Striking At The Vitals Of Religion: Understanding The Federal Vision (Links Updated)

Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry-FeaturedEnough time has passed since the FV matter was addressed decisively, ecclesiastically, in 2007, that not everyone may be equally aware of what it is and why it matters. Here are some resources:

This post was first published in April, 2013

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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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  1. Throughout the entire time the PCA Report was being compiled, the FV guys repeatedly said “No, you say we believe ABC but we actually do not.” With all due respect, the PCA Report is NOT an accurate assessment of what the FV guys believe. I am no sympathizer with the FV. But I find it disgusting when other people’s views are misrepresented. I am not saying they were intentionally misrepresented, but I am saying that I do not believe the FV people would say that the PCA Report accurately represents their beliefs.

  2. The problem is that the FV guys never think anyone but themselves understand what they are saying, which either means they are horrible teachers and communicators or crypto-Gnostics that think they have a secret knowledge that requires a kiss from James Jordan to impart. The “our enemies are too stupid to understand us” defense was use against Lane Keister at the Leithart trial and is shameful and ought to stop.

    • Being that people are the way that we are (you and I included), it is entirely possible that any or all parties involved were too proud and impatient to truly listen to each other.

      The Reformed churches in America (not the denomination, by the way) largely feel like an unwanted Christian minority that is under attack. There is a lot of truth to those sentiments. However, I feel as though the PCA was a bit hasty with the way they handled the situation with people like Doug Wilson, Auburn Avenue, etc.

      Jared, one of the things that makes me say this is that some of the people who helped write the Westminster Standards believed some of the exact things that these FV guys were condemned/written-off for. From what I know–which admittedly may not be much–this fact has never been addressed. It’s odd to say someone is teaching against the Westminster Standards if they are teaching something that was believed by some of the people who helped write those Standards.

      If you believe that all of the people who have formally spoken out against the FV were motivated purely by doctrinal concerns then I suggest you review what the confessions say about how deep our depravity goes. LOL. Could it be that the people who have spoken out against the FV had mixed motives? Or were there motives completely pure through and through?

      • Bradley,

        I don’t know how long you’ve been following this but it’s been underway since 1974. How long do we have to talk before we come to an understanding? I cannot tell you the number of hours I and others have spent trying to understand the FV. The truth is that the FV proponents were in the process of clarifying their own thought and they were and are largely undereducated and incapable of explaining themselves. Few of them have formal theological training beyond a rudimentary level. There are additional difficulties. Your objections assume that everyone in this process is of equally good will. That is not my experience. The best analogy I’ve developed is that of the Remonstrant/Arminian controversy. The Remonstrants made the same objections. Read Arminius. It’s difficult to see what and Episcopius were actually saying they spent so much time complaining about being misrepresented. Eventually, however, the suspicions of the orthodox were vindicated when, after Arminius’ death, they published their Five Points. That made it clear that, in fact, what the orthodox though the Remonstrants were saying was in fact what they were saying and that they, especially Arminius, had been, to be blunt, duplicitous about what they were saying. Once the orthodox determined what was the case, they held the Synod of Dort and they ruled on the Remonstrant errors despite the continuing complaints by the Remonstrants of mistreatment.

        By 2007 those of us who had been paying attention knew that the FV was about. Are we critics of the FV sinless? No. Are the OPC, the PCA, the RCUS, the URCs, the RPCNA, the RPCGA, MARS, and Westminster Seminary California ALL wrong? It’s possible but it’s unlikely. Are we all too venal and proud to read the FV writers, analyze what they’ve said and what they mean, compare it with Scripture as confessed by the Reformed churches? No, we aren’t. Many of us reached our conclusions independently of each other. Some of the most severe critics, e.g., Wes White, are former Federal Visionists themselves!

        I myself understood part of the we used to call the Shepherdite theology before there was a self-glossed Federal Vision movement but even up to 2004 I didn’t understand the heart of it. Sometime, however, after that I was in congregation in our federation and I heard a sermon by a now-former URC minister in which he said, on the basis of Rom 6, that every baptized person is, “head for head,” “united to Christ” and is, by virtue of their baptism, conditionally endowed with the benefits of Christ. That’s when the light began to go on. Then I went back and re-read Shepherd’s old essay baptism and evangelism and I realized that was what Shepherd was saying back in the 70s. That’s what Sinclair Ferguson was exposing back then. The pieces of the puzzle, beyond the denial of the imputation of Christ’a active obedience (yes, I know Wilson affirms it but it can do it at no cost to his FV system since it’s in the context of the “covenantal” possibility of apostasy, so the IOA is nothing more than window dressing), the denial of justification sola fide, the doctrine of apostasy, the “ex opera” [sic — that’s Rich Lusk’s learned Latin!] view of the sacraments all came together. They deny the biblical and Reformed doctrine of the “double mode of communion” in the visible church (the internal/external distinction). More than that I clearly remember sitting around the pool at the Best Western in Escondido in 2000 or 2001 (Synod Escondido) and listening to Federal Visionists explaining how God imputes perfection to our best efforts toward justification. In medieval terms that meritum de congruo. Mike Horton was there and can testify to it. That’s just incompetence. These fellows didn’t even know that they have repeated one of the grossest errors of the late medieval pre-Reformation Pelagianizing theology of Ockham and Biel. That was the very stuff that the Reformation rejected root and branch in toto.

        In short, they have another spirit. They aren’t Reformed. They aren’t Protestant. They aren’t evangelical and sadly most of them have never listened to the actual orthodox, confessional, and evangelical churches that have pled with them to repent of their errors and embrace the gospel. They have their own Federal Visionist federation (CREC) and most of them have fled to it as a safe haven.

        So, it’s a nice bed time story to tell one’s self that it’s all a big misunderstanding and hasty judgment but that’s simply false. It ignores too many facts and too much history. The committees did good work. Have you read the reports for yourself? Have you read the orthodox criticisms of the FV? Have you listened to the lectures? Have you read the materials linked here? You are sitting in judgment over a lot of folk who’ve done a lot of good work.

  3. Bradley,
    Not to be redundant/pile on but most of the FV have been playing the misunderstood card since when they were reconstructionists and charter members of John Frame’s Worship Children.

    IOW three strikes and your out in my play book. Your mileage of course, may vary. Cool. Just realize the rest of us are a little more jaundiced than you are.

  4. Are the OPC, the PCA, the RCUS, the URCs, the RPCNA, the RPCGA, MARS, and Westminster Seminary California ALL wrong?

    Why isn’t Westminster Phila in that list? (I think we know why Covenant StL isn’t…I’ll give you two guesses and it rhymes with Shmeff Flyers)

  5. I thought I should let you know that several of the links in this post are now broken. This includes all the the Westminster Seminary bookstore links and the Mississippi Valley Presbytery report. I think the rest work.

  6. Wilson’s response to Jordan:

    “The reason for stating it this way is that a theological dilemma is created if we postulate that every baptized Christian is given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and that some of them “commit suicide.” If this is the case, and if some covenant members can in fact commit that spiritual suicide, then this has to mean that Christ is not our perseverance, and that it has to come to us (if it comes to us) in some other fashion. If it comes from within ourselves, then this pushes us in an Arminian direction. If it comes from God, then God is doing something salvific for the elect apart from Christ, which would create a separate cluster of problems. The only way I can see that extricates us from this dilemma is to opt for the classic Reformation understanding of the new birth — that there must be a qualitative distinction in those who are saved, a distinction separating them from unsaved covenant members. They are not all Israel that are of Israel (Rom. 9:6).”

    What, is he trying to climb out of the FV pit and back up on the fence again?

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