Posted by: reformedmusings | August 1, 2007

Federal Vision Statement Analysis – Part 2

As usual, Dr. Clark is several steps ahead of me over at Heidelblog. For reference, the Federal Vision statement on the Trinity reads:

Our Triune God
We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations. All faithful theology and life is conducted in union with and imitation of the way God eternally is, and so we seek to understand all that the Bible teaches—on covenant, on law, on gospel, on predestination, on sacraments, on the Church—in the light of an explicit Trinitarian understanding.

We deny that a mere formal adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity is sufficient to keep the very common polytheistic and unitarian temptations of unbelieving thought at bay.

That’s one of those statements about which you just gotta say “Hmmmm.” So, what’s their point? Who or what are they answering or addressing? The Westminster Standards and Three Forms of Unity are thoroughly Trinitarian. Dr. Clark’s first impression matches mine:

I’m not really sure what to make of this.

After making some cogent observations in general, Dr. Clark concludes:

Reformed theology has been Trinitarian for a long time. See Richard Muller’s Christ and the Decree (1986). Our confessions are Trinitarian. Our dogmatics are Trinitarian, but watch out these boys have a plan.

Ah, they do indeed have a plan, and that will be the subject of my contribution today.

When I read the FV statement a second time, I got a tingling in my almost-worn-out memory center and reached for my copy of The Auburn Avenue Theology Pros and Cons, E. Calvin Beisner, ed. (Knox Theological Seminary, Ft. Lauderdale. 2004). Sure enough, there was an essay by Dr. Peter Leithart in it called “Trinitarian Anthropology”. Under the Soteriology and Ecclesiology section of that essay, Leithart pens the same old false analogy:

And just as it is not true to say that the couple that ultimately divorces was never “really” married, so it is not true to say that the man whose body is left rotting at the foot of Sinai was never “really” saved from Egypt. (pg. 70)

Of course, neither human marriage nor the Exodus came with the guarantee that salvation in Jesus Christ carries in Romans 8:28-30 or Philippians 1:6. The Federal Visionists create a “covenantally elect” consisting of the reprobates in the visible church in whom God starts a work at baptism with justification, adoption, forgiveness of sins, and sanctification, but never intends to finish because He doesn’t give them the grace of perseverance. And this is pastorally helpful how? Yet, this faulty analogy helps form the basis of what follows later:

The church is that body of people united to Christ and filled with the Spirit so as to be reconciled with the Father; the church is the people of whom Jesus can say “I in them” and “they in Us.” The church is a thoroughly Trinitiarian reality, not only a reflection of Triune communion but a participant in Triune communion. There cannot be “mere” membership in the church. If the church is the beginning of restored humanity, membership in the church is membership in that restored humanity. If the church, the visible church, is in fellowship with the Trinity, then membership in the church is participation in that fellowship. (pg. 70)

As he makes clear in the last sentence, everywhere Leithart says “church,” here he means “visible church,” the corpus mixtum that includes the elect who possess saving faith and the reprobate who merely profess saving faith. So Leithart clearly says that the reprobate in the visible church have fellowship and participation in the Trinity. The Bible and the Confession have always taken the promises of salvation, which include the indwelling of the Spirit and fellowship with our Triune God, to be reserved for those the Father chose in the Son before the foundation of the world and calls to Himself through the work of the Spirit. Recall that Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is so holy that He cannot look upon sin. If He cannot look upon it, how can He have fellowship with it?

The next section in Dr. Leithart’s essay is Baptimal Efficacy (you saw that coming, I hope). There he says:

If baptism initiates into the church, the question about baptismal efficacy is not what power is in the water, but what the church is-what is this community into which baptism inducts me? If, as I have argued above, the church is the saved community and the people in fellowship with the Father through the Son in the Spirit, then baptism, as the entry rite into this community, must give the baptized a share in this community and this fellowship. (pg. 70, 71)

First, he says that baptismal efficacy is in “what the church is”? Silly me, I thought baptismal efficacy lay in the Spirit’s (eventual) effectual call, regeneration, and justification based on Christ’s perfect passive and active obedience imputed to the believer through faith by the Father’s grace in accepting the Son’s work and sacrifice on our behalf. That’s Reformed, Trinitarian salvation. I hope that the gentle reader sees the difference.

Again, we’re talking the visible church here, which Leithart clearly argues “is the saved community” that receives at least some saving benefits (enumerated above). Yet against Romans 8:28-30, Philippians 1:6, and elsewhere, Federal Visionsists say that God eventually drops these reprobate visible church members like a hot rock. Even Leithart gets the hot rock part:

None of this means that every one of the baptized will necessarily be part of the saved community forever. (pg. 71)

So Leithart, and the Federal Visionists at large, posit a group of baptized reprobates to whom God grants saving graces and fellowship in the Trinity, welcomes into the saved community for a time, then boots out at some point, thereby not finishing the good work He started in them.

Now, I’m not saying, nor do the Standards, that the reprobate don’t enjoy some benefits while in the visible church. WLC Question 63 says:

Q. What are the special privileges of the visible church?

A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him. [my emphasis]

Note that the Catechism specifically says that the reprobate receive the “offers of grace,” not that they are granted any of those graces if they don’t believe. The reprobate in the visible church are also “enjoying the communion of the saints,” not the fellowship of the Trinity. Contrary to Leithart, there’s a huge difference there.

So in this earlier essay “Trinitarian Anthropology,” Dr. Leithart attempts to connect the Trinity to the Federal Vision concept of an “objective covenant” granting some saving graces temporarily to the reprobate in the visible church, the entirety of which is necessarily in fellowship with the Trinity. Since Dr. Leithart helped write, and then signed, the new joint Federal Vision statement, I have to assume that the portion therein on the Trinity follows along the lines of what he had written earlier. As Dr. Clark so wisely surmised, “these boys have a plan.” Too bad it doesn’t match the one God revealed to us in His Word.

Update: I just found that Green Baggins has published his thoughts on the Trinity and Postmil paragraphs of the joint FV statement. I still plan on covering the postmil stuff, but I have a feeling that I’ll be way behind by the end of the week. I also noticed that Dr. Clark has posted some additional comments on the joint statement.

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