Tuesday, 24 February 2009

A plea to Federal Vision supporters: Please say what you really mean

David Field's stimulating blog has an endorsement for a new magazine being launched by supporters of the Federal Vision in the UK. I know lots of the names on this website, because many of them were my contemporaries at various places, mostly university. Talented chaps!

I definitely experienced some Jeremy Paxman moments whilst browsing its website. By that, I mean that you ought to conjure up an image of the intrepid interviewer hearing something maybe not quite straightforward from the politician in front of him, rolling his eyes and saying "Oh come on..."

By which I mean... the advertising blurb for the magazine tells us that its purpose is to promote historic Reformed theology, and mentions no other distinctives - the "best of British Reformed thinking". And yet...

  • All four of the editorial board are convinced Federal Visionists, as a quick look over their blogs will show.

  • The synopsis of the first issue also gives it away very quickly... Jim Jordan's hermeneutics, the place of children in the New Covenant....

  • As does the list of book reviews and book reviewers. Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart, Alastair Roberts... "oh come on" ! (And of those not so well known there is more than one FV advocate). Books on the nature of the New Covenant and the church, infant baptism... this all seems very familiar to this particular FV critic...

  • The editorial for issue 1 lists some things that ought to be allowed points of difference within the Reformed community. And... it's pretty much a shopping list of the key questions raised by the Federal Vision controversy or viewpoints espoused by FV advocates. And predictably (since these are FVers) absent... infant baptism, of course, is not an allowed point of controversy, despite the majority of real-life Reformed believers in the UK being baptists!

  • Do a blog search to see who's recommending this new magazine - yup, it's a list of FV advocates. (Update: Even Doug Wilson's himself has been posting to promote it!) The blurb many of them reproduce again, though, tells us that the magazine's distinctive is to be presenting "Reformed Theology", rather than that it's distinctive is to promote the FV...
All this, and not one mention of the "Federal Vision" on the website. No mention that the editorial board are - despite the blurb about representing British Reformed theology - all from one single college: Oak Hill (Anglican), and that three of them were (as were some of the book reviewers), whilst there, taught the Federal Vision by the fourth (David Field). Nope - all we're told is that the stated aim is promoting Reformed theology. Ho hum. I'm not someone who believes that it's a sin unless you tell everyone everything about yourself and your aims; but really, "oh come on"!

  1. The real purpose of this new magazine is to promote the "Federal Vision" theology of Douglas Wilson / Peter Leithart / Credenda/Agenda / Auburn Avenue etcetera in the UK.

  2. Yet for some reason the magazine's backers have decided to hide this fact.

  3. Not only have they decided it's best strategy to hide their real aim, they've also decided to present the "Federal Vision" as if it were mainstream British Reformed theology, which it is certainly not: not historically and absolutely not in the last 200 years or at the present day.

Come on guys... nobody's doubting your right to promote what you believe. It's great to be launching new ventures to promote sound Biblical scholarship. But please, be up-front about your agenda - there's nothing commendable about misleading your readers. If, as it clearly is, the aim of your new magazine is to promote the Federal Vision and change the face of the British Reformed scene, then say so. Are you hiding it in order to mislead the unknowing - or is there another reason? To anyone familiar with the FV, the agenda is not subtle. So presumably such already-familiar people are not the target - the target is those who won't spot the switcheroo?


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, David. I had seen the website, but not yet browsed it. I shall now do so with my eyes open. I have posted on this on my own blog: my previous contacts with FV advocates have been grievous, and I think it is important to warn people appropriately.

Amanda Robbie said...

Hi David. I hope very much indeed that you've contacted the guys at Ecclesia Reformanda and shared your concerns privately (Matthew 18v15) before posting this. I find it extremely hard to see how bringing your concerns into the public sphere in this way can serve to build up the church and promote the gospel in the UK.

Amanda Robbie, West Bromwich said...

Just re-read your commenting rules and realised I forgot to say I live in West Bromwich.

David Anderson said...

Hello Amanda,

Thank you for your concern and asking me about my post. I appreciate being challenged.

