On the whole I have been quite pleased with Rev. Dewey Roberts’ book “Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision.” I am glad he wrote it. I would recommend that people read it. I am glad I have read it. I do complain vigorously against his chapter wherein he seeks to tie Theonomy and Dr. Bahnsen to Federal Vision. That chapter alone threatens to make people question his integrity on everything else he has written in the book because people are apt to think… “If he got it so wrong on theonomy how can I trust his analysis in the rest of the book?”
I was able to get past that because I know the Institutional Reformed world has been wetting their beds for 40 years now over the issue of theonomy and I can’t expect someone who belongs to that Institutional tribe to not also be a bed wetter on the subject of theonomy. As such, I can denounce that particular chapter while still supporting people reading this volume.
One other problem I have with Rev. Dewey Roberts’ book critiquing Federal Vision is that he is repeatedly complaining about how FV talks about “Covenant Faithfulness being the way to salvation,” as if there is something wrong with the idea of being covenantally faithful as the way to salvation, or that such a notion is a wrong headed idea. Now certainly if one talks about the necessity of covenantal faithfulnes being the way to salvation apart from forensic Justification then there is a parting of the ways with Reformed orthodoxy since to talk like that puts us back in Pelagian-ville. However, once united to Christ it is the case that covenantal faithfulness is the way to salvation.
Rev. Roberts’ complains against FV;
“The doctrine of final Justification is based on the view that the members of the covenant must live in obedience to God’s laws in order to be finally vindicated. Covenant faithfulness is taught as the way to salvation.”
Rev. Dewey Roberts
Historic Christianity & The Federal Vision — pg. 347
Now, Roberts has expressed his concerns that such an arrangement could well make for self-righteousness as people who believe this would be prone to pride because they become convinced that they can fully meet all the law’s stringent requirements. And there is reason, given the old man in all Christians to want to be careful about communicating that error I am sure. However, the opposite problem that Roberts doesn’t speak much to is the antinomian implication found in Roberts seeming advocacy that covenant faithfulness should not be taught as the way to salvation. Do we really want to teach God’s people that covenant faithfulness is not the way to salvation for the forensically justified?
To solve this perhaps we should resurrect the way the Puritans used to speak on obedience. They would make a distinction between “evangelical obedience” which is required of all saints with the result that covenant faithfulness was indeed the way of salvation for those in Christ, and “legal obedience” which was an obedience that was not resting on Christ’s obedience for us and in our stead. That kind of obedience can never be characterized as covenantal obedience and it cannot be required as the way of salvation because it bespeaks reprobation with its implicit belief that one’s obedience is making God a debtor who will owe the obedient one salvation.
Now, it could be the case that Rev. Dewey Roberts would agree wholeheartedly with all this but it seems to me as I read this book the way he complains about FV expecting that covenantal faithfulness as the way to salvation is seen as not wholesome to Rev. Dewey. However, to complain like Rev. Dewey has to my mind suggests that covenantal unfaithfulness is perfectly acceptable as the way to salvation. Now, again, it must be said that covenantal faithfulness as the way to salvation is never going to meet the standard of faithfulness that is required to be characterized as absolutely and fully faithful but at the same time the covenanted who are moving ever upward in terms of faithfulness on their way to salvation by God’s grace alone understand always, in the context of their obedience, that their only hope is nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness. Indeed, it is because they understand that truth that they so earnestly desire to be found to be covenantally faithful on their way to salvation.
I mean we really don’t want to teach, do we, that for the Saints the way to salvation is covenantal unfaithfulness?