Saturday, 8 March 2008

The Federal Vision And The Language Of Appearance (6)

Part one, part two, part three, part four, part five

At this point I've reviewed Matthew's use of the following texts, which he introduced like so:

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.

I think I've shown that none of the texts being used by Matthew are being used in a legitimate way. Some of them explicitly do point in the direction which Matthew says they don't (for example, the 2 Peter texts, in the next verse, describe the apostates as being "ontologically distinct" from true believers, calling them sows and dogs who have now manifested their true nature).

I'd now like to identify what I think is the fundamental hermeneutical error in Federal Visionists' appeals to such texts. It's a failure to deal with the phenomena of the "language of appearance". In technical language, it's a failure in parsing phenomenological language. Another way of describing it is in terms of the "principle of accommodation". When the Bible writers address their hearers, they do so in the ordinary human way: they implicitly grant the hearers' claims about who they are. This is a normal feature of human conversation. The FV error is in elevating the implicit concession into being doctrinal statements about the nature of the New Covenant.

We could illustrate this statement many ways. When I go along to my local kiosk (a small shop, common in Kenya), I might ask the person in it for some milk. I just say, "please can I have five packets of milk". I don't "hedge" that statement by saying "on the assumption that you really do work in this shop, and really are authorised by the owner to sell my milk, please give me five packets". I treat the shop-keeper according to appearance. Obviously, if I decided to stop using that normal convention, conversations would start to get pretty long, and the shop-keeper would soon identify me as a flaming weirdo. "If you really are my child, and not a genetic clone or a mirage, then I love you!".

Federal Vision advocates take statements like those above, where church members are addressed using language that implies the reality of their status as Christians, note the lack of "hedging", and then make the deduction that they really are Christians. From there, a whole chain of consequences is set off: real Christians can apostatize, the New Covenant is not made with the elect only, and a whole new theology of union with Christ, the sacraments, Christian perseverance and so on is set off. What FV advocates imply that the Bible's writers ought to have done is to have kept to a standard not used anywhere else in human conversation. Our Lord, for example, should have inserted riders into all his parables so that we didn't make mistaken assumptions from the illustrations used. Paul should have begun his letters by saying things like "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints, except for those of you who will apostatise: Grace and peace, etc."

Such arguments prove far too much. If FVers applied them consistently, then they would send them all the way into Arminianism. It's all very well to note that the apostles wrote to churches and addressed the members on the understanding that they really were Christians - that's a trivial observation - to then infer on that basis that the apostles believed certain things about the nature of the New Covenant is completely illegitimate. We could also trivially notice that Peter described his readers as being "elect" (1 Peter 1:2), and that Paul told the Galatians that Jesus Christ had given himself for their sins. The FVer looks at "his" set of verses (e.g. those given by Matthew, above), and then tells us that they mean that apostates really were Christians in a covenantal union with Jesus Christ. The Arminian also has his armoury of verses, and tells us that the Bible, without hedging, calls some people who later fall away elect, saints and predestined, and that Paul said that those in Galatia who he saw as possibly being in danger of damnation had Jesus Christ die on the cross for them. The Federal Visionist is making a selective usage of the Arminian interpretative principle, and this is part of why newcomers to FV writings often (mistakenly) wonder if FVers are secretly Arminians.

To be continued...

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