Friday, December 06, 2019

Again: Can Baptists be Federal Visionists?

[Previous posts on this here and here]

In his article, Brandon Adams wrote an analytic overview of the issues concerning the White/Wilson/ Clark kerfuffle. One major issue is whether Baptists can become or be influenced by Federal Vision (FV). Adams argued that Baptists cannot become Federal Visionists, but they can become influence by it to become neonimians.

On the question as to whether Baptists can be Federal Visionists, my response would be, "How do you define Federal Vision?" Does being FV imply full assent to every single proposition in the 2007 Joint FV Statement? Or is it affiliation with CREC (Confederacy of Reformed and Evangelical Churches)? Or something else? Certainly, if Federal Vision is taken in its fullness, then sure, Baptists cannot be Federal Visionists. But are there certain core aspects of Federal Vision that Baptists can assimilate into their beliefs? Most certainly.

The core belief of Federal Vision that should be the most concerning for Christians is the issue of the nature of faith. Look again at the Joint FV Statement on the topic of Justification by Faith Alone:

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

As I had written, the Joint FV Statement redefines fiducia from a passive reception of Christ into an active faithfulness. That is why it is claimed that the parts of faith are "assent, knowledge and living trust." That faithfulness is understood as being of the nature of saving faith is seen in its chapter on apostasy, whereby it is affirmed that apostasy is a real cutting off that is not "merely external." That means that the person who once had faith but was cut off was indeed a true Christian. Yes, he is not "decretally elect," but that is because there is a dialectic at work here between decree and covenant. The "decree" is eschatological, not actually present in real time in full. That is why a person who come to have faith is treated as covenantally of the elect (because covenant is the category in time), whereas whether he truly is "decretally" elect must await final confirmation without apostasy at the last day.

The question then is can Baptists adopt these dialectical pairs (decretal/ covenantal, visible/invisible church) without at the same time adopting the FV view of children. I do not see a reason why not. But if that is the case, can those Baptists be called FVists? Honestly, the label is not that important to me (whether FV or Neonomian). But why I think FV is a better label for that error is that neonomianism itself does not have these dialectical pairs. Neonomianism in itself merely states that obedience to the law is necessary (antecedent) for a Christian's salvation. Whereas these dialectical pairs come about through a more holistic view of biblical and covenantal theology. What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from adopting a dialectic between decree and covenant, or between the visible and invisible church? What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from holding faithfulness as necessary (antecedent) for salvation?

Can Baptists be Federal Visionists? Not if you think Federal Visionists must included inclusion of children in the covenant. But since it is possible to reject that while agreeing with the other parts of the FV theology, Baptists can indeed be "credobaptist FVists."

[P.S.: Yes, while the Joint FV Statement was not written to be "a confessional statement by any ecclesiastical assembly or body," yet it can function as a legitimate expression of FV theology]


Brandon said...

Daniel, thanks for the post (and all your others analyzing these errors). I'd like to clarify and answer your questions.

What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from holding faithfulness as necessary (antecedent) for salvation?

Nothing. But that is not unique to FV. That is simply neonomianism.

What exactly in Baptist theology prevents them from adopting a dialectic between decree and covenant, or between the visible and invisible church?

Reformed Baptists (the subject of my post) identify New Covenant membership with the invisible church. If someone is not part of the invisible church, they are not part of the New Covenant. There is no "objective" covenant in Reformed Baptist covenant theology because there is no external covenant in Reformed Baptist covenant theology. To adopt the FV view of decree, covenant, visible/invisible church, one would cease to hold to the RB view of the same.

Daniel C said...

Hi Brandon,

thanks for the answers.

When you claim that the subject of your post is the Reformed Baptist, am I right to assume you are talking about people like Barcellos, Dolezal et al.?

Thus, if I were to ask if there is anything in Baptist theology, and by that I refer to Baptists of any shape and size, the question is some sense valid?

For example, if I ask the same question about Founders and conservative Southern Baptists. Or about John Piper and whatever strange New Covenant Theology-esque view he holds. Or John MacArthur's followers?

But as for Reformed Baptist per se, if someone were to modify RB Covenant Theology, would it be possible to hold to the FV dialectical pairs? For example, such a person could identify New Covenant membership with the invisible church, while claiming that the visible church membership is indicative of CoG membership, and that the dialectic between the New Covenant and CoG would be resolved in the future when Christ comes, but not before. Therefore, at present, those in the visible church have CoG membership, but whether they have New Covenant membership depends on whether they are faithful and persevere to the end.

Jenson Lim said...

Interesting idea, but answer is still, no. Maybe in certain more "fashionable" reformed Baptist circles... you know, the trendy tattoo- and alcohol- loving sort.

Daniel C said...


I am sure there are many different types of people who identify as "Reformed Baptist" (especially outside of Britain), whom you may not really approve. Just as there are many different types of "Reformed" and "Presbyterian" as well.

Jenson Lim said...

True. I'm know it is the same for you.