Years ago, in the second house in which Mrs Heidelblog and I lived, water seeped into the basement every time it rained and it rained frequently. As the ground became soaked water would push in and up through the basement. We had a pump under the stairs to keep the basement fairly dry but it could get a little damp. Even when it was completely dry we could see residue from the water. It left a mark. Before we could sell and move I had to chisel out all of the fine little cracks through which water seeped. Then I had to fill those cracks with a material that would prevent the water from getting in. The Christian life is a lot like our basement and theological error is much like the water that seeped in. Theological error, like water, seeks its level. We might think that we might be able to separate books on “social issues” from theological questions but when the books are written by proponents of a serious error, like the water in my basement, the error tends to seep in and discolor everything.
In a recent volume on “justice,” published by a notorious advocate of the self-described Federal Vision, the authors write, “The perfect (i.e., mature) man, Jesus Christ, was self- less. The immature and fallen man is autonomous…” (p. 16). This categorical distinction (immature/mature) as applied to Adam and Christ is borrowed from the federal vision movement. Our minds are not as compartmentalized as we might like to think. On reflection, it should not strike us as remarkable that authors who think x (that Adam and Christ are properly considered under such a category) should think x not only when they are writing theology but also when they are writing or teaching ethics. After all, it is what they think. It is how they understand Scripture and it is how they see the world. They do not set aside their basic theological convictions in order to write something that is not explicitly theological.
This peculiar way of thinking about Adam and Christ is found in one of the godfathers of the self-described federal vision theology, James Jordan, who is also one of the godfathers of the theonomic/reconstructionist movements. He published it in a 2004 volume entitled, The Federal Vision. The intent of the distinction is to subvert the Reformed doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, i.e., the teaching that all that Christ did for us, all his righteousness, is credited to believers by grace alone (sola gratia) and received through faith alone (sola fide). There’s a chapter on this in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.
It has been long enough since the Federal Vision controversy that there is a generation that is only vaguely aware of it, if they are aware of it at all. There are others who, for reasons I do not yet understand, simply ignored the matter, even though it goes to the heart of the Christian faith, “the article of the standing or falling of the church” (Alsted, 1618) and the “axis” (Calvin) around which the entire Christian faith turns: how sinners are right with God. Our problem was never “immaturity.” It was sin. Adam was not created “immature.” Glorification was not maturity. Adam was created “in righteousness and true holiness,” that we “might rightly know God” our Creator, “heartily love him, and live with him in eternal blessedness” (Heidelberg Catechism 6). In other words, we were created able to obey God. Mysteriously, tragically, we chose to disobey God and to plunge ourselves into sin and death. Further, Scripture never describes Jesus as “mature” for us—I am well aware of Luke 2:52— nor does it teach that his maturity was imputed to us. Rather, it teaches that his righteousness was imputed to us.
The effect of using this category, rather than the biblical categories, is to muddle the covenant of works with the covenant of grace and to re-cast our relations to Jesus and to blur the distinction between the Savior and the Saved. In short, it reflects a seriously deficient doctrine of humanity (anthropology) and Christ (Christology) as well as a erroneous doctrine of salvation (soteriology).
Theological error should not be ignored. It seeks its level. It manifests itself in places we might not expect. It is up to us to know the signs and to pay attention. Naiveté in such matters does not serve us well. Who knows how many unsuspecting readers are being unknowingly catechized in the Federal Vision theology as they are trying to learn something about justice. Readers will be better served looking elsewhere for instruction on the nature of justice.