Posted by: reformedmusings | August 1, 2007

Joint Federal Vision Statement Analysis – Part 3

I wish that I had said what Dr. R. Scott Clark said on teachability. Great words! Dr. Clark added more thoughts in this post on one of his correspondent’s thoughts about possible social Trinitarianism in the Federal Vision statement. Dr. Leithart’s article, which I quote in my previous post, repeatedly emphasizes that his formulations involve more than social aspects, but I honestly don’t know enough about the “social Trinitarian” issue to draw a conclusion. Later, Dr. Clark added more thoughts on the Trinity aspect here.

On other fronts, Lane at Green Baggins continues his analysis of the joint statement by considering the Trinitarian and post-millennial aspects. Hat tip to Lane: Jason Stellman also has thoughts on the post-millennial aspect posted over on his blog. Jason’s comments are so good that I’ll only touch the postmil stuff briefly in this post. (Update: well, maybe not so briefly)

First, the section from the joint statement:

As the Waters Cover the Sea
We affirm that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but rather so that the world through Him would be saved. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—He is the Savior of the world. All the nations shall stream to Him, and His resting place shall be glorious. We affirm that prior to the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

We deny that eschatological views are to be a test of fellowship between orthodox believers, but at the same time we hold that an orientation of faith with regard to the gospel’s triumph in history is extremely important. We deny that it is wise to imitate Abraham in his exercise of faith while declining to believe the content of what he believed—that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed, and that his descendants would be like the stars in number.

To be clear on the PCA position as I understand it, three eschatological positions stand as acceptable: historical premil, amil, and postmil. So, there’s no real controversy on the postmil aspect of the joint statement in and of itself. Even Dr. R. C. Sproul, Sr., professed postmil leanings in his book The Last Days According to Jesus (Baker, Grand Rapids. 2000.) However, there is another related connection that undergirds all of Federal Vision thinking. Tim Prussic mentioned it in a comment over at Green Baggins and nearly stole my thunder.

There’s an underlying current that is known but rarely said–that Federal Vision primarily has two parents: theonomy and more aspects of the New Perspectives on Paul than they commonly acknowledge. In my research, I found that every major FV proponent is or was an acknowledged theonomist.

You can find these familiar names listed as contributors to the Biblical Horizons website. The About page at Biblical Horizons says in their mission statement:

We are not committed to the particular theoretical approach to the Mosaic law advocated by Bahnsenian “theonomy,” but we do stand with the historic Church in holding that God intends for us to hearken to what He is saying in the books of Moses as well as everywhere else in the Bible. We are committed to careful and sensitive interpretation of the Mosaic revelation in particular, since little has been done in this area.

We’ll leave the cute reference to “the historical church” for another time. What does the interpretation of “Mosaic revelation” mean? One leading FV proponent gives us a clue in his response to an online article entitled “Rehabilitating Theonomy” in Feb 2007, where he called himself a “chastened post-theonomist.” He defines that as:

“…someone who a) recognizes the hermeneutical complexities of applying the Old Testament law to modern societies, but b) still thinks that the church should make the effort to work out these applications.”

In the same post, he recommends reading another Federal Vision advocate on the subject who, not coincidentally, also signed the Joint Federal Vision Statement. Simply put, FV is largely theonomy without the overt politics up front, using some of NPP’s spin on “objective covenant” as a theological underpinning.

Of course, it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to see that Credenda Agenda has been the cheerleading publication for theonomy for many years, as it has been more recently for Federal Vision. Green Baggins reported that the Joint Federal Vision Statement will be published in Credenda Agenda soon. Hardly a coincidence.

From what I’ve seen, theonomy doesn’t make much sense without a postmil eschatology to provide an incentive framework. All postmils certainly are not theonomists, but every theonomist I’ve ever met or read is a postmil.

Because of its theonomic underpinnings, I believe that Federal Vision must have a base in something like the “objectivity of the covenant” with baptism conferring all saving gifts except perseverance to be successful. By their own description, “final justification” in the Federal Vision comes through our faithfulness to the covenant. I addressed that issue in posts here and here. As I point out in those posts, FVers misinterpret verses like Revelation 20:12, 13 to be a real judgment for the elect based on our earthly works of covenant faithfulness rather than judgment based upon Christ’s righteousness imputed to the elect by grace through faith (see my linked posts for a full treatment.) They profess to believe the latter, but they preach the former in parallel. The problem is, of course, the two propositions are mutually exclusive. The Federal Vision view flies in the face of historic Reformed exegesis and sola fide.

Hence, I’m not surprised to see post-millennialism as a stated key underpinning of Federal Vision because for theonomy to “work,” “the gospel’s triumph in history is extremely important” because “prior to the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” In the Federal Vision, that’s simply the outworking of “covenant faithfulness” in the visible church.

It isn’t post-millennialism that’s the problem, it’s where you take it.

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