Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Coffee stains

Before proceeding, let us briefly review how we got here. Kevin said the following:

<< What?!? Note here the one who downplays the importance of the Confession on the issue of inerrancy of Scripture! This is no small point. In short, the Reformed faith and here the Westminster Confession in this seminary student’s point of view (as if it was a point of view worth listening to) is somehow inadequate to answer the claims of skeptics and others today regarding the inerrancy of Scripture.

I find that absolutely astounding and ridiculous. >>

Notice that Kevin flags my status as a seminarian. It is absolutely astounding and ridiculous that someone like myself, who is affiliated with a Reformed seminary, would stake out this position.

I then responded by merely pointing out that my seminary, as well as three other leading Reformed seminaries, also go above and beyond the Westminster Standards in what they require of their faculty. So there's nothing incongruous about my position.

Note that I framed my reply in the very same terms as Kevin chose to frame his objection. He is the one who chose to single out my seminary connection as his point of reference. So how does he react when I respond in kind?

<< So what?!? Since when do “the four leading Reformed seminaries in America” represent the bastion of Reformed orthodoxy? >>

Hear the grating, grinding gear-shifting? He suddenly retracts his original point of reference. So was his original standard of comparison sincere, but sincerely wrong--or was it insincere from the get-go? I report, you decide.

But that isn’t the limit of his duplicity. He now hustles in a new criterion:

<< Besides, it is the confessional churches, not her seminaries, that have any authority in this matter anyways. >>

Okay, so how long does his stick with this yardstick?

<< Of course, Mr. NiceTry will next point to the ordination vows in the OPC and the PCA as if that proved anything else in regards to what I have already said. >>

Aren’t the OPC and PCA confessional churches? So doesn’t the authority lie with them—according to Kevin’s aforesaid standard?

But, no, that doesn’t prove anything either.

So the pattern seems to be that whenever Kevin gets into a bind of his own making, he extricates himself by talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Kevin also doesn’t like what I said about the Federal Vision:

<< Speaking of the theology that was presented at the Auburn Avenue conferences over the last few years as “heresy” is just absolutely out-of-bounds. Why is it that those who profess to be the absolute ultra-orthodox among us seem to throw this word around AS IF it meant almost nothing? If only those who thought along these lines considered the Ninth Commandment as seriously as they considered their precious little propositional statements. Of course, Mr. NiceTry doesn’t demonstrate that the theology in question is heresy. He merely makes the claim. This is just such an old and tired approach by those who disagree with the likes of Wilkins, Wilson, Schlissel, Barach, and others.

Furthermore, charging so-called Reformed Catholics with “hyper-covenantalism” is also completely unjustified. Let him take the reins here and actually provide substantiation for his remarks.

There is a fair amount of theological diversity in Presbyterianism that allows for differences of opinion on these issues. >>

i) To begin with, I already referred the reader to William Young’s article, which surveys the historical background of hypercovenantalism.

ii) In addition, the case against the Auburnite heresy has already been presented in a number of different venues, so I hardly need to reinvent the wheel here. The New Southern Presbyterian Review, available online, is one place to start.

iii) Even more to the point from Kevin’s stated ecclesiology, are the actions of the OPC and PCA in relation to the Federal Vision.

For instance, just consider the preliminary action of the OPC:

<< The Assembly erected a study committee of seven “to critique the teachings of the New Perspective on Paul, Federal Vision, and other like teachings concerning the doctrine of justification and other related doctrines, as they are related to the Word of God and our subordinate standards, with a view to giving a clear statement to the presbyteries, sessions, and seminaries, and report back to the 72nd GA.”


Pay close attention to the verb. The GA didn’t appoint a committee to merely “investigate” the Federal Vision and cognate positions. No, it appointed a committee to “critique” the Federal vision and other suchlike. So the GA of the OPC has already rendered a summary judgment against the Federal Vision.

What is more, the Federal Vision is also in the cross-hairs of the PCA:

<< Several Presbyteries in the PCA, including Central Carolina, have formed special committees to study “the Federal Vision.” Already, Central Carolina Presbytery has formally asked Louisiana to investigate the theological commitments of men within its bounds who are associated with “the Federal Vision.” Mississippi Valley has adopted a report detailing several “new formulations” of “the Federal Vision” and other related perspectives.

Their report states: "We do believe that many of the positions being advocated by proponents of the NPP [New Perspectives on Paul], AAT [Auburn Avenue Theology], and FV [Federal Vision] are confusing, unbiblical, and contra-confessional. As such, we are ready to declare some of these distinctive teachings to be outside the bounds of acceptable diversity in this presbytery, and we trust also, in the PCA. Among these are their specific departures from our Confession's presentation of the Bible's teaching on election, covenant membership, individual regeneration, justification, imputation, and perseverance. We believe our Confession to be more faithful to the Scriptures than are these new formulations."


The same article goes on to note that:

<< In 2004 the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary in California condemned these new paradigms and affirmed the commitment of WTS-West to the historic doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. And the 2004 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology featured seminars by Rick Phillips and Sinclair Ferguson that were critical of the New Perspectives. >>

When you consider that a number of the WSC faculty, including its president (Bob Godfrey), are affiliated with the URC, this is an ominous turn of events for the future of Auburnism in that body as well.

I would simply pose the following question to Kevin and his cohorts. If the ruling bodies of these confessional churches take disciplinary action against adherents of the Federal Vision, are they prepared to submit to the ministerial authority of those duly constituted churches? Or will they react in a schismatic and insubordinate fashion?

Remember, these are the guys who constantly play up catholicity, conciliarism, and ministerial authority. They draw invidious comparisons between their high church polity and the heirs of the Radical Reformation. What will they do if convicted by their own putative authorities?


