Is the Federal Vision Gone?

Since the internet debate has died down quite a bit from its heyday about a decade ago, many people have assumed that the Federal Vision is gone and dead. A highly erroneous conclusion. It is not dead. Every one of its proponents is still out there, spreading their false doctrine industriously, now under cover of darkness, since they no longer present themselves as targets online. The missions field is especially problematic, with the FV gaining ground in Russia, Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa. Even in the PCA, the issue is not dead. Jeff Meyers is still at large, as is Mark Horne. They are influencing many Covenant Seminary grads through their internship programs. Douglas Wilson is basically the only FV proponent still visible much on the internet, as we might expect, since he is the one who presents the public persona of the FV. If anything, the battle concerning the FV, while it has practically disappeared from the internet, is still very much alive and well in churches.

Enter now my friend Dewey Roberts into the field. He argued the Leithart case before the SJC. The SJC had determined that Dewey had not proven his case. A large part of that, I suspect, is that Dewey was probably using early drafts of his book to argue his case. When I talked to him about it on the phone, he was saying many of the things that came out in the book. Before the SJC, the way to win a case is to compare the teachings of Leithart (or whoever is on trial) to the Westminster Standards only. Here is what the defendant believes, in his own words, and here is what the Westminster Standards say. Dewey’s purpose in this book is much, much broader than that. He is comparing the Federal Vision to historic Christianity, and his findings are that they are two different things. The main thesis of the book is that the Federal Vision is either Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian in its system, and is therefore not Christian doctrine.

Knowing as I do the history of the Leithart case rather well, I think I made the same mistake Dewey did, actually, but from the reverse direction. Dewey argued his book in front of the SJC, while I expected his performance in front of the SJC negatively to impact the book. Neither of us was right. This book is quite well done, carefully argued, and theologically perceptive. I thought, over the course of some 350 blog posts, and countless comments, that I had considered the FV from just about every possible angle. Dewey showed me wrong. He has many angles that I had not thought of before. If the peacefully slumbering PCA (at least on FV concerns) will read this book, they will find that there is still work to be done, and that we need to do it. The gospel really is at stake, and the Federal Vision really is heresy, not just heterodoxy.

I have a couple of things I would criticize, one very small thing, and one more substantial thing. The small thing is the chapter endnotes. I hate endnotes. I have made no bones about the fact. One has to twist one’s hand in very awkward positions in order to be able to flip back and forth. If the purpose of footnotes is to avoid distracting one from the main line of argumentation, then endnotes fail miserably, because the added time of flipping back and forth makes it very difficult to keep on the thread of the main argument. But chapter endnotes are even worse than book endnotes, since you are constantly losing your place. Why couldn’t we have had footnotes on the same page as the text?

The more substantial criticism I have is the number of times Dewey quoted Guy Waters’s book on the FV as an original source. Now, Waters’s book is truly excellent, and one of the most important publications on the debate. Nevertheless, I prefer to see sources quoted first-hand, rather than second-hand. That way, if one wants to follow the paper trail backwards, one can examine the quotation in its original context much easier. The FV proponents will, of course, cry foul because they, like so many artists, are being misunderstood, boo hoo. The Ninth Commandment is often abused as the last refuge of the heretic. This criticism does not, I think, affect the validity of Dewey’s arguments.

I learned a lot from this book, and I hope that my readers will buy the book and read it, as well. Federal Vision proponents, know this: Dewey has your number, and he got it well. We know what you’re trying to do, and we are on guard.

17 Comments

  1. April 25, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    In a subsequent post, could you please lay out the flow of his argument through the various chapters and show us how he builds his case? I think that could be most helpful.

  2. April 27, 2016 at 12:01 am

    […] the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Winnsboro, S.C. This article appeared on his blog and is used with […]

  3. Gerald Hedman said,

    April 27, 2016 at 12:27 am

    Richard: I recommend that you buy and read the book, then you can lay out the flow of his argument. It is a very scholarly, thoroughly researched book, and well-written.

  4. April 28, 2016 at 8:48 am

    In the words of an accused FV dude whereupon reading Dewey’s definition of FV, “glad to know I’m not FV.”
    When you all get around to actually knowing what we believe

  5. Kevin said,

    April 28, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    ” Is the Federal Vision gone?” As long as the gospel is alive there will always be attacks on it. Jesus warned believers ” if someone comes to you and says I am the Christ, dont believe him” The corruption of faith at its core has always been tbe conflation of law and gospel. The sinful flesh always looking to smuggle its character into God’s work of grace. The Federal Vision wont be the last attack on truth from within the walls. Ot will only die when true leaders stand up and call it what is, a false gospel. K

  6. Gerald Hedman said,

    April 28, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    Kevin, your points are well-taken. In Pastor Dewey Roberts’ excellent new book, the emphasis is upon Historic Christianity against its principle historic and present heresies, those being Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Both embrace the fatal flaw of personal works being salvific, thus debasing/denying Christ’s finished work for His chosen ones.

    I guess that as long as there are humans on earth (there will be none of the self-righteous in the future life) many/most will seek to be justified–even sanctified and bound for Heaven–based upon their own supposed ‘righteousness’.

  7. Kevin said,

    April 29, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Indeed Gerald.

  8. Howie Donahoe said,

    May 9, 2016 at 11:17 pm

    The SJC Decision can be found in the Minutes of the 41st General Assembly (2013 Greenville), starting on page 583.
    (Case 2012-05) http://pcahistory.org/ga/41st_pcaga_2013.pdf

    The SJC determined the Issue in the Case was as follows:
    “Did the Complainant demonstrate, based on the record in this Case,
    that the Presbytery violated the Constitution of the PCA when it concluded that the accused was not guilty of holding and teaching views that are in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards?”

    The SJC ruled 15-2 the Complainant had not demonstrated such.
    Two Concurring Opinions and one Dissenting Opinion were filed.

  9. Hugh McCann said,

    May 25, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Forgotten but not gone, apparently.

  10. Hugh McCann said,

    May 25, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    SJC: “Move along, Mr Dewey. There’s nothing to see here!”

  11. Hugh McCann said,

    May 25, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    “Why Heretics Win Battles”
    …those who believe the truth tend to be slow to recognize error and even slower to take the actions necessary to defend the truth. They lack both discernment and courage.

    http://trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=207

  12. Hugh McCann said,

    May 25, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Good piece, Lane, BTW!

    The church is a lady, and the PCA was attacked by breast cancer years ago. However, instead of a radical mastectomy and aggressive chemo & radiation, she simply said, “It’s not cancerous,” and has moved on.

  13. Hugh McCann said,

    May 25, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Lane, You’re the “Paul Kimmage” of the PCA to FV’s “Lance Armstrong.”

    Sean Gerety being the “Greg Lemond.”

  14. Kevin said,

    May 25, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Hugh, the article by Robins is spot on k

  15. Greg said,

    June 9, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Another helpful piece by Dewey Roberts today at http://theaquilareport.com/does-polity-trump-theology-on-the-pca-standing-judicial-commission-part-two/

    Regarding Case 2012-5 (Leithart):

    “One juror even openly rebuked me for emphasizing theology in the presence of the full SJC and all the witnesses before declaring about himself, “I don’t know much about theology.” “

  16. July 31, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    vive FV!! I love this paradigm. My love and appreciation for Christ and his kingdom has grown xponentially!! Thanks to the men who illumined my heart.

  17. Hugh McCann said,

    July 31, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Forgotten but not gone. Forgotten (dangerously) but not gone (sadly).

    Just ordered Pastor Dewey Roberts’ excellent new book.

    It’s only 20 bucks!


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