Billboards For The Federal Vision

Recently Pastor Lane Keister over at Green Baggins asked Doug Wilson:

My question is this, for Wilson: do the people who fall away have any of the ordo salutis blessings of salvation? Are they justified, adopted, sanctified (leave Hebrews 10 out of it for now)? Wilson seems to be comfortable saying that they left Christ and grace. But what does that mean in terms of specifics?

If nothing else Pastor Keister is tenacious to a fault. He has been asking this same questions in virtually the same way for as long as I’ve been visiting his blog and probably longer.

My answer is; he will never get a straight answer – at least not from Wilson & Co., but why would anyone need one? Wilson has made it crystal clear in his attacks on the Christian faith in Reformed Is Not Enough and elsewhere, that elect and non-elect are brought into the same exact same relationship to Christ, even if only “for a time,” via the waters of baptism and the mumblings of a preistling. Among the many examples of his departure from the Reformed and Christian faith Wilson writes: “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).

I have to think Wilson must be wondering if he has to draw Pastor Keister a picture by now?

For what it’s worth, Wilson and the other major voices of the so-called “Federal Vision” are not going to concede the question in the terms Pastor Keister wants . . . ever. That would be akin to them placing a billboard on the road to Moscow saying: Moscow, Idaho – Home of the Heretical and Apostate Christ’s Church, or another one on the way to Monroe, Louisiana; Auburn Avenue PCA – Yes, We Are The Reformed Road to Rome.

Now, while the false teachers of the Federal Vision, men like Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins, Peter Leithart, John Brauch, Andrew Sandlin, James Jordon and others may not say things precisely in the straightforward neon-lights-yes-I’m-a-heretic manner Pastor Keister would like (although Jordon might and arguably has), their many followers and students aren’t nearly so guarded.

This is from one reader of the Green Baggins blog, Jared, in reference to John 15 and Jesus’ illustration that He is the vine and the Father the vinedresser (a passage that is without question a favorite of all Neoliberal Federal Visionsts – even if they fail to see that Jesus has men just like them specifically in mind):

Why does the Vinedresser need to cut the unfruitful branches out if they aren’t really connected to the Vine? . . . What you . . . are confusing are the real benefits a non-elect member of the covenant has simply by virtue of being in the covenant and the real benefits an elect member of the covenant has for exactly the same reason. Are these real benefits of the same quantity and quality? Quantity, probably not, but maybe; why should this matter?. . . The whole NT from Jesus to John say “Work it out”, the Reformed tradition (i.e. the WS) says “Work it out” because if you don’t, well, we all know the end of that story.

. . . Is the non-elect covenant member justified in the same way/sense/meaning as the elect covenant member? (1) YES, because they are both visible members of the one body (the Church) and that body is/will be justified, glorified, etc.. (2) NO, because one of them is not elect and won’t remain in the body . . . .

The non-elect won’t finish the race and receive the prize; that, however, doesn’t mean or imply that the prize is not a reality in their estimation. They are “entitled” to the prize as much as the elect are because they’re running, even in the same/right direction! But they lack the endurance and stamina of the elect, who will receive the prize. So, as the analogy goes, non-elect and elect runners are striving for the same prize and are promised the same prize upon finishing the race. On this scheme you can’t point to the non-elect and say to him “You’re not a runner!” because clearly you are mistaken. He’s sweating just like you are and he’s going to need water just like you and he will even drink it as you do; at this juncture he’s just as much a runner as you are (and should be treated as such too!). But one day he will stop and you will continue; he will, in effect, “lose” the prize even as you have obtained it.

I confess, talking about Jesus and the analogy of the vine and branches reminds me of debating the book of James with Romanists. No matter how many times you explain that  James is discussing how we might identify false brothers or nominal Christians (categories Wilson denies) and not  that faith plus works justify, they keep insisting on things like “dead faith” in order to be dead must have first been alive, never grasping that a feigned or “dead” faith is no real faith at all. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised, the word pictures and parables of Scripture are lost on those apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit, it seems the same applies to devotees and teachers of the Federal Vision.

