As manager of this blog, it’s interesting to me to see which web sites are the ones referring to my blog. Someone on the Biblical Horizons discussion group has obviously linked to my controversial blog post about Federal Vision. I wonder what they are saying. Well, I would venture to guess that “saying” is probably too gentle a word…

Why is the Federal Vision Heresy?

This post inevitably will condense some discussion that might be better expanded. It has been expanded elsewhere, as in The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons, which is the single best resource on the whole issue, since you can see the theology in actual debate. What I am going to do here is list some reasons why the Federal Vision is heretical, and utterly to be abhorred. It should be noted that not all FV advocates hold to all these points. It is not a monolithic movement. Therefore, some of these points will apply to some and not to others. However, all of these points are held by some FV proponent or other.

  • The first reason why the FV is heretical is that it makes no ontological differentiation in the church between those who are hypocrites and those who are saved. FV advocates will make claims that look like this: “the only difference between hypocrites and non-hypocrites is that the non-hypocrites will persevere.” This is clear from some of Steve Wilkins’s statements: “Because being in covenant with God means being in Christ, those who are in covenant have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Union with Christ means that all that is true of Christ is true of us.” Now, by itself, this statement is not really objectionable. However, the way in which he connects this with “covenantal election” is highly problematic: “The elect are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. If they later reject the Savior, they are no longer elect- they are cut off from the Elect One and thus, lose their elect standing. But their falling away doesn’t negate the reality of their standing prior to their apostasy. They were really and truly the elect of God because of their relationship with Christ.” Both quotes taken from Federal Vision, pg. 58. He is using “election” here in the covenantal sense of being elected to the covenant. FV proponents will claim that this use of the term in no way contradicts the decretal use of the term as used in the WCF, for instance. However, there is no doubt that Steve Wilkins, for one, is claiming real salvific benefits of being united to Christ for people who will eventually apostatize. In fact, he lists on page 59 all the saving benefits that future apostates have as long as they are united to Christ in covenant. What FV proponents have done is to develop a new set of terms that describe saving benefits of being united to Christ by covenant. These benefits, however, include benefits that are normally described as being part of the ordo salutis. Wilkins includes sanctification, sharing in the righteousness of Christ (meaning justification, as is clarified later on down the page), and redemption. He makes his position even clearer on page 61, where he says this: “Thus, when one breaks covenant, it can be truly said that he has turned away from grace and forfeited life, forgiveness, and salvation.” Here is what the WCF says: “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.” The decretal sense of election is here in view in the WCF, and it explicitly says that they *only* receive any saving benefits. What the FV has to do is invent a whole new vocabulary for every saving benefit so that there are two justifications, two sanctifications, two elections, two redemptions, one covenantal and one decretal. However, they inevitably confuse the one set of terms with the other, and have not distinguished at all the two different senses of justification, sanctification, redemption, etc.
  • The FV denies the distinction between the visible and invisible church. Admittedly, they have John Murray for a precedent here. So much the worse for John Murray. This distinction between visible and invisible is confessional, and, more importantly, Scriptural. I have no wish to deny that many Scriptures speak of the church as visible as being the church. Such passages are utterly and completely irrelevant as to whether the Scripture also speaks of the church as invisible. Acts 2:41, Galatians 2:4, 1 John 2:19, Romans 2:28-29, Romans 9:6, John 10:26-27 do abundantly prove that, in addition to the definition of church as including both the elect and the reprobate, there is another definition of “church” that means only the elect. Let me repeat carefully the argument, because many will quote at me passages that prove that the church consists of anyone who is baptized. I freely admit that that is one definition of the word “church.” But that is not the only way the word is used, or, more precisely, the idea. The passages cited above prove that there is another way of speaking about church that is simply in terms of the eternally elect who will never fall away. The historical considerations are vitally important here, by the way. The Roman Catholic Church accused the Reformers of not having a church for the many centuries before the Reformation. What was the Reformers’ answer? The visible/invisible church distinction. We cannot define the church solely in terms of what is visible, or else we have no leg upon which to stand, for the Reformers did not claim continuity with Medieval Catholicism, but with the early church. How is it that they are the true church? Because they have always been the true invisible church, though they were not always visible as the church. You get rid of the visible/invisible church distinction, then you cut the leg out from under the entire Reformation. I am indebted to Wes White for these arguments. I will post more later on the reasons why the FV is heretical. This is a start.

Does God Create Evil?

The text under consideration is Isaiah 45:7, in the ESV: “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” Now, this rendering doesn’t seem nearly so problematic as the KJV, which reads like this: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Here is the Hebrew:

 יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע אֲנִי יְהוָה עֹשֶׂה כָל־אֵלֶּה׃

Now, the word in question is ra’. This word has a range of meanings centering around two main meanings, “evil” and “bad.” The question is, what is the meaning of ra’ here? John Calvin says this, “Fanatics torture this word evil, as if God were the author of evil, that is, of sin; but it is very obvious how ridiculously they abuse this passage of the Prophet. This is sufficiently explained by the contrast, the parts of which must agree with each other; for he contrasts “peace” with “evil,” that is, with afflictions, wars, and other adverse occurrences.” Then he goes on to note that “we ought not to reject the ordinary distinction, that God is the author of the “evil” of punishment, but not of the “evil” of guilt.” Indeed, the contrast does point the way here toward that understanding of ra’ as “bad.” Whatever it is, it is the opposite of “shalom,” which means “peace, well-being.” This is similar to E.J. Young’s approach (quoted by Baltzer, though missing a key sentence). Young argues that this refers to more than just calamity. It refers to the absolute decree of God. This means that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, and yet God is not the author of evil. The difficulty with this position is that the Hebrew here is bara’, which is used of absolute creation by God everywhere else it is used (for instance, Genesis 1:1). Whatever the ra’ is, God created it. Therefore, I believe that Calvin’s approach is better. The context must allow its say in how we define the term ra’. So the ESV is a better translation than the KJV here, though the older usage of the word, if remembered, rescues the KJV from obsolescence.