The Federal Vision

Conversation with a (Real) Federal Vision Pastor

Pastor Wes White, a critic of the Federal Vision, recently posted an imaginary conversation with an Federal Vision minister, which he claims represents the Federal Vision. He was challenged on his understanding of what a pastor and advocate of the Federal Vision would say, and therefore put together a series of quotes to back up his claims here. We believe that he does not treat these texts in their proper context. Pastor White appears to be unwilling to admit that he has taken quotes out of context, and he also is unwillling to contact the individuals who wrote them to clarify what they meant.

We felt that the best way to illustrate his faulty understanding was to replace his imaginary Federal Vision Pastor with a real one.

Pastor Douglas Wilson, of Christ Church, in Moscow, Idaho answers these same questions. Pastor Wilson is a proponent of the Federal Vision, and drafted the Joint Federal Vision Profession. Prior to the following recording, he had not read Pastor White's imaginary conversation.

note: I apologize for the typo at the beginning. A new version is being created, but will take a while to upload.

Conversation with a Federal Vision Pastor from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

Comments (15) Trackbacks (0)
  1. So, I take it that you guys would agree with me that these things are false and/or heretical:

    “The clear implication of these passages is that those who ultimately prove to be reprobate may be in covenant with God. They may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc.” Steve Wilkins, Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons, 264.

    Lusk holds that “the Westminster standards teach that in baptism, the thing signified—which is nothing less than union with Christ, regeneration, and forgiveness—is truly sealed, conferred, applied, and communicated.” “The Biblical Plan of Salvation”

    Joshua Moon: “In attributing to all the baptized some form of union, adoption, new life, and forgiveness, TE Lawrence is speaking the language of our tradition and of our Scriptures. By refusing to attribute absolute and final union, adoption, new life, and forgiveness, TE Lawrence is directly in line with our standards.”

  2. Shortly after the 10:00 point in the interview Wilson makes reference to “…the kind of efficacious justification.” This would clearly imply that he believes there is more than one kind of justification in Christianity. Could you please clarify this?

    If that wasn’t what was intended in the remark, then, at best, it is still sadly indicative of the convoluted, and thus harmful language that for some reason has always plagued the FV movement.


  3. Pastor White,
    a few small quotes without their context (and I already mentioned to you about the way you treat texts and their context) is insufficient for me to comment on, however, you should find everything you need in this article:

    A text taken out of its context, is a pretext. I won’t automatically agree with the context, but I certainly don’t want to agree with pretext.

  4. Daniel,

    Surely you must have the gumption to at least come out and say that these statements in themselves are highly problematic!?

  5. Hey, this is progress! Now we at least have an admission that their really is a “Federal Vision,” and it is actually being “advocated,” by someone. Does this mean that the Federal Vision is no longer merely a loosely defined “conversation” about controversial things?

  6. Daniel, your inability to condemn the most basic errors makes your whole project suspect, even when you try to make the Federal Visionists sounds orthodox.

    Here’s my reply to your conversation:

  7. Phil, these snippets, abstracted from their context, could certainly be problematic. That’s different than saying they are. How can you say, “in themselves” problematic? Have you seen how Wes White quotes people? Michael Moore couldn’t do a better job. I would have to read them in their context first. I know nothing of Lawrence or Moon. And I probably wouldn’t use Wilkin’s language myself (I’ve read him elsewhere). But I won’t condemn a snippet.

    Andy, yes – the “Federal Vision” is something – it is a vision – a vision to bring back the correct emphasis on covenant. And yes, it is advocated. But that does not bind it into a carefully defined “theology.” The closest you’ll get is the Joint Federal Vision Profession (which you can find on this site). And that is mostly saying “here’s where we agree.” “Federal Vision” was the name of a conference. So you will find people who advocate this “federal vision;” this vision to see life more covenantally. But they won’t all agree by a long stretch.

    I can condemn error; I won’t condemn snippets that have no context. What I CAN affirm, is that I believe in the perseverance of the saints, Justification by faith alone plus nothing, and that works/sanctification, while being inextricably attached to justification (Calvin, Institutes III.26.1) are not in any way the basis for justification, or contribute to justification in even the tiniest measure. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ’s imputed righteousness alone.
    And as Doug Wilson has pressed in many sermons, being in the covenant, being baptized, and being in the church only increases a persons condemnation if he doesn’t have faith.

