Our good friend Tullian Tchividjian has been the subject of and a participant in a series of web conversations on the relationship of justification to sanctification. He recently posed a series of question to Mike Horton and has begun posting the answers on his blog. I’m sure that I’m biased, but I think there’s some good information here–especially for those who are new to the conversation and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Here’s a preview:
In what sense has the current conversation been merely a matter of different emphases, and in what sense are there genuine disagreements?
I have only had opportunity to read bits here and there. However, I can speak to your question more generally. Sometimes it’s no more than emphasis. However, faithful preaching includes the law and the gospel—never assuming that believers know either well enough that one can be heard without the other. Of course, we do have to be sensitive to different contexts of pastoral ministry, but every believer and therefore every church is simultaneously justified and sinful. Not only at the beginning, but always, every believer needs the law and the gospel.
It would be a lot simpler if we could say that congregations tending toward legalism need more gospel and those leaning toward antinomianism need more law, but I question that this is how it works.
In the first place, I’m not sure that “legalism” and “antinomianism” are the best categories for what seems to me at least to dominate contemporary “Bible Belt” religion in the U.S. today. Sure, there are some antinomians (in theory) who believe that you can be justified without being sanctified—even without continuing in faith. Sure, there are some who say that the third use of the law (guiding believers) is no longer in effect. In their view, referring to the Ten Commandments as normative for how we should live would be going back “under the law” in the sense that Paul condemned. I’m also sure that there are legalists out there. But the portrait of the preacher threatening card-players with the fires of hell is a distant memory, replaced by the smiling motivational speaker telling you how you can have your best life now if you follow his seven easy principles.
That’s where I think it all gets so tricky. We’re using theological categories when one of the most transformative events in our churches has been cultural: namely, what Philip Reif called “the triumph of the therapeutic.” What we’re dealing with today in the majority of cases, I believe, is not accurately described as either antinomianism or legalism, but a pragmatic and narcissistic appeal to moralism. It’s not “stop going to parties or you’ll go to hell,” but “follow these ten principles and your life will be a party.” It’s “principles for living” on any number of life management topics, mining the Bible for quotes, but for the most part ignoring the interests of the text itself.
So you can’t really call this diet antinomian: it’s full of imperatives (rules, steps, principles, motivational tips—some kind of “To Do” list). But you also can’t call it legalistic, because the reference point isn’t really salvation or damnation—or even God, but me and my happiness or unhappiness. God only makes a cameo appearance. The whole paradigm is what sociologist Christian Smith defines as: moralistic, therapeutic deism. Say what you will about the legalists and antinomians of yesteryear, but despite their heterodoxy, they were more interested in the Triune God and in interpreting and applying Scripture than a lot of what passes for evangelical preaching today.