Archive for the ‘Federal Vision’ Category

RE: Latitude

If we are taking about the Gospel being at stake, I agree. I have not suggested otherwise. What I have suggested, and I think Jeff and Peter have been a bit vague in their responses, is that if you are agreeing with the substance (i.e. recieving the whole of Christ’s perfect righteousness as our sole and perfect righteousess before God) I think they have not endangered the gospel. If they are simply speaking the language of the tradition in its earlier stages, fine.

Still, I am fully convinced (and I think the historical theologians would back me up) that Calvin, Ursinus, and other believed in the substance of the active obedience of Christ when they affirmed (as the WCF does) that justification was based on BOTH Christ’s obedience and death…. and obedience and satisfaction.

But if that were the case, why not point to Calvin and Ursinus and say I fit into the tradition and I affirm the substance of the gospel and the Reformed understanding of justification.

More likely, they are pointing to Piscator, Gadaker, and Twisse as representatives of an actual denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. The did so for a reason. They sought to take a stand against antinomianism. I suppose that the tradition also includes the neonomianism of the early 18th Century Church of Scotland. The Marrow was condemned by the COS but vindicated by the AP and RPC traditions. Here would be an area of friction but we would know what we were dealing with.

No such defense has been clearly asserted. I am left wondering. Does the FV (sans Wilson) affirm a view of justification tinted with nomism or does it only quibble with words?

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I agree with Darryl Hart’s reading of Robert Rollock. Rollock was an early covenant theolgian and it is anachronistic to demand that his theological language look exactly like it would after various controversies helped us define our more precise understanding.

Rollock, like Ursinus in his Large Catechism, is rolling Christ’s active and passive obedience into His total righteousness:

Q. 87. What benefit accrues to us from the suffering and death of Christ? A. The one sacrifice, by which he has merited for us reception into the covenatn of divine grace, that is, remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, RIGHTEOUSNESS, and eternal life.

Now, the point is not whether you will say it the same way but whether you accept the substance. The substance is that the justified is not just forgiven but stands before God as absolutely righteous. He does not stand with a righteousness like Adam, one that is not consummated, but with the perfect righteousness of the 2nd Adam who consummated the covenant. Do you agree?

Jim Jordan’s earlier comment stated: ” affirm Christ is all in all for us, and that His perfect sinless life, His suffering on the cross, and His glorious resurrection are all credited to us. Christ is the new Adam, obeying God where the first Adam did not obey God.” I take from the is agrees with the substance. Am I right? Does Pastor Meyer’s agree?

Finally, if this is not what Meyers has in mind, please clarify where you leave the justified believer? Back where Adam was? Forgiven but in need of a personal obedience unto righteousness? Does he need to be like Adam and/or Jesus, obedient and faithful unto righteousness? Or is he already, perfectly, and eternally righteous?

To me, the gospel is at stake in the way this question is answered.

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Playful Calvinism


I got suckered. Darryl challenged the seriousness of FV. Harumph, said I – touchily. Of course I’m serious. I mean, I write books. How could I not be serious?

Wrong answer.

I don’t know exactly what Darryl means when he talks about our lack of seriousness, and I don’t agree that a “serious” effort at reform has to follow the channels he seems to suggest. But he’s hit on something important.

“Playful” has not been the most natural modifier of “Calvinist.” But it should be. Doug Wilson has often talked of promoting what I think he calls a “sunny Calvinism.” Calvinists above all other Christians have theological grounds to follow Jesus’ exhortation, Don’t be anxious. There should be a buoyancy and lightness to Calvinists since we believe in a God who is in absolute control over everything. Everything, literally EVERYTHING, is a gift from a God who is infinitely good and who has committed Himself with utter faithfulness to us. And knowing that God is in control relieves us of the burden of having to be. We should be the most thankful, joyful, playful of people. We have far more reason than Chesterton to remember that Satan fell by force of gravity.

Take this as another effort to describe the psychology of those associated with the FV. And with no implication that non-FV Calvinists are automatically dour. Darryl, for instance, is hilarious.