    Let me ask you, “What must one do to become a Christian?” If I were to make a caricature of what you and some of your TR friends seem to preach, it would be a legalistic formula of getting your solas straight (though I admit I have not listened to your sermons). I could make an “imaginary conversation with Pastor White” but I won’t, because I’ll just ask you. I’m absolutely positive your response will be completely orthodox no matter how you come across. And I’ll trust your own words. Please return the favor and believe Pastor Wilson and myself when we say “we affirm the solas.”

  8. Daniel,

    You shouldn’t need to see an entire theological treatise in order to determine if a particular statement made in it is wrong. I mean, if I heard that someone declared that “the God of the Bible is evil and responsible for sin,” yes, I will absolutely and empahatically declare that it is wrong without needing to see the “broader context” in which it was said.

    Similarly, if I hear someone say, “They [the reprobate] may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc.”, I don’t need more info in order to know that it is un-scriptural in ANY context. If you disagree, then would you please explain to me in what possible “sense” such a remark is ever conceivably biblical? If you can’t, then, yes, it is “in itself” problematic.


  9. Wes,

    Why not try interacting with Wilson instead of with his “attack dogs”?

  10. Phil,

    What if I quoted your pastor as saying “God is dead” in a sermon and left it at that? Would you condemn him without endeavoring to find out the “broader context”? Would you need more info in order to know that such a statement is un-scriptural in ANY context? Or would you want to, perhaps, hear the rest of the sermon?

    Let’s try it a different way. What if your pastor said “By rejecting the Son of God, some of those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit show themselves to be reprobate. By rejecting the Son of God, some of those who have experienced the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come show themselves to be reprobate. They are a field which produces thorns and thistles rather than a crop, therefore they will ultimately be condemned and burned by the farmer.” Would this need some broader context? Is it problematic “in itself”?

  11. Jared,

    You, as is Daniel if he remains silent, are avoiding my actual question. It is well known that the Reformed faith has historically never taught that SAVING GRACES like adoption and the forgiveness of sins are somehow temporary in nature, and indiscriminately bestowed upon all who are baptized. The internal context of Wilkins’ statement is sufficient to show that he clearly opposes this position.

    So let my sharpen the focus of my question, and redirect it to you: If you disagree, then please explain to me how the notion that SAVING GRACES like adoption and the forgiveness of sins are ever temporary in nature, and indiscriminately bestowed upon all who are baptized, is biblical.

    There are also some other important, underlying facts in all this that need to be recognized here. First, the context in which the FV statements that were cited by Wes White above, as many others, is not a mystery. Anyone can find the context out for themselves if they will simply make the effort to do so. Second, no fewer than 7 member churches of the NARPC have indeed already done just that. As a result, they have with unified voice determined that many aspects of FV, including the ones cited, are erroneous and even heretical, and that as a whole the FV is a system of doctrine that is clearly contrary to Scripture as confessed by the orthodox Reformed faith. In other words, the Reformed faith has, by and large, carefully studied the FV, and consequently denounced it. For these reasons, I’m quite frankly not interested in reopening a theological debate over such things on this backwater blog (relatively speaking).

    Despite these facts, of course, Federal Visionists still persist in their mantra that they are so misunderstood. Poppycock (for all the reasons just given). This asinine claim then seems to morph into two basic forms. Some, like Wilson’s doctrinal cohort James Jordan, utter fire-breathing divinations about how the Holy Spirit has wrathfully confused the understanding of all who may happen to oppose the FV. Others, such as Daniel and yourself, seem to ridiculously insist that if certain FV leaders were only granted a personal interview, then the numberless pages of material that they have already written would miraculously come into sharp relief, and the Reformed world would collectively fall on its knees to repent of its previous misreading of their position, and then admiringly wonder at the heretofore unrecognized genius of men like Wilson and Wilkins. Both tacks are utter nonsense, and breathtakingly narcissistic.

