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Exercise your mind

2008 February 28

Now and again I find myself reading blogs / articles to do with the “Federal Vision” and people such as Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart, James Jordan and others. These names may mean nothing to you, but don’t stop reading. They are a group of church leaders in America, all Presbyterian (I think), who are promoting certain doctrines and practices such as:

  • Postmillenialism, i.e. the Church will grow and grow, discipling the nations, before Jesus returns;
  • Liturgical renewal e.g. lots of (vigorous!) psalm singing, weekly communion;
  • Strong view of baptism i.e. someone who is baptised must be considered a Christian unless they are excommunicated.

This is a hopeless summary of a big issue! But it’s all introduction to the main point, which is to say: go here and read these articles! If the names I’ve mentioned make no sense, you will feel like a stranger entering into a strange debate. That’s okay, don’t let it worry you. The once sentence summary is: a big debate within Presbyterian circles about whether the “Federal Vision” represents honest Reformed / Biblical Christianity, or whether it’s a great big danger. Even if the details go over your head, read the articles and enjoy some delightful paragraphs and intriguing ideas. I’ve enjoyed listening on the debate because I enjoy discovering Christians who a) love Jesus and b) uphold a very ‘high’ view of the Bible, but whose practices are often very different from mine, or at least what I’m used to.

Here’s a few sentences to whet your appetite…

1. The Bible is given to help us mature and grow up as images of God so that we take dominion wisely over all of life.

2. The Bible is also given, because of Satan’s rebellion, to teach us holy war against principalities and powers.

3. The Bible is also given, because of Adam’s rebellion, to show us the history of redemption.

4. Because God is Three and One, so is human society, and so the history of redemption is not just about the salvation of individuals but also about the salvation of societies.

5. Jesus Christ has been given all power and authority, and has commanded His people to disciple all nations, promising to be with them and strengthen them by His Spirit until this has been accomplished. There can be no question that Jesus will successfully accomplish this programme, and at the end deliver all to the Father.

Now, these five aspects are rejected by many if not most modern Calvinists…


When Descartes says, “I can doubt that I exist, therefore I exist,” he reduces everything to the individual. When Rosenstock-Huessy counters, “Others speak to me, and that’s how I know I exist,” he is rejecting that individualism in favor of a Christian view of reality.


Here are the themes of this essay:

1. Theology today is done in the academy, by academics. The Reformed churches are pastored by academically-trained men, more than a few of whom wish they were seminary professors.

2. Almost none of these men has ever seen any military service.

Now, let us consider the men who wrote the Bible and the context in which the Bible was written. The Bible was written by warriors and by men engaged in warfare. It was not written by academics. The academy is not the right context for understanding the Bible.


The Calvinistic churches are little more than extensions of the academy. The black robe is the robe of the scholar, not the angelic white robe of a worship leader. The heart of the meeting is the long lecture-sermon. Candles? No! Colored paraments on table and pulpit? No! Flowers? Maybe. The darkest part of the room is the center where the dark wood table and the dark wood massive pulpit and the black-robed preacher are. It’s like looking into hell itself.

But let us consider what a Christian view of the Church would be. It would be a place of transformation, not merely of information. Marshaling the people into an army of psalm chanters would be at the top of the list. Indeed, in seminary several psalms would be chanted every day in chapel. The music in the church would be loud, fast, vigorous, instrumental, martial. There would be real feasts. People would be taught that when God splashes water on you, He’s really doing something: He’s putting you into His rainbow.


(Note: “Calvinistic” is clearly a negative term here, but the author very much likes Calvin and is in fact claiming to be more authentically ‘Calvinist’ than those who are “Calvinist”. So don’t get worried if you think Calvin’s okay!)

3 Responses
  1. March 5, 2008

    I also appreciate many FV things.

    Some reservations I have:

    * Does Post-mill stuff mean our hope is in gospel-progress rather than Christ’s return? (They reject an imminent return of Christ)

    * Assurance – as far as I can see they are sure they are elect, but not sure they are saved eternally.

    * New Perspective – they go for the whole double-justification stuff

    * Sabbatarianism – not convinced

    * Psalm singing etc – nice idea – should it really be as central as they want to make it?

    Dunno – have you encountered the same reservations? Am I being unfair?


  2. admin permalink*
    March 7, 2008

    Glen, I find myself dipping in and out of FV stuff and thinking “must do some serious study on…” Off the top of my head:
    * Post-mill – maybe they would say “our hope is Christ, who is Lord. His Lordship is being worked out now (gospel-progress) and will one day climax in his return.” I always thought that a-mill was the mainstream evangelical option, although I do remember discovering that lots of the Puritans were post-mill. My reservation with post-mill is that it makes it hard to say “Jesus might return tomorrow”, and lots of passages are suddenly about AD70 and the fall of Jerusalem. One day I’ll give it a proper study.

    * Assurance / New Perspective – don’t know what they say, really.

    * Sabbatarianism – far from convinced, but then you do have John’s reference to “the Lord’s day” in Rev 1:10.

    * Psalm-singing – I’m up for being challenged! I think it would be great to have some hearty war-like psalm singing! I do find it strange, though, that they place it very high in their list of “things the church really really needs to do.

    At the moment, I like lots of the FV but find myself caught between the FV-style of service (vestments, fairly formal style, lots of said/sung liturgy) and the “house-church” simplicity of The Crowded House (Chester and Timmis). They seem fairly incompatible! But are they?

  3. March 7, 2008

    I should probably say I really like many other aspects of FVers. The ones I can think of off top of head:

    * high view of sacraments

    * covenant objectivism

    * trinity given high value (though it falls for Calvin’s trinity – e.g. Jordan saying “God is both Three and One, both a Person and a Community.”)

    * unity of testaments (e.g. from Biblical Horizons blog “Yahweh, a.k.a. Jesus, saved Israel…) 😉

    * general dislike of scholastic theology

    * high value on biblical symbolism – reading the text very closely and on its own terms.

    * interpretive maximalism (giving the most number of gospel meanings to the smallest OT detail).

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