Thursday, April 24, 2014

What's the Big Deal with the Federal Vision? Is it Heresy?

by Steve C. Halbrook

One of the greatest controversies in contemporary Christianity—especially in Presbyterian and Reformed circles—is in regards to the theology called “Federal Vision.” For some time, a debate has raged over whether it is heresy—with some strongly affirming “no”—and others strongly affirming “yes.”

And yet, others who are undecided might be honestly wondering, “what’s the big deal—why are so many people getting upset over this? Can’t we just get along and agree to disagree?” The answer to this question is an emphatic “no.” In this article we explore why. 

Bad Fruit of a Bad Tree

As we consider whether the Federal Vision is heresy, let us first consider the movement’s major influences. The apple, as the saying goes, doesn’t fall far from the tree; or, as Scripture puts it, “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit” (Matthew 7:18, NASB).

Among the Federal Vision’s greatest influences are Norman Shepherd, N. T. Wright, James Jordan, and Peter Leithart. 

Norman Shepherd

Norman Shepherd leaves a trail of controversy that goes back at least as early as the 1970s. In 1977 charges were filed against him in the Philadelphia Presbytery of the OPC. Following these charges Shepherd presented the Presbytery his “Thirty-Four Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good Works.”[1] Here he makes obedience necessary for justification:

The exclusive ground of the justification of the believer in the state of justification is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but his obedience … is necessary to his continuing in a state of justification (Thesis 21).[2]
In 1982, Norman Shepherd was dismissed from his teaching post at Westminster Theological Seminary after a 7 year investigation over whether he was teaching justification by faith and works.[3] In his 2000 book The Call of Grace, Shepherd both advocates salvation by works, and calls into the question the Protestant view that distinguishes saving faith from good works:
At the very outset of his book, Shepherd is unashamedly open about his belief that his brand of covenant theology is the solution to “the problem of faith and works,” or the problem of how to relate faith and works, a problem which Shepherd claims is one of the “unresolved questions” of “the Protestant Reformation.”[4]

N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright, an Anglican theologian, is the most popular member of the New Perspective on Paul movement—which holds that the reformers were mistaken about the book of Galatians. Instead of Paul opposing salvation by works in Galatians, for Wright, Paul is simply concerned about Jewish identity markers, or ceremonial law. Wright is also a notorious critic of the doctrine of Christ’s active obedience and holds that water baptism saves.[5]

Wright, like Shepherd, favors overturning the Protestant Reformation. He advocates Protestants uniting with the heretical Roman Catholic church—unsurprisingly, given his erroneous view of salvation:
The doctrine of justification ... is not merely a doctrine which Catholic and Protestant might just be able to agree on, as a result of hard ecumenical endeavor. It is itself the ecumenical doctrine, the doctrine that rebukes all our petty and often culture-bound church groupings, and which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong together in the one family…the doctrine of justification is in fact the great ecumenical doctrine.[6]

James Jordan

James Jordan is a Federal Vision adherent and considered by some to be “the godfather of the Federal Vision.” He is the inventor of a biblical interpretive philosophy known as “interpretive maximalism.” This scheme essentially allows one to play fast and loose with Scripture by its emphasis on the imagination in interpreting the Bible. 

Greg L. Bahnsen warned of Jordan's method long ago. Back in 1994, he called Jordan's interpretive maximalism 

one of the most dangerous things in the theological world today that might entice otherwise evangelical and Reformed people. ... One must always be concerned when a certain method is so ambiguous as to allow for conflicting conclusions or arbitrary conclusions to be drawn from it. I have maintained for quite a long time that Jordan’s approach to the Bible is a matter of rhetorical and creative flourish on his part and does not reduce to principles of interpretation which are public or objective and predictable, and for that reason you can go just about anywhere once you try to interpret the Bible in the manner observed in his publications.  It’s just a matter of whose creativity you are going to follow this week. That really concerns me as a theologian. ... [O]nce you have a method of biblical interpretation which, as long as you’re creative enough, permits you to go just about anywhere you wish, then yes I do think that his interpretive maximalism is tied to his rather bizarre views that have been tagged “sacramental” and “high church” and so forth.[7]

Peter Leithart

Finally, there is Peter Leithart, a longtime associate of James Jordan[8] and also a Federal Visionist. Guy Prentiss Waters writes that "he has undertaken studies that have acquainted FV audiences with the sacramental theology both of Eastern Orthodoxy and of post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism."[9] He has recently stirred controversy in the PCA for teaching salvation by works.

