My Problem with the Federal Vision

Part 2 in a series.

The acronyms clumped together are usually NPP/FV/AA which represent the New Perspective on Paul, Federal Vision and the Auburn Avenue Theology. In truth, only the last two somewhat belong together. Though there is some sympathy between them and some cross-polenization, they really are not the same things. I sort of lumped them together in my previous post and then really only dealt with the NPP. The reason was because I understand NPP better than I do FV. Well, I’ve tried to understand the FV better and decided that it warrants its own post.

The Federal Vision was first articulated under that name in 2001 at the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church’s Pastors’ Conference. It wasn’t really anything blazingly new, it was a trajectory within Reformed Theology that had been brewing for a while. The AA conference was just kind of a harmonic convergence where it all came together. What they didn’t realize was that it actually came together like flint and iron in a gasoline factory. The presbytery Auburn Avenue is part of began investigating, accusations flew and there is still a lot of bitterness going around, though I think it is beginning to settle down. The funny thing is that one of the speakers, Doug Wilson, isn’t even a presbyterian!

What was articulated at the conference was a high view of the covenant. Too high in my opinion, I think FV is essentially hyper-covenantalism.

There are different themes and different trajectories within the movement (and which movement is that not true of?) but here are some of the threads that stand out for me:

Baptism actually saves you, unites you with Christ unless and until you apostatize. In a sense anyway. There goes perseverance of the saints, as the “saints” (who are not necessarily elect) are united to Christ and can still be apostate. Next, anyone who is baptized is fully are really a member of the Church. Period. When they become apostate they are then removed from the church. There goes particular redemption (see Acts 20:28). Now of course, the folks who hold to the FV are Reformed with a capital R and they still affirm Calvinist soiterology so they aren’t denying these doctrines. They simply have to do some redefining of terms to make them work properly.

Next, there is a conflation of Christ and Church. They become essentially one entity. There is some biblical support for that. The imagery Paul uses of Head and body. This is where that baptism thing comes in. But there are other metaphors in the Bible that show Christ as different than and over his Church. The Bridegroom and the bride. The wedding feast is in the future, at the eschaton, not yet. There is the imagery of the Shepherd and the sheep. In Revelation Christ walks amongst the lampstands, he isn’t one of them or made of them. Surely the Shepherd is not one of the sheep. The problem is what I heard DA Carson call “parallel-a-mania” in a talk on the NPP (parts 2 & 3 are here). You take a good idea, a biblical concept and then press it in to every place in the Bible, even where it doesn’t belong.

What I find sad about this is that a good, biblical idea, covenant, is taken for a ride across everything. It reshapes how everything is understood. Even things it shouldn’t. Baptism is part of the New Covenant, to be sure. We are baptized into the Body. But I maintain that it is not the sign and seal of the New Covenant, that is only and ever applied to the Holy Spirit (2Co 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30). Also, the FV moves salvation from a personal issue to one of the Church. Instead of a person exercising faith and being saved and justified, faith is moved to the sacrament and salvation is moved to the church. This is Romanism as far as I can tell. The “objective” nature of the covenant sounds great but what it really means is that much of the Reformation is lost.

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  • […] Auburn Ave Theology/Federal Vision […]

  • […] A while ago, I posted a review of what is called the Federal Vision. Since then I’ve come to understand it a bit better and want to take another look at what they believe. […]

  • I just want to say that you are a great help to me for clearing the verses for me-good help in teaching it too. I put a permanent link to your blog in my blog-so I myself will not forget to come back here. Thank you-from the philippines

  • We orthodox Lutherans are THRILLED to see the rise of the “Federal Vision” in Reformed circles. However, we Lutherans have another term for it: Lutheranism!

    God be praised that the Reformed are coming back to accepting “Repent and be baptized…for the forgiveness of sins” as EXACTLY what God meant and not a mistranslation by Catholic/Anglican/Lutheran translators.

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

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