Federal Vision

De Regno Christi and Federal Vision Debate: Observations

In a previous post John Muether asks Doug Wilson: “Are you suggesting that amillennialism is an insufficiently embodied belief?”Wilson replies:

Every orthodox Christian position affirms the bodily resurrection of Christ, and our bodily resurrection in Him at the Last Day. So on what matters, that is more than “sufficient.” But I would say that postmillennialism represents more of a desire to see the embodiment of the kingdom in time and in history than does amillennialism.

Wilson makes a valid observation. In the end, our commitment and our embodied belief and orthodoxy centers on Creedal faith, not on eschatological commitment.

Professor Joel Garver adds some interesting insights as well. Garver seems to imply that eschatology is the wrong way of approaching such questions. For instance, Amils may be fulfilling their respective roles by fulfilling their calling around the table of our Lord and preaching the message of Christ to parishioners, whereas Postmils may be over-reaching in their attempt to bring about a new Christendom.

Garver makes a helpful observation. Indeed, the desire of Christian ministers is to fulfill their roles in their respected ministries. However, it is “over-reaching” to assume eschatology does not play a crucial role in that ministry. For instance, Steve Wilkins has argued that marriage is not for the couple, but ultimately for the world.1 In the same manner that postmillenial force is applied to worship and cultural engagement. All things are for the nations; for the restoration of the cosmos under one ruler-Christ Jesus. This appears to be a crucial impetus for ministerial work, further, it is a significant word of encouragement that God will fulfill His promises through His church.
Footnotes

1. From a recent sermon preached at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian entitled: Marriage is not for you [↩ back]

De Regno Christi and Federal Vision Debate: Observations

Chellis finally joins the conversation. He is a bit frustrated with Wilson’s emphasis on eschatology. In his own experience he left Postmillenialism due to its gnostic tendencies. (HUH?!) At any rate from his perspective he does not think that the FV debate should center around eschatological sectarianism. I agree and so does Wilson, but let us not fool ourselves, how you view eschatology is how you view the world.I think at this point we will be turning our attention to more specific FV concerns like justification, imputation, and covenantalism.

New Federal Vision debate begins…

I have finally had time this morning to visit De Regno Christi. Pastor Bill Chellies began a new debate on his website, which will include various participants representing pro and con concerning the Federal Vision. I have begun reading their thoughts. The debate began on the 17th. There is much to catch up on. Since this is of utmost importance to us in the Presbyterian community, I highly recommend reading a few posts. The debate can be found here.

Federal Vision debate post…Part 1

I will be posting on my reading of the debate currently taking place at De Regno Christi. My posts will begin on the discussion that followed on September 17th1 Beginning with Part 8, I will begin to focus on September 18th.

Doug Wilson begins the debate by stating some of the underlying assumptions of the Federal Vision and why it rejects what he calls: “Leaning against the creeping gnosticism.”

Wilson writes:

…our emphasis on liturgical worship reminds Reformed folks that they have bodies, and that they are to worship God with them. Our embrace of postmillennialism means that the kingdom is going to take shape here, on this earth, in concrete and three dimensional ways. Our insistence that baptism incorporates one into a visible church (that is truly the Church of Jesus Christ) is a similar kind of emphasis. Our rejection of “merit” as a spiritual bookkeeping category exhibits the same kind of bias. We grant there are invisible aspects to faithful Christian living, obviously, but wherever possible we want all those invisible aspects to take on a body.

In D.G. Hart’s reply, he seems to strongly oppose Wilson’s point on creeping gnosticism by stating that Wilson’s post-millenarianism is inconsistent with the New Testament version of dualism. What Wilson affirmed was that the harsh distinction between flesh and spirit hardens Presbyterianism to embrace a more robust liturgy. Hart’s strong commitment to Amillenialism and the Regulative principle as he understands it, makes it impossible for him to grasp Wilson’s commitment to bring together our bodies and our spirits into the church. This is evident in Hart’s comments concerning the temporary nature of the flesh and the eternal nature of the spirit. Hence, according to Hart, the fleshiness of this world is not worth liturgical investment.2 What Hart seems to forget is that body and spirit is the ultimate eschatological goal of this humanity, hence to pray that God’s kingdom on earth be as it is in heaven is to call upon this holy merger of body and spirit in all human endeavor, including the worship of the triune God.

