At Least Kissing Cousins

By TE Reed DePace

It is not fair to say that the Federal Vision is Arminianism. That is, the FV is not simply an expression of Arminian doctrine. Nor is it fair to say that the FV is a child of Arminianism. The FV arguments do not grow out of Arminian formulations. Nor, do I think, we can say that the FV is even a sibling of Arminianism. The FV does not end up proposing simply a variation of Arminianism.

Yet many critics have noted that the Federal Vision and Arminianism share some characteristics. In the past I believe I even may have used the phrase “sibling” to try to describe how close these similarities run. After some more thinking about this, I do find myself sympathetic to FV supporters who take offense at such comparisons. And I do regret and repent of any over statements on my part. I’ve not intended to offer rhetorical offense for the sake of making a point. To whatever degree my words in the past have lent themselves to that end, I am sorry.

Still, I do see the similarities between the Federal Vision and Arminianism. I do wish FV supporters would take seriously such concerns, and not react in theological horror at being associated with a form of doctrine we all agree is defective at best. In an effort to help FV supporters at least appreciate the concern here, I want to make a few observations.

The Federal Vision in effect proposes that the Church has before it a two-dimensional scheme, one decretal and the other covenantal. Without trying to work out all the existential niceties, the FV understands the decretal dimension to be that of God’s existence. It has real substance in reality in that it is real spiritually. Yet this dimension by its nature is objectively unknowable. That is, it cannot be known through the use of ordinary natural senses.

The FV understands the covenantal dimension to be that of the Church’s existence. It too has real substance in reality in that it is real materially. This dimension is objectively knowable, in that it is the dimension of ordinary natural experience.

Both these dimensions, according to the FV, have their own expression of the ordo salutis. These are not to be understood as the same, although they are essentially analogous (perseverance not being a part of the covenantal dimension). Both of these ordo saluti are ministries of the Holy Spirit. Both are to be understood as having real substance, albeit in their own dimension.

The critical difference between these ordo saluti in their respective dimensions is one of permanence. The decretal dimension offers an ordo salutis that is eternal, never to be lost. The covenantal dimension offers an ordo salutis that is transitory, potentially losable.

It is in this that we see the key comparison to Arminianism. From the decretal dimension, FV supporters rightly maintain that the FV is not Arminian(-like). The FV is clear that only the elect partake of the reality of the decretal dimension, and that this can never be lost.

However, with regard to the covenantal dimension this is not the case. The ordo salutis in this dimension can be lost (albeit only by the reprobate). And this is effectively the same thing that is said by Arminianism.

So, from the viewpoint of the decretal dimension, the FV is not Arminian(-like) at all. Yet from the viewpoint of the covenantal dimension, the FV proposes a system of salvation that is effectively the same as Arminianism. They may not be structured exactly the same, but they share the same essential “losable” characteristic. In the FV scheme of things, the Spirit ministers an eternally secure decretal ordo salutis to the elect and He ministers a losable covenantal salutis to the reprobate.

This two-dimensional scheme might be nothing more than cumbersome if it were not for the FV’s insistence that the decretal dimension is largely irrelevant to the professing believer’s day to day life. Objectively unknowable, the decretal dimension offers some vague assurances. Yet if one wants a real grip on assurance, according to the FV, one needs to look at his experience of the covenantal ordo salutis (e.g., his participation in the baptism ritual, and/or his day to day faithfulness-obedience.) In that this covenantal dimension is not really secure, this is a weak basis for assurance at best.

So no, the Federal Vision and Arminianism are not members of the same immediately family. To maintain this is to overspeak. But these systems do share a significant similarity, one that is dominant in their ministry of the gospel. Thus, maybe it is better to call the Federal Vision and Arminianism kissing cousins.

By TE Reed DePace

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72 Comments

  1. jared said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    If I may offer a quick comment. As you say, the FV proposes two different perspectives of the ordo. If I am understanding you correctly you are saying that the FV and Arminianism are “kissing cousins” on the issue of assurance because of the FV’s emphasis on the covenantal ordo, which can be lost. Two observations: (1) the FV maintains, as you observe, that only the reprobate can lose this covenantal ordo and the Reformed concept of “reprobate” is completely foreign to the Arminian system; so no kissing there. And (2) the FV wants us to focus on the covenantal aspect not at the expense of, or to exclude, the decretal view but so that we have a greater sense of the reality of the decretal view. I see them as saying that it’s the decretal view which bolsters the covenantal view and since we experience God via covenant it stands to reason that our understanding of the decretal increases as we “work out our calling and election” within the paramenters of the covenantal.

  2. Paige Britton said,

    February 25, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Hey, Reed,
    Forgive my ignorance here — you know much more about this subject than I do. But I am wondering why Arminian would be the adjective of choice for capturing (however minimally) the difference between the FV and the Reformed systems?

    You want something that matches with the possibility of falling away, and with a synergistic (monergistic?) form of perseverance, which are taught by the FV. Certainly on the surface you’ve got those in Arminianism — but you’ve got a whole lot of other baggage, too, that gets swept into the picture with this term, and neither the FV nor the Arminians are going to recognize a match in the bulk of their theologies. It’s kind of like saying that since both dogs and cats have tails, cats are doglike. Well, yes, you could say that, but it ultimately ends up complicating matters rather than clarifying them. You’d end up spending a lot of time explaining what you don’t mean by the statement.

    Given that the first troubling step in the FV system seems to be the mysterious operation of the Spirit within a covenant member who does not turn out to be elect, I would think there would be greater similarities with Catholic theology, particularly their complex understanding of grace in its different forms. The opening moves in Arminianism seem to be in a different camp meeting (pun intended).

    In describing what is worrisome about the theology of the FV, then, there would be more points of contact all the way through the Catholic system (soteriologically speaking), so this comparison would be more instructive than the comparison to Arminianism. (It might not be any less irksome to FV proponents, but at least you could hold up to them more similarities than you could using the Arminian comparison.) Not that y’all don’t already make such comparisons with Catholicism, but that they seem more profitable than describing FV theology as “Arminian (in some sense),” and might avoid at least a few more tangled conversations.

    Just some thoughts — and I’m glad to learn from you. (I’m sure I haven’t understood any of this quite as well as I should have before writing this note!)

  3. February 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I agree with Paige. The idea of reprobates gaining saving benefits like regeneration, justification, and forgiveness of sins at baptism, the emphasis on mixing works in faith (following Shepherd), skewed view in general of the operation of the sacraments, the general rejection of merit and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, and a final judgment based on works all seem far more Roman Catholic than Arminian. Open theism can also account for a subset of these errors, but not all.

    One thing’s for sure, these FV views differ significantly from the Westminster Standards and 3FU at major junctures. Not just my opinion, but that of seven orthodox Reformed denominations, maybe more.

  4. Vern Crisler said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    I think you nailed it Reed. Their objectivism makes FVists more Arminian than Arminians, and more Romanist than Romanists. They keep sovereign grace (decretally) but manage to make it irrelevant (covenantally).

  5. Reed Here said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    Paige, Bob: I do appreciate your observations. I think my reasons for making the Arminian connection also flow from a historical perspective. Both systems are post-Reformation (at least 1st generation for Arminianism). I.e., they’re both response attempting to “perfect” Calvinism.

    Further, I’m limiting my observations more or less to the ordo salutis comparisons between both systems. I think there is a large degree of similarity on this level (with the FV’s covenantal dimension).

    If someone wants to make a post observing the similarities with RCC, I’m fine with that :)

  6. Reed Here said,

    February 25, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Jared: I note you don’t deny the similarities I’m observing. :)

    As to the FV’s desire to augment the covenantal by the decretal, I admit I could be just not paying attention, but I really don’t see where you are getting this from. The major arguments of the FV revolve around the insufficiency of the decretal, and the benefit of instead relying on the covenantal dimension. There may be a stated intention otherwise (I’ve not seen it). But even if so, that is an intention unfufilled (or even pursued).

