Friday, December 21, 2007

FV in One Paragraph

The brothers on the Warfield list picked up the question of how to describe the Federal Vision in one paragraph. Pastor Andrew Webb offered his thoughts and at the same time threw his hat in with the “Dead Rats Behind the Fridge Club” (DRBFC) by invoking the name of an evil anonymous attack blogger who thoroughly documents his posts as much as possible with credible sources and grounds his opinions in those well-documented facts.

RE: [bbwarfield] Can you define FV in one paragraph?

Hi Ken,

I’m tempted to simply quote JC Ryle’s summary of the version of the FV he was dealing with:

Religion is a mere corporate business. You are to belong to a certain body of people. By virtue of your membership of this body, vast privileges, both for time and eternity, are conferred upon you. It matters little what you are and what you feel. You are not to try yourself by your feelings. You are a member of a great ecclesiastical corporation. Then all its privileges and immunities are your own. Do you belong to the one true visible ecclesiastical corporation? That is the grand question.

But the definition is far too general and misses several of the charmingly post-modern features of modern FV theology such as:

Federal Vision Theology is constantly developing and that development occurs in the context of individual teaching. In the FV, as in the modern world, doctrine follows and attempts to explain practice. FV theology is not subject to peer review. It is thought up and immediately preached to a congregation, taught at a conference, and/or put into print. The purpose of Confessional Statements and the writings of Reformed theologians in the FV is purely to provide a few cherry-picked quotations to support what is already being taught, even if the use of those quotations in support of the FV author’s claims contradicts what that confession or theologian clearly teaches elsewhere. Apparent contradictions or paradoxes are not considered a problem within Federal Vision theology and precision is not desirable, so that while historic Reformed theology spoke it terms of doctrines, affirmations, and denials, FV theology speaks with an intentional vagueness that supposedly “reflects Scripture” rather than dogmatizing. Hence in FV theology it is possible to speak of people as being saved “in some sense.” It denies the deniability of its teachings. FV theology is also either uncomfortable with or openly scornful of an internal and subjective and necessary experience of the working of the Holy Spirit in regenerating individuals, or in regenerating large groups in the most scorned of all events — a revival. (In the FV a revival is an unnecessary, tedious, and boorishly uncultured event easily explained as some form of mass hysteria or ridiculous enthusiasm.) The FV welcomes ecclesiastical authority, but only if it concurs with or protects the teaching of the particular FV advocate in question, as such it would be useful as a means of silencing FV critics, but so far it has not been working properly. Consequently ecclesiastical authority must always be considered subordinate to the individual autonomy of the FV theologian and of limited usefulness at best. All FV theologians must be free to find more light in the Scriptures and immediately teach what they have found. Thus the FV maintains a delicious synthesis of high church liturgy with thoroughly Anabaptist, or more correctly Emerging, ecclesiology. The restraints on ecclesiastical authority, however, do not apply to individual congregations where the authority, and occasional inerrancy of the senior FV pastor (for life), should be considered almost absolute. Please note this is the senior FV pastor. Congregants under non-FV pastors have the same freedoms accorded to all FV theologians. Additionally, no one but an enthusiastic advocate of the FV may define the FV, until he leaves the FV (usually for the Roman Catholic church) at which point it is made clear to everyone that he never really was FV and thus is no longer able to define it. When FV advocates speak to one another at conferences called “The Federal Vision” or publish books under that title it is THE FEDERAL VISION (say it loud, say it proud) when they speak to those outside the camp it is “The So-Called ‘Federal Vision’” (pronounced with curled lip*).

* Thus creating a situation reminiscent of discussions of the La Cosa Nostra in the 1970s. Members of the organization coined the term and felt free to use it amongst friends, and everyone knew it existed, but in public discourse its very existence was denied as a hallucination on the part of those biased against people of Italian heritage (even when the people in question had names indicating their own roots were Italian).

Anyway, the above is obviously too large to work as a definition, but the truth is that while the movement has certain common features and goals, it is constantly in a state of flux adapting every day. For instance, now the current buzz is “temporary justification,” this doctrine will be incorporated and the movement will continue to adapt. The bizarre thing is that it has been up to observers rather than proponents to systematize the movement by observation, and every time they do the proponents deny the system has any relation to the theology. At this point we should be forced to conclude:
  1. Attempting to interact with the system is not just pointless, it’s for all practical purposes impossible.

  2. A review of history of the FV movement to this point, should lead us to the conclusion (and I know this is going to be unpopular) that the problem is not the FV system, which is less of a system and something closer to a Lego creation constantly being added to by its “designers.” At this point we should realize the problem is the FV people and work to insulate orthodox denominations from them. I’m no fan of working anonymously (then again I don’t have to live in Moscow) and wish he’d identify himself, but I think this point that Mark T. has been harping on at Fœdero Schism is worth considering. After all, the Bible doesn’t direct us to interact with and cast out “false prophecies” and “false teachings,” it warns us away from their sources, i.e. “false prophets” and “false teachers.”
I know at this point everyone will say, “No, we must tolerate them, that’s all they want us to do,” rather than “rending the body!” To which I would answer:
  1. Since when is maintaining a false peace more important than true purity?

  2. Where are we instructed to accommodate theological error and heresy?

  3. What kind of communion do we have when we consider one another to be in error and freely contradict one another’s teaching?

  4. As Presbyterian history shows, “tolerance” is a tool used to manipulate moderates into allowing errorists to remain in the tent until they can gain ascendancy. Then the much vaunted tolerance disappears and the conservatives are told to conform or leave. I just spoke with a former PCUSA pastor who was shocked when his own past willingness to tolerate men who believed in women as elders was not repaid in kind when he declined to adopt the position in his own church.

  5. Tolerance will have the inevitable effect of entrenching the FV in Reformed Denominations and Seminaries so that it will be impossible to remove it regardless of how odd the ever-changing FV theology becomes. This in turn will make it almost impossible to address any form of theological declension. A little leaven leavens the lump.

  6. From a pragmatic viewpoint, this amounts to an entrenching of nominalism, which is a death sentence for evangelicalism in denominations.
Your Servant in Christ,

Andy Webb

Thank you.