Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Federal Vision on Law and Gospel

On "Law and Gospel," the recently-issued Joint Statementof the Federal Vision reads, in part:

"When [those in rebellion against God] have been brought to the point of repentance by the Holy Spirit, we affirm that the gracious nature of all God’s words becomes evident to them."
"All of God's words" are not gracious. The gospel is gracious, the law, on the other hand, is legal. That's why it's called law, and that's why our theologians distinguish between law and gospel as God's "two words" to man.
"At the same time, we affirm that it is appropriate to speak of law and gospel as having a redemptive and historical thrust, with the time of the law being the old covenant era and the time of the gospel being the time when we enter our maturity as God’s people."
This is true, on the broad level. "Law" is often used to denote the Mosaic economy, and "gospel" the New Covenant epoch. But what I've yet to see a Federal Visionist appreciate is the distinction in our tradition between law narrowly considered and law broadly considered. Though the gospel was operative during the time of the law, Paul extrapolates from Moses a narrow principle, "do this and live," that is antithetical to the gospel when considered as the means through which the eternal inheritance is secured.
"We deny that law and gospel should be considered as a hermeneutics, or treated as such."
If our friends are saying what I think they're saying (that we oughtn't force every passage into one of these two categories), then I add a hearty "Amen."
"We believe that any passage, whether indicative or imperative, can be heard by the faithful as good news, and that any passage, whether containing gospel promises or not, will be heard by the rebellious as intolerable demand. The fundamental division is not in the text, but rather in the human heart."
This I have difficulties with. Our brothers seem to be denying that there is any objective force to God's speech, but that all divine utterance is contingent upon the listener's response. But the mixed nature of God's audience notwithstanding, law is still law and gospel is still gospel. So when God offers his heavenly reward upon condition of personal obedience, that is not gospel. Likewise, when God freely offers life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, that is not law.

So this portion of the Joint Statement, though it has its good points, ultimately fails to reflect what I see as the historic Reformed consensus.