I do not agree that it is a necessary duty to always address public publications (!) in private before doing so publicly. A public magazine can be responded to in public without any Scriptural principle being violated. Matthew 18:15 onwards instructs us what to do if "a brother sins against you". As stated in the post (paragraph 9), I don't believe it's a sin to disguise your aims, and definitely not that this is a sin against me! (I don't even live in the same country). Furthermore, I think that the Scriptural examples of Jesus' and Paul's interactions with teachers they disagreed with (infallibly in their cases!) disproves the idea that you must always contact another teacher before you can publicly disagree with their public teaching.

As to whether it is edifying to warn people about the (disguised) propagation of FV teaching, this depends on what you think of FV teaching. Presumably you think it's unedifying to warn people about this because you are sympathetic to the FV? On the other hand I think it is edifying to warn people about the FV because I don't agree with it!

Ultimately Amanda I think your criticism is incoherent - you didn't contact me privately to check before posting it, so either you can't really believe what you're saying, or ultimately do you agree that it's OK to respond to public matters publicly without doing so privately first... ?

God bless,

Amanda Robbie, West Bromwich said...

Hi David
I'll continue this discussion privately if that's ok with you.

David Anderson said...

Someone pointed me to this post, http://ugleyvicar.blogspot.com/2009/03/more-on-federal-vision-and-ecclesia.html.

I learnt from that that the editors of ER (hi guys!) read my blog (you belong to a very select club!) and are irritated. No irritation intended, sorry chaps. They also assure that the purpose of their magazine is not to promote the FV, but Reformed Theology more widely. I accept that assurance, but find it hard to see how that actually tallies with the contents list, as explained in my original post. Time will tell, and I note this assurance. My assumption (which if I understand rightly they're now saying is wrong) was that if the aim is just to promote the Reformed Faith in general then you could just promote one of the many, many existing periodicals; presumably, I presumed (according to the blog above, wrongly) ER is intended to have some particular niche, and the identity of the editors and strong interest in FV issues and promotion through the blogs of strong FV supporters made me assume I knew what that niche was going to be...

The published bit on the blog post above also says that I've accused them of "lying". This is a ratcheting up in the rhetoric which I think is regrettable; and is something I tried deliberately to avoid in my post. I accused them of hiding their intentions, and specifically said (paragraph 9) I did NOT think this was necessarily a sin. (Must every chess player pre-announce their strategy?).


Pete said...


I believe we may have been at uni together, apologies for not recollecting you.

To correct a small error in your post- not all the people who advertised the magazine are supporters of Federal Vision. I advertised it on my blog:


For the record, I have investigated Federal Vision in some depth. I disagree with most of the conclusions they come to, and the ones that I have sympathy with, I have for very different reasons. Even where I share sympathies with conclusions they have reached, the issues we are speaking about are topics which I regard as secondary matters of personal opinion, which ought to not be uniform in churches.

However - there needs to be a debate in the UK not just about whether FV is correct or wrong, but also a discussion about why a movement such as it can capture the allegiance of so many, as you admit, talented Christian ministers and thinkers?

Could it be that they have the wrong answers, but are desperately seeking the resources for ministry, which have not been provided from other places?

If that is the case, I wonder if the best response to FV in the UK, would indeed be to stop talking about FV, and instead to begin addressing whatever issues need to be talked about, so that by the time we die, the advances made post-war in evangelicalism, are built upon - rather than weakened?

That may well mean talking about some issues of import to FV. I defy anybody to say that the previous generation of British evangelicals have resourced us adequately in how to raise Christian children, how to engage with culture, how to approach covenants or sacraments. That is not fully their fault, they had bigger fish to fry- but it seems to me that the popularity of FV is a wakeup call to us to address the issues they are concerned with, and indeed more.

In short, I have read many of the patristic and reformed source documents the FV folk appeal to and find their conclusions lacking. However I think we should thank them for daring to raise issues crucial for the health of the Gospel in this nation - and where they are wrong - let's not criticise, but in the context of good relationships, provide better answers!

In love, Peter Sanlon