Monday, December 1, 2014

Observation on the FV fracas after the fact

I think I can write this as someone who has no stake in the FV debate.   Having read the church fathers and medieval theology in detail--often in original languages--for about a decade (and eventually standing in a rather critical relation to them), I think I can bring a unique  perspective to it.  I am going to evaluate Jim Jordan’s article “How not to do Reformed Theology Nowadays.”

The first section is somewhat vitriolic in tone.  That’s unfortunate, for whatever faults critics of FV have, this only gives them more ammo.  But in any case, content matters.  Jordan is responding to Prof Strange,

Concerning “theological reformulation” and “living within a received system,” Jordan notes

Again, I wonder if this is for real. Does Strange think that there has been no theological development since the Westminster Assembly? Does he utterly reject the work of Cornelius Van Til, of Herman Bavinck?

There is some truth to this, though Bavinck stayed rather close to the post-Reformers.  

There is the danger of saying “We only use the Bible’s language.”  On one hand that’s good.  Hearing healthy doses of biblical language is refreshing.  What happens when you get to the Trinity?  Further, I do worry that “we just use the Bible’s language” can be an easy way out when we come to hard passages.  I think the “Vanilla-ers” are justified in their caution, even if I don’t go with them all the way.

Part 2

I think I can agree with Jordan that when people criticize a movement for “over-emphasis” arguments, we can probably just ignore the criticism.  Emphasis-argument claims are almost too subjective to really be effective.

The next paragraph addresses the claim that FV guys are too sympathetic to NT Wright.  I can only think of one guy who might be: Rich Lusk.  The rest of the FV guys are quite critical of Wright.  I, for one, enjoy reading Wright.  I don’t follow him (whatever that means).  I

Jordan then follows with an interesting description of the PCA’s early history.

Jordan then writes,

The Reformers to whom Calvinists and Presbyterians look, such as Bucer, Calvin, Knox, Beza, and the Westminster Divines, were theocratic (Christocratic; Bibliocratic), postmillennial, sacramental, and except for some of the Divines, liturgical (sung prayerbook liturgy and weekly communion).

This is a kind-of truth.  With the exception of historic premillennialism, to say that a group of men were “post” or “a-mill” is anachronistic.  The rest of the paragraph is probably accurate.  Dabney himself thought Calvin to be too sacramental.

Part 3

Jordan says the Federal Vision holds to 5 principles, and it is to this the critics object

1. The Bible is given to help us mature and grow up as images of God so that we take dominion wisely over all of life.

2. The Bible is also given, because of Satan’s rebellion, to teach us holy war against principalities and powers.

3. The Bible is also given, because of Adam’s rebellion, to show us the history of redemption.

4. Because God is Three and One, so is human society, and so the history of redemption is not just about the salvation of individuals but also about the salvation of societies.

5. Jesus Christ has been given all power and authority, and has commanded His people to disciple all nations, promising to be with them and strengthen them by His Spirit until this has been accomplished. There can be no question that Jesus will successfully accomplish this programme, and at the end deliver all to the Father.

I agree with all 5, and I further agree that “TR Vanilla-ism” might have trouble with a few of these, but I don’t think this is why the critics object to FV.  On the other hand, if you preach a “doom-and-gloom” eschatology, it’s hard to see how one can affirm Jesus’s statement to disciple the nations.  

This section ends with the inadequacies of amillennialism.  While not postmillennial myself, I agree with his criticisms.  


  1. That is very interesting Jacob. Can you give a definition of what is meant by TR(thoroughly reformed) Vanilla-ism?

  2. Strict subscription to the Standards, though that probably isn't accurate. It's more of a mentality that there is one pure Reformed tradition and any deviation from this tradition is heterodox at best, heretical at worst.

    But I need to qualify that with the autobiographical statement that I am a really conservative guy (esp in worship and culture) and I am not really a big fan of "change." On the flip side of the coin, I have read enough to know that there are legitimate expressions early on in the Reformed world that aren't always identical. Bahnsen wrote an article on this point. I can't find it at the moment.