Federal Vision

Federal Vision

The Federal Vision (also called Auburn Avenue Theology) is a Reformed Evangelical theological position that focuses on covenant theology, trinitarian thinking, the sacraments of Baptism and Communion, biblical theology and typology, justification, and postmillennialism.

The teaching of a group of Federal Vision proponents sparked a controversy in Calvinist, Reformed, and Presbyterian circles in 2002. The ongoing controversy involves several Reformed denominations including the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States (RPCUS).


The Federal Visionists see themselves as heirs to the Reformation, especially those responsible for drawing up the Westminster Confession. [Thomas Trouwborst, "From Covenant to Chaos: The Reformers and Their Heirs on Covenant Succession" in: Benjamin K. Wikner (ed.), "To You and Your Children: Examining the Doctrine of Covenant Succession" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2005), pp. 59-103. ISBN 1-591280-28-1 ] Their work is a self-conscious effort to return to the theology of the original Reformers. They argue that the emphasis on subjective, personal experience popularized by the First and Second Great Awakenings caused a shift in thinking about conversion and covenant theology. While they believe personal conversion is important, in their eyes, the "emphasis" on "personal conversion" over covenant membership was a deviation from what the Bible, the Church Fathers, and the Reformers taught, and they seek to return to pre-Awakening theology. Most Federal Visionist leaders still consider themselves to be broadly evangelical.

Their theology is not limited to the work of pre-Awakening writers. There is precedent for their beliefs through the Awakenings and up to the present day [On baptism, see Rich Lusk, " [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/baptismal_efficacy_the_reformed_tradition_past_present_future.htm Baptismal Efficacy and the Reformed Tradition: Past, Present, and Future] "; on Communion, see Michael J. Pahls, " [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/michael_j_pahls/the_contemplative_shape_of_calvins_eucharistic_thought.htm The Contemplative Shape of Calvin's Eucharistic Thought] "; on the impact of the Great Awakenings, see Tommy Lee, " [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/tommy_lee/presbyterians_and_revivalism.htm Presbyterians and Revivalism] "] . The original Reformed concepts of covenant, justification, and conversion were preserved, Federal Visionists argue, through the Dutch Reformed and Old Princeton traditions. While differing in some areas with the men of Old Princeton, the Federal Visionists' views of the covenant are similar to those of Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield, and Lyman H. Atwater.

More support for their position is claimed to be found in the Dutch Reformed tradition, which preserved much of the thought of the original reformers, and can be found, among others, in the works of Y.E.P. De Jong, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Klaas Schilder. Kuyper and Bavinck influenced Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til, who was also raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition. Van Til was an influential Christian thinker of the 20th century, who has influenced contemporary evangelical views on such things as apologetics, political theory and social theory. Van Til particularly influenced R. J. Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen, who started the Christian Reconstructionist movement. Many of those who are involved in Federal Vision theology began in the Christian Reconstructionist movement until differences in methods and interpretations led to their exodus. Peter Leithart and James B. Jordan are two notable examples.

History and controversy

In January 2002 the Federal Vision reached the public eye when Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Monroe, Louisiana, hosted its annual pastors' conference. Pastors Douglas Wilson, John Barach, Steve Wilkins, and Steve Schlissel spoke on "The Federal Vision: An Examination of Reformed Covenantalism." The conference presented itself as a positive examination of issues such as assurance of salvation and child-rearing from a covenantal perspective. Views expressed at this and subsequent Auburn Avenue conferences would come to be known as Auburn Avenue Theology. In June 2002, a small Presbyterian denomination (the RPCUS) issued a public call for repentance by the four speakers, charging them with "...introducing false hermeneutic principles; the infusion of sacerdotalism; and the redefinition of [certain] doctrines...." [RPCUS " [http://rpcus.com/content/Resolutions.pdf A Call to Repentance] ," June 22, 2002]

Theologians identified with the Federal Vision movement include, in addition to the original four conference speakers, Randy Booth, Tim Gallant, Mark Horne, James B. Jordan, Peter Leithart, Rich Lusk, Jeffery J. Meyers, Ralph A. Smith, and Gregg Strawbridge. Among those somewhat sympathetic to the movement is Norman Shepherd. John Frame and Andrew Sandlin are somewhat critical but cautiously supportive of some aspects of the movement.

