Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Federal Vision and the Covenant of Life

One of the most problematic sections in the Federal Visionists' Statement, at least from this Reformed confessionalist's perspective, concerns "The Covenant of Life," which reads in part:
"We deny that continuance in this covenant in the Garden was in any way a payment for work rendered. Adam could forfeit or demerit the gift of glorification by disobedience, but the gift or continued possession of that gift was not offered by God to Adam conditioned upon Adam’s moral exertions or achievements."
What frustrates many Reformed people about the Federal Vision is its assumption that the nomenclature of "covenant of life" is somehow an alternative to the "covenant of works" (these are taken from the Larger Catechism and Confession respectively). Though it has traditionally been understood that the former denotes the reward while the latter highlights the means to it, it is now fashionable to pit the covenant of life and the covenant of works against one another, as if the divines at Westminster had two distinct types of covenants in mind between which candidates for ordination could conveniently choose.

Just read the quotation above if you think I'm being unfair. The covenant of life, we are told, did not hold out to Adam a gift "in any way [as] a payment for work rendered" or "conditioned upon [his] moral exertions." Confessional Reformed believers, to the contrary, insist that the original covenant with Adam offered a reward (glorified life) "upon condition of perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience."

This is far from "striving about words to no profit." Once we forfeit the idea that Adam would have earned his reward by his law-keeping, we lose not only the doctrine of the imputation of the second Adam's obedience and satisfaction, but also the assurance of knowing that the Father's acceptance of us is not only the result of "rich grace" toward us, but of "exact justice" toward his Son (WCF xi.3).

Thus the Federal Vision, in its (laudable) attempt to exalt the primacy of divine grace, ends up subverting that grace, replacing it with a monocovenantal system which promises us that, once we've rendered enough congruent merit euphemized as "covenant faithfulness," the Father will mingle with it his grace to make it acceptable.

Just like he did for Jesus.