“A Denial…Of the Biblical Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints”

That’s the conclusion of R. C. Sproul, Jr. about the self-described “Federal Vision” movement. You can read it for yourself in his column titled, “Two Birds, One Stone” in the February issue of Tabletalk magazine. The focus of the magazine is on N. T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham who has popularized the “New Perspective on Paul” for many English-speaking Evangelicals. Along the way, however, R. C. Sproul Jr took the opportunity presented by the topic to distance himself publicly from the self-described Federal Vision theology (HT: Chris Gordon)

He notes that the FV and the NPP are not synonymous and that the FV is a “difficult- to-define way of thinking” that became visible in early part of this decade. He says that “One cannot deny perseverance, or affirm a system of thought that leaves little room for perseverance, and still claim to be Reformed or confessional. Neither can one claim to believe in perseverance if one affirms God predestined that some would come to saving faith and then lose that saving faith. The doctrine of perseverance has never merely affirmed that those whom God foreknew would persevere but rather affirmed that all those who trust in the finished work of Christ will persevere, will so trust until their death.”

He sees other “problem areas within the movement.” Among these problem areas are “its sanguine [i.e. overly optimistic-rsc] approach toward Rome and [Eastern-rsc] Orthodoxy and the efficacy of their sacraments; Federal Vision’s often muddled language on the relationship between our works, perseverance, and future justification….”

Regular readers of this space will know that this list is true but perhaps not as comprehensive or pointed as it might be. The central FV error is really their doctrine of baptismal union with Christ, that every baptized person is, by virtue of their baptism, united head for head to Christ and thereby granted a conditional, temporal election, justification, adoption etc which is retained by grace and cooperation with grace and lost by virtue of ones failure to do ones part (i.e., cooperate with grace). You can read more about this error in this booklet and in this more technical essay on “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ: The Double Mode of Communion.”

The OPC report, the PCA GA decision, the pastoral advice of the URCNA, the report of the RCUS, and other ecclesiastical documents have noted that at least some of the more public FV writers have overtly denied the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (thus the URCNA has twice re-affirmed that doctrine at Synod 2004, and Synod 2007), justification sola fide, and the very notion that Christ merited the justification of sinners. You can read interaction with these arguments in the volume, Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry. Implied in their denial of the doctrine of perseverance is a denial of the doctrine of election and the FV doctrine certainly undermines the doctrine of sin (how sinful are we really if we can cooperate with grace unto final justification?) and the doctrine of the atonement (Did Jesus die for the elect? Which elect, those who become “elect” by virtue of their baptismal union with Christ or those who are “really” elect who did their part and didn’t lose their place in the covenant granted to them in baptism?).

The very notion of a “final justification” that is contingent upon our intrinsic, inherent, personal sanctity taught by some of the Federal Visionists subverts the doctrine of sola gratia since, if we can lose our place in the covenant of grace or miss out on final justification because we didn’t do “our part” then how is justification “without the works of the law?” (Here we often see the influence of the NPP movement as the FV relies on the NPP re-definition of the phrase “works of the law” so that they can teach justification by sanctification without being guilty of teaching justification through “works of the law.”)

In other words, what is being promulgated under the banner of the self-described Federal Vision movement, found in the CREC and in still in some NAPARC churches (which is being openly contested in at least two PCA presbyteries right now), is nothing less than a form of Arminianism which has been veiled with the adjective “covenantal.”

We should all be grateful to R. C. Sproul Jr for speaking up in Tabletalk. It could not have been an easy thing to do and I guess the reaction from the FV will not be light and easy.

ACTUALLY RELATED POSTS

The Moralist’s Catechism

The Struggle Against the FV on the Ground

Baptism is Not Faith

What’s Going On in the PCA Siouxlands Presbytery?

Thinking About the CRE?

Deja Vu All Over Again

The Sign, the Thing Signified, and Sacramental Union

Proposed by SJC Panel: Indict Leithart

Guy Waters on the Dangers of the FV

Resource Page on the URCNA NIne Points

Speaking a Foreign Language

A Gentle Rebuke to Brother John

A Follow up to the DGM Conference

Follow up to the DGM Conference Pt 2

The FV Isn’t Gone

Reformed Confessionalism as an Alternative to the FV

The FV in Eastern Europe

White and Beach Respond to Minich on Baptismal Benefits

Minich Reconsiders the FV

Does Baptism Save?

Trent, Sungenis, and the FV

Reformed Orthodoxy on John 15

We May Not Be Able to Move On Yet

On Justification By Faith Apart from Works

Reformed Christianity and Quasi-Reformed Revisionism

A Form for Penitent Ex-Federal Visionaries

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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14 comments

  1. A question, and a technical note:

    Question: Has R.C. Jr always denied FV? Or is this a move away from FV for him?

    Tech. Note: The link to “other ecclesiastical documents” seems to be broken.

    • Hi Seth,

      Link is fixed.

      In the article he says that he has opposed elements of the FV theology before. Where and when i don’t know. I guess this is his most public rejection of the FV.

  2. The FV and NPP thought, at least from what I have heard, is a reaction against Antinomianism. Okay, I get it, but why uproot the wheat to get to the tares? The church will always have a mixed multitude and we will always have those who live unrepentant lives in churches until we practice church discipline rightly. And even then there will be covered sin that we will be unaware of.
    But we do not change or alter doctrine to bring people “back in line” — that is false religion, not in faith. Religion is more of works, not of faith.
    But I see it as tinkering with the Gospel of Christ, to bring about transformed lives.

  3. After the initial “Federal Vision” conference at Auburn Avenue (then) PCA engendered great controversy in 2002, the FV men, to their credit, invited R. C. Jr., along with Joey Pipa, Carl Robbins, and Morton Smith, to be “respondents” the following year (2003). R.C. Jr. then wrote about it afterwards, a thousand years ago now in blog time:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20030101-20040901re_/http://www.razormouth.com/archives/00000310.htm

    [If the following link is to be believed, the FV men did not take too kindly to R.C. Jr.’s words back then, and so it will be interesting (if anyone still cares, which, frankly, I don’t) to see how they respond to this recent TT article.

    One other historical detail: R.C. Jr. was invited to be one of the seven FV critics to the “Knox Theological Seminary Colloquium on the Federal Vision” (later in 2003), but had a previous commitment and was unable to attend. My (younger, wiser, and godlier) brother, Chris, was then given the opportunity to participate and contribute. (His outstanding essay has since been quoted in a few books and articles, by Mike Horton among others.)

  4. One quick historical question related to FV’s position on perseverance.

    Did Augustine have a similar doctrine of perseverance? In my reading of his various tracts on election and perseverance it appears that election is not enough to ensure one’s salvation, they must also have the gift of perseverance. Is this just a misunderstanding of his writing or is there an element of this in his writing?

    It always puzzeled me when I read it, but it sounds in some ways like he could agree with anyone that affirmed that some are elected to be part of the body, then fall away. Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Glad RC Sproul Jr. took his stand even though he is a member of that CREC. But it begs the question: why does he continue to stay in it since many of its pastors hold to FV? Certainly he must see where FV leads and the kind of doctrinal confusion and discomfort it gives to saints.

  6. Scott
    As to be expected, the Bishop of Moscow was not to happy with R.C. Jr. -and for reasons know only to a select few ,he is even more unhappy with your article ( as were a couple of his court jesters that commented.).

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