Those who follow the Reformed world will well know the battle royal that continues to be waged among those putatively Reformed. I have stated my conviction more than once that it may be a case where two sides are arguing over what it means to be Reformed with the interesting insight that neither side may indeed be Reformed. If this is accurate it may be a pity if either side wins.
One of the protagonists in this battle is the Bishop from Moscow, Doug Wilson. Now one could fill pages with the recounting of all the good that Wilson has done for Christianity. But even the guys in White Hats can fire blanks now and then, and on the issue of Federal Vision in relation to justification Wilson is just plain wrong.
Below I have culled a quote from Wilson that he recently wrote on his own always active and energetic blog.
The Mablog one writes,
The real issue that is confounding the Reformed world is the relationship of Christ to the individual believer and the relationship of Christ to His corporate body, and then the relationship of the individual believer to that corporate body. Put this question another way — this recapitulation of Israel’s history, this active obedience of Christ — is it imputed to the reprobate covenant member? If we say that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to each elect covenant member only, one at a time, thus building up the body of the elect (as an abstracted roster), then we are disparaging the role of the organic Church. But if we say that the imputation of Christ’s obedience is “for the new Israel,” and I am a covenant member of that new Israel, then His obedience is mine, right? Q.E.D. But this leaves us to puzzle over the differences between the elect covenant member and the reprobate covenant member, and leaves the classic TR (rightly) suspicious. The imputation of the active obedience of Christ cannot be taken as simple handwaving over the entire visible Church. In my appeal to the recapitulation of Israel’s history in the life of Christ, that is not what I am trying to do.
Part of the struggle in the whole Federal Vision debate is how to understand the relationship of the Church as a whole to Christ vs. the more commonly pursued understanding of the individual’s personal relationship to Christ. A great deal of time is spent examining how the individual comes into relation with Christ (ordo salutis) without spending as much time examining the question of how the Church as a whole (both elect and un-elect members) is in relation to Christ. When we make this kind of emphasis the inevitable consequence is that the historical concrete Church takes it on the chin in terms of importance over against the Church invisible. The problem crops up when we insist that all who belong to the visible Church (whether elect or non-elect) belong to the justified community. Certainly we don’t mean that non-elect covenant members of the justified community are justified, do we?
This is how I understand the difference between the elect and reprobate covenant member in their enjoyment of the benefits of that covenant. By “benefits of that covenant” let us use the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, but I believe the same thing applies to all the blessings of the covenant. The elect enjoys them with the result of ultimate salvation at the last day. The reprobate enjoys them temporarily as the common operations of the Spirit, to use the language of Westminster.
Wilson’s attempt to resolve this dilemma immediately crashes on the shore of Scripture and reason.
Wilson appeals to the reality that the non-elect covenant member enjoys all the ‘benefits of the covenant’ but only temporarily. The problem with this reasoning is that one of the ‘benefits of the covenant’ that Wilson says that non-elect covenant members (henceforth NECM) share temporarily is the final perseverance and preservation of the saints. So we have Wilson saying on one hand that NECM get all the ‘benefits of the covenant’ while on the other hand we get Wilson saying that the NECM get all the benefits of the covenant except for the one they don’t get. This kind of reasoning by contradiction shows up frequently in Federal Vision doublespeak when it comes to the issue of justification.
It seems that the only distinction that Mr. Wilson is making between ECM and NECM is that one perseveres and the other doesn’t. But if this is accurate this would be to say that NECM are genuinely temporarily saved up until the time that they quit persevering and being preserved. It seems that Wilson is saying that both the ECM and the NECM have the essence of the covenant, which is Christ, until they commit soteriological treason. Is it the case that according to Wilson both NECM and ECM share the same ontological regenerated nature until the NECM goes apostate? Now, this could be squared with Arminian Theology, and probably most non-Reformed Theology but it can not be squared with Reformed Theology unless we redefine what it means to be Reformed.
It is difficult to see how this can be squared with Reformed Theology.
But what of the ‘common operations of the Spirit’ language (from the WCF) that Wilson appeals to? Instead of insisting that it means that the NECM have genuinely and truly the all the saving benefits of Christ, if only temporarily, it would be better and more Biblical to say that the NECM are like the dogs who get the crumbs that fall of the children’s table that Jesus refers to in his conversation with the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24f. The dogs are getting part of the feast (hence ‘common operations’) but nobody suggests that the dogs are equal to or are the same as the children.
