Monday, April 16, 2007

The Federal Vision's Blindness

There is a movement today in Reformed circles that is shaking it's very foundations and if left alone, will leaven the whole lump. The movement originated at the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana during a Pastors conference in 2002. The speakers at this conference were John Barach, Steve Schlissel, Doug Wilson and Steve Wilkins, the pastor of the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church(PCA). The movement has since made inroads to other Reformed churches and denominations. Although it has been called by many different names, the most common names for it are The Auburn Avenue Theology and currently the Federal Vision. Along with the "Monroe Four" listed above, current advocates include Peter Leithart, Rich Lusk, Tom Trouwborst, Ralph Smith, Joel Garver, Mark Horne and James Jordan. The vehicles for the movement are the magazine Credenda/Agenda, the publication company Canon Press, multiple books authored by the above listed individuals and their internet websites. The movement even has it's own denomination in the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) although the majority of those spearheading it are still in other denominations such as the Presbyterian Church of America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The goals of the movement are simple, to objectify the covenant of grace and save federal theology from the Baptists and dispensationalists.

What The Federal Vision Teaches
Although the adherents of the Federal Vision (FV) do differ amongst themselves on some doctrines, such as paedocommunion(most hold to this but a few like Steve Schlissel do not), each agree with the general thrust and cardinal doctrines issued forth from each other. The first goal of the FV is to objectify the covenant of grace. In order to prevent the "morbid introspection" rampant in so many Reformed circles, the FV propose christians look to the sacraments and their church membership for confirmation of their salvation. John Barach states that "Every baptized person is in covenant with God and is in union, then with Christ and with the triune God...Every baptized person is truly a member of God's covenant"(quoted in The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology by Guy Waters p15). Rich Lusk echoes this by openly affirming "baptismal regeneration" provided the terms be defined properly. For Lusk, defined properly means a "covenantal form of baptismal regeneration".Steve Wilkins also agrees by saying "To be baptized is to be covenantally joined to Christ. Not that baptism justifies, but it inaugurates covenant union with Christ just as circumcision did."and he later states "Baptized children do not have to' join the church' they are members of the church by their baptism.(quoted in The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology p232-234). So for the FV, the covenant of grace is conditioned upon church membership, church membership is conditioned upon baptism and babies are to be baptized. Therefore, when babies grow up, as they are already baptized and members of the church and can look to this as confirmation of their salvation, there must then be no need to acknowledge the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as stated in the book of Acts chapter 16 and verse 31.

While I am no fan either of the "morbid introspection" prevalent in some reformed circles, primarily the ones aligning themselves with Puritan thought, the answer to this is not to deny the gospel by trusting in works or our association in the church, but to get back to the purity and simplicity that is in Christ Jesus( John 11:25-26). Morbid introspection or "fruit policing" stems from the Puritan dichotomy of faith and assurance, as taught in the Westminster Larger Catachism Q. 81,which is a departure from the Reformers who taught assurance is of the essence of faith , and is catachized in The Three Forms of Unity. Taken to the extreme, this view equates faith with the works of faith and always leaves one doubting as to whether they ever truly believed. What is implicit in some Presbyterian churches, however, is explicit in the FV. The FV clearly deny that faith, in Justification, is merely receptive. Rich Lusk in his exposition of James 2 states unequivocally that "persons will not be justified by faith alone, but also by good works they have done" and later "James is speaking of a justification in which faith and works combine together to justify. Future justification is according to one's life pattern. No one dare claim these works to be meritorious, but they are necessary."(Waters p90). Also the FV does not explain how being baptized as a baby and made a member of the church without any prior proclamation of faith in Christ will bring assurance.

This leads to the next topic of discussion in the doctrine of perseverance.As shown above, the FV clearly hold that all babies baptized are members of the church and can be rightfully called Christians. So what happens if some of these babies grow up and reject Christ and leave the church as is clear some do? The inescapable conclusion is that these persons lose their salvation and thus we have a denial in the FV of perserverance. Scripture, however, tells us they were never saved to begin with (1 John 2:19).

Roots of the Federal Vision
Although a new movement the FV has roots that go way back, as is true with all heresies. First and most obviously, is the Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy which the FV is on a collision course with. Other protestant high church denominations, however, such as the Lutherans , The Episcopal/Anglicans and the French Huguenots have also been highly ritualistic and held to baptismal regeneration. Christopher Hutchinson, a critic of the FV, states in his chapter of the book The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, that "First, culturally , I agree with Doug Wilson that this is an odd controversy. He says it is odd because having left the Baptist persuasion for the Reformed realm, he now finds himself among baptists. In my case, it is odd because I was reared a high church Episcopalian, left it for the simplicity of evangelical presbyterianism, and now find an increasing number of presbyterians who look an awful lot like high church Anglicans, crook and all.". Other movements which the FV is fed from are Van Tillian paradoxicalism, Theonomy, Norman Shepherdism and the New Perspective on Paul. This is apparent from Doug Wilson who describes himself as "postmillennial, Calvinistic, presbyterian, Van Tillian, theonomic and reformed" in his book Reformed is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant. Also Rich Lusk hails The New Perspective on Paul theologians (e.g. N.T. Wright , James D.G. Dunn and E.P. Sanders) as "blowing modern day Galatianism out of the water" in their call back to a "corporate view of salvation"(Auburn Theology p135).

Finally,although there is a big difference between the FV and most Reformed Presbyterians, I do want to say that the Westminster(or any) teaching of paedobaptism, baptism as a "seal" of the covenant of grace(contrary to Eph. 1:13,14) and the ordinances being a means of grace(contrary to Rom. 10:17) do at best add confusion if not teach error and give the FV and others a basis for their teaching. I call on all Reformed to repudiate these teachings.


The FV has many other problems such as the denial of Christ imputed righteousness to the believer, a rejection that the law demands perfection and Christ's death for everyone including the reprobate which cannot be addressed at this time. E. Calvin Beisner states in the foreword to Waters book that the FV is a "hybrid of three components" the first he says is a modified Amyraldianism, the second is a modified Arminianism and third a Roman infusionism. How truly confused this movement is. For further on this issue see my discussion of Jansenism listed below also most of my information comes from The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters and The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision edited by E. Calvin Beisner. Other great books include The Current Justification Controversy by O. Palmer Robertson, A Companion to the Current Justification Controversy by John Robbins and Not Reformed at All by John Robbins and Sean Gerety. Although I have yet to read them Covenant,Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the faculty of Westminster Seminary California edited by R. Scott Clark and Justification by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church also cover this movement. Books by the movement include Reformed is Not Enough by Doug Wilson, Against Christianity (A most telling and true title)by Peter Leithart and The Call of Grace by Norman Shepherd.