Heidelcast: Is Confessional Reformed Theology Antinomian?

At the most recent Shepherds Conference held at Grace Community Church, GCC pastor/elder Phil Johnson responded, at some length, to some criticisms of The Gospel According to Jesus which criticisms were published here in 2019. In this episode Dr Clark replies to some of these criticisms and interacts with some audio from that talk. For more on these issues please see the resources included below in the show notes.

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Show Notes

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  1. Dr. Clark, I appreciate your response to Phil Johnson. As an ex-TMS grad who has been a confessional Presby since 2008, Johnson’s rhetoric is very common out of the GCC/TMS/ShepCon crowd – heard it in 1998 and onward. They truly believe they are “true Reformed” in the 21st century and JMA is their hero. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when JMA goes into glory and what will remain of his legacy? Believe it or not in the early years TMS guys were reading Berkhoff, Van Til, and Machen in class, but not anymore! Keep up the good work and those who know you stand with you, brother! Semper Reformada! Tim Beauchamp

  2. Thank you for this episode! Honestly, I was unaware of this controversy but have been influenced by LS unbeknownst to me (having been raised in dispensational Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamental Baptist churches). Like Mr. Beauchamp above, I’ve been a confessional Presby since 2008ish myself, but I didn’t know there was a disagreement between MacArthur and the reformers on this issue (as I used to watch JM and Sproul sitting on the same stage apparently sharing the same gospel). I always felt JM and Steven Lawson’s presentation of the gospel was different but couldn’t put a finger on how.

    • “I didn’t know there was a disagreement between MacArthur and the reformers on this issue . . . ”

      Well, I’ve examined both sides carefully, and I’m still not convinced that there is disagreement. Obviously, it’s one thing to assert a disagreement, and quite another to prove it.

      I urge everyone who reads this blog to listen carefully to Phil Johnson’s message (linked above), follow his arguments closely, then hear Dr. Clark’s response. Let’s all interact with the primary sources, please.

      This is a subject of vital importance. It requires clear thinking and the judgment of charity.

      Proverbs 18.17.

        • Folks should read the resources appended to this post. Y’all should read Mike Abendroth’s reasoning for abandoning Lordship Salvation (not Christ’s Lordship and not the third use of the law). You should listen to John Fonville’s account of what it was like to live under the Lordship Salvation regime. He’s not alone. I’ve counseled lots of refugees from that system. Talk to the guys on the Theocast podcast, who are refugees from Lordship Salvation.

          The case is very clear:

          John MacArthur could not be ordained in a Reformed church and he wouldn’t be eligible for membership in any church that held its members to the confessions. His theology contradicts the Reformed confession at multiple points (as does any version of Dispensationalism) and nowhere does it contradict the Reformed faith more pointedly than in his doctrine of “Lordship Salvation.”

          As I keep saying and as Mike Horton (and others) have been saying since 1992, Lordship Salvation denies the Reformed distinction between law and gospel. Johnson’s critique is a good example of this confusion. Any confusion of law and gospel necessarily jeopardizes the doctrine of justification.

          This was never a Reformed debate. This was always an in-house debate between Nomist and Antinomian Dispensationalists. The Reformed confession is clear:

          Christ IS Lord. We don’t make him Lord and any one who denies the abiding validity of the moral law as the norm of the Christian life is an antinomian.

          We are neither nomists (salvation through law-keeping) nor antinomians (denial of the third use).

          We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Full stop.

          Justification, sanctification, and glorification are by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Good works are nothing more or less than the fruit and evidence of justification. Contra the antinomians, they are necessary as fruit and evidence. Heidelberg 87 says that the impenitent cannot be saved. Heidelberg 114-16 also say that, in Christ, we are bound to the whole moral law and yet we never keep it perfectly and even in Christ it drives us back to Christ.

          This is the confession of the Reformed churches but MacArthur has never been satisfied with the Reformation Guilt, Grace, Gratitude approach. This is why his view is a problem.

          Had he merely re-stated what we confess, there would have been no controversy but he wrote from outside the Reformed confession (though he tried to enlist the Reformed to his cause) and ended up making a mess.

          Ps. I think will give Frank & Phil their wish. I found my 2019 handwritten notes on GAJ. Stay tuned.

  3. It’s easy to hold that position (that confessional reformed theology is antinomian) if holier-than-thou is in your DNA.

  4. I was a MacArthurian for 30 years until the Lord delivered me and sent me to the reformed piety and practice.
    I’m amazed by how Phil Johnson misquotes professor Clark and implies the the reformed repel from the impartives. Its quite frustrating.
    What they’re not getting is the gospel power of sanctification. They don’t believe in its power to justify, sanctify and give assurance of glorification. They believe exhortations to more obedience is the means.
    I’m in a synergistic reformed church. I’m resting, sadly many around me are striving.

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