Theologians who oppose Federal Vision theology include E. Calvin Beisner, R. Scott Clark, Ligon Duncan, Michael Ericson, J. V. Fesko, Robert Godfrey, Michael Horton, John F. MacArthur, Matthew McMahon, Joseph Morecraft III, Joseph Pipa, John Robbins, Brian Schwertley, Morton H. Smith, R. C. Sproul, David Van Drunen, Cornelis P. Venema, Guy Waters, Andrew Webb, and James R. White.

General beliefs

The leading proponents of Federal Vision theology are Reformed, and consider their understanding of these issues to be, with some exceptions, in keeping with the major Reformed confessions: the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession of Faith. [" [http://federal-vision.com/pdf/fvstatement.pdf A Joint Federal Vision Statement] ," page 1] The following subsections outline the distinctives and particular emphases of the Federal Vision.


Federal Visionists believe the Trinitarian relationships among the Godhead to be the model for all covenantal relationships and the foundation for understanding the Bible. [" [http://federal-vision.com/pdf/fvstatement.pdf A Joint Federal Vision Statement] ," page 2] Following Van Til [John M. Frame, "Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought" (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995)] and Rushdoony, [R. J. Rushdoony, "The One and the Many" (Thoburn Press, 1968)] they claim that the Trinity is the only acceptable solution to the philosophical "one and many problem." Taking their cues from the likes of St. Augustine and St. Athanasius and other more recent developments in Trinitarian work, their Trinitarian theology impacts all areas of their theology, particularly their view of the covenant. [Ralph Smith, "The Eternal Covenant: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003)]

Biblical law

Most Federal Visionists believe in some form of law-code based upon Scripture, but not many (if any) advocate Biblical law to the extent of the Christian Reconstructionists. Both Peter Leithart and James B. Jordan have publicly repudiated Theonomy as developed by R. J. Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, and Gary North.

For instance, James Jordan notes that "the true keys to dominion" involve reforming worship through restoring the centrality of prayer, full Bible reading, the sacraments and Psalm singing, and he cautions against "treat [ing] the Bible first of all as a 'blueprint for dominion,' a 'handbook of activism,' or a 'lawbook for society.'" [" [http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-horizons/no-15-the-dominion-trap|The Dominion Trap] "]

Similarly, Douglas Wilson has written critically of the Reconstructionist books of Gary North. [Douglas Wilson, " [http://www.credenda.org/issues/9-1exlibris.php? Crossed Fingers] "]

Christian Reconstructionists believe that seeking to establish a fully Christian society is an important requirement for Christians and churches. Federal Vision advocates believe the church should put its own house in order before trying to make a broader impact culturally (based on Matthew 7:3-5 and other passages). The point over which Federal Visionists and Reconstructionists disagree is whether this "house cleaning" is an end in itself, or a means to the end of social reconstruction.

Postmillennial eschatology

Federal Visionists are usually postmillennial, believing that Christ currently rules over the earth from the heavenly throne and reigns on earth through his people, the Church. [Douglas Wilson, " [http://www.credenda.org/issues/10-3thema.php Conquering Love] ," "Credenda/Agenda" 10(3)] They further believe that Christ will not physically return to earth until the earth is as "full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14), which postmillennialists understand to refer to the conversion of the majority of the world to Christianity.

Covenant objectivity

The central distinctive of the Federal Vision is its view of the covenant. In keeping with the historic Reformed understanding of Covenant Theology See, e.g., [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds3.iv.xvii.ii.html#iv.xvii.ii-Page_617 WCF 7.2-4] ] , Federal Vision proponents argue that God has had two covenants with humanity throughout history: the first pre-Fall and the second post-Fall. The second covenant was progressively expanded throughout the Old Testament in various advanced covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic), and reached its climax with Jesus and the New Covenant.

What distinguishes the Federal Vision from other interpretations of Covenant Theology is its view of the nature of the covenant, namely that the covenant is "objective" and that all covenant members are part of God's family whether or not they are decretally elect. [Wilkins, "Covenant and Baptism," 2003 AAPC lecture. ("According to the Scriptures to be in covenant with God is to really and truly be swept up into the glorious communion and fellowship of the Triune God, and be part of His family. Being in covenant involves then a concrete, substantial reality, and thus the Apostles could declare the blessings of salvation that are true of everyone who is a member of Christ, and declare them to be true without qualification, even though they don't know the decrees.")]

