Thursday, March 08, 2007

Two Sides of the Same Coin:
The Federal Vision and Its Opponents (Part I)




Have you ever wondered why most people can't make heads or tails of the so-called Federal Vision (FV) debate within the PCA? Well, after listening to a conference hosted by Woodruff Road Prsbyterian Church entitled "Analyzing the Federal Vision," I am pursuaded that the strong opponents of the FV (Dr. Guy Waters of Belhaven College and Dr. Joey Pipa of Greenville Seminary, et al) are making the same mistake as those who unwaveringly hold to a FV theology. In my estimation, both camps' view can be reduced to one basic moderistic presupposition: radical false dichotimization!

One of the great mistakes of modernism was and is the wrenching apart of the natural and the supernatural. The postmodern critique of modernity has unabashedly used up the world's ink supply to prove this particular modernistic phonomenon as false. And it is my opinion (and the opinon of countless others) that postmodernity has won the battle with regard to this particular critique of modernity. That is to say, we've come to realize that both realms need to be held in tension.

So where do both camps find alignment? In my humble opinion, both camps fail to live in the tension that the Bible presents us with. FV proponents insist on highlighting the efficacy of the sacraments: that the Christian life begins with baptism. The FV opponents on the other hand are insisting that faith is the only necessary means to be called a Christian: that baptism means next to nothing. The apostle Paul could never tear the two realities apart. Moreover, the Reformed standards make clear that a "Christian" is one who believes in the person and work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit AND one who is baptized (cf. Mark 16:16. passim)! Remove one from the equation and you don't have a "Christian." So...

- Faith in the person and work of Jesus + No baptism ≠ Christan
- No faith in the person and work of Jesus + Baptism ≠ Christian
- Faith in the person and work of Jesus + Baptism = Christian

It's interesting that both pre-modern thinkers (Jesus, Paul et al) and postmodern thinkers find themselves more aligned on this. Therefore, it is my conclusion that both FV proponents and their opponents live on either side of the same modernistic-coin! That is, they both lack the ability to answer the question, "What makes someone a Christian, baptism or faith? as my former professor Dr. Clair Davis would have answered it. His answer: YES!

9 comments:

jedidiah said...

I think you've put your finger on something here but don't think it is the main nerve of the problem. I would agree that the polarization that has rapidly taken place over this debate is unnecessary and that both sides are at fault: the Waters/Pipa crowd could tone down the "different Gospel, different Gospel!" wolf-crying; the FV crowd sometimes, at least on the web, come off as obnoxious babies and are either too stubborn to make conciliatory concessions on certain issues (e.g. the importance of systematic theology or the possibility that 'decretal election' might have important pastoral uses) or are not wise enough to know that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

I disagree that these are really just two erroneous sides of the same coin theologically speaking however. And now my sympathies will show up. I think something important shows up even in your construal of the two positions. You say:

"both camps fail to live in the tension that the Bible presents us with. FV proponents insist on highlighting the efficacy of the sacraments: that the Christian life begins with baptism. The FV opponents on the other hand are insisting that faith is the only necessary means to be called a Christian: that baptism means next to nothing."

Even here there is a difference in the two sides. It is true that the FV side insists on the efficacy or the mediating function of the sacraments. It is true that the critics minimize the mediating function of the sacraments and emphasize faith. But, what you leave out is that the FV side does not minimize the importance of faith to the same degree that their critics minimize the role of the sacraments. Perhaps the FV could make more of the role/relationship of faith to grace in order to ward off unfair criticisms and 'catch more flies' but I don't think the debate can be resolved as easily as the two sides, same coin metaphor.

Hopefully see you at PResbytery tomorrow!

Joel said...

I've always told folks that Christian faith is the kind of faith that is ready and eager to receive and rest upon Jesus everywhere that he speaks to us, meets with us,offers himself to us, and makes himself present to us: in the spoken message of the Gospel, in the reading of the Scriptures, in the one-anothering encouragement and correction of other believers, in words of forgiveness, in the gathered assembly of his Body, in the eucharist, in baptism, and so on.

If God's people is the place where Jesus is present and makes himself known, then the words, actions, and practices that bind that people together are among the ways in which Jesus speaks, acts, and relates with us. And thus they are the context within which faith is ordinarily begun, nourished, and strengthened unto eternal life.

Such a perspective doesn't seem that compliated to me, though sometimes people want details I'm not sure we can give with any great certainty (e.g., "What subjective operations has the Spirit now wrought in the life of this baptized child?"). I'm not sure Scripture clearly answers that kind of question for us.

Still, I think I can say to any baptized person, "If you've been baptized, then you need to trust Jesus who came to you, offered himself to you, and placed his name upon you. How can you reject or remain indifferent towards so gracious and generous a savior? Don't you want to take up your part in the story of the great redemption and renewal he is working in our world, of the forgiveness and reconciliation he offers, of the wholeness and healing that he has already begun -- all of which is signified in baptism and which he promises to complete for all who trust in him?"

That's the sort of thing I think I hear some folks trying to say and I'm not sure why it would be troubling to others within the Reformed world.

I wish I knew what would build
bridges between various sides of the current unpleasantness. But over time various sides seem to have become more entrenched, though some more than others.

Jedidiah's comments seem helpful to me. And, along the lines of what he says, I suspect that the way in which some folks initially stated their perspectives (e.g., Schlissel's screed against systematics, Wilkins' statement that the baptized already have every blessing in Christ) resulted in barriers being thrown up that then became difficult to break back down -- even when initial statements have been withdrawn or modified.

Matthew Paul Buccheri said...

Joel,

Great insights! I always overstate on my blog. It's the Brooklynite in me. Yet, I believe that each side in this debate are rightfully pointing out issues to one another. The problem to me is that each side feels the need to over-correct.

Joel said...

Yes, I'm with you on the tendency to over-correct.

Also, the nature of being drawn into debate sometimes results in people giving more attention to topics than they would ordinarily be inclined (or in ways they wouldn't ordinarily choose). I know I've felt that pull in relation to these issues and I'm relatively peripheral to the FV discussion.

Lane Keister said...

Matthew, are you seriously suggesting that FV critics think of baptism as meaning next to nothing? Wrong, wrong, wrong, Matthew.

Matthew Paul Buccheri said...

Lane,

It's obvious to me that some FV critics see baptism as nothing more than a wet dedication for children and a wet confirmation for adults. The efficacy is simply not part of the equation for them. This I believe results from their need to over-correct some FVers views. Again Lane, we're blogging here, not writing a theological tome.

Lane Keister said...

I could just as well say that the FV has over-corrected in reaction to general evangelicalism. Why didn't you say "some" in your post? It's one word, hardly a tome.

Matthew Paul Buccheri said...

Okay my friend, I stand corrected!

Jason said...

"One of the great mistakes of modernism was and is the wrenching apart of the natural and the supernatural. The postmodern critique of modernity has unabashedly used up the world's ink supply to prove this particular modernistic phonomenon as false."

THAT's the postmodern project? I highly doubt. Which "post-moderns" are you thinking of?