  7. pduggie said,

    February 25, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    A respected OPC TE (not anyone in the current FV stuff, not a shepherdite) once said to a friend (who told me) “you have to believe like a Calvinist, but preach like an Arminian”

  8. jared said,

    February 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Reed,

    What other similarities did you observe? You say,

    However, with regard to the covenantal dimension this is not the case. The ordo salutis in this dimension can be lost (albeit only by the reprobate). And this is effectively the same thing that is said by Arminianism.

    And that’s pretty much it. As I pointed out, even here the FV is not “effectively the same thing that is said by Arminianism.” Why? You state the key difference in this very sentence! So, since only the reprobate can lose the ordo in the covenantal dimension, they are effectively saying the same thing as the Arminians? Really? Come on, Reed.

    In your response to me you say,

    The major arguments of the FV revolve around the insufficiency of the decretal, and the benefit of instead relying on the covenantal dimension.

    This is pure foolishness. If it were not for the decretal dimension there would be no covenantal dimension. And if you relied on the covenantal dimension so as to make the decretal dimension irrelevant then you would be incoherent in an extraordinarily obvious way. The FV does neither (and Arminianism doesn’t do this either, so maybe they are kissing cousins on that point). The major arguments of the FV revolve not around the supposed insufficiency of the decretal dimension, rather they revolve around contemporary systematic theology’s rigid use of some key biblical terms and concepts. Here’s what the PCA Study Report says:

    Key in the present discussion is the definition of doctrines that have been crucial to our identity as a biblical and confessional church. In the PCA, we use theological terms such as “regeneration,” “election,” “justification,” and “perseverance” to define these doctrines in a particular and agreed upon fashion through ecclesiastical action. The committee affirms with the PCA that the Confession’s usage of these and related terms is faithful to the teachings of Scripture. While we are aware that the biblical usage of some of these words may have varying nuances in different contexts, our task is to study the theological claims that the NPP and FV proponents make about such terms. Then, our purpose is to determine whether the theological claims they make serve to undermine the system of doctrine taught in the Scripture and Confession. It is certainly possible to say more than our Confession does about biblical truth, but this should not necessitate a denial of the vitals of our faith.

    So, what the FV has done (or has tried to do, or is trying to do) is make a case for the relevancy of the covenantal dimension from a practical and pedagogical point; not in contrast or opposition to the decretal dimension, but in addition to it. Yes, the decretal (and Confessional) use of some of these terms are true, biblical and accurate; but the FV’s point is that they are not comprehensive (nor could they be given the nature of the Confession). Their point is not that those terms are useless or insufficient or wrong or even inaccurate. Let me here, then, slide onto your plate the possibility of something you’ve already potentially admitted to: you are not paying attention. Sorry, the FV doesn’t fit in Catholicism or Arminianism (and especially not open-theism). They could probably set up camp near the Catholics but I suspect some lowly priest would be given the task to go and ask them, politely, to move along to another site.

  9. curate said,

    February 26, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Reed, I greatly benefited from our discussion on the other thread.

    Regarding this post of yours, I must point out that the key difference between Reformation teaching and all others, whether Arminian or Roman, is the insistence upon justification by faith alone, apart from works. It is works versus grace.

    On this principle both Arminian and Roman are joined at the tail.

    There are many similarities between Reformation and Roman teaching, which no-one can deny. Having a similar teaching to Rome is of itself unobjectionable. The trouble begins and ends with justification by faith alone, by grace alone, apart from the works of the law.

    You have identified the losing of salvation as a similarity between the FV and Arminius. I am guessing that you would argue that if justification is losable, then works are necessarily implied.

    Perhaps there are reasons other than works for the loss of justification. The parable of the sower says it is the shallowness of the soil, the presence of weeds and tares, and the activity of the devil. Not working is not mentioned.

    Just a few thoughts.

  10. Reed Here said,

    February 26, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Jared, it won’t do to simply shout “you’re wrong.”

    But the FV believes that the reprobate will not be known until the final judgment. Where does that leave professing Christians today? In this unsure state where they need to look to their objective. Theoretically the FV has no burden here. Practically they’re giving the same advice as the Arminian, “you better work at it.”

    I understand the FV believes it is correcting the imbalance towards the decretal dimension. Leaving aside whether or not such imbalance is there, the FV’s correction is more like a tipping over.

    What is the professing believer in the pwes told to look at by the FV? How does the decretal and covenantal dimensions find expression. The determinant application is decidedly covenantal in an Arminian way – look to your faithfulness.

    I’m not interested in arguing over old ground. If you want to showm me where this is not the FV’s position, please do move forward.

  11. Reed Here said,

    February 26, 2010 at 7:06 am

    Roger: I’ve no need to imply what the FV teaches. It is called Shepherdism, which includes an imbalanced understanding of a believer’s works and the role they play in justification.

    Aside from a few niggling points about the parable of the soils, I agree with you. The essential problem is with the soils in the first place, and no matter how hard the soil tries (the man himself) or any other human agency tries, that soil is not goinng to be turned into eternal fruit yielding soil.

    Interesting that the solution is both a covenantanl dimension (the Heavenly Farmer’s promise) and decretal dimension (the Heavenly Ruler’s declaration). Both work together in Scripture to give the soil the reality of both dimensions.

  12. curate said,

    February 26, 2010 at 7:57 am

    To be honest, I have problems with Shepherd’s teaching on justification, and with Tom Wright’s view of a final justification by faith and works.

  13. Reed Here said,

    February 26, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Well Roger, I pretty well concluded a while ago that you were not actually an FV proponent. I admit still thinking your quite anachronistic, but no longer do I look as you as an enigma ;-)

    Feel free now to “label” me. ;-P

    Look, in all of this, I actually do begin with sympathy for the FV’s concerns, and even some of their observations. However, taking in Jared’s challenge here, I jsut think they go too far. In arguing against the decretal-dimension over-emphasis, the FV tends to absolutise the covenantal-dimension.

    Arguing against the monolithictizing (struggling to make this term work) the decretal, the FV end ups doing the same with the covenantal.

    I fully appreciate that the formal comparisons with Arminianism are limited. I understand that the theoretical nuances are careful to remove any necessary doctrinal relationship (the essence of Jared’s challenge). I think that at the practical level, the level at which we minister to people, such theoretical differences disappear.

    I’m not ignoring the trajectory of some who begin with the FV and end up with Rome. Yet these truly are the minority.

    Most in FV churches stay in FV churches. Ask yourself what such churches will look like a generation or two from now. I expect that evangelicals looking for more stability than found commonly found in evangelical churches will find a ready home in FV churches, a home which does not offend their arminianistic sensibilities.

  14. Ron Henzel said,

    February 26, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Roger,

    Regarding comment 12: this is encouraging.

  15. curate said,

    February 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Well, I am not a Shepherdite, but I am committed to the Federal Vision, or, the covenantal perspective. I wonder what you made of my post where I argued that the decree of election is presented to us in Romans 9 through the window of the Abrahamic covenant?

    I am not persuaded by your advocacy of a dual approach to scripture. I think there is a different way to think about it. The decrees only make sense to us in terms of the covenant. Think about it, Paul says that only the children of promise are elect. IE only Abraham’s promised children are counted as seed. That is election seen through the window of the covenant.

  16. curate said,

    February 26, 2010 at 9:03 am

    This way there is no dualism, but a true biblical syncretism.

  17. Reed Here said,

    February 26, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Roger: if I hear you correctly, you are arguing for a dominant (covenant) – subservient (decretal) scheme.

    I think that goes too far. Instead I think there is much more of a balanced presentation, a mutual co-inhering of the two. My reading of Rom. 9 during famiy worship actually demonstrates this well.

