Ligonier Ministries Responsible for Federal Vision Converts?Posted: July 9, 2007 Filed under: CREC, Doug Wilson, Federal Vision, Ligonier Ministries, RC Sproul, RC Sproul Jr 39 Comments
“Back in the 1990s, Senior Sproul was an outspoken critic of Charles Colson’s, J. I. Packer’s and Cardinal Cassidy’s cult, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, but in the twenty-first century, he remains silent on the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision, both forms of heresy rife in his denomination, the PCA; and he is silent on Norman Shepherdism, the form of Neo-Legalism rife in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Junior Sproul, while he was editor of Table Talk, the monthly devotional publication of Ligonier Ministries used to advance its theological agenda, made sure that Douglas Wilson appeared in the magazine monthly, and that his friends, Steve Wilkins and Steve Schlissel, appeared occasionally…
“The silence of the shepherds in dealing with the heresies in their own churches stems from their compromised philosophy and theology. They cannot clearly articulate their differences with Rome, or practice what those differences require, because at bottom they agree with Rome.”
The Silence Of The Shepherds, The Trinity Foundation
The Federal Vision / New Perspectives On Paul / Auburn Avenue theology controversy has been raging in Reformed circles for several years now, and especially so since the 2002 Pastor’s Conference at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Monroe, Louisiana, pastored by Steve Wilkins, where the theme of the conference was Federal Vision.
I view Federal Vision as one of the most divisive and dangerous doctrines that has ever been introduced into the Reformed church. Federal Vision is a deceptive assault on the doctrines of grace, and in particular the doctrine of justification by faith alone — Sola Fide. As such, Federal Vision is a pernicious belief system with eternal consequences. It’s made just that much more insidious because of the fact that all of it’s leading spokesmen hold themselves out as “Reformed.” Indeed, it’s not outsiders who have crept into the Reformed church to subvert it and lead it back to Rome, but rather insiders.
All of the key Federal Vision spokesmen have come from Reformed backgrounds, and all of them claim that they are still “Reformed.” They say they still believe in the Five Solas, but they have deceptively redefined them. Many of them claim to adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Yet, Federal Vision doctrine is contrary to the Five Solas, and contrary to the Westminster Confession on some of the most significant issues that the Confession expounds, such as the covenant, election and justification.
We haven’t dealt with Federal Vision here before, mainly because others are far better qualified to address it than we are, and some have. If you’re not familiar with this controversy, let me just say that it’s one of the more important theological issues to have confronted the church in many years. There aren’t many theological issues that can be as significant as soteriology — how man is saved.
Federal Vision has already infiltrated many Reformed churches. I say “infiltrated” because quite often the ringleaders would prefer to operate surreptitiously, rather than openly and honestly. If Federal Vision hasn’t already infiltrated your church, you should be prepared for it, and the way to be prepared is to study the issue for yourself. I’ve provided a list of some references at the end of the article, but this is by no means exhaustive. There is also much more available, both online, and in various books.
Reformed Presbyterian churches and their denominations have especially felt the impact of Federal Vision, particularly the PCA and the OPC. Many of their members, and even some of their pastors and elders, have started embracing Federal Vision, and many more embrace it privately and covertly. Indeed, the covert nature of Federal Vision, and the way that its promoters seek to stealthily infiltrate Reformed churches, is one of the things that troubles me so much about it. Its spokesmen have often shown themselves to be crafty and cunning infiltrators, rather than honest and straightforward about what they believe. They often twist words and meanings in a manner that bears striking resemblance to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In response to the onslaught of the Federal Vision within it’s denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America determined at their 34th General Assembly to appoint an “Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theology.” The Report was finalized on May 11, 2007 and presented to the PCA at their 35th General Assembly. The Report was overwhelmingly approved by the GA. Only about 50 out of 1400 delegates voted against it).
It remains to be seen what will become of prominent Federal Vision spokesmen who pastor PCA (e.g. Steve Wilkins) churches. For the present things appear to remain in the “discussion” and “recommendation” stages. However, at some point the discussion will need to come to an end and action will need to be taken. The PCA cannot permit heresy in its midst. If it does then it will render itself irrelevant and little better than the PCUSA. The Truly Reformed will have no choice but to leave, and they will leave in droves. The PCA cannot and must not permit its own pastors to be guilty of promoting heresy.
