Gather together for a dance ‘round the old humility tree, folks! It’s time for YeHaveHeard’s first
Correction and clarification!
It seems that the “Federal Vision” movement, while sometimes similar to views of “patriarchy,” is still different from said views. And some people, such as church elder and ministry leader R.C. Sproul Jr., say they uphold patriarchy views, but don’t support the Federal Vision.
However, a recent column here, An open letter to newbie homeschoolers, posted Dec. 2, included Sproul’s name along with Douglas Wilson’s as a supporter of “Federal Vision.”
Just yesterday, Sproul himself stopped by, and disavowed “Federal Vision” in a comment (viewable here). While saying he did support patriarchy and that it was fair to link his name to that, Sproul asked for a correction to the column’s link of his name to “Federal Vision.”
Naturally, your humble webslinger was gratified to stand alongside such “renowned saints” of church history, such as Martin Luther, and refuse to repent and recant.
No, seriously — while “recanting” may not be necessary because no Biblical doctrine was contradicted, it is important to make a correction for wrongful attribution. So, the wrongful reference to Sproul’s name is now gone from the column, replaced by a footnote.
As I noted in a comment earlier today, directed toward Sproul-as-commentator:
It is hard enough to defend what one actually believes, without having to answer for what does not believe! Though I am not a pastor or “official” ministry leader (in quotes because all of a true Christian’s life is in effect ministry), this has happened to me enough in personal situations that I can empathize.
It can be very frustrating, especially if one has a better-known name, more-”official” ministries to lead, and the truth of the Proverb that “a good name is better than riches.”
Many others have evidently been mixing-and-matching “Federal Vision” and some views of patriarchy. That and your friendship with Douglas Wilson (whose views on many things I appreciate, along with especially his sense of humor that more Christian leaders could use!) have led many to wrongly conflate the two systems of thought and thus their advocates. Originally I did the same, in the above article, and it has now been changed.
More ‘Vision’ correction
In a magazine article apparently in 2007, Sproul explained more about how he disagrees with “Federal Vision” views and what that entails. That material was quoted online1, and is reproduced here at Sproul’s request.
Not long ago two Southern Baptist scholars met to debate the sovereignty of God in election. Al Mohler fought on the side of the angels, and won. Paige Patterson fought on the side of, well, the Remonstrants, and lost. Along the way Patterson sought to score some points by pointing out the deadly trajectory of Calvinism, by quoting from my book Almighty Over All on God’s sovereignty and the fall. Trouble is, he thought he was quoting my father. While I am most certainly a Calvinist, I am not the Calvinist. Pinning something on me isn’t pinning something on the entire school of thought.
Because we share a name, someone confused my father and I. Because Doug Wilson and I share a friendship, and an ecclesiastical affiliation, and perhaps a conviction or two, some have confused the two of us. Some have assumed because Doug and I are friends, a reality I trust will continue after the publication of this brief essay, that I believe in what has come to be known as federal vision theology. I do not now believe in it, nor have I ever. I do believe in paedocommunion, as did most of the church for the first millennium. I do believe, recognizing that we cannot read hearts, that we ought to treat our covenant children as believers unless or until they show otherwise, as has the great bulk of the Dutch Reformed tradition. I do not believe that this, nor being in the CREC (which welcomes Baptists into its midst), nor publishing men in Tabletalk who later came to be identified with federal vision, makes me federal vision.
I do not pretend to know exactly what defines federal vision. I certainly don’t know all the different convictions of all the different men associated with this movement, who sit at different places along the spectrum. I do not pretend to know everything the Westminster Standards have to say on the issues, far less all that Calvin had to say. I do know this. I believe that all those who have been given new hearts by the Holy Spirit, who trust in the finished work of Christ alone, will always so trust, and enter into eternal life. I believe that all such people will bear fruit in their lives, though that fruit is in no way the ground of their justification. I believe God justifies the ungodly, though the ungodly who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and respond in living faith. I believe that those who believe that some come to real trusting faith and then fall away into apostasy, even if they affirm that God ordained all this and brought it all to pass, have denied perseverance of the saints. I believe non-elect covenant members, whatever grace they receive along the way, are not given new hearts that trust in the finished work of Christ alone, and are never actually at peace with God. I believe I can’t say for sure what the men involved in this controversy actually believe about all this.
I believe that no one who has not been given a new heart, who has not trusted the finished work of Christ alone, will enter into eternal life. That’s almost universally true. It allows for no exceptions for unborn children, little babies who die or the feeble-minded. The only exception is Jesus. I believe this makes me more committed to the scope and purity of justification by faith alone than many federal vision critics. I am to their right on this issue. I believe that the death of Christ is why my sins are forgiven, and the life of Christ is why I receive a gracious reward, as our Father has promised. Or, to put it more theologically, I believe in double imputation and in the active obedience of Christ. And always have.
I take a southern Presbyterian view on Romish baptism, believing Rome to be apostate since the adoption of the sixth session of the Council of Trent. Just as I do not require others to submit to my views on paedocommunion (that is, no one at Saint Peter, where I serve, is required to practice it) so I do not require others to submit on this issue. My view on Rome is by no means the majority report. But once again, it is to the right of many federal vision critics. I am troubled by the relative sanguinity of federal vision toward Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy. But I’m a cranky TR.
I have, since this controversy first came to the public eye, sought to be, as much as is possible, at peace with all men. I have had many conversations with men on both sides of the fence. I spoke against federal vision at Auburn Avenue II in 2003. I have also written, I pray graciously, about some of my concerns about this movement from time to time. You can find those brief essays at our website: www.highlandsstudycenter.org/journals/hsc/archive.html (Oct 30, Dec 30 2003, Jan 5, March 8, June 28, 2004). I have also, from the beginning, been decrying the rhetoric surrounding this controversy. This is the first great theological controversy to be played out in the age of the internet. The internet has been about as useful in encouraging thoughtful theological discourse, or even appropriate ecclesiastical judgments, as it has been in encouraging sexual fidelity. I have seen shameful rhetoric from both sides, and precious little effort by the more reasonable on both sides to silence the bomb-throwers.
I take the old perspective on Paul. I have not read N.T. Wright, nor Norman Shepherd. I believe that the animus behind all this animosity is not the defense of theological purity, nor a recovery of biblical language. I believe that behind it all is pride. I believe that the devil has his hooks in both sides, and that both sides could do much more for the kingdom of God if they would spend their time and energy heeding the wisdom of Luther who said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”
Sproul is a teaching elder at Saint Peter Presbyterian Church (SPPC) in Bristol, Virginia, and leads Highlands Ministries. We may disagree on “patriarchy,” and many others would disagree with his views, such as paedocommunion or paedobaptism (infant baptism, held more widely by conservative Presbyterians). Yet differences on such things don’t disqualify from the body of Christ. And doctrinal disagreements should not lead to deceptive statements — if it’s intentional, that requires repentance, and if unintentional, that still requires apology and correction.
Thanks to R.C. Sproul Jr. for being a good sport about it. Perhaps we can have a more honest and God-honoring discussion sometime about “patriarchy”? In the meantime I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate two truths, truths that have been well-known throughout the history of this great institution Christ founded, the invisible and unified Church, His redeemed Bride:
- It would be great to hear what “fall-through-the-cracks” Christian myths others have heard of and would enjoy graciously debunking — others such as, say, R.C. Sproul Jr.
- Thanks to this situation, I had much less work to do today, writing an original column.
Next week, Christmas activities-permitting: Marketing moralism this holiday season. As a good Presbyterian would say, soli Deo Gloria.