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.