A funny thing happened to me . . .
A funny thing happened to me at another blogsite. I summed up the Federal Vision (FV) theology espoused by Doug Wilson as follows:
Contra the Confession, Wilson & Co. makes our salvation contingent upon our doing, our ongoing “covenantal faithfulness.” One is brought into a conditional relationship with Jesus Christ in baptism (all baptized persons are then brought into the same relationship with Christ via baptism) and as they persevere in fulfilling the obligations imposed on them by virtue of this sacrament they will be finally saved or justified on the last day. That’s the theory anyway and that is RINE in a nutshell.
To which Doug Wilson replied:
Sean, do me a favor. Find me a quote in anything I have written that even remotely resembles your summary in your third paragraph. Begin with a “, end with a “, and give the citation. This will be hard to do since I deny that position as you summarized it, and I do so from soup to nuts.
Have you ever noticed how advocates of the so-called FV can never seem to “see themselves” in anything written by their critics, including in the PCA’s FV report as if the doctrines examined and refuted were pulled from the sky or some other dark place. After awhile people start to catch on that FV men like Wilson have many different faces. Of course, some of us realized that a long time ago.
So, where to begin? There is so much in Wilson’s public writings, not to mention his diatribe against the Christian faith, Reformed Is Not Enough, that supports the above brief but accurate summary that I confess it’s hard to know where to start. So, why don’t we dissect my brief summary above complete with supporting citations from Wilson . . .
1. Wilson makes our salvation contingent upon our doing, our ongoing “covenantal faithfulness.”
According to a piece that appeared 1/3/2006 on Wilson’s blog dealing with the idea of “to justify”in Paul and James, Wilson writes:
The solution of the whole problem is provided by Paul himself in a single phrase. In Gal. 5:6, he says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.” “Faith working through love” is the key to an understanding both of Paul and James. The faith about which Paul has been speaking is not the idle faith which James condemns, but a faith that works. It works itself out through love. And what love is Paul explains in the whole last division of Galatians. It is no mere emotion, but the actual fulfilling of the whole moral law. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Gal. 5:14). Paul is fully as severe as James against a faith that permits men to continue in sin. The faith about which he is speaking is a faith that receives the Spirit who gives men power to lead a holy life.
Notice the faith that saves is a “faith that works.” A faith working through love is what justifies. Salvation by faith and works could not be clearer. The prelates of Rome would be proud and from the Romanists coming out of the woodwork and around the blogosphere in defense of the FV (newly converted or otherwise), they are.
2. One is brought into a conditional relationship with Jesus Christ in baptism . . . .
“This covenantal act of baptism brings the person into a conditional relationship with God. Individual election is unconditional; but individual election is part of the secret decretal will of God, no ‘list’ of elect individuals having been revealed” (RINE 106 – emphasis added).
In the same book Wilson favorably quote of Joel Garver’s “A Brief Catechesis on Covenant and Baptism”: “(I)t is precisely in our ‘covenantal’ election that ’special’ election is realized and made known. Thus we should not drive a wedge between ’special’ and ‘covenantal’ elections, for special election simply is covenantal election for those, who by God’s sovereign electing grace, persevere. For those who fall away, covenantal election devolves into reprobation” (139, emphasis added).
Elect one day, reprobate the next. According to Wilson in RINE, election and reprobation are not eternal decrees of God made before the foundation of the world, they are states which men enter as a result of their actions under the objective covenant — they are covenantal outcomes. People are made elect by baptism, and reprobate by failing to fulfill the (unspecified) conditions of the objective covenant.
Joel Garver makes this point crystal clear; “Those who persevere in faith have no one to thank but God in his free and sovereign electing love poured out — salvation is by grace alone. Those who apostatize have no one to blame but themselves for having squandered God’s good gifts…. If someone is in Christ by baptism — united to the Head as a member of the Body — then that person is elect. If that person apostatizes and no longer abides in Christ (like the branches in John 15), he is no longer elect in Christ, but is reprobate, should he never repent and return. Whatever time we abide in Christ is a manifestation of God’s electing love for us and faithfulness to us.”
3. (all baptized persons are then brought into the same relationship with Christ via baptism) and as they persevere in fulfilling the obligations imposed on them by virtue of this sacrament they will be finally saved or justified on the last day.
Wilson writes that “both the true and false son are brought into the same relation” to Christ (96).
Of course if all baptized person are brought into the same relation, this raises the question, why do some baptized persons go to Hell?
While there are many places where Wilson explains the mechanics, the long and short is; “faith in the biblical sense is inseparable from faithfulness…. But when we have faith that work its way out in love, which is the only thing that genuine faith can do, then the condition that God has set for the fulfillment of His promise has been met” (RINE, 186-187, emphasis added).
Just in case there is still any question Wilson writes comparing the relationship of all baptized persons to Jesus and the Covenant with marriage:
“(T)here is no such thing as a merely nominal Christian any more than we can find a man who is a nominal husband. There are many faithless husbands, but if a man is a husband at all, then he is as much a husband as a faithful one. He is a covenant breaker, but this is not the same as saying that he has no covenant to break. In the same way, there are multitudes of faithless Christians, who do not believe what God said at their baptism” (96).
“No one assumes that every husband will automatically have a successful marriage. Nor should we assume that every Christian will go to Heaven. But all husbands are in fact married” (106).
In Wilson’s theology some Christians go to Hell.
“So again, when someone is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they [sic] are ushered into an objective, visible, covenant membership. Regardless of the state of their heart, regardless of any hypocrisy, regardless of whether or not they mean it, such a person is now a visible saint, a Christian” (194, emphasis added).
“Those who obligate themselves under the terms of the covenant law to live by faith but then defiantly refuse to believe are cut away” (134, emphasis added).
According to Wilson’s conditional and visible (what Wilson calls “objective”) reworking of the Covenant of Grace, he tells us in RINE that faith is synonymous with faithfulness and like an unfaithful husband who, even while mired in infidelity, still has “all the obligations of marriage.(20)” The lesson is: In order to be finally saved, sinners must do their part. Salvation is not the result of Christ’s work alone outside of them and on their behalf, but something worked in the church “corporately” as church members persevere and live out their lives in covenantal faithfulness. Christians are saved by fulfilling the conditions of the covenant: “In the historic Protestant view, good works are inseparable from biblical salvation. They are not a condiment to flavor a “raw” justification, but rather are definitionally related to justification…like the terms husband and wife.(173)”
Beyond that, concerning the church Wilson replaces the confessional and biblical visible/invisible distinction, which he dubs “Hellenistic,” with an historic/eschatological one:
“A problem is created when we affirm a belief in two Churches at the same moment in time, one visible and the other invisible. Are they the same Church or not? If they are, then why are “membership rosters” different? If they are not, then which is the true church? We know that Christ has only one bride. The natural supposition is that the invisible church, made up of the elect, is the true church. But this leads to a disparagement of the visible church(74).”
4. That’s the theory anyway and that is RINE in a nutshell.