It is an admixture of covenant objectivity and God's predestinating power in election that has resulted in the Federal Vision position on the covenant. Because Federal Vision leaders believe the Old Testament argued for corporate election of all Israel, so too does the New Testament for all who are in the Church. This results in a distinction in election - there are the decreed elect (that precise number God intends to save and who will persevere in their faith) and the covenantally elect (those who are predestined to be a follower of Christ for a time, but are not predestined to persevere in their faith and who will eventually fall away). Consider Lusk's comment:

If we oversimplify, we can say that election relates to God’s eternal plan to save a people for himself. The number of the elect is fixed from eternity past and may not be increased or diminished. The covenant is God’s administration of salvation in space and time, the historical outworking of his eternal plan. We have then two basic perspectives, the decretal/eternal and the covenantal/historical, through which to view salvation.

To do full justice to the biblical teaching, we must distinguish covenant and election without separating them. Sometimes Scripture simply conflates the elect and the covenant body, such as in Eph. 1:3ff and 2 Thess. 2:13. Other times, Scripture distinguishes the elect from the covenant community, such as when the biblical writers warn that some within the covenant will fall away (Rom. 11, 1 Cor. 10). To follow the Biblical model, we must view our fellow church members as elect and regenerate and threaten them with the dangers of falling away. This is not contradictory because we admit we only have a creaturely knowledge of God’s decree. We can never, in this life, know with absolute certainty, who the elect are. So we have to make evaluations and declarations in terms of what has been revealed, namely the covenant (Dt. 29:29). [Rich Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/covenant_election_faqs.htm Covenant and Election FAQs] ]

He goes on to speak of apostates within the covenant:

God has decreed from the foundation of the world all that comes to pass, including who would be saved and lost for all eternity. Included in his decree, however, is that some persons, not destined for final salvation, would be drawn to Christ and to his people for a time. These people, for a season, enjoy real blessings, purchased for them by Christ’s cross and applied to them by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament. ... They may be said to be reconciled to God, adopted, granted new life, etc. But in the end, they fail to persevere, and because they fall away, they go to hell. [Rich Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/covenant_election_faqs.htm Covenant and Election FAQs] ]

Federal Visionists claim to reflect the authentic views of John Calvin on election and covenantal objectivity, citing Calvin's distinction between common election and special election: "Although the common election is not effectual in all, yet may it set open a gate for the special elect." [John Calvin, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/john-calvin/special-and-common-election John Calvin on Special and Common Election] , an excerpt from his comments on Acts 3:25.] Calvin wrote concerning effectual calling,

Besides this [universal call] there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. Sometimes, however, he communicates it also to those whom he enlightens only for a time, and whom afterwards, in just punishment for their ingratitude, he abandons and smites with greater blindness. [Institutes of the Christian Religion, [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xxv.html#v.xxv-p31 III:24.8] .]

The Federal Visionists believe that in the covenant, God promises certain blessings for faithful living, and promises curses for unfaithful living (based on Deuteronomy 28), which makes the covenant objective. Once a person has entered the covenant through baptism, he cannot escape its consequences. If, through unbelief, he lives a life unfaithful to the covenant or abandons it, he will be subject to God's curses and displeasure.


The Federal Visionists have a view of baptism that they argue returns to the beliefs of the original Reformers, particularly John Calvin. This Baptismal view is different from both Roman Catholic and contemporary Protestant beliefs on baptism. Douglas Wilson writes:

In a sacrament we have a covenantal union between the sign and the thing signified. The Roman Catholic position destroys the possibility of having a sacrament through "identifying" the sign with the thing signified. The modern evangelical position destroys the definition of a sacrament through "divorcing" the sign and the thing signified. In this position, the sign is a mere memorial of that to which it points, and thus there can be no sacramental "union" between the two. [Douglas Wilson, "Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001), p. 93. ISBN 1-885767-72-2]

To them, baptism is the entrance into both the covenant and the church. Due to the covenantal union between the act of baptism and the work of the Holy Spirit, Federal Vision advocates affirm a form of baptismal regeneration that they argue is a return to Calvin's thought and the teachings of the historically Reformed. [See Rich Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/rich-lusk/calvin-on-baptism-penance-absolution Calvin on Baptism, Penance, and Absolution] ; Rich Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/calvin_and_the_efficacy_of_infant_baptism.htm Calvin and the Efficacy of Infant Baptism] ; Rich Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/some_thoughts_on_the_means_of_grace.htm Some Thoughts on the Means of Grace] ]

Obviously, for Reformed Christians, the ultimate test of any doctrine is its fidelity to the whole counsel of God, revealed in the pages of Scripture. What does the Bible actually teach about the efficacy of baptism? ... In baptism, We are united (or married) to the crucified, buried, and risen Christ (Rom. 6:1ff), though we can be cut off (or divorced) from him if we are unfaithful (Rom. 11:17ff; cf. Jn. 15:1ff), We are forgiven (Acts 2:38, 22:16; cf. the Nicene Creed), We receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), We are cleansed (Eph. 5:26), We are regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5), We are buried and resurrected with Christ (Col. 2:11-12), We are circumcised in heart (Col. 2:11-12), We are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), We are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27), We are justified and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11), We are saved (1 Pt. 3:20-21), We are ordained as priests with access to the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 10:19-22).