If this following illustration helps, great. If not, then maybe we can find a better one later. We are all in the car of salvation, barreling along at a high rate of speed, headed toward the eucatastrophic wall that bars the road at the end of history, and which we will all hit at that high rate of speed. We are all in the car, we all have a seat, we all have equal access to the drinks and snacks in the cooler, and we are all buckled up, except for some sons of Belial in the way back. We have all been expressly told to buckle up, and we have mostly done so. Some of those buckled have just shoved the thing in thoughtlessly, but the converted covenant members hear the click. That click makes all the difference, for everyone and in everything.
Rev. Wilson is famous (or infamous depending on whom you ask) for his illustrations. I have, over the years, found many of them to be quite good. This isn’t one of them.
First, note that for Wilson both the ECM and the NECM who are together members of the covenant are all together in the ‘car of salvation.’ Now in the sense that all are in the place where salvation is to be enjoyed and lived out this is true, but in the sense that all are headed to the same destination this is not true. The NECM are never on their way to salvation and for them that wall is not eucatastrophic but rather dys-catastrophic. The fact that Wilson puts them all headed towards a eucatastrophic wall belies Wilson’s failure to realize that the NECM have always been, in Brian Adam’s phrase, ‘on the Highway to Hell’ and not on the highway to a eucatastrophic end.
Pressed to its logical conclusion Wilson’s analogy teaches salvation by works. If the differentiation between ECM and NECM is found in who buckles up and who becomes a ‘test crash dummy’ then owning salvation really isn’t equated to being in the car but rather it must be equated to buckling up. And further, in Wilson’s analogy, why can’t I boast in my contribution towards salvation since what I did (buckling up) is what makes me differ from the poor NECM slob who didn’t buckle up?
Second, this illustration could be read to be teaching that all the members in the vehicle get in by grace but they must stay in by works. (The difference between ECM and NECM according to Wilson’s analogy is that the former perform a necessary work while the latter doesn’t.) In Michigan language the NECM don’t ‘click it so they get a ticket.’It seems that Wilson could easily be accused of teaching, by analogy, that believers keep their salvation by works. Now, certainly, all Reformed Pastors worth their salt teach that work (clicking) happens in the Covenant of Grace but no Reformed Pastor worth his salt would ever teach that we keep our covenant status by our works. How can we work to keep something that is irreversibly given? When Christ put me in the covenant of Grace He did it all including clicking the seat belt.
Finally the Moscow maven offers,
So the qualitative difference between the elect and reprobate extends to their enjoyment of every blessing. It affects every blessing, and it affects it totally. Is the obedience of Christ given to the reprobate car-rider? Yes, but no click. Is the obedience of Christ rendered to every elect covenant member? Absolutely . . . and click. In this respect, the reprobate covenant member’s enjoyment of the common operations of the Spirit is exactly like the reprobate non-covenant member’s enjoyment of rain and sunshine. The greater the enjoyment, the more we should have a sense of gathering tragedy and doom. As C.S. Lewis points out somewhere, damnation works backwards.
This really looks to be obfuscation on the part or Rev. Wilson. On one hand the NECM has the obedience of Christ imputed to them while on the other hand it is not imputed to them because they didn’t click. Which is it? Imputed or not imputed? It seems what Wilson has introduced is another step in the ordo salutis. Wilson now offers, ‘justification, click, regeneration, sanctification, etc…. Apparently some can be justified (and let’s keep in mind what justification means) but because there is no sweet sound of the click then their’s is just a non-click version of justification.
Anybody want to bet that we are now going to divide in to the ‘Click Reformed Church vis a vis the No Click Reformed Church?
Anyway in the end Rev. Wilson’s attempt to continue to bridge Federal Vision with classic expressions of the Reformed Faith fails. Doug ought to just give up this attempt to bridge these expressions and go join his Federal Vision compatriots and diligently pray that God will raise some other movement up to defeat the Reformed derangements of many of his radical two Kingdomists Luthernaized opponents.