Saturday, March 24, 2007

Federal Vision Philosophy

In the last year I have seen several licensure and ordination exams, and the one area where I am always disappointed is philosophy. Philosophy gets a bad rap in most places, but I am convinced that it important, especially for a minister. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the world’s greatest philosopher nor even an average thinker. But, I do believe that knowledge of philosophy (and how it fits with Scripture) aids not only in the engaging culture, but also in the many controversies that consistently arise within the church itself.

Recently I have been thinking about how the Federal Vision controversy and theology could very well be impacted by the fundamental philosophical debate about Universals and Particulars. I am not sure I agree with every thing on this site, but it is a good place to go to get a brush up on the terms as well as some opinions on how the Realism, Moderate Realism, and Nominalism philosophies affect the theories of the Lord’s Supper.

Take for example this statement of Doug Wilson about the Church:

For example, the Protestant terminology can make us think there are really two churches, one invisible in heaven and the other visible here on earth. (Federal Vision, pg. 266)

When you have two churches existing at the same time, with the membership lists not identical, this creates a problem. We know there is only one Church, so which one is the real one? . . . For example, if we are told there are two Peter Smiths, one heavenly and one earthly, we might confused about which one is the real Peter. But confronted with Peter Smith on Monday and again on Tuesday, we do not have any such problem. (Reformed is Not Enough, pg. 70-71)

Rev. Wilson here is saying something about universals and particulars. He is making a highly philosophical statement. In fact he is saying that the ‘universal’ can only be found in the ‘particular’. The two cannot exist at the same time with differences; thus, we must only turn to the one here on earth. He has taken sides in a debate that goes back to Plato vs. Aristotle. And if I am not mistaken in my amateur philosophy, he has taken Aristotle’s side. He has shown himself to be a moderate-realist.

I also think that the Moderate Realist position on the Lord’s Supper is a decent representation of the Federal Vision position. The particular of bread does not become the ‘universal’ of the body of Christ, but it is connected in such a way that the particular (bread) conveys the grace of the universal (body of Christ).

It would be interesting to hear what others think on this. Is there a link between Aristotle’s metaphysics and the Federal Vision theology?


Brian Douglas said...

Hi Lee,

Without knowing too much about what you call 'Federal Vision' I am glad that you have come across my site. I agree with what you say about moderate realism, that is, while the bread and wine are not the same as the Christ's body and blood in the strict or fleshy sense, in other words both particulars being strictly identical, they share an strict identity in relation to the instantiation of the universal. The universal, nature of Christ, is therefore instantiated in both the body and blood of Christ and in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. This is the position of David Armstrong, a philosopher who has been very important in my own discussion of this area. I would be interested to know the areas of my work with which you disagree - not in the sense that I want an argument - I do not - but merely in order to promote dialogue.


Brian Douglas

Lee said...

Mr. Douglas,

I really enjoyed your site. I put that small disclaimer because I was not familiar with all of the positions you discussed. I must admit I had never heard of moderate nominalism or immoderate realism. It was mainly a disclaimer because of my own ignorance rather than any sort of real dispute.
However, if you are looking for feedback, I would like to see the discussion of the sacramental view of Realism expanded.

Thanks again for a very thought provoking site.

Brian Douglas said...

Thanks Lee for your favourable comments on my site. It had not heard of these finer distinctions on realism and nominalism until I read David Armstrong's philosophical works. When I read them I was immediately struck concerning how relevant this type of analysis was to eucharistic theology. To a great extent it made sense of the multiformity which I had already noted in the Anglican eucharistic tradition and so it led me on to further study and reflection.

Thanks for the advice about additional material needed on the site. I have had several requests for this material and so I am proposing to add it when time allows.