Carl Trueman: Luther on Justification and Sanctification

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals have released the first two episodes of The Mortification of Spin with Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt. It’s billed as a bi-weekly casual conversation about things that count. In the inaugural episode, “Rock Star Pastors in Las Vegas,” Carl Trueman draws upon his expertise to address the recent justification/sanctification debate. Much of the early material contains quips about Christians and culture, but Trueman throws his hat into the ring around the 13:37 mark:

Another aspect of this controversy is that some of the prime movers in what one might call the antinomian camp are Presbyterian ministers. They subscribe to the Westminster Standards. Westminster Standards—very very clear, it seems to me, on the importance of sanctification—on the importance of imperatives in the Christian life. If you really think that Luther nails it—the early Luther nails it—and he’s much better than the Reformed, then guess what, you should be a Lutheran pastor. You shouldn’t be taking your money from a Reformed denomination and teaching a kind of quasi-Lutheran anti-nominanism. That’s breach of vow. That should be called out. It’s not happening in my denomination, so it’s not my job to call it out. But that should be called out by the statesmen in these denominations.

That’s certainly not your typical warm-up. It’s more 1988 Mike Tyson than “Sugar Ray” Leonard, even though Trueman dances around his referents. Later into the program, Trueman addresses (albeit semi-indirectly) Tullian Tchividjian’s approach in Jesus + Nothing = Everything, arguing that such an approach is opposed to Luther’s later theology and ecclesiastical biography. Was Trueman too strong or perhaps even over the line? Was he on the mark? Listen to the new program and comment below. It doesn’t appear they’re open for comments themselves.

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15 Responses

  1. David Morgan

    I have a great deal of respect for Dr Trueman, and there are few living theologians whom I more eagerly read/listen to when I find new material by them, but in this case I’m not convinced that he fairly represented Tullian’s theology and pastoral application – the paragraph beginning with “I preached from…” and the subsequent one in http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2012/08/23/the-pastoral-practicality-of-law-gospel-theology/ seem to give a very different picture of how to respond in these situations than what Dr Trueman accuses him of doing at 10:25-11:01. Tullian also believes in the third use of the law (I think he says that in Justin Taylor’s interview with him on his book “Surprised by Grace”).

    That’s not to say that the historical assessment is not correct, nor that there isn’t any cause for concern, of course.

      1. David Morgan

        Sounds like a great idea for an episode of Christ the Centre! (Although a discussion between Mark Jones and Michael Horton on anti-nomianism and covenant theology might be even better)

  2. I listened to this last night while doing some editorial work on an upcoming book on antinomianism, so it was kind’ve ironic to listen to this unexpected discussion.
    Trueman is dead-on—first when it comes to confessional subscription, and second when it comes to the pastoral problems of this modern version of antinomianism. What he said about the Christian who abuses his wife is the sharpest example; it puts it into clear perspective.
    I’m also glad that he put Luther in greater historical context, this is needed by those who dive into Luther without an understanding of the Reformer’s own growth in thought, or the intellectual climate that he was writing in. Everybody should listen to this (and buy the book on antinomianism when it comes out!).

  3. I will listen to this mp3, and Mark Jones’s new book is on my reading list, but I continue to maintain that the term “antinomianism” was used (at least in the 17th century) for a wide variety of beliefs and practices, some of which simultaneously affirmed the third use of the law.

    It is also fascinating to observe that the antinomian controversy was its fiercest in 17th century England. I think that the contested nature of the Church of England and the failure of puritans to both unify and to wrest the sword of the state in enforcing Reformation account for this. There were licentious people on the continent, but the continental Reformed – including Witsius, who was asked to moderate a debate between English disciples of Richard Baxter and Tobias Crisp – had tranquil ecclesiastical environments in which to respond pastorally to authentic rejections of the third use of the law.

    T.D. Bozeman has written an amazing book entitled “The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638. The silence of contemporary Reformed historical theologians on Bozeman’s work is deafening. I say that, not quite sure myself, whether the book is an altogether helpful or unhelpful “amazing.” Still, I think he demonstrates well enough that many alleged antinomians were simply reacting against a rigid, unrelenting and unforgiving moralism, legalism and pietism. And I think those things characterized 17th century English churches because puritans could not get the State to enforce the Reformation in England, so they turned inward and attempted to Reform individuals with a vengeance. If that has the ring of truth at all, then even when we disagree with men like Tobias Crisp, we need to see that most of them were simply reacting against something truly disgusting and bad.

    Enter men like Michael Horton and Tullian Tchividjian. They are not antinomians, if words mean anything. They both affirm the third use of the law. If there is any comparison to be made between them and the majority of the 17th century English antinomians, it is that they are reacting against a “leading with the sanctification foot,” or a confusing of justification and sanctification, or an obscuring of justification by sanctification.

    In that regard, at the very least, I am with them.

      1. No – for many reasons. For one thing, Bozeman is writing about the pre-civil war period of the 17th century. For another, I am hard-pressed to think of any pastor in 17th century England (or today) whose life and practice are always in 100% conformity with the Westminster Standards. It seems entirely possible to articulate orthodox theology and practice in creedal form, and yet fall short of it in practice. Don’t we do this on a daily basis in our Christian lives? For yet another, it seems to me that there would have to be such a thing as Puritanism with a creed that summarizes what it means to be a Puritan, and that all Puritans would have to subscribe that creed – in order for your question to necessarily follow from what I said.

        Please note that I am not claiming any kind of infallibility for Bozeman. He may very well be wrong about many things. But he provides enough primary source evidence for enough points to convince me that he is not all wet. I am concerned that his book has been in print for almost a decade now, and no one seems to have seriously engaged it – least of all conservative, Reformed historical theologians.

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