Thus far I have been in agreement with the Vosian crowd rejection of the Federal Vision understanding of Redemptive-History. But at this point I switch sides. Unlike the Federal Vision folks I certainly affirm the concept of merit, that Christ's Active Obedience helped to pay for our sins and I wholeheartedly agree with the Garden-Works principle, and the reiteration of this under the Mosaic order in typological form applied to the Corporate body of Israel.
But I completely disagree that the concept of conditionality was restricted to the one tier or corporate level of the Mosaic order, or that conditionality need only be restricted to the Works principle. I think conditionality was characteristic of even the gracious aspect of individual salvation in the Old Testament.....as well as the New. I think it's something endemic to the concept of Covenant. The problem is not one of pitting conditionality/works over and against unconditionality/grace. It's a matter of perspectives...Divine and human, temporal and eschatological.
There have been many attempts to define Covenant, all are usually more or less correct in what they say...the question is...how much must be said? A bond, a bond in blood, Divinely administered, promises of obligation.....what about sanctions? Blessings and curses?
All would affirm the latter with regard to the Mosaic order, but only some would include this concept in the New Covenant of Salvation by Grace...the same Covenant promise given to Abraham, fulfilled and reiterated in the New Covenant in Peter's Acts 2 sermon, Romans 4, and is a major theme in Galatians.
The Vosian crowd thinks the inclusion of the sanctions introduces a 'works' principle into the New Covenant. I agree that's systemically a problem, but what does the text say? Or rather numerous texts?
And as I've tried to point out in this series and several others, this system-commitment virtually guts the New Testament concept of Means and strips away much of the doctrine of Sanctification. Blessing, curse, conditionality, sanction, dynamics at work in the Christian life...these are all problem concepts for those who have embraced the system I label hyper-solafideism.
There are two problems I see. One the system commitment. I would say if you're system isn't working with the text, if you are overwhelmed with 'problem texts' then your system is wrong. Let me amend that. It doesn't mean your system is foundationally wrong, it might just need expanding. And in order to expand, certain philosophical commitments might need to be abandoned, no small thing to be sure.
So for me personally, and it leaves me in a lonely spot to be sure...I lean toward the Vosian camp. They are correct in their overall structural assessment of Redemptive-History and the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. I differ with them in regard to the Sola Fide system-commitment and how that plays out with regard to Sacraments, Sanctification, and Assurance.
With the Federal Vision folks, I zealously agree with their commitment to textual priority over system, at least when it comes to Soteriology. They I believe, I have captured something of the New Testament dialectic that allows us to understand Salvation to be By Grace Through Faith Alone, but also conditional. It allows Election to shine forth from the pages of Scripture, but also grants a certain efficaciousness to the Administrative Means, the Covenant is allowed to function on multiple levels as I believe it is presented to us by the Scriptures.
The Analogy of Scripture as a hermeneutical tool is great when it comes to hashing out the apparent contradictions in narrative. The Analogy is essential when trying to solve the chronological and descriptive problems in the Gospels and Acts, or even trying to work out some of the thorny problems regarding Epistle side narrative. Paul's stop in Crete for example, versus the record in Acts, or from the Old Testament, trying to sort out the books of Kings and Chronicles.
But when it comes to didactic theological texts...basically the Epistles, the Analogy can become a form of Hermeneutical Compression. Rather than detect layers and dynamic tensions, the Analogy functions as a tool of System and seeks to remove these layers and what are perceived to be dualisms. This tendency is one I've talked about quite a bit. Form and or Analytical Logic drives System-thought and by necessity supersedes the text. The Drivers, philosophical commitments, or Razors, demand cohesion, sometimes unnecessarily multiplying and creating categories, other times reducing and simplifying to the point of reductionism.
Rome engages in the same error of compression, just on the other side of the scale. They too reject the multiple layers and dialectic tensions. Instead they focus strictly on the Means, to the point the Means (interpreted and expanded by Tradition) becomes the End.