Of course, the ultimate proof of baptism's efficacy rests in the baptism of Jesus himself. Here, we have the ultimate paradigm for understanding God's work in baptism. Jesus received the Spirit in fullness at his baptism, and was declared to be the beloved Son of the Father. With appropriate qualifications, this is what God does in our baptisms as well: He pours out his Spirit upon us and declares us to be his dearly loved children. In context, none of these passages teach baptism automatically guarantees salvation. But they do teach that God does a great work in baptism, a work that may be considered the beginnings of salvation for those God has elected to persevere to the end. [Rich Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/baptismal_efficacy_the_reformed_tradition_past_present_future.htm Baptismal Efficacy and the Reformed Tradition: Past, Present, and Future] ]

This point has generated a lot of controversy and confusion, because the Federal Visionists do not mean regeneration as it is meant today. Rather, they claim to employ the original sense of the word as used by the reformers. Louis Berkhof writes, "Calvin also used the term [regeneration] in a very comprehensive sense as a designation of the whole process by which man is renewed." [Louis Berkhof, "Systematic Theology" (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974, p. 466.] Critics point out, however, that all the benefits of saving union with Christ are associated with baptism by Federal Vision writers. Critics complain that this teaching more closely aligns them with Lutheran views of baptism.

Using this definition of regeneration, federal visionists argue that physical and spiritual baptism should be seen as a "unity" normally. Rich Lusk writes,

In Calvin's Strasbourg catechism, he asks the student "How do you know yourself to be a son of God in fact as well as in name?" The answer is "Because I am baptized in the name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." In his Geneva catechism, he asks, "Is baptism nothing more than a mere symbol [i.e., picture] of cleansing?" The answer: "I think it to be such a symbol that the reality is attached to it. For God does not disappoint us when he promises us his gifts. Hence, both pardon of sins and newness of life are certainly offered and received by us in baptism." Early on in his discussion of baptism in the Institutes, Calvin claims, "We must realize that at whatever time we are baptized, we are once for all washed and purged for our whole life. Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins." Essentially, Calvin could say, "You know you are renewed and forgiven because you have been baptized." Elsewhere, Calvin wrote, "It is a thing out of all controversy true, that we put on Christ in baptism, and were baptized on this very ground, that we should be one with him." [Rich Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/baptismal_efficacy_the_reformed_tradition_past_present_future.htm "Baptismal Efficacy and the Reformed Tradition: Past, Present and Future."] ]

In his concluding analysis of the Federal Vision baptismal theology, Joseph Minich (who claims not to be an FV advocate) writes, "Baptism is not a 'work' performed, after which one can have full assurance. It is not another 'instrument' of justification alongside faith. Rather, it is a visible act of God (especially apparent in the case of infants) that is to be seen as the locus of Christian certainty. It is the place where God promises to meet His own. To look to baptism for assurance is not to look for salvation in 'water,' but to cling to the place where God promises to meet His people and bless them." [ [http://www.federal-vision.com/minich.html Joseph Minich, "Federal Vision: Within the Bounds of Orthodoxy?] ]

Federal Visionists often include under the name "Christian" all who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God.


The Federal Vision emphasizes the blessings that come from partaking in communion as the nourishing feast of the covenant. While denying both mere symbolism and the presence of Christ in the elements themselves, they believe that Christ's presence with the church in the sacrament has sanctifying effects. [" [http://federal-vision.com/pdf/fvstatement.pdf A Joint Federal Vision Statement] ," page 5]

Most Federal Visionists are proponents of paedocommunion, the participation of small children in communion. They argue that accepting small children to the Table was the classic Christian position until the 1300s [ [http://www.reformed.org/social/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/sacramentology/tl_paedo.html The History of Paedocommunion: From the Early Church Until 1500] , by Tommy Lee] , and that all covenant members, including children should be admitted to the table unless they are under formal church discipline [" [http://federal-vision.com/pdf/fvstatement.pdf A Joint Federal Vision Statement] ," page 5] .