Footnotes

  1. The debate officially began on the 17th [ back]
  2. Hart does claim liturgy, after all, liturgy is an inescapable concept, however, Hart claims a different liturgy than Wilson and others claim. [ back]

New Federal Vision debate begins…

I have finally had time this morning to visit De Regno Christi. Pastor Bill Chellies began a new debate on his website, which will include various participants representing pro and con concerning the Federal Vision. I have begun reading their thoughts. The debate began on the 17th. There is much to catch up on. Since this is of utmost importance to us in the Presbyterian community, I highly recommend reading a few posts. The debate can be found here.

Simon Chan on Justification by Faith

Chan writes:

But the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith has a more objective & communal character. It is not only about the individual’s acceptance before a righteous God but is also concerned with the larger, corporate issue of Gentile participation in the covenant community. Justification by faith means that with the coming of Christ, the righteousness of God is made available for both Jews & Gentiles on the same basis–by faith–which is an objective, divine provision.1

I have stressed this eclectic biblical use of justification for at least three years now. One needs only listen to James Jordan and Peter Leithart’s lectures in the early 90’s to come to that obvious conclusion. Before the Bishop of Durham had received any excommunicatos, our Reformed brothers were echoing the beauty of God’s justification.

Footnotes

  1. Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology, 109 [ back]

In Defense of Reggie Kidd…

The fiery comments keep coming in response to Reggie’s post. My friend and fellow cigar smoker John Muether wrote a clarifying comment when he said:

At some point before the comments reach triple digits it might be helpful to remind readers that your views do not represent the faculty at RTS Orlando, some of whom may still consider themselves to be Machen’s warriors.

Muether is correct. RTS/Orlando has rarely made absolute statements concerning Reformed debates. In fact, many were irate to find out that RTS/Orlando did not make an official statement concerning Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Sproul and others were not very happy as you can imagine. Nevertheless, RTS is what it is. It does not claim to be strictly confessional, in the sense that exceptions are not allowed, 1 however, all faculty must annually sign a pledge of fidelity to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine found in Scripture.2 RTS is undoubtedly committed to the proclamation of the Reformed faith throughout the world as Richard Pratt3 has so strongly defended. In fact, I remember clearly when he told us in class that the hope of the world is in and through Reformed theology.

This is not, however, a truncated Reformed faith based on particularities of infra or supra-lapsarian debate or even the typical Puritanesque (not meant pejoratively) regulative form of worship, though we do have our small TR guys around. You can always identify them on campus smoking their expensive cigars. I certainly do not speak for the faculty, but only give you my perspective as a student after attending RTS for over three years. I have seen much and know much; after all, I have lived inside that library more so than my own home.

The reason RTS/Orlando does not have a position on every debate under the sun is because every professor is highly aware of the nuances and the catholicism of the Reformed tradition. We have closet Postmillenarians and your typical Vosian Amillenialist; we have low-church types and high-church types; we have cigar smokers and those who think cigar-smokers are a threat to the church; we have Jack Miller guys (Steve Brown, are you reading this?) and we have those quasi-theonomists (I am not naming any names here); we have the political lefts (for those from WTS California, you may need to do a google search on what the word “politics” mean) and political rights; we have baby baptizers and those credo-baptists (who, by the way, only teach preaching classes). We invite D.A. Carson one year to teach a one- week class, then we invite J.I Packer to comfort us with Puritan dreams. We have Tony Campollo one year and then we have David Wells another. Is this diverse enough for you? Reggie understands this diversity and he lives in light of this diversity. This is why his circle of friends go beyond Presbyterian pals.

In the end of the day, RTS/Orlando (with a few exceptions) cherishes diversity. This is not a wishy-washy diversity; it is a diversity committed to the three words this blog stands for: Orthodoxy, Catholicity, and Lordship. This is how I want it and how I like it. You mess with Reggie, you mess with me.

Footnotes

  1. As far as I know this is the position at Joseph Pipa’s seminary [ back]
  2. Thanks to John Muether for the clarifying statement [ back]
  3. See Third Millennium Ministries [ back]

PCA Report- R.C. Sproul and some penultimate thoughts

I have now heard a large part of the audio of the General Assembly concerning the vote to adopt the report on the FV/NPP. My comments on the decision and the mp3 can be found here. After hearing the 90 minutes or so, I came away with some observations.

