Why the PCA is a Safe-Haven for the Federal Vision Heresy

rotten-fruitMy 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.

Explore posts in the same categories: Heresies

17 Comments on “Why the PCA is a Safe-Haven for the Federal Vision Heresy”

  1. Steve M Says:

    “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.”

    “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.”

    A series of words which have no meaning is not a proposition at all. In order for a declarative sentence to qualify as a proposition, it must have a meaning. Only propositions are true or false. Whatever these folks say about faith with such an ambiguous definition cannot be true (or false). To seek confusion is not to seek truth. Rationality is the image of God. God has made man rational in order that he might distinguish truth from falsehood. Some men would rather be confused than understand the unambiguous truth of Scripture. They do this while claiming to believe that the Bible is God’s Word. I don’t believe they do. They like parts of it and don’t like other parts. They pick and choose which parts to believe. When they run into part of it they don’t like they choose confusion over belief.

    I don’t believe that demons believe that Christ died for their sins. The Bible nowhere says that He did. The Bible nowhere says that any demon believes he did. The folks who put forth an ambiguous definition of faith do not seem to know what the Gospel is. Paul says it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. These folks believe that the unregenerate can believe the Gospel. The Bible clearly tells us they cannot. One who believes the Gospel does so because he has been born again. There are certainly those who say they are believers that are unregenerate. There is a difference between saying one believes and believing. Believing the Gospel saves. Saying one is a believer does not.

  2. Sean Gerety Says:

    That’s funny, because I just responded to someone else making the demon faith argument on another thread dealing with Augustine’s doctrine of faith. As I told that person James said demons believe in monotheism, that God is one, and shudder. The point being, belief that God is one, a true proposition about the nature of God, saves no one. No doubt demons also believe many other true propositions about Jesus Christ. Today many Roman Catholics and even Mormons do too. The problem is when people mention demon faith they seem to suggest that demons believe the Gospel or that Jesus died for them too. But, as you say, “the Bible nowhere says that demons believe He did.”

    I look at the situation this way. When I first read Clark’s Faith and Saving Faith (now What Is Saving Faith?) years ago, I found it totally liberating. No longer was my Christian walk predicated on the ebb and flow of things like Andy Webb’s mishmash of emotional states and dubious and extra-biblical psychological experiences. It wasn’t dependent on what was in me from day to day as it now rested totally on what Christ has accomplished completely outside of myself and according to the Scriptures … alone! Applying that same idea to the Federal Vision, the faith that saves cannot have anything to do with my own faithfulness, much less to my performance in relation to any presumed “demands” made upon me by the “covenant” as the result of my baptism.

    Federal Visionsists falsely confess that the faith that saves is “a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer.” According to these men the faith that saves does not merely apprehend Christ’s finished work on account of our sin outside of ourselves accomplished on a cross 2000+ years ago. No, they say that true saving faith consists of action and a life lead based on our own personal loyalty of fidelity.

    It’s pure Romanism because it fuses both the ideas of justification and sanctification all within the traditional threefold definition of saving faith.

    Again and again what men on both sides of the FV divide demand is that the faith that saves include elements that must first be wrought in us! That our salvation depends on everything from the “mingling of the emotion of love” to our own “faithfulness” or “loyalty” and all these extra-Scriptural elements that are supposed to make faith “saving” are all crammed into the ambiguous addition of “fiducia” to faith’s definition. And, it’s ambiguous precisely because, as Clark said, it adds absolutely noting to faith’s definition and is properly to the defining a word with itself and should be discarded. But, instead of discarding this third element men on both sides of the FV divide fill it with all sorts of different and contradictory things. They would rather hold on to tradition than the Scripture and now they have paid the price.

    The PCA is a safe haven for the FV.

    It’s so obvious that the traditional definition of faith has failed. The FV successfully attached the heart of the Christian faith at its weakest point and won. Yet, men like Andy Webb, Lane Keister, Scott Clark, Alan Strange, and hosts of others refuse to listen much less learn from their mistakes. They’d rather attack Clark or Robbins or anyone else for their failure to defend their flocks.