Although many Federal Vision proponents are also advocates of paedocommunion (e.g., John Barach, Tim Gallant, James B. Jordan, Peter Leithart, Rich Lusk, Gregg Strawbridge, Steve Wilkins, and Douglas Wilson), it is not an exclusively Federal Visionist position. Other Reformed advocates of paedocommunion include C. John Collins, Curtis Crenshaw, Gary North, R. J. Rushdoony and Andrew Sandlin. Other Evangelical supporters are William Willimon and N. T. Wright.

Biblical theology and typology

One of the foundational distinctives of the Federal Vision movement is the method which they use to interpret the Bible. Rather than treating Bible interpretation as a science or a method, they consider it much more of an intuitive art. Rich Lusk says,

Biblical Theology is really an art. Like other skills of this sort, it is not a matter of following rules (though there are certainly guidelines and techniques). Rather, it’s matter of “practice makes perfect.” Peter Enns describes it well in a thought-provoking question: “What if biblical interpretation is not guided so much by method but by an intuitive, Spirit-led engagement of Scripture with the anchor being not what the author intended but by how Christ gives the OT its final coherence?” The coming of Christ led the apostles to practice new patterns of exegesis, centered on their conviction that the eschatological age had been inaugurated. It is foolish to think we can get our doctrine from the apostles without also employing their hermeneutic. [Rich Lusk, " [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/the_art_of_biblical_theology.htm|The Art of Biblical Theology] "]

Biblical theology methods of interpretation do not treat the Bible as a collection of facts and doctrines as systematic theology does. Rather, it treats the Bible as a great story of God's redemptive and transformative purposes in the world "for" the world. Thus, interpreting the Bible through the typological system means emphasizing literary analysis and the flow of the overarching Story through each of the smaller, individual stories.

This method of interpretation has been around in undeveloped form since the Church Fathers, but it reached its present form through the writings of Geerhardus Vos and other 19th century Presbyterian theologians. In the 20th century, it was fleshed out by David Chilton and Meredith G. Kline, but especially by theologian James B. Jordan, whose books on typology (such as "Through New Eyes"), and the commentaries of Peter Leithart serve as the interpretive foundations for the Federal Vision theology.

Federal Visionists also make use of and recommend the general interpretive works of Sidney Greidanus, Christopher J. H. Wright, Richard Gaffin, N. T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, George Stroup, Richard Hays, Rikki Watts, Willard Swartley, Sylvia Keesmaat, Ben Witherington, J. Ross Wagner, Don Garlington, Craig Evans, Steve Moyise, and David Pao.


Another controversial aspect of the Federal Vision theology is the denial of the imputation of Christ's active obedience in His earthly life. Federal Visionists are not agreed on the denial of imputation. James Jordan has denied that any part of Christ's "earthly" works are imparted to believers. [James B. Jordan, "Merit or Maturity: What Did Jesus Do For Us?" in Steve Wilkins (ed.), "The Federal Vision" (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004).] Norman Shepherd is in agreement with him. [Norman Shepherd, "Justification By Faith in Reformed Theology," and "Justification by Works in Reformed Theology," in P. Andrew Sandlin (ed.), "Backbone of the Bible: Covenant in Contemporary Perspective", (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2004).] Peter Leithart has publicly said in a letter to PCA Pacific Northwest Presbytery that,

This is an issue I am still thinking about, and on which I don't have a settled position. I affirm that Christ's obedience was necessary for our salvation, and affirm too that Christ's history of obedience becomes the life story of those who are in Christ. I'm not sure that "imputation" is the best way to express this. It's not clear to me that the Westminster Standards require belief in the imputation of Christ's active obedience. [Peter Leithart, [http://www.leithart.com/archives/003074.php Letter to the Stated Clerk] ]

Rich Lusk's position seems to be the closest to a representative position for the Federal Vision theologians as a whole. First, he does "not" deny Christ's active obedience:

There is no question the perfect obedience of Jesus played a vital role in his salvic work on our behalf. If he had sinned, he would have fallen under God's wrath and curse just like us, and wouldn't have been be [sic] able to rescue us. ... So his active obedience is necessary to guarantee the efficacy and worth of his death and to guarantee his resurrection on the other side. [Rich Lusk, "The Biblical Plan of Salvation," in E. Calvin Beisner (ed.), "The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision" (Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary Press, 2004).]

Similarly, James Jordan writes "that there is a double imputation of our sins to Jesus and His glory to us is certainly beyond question, and I am "not" disagreeing with the general doctrine of imputation, or of double imputation." [James B. Jordan, "Merit or Maturity: What Did Jesus Do For Us?" in Steve Wilkins (ed.), "The Federal Vision" (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004).]

