Dr. R. Scott Clark had written an article introducing the Federal Vision some time back. In light of John Piper's compromise in his recent DG conference 2009 with Federal Visionist Douglas Wilson, this article would help us know more about the pernicious error of the Federal Vision. An excerpt:
The FV is 33-year old movement that originated, at least in this episode, with the Rev Mr Norman Shepherd who was then teaching systematic theology at WTS/P. In 1974 he defined faith, in the act of justification, to be "faith and works." It wasn't that, in justification, faith is "receiving and resting" and works are evidence and thus a sort of vindicatory justification of the claim that one believes. Nothing so nuanced or Reformed. Rather, he flatly claimed that there are two parts to faith in justification. When that created a predictable uproar, he modified his language to "faithfulness." At the same time he, and others, was about revising covenant theology. In baptism, he wrote, we are all united to Christ and receive the benefits of Christ temporarily and conditionally. What is the condition of retaining them? Faithfulness!
In baptism every baptized person receives all the benefits of Christ (election, union with Christ, justification, adoption) so that one is in "the covenant" by grace but one retains these benefits and either remains or becomes (they've said both) elect, united to Christ, and justified by cooperating with grace through trusting and obeying. This was their scheme to combat evangelical antinomianism. Of course it's an old brew called moralism and it's been on tap forever. At the same time, the FV movement also re-defines covenant theology to say that there is but one covenant. Historic Reformed theology had affirmed three covenants:
- a pre-temporal covenant between the Father and the Son (and implicitly the Holy Spirit) to accomplish the redemption of the elect and to apply it to them;
- a covenant of works before the fall;
- a covenant of grace after the fall.
The FV affirms only one covenant: a gracious conditional covenant before the fall and a conditional gracious covenant after the fall. The FV generally rejects the pre-temporal covenant. This version of covenant theology has also had support among certain Dutch Reformed theologians in the 20th century (which served a a background to the current controversy). This re-construction of covenant theology served the FV movement well as it allows them to emphasize grace -- who can criticize grace? -- and it allowed them to insinuate conditions into the covenant of grace which supported their doctrine of justification through faithfulness (trust, Spirit-wrought sanctity, and cooperation with it in good works).