Has Doug Wilson Really Changed His Mind About The Federal Vision?

Since he published his “Federal Vision No Mas” post in January, 2017 several correspondents have written to ask whether he is still a Federal Visionist or to assert that he is not. This is the intended effect of his post: to create the impression that he is no longer a Federal Visionist. He knew that many would read only the headline and draw the inference that he has abandoned the Federal Vision theology, piety, and practice. Apparently, for most of those who actually read the article confusion remains. This is par for the course. One of the persistent tactics of the Federal Vision movement has been to sow confusion about what the movement is. They have persistently argued that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and despite the careful research by pastors, scholars, and ecclesiastical bodies, no one really understands the nuances of the Federal Vision movement. Well, the Reformed Churches have been here before. We had this very same discussion with the Remontrants in the 17th century. See the Rejection of Errors, the Canons, and the Sentence issues by the Synod of Dort.

If one reads his post carefully, one will see that he disavows the name but not the doctrine. He explicitly affirms all the FV doctrine he has taught. He only says that he no longer wants to be called a Federal Visionist. He writes “So I have finally become convinced that the phrase federal vision is a hurdle that I cannot get over, under or around” (emphasis added). He also continues, “I would still want to affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement…”. He refers to the “Joint Federal Vision Profession” of 2007, which mysteriously disappeared from the Federal Visionist website on which it was hosted sometime after this post appeared. It was almost to say, “I affirm the Joint Profession but just try to read the Joint Profession.” Fortunately, it has been preserved for posterity.

In the “No Mas” post he qualifies how he wants to affirm the Federal Vision but this is what he has always done. He has always suggested that almost no one outside the FV movement really understands its complexities. This, of course, is what the Remonstrants said too. The confessional Reformed Churches, e.g., the URCNA, the OPC, the PCA, the RCUS and others spent considerable time reading and analyzing the Federal Visionists. They have produced surveys and drawn conclusions that are publicly available. See the resource list linked below.

Of course, this was always nothing but a rhetorical trick. The intended effect of the headline was to create the impression in the minds of the uninformed that his theology has substantially changed even as he affirms, in the body of the post, that it has not. He still affirms a conditional, temporary baptismal union with Christ that confers upon the baptized a temporary election, a temporary justification, a temporary adoption, and a temporary union with Christ. He still affirms that those who do not sufficiently cooperate will lose those temporary benefits. As he confesses, apostasy remains a “terrifying reality for many baptized Christians.” For Wilson and the rest of the Federal Visionists, it is not enough to acknowledge the greatness of our sin and misery, to trust in Christ alone for our complete salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and seek to live under his gracious reign out of gratitude by daily seeking to put to death the old man and to be made alive in the new. The point of the Federal Vision theology, as with the Remonstrants, was to turn the covenant of grace into a covenant of works and to put the believer back under the law for his salvation.

Here is an fairly exhaustive list of resources on the Federal Vision theology including the most complete analyses of the “No Mas” post (numbers 57–65, “Doug Wilson and the Federal Division”).

For those who are new to this discussion start here: “For Those Just Tuning In: What Is The Federal Vision?


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  1. If it quacks like a duck…

    As one who briefly dipped my toes into confessional Lutheranism, I find striking similarities between them and the FV, especially regarding baptismal regeneration and apostasy from true justification, which to me is not far removed from temporary faith and justification.

  2. In the defense of his ministry, Dr Robert Rayburn from the pulpit, denied he held to federal vision and began to explain all the doctrines he has held to throughout his 30 plus years at Faith Presbyterian in Tacoma, wa. Which all, though not admitted as such, were positions held by Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart and other FV proponents. When I was told it must be hard for me to be less righteous at FPC than where I came from, I was experiencing the impact of FV. These are the dishonest tactics of such men

    • Thomas, where do you fellowship now, I live in the same area and find it difficult to find a reformed confessional church.

    • Conr , I’m not local to the Tacoma area, but know some who are. There is a United Reformed Church plant in Gig Harbor. There are Bible Presbyterian Churches in Tacoma and Olympia. There is an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Olympia.

  3. Thanks for the extensive work you’ve done exposing FV and Doug Wilson. I was a huge fan of his a few years ago before I even knew what FV was and your posts along with meeting a former New Saint Andrews student has completely turned me away from his stuff.