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Sectarians All

Peter asks in an earlier post how much of FV the folks here contributing have read. It points to a psychological trait that I am still trying to understand, not simply on Peter’s part but in several interactions I’ve had with folks who identify with FV. It is a certain touchiness about being criticized. When attacked, FV’s defense is to claim that it is well represented in the mainstream Reformed tradition. As James Jordan has insinuated, the mainstream (read: PCA and OPC) are really sectarian; FV is mainstream and catholic.

That perception conflicts with other descriptions of FV on this blog. Doug spoke about FV being a conversation among a select group of pastors and theologians. He also wrote about the importance of worship each Sunday and that FV’s ambitions were not much grander than that. Jeff Myers seconded Doug’s motion.

So I’m still trying to figure out FV’s psychology and sense of purpose. The reason FV has attracted so much attention is not because it’s views have been widely promulgated. James Jordan can claim that FV’s views are out there for anyone to read. But while that’s technically true, FV has not pursued an active publishing program in the “mainstream” publishing world. Auburn Ave and Canon Press have published most of the collections or books commonly associated with FV. That means you have to look fairly hard for FV. It also insures that FV will only circulate as it generates controversy, not as it makes proposals in the wider world of Christian publishing.

I don’t point out the in-house character of FV to impugn its character or motives. I am a great advocate of the local and the provincial. I have even been criticized on this blog for conceiving of the Reformed tradition in such a narrow way. But could it be that FV is even narrower than the narrow tradition I have affirmed, that FV has not circulated outside its local habitat in ways sufficient to justify its own claims to inclusion and catholicity? In other words, do FVers need to get out more?

Back in Feb. (“Who Defines ‘Reformed’?”) Peter wrote about the controversy over FV as one between the center and the margins. He ended by speculating whether FV will remain on the margins and be a passing fad, or whether it will create the new center. I for one am still wondering if FV wants to create that center, if it really wants that responsibilty. I don’t think it has acted that way. It seems instead fairly content to work on the margins, but then get upset when the center tells FV it is marginal.

So does FV want to be the center or not? Does it really want to define what Reformed means/is? If FV’s pater familia, James Jordan, says Reformed is third down on the list of his Christian identities, how much is FV invested in Reformed Christianity?

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Following upon on my earlier post, let me continue.

To reject a covenant of works based on perfect obedience is to create real confusion (pastoral and academic) over the nature of justification. Some argue that the law/gospel distinction is Lutheran and not Reformed. This is because they have not read enough of the Reformed tradition and because they have failed to understand the controling nature of the Covenant of Works as synonymous with the law.

This creates a great threat to our doctrine of justification. Now, I realize that law/gospel is not necessarily absolute and that the law serves the gospel even for the regenerate (3rd use of the law). Still, at the point of justification, law and gospel are absolutely antithetical.

Therefore, although the faith that justifies is the same faith that works by love (Gal. 5:6) we are not justified by the working or the love. Rather faith, acting as an instrument, recieves and rests upon Christ’s benefits (faith’s passive office) and goes on to working through love (faith’s active office).

Further, I realize that faith, in its passive office of resting and recieving is a living and active faith that takes hold of Christ. No one is denying this fact. Rather, we are trying to make clear that faith, as an instruement, is not a work that leads to justification. Rather, it is a faith that takes hold of rest.

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Clarification of dates

There is a bit of confusion (cause by me). This discussion was slated to run from Sept. 17- October 5.

It the contributors feel this discussion is grinding to a halt, we can certainly end early. If there is more to be said, we can press on until Wed. as originally planned.

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Peter wrote:

“Bill, I’m not sure which of my formulations you found confusing. Could you clarify.”

Peter, sorry to open a line and leave it off the hook. My last post grew rather large.

What I am thinking about is the “deliverdict.”

I am thinking it could mean a couple of different things:

1) A way of speaking of our translation from slaves of sin to sons of God like adoption (which Turretin placed under the loci of justification);

2) Or a way of folding a Murray-like definitive sanctification into our justification (something that would raise real problems (why not be justified by our own definitive sanctification rather than Christ’s merits?).

