Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Federal Vision and Justification

In this post adapted from a comment I made here, I'd like to present an Aristotelian reading of the Federal Vision (FV) teaching on justification (as I understand it).

I ask that readers will prayerfully consider the following Spirit-inspired words in connection with the thoughts expressed below. In Eph. 4:4-7 St. Paul writes:

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”

Here is my attempt to make sense of FV:

1) Jesus Christ is the perfectly Justified Man and his Person & work comprise the material cause of our justification (Solus Christus).

2) The traditional Reformed teaching is that faith is the sole formal cause of justification (Sola Fide). It is important to note that while faith is non-meritorious it is nevertheless a "cause" of justification.

3) The FV recognizes the fact that there are not many faiths, but "One Faith" as the apostle says (Eph. 4:5).

4) This "One Faith" is a common heritage shared by all believers (to various degrees of fullness) and may be variously identified as the Church's Tradition, the New Covenant, or "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). This is that Faith which was "once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 1:3).

5) The Church as the "one body" is the Justified Community by virtue of being incorporated into Christ, the Justified Man.

6) In order to express this reality, FV distinguishes between objective (and subjective forms of justification.

7) Objective justification is personally applied when an individual is added to the Church through the initiatory rite of water baptism. Baptism is not properly a human act; it is an act of God (Sola Gratia).

8) Subjective justification becomes a reality in one's life only when a true and living faith is in exercise. Of course, we know that faith is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). This and the previous point express the idea that it is God himself who is the efficient cause of justification (Sola Gratia).

9) Subjective justification is historically dependent on objective justification in the way that individual faith is dependent on the word preached. Personal faith is a real participation in the one holy, catholic, and apostolic faith of Christ's Church.

10) All persons may be said to be objectively justified as long as they remain in the Church.

11) The reprobate (those who aren't subjectively justified because of an absence of true faith) either fall away or are cast out of the Church at the final judgment.

12) At the end of time, the Father will present a spotless Bride to his Son. This is, of course, the eschatological Church--the redeemed and glorified human race. The Son glorifies the Father and the Church glorifies the Son, and, the Father through the Son. Here at once the Father provides the supreme gift to his Son, and, the Son, comprehending all things, offers all things to God. The eschatological Church is therefore the divinely intendedtelos (goal) of all creation (Eph. 1:3-10). Since God, in his wisdom, conceived of this purpose and by his omnipotence brings it to fruition, all glory belongs to him (Soli Deo Gloria).

13) The FV likewise teaches that the eschatological Church will be "finally justified" by God's "Deliverdict." This justification I take to be the teleological cause of our present justification (in both its objective and subjective aspects).

I think all these ideas have been argued at various times by FV advocates. It’s just necessary to arrange them in their proper logical relation.

To round out the system, it can be argued that #13 implies the following:

14) The union between Christ and his Church is so fundamental that, in a real sense, the works of the saints are Christ's own works. Christ's righteousness is the ground of our own righteousness. Our works are his. And his work is the material cause of ours, providing at once the motive and power behind our own good works. As a friend of mine, Mike Spreng, recently paraphrased St. Augustine, "when God crowns our works He is crowning His own works - His own grace." (Thanks Mike!)

So, I'd like to ask whether FV advocates think I've accurately captured the spirit of FV in this account of their views.

Finally, I ask FV critics (especially those who boisterously clamor for the authority of Reformed Scholasticism) whether they are comfortable with this application of Aristotelian causation to the problem. Can the Philosopher be enlisted for the purpose of reconciling apparent contradictions between the various theories regarding justification?

A final word: causes are not always meritorious. However, they are always valuable. I respectfully suggest that the quest for a single “meritorious cause of justification” distracts from the reality that God employs many causes to accomplish our justification. It is all of grace and it is many sided. We should expect nothing less of the Supreme Creator and Redeemer of all things.


