Posted by: reformedmusings | June 20, 2007

Failure to Communicate

As I read the blogs, I am continually struck with how Federal Vision proponents don’t see what was so obvious to 95-98% of the commissioners at the 35th General Assembly. But then the voice of the captain in Cool Hand Luke comes to me: “What we got here is…failure to communicate.” The overarching framework of the Federal Vision differs significantly from the classic Reformed gramatico-historical approach, and therein lies the problem.

From the PCA Ad Interim Study Report:

The Committee would suggest that the FV proponents have in effect provided an alternative hermeneutic for interpreting Scripture. They have done so 1) by concentrating their efforts on the “objectivity” of the covenant, 2) by stressing the “covenantal” efficacy of baptism, 3) by focusing on the undifferentiated membership of the visible church, 4) by holding the view that the “elect” are covenant members who may one day fall from their elect status, and 5) by highlighting the need for persevering faithfulness in order to secure final election.

The concept of an “objective covenant” forms the foundation of the Federal Vision framework. This essentially gives everyone baptized into the visible church most of the saving graces–including “initial justification,” adoption, and sanctification–but not perseverance. (That’s like baptismal regeneration lite–wets good, less lasting?) “Final justification,” the Federal Vision substitute for perseverance, comes from an individual’s lifetime of “covenant faithfulness” that is evaluated at the final judgment.

This differs significantly from the historic Reformed view that salvation comes by faith alone through grace alone because of Christ alone–not by works lest any man boast according to Paul. Justification is a one-time monergistic act of God as He imputes Christ’s righteousness (active obedience) to the believer (Gen 15:6; Gal 3:6), not a life-long process involving our works of faithfulness. In this way, the Federal Vision approach seems to confuse justification with sanctification. In reality, nothing that I do affects my standing before God once He regenerates me and covers me with the blood of His Son. Our salvation depends on God’s faithfulness alone to the covenant of grace, not ours. At best, we can work our way up to the status of unworthy servants (Luke 17:10).

I feel obligated to mention Romans 8:29, 30 where we’re told that everyone who is call is justified, everyone who is justified is sanctified, and everyone who is sanctified is glorified. No covenant faithfulness mentioned there or anywhere else in the New Testament, nor any mention that some who are justified but don’t remain faithful to the covenant are lost. I believe Jesus told us that no one could snatch His elect from His Father’s hand (John 10:29), leaving no room for the concept of an objective and temporary “covenantal election” apart from His eternal decretal election.

The Federal Vision “objective covenant” requires an additional nuance. Traditional Reformed exegesis sees the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament–consistent with the way Jesus taught and the Reformed interpretation of progressive revelation. In order to drag their “objective covenant” into the New Testament, FV advocates must examine the New Testament through the lens of the Old Testament. I see this pattern throughout their argumentation–the mapping of the New Testament revelation into Old Testament forms, types, and shadows rather than the New Testament replacing, fulfilling or further revealing those forms, types, and shadows.

As an aside, this same type of exegesis is required to make theonomy “work” (at least in theonomists minds). That’s not a coincidence, but I’ll treat that in a separate post.

One FV writer, while creating his own novel version of Christian history and disparaging standard Reformed exegesis, has even remarked that a “big slice of the Bible disappears from relevance” if the case law of ancient Israel and “our covenant faithfulness” are no longer applicable. Really? I guess that for the Federal Vision, there are no valid alternative interpretations–including the historic Reformed ones–which find use for the entire Scriptures. We should thank them for rescuing the rest of the Bible for us–NOT!

So, when Federal Vision proponents look at verses that most of us thought were clear under gramatico-historical exegesis, they see something different under the “objective covenant” framework. Suddenly, for example, the final judgment (Mt 12:32-36; Rev 20:12, 13) becomes virtually the same for the elect and non-elect according to one prominent Federal Vision advocate pushing “covenant faithfulness” as the basis for “final justification,” flying in the face of standard Reformed understanding (see TE Grover Gunn’s comments here), reversing 400 years of Reformed exegesis, and striking the heart of sola fide. Dr. R.C. Sproul called it exactly right on the floor of the 35th PCA General Assembly.

I encourage all those who discuss these issues to keep the difference in exegetical frameworks in view when reading the blogs. Whenever you see Federal Vision exegesis, remember that their theological framework centers around the “objective covenant.” Different frameworks produce significantly different interpretations of the same verses. It also makes meaningful dialog incredibly difficult when two parties speak what are essentially two different languages using the same or similar words–a failure to communicate.



  1. […] myths persist. Dr. R. F. White wrote a comment on another thread that again struck at the heart of Federal Vision’s defective hermeneutic. In response to Jared, Dr. White […]


%d bloggers like this: