My friend, Pastor Richard Bacon, recently shared an interesting blog piece written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, lamenting the fact that the PCA is now a Federal Vision safe haven. Spronk is a little off on one thing and that Peter Leithart, after being refused a transfer into a less than FV friendly PCA presbytery, has since retreated to Doug Wilson’s faux Christian denomination, the CREC. You can read Spronk’s, “Why the PCA is a Safe-Haven for the Federal Vision Heresy,” here.
Not discussed in the piece, and something that has become a sore spot for me, is the central reason why the PCA is now a safe-have for the FV. The PCA lost the fight against this blatant heresy for a simple reason; the failure to understand the nature of faith and saving faith. Men like PCA pastors Andy Webb, Lane Keister, and the other so-called “TRs” (Truly Reformed), deny, along with all of the FV men, that faith is simple belief and that saving faith is the simple belief in the propositions of the Gospel. They say the faith that saves is something more than mere belief, but whatever this “more” is, it’s ambiguous. The FV men too, particularly James Jordan, have maintained the fight over the FV is not primarily dealing with questions concerning the covenant, although that certainly is part of it, it is over “fiducia,” the imagined third element of saving faith that is supposed to make ordinary faith “saving.”
This how Jordan, whom some have dubbed the Godfather of the FV, explained the fight over the FV back in 2008:
Some men remain in the PCA because God has told them they have a duty to help the 7000 who have not yet bowed the knee to antichrist. They hatred of the Kingship of Jesus, which characterizes so much of the PCA, is with fighting. The Reformed faith is that faith includes fiducia, and this is still worth fighting for, regardless of how many antinominian blogs hate it.
Again, the reason why the fight against the FV men was lost in the PCA is because the “good guys” are blindly wed to the traditional and artificial division of saving faith as a complex consisting of notitia, assensus and fiducia. Or, in ordinary English; understanding, assent and trust. The problem lies precisely with that the last element, fiducia, because it adds an impenetrable layer of ambiguity to faith’s definition rendering the alone instrument in salvation meaningless. Not that there is anything impenetrable or meaningless about “trust,” only that to trust someone is to have faith, is to believe, that what they say is true. Trust is belief in the future tense, and, as such, adds nothing to an understanding of what faith is. It is to simply define the word with itself. Or, as Gordon Clark once said, it’s a tautology. Now, if that is all it was it would just hardly raise an eyebrow. But, those defenders of this threefold division of saving faith, both inside and outside of FV, never stop there. Consider this from PCA pastor Andy Webb, an early opponent of the FV; “Fiducia is the hardest element of saving faith to define…. Fiducia therefore mingles the emotion of love with trust, inclination, and agreement.” Now, that’s a definition that is so confused, anti-Scriptural, and hostile to a clear understanding of the nature of faith that no human could possibly understand it. It is a flight into mysticism and is a view of faith completely divorced from reason. But, that is what these men desire more than they ever seriously wanted to eradicate the FV from the PCA. They want a Christianity that is beyond reason, which for many, has become the hallmark of neo-Reformed piety.
For men like Webb, it’s the experience within that matters, not the object on which the mind or soul apprehends outside of itself. Websters defines trust as the belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc. Notice, there is no mention any mingling of the “emotion of love” in addition to trust, much less inclination or agreement (the last of which is just the restatement of the second element of faith or assent). That’s because in the minds of many to clearly and unambiguously define terms, even terms as central to the Christian system as “faith,” is to be guilty of “rationalism.” Yet, despite their impotence in defending the faith, these men continue to wrap themselves in the confused and contradictory tradition that plays right into the hands of the very heretics they claim to oppose. After all, Christians are believers, not faith-ers. It is the Greek, not the Latin, that determines the meaning of the words of Scripture. Not surprisingly, these same TRs are the ones who will viciously attack anyone who uses seemingly innocuous phrases like “justification by belief alone” (try it sometime and you’ll see what I mean). In spite of all this, they continue to wonder why the PCA is now a safe haven for the Federal Vision.
As John Robbins explained writing in the introduction to Gordon Clark’s, What is Saving Faith:
Unintentionally and unwittingly, the defenders of justification by faith alone, by their un-Scriptural doctrine of faith (which makes faith a complex psychological act rather than simple assent to the truth) have created and sustained the theological climate in which those who deny justification by faith alone can flourish. The defenders of justification by faith alone have asserted that it is not enough to believe the Gospel, for even the demons believe the Gospel, and the demons are lost. Belief is not enough, they say. In order to be saved, one must do more than believe; one must commit, surrender, trust, encounter, relate, or emote.
The deniers of justification by faith alone agree: It is not enough to believe the Gospel in order to be saved. But rather than urging people to perform some further psychological task in addition to belief, they tell them to do good works in order to be saved. Their works (or their baptism) will complete what is lacking in belief alone. In this way, both the defenders and the deniers of justification by faith alone have lost sight of what in fact saves: The perfect, imputed righteousness of Christ completely outside the sinner, and received by the simple instrument of belief alone.
The current controversy over justification has broken out in conservative churches because Christians recognize that the Bible denies justification by works, whether works are regarded as a ground, condition, or an instrument of justification. But what most Christians have not yet recognized is that the common Protestant view of saving faith as something more than belief of the Gospel has fueled and will continue to fuel denials of justification by faith alone so long as it prevails. Until faith is understood as mere belief – the Bible makes no distinction between the two words – the justification controversy will continue, and those defending justification by faith alone will continue to be embarrassed by their agreement with the deniers of justification, that belief of the Gospel is not enough for salvation.
While it is too late for the PCA, Christians everywhere should be thankful for the rotten fruit of the FV for it exposed, more than anything before it, a long hidden weakness in the foundation of the historic Protestant system of belief. Sadly, those hopelessly wed to tradition in opposition to God’s Word, and who make up the failed leadership in the PCA, have been the last to learn from their mistake.