    You say Rom. 9: dominant context is covenant. I say Rom. 9: no dominant context, both mutually support, interpret, and explain one another. in fact, it is probably accurate to argue that Paul is seeking to an apparent covenant failure in this chapter: if God’s promise is so great, why are so many “children” of promise, Israelites, not trusting in Christ?

    Paul’s answer is to bring into view decretal considerations. These do not trump, over-shadow or in anyway dominate the covenantal. They do support and defend the covenant from this charge of weakness.

    This, I think, is a more balanced perspective: not decretal subservient to covenant, but both mutually co-inhering. That is, both are a necessary support/defense of the other. They stand together or fall together.

  18. Reed Here said,

    February 26, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Roger: it is not accurate to describe my position as a dualism. This is because of the necessary organic nature of these two. Both have life and breath, as it were, in the pages of Scripture, only in the context of the other. Again, stand or fall, they go together.

  19. February 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Reed,

    The major difference is that some Arminians do hold to sola fide. They also reject baptismal regeneration.

    Some Roman Catholics believe in unconditional election. The FV view is very akin to the sacramentalist systems of Rom, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism. The difference is that the FV has not yet adopted all the traditions that these groups want to hold to.

    However, their soteriological systems are essentially the same.

  20. Reed Here said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:43 am

    So Paige, Bob, Wes: do you agree with my assessment of the FV’s two dimensional scheme? If so, how does this play in the soteriological similarities with Rome?

  21. revron62 said,

    February 26, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I know I have brought this up before, but here it goes…
    Lutherans believe in election, but look to baptism and the “new obedience” for assurance, rather than election. Lutherans believe one can genuinely apostatize.
    Lutherans and the FV also believe in justification by grace through faith alone.
    Leithart and Meyers have Lutheran backgrounds. I don’t know about the rest, but reading a bit of Lutheran theology might be helpful.
    I come from a Lutheran perspective and find the FV a good bridge between Reformed and Lutheran positions.
    For what it is worth…

  22. February 26, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Reed,

    If you mean covenantal played against decretal with covenantal overriding, I guess so. The major problem with their covenantal view is their monocovenantal error feeding the objective covenant myth. So, when they say everything falls under the covenant umbrella, it isn’t the same umbrella of the historic Reformation.

    I don’t believe that the soteriological errors necessarily stem from the covenantal errors, though. Perhaps more the other way around. There seem to be two underlying principles behind FV’s genesis: 1) the desire to find some basis for paedocommunion; and 2) like the RCC, the Shepherdian fear that “excessive” grace leads to antinomian behavior. There’s also a subcurrent of triumphant postmillenialism.

    The RCC system doesn’t scratch the paedocommunion itch directly, but it does provide an enabler in justification and forgiveness of sins by baptism. That “salvation” is temporary and dependent on grace-enabled works in both systems. The ritualism predominant in FV churches parallels the sacerdotal RCC. RCC places assurance with faithful church membership and grace-enabled good works, FV places it with grace-enabled covenantal obedience. Both have a final judgment based on grace-enabled works. Neither of these schemes can rightly be said to be based on sola fide since both depend on grace-enabled works.

    I could go on, but then I’d give away my upcoming post on the subject.

  23. Dean B said,

    February 26, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Reed

    “So Paige, Bob, Wes: do you agree with my assessment of the FV’s two dimensional scheme? If so, how does this play in the soteriological similarities with Rome?”

    May I take a stab?

    I agree that FV has a two dimensional scheme. If these two lines are merely run parallel then there is no harm and no foul, but if they intersect at some point then there must be a foul and harm.

    The point of intersection between FV [semi-Remonstrants] and Jacob is in Doug Wilson’s definition of corporate justificaiton. According Wilson “corporate justification is God’s forensic declaration that the human race has been legally and covenantally reconstituted in Christ, the last Adam. The Church, as the bride of Christ, is the instantiation of that blessing in the world, for the world.” http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2007/09/05/on-a-debate-with-wilson/#comments # 31

    Translation:
    In the sacrament of baptism, which serves as my initiation into the Church, I move from an enemy of God to a position where I am legally united to Christ and receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17). The grace and gift of righteousness is given to me tangibly via my membership in the historical representation of His body.

    This is complete non sense! The lines are not run parallel, but intersect with Jacob despite their their objections to the contrary.

    What ensures that my corporate justificaion obtained in baptism will endure to the end?

    Even Rome admits one is not guaranteed of salvation merely on the basis of baptismal efficiency but it needs future grace. The future grace, according to both the FV and Jacob, needed to ensure my corporate justification becomes permanent is faithfulness and obedience. Of course, obedience and faithfulness are merely a gift of God (Eph 2:10).

    These earlier Shepherites positively lay out what they actually mean.
    “That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son before the foundation of the world, has determined that out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who through the grace of the Holy Spirit shall believe on this his son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end”

    “That, accordingly, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, [covenantally] died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer [secured via baptism],”

    “That man does not posses saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as in his state of apostasy and sin he can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is necessary that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, and will, and all his faculties, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, ‘Without me you can do nothing.'”

    “That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to the extent that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But with respect to the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, since it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places).”

    “That those who are incorporated into Christ by true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, as a result have full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations…, desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no deceit or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: ‘Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.’ But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginning of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of neglecting grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full confidence of our mind.”

  24. jared said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Reed,

    Re: #10,

    Happy to oblige.

    1. The FV does not say the reprobate will only be found out at the final judgment. The reprobate will make themselves readily known by (a) falling away and not returning (b) not living out the faith they supposedly have, (c) leading the church away from the true gospel and any number of other things. What the FV stresses (like good evangelistic minded Calvinists) is that it isn’t our place to determine someone else’s election. We are called to preach, discipline, rebuke, reconcile, and forgive. On what basis do we do these things? Well, on the basis that Christians are united as one covenantal body. Do {a,b,c, etc.} above necessarily mean someone is reprobate? No, but they are some pretty good indicators that disciplinary action is required (and this, in turn, can ultimately lead to an excommunication wherein the elect will eventually return and the reprobate will not) . We are called to be discerning, not judgmental and we can only discern from the covenantal dimension. I don’t see how this diminishes the decretal dimension at all, in fact the decretal dimension (as I said earlier) is what establishes the covenantal dimension. We can look at our lives and compare them to the lives of those whom we know were saved. Will we barely make it to the finish line or will we finish mightily? Will we make it to the finish line at all? Not if we aren’t running, walking, stumbling, crawling or making some kind of forward progress. That’s the FV’s point; true faith is alive and a living faith is always moving (though sometimes it can be hard to tell, hence discipline).

    2. The fact that you are hung up on this supposedly “unsure state” the FV leaves professing Christians in shows that there is, indeed, an imbalance towards the decretal dimension. Assurance is not part and parcel to having true faith. Some (many?) will finish the race having assurance only in their last moments while others live with assurance their entire lives. This is no different given any variant of Reformed theology. A believer isn’t any less (or more) assured given FV than given any other Protestant system. You certainly haven’t shown otherwise in this post, at any rate. There isn’t any part of the flower that FV drops or changes and this makes it, soteriologically, quite the opposite of Arminianism. Given the FV, professing Christians are left in the same place they always are, relying on Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In this regard Arminians are told the same thing Calvinists are told: if you aren’t living it then you need to step back and take a look at the big picture. I seem to recall getting into a little bit of a stink about questioning our elect status in another post. Doubt and fear are a natural part of the mortification of the old man; what do you tell someone who is questioning their salvation? Do you tell them that God has it all figured out and if they are elect then they’re gonna “get in” so they don’t have to worry about it? I suspect what you would say and what I would say (and what the FV says) don’t look very different at all on the practical side of things. You contine,

    What is the professing believer in the pews told to look at by the FV? How does the decretal and covenantal dimensions find expression. The determinant application is decidedly covenantal in an Arminian way – look to your faithfulness.

