The Missouri Presbytery Report on the Federal Vision

In general, I was favorably impressed with this report. Many of the statements in the report were exceptionally clear and helpful. These are some of my thoughts, which will ramble a bit. According to the motion (pg. 1), the presbytery was supposed “to form a study committee to address and establish the parameters of orthodoxy with reference to the following issues: the federalist vision, the new perspective, new thinking on the sacraments, and any other related issues deemed germane by the committee.” The committee dealt with all these concerns, but not by name. I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of footnotes. The Murray quotation on page 10-11 is presumably from his article in volume 2 of his works, pp. 167-202, but it would be nice to know that. Maybe a footnoted version will be forthcoming, like the one the Mississippi Valley put out.

Their concerns are fairly obviously the peace and purity of the church. In lines 33ff, they give both sides the benefit of the doubt with regard to their intentions. Throughout the report, there was an admirable concern with retaining the definition of terms as they appeared in the WCF, and there is a good warning to all members of the PCA not to change these definitions, as that would introduce confusion into the minds of the people (lines 18-23 on page 6). I might add my two cents worth at this point and say that as these definitions deal with the most important aspects of the Christian faith, this is a vital point.

I had a small problem with page 2, lines 1-6. Systematic theology is indeed alwas to be informed by exegesis. However, the balance is that ST must also provide guards around exegesis. This is one my biggest problems with what some people are doing today with this relationship: BT becomes so independent of ST that ST is in the doghouse. ST needs to come out of the doghouse.

They take care to preserve the distinction between visible and invisible church, contra Wilson’s ridiculous distinction without a difference in pages 263-269 in Federal Vision. This is not to say that the report is a wholesale rejection of all of the Federal Vision’s concerns. The corporate aspects of salvation are affirmed, recognizing that general evangelicalism has lost sight of this. The question is: has the corporate eclipsed the individual. In this report, the answer is definitely “no.” On lines 29ff of page 3, I was a little disappointed in their allowance of non-CoW views. The wording of affirmation 4 on page 4 is not clear enough or close enough to the WCF to suit me. However, in affirmation 6 on the same page, Christ’s merit is clearly affirmed, as it is in the discussion on justification. Affirmation 7 on page 5 disturbed me a bit. It is certainly true that the Mosaic covenant was one of grace. But I think that WCF 7.5 indicates a law-gospel distinction in epoch from the old to the new. This was not sufficiently affirmed in the report.

The section on justification was the best section, in my opinion. Imputation of Christ’s righteousness (the righteousness that includes His whole life, not just His death (see affirmation 7 on page 7, cf. Hodge ST, vol 3, pp. 142-3). Affirmation 9 on page 7 could have been worded better. Justification is an eschatological event that happens at the time-point of faith. The future aspect in no way conflicts or undermines the much more basic already aspect. It is the denial which should have been worded differently.

In the section on union with Christ, I thought that affirmation 2 on page 9 was exceptionally helpful. One must make distinctions and be careful about that terminology lest people in the pews either lose any basis for assurance, or become too cocky about their standing. This has profound pastoral implications. Affirmation 8 on page 9 is also exceptionally helpful and clear. The section on baptism guarded against what it needed to guard against. All in all, a successful report that could be made even better by these clarifications.

1 Comment

  1. Lee said,

    January 21, 2006 at 12:12 am

    I have to admit that I expected worse, but I think the document is designed more to allow all parites in than to apply the Confession to current debates. It did a lot of things that I thought weakened the WCF. Affirming the imputation of righteousness of Christ without affirming a Covenant of Works. It makes Biblical Theology higher than Systematic Theology. Point 9 in the Justification section, in my view, was designed to allow Shepherd’s view of justification into the Confession. They end up denying justification as a process, and yet denying it is finished until the Last Day. A worriesome point in my opinion. The report did not give either side whatever they wanted, but it seems to have chosen Church Unity over Church Purity.–>

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