What the Federal Visionists "do" question is whether Christ's "earthly" works do us any good. Jordan says:

Merit theology often assumes that Jesus' earthly works and merits are somehow given to us, and there is no foundation for this notion. It is, in fact, hard to comprehend what is meant by it. What does it have to do with my life that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and this good deed is given to me? The miracles that Jesus did were not required of "me" to satisfy God's justice. ... There seems to be nothing in the Bible to imply that we receive Jesus' earthly life and then also his death. His earthly life was "for us" in the sense that it was the precondition for his death, but it is not given "to us." [James B. Jordan, "Merit or Maturity: What Did Jesus Do For Us?" in "The Federal Vision".]

Lusk agrees:

Surely God does not require everyone to work as a carpenter or to turn water into wine or raise a twelve year old girl from the dead. These works were not accumulating points that would be credited to Jesus' people; rather, they were vocation fulfilling acts that prepared the way for the "one Man's righteous act" namely his death on the cross. [Rich Lusk, "The Biblical Plan of Salvation," in "The Auburn Avenue Theology", p. 140.]

Rather, the Federal Visionists see believers as being in "union with Christ," as partaking of "Christ's" resurrection and glorified Life, rather than believers getting righteousness credit given to "them". Lusk again:

The resurrection is the real centerpiece of the gospel since it is the "new" thing God has done. ... It is not Christ's life-long obedience per se that is credited to us. Rather, it is his right standing before the Father, manifested in his resurrection. His resurrection justified us because it justified him. Again, it is not that his law-keeping or miracle-working are imputed to our account; rather, Christ shares his legal status in God's court with us as the One who propitiated God's wrath on the cross and was resurrected into a vindicated, glorified form of life. [Rich Lusk, "The Biblical Plan of Salvation," in "The Auburn Avenue Theology", p. 142.]

Both Andrew Sandlin [P. Andrew Sandlin, "New Flesh, New Earth" (Oakdown Books, 2003).] and Richard Gaffin [Richard Gaffin, "Resurrection and Redemption" (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987)] agree that union with Christ's resurrection life, rather than the imputation of Christ's earthly obedient works, is how we are justified. Norman Shepherd is also in agreement.


While Federal Vision proponents consider themselves Reformed, their critics believe them to have departed significantly from classical Reformed teaching. While some opponents might still consider the Federal Visionists to be Reformed, others would consider them outside the Reformed pale, and some would even deem them heretical.


Opponents of paedocommunion argue that the practice is not in keeping with classical Reformed theology, noting that traditional Reformed teaching and practice requires a communicant to be capable of self-examination, according to St. Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 11.

Federal Vision and the New Perspectives on Paul

Some critics of Federal Vision theology have connected it with the New Perspective on Paul. Federal Vision proponents have sought to maintain a distinction between the two theologies while acknowledging that they do have some general ideas in common. Yet, many critics of the Federal Vision still group the two movements together. Outspoken critic of the Federal Vision, Guy Waters, notes,

While there is, to be sure, some overlap between the concerns of the NPP and the concerns of the FV, it is not accurate to describe them as a single movement. They properly represent different theological traditions and different constituencies, and have separate aims and objectives. Although the label "New Perspective on Paul" appears to have gained come currency within the church, it seems wisest to reserve this to describe the academic movement formally launched by E.P. Saunders and sustained by James D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright. [Guy Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), pp. 2-3.]

Federal Visionist James B. Jordan says similarly,

For some reason mysterious to me, the association of the FV speakers with the NPP has stuck, even though there are no grounds for it. Those of us being called FV have been discussing these issues for 25years, long before any of us had ever heard of Tom Wright. Almost all the issues that are being shrieked about were set out in writings published by me and my associates at Geneva Ministries during the 1980s in issues of the journal Christianity and Civilization. [James B. Jordan, " [http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-horizons/no-177-fv-npp-pca-aapc-etc/ FV, NPP, PCA, AAPC, Etc.] ", "Biblical Horizons", No. 177]

Douglas Wilson has listed 6 things that are foundational to the NPP. [Douglas Wilson, " [http://www.credenda.org/issues/15-5thema.php A Pauline Take on the New Perspective] ," "Credenda/Agenda", 15(5). I have turned the negatives of the original into positive affirmations to make it easier to understand] He affirms the correctness of points 1-3.

