Jim Jordan has been writing of late about the Federal Vision. Since he probably has the best mind of the bunch, he’s a good candidate to take as one’s representative for purposes of exposition and analysis. I’ll begin by excerpting what I find most important in what he’s written on the subject:
But because Wright does not say everything precisely the way these sectarians are used to hearing it, he is regarded with deep suspicion and even as an enemy of Biblical religion.
He [an ordinand] could say that pitting good works against grace was not true to the genius of the Reformed faith, or to the Bible. He could point out that there is no “merit theology” in the Bible. He could say that he preferred to speak of being united to the whole risen Christ rather than speak in the abstract about an imputed righteousness separated from that union.
But, that’s to be expected. As I maintained in Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future, the Protestant age is coming to an end. That means that the Reformed faith and Presbyterianism are also coming to an end. The paradigm is exhausted, and the world in which it was worked out no longer exists. We must take all the great gains of the Calvinistic heritage and apply them with an open Bible to the new world in which we are now living. We must be aware that there is far more in the Bible than the Reformation dealt with, and that many of our problems today are addressed by those hitherto unnoticed or undeveloped aspects of the Bible. Those who want to bang the drum for a 450-year old tradition are dooming themselves to irrelevance. Our only concern is to avoid being beat up by them as they thrash about in their death-throes.
For some reason mysterious to me, the association of the FV speakers with the NPP has stuck, even though there are no grounds for it. Those of us being called FV have been discussing these issues for 25 years, long before any of us had ever heard of Tom Wright. Almost all the issues that are being shrieked about were set out in writings published by me and my associates at Geneva Ministries during the 1980s in issues of the journal Christianity and Civilization.
To be sure, people interested in renewing covenant theology have read N.T. Wright, James Dunn, Jakob van Bruggen, and others who write in the NPP vein. We have also read David Yaego and Tuomo Mannermaa and the other Finnish writers who have been reinvestigating Martin Luther. But that does not put us into the pocket of the New Finnish School, any more than reading Alexander Schmemann makes us Russian Orthodox, or reading The Banner of Truth or Modern Reformation makes us Baptists, or reading First Things makes us Roman Catholics.
This is olde hatte for me. During the 1980s, when I was involved with Geneva Ministries in Tyler, Texas, we used to recommend Alexander Schmemann’s remarkable book For the Life of the World. Since, being Calvinists, we differed with a few things in the book, we included a short reader’s guide with the copies we sold. But predictably it was not long before certain churlish voices were raised around the country accusing me and others of being “on the road to Eastern Orthodoxy.” Similarly, when it became known that we were singing the ancient hymns of the Church in our worship in Tyler, the same infantile voices accused us of being “on the road to Rome.” Curiously (duh!) it’s the same people who led the attack on the AAPC Conversation.
It’s time for certain people to grow up.
But the main problem that is generating controversy is actually fairly well put by the Mississippi Valley report: “Proponents of the FV identify themselves as Reformed. Most appeal to the writings of the sixteenth century Reformers in support of their views. Many regard the Reformed thought of the British Puritan and American Presbyterian traditions to have capitulated to the Enlightenment, what is termed revivalism, and what is termed baptistic theology.”
Well, that’s about right. The Protestant Reformation in all its branches was a sacramental, liturgical, musical, and bibliocratic movement. Prior to the Reformation, people attended the Lord’s Supper once a year, if that. For Calvin and the other reformers, Jesus had promised to meet objectively with His people at His table, and so all the reformers believed very strongly in weekly communion, and they strove to implement it.
They believed in baptismal regeneration. They understood by “regeneration” a new life in the kingdom of God, in the church, not a kind of permanent internal change in the heart (which is how “regeneration” later came to be understood). For Calvin, “regeneration” is pretty much a synonym for sanctification.
About a century later, however, came what those who liked it called the “Second Reformation” in Scottish, English, and Dutch Calvinism. Supposedly this reformation completed what was lacking in the original one. In fact it was to a considerable extent a Medieval reaction against the Reformation. To be sure, the Puritans and others did not go back to the idolatries of the Middle Ages, but they did reject musical and liturgical worship, seeking to restore the almost complete passivity of the Medieval worshiper. And within a generation or so, those in these movements had settled into a kind of church-only pietism that ignored bibliocratic national reform. And later on, these same movements wound up in the kind of anti-sacramentalism that came to characterize 18th, 19th, and 20th century Calvinism.
The "vacuum" (to use Dr. Fesko's term) created by removing the "active obedience" of Jesus is "filled" by the imputation of Jesus' post-resurrection Spiritual life. Our obedience does not stem from some kind of union with Jesus' pre-cross life, but from being in union with His glorified life.
A Response to "The Federal Vision and the Covenant of Works," A Lecture by Dr. J. V. Fesko.
By way of comment:
1.Absent further explanation, I don’t find his comments about N. T. Wright convincing.
