Many today have blogged about the various causes for the moral collapse that has occurred within American culture over the past generation. Pastor Tom Chantry has added his voice to this discussion. His basic conclusion can be summarized as follows:
What happened? Many theories abound, and blame has been placed on many sides. I fear, though, that it is very difficult to place the blame anywhere but on ourselves. Is it that we’re losing at politics? We have one party whose entire platform is theft without consequences, adultery without consequences, and now murder without consequences. The other party’s platform is to squeal loudly about all three and then prevent anyone from doing anything about it. There is no moral party for which to vote. Do you want to blame class? Race? Gender? Our moral vacuity crosses all boundaries. The problem is American. It is us; we are a debased and worthless people.
As I reflect on that biblically, I have come to this conclusion: the real culprit is the church. American Christianity is responsible for this mess. I don’t even mean those who have abandoned the central tenets of the faith to accommodate culture; I mean that the believing, orthodox Christians of America are more to blame than any other group. This disaster is ours, and for a very simple reason: we, who were supposed to live as salt and light in the world, have abandoned the concept of morality.
From this basic thesis, Pastor Chantry presents the standard Christian ethics which forms the basis of Christian morality – the law of God as presented in Chapter 19 in the 1689 LBCF. From this, he explains how antinomianism has greatly hindered the witness of the church to the world around us. From my perspective, what is interesting is that he gives four strains of antinomianism: thorough antinomianism, selective antinomianism, homiletical antinomianism, and practical antinomianism. Each various strand is important, but I find the homiletical form of antinomianism quite interesting. He defines it as:
Homiletical antinomianism is the name I have given to those individuals who give lip service to a doctrinal belief in the whole law, but whose theories of preaching are so truncated as to make any moral application impossible. Such individuals will often be able to appeal to one of the old confessions and insist that they believe in the whole moral law and in all three of its uses. However, they strictly avoid any mention of those commitments in their preaching. Their influence, then, may prove more similar to that of the thorough antinomians than they intend.
Pastor Chantry sees this form in many versions of New Calvinism. He argues:
The trend of “gospel-centered” everything which so permeates New Calvinism is perhaps the most influential version of this form of antinomianism. If everything is about the gospel, then there may be no room to call sin “sin” and to pronounce the judgement of God against it. Preaching of the law is falsely labeled “legalism,” even where it preaches only the commandments of God and clearly expresses that the law cannot save.
I agree wholeheartedly. I know that I’ve observed many in the New Calvinist camp adopt lawlessness and dress it up in the fine Sunday suit of “gospel-centeredness.” Now, it’s quite easy to point out flaws in church traditions outside of your own, but I think Pastor Chantry’s commentary towards Reformed and Presbyterian is very pointed.
This has certainly been the case among some Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The last generation has seen the rise and predominance of the redemptive-historical approach to homiletics, an approach which seeks to set each passage in its historical context as a means to preaching the redemption of Christ. Used properly, this method may be a great blessing to the church. However, a radical strain of redemptive-historical homiletics advocates the abandonment of all moral application. Once again, pastors may claim that they believe in the ethical use of the law. They may even present it in the catechisms. However, the law is never preached with any power. Preaching is truncated – a mere recitation of apparently unneeded grace in a context where sin is not actually condemned.
The rise of homiletical antinomianism is a warning to those who hold an orthodox confession. It is one thing to have the right view of the law on your bookshelves, and quite another to promote it in the pulpit. Sadly, homiletical antinomianism may have contributed as much to the amoral climate of America as any of the more explicit forms.
This addresses a very genuine concern that I’ve felt being in Reformed churches over the past several years. It appears that it’s perfectly fine to believe in the third law of the law, but it’s rare to hear preaching or read writing about it. As a consequence, I think that the standards of personal holiness have been dramatically lowered. Of all subjects, the American Evangelical church today needs clarity on the holiness of God and the full application of his law. We need to know the distinctions of the Law and the uses of the Law. We need to hear the Law preached shamelessly (i.e. without all of the qualifications that are usually heard), calling us to repentance and calling the world to the fear of God.
Anyways, for those who would like to read more, I would wholeheartedly recommend Chantry’s series I Blame Us
Part I: The Collapse
Part II: The Law
Part III: The Rejection
Part IV: The Failure
Part V: The Recovery