Secondly, and quite interestingly I think one problem the Vosian camp has is actually related to the same error we find in Postmillennialism. Namely, a failure to understand aspects of the New Covenant, even the prophesied New Covenant in the Old Testament, while expressed in Eschatological terms, cannot be only understood in those terms... While that makes perfect sense regarding the Postmillennialists in their 'forcing' of Eschatological or Eternal texts into the present....their expectation of a Golden Age on earth. They take verses that will only find their fulfillment in the eternal state (heaven) and try to place them here on earth in time and space. When it comes to the Kingdom, they only see the Eschatological, and their Dominionistic tendency forces them to apply it to the here and now...the pre-Parousian era.
Likewise, some of the Vosians tend to over read the Eschatological reality into the present. Now that sounds odd, because if any camp is emphasizing the tension between the present and the eschatological, it is the Vosians. Certainly they of all people express doctrines (especially the Kingdom) in terms of the Already and Not Yet, the Two Age tension between This Age and The Age to Come. With this tension in mind, they of all the camps should express the right balance in the Christian life. But I think with their emphasis on eschatology...the telos of Election...this eternal aspect, the doctrinal outflow from Election as a system dominates their thought and affects their reading of Salvation applied in the present, the Not-Yet. For some reason they don't do this when it comes to the Kingdom. There we find a proper dual-tension. But when it comes to Soteriology, it doesn't seem to be the case.
To put it another way... When it comes to Soteriology, their system is rooted in the Eschatological, the Already. If we're talking about Election, the accomplishment and application of Redemption, there's little need let alone logical ability to incorporate a temporal conditionality, in fact they seem to struggle even with the notion of temporal partial fulfillment. Admittedly in terms of a coherent system, it's hard to make it work and have it explained in some kind of sensible form.
This is why I have at times referred to their Hyper-Calvinistic tendency. It takes a different form than what is found among Hoeksema's Protestant Reformed Churches or the Hyper-Rationalist Clark/Robbins camp. The emphasis is different, closer to the text, but still falls into the same system-trap.
If Systematics is the Biblical method, then Election has to end up being the starting point, the foundation, the lens for all other doctrine. The Clark camp would be right in subjecting all Scripture to this criterion. At that point we can start with Supralapsarianism and through induction and syllogistic exploration we can develop doctrine ad infinitum.
As I keep insisting...if this methodology is in principle wrong...then all System-thought at some point ends up challenging the Textual Authority of Divine Revelation. As I mentioned earlier, the Analogy of Scripture is a helpful tool, but not when it becomes a mechanism to support a system or explain away texts at their face value.
So again, what does the New Testament text say? On most of the issues, it doesn't really say just one thing. It presents multiple perspectives and various ways. I think we had better stick with it, and leave our system on a minimalist course...not reductionistic, simply undeveloped and in some ways broad. Simple but not simplistic.
So I appreciate the Federal Vision folks on this one level. Of course they have their system commitments as well. Dominionism driven by or perhaps feeding certain philosophical obligations creates a massive system. These men are Constantinians par-excellence as well as Triumphalist Postmillennialists, and with their Theonomic tendencies they demonstrate a massive and large scale misreading of the Biblical Structure. They grasp something of how the New Testament works in regard to the application of the Covenant, or Salvation, something most Theonomic-Reconstructionist types cannot seem to fathom. But they perilously misunderstand the tensions between the Old and New Testaments and the nature of the Kingdom.
Out of all this flow their gross misinterpretations of current events and their complete perversion of history. So while I sympathize with one faction's emphasis on one area of doctrine, I am in severe opposition to them. I believe they are labouring to bring about yet another historical fulfillment of the oft repeated Apocalyptic imagery. They think Babylon becomes Zion and without realizing it they have re-cast the theology of the Whore riding the Beast, that is the Covenant Community in a state of Apostasy working with and labouring for the aggrandizement and fulfillment of the pseudo-Zion, the pseudo-Israel, the Beast of the Apocalypse. They're not the first, nor will they be the last. If they represent a threat to the Gospel, it is not from their Soteriological model, rather their embrace and love affair with Mystery Babylon.
