Clark Rebukes Shepherd’s Federal Vision

I truly appreciate the work that R. Scott Clark does on the Heidleblog. In a recent article entitle Forty Three Years of Federal Vision Theology, he shows that in all the major reformed confessions, there is a unity in the view that we are justified by faith alone, in Christ alone.

Whatever formal diversity existed within the most significant Reformed voices, during the classical period of Reformed theology, we may be sure of the substantial agreement among the Reformed churches since all the Reformed confessions confess the very same doctrine of justification, i.e., the free declaration by God that sinners are regarded as righteous only for the sake of Christ’s righteousness, his condign merits imputed to believers received only through faith, trusting, resting, and receiving in Christ and in his finished work. This is the doctrine of the Reformed confessions, e.g., the Genevan Confession (1536), the Belgic Confession (1560), the Scots Confession (1560), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Canons of Dort (1619), and the Westminster Standards (1648). (Emphasis added)

Notice the very words in the definition of justification: “free declaration.” This precludes any works that we may do, which is what some of those who hold to Federal Vision are saying, at least those FVers who are following Norman Shepherd. They claim that is it not only faith that saves us, but our works as well. Shepherd, when confronted by this reality, tried to back down by saying that it is “faithfulness” or “covenant faithfulness” but that is the same thing.

Shepherd’s Federal Vision stands against all the confessions noted above, and we should stand against it as well. It’s nothing more than “covenantal Arminianism.” In other words, for us to make sure that we are truly of the elect, we must add to the works of Christ, both individually and covenantally. This makes our election, justification, etc., based upon us. If that is so, then no one saved.

The key to justification is always based upon “receiving Christ and in his finished work.” It is not something we add to, or can improve upon, since His sacrifice was perfect for our salvation. To try and change this, makes Christ nothing more than a moral example, according to Mr. Clark. I agree.

Shepherd’s Federal Vision, according to Clark, fails to be confessional in that it denies the reality that we are saved in His “finished work.” If we are having to add to our justification, then what did Christ actually finish?

I realize that this is just a glimpse into the Federal Vision controversy. I’ve followed it for years and noted just how convoluted it has become. At times, confessionalist and FVers have talked past one another. However, if and when we try to add our works to our justification via covenantal faithfulness, or any other lofty goal, we truncate the gospel and end up with works-base salvation. Doing this should be completely rejected.