It appears that the majority of the discussion centered on the issue of “justification by faith.” R.C. Sproul jumped in to warn all the brothers that this is a crucial issue. He then quoted Luther and Calvin regarding the centrality of justification for the church. R.C.’s stature and eloquence drew applause from the people. Simply, he stated that justification was a central issue of the Reformation and we dare not deny it.

As far I know, no one denies justification by faith alone. By “no one” I refer even to N.T Wright (Wright is the most conservative voice spousing the so-called New Perspective; in N.T. Wright’s writings he has made it clear that the idea of justification has to do more with ecclesiology than with soteriology, nevertheless, I have not yet heard a clear denial of the doctrine that we are saved by faith in Christ) and Federal Vision proponents. There is some natural nuance in how some of these scholars understand jusstification, as there has been throughout the Reformed history. Some authors have said that the idea of justification is present in the Pauline corpus, but that it is not the center focus of all Pauline theology. But what R.C. and others implied was that there was a blatant denial of justification by faith alone. I have never heard anyone clearly deny it in the fashion R.C. proposed.

Sproul has been seen throughout the years as a Reformed icon. Truly, no one denies his influence in bringing many people into the Reformed faith. He was certainly instrumental and continues to be instrumental in my thinking (I am particularly indebted to R.C.’s vision of the good, the true, and the beautiful and restoring the arts into the church). Nevertheless, after participating in many conferences and after hearing R.C. many times, and even interacting with him personally, (R.C.’s church is only 20 minutes from my house) the obvious impression is that he has read very little written by N.T. Wright (He appears to depend exclusively on the insights of his southern presbyterian friend, Ligon Duncan. To be fair, Sproul did read and review N.T. Wright’s book: Evil and the Justice of God. In the end, he concludes with a positive review when he writes: “Despite the concerns that his doctrine of God raises in some of the passages I’ve mentioned, I find in the main that N. T. Wright has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the problem of evil.” Perhaps R.C. would find the same benefits in reading Wright’s other works as well. I think R.C. would find Wright’s preterism compelling among other things). His followers are very content in hearing the oft heard dogmatic statement that justification is the article by which the church falls or stands (This is quoted by Luther). But was the church fallen before Luther? Is the Apostolic Creed not a suitable document to declare orthodoxy? Will R.C. admit that the Reformation shared new insights never seen before since the first century? If so, then his dogmatic assertion must be challenged, for who can deny that this 21st century is a century where the Reformed church needs to be reformed?

This in my opinion is the reason there was no exegetical treatment. Some have said that the divines already provided the exegetical treatment in the Confession. Fair enough, but the Confession is not exhaustive, in fact, some in the Federal Vision claim to be faithful to the confession (Wilkins claims to take a few exceptions, but not with the clause on justification). Furthermore, the divines disagreed with each other on certain issues. Do we take apart each divine and analyze their exegesis of certain confessional clauses? Beyond that, since the divines were not all united, did they then begin to adopt reports that condemned some for denying the covenant of works or a particular view of creation?

The PCA in my estimation has lost its chance to deal with these issues in a more charitable and careful manner. In my estimation it was precipitous. Why was not any one invited to defend their position before the entire assembly? Handing a microphone from the floor does not establish a proper forum.

My final observation relates to the nature of the report. I, too, find myself in disagreement with Bishop Wright in many issues (Political, Women in ministry and so on) and I also have some disagreements with Federal Vision proponents, (There is no monolithic group, so it is hard to say there is a disagreement unless it is with a particular proponent) however, what is the purpose of putting both theologies into one report? My conclusion is that since both were put together, those who knew more about one (NPP, for example) would immediately associate it with the other and hence throw both groups into the pile of senseless rhetoric and anti-Reformed. This tactic succeeded much to my dismay. The correct way to handle this matter would be to deal with the New Perspective in one year and then deal with the Federal Vision the following year (if this had taken place, the Assembly would have adopted the report on the NPP, but I am certain that after another year of careful analysis, the report on the FV would not have been adopted). The first debate centers around the Presbyterian tradition and an Anglican minister who probably has never read the Westminster Confession. The other debate is between differing interpretations of the Confession. This is a monstrous difference! By placing both together into one report, the desired conclusion was met.

