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Friday, May 05, 2006

No More Craft Morecaroni and Cheese

Many of you will recall that the Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue theology flap started a few years ago when the RPCUS, led by Joseph Morecraft III, condemned the theology and those who taught it (including Douglas Wilson, Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, and Steve Schlissel), calling such teachers to repentance. Wilson, in response, has rightly called it a "heresy-trial-on-the-cheap", and humorously ran a parody ad in Agenda/Credenda about the incident of "Craft Morecaroni and Cheese":

...Joe Morecraft made a travesty of biblical justice and judicial procedures. But at the same time, when the person in question is in the position that Joe Morecraft was in, such a response should not be done lightly at all. So when we were condemned as heretics, without evidence cited, without anyone talking to us, and without clear understanding what our actual positions were, the first thing we did was attempt to communicate with Joe privately before our church issued a public response of any kind. Joe flatly refused to work with us on it. Consequently, the only reasonable thing that was left for us to do was to explore the matrix between modern Southern Presbyterianism insta-mix heresy trials and Kraft mac in a box.

This incident got a lot of publicity, for bad reasons. The Federal Vision is a matter that Reformed Christians should debate and respond to, and the theological issues are important. I hope that proper debate and ecclesiastical judgment over the issue will get more publicity and eclipse the RPCUS flap for the edification of God's people and the preservation of sound doctrine.

Toward that end, the OPC has erected a study committee to critique the Federal Vision. After two years of labor, they have completed a report (hat tip to that will be submitted for adoption at this June's General Assembly. It does not rule on anyone's defrocking or excommunication, but does recommend that ordination candidates be tested for fidelity to the Westminster Standards contra some of the Federal Vision positions. The report concludes:

The committee believes that the following
points that are held by some one or the other advocates of FV are out of accord with Scripture and our doctrinal standards:

1. Pitting Scripture and Confession against each other.
2. Regarding the enterprise of systematic theology as inherently rationalistic.
3. A mono-covenantalism that sees one covenant, originating 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.
4. Election as primarily corporate and eclipsed by covenant.
5. Seeing covenant as only conditional.
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.
7. A denial of a covenant of grace distinct from the covenant of works.
8. A denial that the law given in Eden is the same as that more fully published at Mt. Sinai and that it re-quires perfect obedience.
9. Viewing righteousness as relational not moral.
10. A failure to make clear the difference between our faith and Christ’s.
11. A denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ in our justification.
12. Defining justification exclusively as the forgiveness of sins.
13. The reduction of justification to Gentile inclusion.
14. Including works (by use of “faithfulness,” “obedience,” etc.) in the very definition of faith.
15. Failing to affirm an infallible perseverance and the indefectibility of grace.
16. Teaching baptismal regeneration.
17. Denying the validity of the concept of the invisible church.
18. A overly-objectified sacramental efficacy that downplays the need for faith and that tends toward an ex opere operato view of the sacraments.
19. Teaching paedocommunion.
20. Ecclesiology that eclipses and swallows up soteriology.

I agree with David Bayly on this matter:

Whether "Federal Vision" theology is cohesive enough or sufficiently heterodox to require such opposition we're uncertain. What is certain is that God's truth prospers in the light, not in smoke-filled rooms and alleyways.

I believe that many of the criticisms this Report makes are sound, and hopefully this will indeed shed light on the truth. For those with the courage, fortitude, and caffeine sustenance to wade through 91 pages of presbyterian polity and doctrinal jargon, I commend our audience to reading the whole Report. The main weakness is that I doubt that some, especially moderates like Wilson, would raise their hand and say that they affirm any of the 20 listed views. The lack of specificity may hinder the effectiveness of enforcing the Report's criticisms. Only the views of the more radical elements, such as James Jordan, Mark Hornes, and Rich Lusk (who are not OPC themselves), are liable to get swept up. I'm a URC guy, so I don't know much about the OPC world on a personal basis, but I doubt that the OPC will be rent apart by the adoption of the Report.

My beloved URC has made some moves at synod that generally go against some facets of the Federal Vision (specifically against paedocommunion), and one of the FV proponents, John Barach, has now left our federation for the CREC. On the PCA side, there is an overture for this year's General Assembly to erect a similar study committee on FV, and one presbytery has requested that Steve Wilkins' exoneration by his presbytery be reviewed. For further reading:

1. The Louisiana Presbytery Report exonerating, with some qualifications and concerns, Steve Wilkins.

2. The Mississippi Valley Presbytery Report condemning, generally, FV theology.

3. Calvin Beisner & Co.'s response to the Louisiana Report, detailing more specific criticisms of Wilkins' teaching. This specificity is very helpful.

4. The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons. This is the book that educated me on these matters, and was a good first step in having a Christ-honoring debate over FV.