It may be that some of the elder statesmen of the FV movement have been thinking along the same lines before Wright came on the scene. But they, or the younger generation, also seem to find in him a very congenial source of supporting arguments.
Tim Enloe, for one, has a list of Federal revisionists who expound and defend N. T. Wright at length.
Why would they bother to do that if his connection with the FV movement is as tangential as Jordan makes it out to be?
Moreover, as Jordan well knows, wasn’t Wright a keynote speaker at this years Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference?
Furthermore, to say that Wright is viewed with hostility in Reformed confessional circles simply because he “does not say everything precisely the way these sectarians are used to hearing it” doesn’t strike me, for one, as either an accurate or candid statement of the differences at issue.
The new perspective has a completely different take on the doctrine of justification. Bishop Wright has no use for imputed righteousness. And how anyone can read his commentary on Romans and still refer to him as a “Calvinistic Anglican” (“Misusing the Westminster Confession”) is hard to credit.
If Jordan is trying to be persuasive, he has a whole lot more explaining to do. As it stands, what he says about the relationship between the Federal Vision and the new perspective savors of special pleading.
2.It appears that Jordan himself rejects imputed righteousness. This is a central plank in the Westminster doctrine of justification.
In its place, Jordan talks about “the imputation of Jesus' post-resurrection Spiritual life.” That doesn’t sound like any form of imputation to me. Rather, it sounds like some form of infusion or impartation—sanctification. One wonders why he continues to use the word “imputation,” unless it’s for tactical reasons. But perhaps he can explain himself.
3.I also don’t know where he draws the line on “merit theology.” I agree that merit plays no role in Adam’s relation to God—much less the relation of fallen man to God.
But does Jordan still have a place for merit in the work of Christ? Does Christ merit our salvation?
4.I recall reading that, sometime before his death, David Chilton seriously contemplated conversion to the Orthodox Church.
When Paul Owen says that we’re still under the Pope, and when Tim Enloe cozies up to the Crowhill crowd, maybe their not really Romeward bound, but I see nothing wrong with pointing out the direction in which they’re moving—even if they don’t go all the way.
I’d add that there’s more than one worse case scenario. To judge by what David Chilton had to say in “Ecclesiastical Megalomania,” the Tyler Church was just as bad in its own way.
5.Jordan chooses to define or redefine baptismal regeneration as baptismal sanctification, which he traces back to Calvin.
i) It is misleading to use Confessional language contrary to Confessional usage. If he and others (Paul Owen?) are going to substitute a more primitive import, that needs to be stated at the outset.
ii) They also need to admit right up front that their position on this and other issues—such as sola fide—is counter-confessional.
iii) From a Reformed Baptist standpoint, baptismal sanctification is just as objectionable as baptismal regeneration. In fact, it seems to be an intensification of baptismal regeneration—a front-loaded version of sanctification.
6.It also looks increasingly like the Reformed Catholics and Federal revisionists have been using Reformed Baptists as a stalking horse to distract attention away from the real target.
What Jordan is proposing appears to be nothing short of a theological revolution:
“The Reformed faith and Presbyterianism are also coming to an end. The paradigm is exhausted”;
“About a century later, however, came what those who liked it called the “Second Reformation” in Scottish, English, and Dutch Calvinism. Supposedly this reformation completed what was lacking in the original one. In fact it was to a considerable extent a Medieval reaction against the Reformation.”
In other words, he and other like-minded individuals are repudiating the Puritan tradition, the Reformed Baptist tradition (London Baptist Confession), the Westminster Assembly, and the Synod of Dordt, as well—I suppose, as Welsh Calvinist Methodism. That is to be swept aside for something both older (e.g. Calvin, Bucer) and newer (e.g., N. T. Wright).
So this isn’t a fight between “sectarians” or “radical Baptists” or Joe Morecraft, on the one hand, and Old School Presbyterians, on the other.
I agree with Jordan that these debates should come down to sound exegesis. But let us be clear on what is at stake.
And I hope he won’t be so condescending as to suppose that adherence to sola fide or imputed righteousness is motivated by nothing more than blind creedalism.
7.Jordan also says that the Westminster Standards have been misused because they’ve been put to a use to which they were not originally intended:
“The writers were not under the illusion that their document could substitute for the decisions of the living Church…The Standards would he used as a guideline, and an important and necessary guideline, but would not substitute for the decisions of individual presbyteries of dioceses in the national church…if a presbytery were convinced that a man was a sound pastor, fit for ministry, they would not be bound to insist that he subscribe to every jot and tittle of the Confession, only that he agree to live under it.”
This may all be true, but he misses the irony of his own appeal. If various Reformed denominations, seminaries, colleges, and other suchlike choose to adapt the Westminster Standards to a different use than was originally foreseen by the framers, then that, of itself, represents a decision of the living Church.
I agree with him that there is more to the Bible than the Reformed confessions. But is there less to the Bible than the Reformed confessions?
Jordan is a man of principle. So I’m sure that he is able and willing to offer principled answers to principled questions and objections.