By placing both groups together, the General Assembly missed an opportunity to deal with significant issues that are stressed in the Federal Vision. Instead, we spent the entire time debating justification by faith, a doctrine the FV does not deny (I realize that the definition of justification has been expanded by some; this is perhaps where the confusion lies. It is not a denial, but an expansion on the rich nature of the term itself). But how about the baptistic nature of the PCA? Why did the assembly pass over that one? How about the memorialist nature of the sacraments practiced once a month (maybe) in a large portion of the PCA? Why not find out what Luther and Calvin thought about that? How about the diminishing of the covenantal idea in the church of Christ? How about dealing with the neglect of covenant children in PCA churches where they are treated as second-class citizens? How about the anti-expository nature of PCA preaching? How about the mega-church mentality of some in the PCA who take more heed to Rick Warren than our Reformed forefathers? How about the blatant departure of a Reformed eschatology (I know a few examples of Ruling Elders in the PCA that are strongly committed to a Dispensational Eschatology)? How about the lack of theological training of our Ruling Elders? How about the refusal of PCA churches to expose their people to the richness of the hymnody or Psalter? How about stressing a higher view of the law as opposed to the conspicuous anti-nomian tendency of many PCA ministers? These are all in some way or another Federal Vision emphases. Why were none of these issues brought forward? Why? I truly am embarrassed with this entire process and only hope to see sanity, charity, and a closer analysis of the things that will truly destroy our beloved denomination.

PCA Report on the FV/NPP Adopted in the General Assembly

I would like to offer a few comments in light of the decision of the PCA General Assembly.

First, as Pastor Wilson has mentioned, and I concur, we are not to speak out of anger because of this decision. Nevertheless, I confess that there was a certain level of discouragement after I heard of the news.

Secondly, for those of us who are members of the PCA and at the same time agreeing with much that is said in the Federal Vision literature, let us not lose heart. Sometimes decisions such as these serve to awaken us to the real need for careful interaction with our neighbors who find themselves disagreeing with our position.

Thirdly, I have heard from one who attended that the entire process was done very respectfully without any name-calling.

Fourthly, there appeared to have been at least 15-20%1 in disagreement with the decision. This says that there were many who found the decision to be irrational and unfair. Among those were people who disagreed with the general direction of the NPP/FV, but sensed that something less than proper was going on.

Fifthly, in the words of an attendant: “There were some who wanted to spend another year looking at the topic before bringing it to the General Assembly.” Among the dissenting party one pastor mentioned a proposal to postpone the report requiring at least three changes:

1) The need to add at least two voices to the report that find some value in the Federal Vision.2

2) Instead of comparing it only to the Confession, the report should present an exposition of the passages related to the various debates so that the Bible would be the final arbiter in all things.

3) The Assembly should provide tools so that pastors could go back to their congregations and explain the issues involved in the various debates.

In my humble opinion, the GA would have done well to listen to these brothers.

Finally, this decision is said to not be binding on the entire assembly. It is merely a recommendation of the Assembly. While this is true, when a recommendation receives approval from the majority of members in the Assembly it is liable to become an authoritative document in future disputations in these matters. With so many PCA ministers unaware of the issues around the FV/NPP they will now go back to their congregations and perhaps misrepresent the issues or assume that it is a done deal. As some are already aware, if you are a candidate for a pastoral position in some presbyteries and express sympathy towards FV/NPP, you will not have your call confirmed. I do trust our TE’s and RE’s, but I also realize that for some people when the assembly speaks, it has done more than recommend, but settled the issue. I cannot but be pessimistic about this entire endeavor. My prayer is that my brothers in the faith (particularly Pastor Steve Wilkins) remain in PCA as long as possible and continue to defend these important truths of covenant living and covenant worship.3 Though some may feel the immediate urge to leave the PCA for the CREC or another denomination, I urge you to stay in the PCA and fight the good fight until the very end.

Links for further information:

The Mp3 file with the discussion is found here.

Reformed News

Leithart link

Footnotes

  1. Perhaps someone may clarify the numbers [ back]
  2. This was mentioned since all of those chosen to study the issue had either in print or some way expressed negative sentiments towards the Federal Vision and those who showed sympathy towards N.T. Wright and others [ back]
  3. The General impression is that “justification” was the central area of discussion. It would have been much wiser to separate the Federal Vision and the New Perspective in order to avoid confusion. [ back]

PCA Report on the Federal Vision, Part 1

In this series, which may take many posts, I shall attempt to offer some insights into this report. The report of the study committee is not an official statement of the PCA since it has not been adopted by the general assembly. As it stands, the report reflect only the opinion of the committee. Nevertheless, I have no doubt it will be approved by the General Assembly.