For Leithart, one is not saved through faith alone in Christ, but by obedience to the law—which he sugarcoats by citing Scripture (out of context) and by saying that such works are done in union with Christ:
Yes, we do have the same obligation that Adam (and Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Jesus) had, namely, the obedience of faith. And, yes, covenant faithfulness is the way to salvation, for the “doers of the law will be justified” at the final judgment. But this is all done in union with Christ, so that “our” covenant faithfulness is dependent on the work of the Spirit of Christ in us, and our covenant faithfulness is about faith, trusting the Spirit to will and to do according to His good pleasure.[10]

Reversing the Reformation: the Federal Vision's false gospel opposes
the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, returning to the
Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by works.

A False Gospel

The Federal Vision camp has several errors regarding the biblical doctrine of salvation; but, if we were to sum up the Federal Vision gospel in a nutshell, it is this: you are initially saved by water baptism, and you must keep up your salvation by works.

By making the work of water baptism the beginning of salvation, and ongoing works the end, the Federal Vision makes the spiritually lethal mistake of confusing justification and sanctification. That is, instead of holding that good works are the natural result of being saved through faith alone, the Federal Vision holds that good works are crucial to attaining salvation. And according to the apostle Paul, this is heresy (Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-13, 5:1-4).

This is why the Protestant reformers opposed Rome; they understood that justification is a once and for all act of God, instead of, according to Rome and the Federal Vision, a lifetime process. Because it makes salvation a lifetime process, the Federal Vision, like Arminianism, denies perseverance of the saints. If you can earn your salvation, you can un-earn it as well.

While the Federal Visionists would acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the ground of salvation, they deny that faith is the alone instrument of justification. And that is the issue in Galatians—the Judaizers denied the sufficiency of “hearing with faith” for justification. 

Faith as the Sole Instrument of Justification

Contrary to the Federal Vision, Scripture very clearly speaks of faith as the alone instrument of justification. Once one believes in the saving work of Christ, God declares that person righteous and his sins forgiven (Romans 4:1-12). No religious rite or work is necessary for salvation; thus Scripture goes out of the way to say that Abraham—the exemplar of faith—was saved through faith alone, and not through religious rites (in Abraham's case,  circumcision—baptism's predecessor) nor works:
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. (Romans 4:1-12, KJV)
In Galatians chapter 3, Paul gives a standard for distinguishing between the true Gospel and false gospels: 
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (Galatians 3:1-6)
Note that Paul pits the true Gospel against any so-called gospel that adds or takes away from “hearing with faith”: "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” That is, belief (“just as Abraham ‘believed God’”) in the finished work of Christ alone (before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified”) on one’s behalf is sufficient for salvation. More specifically, one is saved by Christ, with faith being the alone instrument of justification. 

No works. No religious rites. No nothing. Only Christ. Anything else is a different gospel.

This includes the Federal Vision view that says water baptism and works are needed for salvation. Such a view adds to “hearing with faith” with the requirement of water baptism and works; it denies that one receives the Spirit by hearing with faith, and instead says one receives the Spirit by water and obedience. 

In differing with the sufficiency of “hearing with faith,” it is a different gospel. Those who hold to it are under a curse. Their only hope is the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness and sacrificial death, received through faith alone. One is not saved by water and his own works, but by blood (namely, the blood of Christ) and Christ's works.

"Faith Alone" does not Promote Disobedience

As for the common allegation by legalists that the doctrine of justification by faith alone promotes disobedience to God's lawnothing could be further from the truth. Those whom God has given the gift of faith also receive from God the gift of sanctification:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
And so God justifies his people apart from works, and yet after salvation God's people go on to do good works because they have been predestined to do so. Ezekiel 36:27 puts it this way: "And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." 

Hence, a good tree bears good fruit (Matthew 7:18); conversely, a bad tree bears bad fruit, and as such, it is not the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone that promotes disobedience, but rather false gospels such as the Federal Vision. False gospels result in false converts, and false converts are unable to obey God from the heart. And so regardless of how much the Federal Vision emphasizes obedience, it can only result in disobedience.

