is still a viable organization after all these years. The problem with Evangelicalism is that it is emulating Rome rather than the Gospel.

    If your church or your pastor has not been accused of antinomianism…. the gospel is probably not being preached there.


  • 05 May 2011
    Charlie J. Ray says:

    To confuse sanctification with justification is to side with Rome.

  • 15 Jun 2011
    Signing Off  Tullian Tchividjian says:

    […] they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. As Mike Horton points out here, in Romans 6:1-4 the Apostle Paul answers antinomianism (lawlessness) not with law but with more […]

  • 16 Jun 2011
    First Things First  Tullian Tchividjian says:

    […] Mike Horton points out here, in Romans 6:1-4 the Apostle Paul answers antinomianism (lawlessness) not with law but with more […]

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