    Nope, it isn’t just “look to your faithfulness”, rather it’s “look to Jesus who has completed the task for you and continue being faithful to the realities He obtained by His life, death and resurrection.” Can you guess what happens if you don’t continue being faithful? It’s a good indication that you probably do not have true (i.e. living) faith. A dead faith is still a faith in self even though it might look like, for a while, true faith. How do you tell which faith you have? That’s between you and God; I can only tell you what your faith looks like to me and tell you what your life should look like given a true faith (we have lots of examples here). On this point Calvinism, Arminianism and Catholicism look (and I stress appearance) exactly the same. The difference is that on the Calvinist (and FV) scheme if you have true faith you will (necessarily) be saved. The difference is affirmation of the decretal truth which establishes the covenantal experience. You say,

    I’m not interested in arguing over old ground. If you want to showm me where this is not the FV’s position, please do move forward.

    Except you already did this for me in your original post (albeit parenthetically).

  25. jared said,

    February 26, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Dean,

    Let me try and correct your translation of Wilson’s statement. You say,

    In the sacrament of baptism, which serves as my initiation into the Church, I move from an enemy of God to a position where I am legally united to Christ and receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17). The grace and gift of righteousness is given to me tangibly via my membership in the historical representation of His body.

    And more accurately:

    “Jesus is the federal representative of a new humanity. The Church is that new humanity and she is represented to the old humanity so that the old humanity might come into the new.”

    His comment wasn’t exactly all that difficult to understand.

  26. Dean B said,

    February 27, 2010 at 6:51 am

    Jared

    “The last Adam” forces one to Rom 5 so his interpretation should be understood in that context.

    ““Jesus is the federal representative of a new humanity.”

    Read Rom 5 to find out what the representative brings to the new humanity. It is very clear.

    “The Church is that new humanity”

    Read Rom 5 to find out what benefits are given to that new humanity. It is very clear.

    You may not like what Wilson said, but your representation is not accurate to what he intended to communicate.

    Of course, that was over two years ago and like all FV statements it is subject to revision and significant modification so you are probably correct now.

  27. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Dean: please provide the reference for the early Shepherdite quote. Is the Wilson quote reference in the previous post you referenced? Next time, please bring this forward.

    No offense taken, just a matter of blog rules. Thanks.

  28. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Jared: don’t understand your final comment. Do understand your defense. Do believe you are reading into the publish statements of the main FV’ers. I’ve not doubt you’ve heard this from them. I’ve yet to see this in print in some form.

    Sounds more like, “of course,” meanwhile 99% of their ink is spent on the covenantal lines.

    Show me, not an isolated statement or two, but one piece which effective combines the decretal and covenantal elements on the issue of just assurance. Show me where the FV’s main point when one doubts is “look to Jesus,” and by that means “look to the decretally based arguments that Scripture gives for assurance.”

    You know and I know it is “look to Jesus is your baptism,” a decidedly covenantal point. Then what follows is, “since you’ve got the mark, you can trust you’re in (for now). So give yourself to your faithfulness. Rely on Jesus yes, and make sure that you’re demonstrating this.”

    The difference between what you put forward (as a FV removed of apparent stigma) is that the person is not given the biblical supports for their covenantal lifestyle. These supports are decretal. They are declared in faith by the pastor. They are received in faith by the people. They are effectuated by the Spirit. Without the decretal elements – there can be no effective walking by faith.

    As to why I am so “hung up” on the unsure state, you would be too if you regularly ministered to the ordinary weak sheep in the pew, fearful and trying to figure out just what walking by faith is, and how its not them, but Christ in them. The FV is deficient in this regard.

  29. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Ron (sorry, forget your name), also: appreciated your Lutheran connection. I remember the article in the joint book on this subject that came from the Knox Colloqium. I think it was written by Trowbrige. In it he argued that the FV was essentially rehashing the earlier 20th C. arguments in the Dutch church (i.e., Schilder and company I believe; please correct me anyone).

    I note Bob’s helpful summary above, comparing the FV to the RCC, and this brings up an underlying observation that I did not directly make above, but probably should be surfaced for the sake of critique.

    In each of these systems – the FV, Schilder, Arminianism, and in others going back into Church history further – Amyraldism, post and pre RCC (probably more I’m missing), the common denominator linking these various systems is defects in coordinating the decretal and covenantal dimensions. I tend to think (I’m, open to the debate) that it is this issue that drives the rest of each system’s deficiencies. This is because the particular solution to this dimensional problem becomes dominant in each sytems hermeneutical grid, resulting in the deficiencies.

    In this sense maybe it is fair to observe that they are all kissing cousins.

    I admit that what we reformed folks in opposition to the FV call the “orthodox reformed ” or “classical reformed” or just plain old “reformed” system is also a cousin, in that we’re all from the same Church. Hopefully though, there’s not been much spit-swapping going on with the cousins. ;-)

  30. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Bob: exceptional summary. Looks more like a series of posts if you ask me. You’ve got both fundamental factors, and then the problems with those factors. You going for it at this level?

  31. February 27, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Reed,

    Thank you for your kind words. We’ll see how much time I have. Things are pretty busy now. It will be at least a week until the first installment.

  32. Dean B said,

    February 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Reed

    “Is the Wilson quote reference in the previous post you referenced?”

    Yes, it is. It is post # 31 in the link provided.

    “Dean: please provide the reference for the early Shepherdite quote.”

    I was making a point. In order to talk about Arminianism one should be familiar enough with the subject to identify what they actually taught. “The five articles of the remonstrants” [earlier Shepherdites] is rather indistinguishable from the FV. The exception is that what the Remonstrants applied to everyone by belief the FV applies to everyone Covenantally via baptism.

    “We have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong; and we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right thing.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Sermon on the Mount, 2.244 quote in Biblical Eldership Alexander Strauch pg 21.)

    My fear is that 21st C Reformed Theology has made a caricature of true Arminianism with all of its attempts at orthodoxy. Because of this caricaturization we are not able to identify the common traits in other deviant systems of doctrine especially when they try to shroud it in orthodox language.

  33. Paige Britton said,

    February 27, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Reed & Bob,
    Sorry for the delay of conversation: we inadvertently disconnected our DSL line just before our latest blizzard, and spent the whole snowstorm yesterday morosely wondering when those ISP guys would fix the problem at their end. :P

    Reed, yes, obviously, all of those theologies are kissing cousins, similar at some level here or there. I think my instinctive reaction to the Arminian connection is simply that it does not advance a discussion very productively, because the theological connections are too few and too much on the surface, and the dis-connects require a lot of extra back-tracking and explaining away.

    Perhaps the problem really is that expressing any comparison adjectivally lends itself too easily to a pejorative tone, or to tarring similar theologies with the same brush without qualifications. (Not that you do this, but that it’s easy to do.) There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the similarities with a system that has historical parallels or even surface features that are alike, but attaching the adjective “Arminian” to the FV’s theology introduces too much extra garbage, I think, for it to be a worthwhile tack.

    Still, I am more intrigued by the Catholic connection, as Bob is (I hope) going to bring out. I’ve just been picking up the lingo of the whole FV thing this past year, digging through old GB posts, and I note that pretty much every point of contention has some degree of resonance with what I am also piecing together of Catholic theology: Efficacy of baptism, membership in the Visible Church, “temporary forgiveness” and apostasy, assurance, sanctification & Sacraments, etc. Of course, there’s a strong Reformed element, too, expressed in what you bring out — the covenantal and the decretal, imbalanced as you sense they are in the FV.