Professing to be a Christian doesn’t make one a Christian any more than being baptized makes one a Christian. Those who are cut away are not among the number of the elect and never were, but are instead those who appear to be, but who are not, Christians; the same folks James was teaching us to identify when he said; “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”

But, notice above, both elect and non-elect are both equal “members of the covenant” and who are not only in the same race, they are even headed in the same direction. Those who lack “stamina” and stop running are cut off, but those who keep on chooglin’ win the prize; eternal life and blessedness. What we have pictured above is salvation by works stated as straightforwardly as it could possibly be stated. Salvation is premised on our doing – our running. Some people make it and others do not (not for lack of trying mind you). Notice too that the non-elect member of the visible church “are ‘entitled’ to the prize as much as the elect.” Christ did not die for the elect alone, but for all baptized runners in the FV conditional covenantal race instead.

It appears Pastor Keister’s question, do the people who fall away have any of the ordo salutis blessings of salvation has been answered in the very manner he wants after all, complete with jaw dropping neon lights, whistles, balloons and everything else thrown in.

Now, as far as I know, the writer of the above FV “salvation by sweating” doctrine is not a teacher but merely a tragic follower of the false teachers of the FV. So I don’t want to be too hard on him, but at least he answered the question in terms his teachers are too cowardly to express even when asked directly and repeatedly.

However, rushing to his defense is another well taught student of the FV added:

It could possibly be said that man desires theology meet his standards of logical coherence. But God operates differently.

Bingo! This is a very insightful point and one I’ve made elsewhere albeit for different reasons. This is precisely the reason why the FV cancer has been able to spread like wildfire and has not been successfully removed by any denomination in which it has taken root ( the OPC and PCA most definitely included).

The dirty little secret, and something that most people don’t want to discuss or even recognize, is that the majority of FV critics share the same underlying principle (even though they may express it differently and in different areas) as the Federal Visionists.  They both share the same disdain and distrust for logical coherence in theology.  Don’t get me wrong, they all believe logic is good as far as it goes, at least they say as much, but at some point they all insist when coming to the Scriptures that logic must be curbed. Translated into simple English, logic must take the backseat when it threatens their own exegetical position no matter how obviously self-contradictory it may be. Anything less is to invoke the charge, label and condemnation of “rationalist.”

This has provided an unguarded avenue  of escape for the defenders of almost every heretical and nonsensical doctrine no matter how damning. Whether it’s the heresy of the so-called “well meant offer” or the Gospel denying Federal Vision, the “apparent contradictions” these doctrinal schemes entail must be allowed to stand. Christian piety demands it all in the name of the Creator/creature distinction. We all must submit our minds to what is clearly contradictory and repeat to ourselves in mantra like fashion; “there are no contradictions for God — there are no contradictions for God — there are no contradictions for God.”

You can pick your poison, but the underlying misology has a long and pedigreed position particularly within the modern Reformed tradition and is something that most, if not all, seminary trained men have imbibed, some more deeply than others, and is a view they continually teach to those who come under them. Consider how well the above writer embraces a “yes and no” doctrine concerning election and apostasy:

(1) YES, because they are both visible members of the one body (the Church) and that body is/will be justified, glorified, etc.. (2) NO, because one of them is not elect and won’t remain in the body.

All visible members of the church will be justified and glorified, even though some of them won’t be. Huh?

The FV men may think they’re exempt from the command let your yes be yes, but the problem is their belief that God operates on a different logical plane and that human logic is not to be trusted is something most FV critics share.

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One Comment on “Billboards For The Federal Vision”

  1. jimpolk Says:

    I’ve often wondered what Federal Vision advocates do with a passage such as Matthew 7:22-23. Obviously, those saying “Lord, Lord” were attached to the visible Church is some way, shape or form and yet Christ said, “I never knew you.” Can it be said that one was justified, even for a time, if Christ [i]never[/i] knew you?


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