1. Justification by faith was present in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

2. Faith and works are not opposed to one another in the Bible. Faith was always present, even in the Old Testament. The Jews were not trying to earn anything by works.

3. Law and grace are "not" opposed to one another, or that the Old Testament was mostly law and the New Testament was mostly grace.

4. Paul's focus was "not" individual salvation.

5. Judaism was not a religion based on salvation by works or merit.

6. Judaism satisfied Paul's burden of guilt; rather than what the Old Perspective thought, that Judaism could not ease Paul's conscience.

Most of the Federal Visionists have publicly said they appreciate much of what N. T. Wright has written. Both Mark Horne [Horne, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/mark_horne/n_t_wright_on_the_atonement.htm N. T. Wright on the Atonement] ; Horne, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/mark_horne/are_wrights_critics_misreading_him.htm Are Wright's Critics Misreading Him?] ; Horne, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/mark_horne/perspective_on_the_new_perspective.htm Getting Some Perspective on the New Perspective] ; [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/mark_horne/wright_righteousness_covenant.htm Some Thoughts on Wright, Righteousness, and Covenant Status] ; Horne, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/mark_horne/gods_righteousness_and_our_justification.htm God's Righteousness and Our Justification] ] and Rich Lusk [Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/a_short_note_on_n_t_wright_his_reformed_critics.htm A Short Note on N.T. Wright and His Reformed Critics] ; Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/wright_on_romans.htm Wright on Romans] ; Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/the_pca_and_the_new_perspective_on_paul.htm The PCA and the NPP] ] have defended Wright against his Reformed critics. Horne has said that the NPP "is not a rejection of the Reformed doctrine." [Horne, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/mark_horne/perspective_on_the_new_perspective.htm Getting Some Perspective on the New Perspective] ] Lusk has said virtually the same thing, saying that Wright "is a true sola scriptura Protestant." [Lusk, [http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/rich_lusk/wright_on_romans.htm Some Random Thoughts on N. T. Wright's Romans Commentary] ] Douglas Wilson has, in general, been more critical of Wright and the NPP, [Douglas Wilson, " [http://www.credenda.org/issues/15-5thema.php A Pauline Take on the New Perspective] ," "Credenda/Agenda", 15(5); Douglas Wilson, "Reformed" Is Not Enough" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002), pp. 199-204] though he has said that Wright is a "Christian gentleman" who "has a lot to contribute," and is pleased with Wright's insistence that Paul is a "thorough-going covenant theologian." [Douglas Wilson, " [http://www.credenda.org/issues/15-5thema.php A Pauline Take on the New Perspective] ," "Credenda/Agenda", 15(5)] More recently, Wilson has grown more critical. He writes,

I believe that N.T. Wright has many particular things of great value to offer the Church. But it is here, in his treatment of the unconverted Saul, that I think his entire project (taken as a whole) goes astray.

The converted Saul had a much lower estimate of his pre-Christian activities than do many advocates of the NPP. ... But after his conversion, Saul described himself as a wicked and insolent man. I have no doubt that Saul was looking forward to the vindication of God for all Torah-keepers like himself. But when God did intervene, it was to reveal that Saul was actually a Torah-breaker. On the Damascus road, Saul discovered more than who Jesus was. He discovered who Saul was -- an evil man, and one who in substance and at the fundamental level, despised and hated the Torah. [Douglas Wilson, [http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=944&Data=3003 Saul as Torah-Breaker] All of Wilson's interaction with and criticism of Wright's work can be found on his blog under [http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=ArchivesByTopic&TopicID=33 N. T. Wrights and Wrongs] ]

Peter Leithart, Steve Wilkins and Steve Schissel share similarities theologically with the NPP, though they have not really publicly said they have consciously shaped their theology after Wright's. Leithart, however, has said that Federal Vision theology "is stimulated by Anglican New Testament scholar N.T. Wright . . ." [Leithart, [http://www.federal-vision.com/pdf/leithart_identity.pdf Presbyterian Identity Crisis] ]