2) Or a way of denying the continuing reality of our total depravity, thus blurring our doctrine of simul iustus et peccator and establishing a kind of striving toward perfection (which I doubt you are saying).

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Grace, Merit, and Innocence

I would like to draw us back into the details. Especially with regard to the question of covenant and its relationship to justification. I was glad to see so many of the participants affirm the Confession. I am still a bit confused by Peter Leithart’s formulations.

Douglas Wilson has argued that the Reformed should, according to their own tradition, affirm God’s graciousness to man even before the fall from innocence. He will be pleased to know the RPCNA Testimony declares, “Covenants are God’s gracious instruments for the accomplishment of His purpose that the creation should serve Him (RPC Testimony, Introduction, paragraph 1.” Included here is the Covenant of Works/Life/Nature. The RPCNA Testimony affirms grace before the fall. So does the vast majority of the Reformed tradition. So far so good?

It is important that the graciousness of the Covenant of Works not be misunderstood. The Reformed Orthodox have understood that the use of grace here is nuanced. The pre-redemptive covenant was gracious, not in its consummation, but in its establishment. It was gracious of God to condescend to enter into covenant with His creature. It was gracious for God to transcend the stark eternal boundries of the Creator/creature relationship and seek fellowship with Adam. It was gracious to the race to offer consummation and higher life in response to the commanded obedience of the federal head. Here, at the point of entrance, is grace. Thus, the Reformed have skillfully steered between the Scylla and Charybdis of medievial realism and nominalism.

Against the via antiqua (realism) the Reformed affirmed that the Creator/creature distinction is so ultimate that no works, fallen or otherwise, can bind the justice of God on the basis of strict, raw (to use Doug Wilson’s phrase) merit.

Against the via moderna (nominalism) the Reformed affirmed that the Creator/creature distinction is not so ultimate that God gracious provision in covenant could not bind the Creator’s justice on the basis of merit according to the terms of the covenant.

Now, between the poles of realism and nominalism that Reformed have found themselves on various points of the spectrum. For some of the Reformed Orthodox, the relationship of merit according to the pact can stress the law as a holy transcript of God’s holiness (bringing it into closer connection with realism… here I would place Turretin, Owen). For others, the stress is on the Scotus school of volunatism seeing God’s covenant requirments as a reflection of soverign will and free choice (here we might include David Dickson and Samuel Rutherford).

The beauty of the position is that while it enjoys aspects of the realist/intellectual and nominalist/voluntarist traditions, it is free from the speculative abuses. It is rooted in the biblical conception of covenant. God has graciously made a covenant and thus His justice is REQUIRED to bless the works He has promised to reward. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due (Romans 4:4).” The stress here is on the covenant merit upon which the Covenant of Works would be consummated by the federal head. Therefore, we are able to speak of grace and merit in the covenant of works.

Douglas Wilson has suggested that, if Adam had stood, his DUTY would have been to give praise to God. I have no problem as long as we can equally say that his RIGHT was to the covenant blessing of consummation. It is always a creatures duty to give praise to God. Only according to the blessings of the covenant is their a right established against God’s justice.

This is no small matter. It strikes at the heart of the work of the 2nd Adam. More to come.

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For curiosity’s sake


A few comments in the last week have made me curious about how well-informed the non-FV participants in this discussion are about the FV. Can you list what works you’ve read?

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The Center of My World

I don’t believe this discussion has meandered, appearances to the contrary. We began with what deficiency in the Reformed world we thought we were trying to address, and from that beginning we have talked about tradition, ecclesiology, apostasy, sacraments and more. With a few exceptions, we have pretty much covered the waterfront.

In this post, I would like to contextualize the broader debate. In all the things we have studied, and believe ourselves to have learned, our response has overwhelmingly been to implement these truths in our local churches. I acknowledged earlier that we were a movement, but a pretty low key movement — we have not taken the show on the road, trying to get all the Reformed churches in America to do it our way. To the extent we have become high profile, this has largely occurred because of the actions we have been forced to take in self-defense.

