Pastor Lane Keister over at his Greenbaggins blog is still trying to put together the pieces in Doug Wilson’s “Federal Vision” and has finally come across a piece that just doesn’t fit no matter how hard he tries. As I see it, the solution to this puzzle comes down to what is meant by the obedience of faith and how it might or might not relate to the ongoing obedience which Federal Visionists require to the demands of their conditional covenant in order to secure one’s “final justification.”
For Wilson works done by faith are acts of “obedience” just as much as is the mere act of believing the gospel. What seems to have Lane’s wheels spinning, and which is typical in so much of Wilson, is that on the one hand Wilson is correct and that when we believe the gospel, as all men are commanded to do in Scripture, we are being obedient to a biblical imperative. After all, and even Wilson points out, Jesus said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The obedience of faith therefore is to do as we are commanded and that is to believe the gospel. However, does it follow from this that our ongoing obedience to the law as we progress in sanctification and as new creatures in Christ is also part and parcel of our justification which results from our obedience, specifically the “obedience of faith”? After all, isn’t simply believing the message of the gospel and faithfully observing the law both acts of obedience?
It should be noted that for Wilson works done by God’s grace and by faith are acts of obedience and are not “works” in the biblical sense. According to Wilson “deeds without faith is works. Deeds done in faith is obedience.[sic]” Of course, Paul maintains that we are justified APART from works of the law (Romans 3:28), but for Wilson “works” are distinct from obedience. Therefore, Wilson maintains that we are not justified APART from obedience and in this, and as already noted, he is partly right. The deception here is that in Wilson’s scheme where works differ from obedience , the “obedience of faith” includes all other the acts of obedience including the works of the law provided they’re done as the result of faith. To put it another way, in Wilson’s scheme doing the law as a result of faith is obedience not works and to be justified one must be obedient. Consequently, works are smuggled into Wilson’s “Federal Vision” through the back door and under the guise of obedience and faith.
It should be noted that Lane’s puzzle is something O. Palmer Robertson observed and solved long ago in his retelling of the history of the Norm Shepherd controversy as it raged at Lane’s alma mater, Westminster Theological Seminary:
Mr. Shepherd stressed the organic unity of faith and works in justification. In the end, he could reduce to a single assertion his views about the parallelism of faith and works in justification. He could affirm that justification was by faith alone and yet retain his position that justification was by faith and by works. For in his view the faith that justifies is itself a work of obedience which is an integral aspect of the larger covenantal response of obedience for justification. If justification is by obedient faith, it also is by the obedience of faith. If justification is by a working faith, it also is by the works of faith. Even the classic assertion that justification is by faith alone thus comes to mean that justification is by faith and by works, since the faith that justifies is understood as integral to good works done as the way of justification.
What is true for Norm Shepherd on this score is also true for Doug Wilson. The one primary difference is that Wilson is more skilled at disguising what he means through his use of word play, misleading stories and deceptive analogies. God willing Lane will soon solve this puzzle and finally see through Wilson’s soteriological Three Card Monte and retract his previous exoneration of this first rate con man on the vitals of the faith.Explore posts in the same categories: Doug Wilson, Heresies