    So, believe what you will. But don’t claim to have somehow been misunderstood, or to understand Scripture in the same way that the orthodox Reformed churches historically have, and do, as is laid out in their catechisms and confessions of faith. I truly hope that you (and Daniel) will carefully reconsider your position, come to see your error, and then repent of them.

  12. Phil,

    Thanks for the response. What is clear (and has been since the beginning) is that the FV is a fractured movement. Not all of its adherents (and sympathizers) are unified on any given point except those that truly matter (i.e. justification by faith alone, perseverance of the saints, etc.). So while some advocates (like Wilkins and Lusk) tend to flatten out what has been traditionally understood as the saving graces this seemingly undifferentiated application of covenantal benefits does absolutely nothing to the gospel message they are preaching. This is what I like about my denomination (the PCA), we’re smart enough to see that while the FV as a whole (perhaps as represented by the Joint Statement) might be out of accord with the Westminster Standards, they aren’t outside of the faith. That is, they don’t preach or believe “another gospel”, as so many keep (ignorantly) asserting and accusing. So in that regard, yes, FV advocates are quite justified in maintaining the “mantra” of misunderstanding. And so long as critics keep cherry-picking quotes to make it look like they preach a different gospel, so will this mantra remain unchanged (and true).

    You, like Wes, have failed to give an explanation for Wilson’s answers to Wes’ imaginary conversation here (other than calling, or implying that, Wilson a liar, or double-tongued, or whatever it is that’s going around these days). Where in this interview is Wilson (1) contradicting anything he’s written or posted elsewhere and/or (2) showing himself to be outside the bounds of Protestantism generally and the Reformed community specifically? But, of course, 7 members (6 actually, since I except the PCA on grounds of reasonableness) of the NARPC have deemed it so, so we don’t really need to talk about it anymore. That’s a great way to make progress. Moreover, where have I erred and not admitted so?

    For the record, I don’t believe saving grace is given indiscriminately. As a consequence, neither do I believe that saving grace can be lost. You might be surprised to find out that some (most? all?) FV advocates don’t believe saving grace can be lost. It’s part of that whole perseverance thing (see, it can’t be lost either). But you’ve already shown your cards so I won’t sit down and take advantage of you.

  13. Phil,

    Again, I don’t want to say anything about those texts without reading their context. In most circumstances, I could. But with White’s list, I can name off the top of my head at least 2 quotes that I happen to know are making the opposite point White is extracting from them (one from Leithart and one from the article I was a contributing editor to).

    However, Jared put a name on something that gives me a handle that might somewhat answer your question: I don’t believe that you can lose “Saving Graces.” But you can lose non-saving or salvific graces.

    As I said on Greensbaggins, I’m PCA, grew up as a MTW Missionary in France. Growing up as a missionary, you see a lot (and I mean a lot) of churches (mostly PCA churches stateside). But you also come to see how broad the manifestation of the same gospel truths are. Same Gospel, but not always same way of expressing it. For example, we have a highly legal way of looking at salvation. Eastern (and I might add Hebraic) culture has a harder time grasping the gospel when taught in “legal” terms.
    All that to say, while there certainly is such a thing as heresy, and I’m not a relativist (by a long stretch), you can’t go calling someone a heretic because he doesn’t sound like you. Especially when his aims are to sound more biblical himself (I’m referring to the FV making an effort to use more biblical language). Even the Westminster Assembly didn’t want to make the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience (a debate at the time) a point of division among themselves – the words of WCF leave the ambiguity to allow for both. This is a precise example where men like RSC have tried to draw a line of orthodoxy where the Westminster Assembly didn’t. (Btw, I HOLD to Active Imputation).

    Phil, take a step back and realize what you’re doing. Are you protecting the church or being a stinker in the church? Are you “taking sides” or promoting peace? Are you keeping the church pure…or perhaps trying to keep it purer than Christ did (something the pharisees did)? Is Christ honoured by what you do or saddened?

  14. Jared,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I disagree with many of them.


    I have replied to your post on Greenbaggins, which relates to the main issues brought up here.

  15. Ironically, the full quote is “A text without context is a pretext *for a prooftext.*”

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