At some point, and hopefully sooner than later, those PCA pastors who are guilty of Federal Visionism will either be required to recant and repent of Federal Vision, or they will be brought up on charges of heresy. Since it’s unlikely that any of them will recant, they’d be wise to flee those Truly Reformed denominations, such as the PCA and OPC, and escape to someplace that’s “Reformed” in name only. Doug Wilson’s Federal Vision boutique, the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, comes to mind.
Timing here is crucial. What they don’t want to do is to force their Presbyteries into a position of having to defrock them, and then they have no choice but to flee to the CREC. That’s what RC Sproul Jr did, and that was a big PR mistake. Better to flee before being defrocked.
It’s not that being defrocked makes any difference to the CREC. They have, and they will continue, to gladly welcome defrocked Presbyterian ministers, even if they were defrocked for very serious things like ecclesiastical tyranny and tax fraud (as was the case for RC Sproul Jr). So being defrocked as a heretic surely won’t pose any obstacle to getting into the CREC. Nevertheless, from an appearance standpoint, it would be wise for all the Federal Vision heretics to flee to the CREC before they wind up getting defrocked.
No doubt Doug Wilson is licking his chops now. The PCA’s Federal Vision Report can only mean one thing for Doug Wilson — church growth.
I recently came across an interesting statement on a blog run by Federal Visionist, Mark Horne:
Great stuff from Ligonier Ministries on the Lord’s Supper
Published by Mark, July 2nd, 2007 in Bible & Theology
Here is a an article from Ligonier Ministries’ TableTalk magazine on the Lord’s Supper. It is really good.
Mark Horne’s blog entry directs his readers to an article on the Lord’s Supper, originally published in Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk magazine. The article was written by Federal Visionist, and PCA Pastor, Jeffrey J. Meyers. Mark Horne himself has had articles in Tabletalk.
Both Horne and Meyers are PCA pastors, and both pastor at Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, Saint Louis, MO. Jeff Meyers is also the author of The Lord’s Service, a favorite book among the Federal Vision crowd, and considered among many of them to be essential reading.
Jeff Meyers’ article had been written for Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk magazine, during the time that RC Sproul Jr was Tabletalk’s editor. RC Sproul Jr not only tapped Jeff Meyers to write for Tabletalk, he also procured writing gigs for multiple Federal Vision / New Perspectives On Paul / Auburn Avenue Theology leaders Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins, and Steve Schlissel. These and other Federal Visionaries appeared in Tabletalk during the time that RC Sproul Jr was editor. RC Sproul Jr also arranged for various Federal Vision spokesmen to speak at Ligonier conferences.
Not everyone would appreciate the significance of a Jeffrey Meyers article appearing in Tabletalk magazine. However, Mark Horne certainly appreciates it, and he recognizes what a coup it was to have a prominent Federal Vision spokesman’s articles appearing in the “devotional” magazine of the nation’s leading Reformed ministry. Others too had no trouble picking up on the message:
I have enjoyed telling people (especially in the last few weeks) that I first discovered both Biblical Horizons and Credenda/Agenda through Ligonier Ministries back in the early 90’s. R.C. Sproul is the reason I’m FV.
I’ve assumed for quite some time that Ligonier Ministries has had a hand in making Federal Vision converts. However, not many people like Sean have been willing to go public with such confessions. So for the Federal Vision converts that converted as a result of the articles that appeared in Tabletalk by Federal Vision authors, we can thank RC Sproul for that. In fact someone else commented on Mark Horne’s blog to do just that:
Mitch Jul 8th, 2007 at 9:56 pm
“R.C. Sproul is the reason I’m FV.”
Sean, I’m with ya bro!
Stop and think about the irony though. The publication of the most Reformed ministry in the country responsible for making Federal Vision converts. Too cool! I knew it was happening. It’s just refreshing hearing someone thank Ligonier Ministries for it.
As much as thanking R.C. Sproul we need to thank R.C. Sproul Jr. I don’t think his old man is FV. I don’t think so, but anyone who’s followed R.C. Jr knows he’s FV. I don’t understand why he tries to hide it. I just wish he’d come out of the closet about it.
