Update on Indices

All, I have updated the index to the Federal Vision. I have on there now all the answers to Jeff Meyers’s Thirty Reasons document, as well as all of the posts critiqueing the Joint Federal Vision document. I will continue to update the index when I finish RINE, as well as when I finish the critique of Peter Leithart’s article.

Assurance, Apostasy, and Areas of Alternate Assertions

The last three sections of the document have to do with assurance of salvation, the nature of apostasy, and the nature of the intramural disagreements.

The first section is not objectionable in what it affirms. There is one thing that it leaves out, however, and that is the place of election in assurance. If one is generous, one can read into “the Word” the promises of election as feeding into assurance. I have hopes that they meant to include that, in which case, if they did, I have no problem at all with this section. (I especially appreciate the fact that they do not make assurance dependent on baptism alone. I agree that baptism is a means of assurance. Many things feed into assurance.) I believe that assurance of salvation is the main reason why we are told about election in Scripture. Assurance is most certainly dependent on our walk with the Lord, as the WCF 18.1 clearly states (“endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him”). Notice how careful the statement is. Those who truly believe in Jesus, love Him in sincerity, and endeavor to walk a godly life may be certainly assured. The three conditions are necessary but not sufficient conditions. As it says in section 2, it is really the Holy Spirit that testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. That is the sufficient condition of assurance. We also agree with the FV statement when it says that those who live in open rebellion against God may have no assurance that they are saved. Assurance does not belong to those people.

The section on apostasy is much more problematic. Now, it is important to note that they use the term “Christian” of someone who is baptized, not of someone who is decretally elect. We do use the term this way when we say that a certain percentage of the world is “Christian.” Usually those figures that we use are quite a bit higher than we would allow if we were talking about just the decretally elect. Nevertheless, the statement does not make it easy here to distinguish among the various uses of the term. One gets the distinct impression that that use is the only use they want to use. But in evangelicalism, surely the more common use of the term is of someone who is born again.

The real problem (the above paragraph is only a small quibble about a term) is with what is ascribed to the apostate before he apostatizes. They say that such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life, that they fall from real grace, and that the connection to Christ is not merely external. Let’s break this down, claim by claim.

Such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life. Almost certainly they have their interpretation of John 15 in view here, especially as they use the branch metaphor in this very paragraph. So, whatever the NECM has, he has life. Chapter 14 of John is usually ignored in FV discussions of John 15. There is not only no mention of apostasy in John 14, but the life that Jesus speaks of is clearly eternal life (look at verses 3, 4, 6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19-20 (!), 27). Therefore, the non-fruit-bearing branches do not have the kind of life that Jesus speaks of in verse 14. They have an external connection only (contra the FV statement). Particularly, they have the “cut off” kind of life. They are already as good as dead. Plainly, verse 1 of John 15 is speaking of the visible church, not of the invisible church. It is only in that sense that Jesus speaks of the branches being “in me.” FV advocates really front-end load that phrase. They want to read covenantal life into that phrase. But if Christ is talking about true life, then the FV understanding is Arminian, even if they affirm decretal election. You cannot have a little bit of salvation. You cannot be a geep or a shoat. You are either a sheep or a goat. Period. There is no mutation or tertium quids. What is the difference between a fruit-bearing branch and a non-fruit-bearing branch? It is that they do not sustain the same relationship to the vine. The non-fruit-bearing branch is a sucker, a parasite. He is only externally related to the vine. The fruit-bearing branch sustains an ordo salutis relationship to Christ, and the other does not. The FV stresses that these branches are not stuck onto the vine by scotch tape. No, they are not. But the vine is not salvation, either. It is the visible church. It is not covenantal salvation, either. These branches never bear any fruit. I think I have dealt with the external thing as well.

No one can fall from saving grace. You cannot simply say that apostates fall from real grace, without defining what that grace is from which they have fallen. This is the same kind of ambiguity that has plagued FV teaching from the start. What kind of grace is it? Is it common grace, special grace, or a tertium quid? I suspect they would call it covenantal grace. That’s a big help. What does it do? Does it save or not? Wilkins says yes in his article in the Federal Vision. It just doesn’t save permanently. This is still Arminian, and it doesn’t matter in the least that he affirms decretal election also. To say that anyone has temporary saving grace and then loses it is Arminian. Leave decretal election out of the picture for a moment. Let’s just talk about those who will fall away. If you define what they fall away from as real salvific benefits, then it is an Arminian scheme, however much it may be juxtaposed with a more Calvinistic scheme. Affirming Calvinism in one spot isn’t enough. It has to be thorough-going. I suspect that there is division in the ranks of FV here, although Wilson was willing to put his name on this horribly ambiguous statement.

I will briefly note the areas of intramural disagreement. They are important, and this section is helpful in some ways. The first area is the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. The question I would like for us to debate on this is whether one can hold to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ without holding to the idea that Christ has merited eternal life for us. In other words, what is the relationship of the idea of Christ’s merit to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience? I have found no FV proponents who are comfortable with the idea that Christ merited eternal life for us. Wilson was reluctant in his admission that we could possibly use the term “merit” to describe Christ’s righteousness. He certainly viewed other terms as better qualifiers. So this raises the question as to whether any FV proponent holds to the IAOC. The regeneration question has certainly not been high on the radar screens of the critics. The renewal liturgy needs a whole lot more attention from the critics. They mentioned that the FV agrees on whether there should be a covenantal renewal liturgy, but they disagree on how high it should be. Tim Wilder has pointed out in several comments the importance of the liturgy for the FV. I believe he thinks that it is the key to understanding the movement. Here is another question for our readers, then: does the covenant renewal liturgy fall foul of the Regulative Principle? I am curious as to who in the FV robustly affirms the unique merit of Christ as the answer to our demerit? I thought all the FV guys hated Kline’s guts. Some clarification here would be helpful.