Mark said...


there was gold in them thar hills and you came away with it.

thank you for this.


Steven said...

Yeah man this is rockin.

In a much less formal, though still systematic way, I tried to explain the role of union with Christ here:

Mike Spreng said...

Nice and concise! I would like to see an FV advocate or an FV opponent respond to this.

Andrew Matthews said...

Thanks a lot, guys. Of course, this is just the beginning of an attempt to understand FV in a systematic way, a way that is defensible against charges of incoherence--dangerously mingling justification and sanctification and so forth. And, I'm sure I've made a few mistakes already.

Steve, I was especially struck by this from your link: "a person is either in Christ or he is not. If he is in Christ, all that is needed is for him to believe. If he is not in Christ, all that is needed for him to find his way into Christ is to believe."

I have a couple of questions. First, would you say that someone can be "in Christ" in the objective sense, but be faithless? Second, do you in any way separate baptism from incorporation into Christ by faith?

In traditional Reformed theology, justification and sanctification are considered separate "things" like body and soul are separate "things." But, I am not a body - spirit/mind dualist. I believe these things are inseparable because ontologically connected.

Of course, God's judicial verdict and our personal holiness may be intellectually distinguished. However, the former is rendered for the purpose of effectually actualizing the latter (in God's good time).

What do you think, guys?

Steven W said...

I think that the end goal of "in Christ" is to have faith, so I like your use of teleological. I think this is what Augustine is getting at when he describes the body of Christ proper as being composed only of the elect.

Of course, Augustine isn't quite a Westminster Calvinist (sorry guys!), and he believes that the visible Church is the Church, so it gets more complicated.

I would say that someone could be in Christ, but faithless, but this would be a sort of improper (is that the right scholastic term?) situation. The faithless are destined to be cut out of Christ. But again, it sure seems to me that if you are cut out of something, the situation requires you to first be in it. There is also the question over the legitimacy of temporary faith though, in which case I am much less dogmatic on how best to speak.

As for baptism, I do not hold to an ex opere operato view of baptismal regeneration, at least insofar as that term is used today. I do, however, hold to an ex opere operato covenant initiation in baptism. When the water hits the head, the child's situation is fundamentally different in that regard. If he rejects Christ he will be in a "how much worse" situation.

I'm also not sure where I come down on the whole "seed faith" that Calvin speaks of or the slightly different paedofaith that Lusk employs. I don't see enough evidence in the Bible of how this works, and it makes me ask too many more questions. As I understand Calvin's (and Bucer and Vermigli's) position though, covenant children are regarded as having seed faith, and it is only at confirmation where we see them retain that faith or reject it.

I kind of like Bucer's approach when he says that baptism's intent is the benefits (regeneration, justification, etc.), and if you don't receive them, then it means that you rejected them. It is your fault and not that of the sacrament. It is sort of a "Let God be true and every man a liar" approach to the situation.

He always speaks of baptism in the teleological sense:

I'm not sure we've used a fully biblical definition of sanctification either. "Holiness" has to do with access, specifically priestliness, and so I can see a fuller integration between justification and sanctification.

I've also been considering the connection between justification and vengeance. The saints in Revelation ask to avenged, and the root of that word is dik. God's vengeance upon enemies of His people is connected to his justification/vindication of those people.

I should say as well that I'm expressing my own individual views. While I've appreciated the FV and try to defend them, I think my own system is going to be much larger, drawing from Reformational and Patristic sources as well as 20th and 21st century guys.

mpb said...

This is interesting:

"Finally, I ask FV critics (especially those who boisterously clamor for the authority of Reformed Scholasticism) whether they are comfortable with this application of Aristotelian causation to the problem. Can the Philosopher be enlisted for the purpose of reconciling apparent contradictions between the various theories regarding justification?"

History has it that during the Council of Trent, the Bible and the Summa Theologica were placed side by side on elevated props.

Rome at least thinks that much of a particular philosopher.