My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

03 May 2006

Deep Waters

A few posts back we were talking about how we test candidates for the ministry in regards to their theology. One of the commentors asked me to make some comments on the Federal Vision theology. The title for this post reflects my feelings about this task.

Comments on the task:
  • If you don't know what the Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue theology is, please don't feel the need to go find out (Pro. 26:17). Don't interpret this post as "Jared really wants all of us to investigate this to the nth degree."
  • Although I've done some reading on the Federal Vision and listened to some of the tapes, I am by no means highly qualified to speak on the subject (which is why I'll mostly quote those who are). Having said that, though, I am charged by God to "insist on" the doctrines of grace (Titus 3:8) and be part of the watchmen for the city of God. The Westminster divines cautioned pastors against bringing up doctrinal controversies just for the sake of controversy. That is, only when the need is real should we take up the debate publicly. I'm still not yet convinced that time has fully arrived in our circles. But as some of you are thinking and asking questions, I feel it would be unfaithful to not answer.
  • Another part of my hesitancy to enter into this topic is that I have purposed with this forum to be encouraging and instructive, but not predominantly polemical. I don't want this to become the page where people go to see a good argument. So, hopefully, this page won't become a place where I take potshots at everybody who makes me itch.

Initial comments on Federal Vision-ism:

  • Names to know: Doug Wilson, Doug Jones, Steve Schlissel, John Barach, Steve Wilkins, Peter Leithart. To be fair, these men cannot be counted as one, consistent group. Within the FV group, there are significant disagreements over specific issues, such as paedocommunion. Also, my disagreements should be seen as intrafamilial discourse; that is, when we debate FVists, we're sitting around the table with family, not taking up the sword against enemies. History to know: this mostly exploded at the Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference in 2002, followed up by the 2003 conference which was structured in a debate format.
  • As I've read and listened to FV materials, I am struck with how much difficulty I've had in simply understanding what they're saying. Over and over again, they've claimed that they haven't received a fair and thorough hearing in the reformed community. This may be true, at least partially. It's also probably true that I'm not quite theologically inclined or informed enough to do their nuanced positions complete justice. But certainly some of the fault lies with FV proponents and their methods of communication. Sometimes I'll wonder if there's any problem at all, other times my forehead will be sore from me slapping it so much in disbelief. Whether my fault or theirs or both, simply the style of writing and discourse makes comprehension fairly difficult.
  • There are parts of FV that have been helpful in my thinking and preaching. One of their major points is the objectivity of the covenant, that when a baby is baptized, he/she is a member of the church. The church and the family is to treat them as such. Our children are not in and of the world, but in and of the church. A little meditation on that idea makes quite a difference in how we treat our kids, in and out of worship.
  • This covenantal objectivity, though, is also at the heart of the disagreements. For FV, the covenant is the thing; we reformed people have been too introspective and too concerned with God's secret decrees for far too long. We need to (they claim) focus on the tangibles (baptism) and not the intangibles (election) when it comes to assurance of salvation.
  • From Pastor David Reese in the RP Witness article "The Reformation's Midlife Crisis" -
    The Federal Visionists want to de-subjectivize the Christian life and save us all from being overly concerned with our personal standing before God. The covenant is objective and is all we can know about ourselves and others in the here and now. Baptism is the mark of the covenant, and therefore baptism is the objective mark of salvation. But since a baptized member of the covenant can apostatize and go to hell, the FV thesis actually provides no assurance for baptized members. The Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone puts the gospel before a person to be believed upon for assurance (WCF, 18). The FVs put assurance upon the shaky ground of a person's persevering performance in the covenant.

Please ask questions for clarification; again, if you haven't heard of this or don't much care, that's fine. Really. But if you're working through it, let me know what's sticking in your craw. Much more could be said and I'll try to post a few more interactions with FV theology on more specific aspects.


Jeff Kessler said...


Thanks for this post and the thoughtfullness you put into it. I agree w/ everything you said esp. w/ the part about how hard it is to follow the argument. I've too listened to tapes and thought: "what's the big deal?" and then a few minutes later thought: "these guys call themselves reformed?".

Let me add one problem I see. Jutification and sanctification are never seperate-a justified person will become sanctified and someone who is becoming sanctified has already been justified-however, they must be kept distinct. Justification is a one time event or act by God alone. Sanctification is an ongoing process and a coopertive effort. To muddle the distictions is serious. This probably has serious implications for sanctification that I've not thought through, but I know it has serious implications to justification: followed through to its conclusion our efforts add to our standing w/ God...and salvation/justification by grace through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9) is destroyed. FVs SEEM to muddle the distinction.

Jeff Kessler

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