We return from conferences with ideas for modifying our liturgy back home. We read one another’s books, and we call one another with questions. But, at the end of the day, if the session approves it, the changes are made in our own churches, where we have the authority to implement them. We have not behaved in a way that would indicate we were on a crusade to fix the Reformed world. We have identified certain problems that we have not wanted to perpetuate in what we were doing, and we have been encouraging one another in that worthy endeavor.

We are not trying to make the Reformed world all better by insisting that others conform to what we are doing. How many times have FV folks brought charges against non-FV brothers at presbytery? None. How many seminary professors have we tried to force out of their positions? Again, none. How many resolutions have we brought to our presbyteries or assemblies that condemn other brothers in the Reformed world? None. In short, when measured by ecclesiastical means, our manner of “fixing” what we believe to be deficient in the Reformed world has been largely to mind our own business, and tend to our own corner of the vineyard. If others are hungry for what has fed us, they can buy our books, or come to a conference, or something like that — but over 95% of all the action is happening in our churches. And speaking for our congregation, the overwhelming majority of them do not know what the Federal Vision is. They come to church to worship God through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and not to have a doctrinal pep rally directed at that other group across town.

So the place where we have implemented what we are talking about is in our worship on the Lord’s Day. The Federal Vision conversation is like a seminar in med school. Worship on the Lord’s Day is dealing with the actual patients. The two are related, but they may not look like each other at all. On the Internet, it can look like all we are doing is disputing. But I have a day job, and it consists of preparing sermons, counseling parishioners, teaching, meeting with the session, mediating conflicts, and all the rest of it. And all of this, including the time we have had to spend defending ourselves, has been turned back to focus on worship. Every seven days we have the privilege of laying a new foundation for a new week, and that foundation is the worship of the triune God.

Before our call to worship, we have a few brief announcements, along with a psalm lesson of the month — the entire congregation is learning to sing in four parts, and so we work on one psalm for a month. Then there is a meditation and preparation for worship, with the choir singing from the back.

The call to worship comes next, where I lift my arms and proclaim, “Let us worship the triune God.” The congregation stands: “Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” “And also to you.” After a prayer of adoration, we sing the Sanctus, or the Gloria in Excelsis, or something comparable. There is a short exhortation, and we confess our sins together. I declare forgiveness in Christ, and we stand again and recite the Apostles Creed. Once a month, we sing the Creed. Immediately after the Creed, we recite that Lord’s Day lesson from the Heidelberg. We then sing several psalms or hymns, which is followed by our Scripture reading from the Old Testament, and then from the New. “The word of the Lord.” “Thanks be to God.” Then comes a time of prayer on behalf of the congreation led by three or four men. We sing another psalm or hymn, and this is followed by the expository message. After the message, we sing the Lord’s Prayer, and then the select offertory. The offering is collected in the back of the church beforehand, but is then brought down to the front while we are singing. We sing another psalm or hymn, at the end of which the elders come forward to distribute the elements of the Supper. A very short word is spoken over the Table. While the bread is being served, we sing and partake, and while the wine is being served, we sing and partake again. When we are done, the entire congregation stands and lifts their hands to sing the Gloria Patri, followed by the final charge and benediction.

This is the center of my world; this is the foundation of each week that God gives me to live. Growing up as an evangelical, I am accustomed to the parachurch world and certainly know what it is like — not like this! And so I have to confess it is a bit thick being told that we are not churchmen. It is like a stranger on a plane telling me I must not love my wife because when he met me ten minutes ago, I was traveling by myself. He can’t know enough to say something like that.
But speaking of travel, as I make my way around the country and visit with like-minded churches, the same kind of worship is happening everywhere. Moreover, the families participating in all this are young, and they are excited about it.

And when visitors come to visit us, they can taste and see if what we are doing is Christ-honoring or not. If we are adorning the doctrine we profess, to whatever extent we may be adorning it, it can only really be seen in the worship and communities of our local churches. So we welcome any of you all to come and worship with us, sitting down at the Table of the Lord together. That (and only that, I suspect) will really contextualize what we have been talking about here.

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