I have listened to the next two parts in Alan Strange’s critique of the Federal Vision and it is woefully poor. A number of his criticisms fall so wide of the mark that I am almost embarrassed for him. Take, for example, the idea that the FV simply puts men back into the same position as Adam was prior to the Fall. I am gradually and reluctantly coming to the conviction that critics like Strange are just too lazy, arrogant, self-righteous and blinded by their tradition to understand the FV properly. For a few years I thought it was just failure to understand. However, it now seems more likely that such critics are too concerned with upholding their stake in the status quo to really be bothered to go to the mental effort of trying to understand the FV in the first place.
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Sadly, I rack my brain to come up with an explanation different from yours to explain what has come from the critics, but fail. No other conclusion makes sense of as much of the evidence.
“Take, for example, the idea that the FV simply puts men back into the same position as Adam was prior to the Fall”
Alastair, I couldn’t believe my ears. It’s sheer irresponsibilty to perpetuate that old chestnut. I expected better of Alan than to recite such baloney.
OK, so help me to understand the Federal Vision. I’ve been trying to keep up with things for the last couple of years, but I’m lost.
Where do I go to better understand?
Good to see you in the comments again! Hope that things are well with you.
I have argued in the past that the Federal Vision is better understood as a conversation among people with similar concerns, rather than as a homogenous movement with a clear and set agenda. Most of the issues raised by the FV conversation are not new ones in contemporary Reformed circles. This debate did not take place out of the blue. Many of the issues under debate are quite familiar to people from the Dutch tradition. Many of the positions being expressed are found in the work of thinkers such as Klaas Schilder. A number of others were surprised at the strong reaction against many of the views expressed in the conference, given the fact that similar positions are to be found in the works of biblical theologians like Herman Ridderbos.
Many of the points being made (about Baptism, for instance) have also been expressed in American Reformed circles for decades. Much of what was said in the 2002 conference is already found clearly stated in the work of Norman Shepherd in the 1970s (for example, in his paper ‘The Covenant Context for Evangelism’, first given in 1975 and published in various places afterwards). Read the Reconstructionists’ Geneva Papers from the 80s and you will find many of things FV people say about Baptism spelt out in detail. Anyone familiar with the work of James Jordan over the years will have found little material that was new to them in AAPC2002.
Why did AAPC2002 lead to such a furore? I really don’t know. I think that it may have something to do with the fact that the views expressed seemed to be a lot more dangerous in the present context, like a fire lit in a forest that had dried out. It should also be recognized that ideas travel much, much faster in the age of the Internet than they did fifteen years ago. The speed of the Internet also tends to overheat debates that would previously proceed at a far more sedate pace. Keeping up with the pace of the debate to a degree that enables one to intelligently make up one’s mind is by no means easy.
Furthermore, the Internet brings the mixed blessing of far more open theological debates. Lay people played a large role in propagating the ideas of FV proponents. It is far harder to contain such debates. With the speed of the Internet and the breadth of people it reaches, those with initial doubts about the FV do not have much time to make up their minds. The stakes are very high. The debate moves so fast that it will be beyond their control if they do not act quickly and decisively. They do not have the luxury of time in order to carefully work out what is really being said. Perhaps this partly explains the poor quality of the responses to the FV. Whilst such views could be permitted to exist in the past, when they threaten to gain such a wide hearing they must be stopped before they do irreparable damage. Perhaps people sensed that the ideas being expressed were going more mainstream. The concerns expressed by the speakers in AAPC2002 certainly seem to have resonated with a large number of people.
It seems to me that the FV has mutated quite a bit since 2002. Norman Shepherd has always retained a strong Reformed idiom in his theology. Such an idiom is less apparent in the work of those who come from a more Biblical Horizons/James Jordan background, although the content of their thought has quite a lot in common. Such people can be very difficult for traditional Reformed people to understand, because they are more committed to developing a biblical theological idiom and find the Reformed theological idiom unhelpful in a number of ways. I believe that the effect of James Jordan, Peter Leithart and N.T. Wright has been, in part, to move the debate into a different sort of language. Jordan, Leithart and Wright all challenge traditional Reformed terminology. Whereas initially the debate could be seen as a new way to put together the Reformed jigsaw puzzle pieces, it has increasingly involved a questioning of the shape of those pieces.
The effect of N.T. Wright has also been important on the development of the debate. The interest in Wright has brought the FV debate into connection with larger movements in the wider Church. It has become increasingly clear that the FV is not just some isolated occurrence in the Reformed world, but is related to concerns raised in many other parts of the Church. Many traditional ways of thinking about such things as justification are coming under sustained attack or re-evaluation.
I sympathize with anyone trying to keep up with the debate. It is not at all easy. It is particularly hard to keep a cool head whilst doing so. In the climate of the blogosphere the most intemperate of voices will frequently get the broadest airing.
The books that have really helped me to get my head around the FV debate include the following:
Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner (eds.), The Federal Vision
Doug Wilson, “Reformed” Is Not Enough
E. Calvin Beisner (ed.), The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision
Online I would recommend:
Mark Horne’s Theologia website
Federal-Vision.com (which links to many more recent documents of relevance to the debate)
Covenant Renewal (which links to a large number of different articles and resources on the various subjects under debate)
Biblical Horizons (read the article linked on the front page)
I have also written a lengthy post on the FV’s approaches to the doctrine of justification
Hope that these are of some help.
Except for recently diagnosed diabetes and four stints in my heart, I guess thing are going well. 😎