  4. I am afraid that I am a simple-minded soul, so my criterion of discernment for any account of the Gospel is this: ‘Is it being affirmed here that my salvation is wholly and solely achieved by the substitutionary death of Christ and his active obedience on my behalf, granted only by grace and received only by faith?’ If not, goodbye! The natural man wants to justify himself before God and it seems to me that almost every waywardness on the part of the NuCal (with the exception of ESS) comes down to an attempt to save a little foothold for works.

  5. I had read another article here that had been published in Feb 2017 after Wilson posted his “rebrand” article. I can’t find it now. Can you reply with the link?

  6. What’s your view on Schwertley’s “Auburn Avenue Theology”? Is it a good resource on the topic? (If you’ve read it.)

  7. Arthur,
    RSC will rightly abuse me for stealing his thunder here…

    But the issue with that language is the FV error of “objectivity” of covenant. Just because they *say* that confessional language allows them the freedom to impose a false meaning, doesn’t mean that those whose property the original language and meaning is are now obliged to run off, find new words, and start over–leaving the old words and heritage to the robbers.

    To WHOM does God make baptism a seal? To the elect–NOT: everyone who is baptized is now ‘objectively” elect in some sense. And WHEN or HOW does that sealing take place? Unto true faith of the recipient–NOT: in the “objectivity” of the administrative moment. Union with Christ is the benefit received through faith as we believe what baptism promises–NOT: an “objective” achievement (if temporary) of ritual observance.

    Baptism does “set apart” our children. But that is the holiness of 1Cor.7, the visible real-world distinctiveness of the children of believers as covenant people–NOT: an undeniable eschatological testimony about substantial alteration of destiny. Baptism is intended as a source of assurance. We obtain true assurance when we believe the truths of the gospel baptism is intended to convey–NOT: truths of the individual person baptized, as if he was now a “carrier” of a guarantee . Everyone present at the baptism observing or participating is able *by faith* to take advantage of the grace of baptism; and for an infant baptized, the same grace is accessible upon reflection, again by faith.

    The FV make an illegitimate, shameless imposition of meaning upon the historic words of the Reformed’s baptismal form of confession. Forcing the language to their ends, they make it say what they please. Who are they, that those who love the words in their original sense should capitulate? Should the language have been changed in surrender to those who taught presumptive regeneration? Or to those who reduced the sacrament to a bare sign?

    You comment that your earlier upbringing was in a Calvinist or Covenantal Baptist tradition. FWIW, my read is that your comprehension of the forms as containing “seemingly dialectical language” is directly related to a standard Baptist hermeneutic, one that is not restricted to biblical interpretation, but interpretation of all sorts of spiritual literary matter. In fact, it is the same hermeneutic (unchanged) that many former-Baptists have (outstanding example D.W.) who throw them over to the other side; and then adopt things like paedocommunion and FVism.

    The language is not dialectical. It sounds dialectical to ears trained to hear a certain way. The Reformed say: look at signs, listen to words, believe in substance. It is not necessary to add at every point of possible misappropriation another three paragraphs refuting those errors.

  8. Dr. Clark,
    It seems that longer Doug Wilson vaguely loiters in the Reformed World and generally stays out of theological controversy outside of his depth, the more fans he seems to acquire because he’s “edgy”, “radical,” and “different.” So, as a result of this, the fans he’s acquired seem to be gaining more and more of a presence on Facebook, or at least it seems like it. The fact that Wilson has somehow maneuvered out of being considered a heretic by the louder voices of the internet is in one sense impressive… somehow he’s convinced people that what he’s been saying all this time is Orthodox and he’s not heretic… And unfortunately, these fans have been more or less brainwashed into treating your anti-FV/Wilson blog posts as just mere hit pieces instead of well-conceived analysis.

    That all said, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to interact with these people and point them to a *concise* source (unfortunately, reading Dewey Roberts isn’t really an option) that they might be willing to skim under the right frame of mind.

    So, I have a bit of a request that could be answered in one of two ways…
    1) Would you be willing to just make a bullet point catalog of all of the heresies that Doug Wilson has taught, perhaps in quote form, and their source where he’s propagated them? This wouldn’t have to be super long, but enough to demonstrate how far outside orthodoxy he is on a single web page.
    2) Or, would you happen to know a source who has already done this? Perhaps you already have and I’ve missed it, and that’s fine.

    I know it may seem to be an unorthodox request, but I believe something compact would fit the mode of communication of the internet world, and perhaps it will grab peoples’ attention so they can dig more deeply into it. I know it would assist me greatly.

    Thanks for all you do,
    In Christ,
    Steven Dahl

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