Was Louis Berkhof an Antinomian?

A challenge to Mark Jones’ theological definitions.

Having read Jones' book on antinomianism I'm surprised by the lack of criticism that he's receiving from within the Reformed Camp for his extremely poor theological precision. What I mean is that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice that chapter five of Jones' book, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest is a protracted argument defending the thesis that good works are necessary for salvation. Here are a few quotes from chapter five:

"If faith is an antecedent condition required of sinners in order to receive pardon of sins—that is, justification and faith are not synonymous—then, as Reformed theologians insisted, good works, prepared in advance by God (Eph. 2:10) and done in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9–14), are consequent conditions for salvation. In other words, to insist that believers perform good works only as their thankful response to the triune God for all that he has done for them may give the impression that they are not actually necessary for salvation."[1] (Emphasis Added)

"In the end, there can be little doubt about the Reformed consensus on this matter. Good works are necessary for salvation."[2] (Emphasis Added)

As a Confessional Lutheran Pastor I am bound by the Lutheran confessions to reject as "false and improper" Mark Jones' contention that good works are necessary for salvation. Article IV of the Formula of Concord directly answers the question as to whether or not good works are necessary for salvation and what the Lutheran theologians had to say on this matter is worth noting:

"Here we must take great care not to draw works into the article of justification and salvation and mix them in with it. Therefore, it is proper to reject the propositiones that good works are necessary for the salvation of believers or that it is impossible to be saved without good works. For these [propositions] are totally contradictory to the teaching de particulis exclusivis in articulo iustificationis et salvationis [on the exclusive clauses in the article of justification and salvation], that is, they oppose St. Paul’s expressions that completely exclude our works and merit from the article on justification and salvation and ascribe everything to God’s grace and the merit of Christ alone, as it was explained in the preceding article. Likewise, these [propositions] regarding the necessity of good works for salvation deprive troubled, distressed consciences of the comfort of the gospel, give them reason to doubt, and are in many ways dangerous. On the other hand, they strengthen the presumptuousness of one’s own righteousness and the trust in one’s own works. The papists adopted these ideas for this purpose and used them to their own advantage against the pure teaching that faith alone can save. Thus they are also opposed to the standard of sound expression [cf. 2 Tim. 1:13], as it is written, “Salvation belongs only to those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works” (Rom. 4:6). Likewise, in article six of the Augsburg Confession [VI, 3], it is written: a person “shall be saved . . . not through works but through faith alone.”[3]

The Lutheran Confessions then go on to summarize the Bible's teaching that salvation, from beginning to end, is by grace through faith alone:

"so that we may be sure and certain of the promise not only that we receive righteousness and salvation but also that we retain it, Paul attributes to faith not only the access to grace but also the basis for our standing in grace and our “boasting in the glory which is to come” (Rom. 5:2). That is, he attributes everything—the beginning, middle, and end—to faith alone. Likewise, Romans 11:20: “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith.” Colossians 1:22, 23]: He will “present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue . . . in the faith.” 1 Peter 1:5, 9]: “You are protected by the power of God through faith for salvation,” and “you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Since, in all theological discourse and polemics, precise definitions are necessary, it would appear to me that Mark Jones has, in part, defined orthodoxy in such a way that unless one confesses that good works are necessary for salvation, then by definition that person is an antinomian. Ergo, all Confessional Lutherans, myself included, are antinomians.

This indeed raises the stakes of the current debate within the Reformed camp re: Antinomianism and Tullian Tchividjian because those prosecuting Tullian and charging him with being an antinomian had better be prepared, if they're consistent, to not only wage this war against Tullian, but against all Confessional Lutherans, and Reformed Systematic Theologian, Louis Berkhof.

I spent some time this morning reviewing what Berkhof wrote regarding the necessity of good works and found that the doctrine that he put forward in his Systematic Theology agrees with the Lutheran Confessions. Said Berkhof:

"THE NECESSITY OF GOOD WORKS. There can be no doubt about the necessity of good works properly understood. They cannot be regarded as necessary to merit salvation, nor as a means to retain a hold on salvation, nor even as the only way along which to proceed to eternal glory, for children enter salvation without having done any good works."[5] (Emphasis Added)

This quote alone demonstrates that Louis Berkhof, by Mark Jones' definition of orthodoxy, was not only a Radical Gracer but also an antinomian.

Maybe the real problem is not that Tullian is an antinomian, but that Mark Jones is a legalist.

χάρις ἔλεος εἰρήνη σοι,



1. Jones, Mark (2013-11-10). Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest? (p. 64). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid p. 69

3. Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (p. 578). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

4. Ibid. pp. 579–580

5. Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (p. 543). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.