I wish to touch on a few more issues. This series is not very popular. It's not being read by a lot of folks. Either people already decided they don't agree or some may find it unpractical or perhaps too difficult.
At this point this series is being written to those who are familiar with the contemporary debates and have some familiarity with the terms and players. I'm not taking a great deal of time to define some of these things because those interested probably already know and those who don't know the terms probably aren't bothering to read these.
For the handful of folks that aren't familiar and yet are interested, don't hesitate to comment or ask me directly. I'm happy to clarify or suggest resources. If you're interested and want to understand, don't get discouraged.
Someone might say...I don't need to know all this stuff. That's correct. You don't need to know the in's and out's, the little tweaks and nuances, the way the factions have formed up. You don't need to know these things to know God and to trust in Jesus Christ.
That said.....it is important and plays out even if not everyone can see just how. These ideas affect the Church. They have in the past, continue to do so, and will certainly shape the future. And, in my case I want to know and understand. It's not about knowing so we can keep up on the latest thing. Instead as we work through these things, we are driven to Scripture and forced to think it through. Doing this, we come to know our God even better and we can stand in awe as we consider His ways.
Thus far we've talked about the Scriptures indeed teach Justification by Faith and yes we can add 'alone' even though it is not supported in the text.
But we wish to avoid the error of erecting a system which now does not take the totality of Scripture into consideration but instead establishes Justification by Faith as the lens, the foundation, the starting point, upon which all further theological development is subjected to.
Why? Simply because large portions of the New Testament are then rendered either meaningless, hypothetical, addressed to unbelievers, or in some other way explained away...all unacceptable.
The many verses like Colossians 1.23 which qualify salvation with an 'if' become problematic to say the least. Paul's exhortation becomes empty, because if you're Justified by Faith, or if you're Elect, then in no way can your salvation be subject to a qualifier.
But the New Testament employs such qualifications on a pretty regular basis. Hebrews is quite heavy with them, warnings against apostasy, qualifiers that declare without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
And of course there's the famous passage in James 2, which at face value categorically rejects Justification by Faith alone. It says as much in verse 24. Luther was terribly vexed by this and called James 'an epistle of straw' and questioned whether it should be in the canon. It just didn't fit his system. Others have sought to re-define the idea of Justification in James and define it as 'vindication' or something similar in what seems a desperate attempt to divorce the Apostle's language from their formulations of legal or forensic Justification...that is that we are reckoned righteous by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Roman Catholics have historically embraced an idea that is more aptly described as 'infusion,' that allows us...now righteous...to bring forth faithful works etc...
The Federal Vision, a movement within Reformed circles, and others have sought to emphasize Union....the main focus being that we are 'in' Christ, united with Him.
Though I believe the New Testament clearly teaches Imputation, I will admit Union actually seems to be the more operative concept. This is not to say those who emphasize Imputation don't believe in Union. Not at all. However, it's a matter of emphasis and more importantly for most...(not for me)...systemic priority and logical order.
Unfortunately the Federal Vision not only struggles with Imputation but has embraced other ideas I cannot agree with. There is a large debate over the issue and definition of merit. They think merit is a Medieval concept and should be discarded. They would emphasize Christ was rewarded for obedience, and they remove the whole notion of works from the Two-Adam formulation.
The Vosian-Klinean camp as well as the traditional Reformed formulations emphasize the 1st and 2nd Adam motif. Adam had the law in some form, many mistakenly think it was the Decalogue, and that he failed to keep it and was cast out. Christ comes, keeps the law, earns salvation which is then appropriated to us, removing our sins.
The Federal Vision rejects the works-concept in the Garden, and frames the whole discussion in a different manner. They focus on obedience and in doing so find the doctrine called Christ's Active Obedience (his good works, his sinless life, his miracles etc...) superfluous. Their big emphasis is that no one can or ever was meant to 'earn' anything from God.
A key passage is Galatians 3.21-22:
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
Some Covenant Theologians would say Paul is arguing the Law never was meant to confer salvation. The Federal Vision would be in this camp. They would focus on the typology of the Mosaic System and argue it was a proto-gospel, the Old Testament was never about keeping the law in order to be saved. So Law for them functions in a different manner.
Their Vosian foes would argue the scenario in the Garden was indeed a works arrangement...in the sense that pre-fall there was no need for Redemptive Grace. At that point...even though all was planned before the foundation of the world...man had not fallen, but was on probation. Obviously Adam failed, and part of the tutelage-imagery in the Mosaic order was what the Puritans used to call a Republication of the Covenant of Works.
The individual was saved by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ. This has been true since Genesis 3.15 when the Promise of Messiah was given.
But as a nation, the people of Israel were placed in a provisional covenant, a Covenant of Works as it were. If they were obedient they were blessed and kept their land...and expansion of the Abrahamic Promise which itself is two-tiered. One level being typological pointing to the land, and on another level the Land was Zion, the City of God, Heaven, Jesus Christ Himself.
Building on this, it could be said based on the Galatians passage, the Law if it could be kept perfectly, could indeed merit salvation, but now because of sin (v.22) this is an impossibility. What was meant for life, the path to righteousness, becomes death.
But wait...One does come who CAN fulfill the requirements of the law, earns righteous standing with God and is unjustly slain (the penalty of sin). He is raised from the dead, defeating death, and because he acted in the role of the 2nd Adam, a High Priest...He is the Federal or Covenant Head, the Mediator and the Sacrifice all in one.
The Federal Vision rejects the Works notion in the Garden and thus rejects this two-tier construction of the Mosaic Covenant as well. This changes the whole Adam-Law concept and to their harshest critics overthrows the Gospel itself. I think this charge is too harsh. I think they are framing the issue differently and are thus focused somewhat differently. There's plenty to critique in their larger system...other doctrinal issues that to my mind do indeed overthrow the gospel.
The problem is...and admittedly this is something of a systemic problem rather than a textual one...if you have Redemptive Grace in the Garden, with the 1st Adam, what does that do to the fulfillment found in the 2nd Adam? Did Christ pay for our sins, or were they merely forgiven? Growing up I always understood it to be the latter. Later I understood they're not just forgiven, they are indeed paid for. God doesn't just forget about our sins, they must be atoned for, and Christ accomplishes this for us.
Now the Vosian group places great emphasis on the fact that the Law-Covenant as it were, was conditional and it's this aspect, this second tier aspect of the Mosaic Covenant that is sometimes contrasted with the New Covenant. Indeed in the New Covenant we are married to another...divorced from Moses, we are married to Jesus Christ. The works principle, the conditionality factor is not in effect in the New Covenant.
This way of framing the discussion, like the system of Federal Vision profoundly shapes how we interact with many New Testament texts.
Go to part 5