The Joint Federal Vision Profession

The Joint Federal Vision Profession—signed by many, if not virtually all of the movement’s founding and most influential membersreveals much about Federal Vision theology. Released in 2007, it was written by Doug Wilson (minister, CREC), and signed by the following: Peter Leithart (minister, PCA), Jim Jordan (minister, teacher at large), Steve Wilkins (minister, PCA), Randy Booth (minister, CREC), John Barach (minister, CREC), Rich Lusk (minister, CREC), Jeff Meyers (minister, PCA), Tim Gallant (minister, CREC), Ralph Smith (minister, CREC), and Mark Horne (minister, PCA). (Credentials are those held by the signers when the profession was released.)

In the Profession's section “Justification by Faith Alone,” saving faith is called “a living, active, and personally loyal faith.”

But there is a world of difference between trusting in the saving work of Christ—which is all that is needed for justification—and personal loyalty to Him! “Loyalty” does not mean belief, or faith, at all—it means, as the dictionary puts it, “faithfulness to commitments or obligations”![11]

To give an analogy, Wes White writes:
It is one thing to say to my wife, “I trust you.” It is something entirely different to say, “I will be loyal to you.” The former is about what I receive from my wife; the latter is what I give. When we turn faith into faithfulness, justification becomes about what we give to God instead of what we receive from Him.[12]
Indeed, saving faith receives from Christ, which results in salvation—while works-righteousness has to do with giving to Christ in order to earn salvation. Saving faith is not an ongoing process of works implied in “personal loyalty”—but a moment in time where, because of Christ, God declares one righteous and his sins forgiven. In short, one is not saved by his own loyalty to God, but by Christ’s loyalty to God. As we stated before, however, obedience to God is the fruit of saving faith—but never, as the Federal Vision makes it, the root.

The Joint Federal Vision Profession further confirms its advocacy of works righteousness when it states, “We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.” This statement is very explicitly unscriptural. According to Scripture, the effectual call precedes saving faith—and saving faith precedes a Christian's good works.

But the FV Profession asserts that faith is at least present "at the moment of the effectual call," and that faith includes works at the outset ("We deny that faith is ever alone"). In short, the implication is that before someone can be justified by faith, works are necessary.

In its section on apostasy, the Joint Federal Vision Profession affirms that water baptism saves, and that one can lose his salvation. It reads, “All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace.” It adds, “The connection that an apostate had to Christ was not merely external.” (Holding to salvation by water baptism, and that one can fall from grace, logically follow from believing that salvation is by works.) 

Here again we see that the Federal Vision rejects faith as a sufficient instrument of justification, as the profession holds that water baptism makes one "united with Christ" and brings a person to a "position of grace." 

But the works for salvation don't end here; this position can be lost, as one can "fall from that position of grace." But falling from a position of grace is only possible if salvation depends on man, and not on Christ. Christ's perfect obedience and sacrifice make falling from saving grace impossible

Individual Statements

Statements by Federal
Visionists about salvation
are more Popish than
Reformed Protestant
Given the heretical statements of the Joint Federal Vision Profession, we should not be surprised to find the doctrine of salvation by works in the writings of the document’s signers. Here is but a sampling, along with statements by Steve Schlissel who, while not a signer of the profession, is one of the infamous "Auburn Four" (along with Wilson, Wilkins, and Barach) which instigated the Federal Vision controversy in 2002.

Doug Wilson

Advocating baptismal regeneration

Wilson argues that water baptismal saves (and misunderstands both Lane[13] and the Westminster Confession[14] in the process):
But I was heartened to see Lane move closer to the Westminsterian position on baptism than other FV critics have been thus far willing to do. He repeats some of the qualifiers that the Confession gives (those to whom the grace belongs, in His appointed time), but he does appear to acknowledge that this baptismal grace is saving grace, and not just sanctifying grace. It is hard to do otherwise when the Confession says that the grace promised in the sign and seal of baptism (covenant of grace, ingrafting, regeneration, remission of sins, and commitment to walk in newness of life) is really exhibited and conferred on that group of people demarked by all the qualifiers. And for the record, I agree with all those qualifiers. I also agree with exhibited and conferred. Me and the Westminster divines, we're like that.[15] 
Advocating obedience as an instrument of justification
While Wilson's so-called "living faith" (with its works) cannot be the ground of justification, it is still, with its works, the "instrument of our justification":
Neither can the living faith that gives rise to all these actions be the ground of our justification. But it is obedient in its life, and in that living condition it is the instrument of our justification.[16]

Peter Leithart

Advocating baptismal regeneration

For Leithart, water baptism makes one a child of God:
If the church is the family of God, baptism, by inducting people into the church, makes them children of their heavenly Father.[17]
Advocating salvation by works
See our previous quote from Leithart, where he affirms justification by works.