  1. I belong to neither the PCA nor the OPC, but I know people who belong to both and based on what they tell me I think you're dramatically oversimplifying the state of the debate in those two denominations. Much of the so-called condemnation of FVism which you cite is merely that of individual pastors or particular presbyteries's study commissions or polemical documents issued by seminary faculties or people making motions at the GAs and so forth. As I understand it (though I could be wrong) neither denomination has formally denounced FVism. In fact, an OPC member I know just told me three or four nights ago that the issues have been tabled there until the GA next year.

    But of course you also exhibit in your post the typical smearing of variegated positions together into one amorphous lump of "heresy", as if you really aren't aware of distinctions of viewpoint or nuances of positions. Most people who get tarred by you Truly Reformish types these days as "NPPers" or whatever have far more nuanced positions about Wright and similar issues than any of the critiques I've read seem prepared to admit. It's really sad that you folks are so hyper about these things and too often can't exhibit a modicum of decency and charity because you're way too busy pretending that you're just like Jesus raging against "traditions of men" and Paul denouncing "false doctrine." A little bit of, um, perspective would be really nice.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Am I to take it from this that you are not in complete agreement with what I said?

    In the nature of the case, the appellate process is a bottom-up affair. There's nothing wrong with my documenting the direction of the appellate process thus far.

    You also duck the question of whether, in the event that FVism is formally condemned, its adherents either would or should submit to the ministerial authority of their respective denominations.

    As to nuance, I'm sure that there are all sorts of ingenuous ways of nuancing FVism, just as Trent was more nuanced than Tetzel. Nuancing a damnable error doesn't render it any less damnable. To the contrary, a counterfeit is more dangerous than an outright falsehood.

    There is no honest way of squaring FVism with the Reformed doctrine of justification and its logical corollaries. No doubt there are fancy ways of trying to finesse a harmonization, just as contemporary Catholic theologians find fancy ways of harmonizing Vatican II with former and contrary conciliar decrees and dogmas.

    A formal condemnation is not what makes a false doctrine false. Rather, a doctrine ought to be condemned because it is false doctrine.

    New heresies are simply variants of old heresies. Auburnite hypercovenantalism is just a repristination of Pharisaical hypercovenantalism, a la Mt 3:1-12.

    Certain lines must be drawn, and this line must be drawn, not in sand, but in stone.

  3. Steve, sure the process of appeal is bottom-up and there's nothing wrong with you pointing out examples of a condemnatory direction in many appellate motions. Nevertheless, you seemed to be saying in your post that the PCA and OPC had already formally as denominations condemned FVism. But given the conciliarist context of the Presbyterian form of government and the fact that this theology has been placed into the stream of decision ultimately culminating in a publicly-binding ministerial decision by the GA, it ain't over until the GA decides. If I misread you, I apologize.

    I'm not ducking any question about what the adherents of FVism will do if their respective GAs condemn it. As I said, I belong to neither the PCA nor the OPC, so I won't have to face that decision. I pray for those who will, for it will no doubt be a very hard day, if it happens.

    Your comparison of Trent nuancing Tetzel as an analogy for FVism nuancing some other "damnable error" is really over the top, as is your statement "There is no honest way of squaring FVism with the Reformed doctrine of justification and its logical corollaries." First of all we'd have to know what YOU mean by "FVism" (there is a great deal of confusion out there about it), for what you mean may not be what any given FV leader means. The position has several different varieties, some of which may be problematic but some of which clearly are not. Rich Lusk, for instance, has overwhelmingly, I think, documented that the actual real-live Reformed tradition about baptismal efficacy is far broader and nuanced than the very narrow tradition being unreasonably promoted by most of the FV critics as "the" Reformed view of baptism. And are you sure you want to label other aspects of the position, such as Wilson's quite biblical "To a thousand generations" view of covenant children is a "damnable error"?

    You mention justification, but again I'd wonder where you're getting your information from and how you understand "the FV view" of it. I have yet to hear a single person involved in any capacity with things FVish deny that justification is by faith alone in the sense that the Reformation defined the term "justification." Rather, what I hear from many of them is that the term "justification" is not in Scripture itself limited to the theological usage of the Reformed Confessions, and that this means it is biblically possible (and orthodox) to speak of justification in ANOTHER sense than the Confessional one. It is not, in other words, that the Confessional sense is wrong (again, I've heard no one say that), but only that it does not exhaust the biblical data. I find it hard to imagine that an argument like this ought to be summarily dismissed as "damnable error", especially when the exegesis of Romans and Galatians that supports such an absolute black / white judgment is so shallow when set next to the exegesis of, say, Wright or even Ridderbos. I will tell you what I see in my own personal experience with FV critics, and it is this. Most of the loudest, angriest individuals denouncing FVism are essentially Radical Baptists (including many who pretend to be Presbyterians) whose "Reformed" Faith is little more than an unbalanced attachment to TULIP (i.e., "unbalanced" as if that was the sum total of biblical teaching on salvation), some half-understood, Christologically-contextless slogans about monergism, and, really the most important thing, an absolutely fanatical obsession with demonizing "Romanism" and pretending to see a creeping slide toward it under every mode of thinking that requires them to do a little bit of hard thinking outside the restrictive boxes they learned in seminary.

    I'm not sure of your own objections to FVism (or, again, what you take "FVism" to be), but based on what I know of it and of what I've seen of your views on baptism and ecclesiology here on your blog, I cannot help but say that your judgments of it as "damnable error" strike me as over-confident and over-hasty. I wonder if in your zeal for destroying "damnable error" you realize that in many respects you might wind up lopping off whole branches of the Reformed Faith in the name of presenting only one very narrow branch of it as being the whole thing.