    You know those books of handy theological-comparison charts? Has anybody done this with FV/Reformed/Catholic/Arminian theologies? That would be interesting to see! I’m trying to piece one together for myself (leaning heavily on Jeff Cagle quotes) — I’ll send it to you for feedback when I’m done. (And to Jeff, :)

  34. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Paige: point taken. I’ve not sought to use the Arminian label as a pejorative (here or previously). Rather I’ve sought to do so to draw out the underlying driving factors, those things with the Remonstrants and the FV’ers share in common.

    There is no intention to be provocative. Rather I intend a serious challenge to the FV supporter. Look at the comparisons. Are they incidental or do they speak to something more.

  35. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Dean: well done. Aside, please remember that many reading here, and some such as myself, do not have all these things down. It is helpful to see the reference. In such a use as your’s for rhetorical punch, feel free to skip a few lines, and then let the cat out of the bag. Please, just make sure you let it out of the bag.

  36. Paige Britton said,

    February 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Hey again, Reed,
    Yes, I haven’t meant to say you sounded pejorative. Just exploring an idea, there.
    pb

  37. February 27, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Paige,

    Sorry for the delay of conversation: we inadvertently disconnected our DSL line just before our latest blizzard, and spent the whole snowstorm yesterday morosely wondering when those ISP guys would fix the problem at their end.

    I went Internet/phone/TV dark here for two days as well. In my case, someone disconnected my FIOS connection at the pole to plug someone else in! On the good side, I learned more about my smartphone’s capabilities. Sadly, blog posting wasn’t one of them. The tiny screen doesn’t lend itself to following threads of thought.

  38. Dean B said,

    February 27, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Reed

    Thank you.

    In Reformed circles much of the negative baggage associated with Arminianism is because when it is taught it is almost indistinguishable from Pelagianism. Creating a straw man out of Arminianism may help one get through the subject matter in about 10 minutes in a new members class, but this approach does little good in helping one identify subtle errors in evangelical Christianity and even in conservative Reformed circles.

    I think the issue of the FV has had a very good influence on conservative churches. The laity and elders are forced to understand Reformed soteriology and this pay dividends for this generation.

    When we understand the nuances of what they actually taught we can better understand and defend the historic Christian faith. When we understand what they actually taught we will be able to identify similar systems that diverge from the Biblical position.

    Here is a very good article on the subject.

    http://www.reformation21.org/counterpoints/carl-truemanwhy-and-how-i.php

  39. jared said,

    February 27, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Dean,

    Re. #26,

    Doug and I aren’t the ones missing the point. I’m more than willing to wager that my representation of Wilson, here, is far more accurate than yours. Shall I go ask him? No, I don’t suppose that would do since we all know he’s a double-tongued viper seeking only to poison the church. I reckon we are at an impasse.

    Reed,

    Re. #28,

    My final comment was pointing out that you’ve undone yourself in the original post. Even though you note it parenthetically, as if that lessens it, you note that the FV believes only the reprobate will lose “covenant salvation”. And, of course, it’s the very concept of reprobate that makes it completely incompatible with both Catholicism and Arminianism. In other words, the FV is wholly predestinarian which is something both Arminianism and Catholicism fully reject. Yet you continued on trying to make them look similar anyway. You ask,

    Show me, not an isolated statement or two, but one piece which effective combines the decretal and covenantal elements on the issue of just assurance.

    Okay, first a couple of nuggets from Wilson:

    1. “But I was brought up as a evangelical Christian, I am an evangelical now, and if the doctrine of perseverance is what I take it to be, I will die an evangelical. Bottom line, this means that I hold that a man must be born again, must be given a new heart, in order to see the kingdom of heaven. I don’t care how many chicken bones the priest threw into the air at his baptism. If he is not converted to God in His heart by the glorious gift of the Spirit, then he is going to Hell.” Link

    2. “We have to be very careful here because saving faith always looks to Christ and His promises. Saviing faith does not focus on the presence or absence of saving faith. We are supposed to be looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We are not to be looking at ourselves, trying to determine if we are believing or not. “Myself believing” is not the proper object of my faith. Christ is the object of our faith. As you believe Christ and His promises, you will certainly be (dimly) aware that you are doing so, but never get distracted by that.” Link

    Wilson also did a series of posts on the WCF, you can see his thoughts about assurance and perseverance here and here.

    See the FV joint statement on assurance of salvation.

    Here’s the end of a mock conversation on assurance/perseverance done up by Leithart:

    “You shouldn’t seek assurance in your own faith. Assurance is an aspect or a quality of faith, and saying that you gain assurance by looking at your faith is saying that you are assurance by your own assurance and that you are putting your trust in your act of trust. You don’t put your faith in faith; you put faith in God and His promises. Glancing at yourself in the mirror is OK, but don’t stay fixed at the mirror, asking whether your faith looks sufficiently strong. Glance in the mirror, but spend your time looking at, meditating on, hearing the promises that God has given in His word and in His sacraments. Hear them and believe them. And relax and have a beer.” Link

    Is that good enough, Reed? Or should I try and find some stuff from Horne, Meyers, Barach, Lusk, Wilkins, et al.? It seems to me that FV has always (and fairly consistently across the board) made it clear that we don’t look to our selves or to our faithfulness for assurance. Rather we look to God’s promises and believe Him, i.e. we look to the covenant (which, it should be emphasized again, is founded on God’s eternal proclamations) and continue on in trusting that God will accomplish all that He has promised. They also emphasize that we really do need to continue trusting, i.e. we need to hold fast to the faith once delivered, i.e. we need to persevere. Oh, and if we don’t? Well then we obviously didn’t have true regeneration, true faith, true salvation. Obviously. The FV argues that reprobates can have those things covenantally in as much as they apply to the visible (historical) body as a whole, but they cannot have them decretally in as much as they only apply to the invisible (eschatological) body as individual members (since reprobates aren’t, in fact, members of the invisible body). Now, where did that Arminianism/Catholicism get off to…

  40. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Dean: a helpful reminder. I probably appreciate Carl’s point more than I practice it. Yet I am desirous to grow.

  41. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Paige: no, I understand you were not leveling the charge, just cautioning. I do agree and try to take that seriously.

    As the use of these labels is so fraught with this danger, I included that “horror” reference to encourage FV sympathizers not to knee jerk react to what I’m trying to point out.

    Critique me on the basis of what I’m saying, not based on a charactured reaction. I read you as helpful to that end. Thanks!

  42. Reed Here said,

    February 27, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Bob: no excuses :-) One post at a time is fine. Just want to encourage you not to pack too much into one. By now you rightly where the mantle of an informed critic. I think the rest of us benefit from deliberating on your insights. Just feed us slowly ;-)

  43. February 27, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Reed,

    Thank you for your kind assessment and encouragement. I did have in mind a quick gloss across the landscape, but you are right. That would do justice to no one. I hope that I take Trueman’s points to heart in the helpful link that Dean provided. I fully understand the appreciate vs. practice angle.

    Perhaps more interestingly, I also read Trueman’s Part 1 on his visit to Rome. It’s a very worthwhile read. I, too, found profound insights during my short visit to Rome and the Vatican some years ago. They differ somewhat from his, though, as the relics and superstitions were an integral part of my RCC childhood and teen years.

    I was more profoundly informed by my recent visit to Israel and especially Jerusalem, observing the conduct and open hearts of the faithful – both RCC and Protestant. The gap between the RCC authors who Trueman cites and the man/woman in the pews at Mass on Sunday is measured in light-years rather than pages. The tongue doesn’t do it justice.

  44. February 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Paige,

    You know those books of handy theological-comparison charts? Has anybody done this with FV/Reformed/Catholic/Arminian theologies?

