Federal Vision Qualifies Salvation By Faith Alone

Because the FV generally denies the existence of merit, many fail to understand whether there is any real concern with the FV’s formulation. But the formulation is elusive. Wilson writes, “Obedient faith is the only kind that God ever gives, and when He gives it, this justifying faith obeys the gospel, obeys the truth, obeys His salvation. Faith that does not obey the gospel is not justifying faith.”5 Wilson is able to deny that a sinner earns anything before God because he affirms that justifying faith is a gift from God, but the kind of saving, justifying faith that God gives to the sinner includes certain virtues.6 Steve Schlissel writes, “Nothing in the Bible teaches a kind of faith that does not obey. Obedience and faith are the same thing, biblically speaking…To believe is to obey.”7 Peter Leithart criticizes the Protestant doctrine of justification as being “too rigid in separating justification and sanctification.” Instead, Leithart proposes that justification and definitive sanctification should be viewed as the “same act” in God’s declaration of the sinner as righteous.8

This radical recasting of the Protestant understanding of justifying faith is clearly akin to the Roman view. Trent’s anathema is worth citing in this light. Canon XII states, “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.”9 Trent correctly summarized the Protestant definition of faith in the act of justification. In Trent’s formulation of justification, God pardons sin and infuses the inward righteousness of hope and charity into the sinner’s heart.10 The language between Rome and the FV is strikingly similar, and the conclusion inevitable because both Rome and the FV accept the same premise, namely, that God can only declare one righteous who is intrinsically righteous. Read More»

Chris Gordon | “What the Federal Vision Still Does to the Definition of Faith” | September 29, 2022


5. In his parabolic polemic against Westminster Seminary California, Wilson makes clear his dissent from the Protestant definition of faith. Wilson writes, “Once two seminary professors at Bestminster Theological Seminary were walking together, heads bowed as they were deep in theological conversation. Their topic concerned the depths of the wisdom of God in the salvation of sinful man, and it was consequently slow going, as though they were try to paddle a canoe across a lake of chocolate pudding. The point of their discussion was to ascertain whether the faith represented by the phrase sola fide was “living faith” or “dead faith.” For it seemed clear to them, as well as to you and me, that it had to be one or the other. But, to be frank, a celebration of “dead faith” did not seem to them to be quite in keeping with the spirit of the Reformation. Not only that, but the folks down at Marketing and PR had positively nixed any such phrase for use on the donors’ brochure. But the alternative was no better. To use the phrase “living faith” made them sound like Norman Shepherd. As they wrestled with the problem, slowly the light dawned on both of them at once. In order to be “alone,” as in “faith alone,” the faith of our fathers could be neither living or dead, but, borrowing a phrase from chemistry, it had to be inert. It had to be colorless and odorless, like argon. And like Martin Luther, there they stood.” Doug Wilson. “Bestminster Best” Blog and Mablog: A Weblog of Doug Wilson, “Presbyterian Fables,” 5 May 2004.

6. Rome says the same thing. Appealing to sovereign grace doesn’t solve the problem when faith, in justification, is re-defined to include sanctity.

7. Schlissel, Auburn Avenue Pros and Cons, 90.

8. Leithhart, Federal Vision, 83.

9. The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Canon XII (Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 2:113.

10. Trent declared that unless hope and charity be added to justifying faith, the sinner cannot be united to Christ or made a living member of his body. The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Ch. 7 (Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 2:96).


    Post authored by:

  • Heidelblog
    Author Image

    The Heidelblog has been in publication since 2007. It is devoted to recovering the Reformed confession and to helping others discover Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    More by Heidelblog ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I appreciate you linking to these resources. As Gordon mentioned early in this quote, it can be difficult to wade through what exactly is being said. Thank you for providing these materials!

  2. I am seeing a Forest Gump meme in my mind that says, “And just like that they went back to Rome.”

  3. And I thought Doug Wilson had divorced himself from Federal Vision in one of his more recent YouTubes (because he was being misinterpreted).

    For the life of me, I am still trying to figure out why Abraham Kuyper has fallen out of vogue. It seems to have happened at the same time as Trump. And I guess it is because we are to form societies outside of the church rather than within the church.

    Thank goodness for The Heidelblog. I am learning.

    • Leslie,

      There is a difference between “distancing” and repenting. Wilson has been “distancing” himself from the FV formally for years but he has never repented of it. In his notorious “No Mas” post explicitly affirmed that he still believes everything he said about the FV, including the Joint Federal Vision Profession, but he simply does not want to be called a Federal Visionist any longer.

      He has always said orthodox things, about the first stage of justification but this is mere temporizing.

      I don’t know that Kuyper has fallen out of favor. He shouldn’t. We have much to learn from him but, for my part, I want to distinguish him from the neo-Kuyperians, i.e., his successors who were much less well connected to the Classic Reformed theology, piety, and practice than he was.

      It was from Kuyper that I learned the idea of the formation of private societies/associations outside the church to engage the culture etc.

Comments are closed.