Interestingly, Lutheran theology also committed to the Sola Fide paradigm nevertheless if often accused of inconsistency in their embrace of Sacramental Efficacy. While I am certainly in greater agreement with the Lutheran concept of the Sacraments versus the Baptistic view most Calvinists embrace, it would seem their view is a little slippery. When baptizing infants, they insist that faith is present and thus maintain the integrity of their system. The infants are actually believers according to this view. Though paedo-baptists, in theory they only baptize believers.
In this case while I agree with the practice and certainly the Means/Efficacious language they apply to it...I don't feel the need to force something that isn't there, or minimize it in order to make it work with the system. One might argue this demonstrates what is often described (fairly or unfairly) as a somewhat 'low' view of Saving Faith found among Lutherans. They vociferously affirm Justification by Faith ALONE, and by reading it into the Sacraments...actually end up removing the functionality of the Means concept...and end up with a kind of easy believism. The Means, the Covenant applied visibly ends up being something of an illusion. All you have to do is believe.....which is right, but can also be wrong if understood improperly.
We see this in the various forms of easy believism, antinomianism both in terms of Means-rejection and/or loose-living. In its extreme form it can lead to Ecclesiastical Apathy, not disregarding to Church due to some kind of apathetic spirit, but an actual Theologically bred Apathy which translates into...it doesn't really matter if you're part of a Church or not.
Again, this isn't practical or occasional...I can't be part of a Church because of certain circumstances (invalid spouse, no church to go to...whatever). That we can understand. A bad form would be...I'm not part of a Congregation because I work late on Saturdays and can't get up a time.
No, what I'm referring to is people who have taken Sola-Fideism or Election so far, they are dismissive of Church. To insist it is necessary (if possible) to be part of a Church conflicts with their system-commitments. You can't say you have to be part of a Congregation...because that would conflict the system. 'It's nice to do,' they say, 'but after all, I'm saved by Faith.' Sacraments can't mean anything, because of Justification by Faith Alone, or for some who via system-causality step back another level...because of Election.
That's system-bred Ecclesiastical Apathy.
There's a whole host of reasons people don't gather with a Congregation (go to church as we often put it), some may be valid...some are rooted in grave theological error.
Returning to the Lutherans who definitely cannot be accused of this type of Apathy...
Though they are accused of teaching Baptismal Regeneration, they actually do not believe in this. They retain something of the language and the concept. Why? I don't know...the textual evidence (1 Peter 3.21, Titus 3.5, Acts 22.16, Mark 16.16)? tradition? something of both?
In the end though, they retain something of the Hyper-Solafideism I'm arguing against with regard to the Vosian camp. There's a definite thought-relationship, on this point they are theological cousins.
Overall, the Lutheran model is somewhat better in that it at least employs the Scriptural language. The Anglican model regarding Soteriological tension between Faith and Means is even better to my mind, but both of these 'High' camps run into trouble...back to the authority issue. Both have no difficulty incorporating tradition into the life of the Church...a denial of the Sufficiency of Scripture. Not to mention their historical Constantinian emphases, something the Federal Vision approves of. High Church tendencies draw heavily from Constantinian tradition and imagery. Stirring stuff to be sure. It's one thing to sing God Bless America in a shopping mall type Evangelical building. Goosebumps erupt when singing God Save the Queen in a grand old Anglican building...let alone Deutschland Uber Alles in a Baroque structure...if you know what I mean. The cultural passions and traditions come alive when mixed in with Ecclesiastical experience. It's a very pleasing to the flesh. I'll be the first to admit it. I just happen to think it's incompatible with New Testament Christianity. Nevertheless there has long been a tendency in Theonomic and now modified Federal Vision circles to move toward High Church-ism and Anglican type ecclesiology. I can go along with part of it, but not all.
I know Luther is tagged as being Two Kingdom, but his formulation is a bit different, and the German legacy does not reflect a more proto-Protestant or Anabaptistic Two Kingdom model...rather a pretty typical and historically continuous Constantinianism, finding its unfortunate zenith in the Uber-Protestant Prussian State. Prussia cast a huge shadow over all subsequent German history in developing a culture and mindset that would contribute to the German Unification of the 2nd Reich, and the subsequent frightful history of the 3rd.
Go to part 6