24 June 2006

what is the "federal vision"?

what is the "federal vision"?

For the past few years - since Auburn Avenue PCA in Monroe, Louisiana sponsored a conference with the title - there's been a growing discussion of a theological conversation that critics call the "Federal Vision."

As with most labels, the name has stuck. But as with many labels, it also tells us very little about the supposed content of the view (or constellation of views) in question. In fact, given the meaning of "federal theology" within the Reformed tradition, the label may in fact be misleading.

I've sometimes been identified by others as part of this "Federal Vision" (I'm told that this is the case with a new book on the topic). Others have said that I'm clearly not part of it. So that raises the question: what exactly is the "Federal Vision"?

One could, presumably point to the speakers at the original conference or contributors to the subsequent book, but that really doesn't get at what I'm interested in. I want to know the substance of the views in question: what makes one a "Federal Visionist" as opposed to a run-of-the-mill Reformed thinker within the broad diversity of the tradition?

Now, admittedly, theological trends are often more a matter of family resemblances than a determinate set of specified doctrines (e.g., "evangelicalism," "emerging church," "the social gospel," "complementarianism," etc.). So, I wouldn't expect anyone to be able to give a set of necessary and sufficient conditions that define the "Federal Vision."

Nevertheless, one should be able to say something. Perhaps one could propose evaluative criteria analogous to those sometimes used in making medical and other diagnoses: if the patient persistently exhibits four or more of the following nine features over a period of more than 6 weeks, then...

Any diagnostic criteria should be of the sort that they include all the people who are regularly associated with the so-called "Federal Vision," while not including any others who are generally not associated with it, even if there might be some superficial affinities in some areas.

So, go for it. Leave your suggestions for diagnostic criteria in the comments.

I'd only ask that if you read my blog and are someone prominently associated with the "Federal Vision," that you refrain from commenting. I want the impressions of outside observers. I'd also ask that people who want to make wisecracks find somewhere else as an outlet. I want to have a discussion here that engages the question constructively.