Friday, January 21, 2005

Federal Vision Theology

Federal Vision Theology. Is there such a thing? If so, what does it teach? Many militate against the idea that there is such a theology. Others do not want to be lumped into a category at all much less this one. It must be admitted that there are a wide variety of views held by those who have been labeled as Federal Vision proponents. Yet, I do not think that is excludes the idea of a Federal Vision Theology. Allow me to outline what I believe are some major pillars of Federal Vision Theology.

1. Justification and salvation are no longer "by Christ" rather they are done "in Christ." This is a subtle but huge difference in the two approaches. The first is forensic, forever, and final. The second is best described as Participationist. It can be forensic, but should not be limited to it. It is possible that it is forever, but it is assured. It is not final until death, but it has a final stage. The Federal Vision men seem to all have a place for falling out of Christ or apostasy. The claims are made that one can truly be "in Christ" and then fall out of Christ. A difference from the "by Christ" traditional view.
2. Sacramentalism. The Federal Vision proponents unite behind an intrinsic grace or objective grace that is given in the sacraments. Baptism becomes our way into Christ. The Lord’s Supper becomes grace we eat, Christ brought to us. This change in the traditional reformed approach often leads to weekly communion and infant communion.
3. Doctrinal development. The vast majority of the Federal Vision men are committed to the idea that doctrine develops. I will let Andrew Sandlin say what this means.

Another perspective from which to view RefC comprises what we might call the contemporary school. John Armstrong, Steve Schlissel and I (others too) are convinced that the semper reformanda principle demands a critically sympathetic assessment and implementation of contemporary (20th and 21st century) theology. (I suspect that Jim Jordan and Peter Leithart often spin in this orbit.) We are confident not only that profound theological insights are around today (e. g., John Frame, Don Garlington, Cornelius Van Til, N. T. Wright) but also, moreover, that those insights need not be mere appropriations of the 15th and 16th centuries. In other words, we believe in substantive, and not merely amendary, theological development.

This is a crucial and critical idea. They believe that doctrine develops, or in other words, the Reformation, the apostles, the apostolic fathers were wrong, and in another century so too will this generation. Notice Sandlin says "demands a critically sympathetic assessment". The church must read new ideas with a sympathetic eye, and a view to implement them. The church must substantially develop new doctrinal positions. It is what their theology demands. Thus one can notice several other idea that permeate the majority of Federal Vision men and churches. The vast majority are theonomic, the Regulative Principle of Worship is often being replaced by the Informed Principle of Worship or at least a higher liturgy, the New Perspectives on Paul are often held, Biblical Theology is favored if not outright replacing Systematic Theology, creeds are held loosely or not at all, and the next round of development will also be implemented according to their own words.

This is what I believe helps define the Federal Vision. All aspects including the doctrinal development aspect needs to be addressed by churches. If not then the crisis will not be resolved and the discussion will not yield the desired fruit.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lee,
I was interested in your comments about doctrinal development. When God revealed to Martin Luther the 'truth' of justicfication by faith alone, it must have seemed at that time as doctrinal development. Now we know it was not a new development but a renewal of the truth. Do you think that there could possibly be other renewals of the truth (as taught by the apostles yet distorted over time) that have been lost over these many years, causing yet again a new reformation? Now of coarse I'm not speaking about the Federal Vision Theology (BTW, why is it called this)just wondering aloud if we would ever even entertain the idea that there is still truth that we don't know (doctrinally speaking). I hadn't thought of it that way until your post.
This is a great site.....

eileen (in Colo)

Lee said...

It is good the hear from you. I guess I should have explained that Federal Vision Theology gets its name because, I believe, their first Auburn Ave Conference was entitled Federal Vision. Since then those original four and four other writers have written a book entitled Federal Vision. Thus, Federal Vision seems to be the name they like and has stuck.

