Calvin contra Federal Vision (Galatians 3:11-12)

11. But that no man, is justified by the law. He again argues from a comparison of contradictory schemes. “If we are justified by faith, it is not by the law: but we are justified by faith therefore it is not by the law.” The minor is proved by a passage from Habakkuk, which is also quoted in the Epistle to the Romans. (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17.) The major is proved by the difference in the methods of justification. The law justifies him who fulfills all its precepts, while faith justifies those who are destitute of the merit of works, and who rely on Christ alone. To be justified by our own merit, and to be justified by the grace of another, are two schemes which cannot be reconciled: one of them must be overturned by the other. Such is the amount of the argument: let us now attend to the separate clauses….

12. And the law is not of faith. The law evidently is not contrary to faith; otherwise God would be unlike himself; but we must return to a principle already noticed, that Paul’s language is modified by the present aspect of the case. The contradiction between the law and faith lies in the matter of justification. You will more easily unite fire and water, than reconcile these two statements, that men are justified by faith, and that they are justified by the law. “The law is not of faith;” that is, it has a method of justifying a man which is wholly at variance with faith.

But the man who shall do these things. The difference lies in this, that man, when he fulfills the law, is reckoned righteous by a legal righteousness, which he proves by a quotation from Moses. (Leviticus 18:5.) Now, what is the righteousness of faith? He defines it in the Epistle to the Romans,

“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9.)

And yet it does not follow from this, that faith is inactive, or that it sets believers free from good works. For the present question is not, whether believers ought to keep the law as far as they can, (which is beyond all doubt,) but whether they can obtain righteousness by works, which is impossible. But since God promises life to the doers of the law, why does Paul affirm that they are not righteous? The reply to this objection is easy. There are none righteous by the works of the law, because there are none who do those works. We admit that the doers of the law, if there were any such, are righteous; but since that is a conditional agreement, all are excluded from life, because no man performs that righteousness which he ought. We must bear in memory what I have already stated, that to do the law is not to obey it in part, but to fulfill everything which belongs to righteousness; and all are at the greatest distance from such perfection.

In an attempt to find a third way in order to bridge Roman Catholicism with Protestantism and so reunite Christendom a ‘theological movement’ called Federal Vision has creeped upon the Reformed scene. One of the main thrusts of Federal Vision advocates is to equate faith with faithfulness so that being justified by faith alone is equated with being justified by faithfulness alone. Anybody who has been around Reformed Theology will realize that when we make faith in justification mean our faithfulness in sanctification the gospel chicken has been set loose in the legalistic fox coup with the consequent life expectancy being what one might expect of a chicken in a fox coup. Among many of the Federal Visionists there is an inability to realize that in justification Faith does its proper work and shows itself faithful by resting in Christ alone.

Another thrust of many of the Federal Vision ‘theologians’ is to deny the concept of Merit in theology thus reducing or perhaps even eliminating the Biblical legal, forensic and juridical categories that are so front and center when discussing the Theological doctrine of justification. Naturally with the reduction of ‘Merit’ categories (an unfortunate introduction according to many of them brought in by Anselm) there follows a reduction of forensic categories and the emphasis shift naturally from the court-room to the family-room and justification begins to be interpreted far more relationally then it does legally. Among many of the Federal Visionists there is an inability to realize a couple things on this score;

First, in Theologies (such as found in Holiness Churches as one example) where justification is emphasized in relational terms that use the family room as metaphor the legal and forensic dynamics of justification are seldom given their full force. The relational seldom makes room for the judicial because God’s love smothers and suffocates His justice.

Second, Judicial categories can include the relational categories as long as we realize that our High Priest Advocate that speaks before the Father for us is also our Elder Brother. If we keep that in mind then we can continue to properly emphasize both the Judicial and the Relational aspects of Justification with the caveat that the only way to get to the living room is through the court room. We don’t need to soft pedal the forensic aspects of justification such as the Federal Visionists do in order to emphasize the relational aspects.