Ecclesiastical reports

Several Reformed and Presbyterian denominations have ruled on the orthodoxy of Federal Vision or are currently in the process of doing so. The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) appointed a study committee to examine the issue, and that committee produced a non-binding report concluding that the teachings of Federal Vision on election, justification, and the like are contrary to the Westminster Standards, the PCA's doctrinal standards. [cite web|url=http://www.byfaithonline.com/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID323422|CHID664014|CIID2326076,00.html|publisher=Presbyterian Church in America|title=PCA Study Report on Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul|accessdate=2007-05-04] Among others, Federal Vision theologian and PCA minister Jeffrey Meyers responded to the report in depth, [cite_web |url=http://www.federal-vision.com/htmldocs/jjm30reasons.html |title=30 Reasons Why It Would be Unwise for the PCA General Assembly to Adopt the Federal Vision Study Report and Its Recommendations |author=Jeffrey J. Meyers |accessdate=2007-05-17] but the PCA's 2007 general assembly accepted the report as written. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church did "not condemn all of the views of those mentioned herein [but] does agree that aberrant views on justification have been promulgated from within these circles," and it reaffirmed its commitment to the traditional understanding of the doctrine of justification and offered a critique of the Federal Vision. [ [http://www.opc.org/GA/justification.pdf Report on justification] presented to the 73rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church] The Reformed Church in the United States will discuss proposals regarding the Federal Vision theology as not in accordance with its doctrinal standards at its next national meeting.


Further reading


* Tim Gallant, "Feed My Lambs: Why the Lord's Table Should Be Restored to Covenant Children" (Grand Prairie, AB: Pactum Reformanda Publishing, 2002).
* Peter Leithart, "Against Christianity" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003).
* —, "Baptized Body, The" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2007).
* —, "Blessed are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord's Supper" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000).
* —, "From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003).
* —, "A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000).
* —, "The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church" (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1993).
* —, "Daddy, Why Was I Excommunicated?: An Examination of Leonard J. Coppes" (Niceville, FL: Transfiguration Press, 1998).
* Rich Lusk, "Paedofaith: A Primer on the Mystery of Infant Salvation and a Handbook for Covenant Parents" (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2005).
* Andrew Sandlin, "A Faith That Is Never Alone: A Response to the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California" (Kerygma Press: forthcoming 2007)
* Norman Shepherd, "The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism" (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyteriand and Reformed, 2000).
* Ralph A. Smith, "Paradox and Truth: Rethinking Van Til on the Trinity" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002).
* —, "The Eternal Covenant: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003).
* —, "Trinity and Reality: An Introduction to the Christian Faith" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2004).
* Gregg Strawbridge, "The Case for Covenantal Communion" (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2006).
* Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner, "The Federal Vision" (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004).
* Douglas Wilson, "Reformed" Is Not Enough: Rediscovering the Objectivity of the Covenant" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999).
* —, "Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001).
* —, "Clean Water, Red Wine, Broken Bread" (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000).


* R. Scott Clark (ed.), "Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California" (P&R, 2007) ISBN 978-1596380356
* John M. Otis, "Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision" (Triumphant Publishing, 2005) ISBN 9780977280001
* Guy Prentiss Waters, "The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis" (P&R, 2006) ISBN 978-1596380332
* Gary L. W. Johnson (ed.), Guy P. Waters (ed.), "By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification" (Crossway Books, 2007) ISBN 978-1581348408

External links

General information

* [http://www.federal-vision.com/ The Federal Vision] — A collection of resources on the Federal Vision controversy
* [http://federal-vision.com/pdf/fvstatement.pdf A Joint Federal Vision Statement] — A series of affirmations and denials on key Federal Vision doctrines cosigned by leading proponents
* [http://federal-vision.com/minich.html Within The Bounds of Orthodoxy?] — An examination of the Federal Vision controversy
* [http://www.paulperspective.com/ Paul's Perspective] — A site operated by opponents of Federal Vision and the New Perspective but offering content from both sides

Information related to particular church bodies

* [http://www.opc.org/GA/justification.pdf Report on Justification Presented to the Seventy-third General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church] — Includes a doctrinal response to the New Perspective
* [http://www.pcahistory.org/pca/07-fvreport.html Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies] — Presented at the 35th General Assembly of the PCA
* [http://rpcus.com/?id=aapc Regarding the 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference] — Resources on the controversy from the RPCUS
* [http://federal-vision.com/htmldocs/jjm30reasons.html 30 Reasons Why It Would be Unwise for the PCA General Assembly to Adopt the Federal Vision Study Report and Its Recommendations] — By Federal Vision proponent Jeffrey Meyers
* [http://webzoom.freewebs.com/msvp/msvpadhoc.pdf Mississippi Valley Presbytery Report] — PCA Ad Hoc Committee Report on the NPP/Auburn Avenue Theology/Federal Vision, 2005
* [http://auburnavenue.org/documents/wilkins_presbytery_response.htm Submitted Written Questions for Louisiana Presbytery's Examination of Teaching Elder Steve Wilkins] — Submitted on December 9, 2006

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