Steve Wilkins

Advocating baptismal regeneration

Wilkins denies the visible/invisible church distinction, and holds that water baptism unites one to Christ:
Modern Presbyterian theology has made a distinction between external membership and real membership in the covenant. Obviously, by baptism we become members of the church, but to be a member of the church is to be a member of the body of Christ and biblically speaking, that means that the baptized are united to Christ.[18]
Holding that some true Christians will be lost
Wilkins states that one can be saved (have forgiveness of sins, etc.) and yet fall away:
[The apostate] may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatize and fall short of the grace of God. The apostate, thus, forsakes the grace of God that was given to him by virtue of his union with Christ. It is not accurate to say that they only "appeared" to have these things but did not actually have them ... [19]

John Barach

Advocating baptismal regeneration

For Barach, everyone baptized by water is saved:
Every baptized person is in covenant with God and is in union then with Christ and with the triune God.[20]
Holding that some true Christians will be lost
For Barach, some who are truly saved will end up losing their salvation:
According to Scripture, not everyone who is in the covenant has been predestined to eternal glory with Christ. God establishes His covenant with believers and their households, including some who will later apostatize and be cut off from covenantal fellowship with Him. Put another way, all those who are baptized are genuinely baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27), are brought into Christ’s body, the church (1 Cor. 12:13), and are members of God’s covenant, at least until they are cut off, whether by Christ’s church (excommunication) or directly by Christ (death as judgment).[21]

Rich Lusk

Advocating baptismal regeneration

For Lusk, water baptism is an instrument of justification:
Baptism has reference to justification precisely because God has promised to make Christ available in the rite (as well as the other means of grace).[22]
Advocating salvation by works
Lusk twists the meaning of Matthew 7:24 to make works a condition of salvation:
When Jesus describes two paths—one leading to life, the other to death—he isn't propounding a hypothetical way of salvation by walking the narrow path of obedience (Mat. 7:24). Rather, he is demanding obedience as a non-negotiable condition of salvation.[23] 

Steve Schlissel
Advocating atonement by law
For Schlissel, forgiveness of sins is found in the law:
The very idea of a first, second, and third use of the law is illegal and unbiblical. It demands that the law conform to what we want from it, and if it doesn’t do so then we will have none of it. But the law itself is to be our life.   “This is your life,” God says. “In the law I have given you atonement. In the law I have given you promises of forgiveness. In the law I have given you the way to live. In the law I have given you the key to life. In the law you will find grace abounding to the chief of sinners.”
We turn it around and say, “No, we will have none of this! That’s law as opposed to Gospel.”[24]
Confusing faith and obedience
Schlissel holds that faith and works are one and the same:

Nothing in the Bible teaches a kind of faith that does not obey.  Obedience and faith are the same thing, biblically speaking.  To submit to God’s Word is what it means to believe.  To believe is to obey.[25]

Condemned by Several Denominations

Several Reformed denominations have condemned the Federal Vision. The following are those we are aware of, although there could be more. Included are official statements, as well as reports for further study on the Federal Vision:

Note that a condemnation does not necessarily mean that the best efforts have been made to oppose the Federal Vision. The Federal Vision has leavened the PCA, where the arch-Federal Visionist Peter Leithart was exonerated from teaching heresy.

The Spurious Connection of Theonomy to the Federal Vision

Since this is a pro-theonomy site, it would be appropriate to address the common slander that associates theonomy with the Federal Vision. Many  resort to guilt by association attacks, saying, “see all those theonomists within Federal Vision circles!  This proves theonomy promotes, or at least leads to, salvation by works!”

There are so many logical problems with this argument, it is hard to know where to begin. Here are some reasons why attempts to connect theonomy with the Federal Vision are fallacious:

  • A guilt-by-association argument is a logical fallacy 
  • We would expect any biblical doctrine to have some adherents who also hold to heretical views. Do we attack the biblical doctrine of the Trinity since Roman Catholics adhere to this doctrine, while at the same time holding to heretical doctrines as well?
  • It is wicked to blame sin, such as the Federal Vision heresy, on God’s commands (theonomy). We can’t blame legitimate laws of God (such as upheld by theonomists, not to say that theonomists get all laws right) for man’s perversion of them (by teaching that they play a role in salvation).
  • Advocates of the most biblical theologies will have wolves in their midst (Acts 20:29, 30)
  • There are tons of heresies outside of theonomy circles
  • The Federal Vision is rampant in non-theonomic circles as well.  The argument, then, can be reversed against theonomy critics, to say that not holding to theonomy leads to the Federal Vision heresy.
  • The men  who perhaps had the most direct influence on the Federal Vision are two non-theonomists (Norman Shepherd and N.T. Wright) and two former theonomists (James Jordan and Peter Leithart).
  • A while back, five contributors to the anti-theonomy book "Theonomy: A Reformed Critique" signed the "Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together" document.  This document was for either Federal Visionists or Federal Vision sympathizers.[26]
  • The first denomination to condemn the Federal Vision was the theonomic RPCUS
  • Some of the most outspoken critics of the Federal Vision are theonomists. John Otis of the RPCUS has written the largest critique of the Federal Vision that I am aware of, titled Danger in the Camp. Brian Schwertley of the WPCUS has also written a very pointed critique of the Federal Vision, titled Auburn Avenue Theology: A Biblical Critique
  • Those who claim that theonomy leads to Federal Vision turn around and claim to hold to Reformed theologywhich historically advocates theonomy. The Westminster divines were theonomists. John Calvin was a theonomist. Heinrich Bullinger was a theonomist. John Owen was a theonomist. John Gill was a theonomist. We could go on and on. See the Theonomy Library's ever-expanding historical section. 

Granted, not all of the most influential theonomists have condemned the Federal Vision for the heresy that it is. Their silence has done a disservice to the Gospel. But it should also be noted that some of the more theologically-grounded influential theonomists have very adamantly opposed the Federal Vision; two major examples are Joe Morecraft and Brian Schwertley. 

Unholy Alliances with Federal Visionists in the Name of Cultural Dominion

Theonomists who are willing to ignore the Federal Vision's dangerous doctrines because some Federal Visionists claim to advocate Christian cultural dominion should seriously reconsider. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul does not endorse working with the Judaizers (the Federal Visionists of that day) in order to overturn the paganism of the Roman Empire. Instead, he anathematizes them. 

It is also self-defeating, in the name of Christian civilization, to align with someone who claims to support it, but who undermines some of its foundational doctrines. In a Christian society, promoters of heresy would be suppressed by the state as subversives. And so what sense does it make to ally with natural enemies of the Christian state, who would overthrow it from within? On the other hand, if we look forward to the state someday opposing promoters of heresy, how much more should we verbally oppose heresy 
right now

Moreover, the wolf within the fold (those within Christian circles who promote heresy) is more dangerous than the wolf outside of the fold (e.g., the tyrannical secular state). While the latter may persecute the body, the former leads the soul astray to everlasting torment. Let's not let reformation of society (as important as it is) trump the salvation of souls.

A Plea for all Christians to Oppose the Federal Vision

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we implore you to take this threat against the Gospel seriously, and honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by taking a stand against the Federal Vision: "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 1:3b, KJV).

The Federal Vision gets one to look at his own works, instead of the finished work of Christ. It emphasizes man's ability to save himself, and thus denies that one is from beginning to end saved by an “alien righteousness”a righteousness outside of oneself, namely, the righteousness of Christ. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15).

Use the power of God's word to slay the beast that is the Federal Vision by exposing its leaders and refuting its errors—and in the process, rescue Christ's lambs from the slaughter. As Scripture says, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40b), and "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Timothy 4:16, KJV).

Whether we admit it or not, then, the Federal Vision heresy is infecting Reformed Christianity. And "A little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9); "avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene" (2 Timothy 2:16b-17a). Will we ignore the Federal Vision and let it devour our posterity, or will we oppose it—and leave a legacy of the true Gospel for future generations? 

Helpful Resources


Theonomists against the Federal Vision

Federal Vision Theology Compared with Biblical Christianity by Brian Schwertley
Roman Catholicism and Federal Vision Theology Compared with Protestantism by Brian Schwertley


Federal Vision Debate: John Otis versus Steve Schlissel
Norman Shepherd's Federal Vision Double-Talk by John Otis
Steve Wilkins' Dangerous Federal Vision Theology (part 1, part 2) by John Otis

A Reply to the Joint Federal Vision Profession by Wes White
Beware of Doug Wilson by Steve C. Halbrook
Peter Leithart and the PCA's Failure to Deal with the Federal Vision by Sean Gerety
The Federal Vision Threat to Reformed Baptists by Steve C. Halbrook

