Changing the Ground of Debate

On pages 7-8 of the issue of Credenda/Agenda in question, we have a brief overview of the Federal Vision, courtesy of Douglas Wilson.

Wilson starts by talking about the label, which arose out of the controversy concerning the pastor’s conference at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in 2002. He argues that it was not coined in order to start another faction, but rather as a convenient title for summarizing some of the concerns of the participants of that conference. The significance of the title is given in these words: “Vision obviously refers to seeing, and perhaps to seeing on a grace scale, and so the Federa Vision wants to urge believers to see the world through covenantal eyes. The Federal Vision expresses a desire for a more rigorously consistent covenantal theology” (pg. 7, 1st column). Several important points here. One is that (thankfully), Wilson does not imply here that non-Federal Vision folk are non-covenantal. The words “more rigorously consistent” are obviously chosen to indicate that Federal Vision proponents view their own theology as being more covenantally rigorous than their critics. It is then (in their minds), a question of degree, not a fundamentally different sort of religion. Whether that claim can be sustained is another matter. But that is clearly what Wilson is saying.

What follows is an exposition of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Wilson argues against the idea of merit in the Garden (although he leaves the term “merit” undefined: I will argue that this is a major point of definition that needs clarification). In fact, Wilson goes so far as to say that this is the “nub of the matter” between the Federal Vision and its critics. Here is a complete paragraph that summarizes as well as anything Wilson’s view of the matter:

That’s it? Is that that nub of the matter between the Federal Vision and its critics? Yes, that’s it. There are other issues, certainly, but they all flow, one way or another, out of this one. If you believe that Adam was “on his own” as he tried to navigate the difficult task of staying away from the tree in the middle of the Garden, then you are a critics of the Federal Vision. If you believe that Adam should have obeyed God by continuing to trust and rest in Him, and that striking out “on his own” is what got us into all this trouble, then in principle you are in sympathy with the Federal Vision.

Notice Wilson’s qualifiers here. He acknowledges that there are other issues besides this one, though he also says that they all flow from this one.

Aside from the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 7, which certainly seems to me to run quite counter to this understanding of the Garden, there are several exegetical points I wish to make here. Firstly, there does not seem to be an eschatology of the Garden in Wilson’s thought here. He views Adam’s position in the Garden as a “continuance in his fellowship with God.” There does not appear to be anything further that Adam could have expected. I wish to exegete 1 Corinthians 15 to show otherwise.

The scope of verses 12-44a is that of the post-Fall dead body of the believer in relation to Resurrection. It is related to Christ’s resurrection as harvest is related to first-fruits of the harvest (verse 23). The body of the post-Fall believer that dies is like a seed that dies when it is sown in the ground (verse 36). Paul continues on in this way, contrasting the dead body of the believer (post-Fall) with the resurrection body: perishable/imperishable; dishonor/glory; weakness/power, natural body/spiritual body. The contrast between natural/spiritual cannot refer to physical/non-physical, since Christ’s resurrection body is physical. Paul refers to a post-Fall fallen body as natural, and refers to the resurrected glorified body as (S)spiritual. One could say that instead of breathing air, we will, in our glorified bodies, breathe the Holy Spirit. πνευματικόν then refers to the Holy Spirit invested in that resurrected body.

In verse 44b, however, Paul broadens the contrast to include the PRE-Fall body of Adam. How do we know this: from the proof-text cited by means of this formula: οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται. The proof-text therefore refers to the second half of the verse. It cannot be proof of the argument regarding the post-Fall body of a believer which dies, since the verse in Genesis refers to the inception of Adam’s life before the Fall. The scope of the argument thus runs this way: there is a resurrection body, not only because Christ has been raised, but because that glorified body was always part of the expectation of humanity, even from the beginning. The protological body of Adam implied the eschatological body of Christ. It always did. If Adam had obeyed, then he would have entered into the glorified state without need of resurrection. But because of the Fall, Christ obtains that glorified body for us by means of passing through death into resurrection. It should be obvious to all with eyes to see that I am heavily indebted to Gaffin and Fesko in this argumentation. It should be noted that the NIV has a paragaph break between verse 44a and verse 44b. That paragraph break is the result of Gaffin’s argumentation regarding this verse, as he told me himself.

To conclude this part of the argument: Adam’s state was protological in terms of the body. Therefore, it always pointed forward to the eschatological body of glorification. If Adam had obeyed, he would not merely have remained in his state of favor with God. He would have entered into glory. This is an exegetical conclusion from 1 Corinthians 15. Now, the question remains as to how Adam would have entered into that state.

If you believe that Adam would have obeyed God by having faith in God, and by resting in Him, or, in other words, not by a principle of works, but by faith, that is the Federal Vision position. This tends to flatten out the difference between the pre-Fall situation and the post-Fall situation. What need did Adam have of faith in the sense in which we have need of it? Did not Adam see God? At the very least, he saw God in the judgment scene in chapter 3 of Genesis. Furthermore, God talked directly with Adam in the Garden. Faith and seeing are not compatible concepts: who hopes for what he sees?

According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Adam had the moral law given to him (WCF 19.1-2). The rules of interpretation governing the moral law are seen quite clearly in WLC 99. Every prohibition has the corresponding opposite positive command. Every threatening has the corresponding opposite positive promise. If God commanded Adam to guard the Garden, and tend it, then God prohibited Adam from letting in stray snakes. If God prohibited Adam from imbibing from one tree of the Garden, using this as a test to see if Adam would really honor God as God, then God was really commanding Adam to love the Lord his God. If God threatened death upon disobedience, then God promised life upon obedience. What life was that which was promised? The glorified body of which 1 Corinthians 15 speaks. I invite Doug to consider very, very carefully these exegetical arguments in favor of the traditional understanding of chapter 7 of the WCF. The principle by which Adam would have entered into life was a principle of obedience, not one of faith. Therefore, it was a principle of works. Not of condign merit, but of pactum merit. Not of congruent merit either, but of pactum merit.