Jim Cassidy, Jeff Waddington, and Camden Bucey were joined by Lane Keister for the Castle Church podcast this week that focused on the Federal Vision. This is a helpful introduction to the issues and they give some bibliographic leads on their website.
The CC podcast is generally in two parts, a helpful survey of recent Reformed works and then a substantive discussion of some issue of interest to confessional Reformed folk. This ‘cast has both and the second part is largely an interview with Lane, whose blog is largely devoted to discussing the FV and often with FV proponents.
There are two things about which I might quibble.
1) The CC ‘cast is quite devoted to Richard (Dick) Gaffin’s theology generally and particularly to his view union with Christ. To readers who are unfamiliar with Gaffin’s career should understand that Gaffin defended Norm Shepherd’s doctrine of justification by grace through faithfulness for about 30 years. As late as 2000 Gaffin endorsed Shepherd’s book on covenant and justification. Not long after that he defended OPC elder John Kinnaird’s fundamentally wrong-headed two-stage doctrine of justification. In more recent years, however, Gaffin, who served on the OPC justification committee, has distanced himself from Shepherd by supporting the OPC committee report. I haven’t yet read his most recent book or his essay in Justified in Christ, so I don’t know how those pieces fit into this puzzle yet but it seems fair to say that Dick’s legacy on justification is mixed. I’m grateful for the CC fellows for their devotion to justification sola fide and I’m grateful for Dick’s change of mind on justification but it seems to me that the history of the Shepherd controversy suggests that one should exercise caution in embracing Dick’s formulation of the doctrine of union with Christ.
2) Though it is mentioned, it is not always completely clear in this roundtable discussion that several ecclesiastical bodies have actually judged and condemned the FV as contrary to the Reformed faith.
Here it is useful to once again remind readers that over the last few years the FV has been studied and rejected by the faculties at WSC, MARS, Knox (in a previous incarnation). More importantly. it has been studied and rejected by the URCs, the OPC, the PCA, the OCRCs, the RCUS, and the RPCNA among others. In other words, this discussion is not just a intramural discussion among a group of friendly fellows sitting around smoking cigars. The FV controversy touches the most fundamental points of biblical and confessional doctrine. The FV doctrines of covenant and justification corrupts that doctrine, which according to Reformed theology, is of the standing or falling of the church and therefore the FV has been thoroughly and completely rejected by the Reformed churches.
The FV doctrines of covenant and justification are not open questions. We may and should study them but the proponents of the FV are not mere dialogue partners. I agree with the CC fellows and Lane when they say that the apparent re-alignment of FV proponents to the CREC, which is fast becoming the home of the FV, will lower the temperature of the discussion, but it’s not the case that we can return to the status quo ante the various ecclesiastical judgments. The stance of confessional Reformed folk toward the FV should be more consistent than the stance of the Netherlands Reformed Churches was toward the Remonstrants after Dort. Instead of holding firm and insisting on repentance of submission to canons adopted at Dort, the churches eventually relented and allowed impenitent Remonstrant ministers back into the churches and the NHK suffered grievously for this decision.
On questions like “what is the gospel?” we must be absolutely ruthless or we will lose our churches. To the degree the FV boys partake of the same spirit that animates the theonomic/reconstructionist movement(s) it will likely never die. They believe that they have made a breakthrough in biblical exegesis and theology and that we just have not caught up with them. In some cases they believe that they are just too brilliant to be understood by mere confessionalist mortals. Consider the example of Norm Shepherd, one of the godfathers of the FV movement. His revisions of justification and covenant have wreaked havoc in congregations and Christian lives and cost hundreds of thousands of man hours in research and labor and committee meetings and given rises to thousands of people of documents. His theology has been explicitly rejected by numerous and well established Reformed churches and there’s not a shred of evidence that he’s the least bit penitent for having troubled the churches. His followers have the same spirit. Because they represent themselves as “Truly Reformed” they will keep winning converts and we shall have to continue to clean up after the FV as parents have to clean up after children.
The FV controversy isn’t an Ivy League boxing match where, after the match, college fellows shake hands and buy beers all round for the boys. No, Reformed folks must realize that this is a covenant of works. The FV folk must repent of the FV utterly and demonstrate fruit worthy of that repentance or they must be excluded from confessional Reformed congregations, presbyteries, classes, denominations, and federations. Further, those ecclesiastical assemblies who harbor the FV should be judged to be at odds with God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed churches.
Statements and studies are only the beginning of the process. FV proponents continue to teach, preach, and exercise influence in the midst of confessional Reformed churches. If these persons and bodies are not disciplined and if that discipline is not made to “stick” then it will all have been just an academic exercise and we will have shown our confession to have been merely theoretical and mere theoretical orthodoxy is dead orthodoxy.