As for will we ever see a rediscover of truth, I don't think so. It is possible that in small areas we will see a renewal, but not in the substantial terms used by Sandlin. God has not left us without his truth.
First, the grand depature from truth that was the Middle Aged Roman Church happened befor a printing press and bible reading was restricted. Education had taken a blow with the Barbarian invasions, and as soon as it returned so too did Biblical truth. It is hard to imagine circumstances such as this occuring again.
Second, I don't really think that the church was ever without a voice of truth. You can trace faithful voices from Calvin to Luther and Zwingli to Hus to Wicliff back to the Apostles. Large communities of believers of biblical truth existed forever. The South of France and North Italy always seemed to be populated with believers in justification by faith alone, and other biblical docrines.

So in short, no, I don't see rediscover of lost truth. I will discuss their view on development more later, and I will try to show the difference in their view and my view more clearly then. I hope I answered your question.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, you did answer my question and I will look forward to reading the continuation of further explanations of the Federal Vision theology. It is important to 'know' the things that are out and about in the world that are contrary to the beliefs that we hold to, especially given all the information and knowledge that is on the internet. I'm sure I will have a better grasp of the doctrinal development as I continue to read your study. Thanks again! Hello to your family!

pduggie said...

It isnt' necessary at all to say the reformers were "wrong", though they may have been (and some of them must have been wrong about some things, since they disagreed (luther & zwingli))

Wright has said that what the reformers were trying to safeguard about salvation are liegtimately perceived "overtones" of the bibles message, though not the "main notes". {When you strike a piano key, the other strings vibrate, adding to the sound)

Luthers ability and need to articulate JbF alone was in a particular context with particular apparatus that emerged in the study of theology and philosopy. Terminological change and drift can lead to a need to articulate things with similar but reified terminology.

Lee said...

I have no idea if Wright holds to a theory on historical development and theological development. When I speak of the Federal Vision men, I am not including Wright. Although I see a great affinity between the two. Wright’s ‘overtones’ vs. ‘main tones’ seems to fit nicely with the idea of historical and theological development. It seems to me that he implies the reformers majored in the minors. They fought for legitimate ‘overtones’ but missed the main tones or at least obscured them during their struggles. This led to a parting of ways with Rome with regards to sacramentalism and other things that Wright and the Federal Vision men wish to recover. The Reformers misplaced emphasis, at least according to the Development theory, must be corrected in order for the final synthesis between Rome and Geneva to occur.

One problem that I have with Wright is his “main notes” theory. He puts Justification by faith alone as not the main issue, and makes the main issue Jew-Gentile relations or something else. Justification becomes a mere ‘overtone’ rather than the major note that everyone throughout all history held it to be. Then he uses his belief in the main notes in order to read Paul’s letters. His “main note” theory is then used to prove that Justification by faith alone is not what is meant in certain passages and thus he proves his theory. In the end, I think you have to buy into Wright’s theory prior to reading Paul in order for his reading of Paul to make sense. If you don’t agree with his ‘overtone’ theory then Wright’s theories seem pretty out there.

I also think his practice of using extrabiblical material to define things adds to his problem. Second Temple Judaism is by no means proven to be full of grace. If one simply looks at the whole of the Bible, it appears not to be of grace at all. But, Wright seems to minimize portrayals of Judaism in the Bible, such as the Pharisees in the gospels, in favor of the Second Temple Judaism literature. I think that this is a mistake.

Anonymous said...

Wright doesn't make the jew-gentile inclusion the main tone of his definition of the gospel, just of Paul's term 'justification by faith'. But because jbf isn't even in many of Pauls letters, he would say "how can that be the center of his soteriology?'. The main tones of Wrights theology are that Jesus has come and defeated sin and death and everyone must submit to the new king.

Just because JbF is the center of our 'gospel' and Wright slightly redefines it, doesn't automatically make it the center of his definition of the gospel. This is a crucial point.

Anonymous said...

Also, you seem to have gotten a bad bit of information on the Federal Vision sacramental theology. They are trying to teach what Calvin taught on the sacraments. The real question is why all of the Calvinists are hopping mad about it. whoduthunk?

Jason Farley