Greg Bahnsen is not in the Federal Vision Camp by John M. Otis


Auburn Avenue Theology: A Biblical Critique by Brian Schwertley
The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters
Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision by John M. Otis

Denominational Reports
RCUS Study Committee on the Federal Vision's Doctrine of Justification 
Report on Justification (OPC)
Report of Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theology (PCA)
Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification (URCNA)
Statement Concerning the Federal Vision (OCRC)


[1] "Report of the Special Committee to Study Justification in Light of the Current Justification Controversy: Presented to 258th Synod of the Reformed Church of the United States May 10-13, 2004," 7. Retrieved March 17, 2014, from
[2] Cited in Ibid., 8.
[3] Ibid., 2.
[4] Ibid., 11. Citations from Norman Shepherd, The Call of Grace (PhillipsburgNew Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2000), 4.
[5] See our article "Beware of N. T. Wright"
[6] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 158.
[7] Greg L. Bahnsen, "An Interview with Greg L. Bahnsen," Calvinism Today, Vol. IV:1 (January 1994), Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938. Retrieved March 27, 2014 from
[8] Guy Prentiss Waters, The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 9.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Cited in Sean Gerety, "Peter Leithart and the PCA's Failure to Deal with the Federal Vision," The Trinity Review (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, April 2009), Number 283, 1. Retrieved April 1, 2014, from
[11], "loyalty," Unabridged (Random House, Inc.). Retrieved March 29, 2014 from
[12] Wes White, "Sola Fide or Sola Fidelity? (All To Him I Owe or Trust and Obey)," The Aquila Report (February 23, 2011). Retrieved April 23, 2014 from
[13] See Lane's clarifications in Lane Keister, "The Lord's Supper and the Sacrament of Baptism," Green Baggins (December 16, 2008). Retrieved April 1, 2014, from
[14] For an excellent historical analysis demonstrating that the Westminster Confession does not advocate baptismal regeneration, see D. Patrick Ramsey, Baptismal Regeneration and the Westminster Confession of Faith, at
[15] Cited in Keister, "The Lord's Supper and the Sacrament of Baptism."
[16] Cited in Sean Gerety, "Corpse Faith," God's Hammer (2008). Retrieved April 1, 2014, from
[17] “Trinitarian Anthropology: Toward a Trinitarian Re-casting of Reformed Theology” in E. Calvin Beisner, ed., The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros and Cons (Fort LauderdaleFL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 70-71. Cited in Brian Schwertley, "The Sacraments," in Reformed Online Library (Lansing, MI: 2005), footnote 26. Retrieved March 31, 2014 from,%20ch%201.htm.
[18] The Monroe Four Speak Out, Christian Renewal Magazine (2003). Cited in John M. Otis, Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision (Corpus Critis, TX: Triumphant Publications, 2005), 203, 204.
[19] Colloquium on the Federal Vision, 263-266. Cited in Otis, Danger in the Camp, 213.
[20] John Barach, Covenant and History, tape 3, 2002 Auburn Avenue Pastors' Conference. The RPCUS transcription of the 2002 AAPC, p. 46-47. Cited in Otis, Danger in the Camp, 226.
[21] John Barach, Covenant and Election, 150. Cited in Otis, Danger in the Camp, 231.
[22] Rich Lusk, Do I Believe in Baptismal Regeneration? Cited in Otis, Danger in the Camp, 373.
[23] Rich Lusk, Future Justification to the Doers of the Law (2003). Cited in Otis, Danger in the Camp, 290.
[24] Steve Schlissel, “Auburn Pastors Conference 2002—Covenant Series: Covenant Reading” (January 2002), 11.
[25] Steve Schlissel, “A New Way of Seeing,” pp. 26-27.  Cited in Otis, Danger in the Camp, 315, 316.
[26] Those contributors include Tremper Longman III, John Frame, Dan McCartney, William S. Barker, and Samuel T. Logan; we are not sure where they stand now. For a critique of this document, click here. It doesn't appear that the actual document itself is still online.


Bill R. said...

This is a helpful post. The OPC Report on Justification that was cited was particularly helpful to me. Another (very brief) source that was helpful to me in understanding the problem is Cornelis Venema's GETTING THE GOSPEL RIGHT, published by Banner of Truth.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Bill R. -- I'm not sure if I've seen Venema's work -- thanks for the lead.