    Not that I’ve seen. That’s problematic from the start, though. Don’t forget that there is no FV movement, just a bunch of folks sitting around in Louisiana chatting about recovering the glory of the Confederacy and drinking mint julep. :-)

  45. todd said,

    February 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    “We have somehow got hold of the idea that error is only that which is outrageously wrong; and we do not seem to understand that the most dangerous person of all is the one who does not emphasize the right thing.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Sermon on the Mount, 2.244 quote in Biblical Eldership Alexander Strauch pg 21.)

    Awesome!

  46. Paige Britton said,

    February 27, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Bob (43)
    That’s problematic from the start, though. Don’t forget that there is no FV movement, just a bunch of folks sitting around in Louisiana chatting about recovering the glory of the Confederacy and drinking mint julep. :-)

    Yeah, well, I didn’t have any illusions about pinning things down, just sketching them! There are so many details and I need a map, even if it’s rough.

  47. rfwhite said,

    February 27, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Reed: I think you on to something in your lead post. Another way to get at your point might be to notice that, at bottom, Arminius and Amyraut urged that we must incorporate notions of conditionality and hypotheticality into our conceptions of the nature of human sin, or divine grace, or divine volition, etc. Essentially, we have to ask if the same notions appear at the root of the FV distinction between decretal and covenantal language: decretal language is absolutist language; covenantal language is conditionalist language. That is, the FV prefer to describe the grace (blessings) conferred on the members of the visible church as having a non-decretal, covenantal — conditional or hypothetical — nature.

    Arguably, however, there is no need to follow the FV proposal that would identify human sin, or divine grace, or divine volition as the locus of conditionality and hypotheticality. We should reject that analysis since it bears the contagion of Arminianism and Amyraldianism. Alternatively, there are at least two other, complementary factors at work: 1) the provisional nature of human knowledge of the salvation of the members of the visible church, and 2) the undifferentiated nature of the faith initially confessed by the members of the visible church. These factors are present in texts such as Rom 11.22, “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” These factors are in Col 1.23 too. These two factors appear to be sufficient and necessary. In other words, the apostles speak in a way that rejects conditionality and hypotheticality in God’s conferral of grace. This is plain in at least one other passage: when Paul acknowledged the apostasy of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), he did not concede the reversibility of their election by God; rather, he said, “nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’” (2 Tim 2:19).

  48. February 28, 2010 at 12:01 am

    Dr. White,

    Thanks for #47. Interesting.

  49. Reed Here said,

    February 28, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Indeed. I’ll take a closer look at these passages. Thanks1

  50. Paige Britton said,

    February 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Dr. White (#47),
    May I clarify this part:

    Arguably, however, there is no need to follow the FV proposal that would identify human sin, or divine grace, or divine volition as the locus of conditionality and hypotheticality. We should reject that analysis since it bears the contagion of Arminianism and Amyraldianism.

    Are you saying that the FV proposal (preferring conditional speech over absolute speech) does necessarily identify human sin, etc., with conditionality and hypotheticality, like the Arminians & Amyraldians;

    …or are you saying, rather, that the FV’s preference in this matter is not necessarily tainted by Arminian and Amyraldian hypotheticality in these areas?

  51. jared said,

    February 28, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    rfwhite,

    Your two “complementary factors” are precisely what, I think, the FV is getting at, which is why the charge of Arminianism is so offensive. It isn’t a matter of incorporating (i.e. integrating or introducing) notions of conditionality and hypotheticality; they are already present in the Reformed system as is (nevermind Arminianism or Amyraldianism). For example, if you don’t persevere then you were never really saved/regenerate. Now the FV would say that you were covenantally saved/regenerate but not decretally. So I think Reed’s two-dimensional analysis is accurate but he draws incorrect conclusions. As careless as everyone says the FV is being (and as careless as they actually are being) they have been careful enough to make it clear they cannot be labeled Arminian (or Amyraldian).

  52. Reed Here said,

    February 28, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Jared: you’re not reading me to say FV = Arminianism, or even FV : Arminianism, are you? I tried to be clear that I was not arguing that.

  53. jared said,

    February 28, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Reed,

    I see that decretally you’re not saying FV = Arminian. I also see that covenantally you are saying FV = Arminian. That’s how I’m reading you. How else am I supposed to understand:

    However, with regard to the covenantal dimension this is not the case. The ordo salutis in this dimension can be lost (albeit only by the reprobate). And this is effectively the same thing that is said by Arminianism.

    This has been my contention with the original post since my first comment. This is the only similarity you point out, that in both Arminianism and FV the professing believer can lose something. Shouldn’t it matter that, respectively, they lose something completely different? On the Arminian scheme the believer loses actual (i.e. real, authentic, true) salvation. On the FV scheme this is something that cannot be lost. On the FV scheme what the believer loses is federal salvation which is only affective for the decretally elect. What I understand this to mean is that this reprobate covenant member loses those benefits which apply corporately to the body (i.e. justification, salvation, regeneration, etc., all those buzz words that press the wrong buttons when someone says they can be lost) and not necessarily to all the members thereof. These corporate benefits can only be kept via perseverance. And this perseverance is not some self-actuated righteousness/justification, rather it too is wrought by the work of the Holy Spirit. And only the decretally elect members of the invisible body will have it.

    So, yes, I read that you are not flatly equating FV and Arminianism, you are only saying they, on this one particular issue, are practically identical. And I think, even here, that is not the case.

  54. Reed Here said,

    February 28, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Jared: maybe I can remove some flatness here from my criticism of the FV.

    I agree with you, and understand the the FV is saying that only the reprobate really lose something (I’ll not quibble here about what is lost). I agree in this sense that the FV has theoretically innoculated itself from any Arminian comparison. I agree, from this perspective the FV is decidely not, Arminian.

    Yet my contention is that this theoretical distinction is nothing more than theoretical. As I’ve tried to note, practically, as the FV is ministered to the people in the pew, this theoretical distinction is meaningless.

    This is because of the FV’s insistence that covenantal dimensional is all we can go on when judging between reprobate and elect. This is fundamental to the FV hermeneutic, as exemplified by DW’s Reformed Is Not Enough and the rejection of the traditional invisible/visible Church terminology for the historical/eschatological Church.

    You have affirmed the presence of the decretal dimension in the FV’s arguments. I admit I might not be paying attention. I am basing my argument on the main writings, coupled with the blogging record. I continune to see a disparaging of the role of the decretal dimension. It’s “essentially” unknowable so therefore not applicable. We must look not decretally, but covenantally, or so the FV goes.

    As I’ve said elsewhere here at GB, this is imbalanced. Rather I see the Scriptures offering a much more balanced, co-inhereing presentation.

    I sought to use the “kissing cousin” metaphor to mark this connection. Formally (the theoretical level) there is no connection between the FV and Arminianism. Practically, however, both systems leave those in the pews with the same lack of the fullness of hope found in Scripture.

    I recognize such criticisms are hard. I do not make them lightly.

  55. rfwhite said,

    February 28, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    50 Paige B: the point I’m trying to make is the one I tried to make at the 2003 colloquium: when the FV group explains the apostates’ blessedness as a function of covenant membership that doesn’t differentiated between elect and reprobate and their losses as including covenant blessings that are shared by the elect, their proposal bears the same contagion proposed by the Remonstrants and later by the Amyraldians.

    51 Jared: In “Summary Statement of [Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church’s] Position on the Covenant, Baptism, and Salvation,” the statement urged (in endnote 1) that there is an apparent need to speak of the undifferentiated grace of God in the covenant community. Citing King Saul as an example, the statement claimed (under point 10) that the apostate receives “the same initial covenantal grace” as those who persevere, yet the statement went on to claim also that the apostate does not receive the gift of perseverance.