So, after all of this heady theology stuff, who's hungry?

P.S. - I have no clue who that guy is. The things you find w/ a google search!

Category: Theoblogia


  • Thanks for a good post on the FV. I find it difficult to find readable material on the FV, and am rather confused as to what exactly FV teaches. This fills in a lot of gaps, and maybe when I'm not in the midst of finals I'll do some more reading.

    By Blogger Gavin, at 7:12 PM  

  • 1. The Standing judicial Committee of the PCA is set to address the Louisiana Presbytery action in the fall.

    2. Rev Hoekstra was rebuked by Synod Calgary (URC) for being "confusing" for teaching a two-stage justification in which "final justification" (a Roman, not a Protestant category)is grounded upon our intrinsic, Spirit-wrought sanctity and not the imputed righteousness of Christ. His consistory was instructed by Synod to counsel him to stop speaking this way.

    3. That same Synod also adopted a statement endorsing the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, a doctrine denied by Norman Shepherd and many of his FV followers.

    4. Rev Hoekstra has since withdrawn from the URC and is pastoring an independent congregation but has signaled his intent to unite with the CRE.

    5. Despite Doug Wilson's protests that there is no such thing as "the Federal Vision" (then why the conferences, books etc by FV proponents with that title?) and despite his assurances that he really believes the Reformed confessions (but he wrote a book titled, "Reformed is Not Enough"!) proponents of the FV do seem to be migrating to the CRE. Hmmm, wonder why that is?

    7. This notion that there are so many particulars in the "FV" (but if there isn't one why are we talking about it? How can we discuss what doesn't exist?) so as to render it a mere nomen without any substance is a dodge. Clearly there are universals that bind together a group of doctrines propounded or supported or tolerated by a group of pastors/teachers. In response to the honored minister who doubts that there is really a movement, I would suggest that if we were talking about evangelical feminism he would have a different view. Despite the particularities of the various proponents, I'm sure he can find enough universals to describe a movement. I submit that the same is true of the FV.

    8. It's odd to see proponents of the FV (and others) now asking for "charity," when, as Rick Phillips and others have noted, they originally said, "This should be sorted out in the church courts." Well, it is finally heading for the various church courts. Now that process having begun they call for "charity," which I take to mean, "Whoa, let's not take this to the church courts." Six years ago they were saying, "So-and-so is a minister in good standing etc, so you can't criticize him." Now that some of them are in jeopardy of no longer being "in good standing" they seem to be calling for a halt to ecclesiastical processes. I don't mean to be cynical, but is it mere coincidence that the PPT call for "charity" came out just after the OPC report?

    9. The URC response has been scattered. As far as I can tell, the URC church order doesn't envision or permit us to bring strictly theological matters in the abstract (this doctrine or that) to classis or synod for discipline. There must be a particular case at hand. This means complaining against the teaching of a particular minister. Who can do this? So far we have only the Hoekstra case. What if entire classes are unwilling to address erring ministers such as Barach -- who, as you note, has left the URC? We do have a problem that our church order does not seem to envision another Synod of Dort. This is strange since our CO follows the CO of Dort and I can't imagine that they thought, "Well, let's not do this again."

    10. One other URC action: in response to a synodical committee report, Classis SWUS adopted and sent to Synod Escondido an overture that substantially rejects much of what has since come to be known as the FV. At least this classis is on record as opposing what we now know as the FV, even if it doesn't really exist. If it ever does come into existence then, I guess we're against it.


    R. Scott Clark, D.Phil
    Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology
    Westminster Seminary California
    "For Christ, His Gospel, and His Church."

    By Blogger R. Scott Clark, at 9:04 AM  

  • Thanks David for the very informative article. Doug Wilson's claim that the RPCUS held a "heresy-trial-on-the-cheap" may very well be true, but what's not true is that the RPCUS is "headed up" by Joe Morecraft. Morecraft was one of the founding fathers of the RPCUS, but unlike the way that Wilson governs the CREC, Morecraft is a genuine Presbyterian and makes himself accountable to his brethren. Nor is Morecraft an autocrat. Not so Wilson.

    It's ironic (and hypocritical) that Wilson would accuse the RPCUS of judicial misconduct, claiming that "Joe Morecraft made a travesty of biblical justice and judicial procedures" and then engage in the kind of kangaroo court whitewash for his pal R.C. Sproul Jr. that he has. Wilson's now coming under fire for it, right on his own blog:
    With Wooly Mittens On
    Many Thanks and St. Peter

    Wilson has yet to answer a single question. On top of the R.C. Jr. debacle Wilson is now having to face the wrath of the entire Moscow community over his mismanagement and apparent cover up of a double-pedophile scandal.

    By Blogger Frank Vance, at 6:39 AM  

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