Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Declaration #1: Monocovenantalism

I realize I'm interrupting my series on VanDrunen's project (to which I hope to return), but I think it would be timely to consider the nine "declarations" of the PCA's Federal Vision Report received a couple weeks ago at the denomination's General Assembly. The first declaration states:

"The view that rejects the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture as represented in the Westminster Standards (i.e., views which do not merely take issue with the terminology, but the essence of the first/second covenant framework) is contrary to those Standards."
As you may know, it is fashionable in various circles (i.e., New Perspective, Norman Shepherd, Federal Vision) to insist that God's dealings with his creatures have always been gracious. After all, no creature—fallen or not—can ever hope to earn anything from God by means of merit, right?

As laudable (and Reformed) as this emphasis upon divine grace may appear at first blush, I would argue that it both flatly contradicts the teaching of the Westminster Standards and serves, ironically perhaps, to undermine the grace it seeks to exalt.

To demonstrate the first charge, one may appeal to the fact that the Confession clearly states that God made "a first covenant" and "a second covenant" with man, the former being called "a covenant of works," the latter "a covenant of grace." Moreover, the covenant of works promises life upon the condition of "personal and perfect obedience," while the latter offers life and salvation to all who exercise faith in Christ (which faith is itself a gift). This does not amount to one covenant with a different administration pre- and post-fall, but two covenants administered according to different principles altogether (works and grace).

As to the charge that the monocovenantalism of the Federal Vision undermines divine grace, I would argue that if a sinner's salvation is not earned by "obedience" to God's law and "satisfaction" of God's justice (accomplished by Christ), but is simply given by grace, then either justification becomes a legal fiction (since God's standards have not really been met), or the onus of meeting those standards falls back on the believer, euphemistically disguised as "covenant faithfulness."