The OPC report on the Federal Vision is being considered at their General Assembly this week. Because of this, I want to say just a few things for the record. It is not that my opinion matters all that much, but I feel free to make these comments because I am labeled as one of the players in this report, where it says, “Though a number of men have come to be identified as FV advocates, it is the Auburn Avenue speakers, together with those who have published essays in Backbone of the Bible and The Federal Vision, whom we have identified as those chiefly representing the FV and whose works we address herein.” And because I show up in the footnotes here and there in this report, it should not be considered out of line if I respond briefly.
The committee qualifies its critique of my positions somewhat. “Perhaps the most fruitful interaction between an FV proponent and his critics has occurred on the part of Douglas Wilson, who, in being examined by his judicatory (at his request), affirmed the covenant of works, with some qualifications, as well as the imputation of the active obedience of Christ in our justification” (p. 1659). And a little later, they allowed that I was one of the “more moderate FV men” (p. 1684). But given the fact that they were aware of my examination at the CREC presbytery, some of the direct critiques they offer in the body of this report seem a little bit strange.
Right near the end of the report, we have a summary of the OPC’s critique of the FV. Speaking only for myself, I would like to hold this template up against my own positions, as I actually hold them, in my own words, in my native habitat. As I do this, I think it is fair to say that my position on virtually each of these points is clearly laid out in my published writing on this subject, indicating that I do think the OPC committee should have been a little more careful.
The committee summary is below, and my brief comments are interspersed in italics.
The committee believes that the following points that are held by some or the other advocates of FV are out of accord with Scripture and our doctrinal standards:
1. Pitting Scripture and Confession against each other.
No. Christ Church in Moscow incorporates the reading of the Heidelberg Catechism into each Lord’s Day service. The doctrinal stand of our church is a Book of Confessions which includes the original Westminster Confession of Faith. The WCF is the standard that is used in case of doctrinal disputes. As part of our doctrinal and liturgical growth and development, we adopted the HC in worship and the WCF as the doctrinal standard after the beginning of the FV controversy.
2. Regarding the enterprise of systematic theology as inherently rationalistic.
No. Systematic theology is inescapable, unavoidable, and it is not inherently rationalistic. Doctrinal Euclidianism is a possibility, but the temptations in that direction are always present because systematics cannot be avoided. The only question is whether our systematics will be obedient and subservient to Scripture or not.
3. A mono-covenantalism that sees one covenant, orginating in the intra-trinitarian fellowship, into which man is invited, thus flattening the concept of covenant and denying the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
No. I see two covenants made with man, one that is prelapsarian and the second postlapsarian. I maintain that the covenant of life in the Garden did not depend on Adam’s raw merit, to be sure, but this is not the same as saying that there is only one covenant. Any covenant that God makes with man will reflect His character, and so the question of one or two covenants is logically separate from whether or not the intra-trinitarian fellowship is covenantal. The committee acknowledged my position on this.
4. Election as primarily corporate and eclipsed by covenant.
No. Corporate election is primarily corporate. Individual election is primarily individual.
5. Seeing covenant as only conditional.
No. God’s covenant decree to save the elect is unconditional. The covenant as it is manifested in history is conditional (as seen by us), but this must be sharply distinguished from our affirmation (as believed by us) that the salvation of God’s elect is an absolutely monergistic affair.
6. A denial of the covenant of works and of the fact that Adam was in a relationship with God that was legal as well as filial.
No. The covenant of life (works) was filial and gracious, and it was also legal. “The day you eat of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden you shall surely die.” The committee acknowledged my position on this.
7. A denial of a covenant of grace distinct from the covenant of works.
No. I affirm the existence of a covenant of grace distinct from a covenant of life (works). The committee acknowledged my position on this.
8. A denial that the law given in Eden is the same as that more fully published at Mt. Sinai and that it requires perfect obedience.
Yes. I do deny this. The WCF identifies the law that was published at Sinai as part of the administration of the covenant of grace. But I also believe that the “righteous that is of the law” (a certain religious mentality) distorted the Mosaic code and turned it into a system of self-salvation, which of course, God being who He is, would require perfect obedience.
9. Viewing righteousness as relational not moral.
No. These do not exclude one another. My relationship with my wife is both relational and moral. It cannot be moral unless it relational, and it cannot be relational unless it is moral.
10. A failure to make clear the difference between our faith and Christ’s.
No. I insist that we keep this distinction clear. But at the same time, because I affirm the imputation of Christ’s life of perfect obedience (both active and passive) this would include the root motivation of His obedience, which would be His perfect faith. This is part of what is imputed to us, is it not? My faith is derivative from Christ’s faith, and distinct from it, but it is entirely dependent upon it.
11. A denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ in our justification.
No. I affirm the imputation of Christ’s active obedience in our justification. The committee acknowledged my position on this.
12. Defining justification exclusively as the forgiveness of sins.
No. I do not define justification exclusively as forgiveness of sins. Justification has the eschatological element of adoption. It also involves vindication. It involves resurrection. It includes the Gentiles in Israel.
13. The reduction of justification to Gentile inclusion.
No. And incidentally, note the contradiction between #12 and #13. My interest is to broaden our understanding of justification without taking away anything from the historic Reformed understanding of an individual’s justification. That I continue to affirm.
14. Including works (by use of ‘faithfulness,’ ‘obedience,’ etc.) in the very definition of faith.
No. To include faithfulness in the very nature of living faith is not to intrude works. Faithful faith justifies. Faithless faith does not.
15. Failing to affirm an infallible perseverance and the indefectability of the grace.
No. I affirm an infallible perseverance for the elect, and I affirm that the effectual grace given to the elect is indefectable.
16. Teaching baptismal regeneration.
Yes, but only in the sense that the WCF plainly does. My argument for this is laid out elsewhere, but let me just make the point from a quotation from the Directory of Worship cited in a footnote to this report. “The prayer following baptism is particularly noteworthy, beseeching the Lord that if the infant should live ‘and attain the years of discretion, that the Lord would so teach him by his word and Spirit, and make his baptism effectual to him.'” The report goes on to say that the Directory asks the Lord to effectuate “in the baptized that which was signified in their baptism.” But that is not what the prayer asks for. It asks that the baptism be made effectual, not that which was signified by the baptism to be made effectual.
17. Denying validity of the concept of the invisible church.
No. I do not deny the validity of the visible/invisible church distinction. I affirm it. But I do question its sufficiency as a solitary description of the Church.
18. A overly-objectively sacramental efficacy that downplays the need for faith and that tends toward an ex opere operato view of the sacraments.
No. I do not downplay the need for faith. I jump up and down on the need for faith. If you die without faith in Christ, you go to Hell. The efficacy of the sacraments for blessing depends entirely on faith. The sacraments are only efficacious apart from faith in the sense that they increase the condemnation of faithless covenant members. To whom much is given, much is required.
19. Teaching paedocommunion.
20. Ecclesiology that eclipses and swallows up soteriology.
No. Ecclesiology is of course the study of corporate soteriology. But ecclesiology does not swallow up the study of what happens in what might be called individual soteriology. How could it?
So, taking these twenty points, and assigning them 5 points each, if this were a test that the OPC committee took on what my views actually were, I am afraid they only scored a thirty-five percent out of a possible one hundred. I don’t know how they did with the other FV guys, but that is frankly not very good.