Another tactic of many Federal Visionists is to deny double imputation. Following in the tradition of John Wesley here, many FV types freely admit that our sin is imputed to Christ but refuse to entertain the notion that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. The consequence of single imputation is that while forgiveness eliminates the debt of sin that we owed our creator, what is now required is for the believer to begin to live in such a way where personal righteousness can be accrued that will be acceptable before the Father. Now FV types insist that this lived out righteousness is Holy Spirit wrought and is the consequence of being in Union w/ Christ. The problem with this arrangement though is that the spotlight is taken off of Christ’s Righteousness for us and is placed upon our righteousness for Christ. The doctrine of single imputation granted by our subjective Union w/ Christ subtly shifts the Theological emphasis away from God’s judicial declaration of innocence for the sake of Christ Righteousness and moves the emphasis to how we co-operate with Christ as He works His righteousness us. Whereas in traditional Reformed doctrine what happens subjectively within us (Union w/ Christ) is based upon the Objective work of Christ for us, outside of us, with the Federal Vision movement what happens is that the Objective (The legal declaration of Righteousness in Heaven’s court) is made to be dependent upon what happens within us (our Union w/ Christ). (For those in the know in some respects it really is akin to Osiander’s view of Justification that Calvin combats in his Institutes.)

Another tendency of many Federal Visionists is to toy with the idea of the perseverance of the Saints. Here a real confusion reveals itself by not being able to distinguish between those who fall away who only had the accidents of the covenant and those who have the essence of the covenant. Some have even spoke of temporary justification, which belongs to those who have ‘temporary faith,’ and who were temporarily elect. This then is combined with lectures about initial justification that does not always end up in eschatological justification. (I still haven’t received an answer from any of them if all those who are initially justified are the same set as those who are eschatologically justified.)

The Federal Visionists create all these new categories in order, in their understanding, to take seriously the passages that deal with apostasy and falling away.

Now, having made this mini-critique of Federal Vision we will end by observing that though they royally mess up justification there is much else in this movement that is beneficial (covenantal thinking, theonomy, presuppositionalism, post-millennialism, ecclesiology, sacramentology, etc.) and thought provoking. Further, we will add that many of the enemies of the Federal Vision (The Klineans) have a disease that is every bit as life threatening as what we find in the worst Federal Visionists.

The Reformed Church is being put in a position of having to make a Hobson’s choice where either option yields the equivalent result. Would you like the Arsenic of the Federal Visionists or the Strychnine of the Klinean Radical Two Kingdomists?

What a mess.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

6 thoughts on “Calvin contra Federal Vision (Galatians 3:11-12)”

  1. Are the two choices really theologically equivalent? I may get a lot of things wrong, but not be in danger of leading people from a right understanding of justification. While not being as familiar with Kline as you, does his teaching confuse the Reformed understanding of justification? The FV folks have, in a brief moment of charity on my part, at the very least confused and confounded justification. If they had simply paid attention to Dr. Gerstner’s formula Faith yields justification + good works, this confusion could have, in large measure, been avoided.

  2. Paul,

    Yes, I’m afraid IMO that the two are equally as dangerous. FV wants to mess with the core of the faith. This would result in a different core that would produce a ugly Church and an ugly culture. Radical Two Kingdomists want to mess with core in a different way. Following their prescripts we would insist that what a christian core naturally produces (Christian culture) would be left undefined. This would have the consequence of Christianity being a Church faith that while guiding people individually and personally would have nothing to say authoritatively on what pleases God in the public square.

    Did you read my two posts on intrustion ethics? Those might help you see what I am seeing.

    Thanks for dropping by,


  3. Propers for ANTONY,
    Abbot in Egypt
    January 17.

    The Collect

    O GOD, by whose word outwardly sounding, and by whose grace inwardly moving, blessed Antony was stirred up to leave all, that he might be perfect: Grant unto all them that have set out on the way of evangelical perfection, so to run, that they may receive the prize of everlasting felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    The Epistle
    Philippians 3:7-14.
    HOWBEIT what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffer the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed unto his death; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may apprehend that for which also I was apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself yet to have apprehended: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

    The Gospel
    St. Luke 12:32-34.
    FEAR not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

  4. This blog is simply smashing. In my humble opinion of course. As this post is rather debatable I don’t think all your blog visitors are going to agree with it.

  5. well every time I meet people here, I’m sure they are very young and don’t know what to say, that’s why they write weird stuff

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