However, is it reasonable to just “thank” RC Sproul Jr? Didn’t his father have a hand in his son becoming the editor of Tabletalk? Of course he did, just as his father continues to play a role in ensuring that the defrocked RC Jr continues to speak at Ligonier Ministries conferences. So why would Dr. RC Sproul have permitted his son to invite men who hold to such errant and even heretical theology to publish their articles in Tabletalk?
Was, and is, RC Sproul really ignorant of one of the biggest theological controversies to hit the Reformed world in years? No, he clearly is not. In fact RC Sproul attended the 35th PCA General Assembly, and rose in opposition to a motion to postpone a vote to adopt the Committee’s Report. His speech was compelling. So how could RC Sproul have permitted Federal Visionaries to write for Tabletalk and speak at Ligonier conferences, and yet not also understand that such men deny the doctrine of justification by faith alone? It simply appears inconceivable that one of the most knowledgeable and insightful Reformed theologians of our day could be knowledgeable and insightful, while at the same time being so incredibly ignorant of what those men represent and their attack on a doctrine which is key to the Gospel itself. It’s just not adding up.
RC Sproul is one of the leading champions of the Reformed Faith in the world today. He even wrote a book expounding the Reformed doctrine of justification entitled, “Faith Alone.” Federal Vision is one of the greatest threats to the Reformed Faith today, and especially the Reformed doctrine of justification. One would think that RC Sproul would have a vested interest in speaking out long and loud against Federal Vision. Yet, for the most part, he remains strangely silent. Why? If you search Ligonier Ministries’ web site you won’t find one mention of Federal Vision. Yet, his ministry has given a platform to the Federal Visionists. Why?
And what about RC Sproul Jr? Is he too really that ignorant? How can he claim to be “Reformed” while countenancing the very men who assault the very foundations of the Reformed Faith? How can he claim to be Reformed and yet some of his closest personal friends are prominent Federal Vision spokesmen? And why did RC Sproul Jr jump ship to join the one and only “confederation” that has dedicated itself to advancing the Federal Vision?
I just wish that RC Sproul Jr would start being honest and, in Mitch’s words, “anyone who’s followed R.C. Jr knows he’s FV. I don’t understand why he tries to hide it. I just wish he’d come out of the closet about it.”
RC Sproul Jr has already been defrocked for goodness sake. So it’s not like anyone in the Reformed world respects him anymore anyway. With the exception of Doug Phillips, the only friends he’s got left are in the CREC. Why not just admit to being Federal Vision?
Update, July 10: And Federal Vision Is Responsible For Roman Catholic Converts
I received an email from a gentleman, concerned that it took RC Sproul years to respond to the assault against the Reformed faith by the Federal Vision. However, it could be argued that Sproul’s brief little two-minute speech he gave at the PCAGA could hardly qualify as a genuine and substantive response at all, especially in light of the fact that he permitted his Ligonier Ministries to be used as a platform for Federal Visionaries for so long.
The gentleman had an additional concern — the fact that so many Federal Visionaries have become Roman Catholic converts. I too have heard this very thing, and I even know of several people who have become RC (that’s Roman Catholic, not Robert Charles) as a direct result of first embracing the Federal Vision.
Below is a video clip by a Roman Catholic who gloats over this very thing, and who thanks the Federal Visionaries for helping to make Roman Catholic converts. In his words:
“I rejoice with the Federal Vision because I believe that it’s a golden brick road to Rome… So I thank God for the Federal Vision because it’s a termite within Protestantism, and it’s tearing away at the structure, and everything that’s falling out is coming to the Roman Catholic faith.”
I’m sad to have to agree with this Roman Catholic. However, he’s not entirely correct when he says that “everything that’s falling out is coming to the Roman Catholic faith.” There are also numerous accounts of those who embrace the Federal Vision, and then go on to become Greek or Russian Orthodox. Not that there’s even much of a difference between the RCs and Orthodox.
Presbytery Reports On Federal Vision:
- Review & Critique of the Federal Vision / Auburn Avenue Theology
- Analyzing the Federal Vision
- Federal Vision Refutation
- Refuting the Federal Vision Heresy
- Paul’s Perspective
- Providence OPC Spring Conference on Federal Vision
- Covenantal Universalism: New Form of an Old Attack on Sovereign Grace
- The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis
- Justification And The New Perspectives On Paul: A Review And Response
- Getting the Gospel Right: Assessing the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul
- The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision