The forward to Reformed is Not Enough, by Douglas Wilson, is helpful to understanding the context of the Federal Vision debate. I received permission from Pastor Doug Wilson to republish the forward for all to read. I highly recommend the whole book, which you can pick up HERE.
On June 22, 2002, Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS declared that certain teachings at a pastors' conference presented by Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, John Barach and, as the Victorians would have put it, the present writer, involved a "fundamental denial of the essence of the Christian Gospel in the denial of justification by faith alone." Consequently, the four of us were declared to be heretics.
This book project was already well under way when all of this happened and so it cannot be understood as a full-orbed response to the charges. At the same time, given the nature of the subject this book addresses, the materials here can be considered as part of the provocation and something of a response. The basic theme of this book is what brought about the charges in the first place, and in more than a few passages, I have written responsively with the charges in mind.
The charges assumed (which is incidentally not the same thing as proving) that the positions taken by the speakers were "contrary to the Bible and the Westminster Standards." As a result, in the following pages, there is a closer interaction with the teaching of the Westminster Confession than would otherwise have happened. This was not done in order to "get around" anything in the historic Reformed faith, but rather the reverse. It is our conviction that certain epistemological developments since the Enlightenment have caused many modern conservative Calvinists to read their confessions in a spirit alien to that which produced them. As a result, we were taken to task for denying our confessional heritage at just those paces where we were in fact upholding it. This of course does not make us right–as the Westminster theologians themselves told us, and as Steve Schlissel continues to tell us in a loud voice. Something can be "confessional" and wrong. But we are like the obedient boy in the parable–we say the confession could be wrong, but then we affirm the confession. Our opponents say the confession is as right as it gets–biblical Christianity in "its purest human expression"–and then proceed to merrily disregard what the confession actually teaches in this area.
What we always want in all "controversies of religion" is a plain and honest resort to Scripture primarily. But when we do this, we are still mindful of our confessional riches and we love that heritage. Given this, it is a bit much to be charged with abandoning our inheritance when those taking the charge abandoned the standards long enough ago to give it the color of "a historic position."
No single issue in this collective charge against us is very complicated, but, taken all together, things can become significantly tangled. This is because this was a heresy trial on the cheap–it was a veritable broadside of charges with no apparent need to contact us to get any clarification, no need to document the charges with quotations, no need to distinguish four men with different emphases, and so forth. Simple issues when collectively heaped can still make a big mess.
At the same time, this published response seeks to name this imbroglio appropriately. Apart from the specific charges, exactly is going on here? What worldview are colliding? This might seem like a nonsensical question to some–"what do you mean worldviews?" Both sides of this dispute hold to some variation of postmillennial, Calvinistic, presbyterian, Van Tillian, theonomic, and reformed thought, with additional areas of agreement standing off to the side. I bet none of us voted for Clinton. How could there possibly be enough material left over for a fracas?
The answer is found in a contrast we have used many time–medieval versus modern. We believe ourselves to be in the process of recovering what our fathers taught from the Reformation down to the Enlightenment–that is, a Reformed and medieval mindset. We believe our opponents to be sincere and honest Christians, but men who have erroneously made a bad truce with modernity and who have accommodated their theology to the abstract dictates of the Enlightenment. This is why we have been laid on the Procrustean bed of a particular understanding of systematic theology and have had our heretical feet cut off. The irony in this case is that the standard used to judge us were written with the mindset we are returning to and which are drastically misunderstood by the mindset we are rejecting. There will be more on this in the chapters to come.
So the dispute is not imaginary–there are real and important differences between us. We do not believe the differences to constitute heresy–any of the men who have taken this action against us would be welcome to worship at any of our churches and commune with us in the Lord's Supper there. Nevertheless, the differences are real and deep, and the parties that differ ought to be properly named. If it were up to me, building on the acronym TR ("Truly Reformed"), I would suggest that this is a debate between the Enlightenment TRs (ETRs) and the historic reformed. But agreement with this naming will have to wait for further proof.
The basic content of this book appeared originally in a series of sermons preached at Christ church in Moscow. One of the chapters appeared originally in The Hammer, a publication of Community Christian Ministries, while another chapter appeared in Table Talk. The rest was written for the occasion.
Do you want to read up on the basics of the Federal Vision?
I recommend Doug Wilson's book "Reformed is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant."
I would be happy for the sake of peace and clarity to never again use “union with Christ” in reference to a non-elect covenant member. But we still need a biblical way to describe them and their relation to Christ, and that description cannot be the opposite of the biblical description. Christ has non-elect branches, and they are _______________ (what?) to Christ.
Read the full post HERE.
“His views are well known. I can read English.” [Clark]
The blunt answer, which cannot really be softened, is “no, he cannot read English.” Let me take one example that Clark likes to use. He says that FV teaches that baptism puts everyone in a state of grace, which is then maintained by the believer through his own covenantal faithfulness. Is that not a fair summary of what Clark says I teach? Well, here is some English for Clark to read. I think that such a doctrine is bad juju. I believe that it would be what theologians of another era might call a lie from the pit of Hell. I hope that one day I might be privileged to soak this doctrine in lighter fluid and set a match to it. If I ever found this doctrine on a sheet of paper in my office somewhere, I would run it through the shredder. Prior to my weekly dump run, I search my house for any traces of this doctrine so that I might throw it in the back of my pick up truck in order to take it out to the landfill along with all the bottles, empty ice cream cartons, grapefruit rinds, and coffee grounds. So the next time you read Scott Clark saying thatI teach some form of this, you should probably say to yourself, “Hmmm. No speekee.”
Read the full post HERE.
I forget how many times and how many ways I have offered to meet with Scott Clark. But let me reiterate. I will fly down there at my own expense, I will debate with him publicly, I will meet with him privately, and I will even buy a special membership card that will allow me to comment on his blog. If we are drawing historical parallels, the only one being coy here, and refusing to engage in a theological exchange is Clark. So here is the offer put another way. Why doesn’t Scott Clark do for me what he says here what the divines at Dort did for the Arminians, and see what happens?
Read Doug Wilson's full post HERE.
Question: How would you confront someone who denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness?
Ask Doug: I am trying to understand what is meant by God calling Adam and Eve, His prized creation, "good." Did that mean perfect? Did that mean sinless? If so, did they need Jesus before the fall? If not, what would you say they were?
I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead. Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”
I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.
At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into one:
1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit. Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.
2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!
3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.
4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.
5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.
6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.
7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.
8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.
9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).
10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.
I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.