    FV critics have conceded that there are covenant blessings given commonly to all in the community. But the example itself proved the FV proposal false: surely, we can agree that the gift of perseverance is a covenant blessing given specially to the elect. Hence, we cannot but speak of differentiated grace in the covenant community. There was, however, disagreement among FV advocates: Wilson, for example, said, “we accept what God says about all covenant members, and we accept what He says about the distinction between covenant members” (“Reformed” is Not Enough, 138). Wilkins disagreed, as seen in the AAPC statement. For Wilkins, it was the grace (blessings) conferred on the members of the visible church that explained the way the apostles speak of apostates: that grace was non-decretal, covenantal, conditional. In other words, Wilkins went where Wilson didn’t: Wilkins traced the difference between apostates and elect not to the nature of the faith initially confessed nor to the limits of human knowledge of salvation, but to the nature (conditional nature) of the grace conferred to covenant members. Thus the confusion within FV ranks.

  56. jared said,

    February 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Reed,

    Thanks for your clarifications (#54). You say,

    Yet my contention is that this theoretical distinction is nothing more than theoretical. As I’ve tried to note, practically, as the FV is ministered to the people in the pew, this theoretical distinction is meaningless.

    This is what I was initially referring to; theoretically you are saying the FV is different from Arminianism. But practically you are saying they are identical. I don’t believe I have misunderstood you on this point. You continue,

    This is because of the FV’s insistence that covenantal dimensional is all we can go on when judging between reprobate and elect. This is fundamental to the FV hermeneutic, as exemplified by DW’s Reformed Is Not Enough and the rejection of the traditional invisible/visible Church terminology for the historical/eschatological Church.

    Except that it isn’t. Because the decretal dimension is the basis of the covenantal dimension/experience we can judge discerningly (though not absolutely) between the reprobate and the elect. The FV is right, we can’t know the decrees of God that He has chosen not to reveal and the specific identities of the elect are one of those decrees He has seen fit to keep hidden. In other words, we cannot objectively know God’s decree(s) on this point. We can, however, subjectively know based on participation (i.e. “you will know them by their fruits”). This is why the joint statement says that one who is not being faithful has no assurance: faithfulness is a mark of the elect, it is a strong indicator of authentic (i.e. decretal) regeneration/salvation. And it is looking to those decrees which have been revealed that keeps (or should keep) us faithful.

    Wilson has clarified (on more than one occasion, including the joint statement and here and here and many other places) that the visible/invisible distinction is not being denied or subverted. In fact, it seems to me that to the extent one maintains a covenantal/decretal distinction one must also maintain a visible/invisible distinction, regardless of what other distinctions and categories are proposed. So is this a misunderstanding on your part? Or are you not paying close attention? Or what? It’s pretty hard to make this point stick, especially by bringing DW’s perspective into it. You continue,

    You have affirmed the presence of the decretal dimension in the FV’s arguments. I admit I might not be paying attention. I am basing my argument on the main writings, coupled with the blogging record. I continune to see a disparaging of the role of the decretal dimension. It’s “essentially” unknowable so therefore not applicable. We must look not decretally, but covenantally, or so the FV goes.

    Let me start off with a Wilson quote:

    “Knowledge of decretal election is what we come to know when we come to assurance by a right use of the means of grace at our disposal. And this, please note, is one of the central themes of the FV. We look at the decrees through the lens of the covenant, and not the other way around. And when we are faithful in our use of these covenantal means, we do make our calling and election sure. We can see the decrees, but only if we don’t try to see them directly.”

    This is pretty much what I’ve been arguing all along in the above comments and which shuts down your contention that FV and Arminianism are practically (as the people in the pews are concerned) the same. The FV’s point here is that we can’t look decretally because we aren’t God. We can only understand the decrees subjectively through the covenant. That doesn’t mean the decretal isn’t real, or relevant, quite the opposite in fact. If it weren’t for the decrees we couldn’t have any assurance, or faith, at all. You continue,

    I sought to use the “kissing cousin” metaphor to mark this connection. Formally (the theoretical level) there is no connection between the FV and Arminianism. Practically, however, both systems leave those in the pews with the same lack of the fullness of hope found in Scripture.

    And you haven’t made any connections to mark, that’s what I’ve been saying. You’re marking a connection that doesn’t exist. The FV may over-emphasize the covenantal dimension/experience but that doesn’t amount to a practical system equivalent to Arminianism as far as hope and assurance are concerned. The “lose ‘x'” of Arminianism is (1) completely different from what “lose ‘x'” in FV is and (2) has a completely different basis. In Arminianism you can “lose ‘x'” because you choose to. The concept of free will is a core principle in Arminian theology (which is ironic given the third article of the Remonstrants) and it has no place whatsoever in FV theology. And even given this principle of free will the Remonstrants were hesitant to “officially” deny perseverance (see article 5). Whatever connection you are trying to mark by your kissing cousins metaphor is still not clearly stated. It doesn’t come about from the imbalance of emphasizing covenant over decretal, as I’ve shown in almost all of my responses.

    rfwhite,

    Re. #55,

    You say,

    FV critics have conceded that there are covenant blessings given commonly to all in the community. But the example itself proved the FV proposal false: surely, we can agree that the gift of perseverance is a covenant blessing given specially to the elect. Hence, we cannot but speak of differentiated grace in the covenant community.

    But now we are equivocating on the term “grace”. Surely you, of all people here, understand and recognize that there are different types of grace. For example, there is the grace given to all covenant members without distinction (see WLC question 63) and the grace given only to the elect members (i.e. members of the invisible church). So we can (and do officially) speak about grace differentiated and undifferentiated given within the context of specific parameters. Also, disagreement within the FV ranks is not the same thing as confusion.

  57. GLW Johnson said,

    March 1, 2010 at 5:26 am

    Jared
    Are you contending that the WLC in Q.63 is advocating the FV distinctive between elect vs. non-elect covenant members?

  58. Reed Here said,

    March 1, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Jared: more to think abouut and write than I have time for right now. One initial consideration tracking from the DW quote.

    In essence this is the decretal-subservient-to-the-covenant perspective I’ve challenged elsewhere. Let me ask you two questions: 1) who is the fruit-bearing in Mt 7 an evidence for, the person bearing the fruits or the person observing? 2) What is the basis of the real “proof” of assurance, covenantal or decretal?

    I’ll not lead you down a garden path blindfolded. I believe the answers to both these questions challenge DW’s assertion that the decretal can only be understood via the covenantal.

    My walking by faith is expressed covenantally. It is rooted decretally. Both have an experiential dimension. The FV effectively denies the experiential dimension for the decretal dimension. :-)

  59. rfwhite said,

    March 1, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Jared: Like you, I have said that we must speak of special blessings and common blessings in the visible community. Other than that, it seems to me that disagreement yields confusion as to what exactly FV teaching is.

  60. Reed Here said,

    March 1, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Jared: I’ve read the Wilson blog entries you site. I’m sorry but I fail to see how they are anything more than empty denials.

    No, I’ve not missed the clarifications that Wilson (and I’ll credit other FV’ers through him, call it a friendly assumption of federal headship if you will) has made with reference to the I/V Church and the H/E Church (someone ask for the detail, otherwise I’m using the short hand ;-)). As well, I’ve said in the past that I do appreciate the concerns they are seeking to address. I’ve not missed these things.

    My problem is that their proposed cure for the illness is just another illness. Seeking to redress an imbalance, they offer an opposing imbalance. Just for sake of time usage here, I really do not think Wilson is right in his fundamental point that you quote, that the decretal must be read through the lense of the covenantal. This way of putting things removes the nuanced co-inhereing balance that the Scripture presents for both dimensions.

    Again, answer for me: 1) who is the fruit evidence for, and 2) what is the real (the ultimate) way in which a believer experiences assurance? Is the fruit prima facia evidence to the believer of his status? Is the believer’s right use of means ultimately the way in which real assurance is received?

    I do not think this is the way Scripture puts these things.

