Tuesday, 4 March 2008

The Federal Vision And The Language Of Appearance (3)

Continued from part one here and part two here.

In part one I explained some of the distinguishing features of Federal Vision theology, particularly regarding the nature of the New Covenant; in part two I explained one of the big problems then raised for FV proponents (its apparent contradiction with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints) and why I think the FV is at these points profoundly mistaken.

This brings me to examine a typical piece of argumentation from an FV advocate, Matthew Mason (found here).

Under the heading "Temporary faith is real faith", Matthew sets out to answer one of the problems raised by the FV position. Wanting to affirm both Calvinism and the FV, Matthew sets out to answer how it can be that New Covenant members enjoy the same privileges, yet some of them are elect and persevere to the end, whilst others aren't and don't. Though there have been variations, the traditional Calvinistic answer, which has the consensus amongst Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians today, hasn't had to face the difficulties that FV-ers face. Essentially, the answer has been to deny that those who fall away were truly members of the New Covenant. Their faith was external, and not truly rooted in the experience of the new birth. They did not truly know the Lord Jesus Christ, having only a partial and temporary knowledge of him. Like the seed on rocky ground in the parable of the sower, their faith had shallow roots - or like the seed amongst the thorns, was a compromised faith. (Presbyterians have found room to add a second category to the covenant - covenant youth, who may or may not graduate into the covenant's inner reality; Baptists deny this).

Matthew attempts to set out a theology of faith that bridges this gap, claiming both that those who apostatise and those who don't have essentially same faith, yet still trying to account for why some fall away. I don't want to examine the answer as a whole; to me, Matthew justs states a truism and leaves the matter unresolved. The faith of permanent and temporary covenant members is the same, we are told - the difference is that the latter doesn't last as long. To my mind that's just restating the challenge in a different form rather than meeting it - but I digress.

What I really wanted to examine was the argument Matthew brings forward for the FV position itself, rather than to answer some of the resulting difficulties. Here's what Matthew writes, first stating the problem raised by the FV position:

What we need is a way of preserving our right attachment to God’s complete sovereignty in salvation, and in particular a doctrine of the preservation of the saints which flows from unconditional election, whilst at the same time doing justice to the biblical language of the privileges enjoyed by those who ‘believe’ for a while, but eventually fall away (however we cash out what ‘believe’ means in that sentence).

Then, here's the argument for the FV position itself:

It may be helpful quickly to summarize something of the biblical testimony regarding what apostates lose. Without hedging, the Bible says of apostates that

 - Some receive the word with joy and believe for a time (Luke 8.13)
 - They are branches in the Vine, Jesus (John 15.2, 6)
 - They are baptized into the Greater Moses (1 Cor 10.2)
 - They drink of Christ (1 Cor 10.4)
 - They have been enlightened (Heb 6.4)
 - They taste the heavenly gift, the word of the God, and the powers of the age to come (Heb 6.4f)
 - The are partakers of the Spirit (Heb 6.4)
 - They are sanctified by the blood of the covenant (Heb 10.29)
 - They escape the defilements of the world (2 Pet 2.20)
 - They know the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet 2.20)
 - The know the way of righteousness (2 Pet 2.21).

Now, how do we account for this? To say that ‘temporary’ faith is ontologically distinct from ‘saving’ faith, that it is therefore merely external, and that the benefits that in receives within the covenant are merely external, falls short of the repeated testimony of the Scriptures. So, what are we to say? ...

Matthew's challenge to non-FVers is that we are introducing "hedging" where the Bible has none. The Bible says that those who later fall away really enjoy all of these privileges; we say they really didn't. We say they enjoyed only external benefits; the Bible never uses that language.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Dan B. said...

Interesting posts on the subject. I look forward to the next installment.