  3. Steve M Says:

    “No, they say that true saving faith consists of action and a life lead based on our own personal loyalty of fidelity.”

    If this were true, why would Paul go to such lengths to distinguish faith from works? What Paul writes in Romans is not ambiguous. Those who seek to blur that distinction are the same ones who exalt ambiguity, vagueness and lack of precision in theology. The notions they espouse are meaningless and therefore cannot be true. This is why it is so difficult to demonstrate that they contradict themselves, because only propositions can be contradictory. Two meaningless statements cannot be contradictory. Vagueness insulates them from any charge that they contradict themselves. It is their shield from scrutiny.

  4. Hugh McCann Says:

    And, “most important, those who believe the truth tend to be slow to recognize error and even slower to take the actions necessary to defend the truth. They lack both discernment and courage.”


  5. Steve M Says:

    Thanks for the link. I’m sure I have read that some time ago, but it was well worth reading again.

  6. Hugh McCann Says:

    See also PCA Pastor Dewey Roberts: One of the reasons that the Federal Vision remains a confusing system to so many evangelical Christians, even ministers, is because there has been a failure to consider what their proponents say about regeneration.


  7. Hugh McCann Says:

    SJC: “Move along, Mr Dewey, there’s nothing to see here!”

  8. Hugh McCann Says:

    Good piece by Lane, BTW!

    The church is a lady, and the PCA was attacked by breast cancer years ago. However, instead of a radical mastectomy and aggressive chemo & radiation, she simply said, “It’s not cancerous,” and has moved on.

  9. Hugh McCann Says:

    Lane is the “Paul Kimmage” of the PCA to FV’s “Lance Armstrong.”

    Sean, you’re the “Greg Lemond.”

  10. Hugh McCann Says:

    The FV men are like these human cancers in sport, church, and politics, respectively: Lance Armstrong, Mark Driscoll & Donald Trump – All inveterate liars and toxic bullies (not merely competitive).

  11. Sean Gerety Says:

    “Good piece by Lane, BTW!”

    It was, but he still doesn’t get it. After his year long public debate with Doug Wilson the one place Wilson had him completely tied up on the ropes was on the nature of faith. This is where Wilson’s mastery of metaphor and obfuscation destroyed Lane to the point where Lane openly concluded:

    “Wilson holds to justification by faith alone, although he is too ambiguous on the aliveness of faith and its place in justification. He does hold to imputation.”

    The problem is it is Lane’s view of faith that is too ambiguous which is why he confesses only a vague uneasiness about Wilson’s understanding of faith as the alone instrument of justification. He clearly senses that something is off, but he can’t identify it – and still can’t identify it – precisely because he shares Wilson’s understanding of faith. This is why he gave Wilson a pass. Now, thankfully, he did subsequently repent and finally did identify Wilson as the heretic he is, but not for this reason.

    No one who understands and accepts Clark’s simple definition of faith that is stripped of all the ambiguity entailed in the meaningless addition of “fiducia” could miss identifying Doug Wilson has the liar and enemy he is.

  12. justbybelief Says:

    Why would anyone attend a “Safe-Haven” of heresy? Furthermore, why would NAPARC remain silent?

    The thirteen member churches of NAPARC confess Jesus Christ as the only Savior and the Sovereign Lord over all of life, and are fully committed to the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God written, without error in all its parts, and to its teaching as set forth in the historic Reformed standards (the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards).

    I guess the above statement of NAPARC is not considered true anymore.

    No discipline…No church.

  13. Hugh McCann Says:

    Of course, NAPARC is no church, and has no real jurisdiction under any member denominations, does it?

  14. justbybelief Says:

    NAPARC is made of of professing churches which claim fellowship with one another. Even though a member denomination has become a haven of heresy the other members still claim (by silence) fellowship with it. Does light really have fellowship with darkness?

  15. Steve M Says:

    “Does light really have fellowship with darkness?”

    Yes and no. The new “Christian” position.

  16. justbybelief Says:

    It is a sad state of affairs when words have no meaning. I don’t wonder if this is not the peak of godlessness.

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