Antinomianism and Dispensationalism -- By: Robert A. Pyne

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:610 (Apr 1996)
Article: Antinomianism and Dispensationalism
Author: Robert A. Pyne


Antinomianism and Dispensationalism

Robert A. Pyne

[Robert A. Pyne is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.]

Throughout its history the church has viewed moral obedience as a serious matter. One may argue that believers have not consistently practiced what they have preached, but even that charge demonstrates the expectation that those who believe in Christ should do what He commands.

Some Christians, however, have charged other Christians with antinomianism, that is, endorsing lawless behavior. That these alleged antinomians are thought to have fallen into serious error is evident in the way theologians use the term. For example Forde writes,

Antinomianism is a prevailing modern heresy. That everyone should have the right to “do their own thing” seems virtually to be the dogma of the age. If laws and norms get in the way, they can be discredited as relics of an outmoded “lifestyle” and changed to fit what we call contemporary-lived experience. Antinomianism is the spiritual air we breathe.1

Similarly Cowan describes antinomianism as granting “license to sin,”2 and Bockmuehl defines it as “theoretical, conscious, intentional lawlessness,…enmity to the idea of law as such.”3

No one would deny that some persons have had that attitude toward moral standards, but it seems the charge has been unfairly leveled at many theologians who have never advocated that sort of lawlessness. This article reviews several cases in which

individuals or groups seem to have been inappropriately considered antinomian, with a particular focus on the way in which the charge has been applied to dispensationalists.

Early References

The term “antinomianism” was apparently first coined by Martin Luther in response to disputes (ca. 1537–1540) with Johann Agricola, a former student. A number of groups in church history have argued for licentiousness on the basis of grace,4 but that was not Agricola’s position. He was against the preaching of the law as a means of making unbelievers aware of their sin, maintaining that the preaching of the gospel of God’s grace was sufficient to lead one to repentance. Though this seems to have been Luther’s own emphasis at one time, he believed that Agricola was not responding adequately to the increasing immorality of a society that was releasing itself from the shackles of papal authority.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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