Heidelcast 134: A Federal Vision Primer

I am interrupting the series on the doctrine of God to talk a little bit more about the Federal Vision. I have received many comments from those who tell me that they do not understand the Federal Vision. What is it? From where did it come? Why should anyone care? In light of those queries and in light of the recent interview featuring a leading advocate of the Federal Vision, it seemed like a good idea to do on the Heidelcast what I have done elsewhere, i.e., to give a basic introduction to the Federal Vision. One comment, which I neglected to mention in this episode, is that the recent interview is just a redux of 2004, when the former Presiding Minister of the CREC was examined by his presbytery and declared to be orthodox. In 2007, however, he co-signed the Joint Federal Vision Profession. In 2017 he reaffirmed all that he wrote about the Federal Vision, including the JFVP. Newcomers to the controversy are understandably confused. Is the leading advocate of the FV theology for it or against it? To some of them, what was said in the recent interview seemed orthodox enough. Why the controversy? Do we not, as was said in the recent interview, have bigger (cultural) fish to fry?

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  1. “in light of the recent interview featuring a leading advocate of the Federal Vision”

    I’m lost.
    Clarification please.
    What recent interview where?
    Did the Heidelcast interview Doug Wilson recently?
    Or did somebody else interview him?
    Thank you.

  2. I believe Dr. Clark was referring to James White’s (Reformed Baptist) interview of Doug Wilson on his Dividing Line videocast/podcast.

  3. Bro. Clark,

    Thanks, this is helpful. Have you heard Doug Wilson’s response that your summary of FV beliefs does not fit him? I would love to hear your take on that.

  4. This is a very interesting interview. Douglas Wilson portrays his theology as, “classic Reformed theology, the kind you would buy at Walmart.” The truth of the matter is that he has added works to the Reformed definition of faith alone. The Reformers defined faith as having three elements: knowledge, assent and trust. BUT, says Douglas Wilson, faith continues into sanctification and that it is a living faith. So cleverly he mixes sanctification and justification. He misapplies the Catechism, saying a living faith is never alone but produces works, and makes that a part of justifying faith, so that it becomes part of the instrument of justifying faith, so that at the final judgment, “it proves my standing before God.” The Catechism does not say it proves our standing BEFORE GOD! The Belgic Confession makes it clear that, “we do good works but we do not base our salvation on them.” By making good works part of the instrument of salvation, to be used as evidence for our final salvation, before God at the final judgment, Wilson mixes justification and sanctification so that works are necessary for justification and salvation. Good works are fruit and evidence, in this life, BEFORE MEN that we have true faith, not BEFORE GOD. As the Confession says, “we are justified in Christ before we do any good work.” This is our comfort, unless we rely on on Christ’s righteousness before God: “We would then always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be constantly tormented, if they did not rely on the merit of the death and passion of our Saviour.

      • Matt,

        1. Were that Wilson’s position or had that been his position since c. 2002, then none of the orthodox critics has seen it. In fact, there is a good bit of evidence in his published writings since then to contrary.

        2. Even were we to restrict ourselves to his recent interview, I think he said something rather different. Good works are not merely evidence. They are more than that. This is the great problem. One can find him saying orthodox things but one also finds him saying heterodox things about the same topic. E.g., as I keep noting, when talking about initial justification he says orthodox things but the very fact that he distinguishes between initial and final is hugely problematic. Then there is what takes place at the alleged final justification. You do understand, don’t you, that the very distinction between initial and final justification is itself an attack on the gospel?

  5. They tell you that you have a correct interpretation only when you tell them up front that you agree 100% with them, and say nothing more.

  6. Matt:
    I quoted Douglas Wilson’s own words, from the interview with James White. Where he says that works “prove my standing before God.” Works are needed to prove, before God, as evidence that faith is real. Works are added to faith, as necessary for final salvation. Salvation depends not on knowledge, assent, and trust, as the Reformers taught and the Confessions affirm BUT on the evidence of my works at the final judgment according to Douglas Wilson. That is not Reformed theology.

    • Good catch, Angela.

      I noticed he can’t answer simple questions without a lot of hemming and hawing, but the answers are simple in Engels’ Children’s Catechism. At first I thought this was just because he seems to work things out for himself from the Bible but he might be saying different things to different audiences. Someone will have to listen to his sermons or the sermons of his proteges to find out. This is how they discovered what Norman Shepherd truly thought and taught.

  7. Thank you Walt.
    Douglas Wilson is not bringing the true gospel. The idea that our works, as evidence that we have saving faith, would be the basis for God’s final judgment to determine our eternal destiny should be absolutely terrifying. As the Belgic Confession says, “Our consciences would be constantly tormented, if they did not rely the merit of the death and passion of our Saviour.” Thank God that there is now no condemnation for those who are in a Christ. Christ and his perfect righteousness imputed to us, as the object of our faith makes it saving, and that provides the incentive to do good works in gratitude for this amazing gift. It sets us free from the terror of trying to prove our faith is good enough to pass God’s judgment by the evidence of works. That is a counterfeit gospel of salvation by works. As the Confessions say, our works are evidence to our neighbour and assurance for us that faith is real. But if these works are made the measure of faith that is saving, then faith is not the simple instrument of our salvation, but works are added to it.

  8. All I know from that interview is he uses a lot of words, and seems to be a bit out of his league. He is not a well spoken individual. He can’t answer questions plainly or simply(which is always suspicious to me), and always has to try to align him with some with some kind of dead reformed figure. I’m a bit suprised by James White.

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