Though I have not read every piece of literature put out on in favor or against the Federal Vision, (I will focus on the Federal Vision and leave other bloggers to contribute to the comments related to the New Perspective) I am compelled to comment since I am a member in the PCA and since this report will bear significance for those of us seeking ordination in the PCA.

Though my thoughts on these issues are generally favorable towards the Federal Vision, I am by no means convinced that my position will remain the same or that it may become more nuanced as the years go by. I must say that I love the Presbyterian Church in America. If my comments seem too harsh at times, I apologize; but make no mistake, my goal is not to perpetuate tumult, but to bring to light ideas that seek to destroy any fair attempt of engagement.

The 34th PCA General Assembly appointed an ad interim committee,

to study the soteriology of the Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies which are causing confusion among our churches. Further, to determine whether these viewpoints and formulations are in conformity with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, whether they are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion, and to present a declaration or statement regarding the issues raised by these viewpoints in light of our Confessional Standards (MGA 34:229-30).

I am already intrigued by the preface. Nothing in the mission of this report seems to seek catholicity. It is pugnacious from the start and it does not hide its intention. The report states that these doctrines are causing confusion among our churches. Certainly, if it is causing confusion, then in no way can the conclusion of this document be positive towards the groups mentioned. One needs to wonder, what is the source of all this confusion? Is it historical naivete or is it the ever present baptistic tendencies in Presbyterianism today? Or is there perhaps some unknown presupposition towards Federal Visionists and others? I raise these questions because in my estimation there is more to this confusion than meets the eye. Federal Visionists have long assumed a strong and robust view of covenant theology. Douglas Wilson has done more for classical Christian education than anyone in the presbyterian church. Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan have done more in the area of developing a high view of worship than any other. My point is we should not be amazed to find out that what drives reports such as these go far beyond the sacramental issues or covenantal nuances; in my estimation there is more involved.

This report serves three purposes:

a) The first one is to determine if these theologies are in conformity to the Westminster Standards.

Comment: What does conformity mean? Is this conformity to the Southern Presbyterian version of the Standards? Is this conformity with the honorable John Murray (with his exceptions)? Is this conformity with the original intention of the divines or how it was interpreted in 1973? This is a difficult assertion to make. Though I do not wish to be subjective about this question, on what basis is a movement compatible or in conformity to the Standards? For instance, I do not take exception with the Confession on the Sabbath, but I do take exception with the idea that young children are not allowed at the table as expressed in the Larger Catechism question 177. So am I in conformity to the Confession here? If I am not, why are those who take exception with the Sabbath section any more in conformity than I? My point is simple: who defines conformity? Has the Reformed church at large, or better yet, has the PCA established how many exceptions are accepted before they can establish someone as not being in conformity with the system of doctrine in the Westminster Standards?

b) The second purpose of this report is to examine if these groups are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion.

Comment: What are the vitals of religion? Reformed religion? Creedal religion? Orthodox religion? Perhaps they will define what they mean as the document unfolds, but in the very least one may say that this is ambiguous. The problem with posing such language is that if this is a reference to Christian/Catholic religion, then it is absurd to even raise the question.The advocates of Federal Vision are unashamedly Trinitarian. In fact, for some of them (Peter Leithart, James Jordan and John Barach) trinitarian theology is the starting point to biblical theology. It is probably a more worthy pursuit to spy on various PCA churches in the country, and I assure the reader, it is more plausible to find vestiges of Modalism in these churches, than if you were to examine 100 FV advocates. The reason these men can be such thoughtful thinkers is because their starting point is the Trinitarian God and the apostolic creeds. At the early point of this analysis, it is safe to assume that the second purpose of the report has more to do with James Dunn or E.P. Sanders, than it does Douglas Wilson or Rich Lusk. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt.

c) The third purpose is to present a declaration or statement regarding these theologies in light of the Confessional Standards.

Comment: This goes back to the first purpose. What constitutes a truly Confessional standard? Further, what is the purpose of this declaration? Is it to begin the deportation of the 85 Federal Vision churches in the PCA? Is it to tell Joseph Morecraft (I have great respect for Pastor Morecraft; I am simply pointing to the fact that he was the first to condemn these men as heretics; this I thought was very unfortunate) and others that the PCA means business? Or is it succumbing to the pressures of certain elite members in our gloriously young denomination?

I will be posting at a slow pace since I am approaching my final week of exam at seminary…