  61. jared said,

    March 1, 2010 at 9:34 am

    GLW Johnson,

    I’m saying it’s a logical consequence of having a visible/invisible distinction. I think you can equate membership in the visible church to membership in the covenant. So, there can be elect and non-elect members of the covenant just as there can be elect and non-elect members of the visible church.

    Reed,

    1. The person observing. Jesus is saying that His disciples will recognize sheep in wolves clothing by their fruits because a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. Jesus goes on to say that “whoever hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…” The true Christian life is about living, not just listening. This is why assurance can’t be had outside the context of the church (or the covenant), we can’t judge our own fruit because we’ll always say it’s good.

    2. The basis of the real “proof” of assurance is decretal. God has already determined the good and bad trees (and their respective fruit). You say your faith is expressed covenantally and rooted decretally. I agree, I’m sure Wilson would agree, and I suspect most all other FV advocates would agree. I don’t think the FV effectively denies the experiential dimension of the decretal, rather they (rightly, I think) qualify our experience of the decretal by pointing out that it is (necessarily) a mediated experience.

    Think of it this way, the basis of physical objects are atoms (setting aside quantum and theoretical physics for the sake of discussion). But we don’t experience atoms apart from them being collected enough to stimulate our senses. Does this make atoms by themselves irrelevant? Let’s further say that there’s a group of people who don’t believe in atoms. Would it be accurate to say that those who do believe in atoms have, effectively, the same practical views as those who don’t even though they differ theoretically?

    rfwhite,

    It also doesn’t help that FV advocates aren’t universally in agreement with each other. Generally I think they agree here, they would say the common blessings are the result of the undifferentiated grace all members of the covenant receive (regardless of elect or non-elect status) and the special blessings are the result of a differentiated grace (i.e. that special grace given only to the elect and not to the reprobate). Perseverance, then, would be one of those special blessings that the reprobate don’t receive and not one of the common blessings given (undifferentiated) to all covenant members. I’m not sure how this is confusing, or necessarily un-Reformed.

  62. jared said,

    March 1, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Reed,

    Looks like we cross-posted! Just real fast, you ask

    Is the believer’s right use of means ultimately the way in which real assurance is received?

    WCF 18 seems to answer in the positive. Section 3 of that chapter says that extraordinary revelation is not needed in the right use of ordinary means for obtaining assurance. So assurance is had, without extraordinary revelation, via the enabling of the spirit and in the right use of ordinary means. Am I misunderstanding the Confession?

  63. rfwhite said,

    March 1, 2010 at 10:58 am

    61 Jared: the distinction you make is one that Wilson made. It is not one that Wilkins made. This they conceded; it is not a critic’s accusation. If Wilkins and Wilson now agree, one of them has changed his position. Great; now we know what the consensus is. Two or more positions brings confusion as to what the consensus is.

  64. Steven Carr said,

    March 1, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Pastor Reed, I generally find your posts helpful, but this one I didn’t find so much. There have been several statements calling the FV and the NPP Arminianism (one of which is the statement put out by the RCUS). Using the label “Arminianism” or even “Romanism” is helpful insofar as it makes us realize the extent of the errors of the FV and NPP. I will grant that simply throwing out a label without any proof is not helpful in the least bit. But people I know men who have actually studied the issue, and have concluded that the FV and NPP are just another manifestation of Arminianism and some have even used the term Pelagianism for the latter. We’re not dealing with kissing cousins here; we’re dealing with bedfellows, partners in crime, cohorts, whatever you want to say. Furthermore, if you recall from a few centuries ago the neo-nomians were called “Arminians” by many. The neo-nomians were very much like our FVists today. I have no problem calling them Arminians. After all, as the saying goes, what looks like a duck, etc., is very applicable here.

  65. Steven Carr said,

    March 1, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Sorry that the middle sentence was garbled. I wrote in haste, mea culpa.

  66. jared said,

    March 1, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    rfwhite,

    Re. #63,

    I don’t know whether Wilkins and Wilson are in agreement or not, but I don’t know why you would construe their differing positions as confusion. Just because two people within the same group have different positions it doesn’t necessitate the presence of confusion. If that were the case then there wouldn’t be so many different Reformed denominations. Does variety imply confusion? If I recall, from the outset FV advocates have noted that the “movement” is not monolithic (even the PCA report admits as much).

  67. Reedhere said,

    March 2, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Steven: I understand others have concluded that the FV = Arminianism. I’ve worked with their arguments and believe they are over-stating the case. There are substantive structural differences between the FV and Arminianism. These are substantial enough that I believe it is not accurate to even describe the FV as a form of (a descendant of) Arminianism.

    I do believe that their ministry of the gospel results in the same net effect. People in the pew end up confused about how assurance is theirs, how to grow in Christ, how to walk by faith, etc. This is not because these position do not use the correct words, e.g., “look to Christ.” It is because the underlying system’s explanation of what these words mean/how they function, is skewed from the Bible’s. Thus people hear words they cannot fully grip by faith – and they’re left with a gospel of platitudes.

    This is not a problem unique to either; it is a danger for all our ministries of the gospel. The problem here is that these systems make this kind of error systemic.

    With some humor, and to make a point, I note that your criticism is the opposite Jared’s. That gives me two nay’s, but one from either side. As I learned from Dr. Gaffin (more by example), while this is not proof one is right, it is a suggestion that one may be closer to threading the needle than not.

    Think about the nuancing I’m suggesting. If you believe it is wrong, then by all means post some comments demonstrating this. I’m open to correction from either side, even the one I finnd more affinity for.

  68. Reedhere said,

    March 2, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Jared, no. 66: I think Dr. Fowler is observing the confusion that follows from your previous statements and these examples from two leading FV proponents. You’ve asserted a definitive position. He’s offered their opinions to show that even at the foundation of your assertion, those you are listening to are contradictinng one another.

    How can we have clarity, and not confusion, when even a foundational point is fundamentally differed over by leadinng proponents? This is the nature of the confusion.

    Thank you Dr. White for your efforts to observe without being obnoxious.

  69. rfwhite said,

    March 2, 2010 at 9:27 am

    68 Reed and 66 Jared — The issue I’m pressing is not the lack of a monolithic FV response. It has been clear since at least 2003 that some FV men say that the apostate’s blessings differ from the elect’s, while other FV men say that the apostate’s blessings are the same as the elect’s.

  70. jared said,

    March 2, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Reed,

    And in your original post aren’t you asserting a definitive position? I’ve stated the position I believe is correct, one that I don’t believe Wilson would disagree with (which is to say one which comports with some, though not all, FV advocates). My contention with Dr. White is that there’s a pointed (and relevant) distinction between disagreement and confusion. Wilkins, Wilson, Jordan, Lusk, et al. may not see all things exactly the same but that does not necessarily imply confusion. Sproul, Gaffin, White, Clark, et al. may not see all thing exactly alike, so does that mean there’s confusion?

    Also, what you see as a foundational point is actually a talking point within the FV. Reading back over Dr. White’s initial comment I’m not certain he as actually established the confusion he’s attempting to identify. The quote from RINE and the Wilkins quote are not necessarily at odds. In fact, the Wilkins quote could be read as a specific outworking of what Wilson is saying. In other words, I don’t think Wilson would disagree with the decretal/non-decretal “versions” of grace. Wilson would say the apostate defects because his faith is defective whereas Wilkins says it’s the result of a lack of persevering. I’m not convinced this is a disagreement.

  71. rfwhite said,

    March 2, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Jared: One doesn’t have to establish what two parties (Wilson and Wilkins) themselves acknowledged. They were convinced that it was a disagreement between them (at least) during the colloquium and at least shortly thereafter. Whether they still disagree, I don’t know.

  72. jared said,

    March 2, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    rfwhite,

    Fair enough.


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