Critics of the Critics of the Federal Vision are So Unfair!

I recently read a blog entry at Barlow Farms: A Response to Richard Phillips’s Comments, Part One.

In the words of Mubatu from Zoolander: “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

If we ever hope to understand each other then I want to make sure I break down what I believe Pastor Phillips clearly articulated because it is my estimation that this “response” doesn’t even enter into the same neighborhood as the criticism. I ask those who have read both to make sure I’m not stating this improperly.

Here is the substance of the response from Barlow (I’m summarizing):

Pastor Phillips wants to try and convict Pastor Wilkins for not being a strict subscriptionist to only ONE confessional use of the terms election and perseverance. Pastor Wilkins does not deny election or perseverance in the way that the WCF use them and wholeheartedly agrees with them BUT merely denotes that the terms are used in a broader sense.

He goes on to use an analogy of using the word trinity in another way (i.e. “Shadrach, Meschach, and Abegnego made up a trinity of dissent in the empire.”) and then being accused of denying the Trinity.

Thus, according to Barlow, the substance of Pastor Phillips critique is over the use of terms: you cannot use the word election or predestination in any other way than the Confession uses or we’re going to put you up on a pole.

Now, I ask the critics of the critics of the FV: Does this accurately represent Pastor Phillips critique? I thought Pastor Phillips was very cogent in his analysis. I’m constantly told that men are not dealing honestly with each other’s views. If there is going to be a response to Pastor Phillips’ critique then let it be on the substance of the critique.

The substance of Pastor Phillips’ critique is this:


Neither the Scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a doctrine of conditional election.

Neither the Scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a temporary perseverance.

Neither the Scirptures, nor the confession, admit to a temporary union with Christ.


You see, it one thing to admit that the Scriptures use a term to address a larger body that includes both elect and non-elect. It is quite another to form a doctrine based on this syllogism:

1. Paul calls a Church body “elect” in some passages
2. Paul knew it consisted of both the regenerate and unregenerate
3. Therefore, Paul must mean that everyone there is elect in some way…

Barlow seems to completely miss the fact that Pastor Phillips convincingly demonstrates that the Reformed completely reject this in their confession. They do NOT conclude 3 in the way that Wilkins and others do and, on the contrary, reject the idea.

Would they admit to points 1 and 2 above? Certainly, they would believe it is Pastoral language. This is why there is the idea of presumptive regeneration where you treat and talk of people as if they are regnerate not knowing either way. Jesus still treated Judas as if he were a disciple when He knew from the beginning who truly believed even before He called Judas.

Thus, I find Barlow’s response to utterly obfuscate the critique. I thought Pastor Phillips critique was a scholarly and clear examination of the issue and am shocked that Barlow so utterly misrepresents the substance of the critique.

Are there any responses out there that do a better job of answering the actual charges?

  1. Anonymous

    “Jesus still treated Judas as if he were a disciple when He knew from the beginning who truly believed even before He called Judas.”

    Judas actually was a disciple.

    He wasn’t a faithful disciple, but he was in the set of those called disciples.

    The graciousness that Jesus showed to Judas was disciple-graciosuness, not common graciousness or special graciousness. When jesus says “did I not CHOOSE 12” he doesn’t mean that he didn’t “really” choose Judas also but that he merely spoke that way about him. He meant that his choice of Judas didn’t impact the fact of Judas reprobation. Judas was chosen for “middle” grace, not special grace.

    If only Judas had responded to the grace of Jesus in faith, he would have been saved. But this was not what God ordained.

  2. Anonymous

    Can you please, Rich, express the doctrine which you think Wilkins (or some other FVer) holds to but which the Confession rejects?

    In other words, can you make (3) in your post a little more clear as a “doctrine”? Instead of “Therefore, Therefore, Paul must mean that everyone (i.e. regenerate and unregenerate members of the congregation) there (i.e. Ephesus) is elect in some way”¦,” can you express this without using the word “elect”? “Elect” is itself one of the terms with a disputed meaning (or disputed senses of meaning, anyway).

    “Therefore, both the regenerate and unregenerate must be X in some sense.”

    What is X, do you think, for FV? And where do the WS reject this position?

    You’re putting things a bit off when you put them as a syllogism from Scripture that you think FVers are making. You are right that most of them make an argument something like that, but the issue here is not how they get to their various doctrines, but whether or not those doctrines are in conformity with the Confession. If I gave some horrible misreading of Amos 1:1 (just making something up here) to “prove” that God predestines people for salvation, then my exegesis would be bad but my “doctrine” would still be Confessional. We don’t defrock men for misunderstanding this or that passage of Scripture, because the prooftexts themselves that Westminster uses are non-binding! You have to show that FV teaches some DOCTRINE, however arrived at, which contradicts the Confession. You need to show that the Confession says A while Wilkins says not A, where none of the terms in A are ambiguous.

    (And then, of course, assuming strict subscriptionism is incorrect, you would also need to show why this particular exception to the Confession is a fatal blow to Reformed theology in general. Why not just allow Wilkins an exception here, assuming you are right that he needs to take one? Why defrock him? This also would need to be proved.)

    Or, consider some of the other claims about doctrine you pull from Phillips, like this one:

    “Neither the Scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a doctrine of conditional election.”

    Well, again, spell out what the word “election” means there. Is Phillips saying that neither the Scriptures, nor the confession, admit to a doctrine of conditional \selection by God of some people to receive temporary blessings that the rest of the world doesn’t get/? This is what Wilkins’ “doctrine” of conditional election means when you spell out the terms as Wilkins uses them. Can Phillips really deny that there are some people who are chosen by God for certain temporary blessings that the rest of the world (rank pagans) doesn’t get? Scripture doesn’t teach that there are such people?

    When things are put as Wilkins means them, and then looked at alongside the doctrines taught in the Confession as it means the words it uses, it seems that Phillips has nothing to “get” Wilkins on here. Yet the charges continue…It is rather “unfair,” actually.

    So, what is X?

    –Xon Hostetter (

  3. Leino

    You miss the point of my critique. Don’t get distracted by the pony. Mine was a summary of an argument to demonstrate that Barlow misrepresented Phillips’ critique.

    Some who seek complexity lose the thrust of the argument because they’re so distracted by all the parts. As you prefer variables to words, here is what my post says:

    X=Phillips said Wilkins additional teaching on election and pervseverance is not merely additional information on the use of election in the Scripture but contradicts the teaching.

    Y=Barlow says Phillips’ critique is purely semantic and a man cannot be brought up on charges simply for using words in a way beyond what the Confessions read.


    As for your other questions, they are worthy of discussion but they do not pertain to the substance of this article.

    Rich Leino

  4. Xon

    Your “summary of an argument to demonstrate that Barlow misrepresented Phillips’ critique” isn’t quite right. Barlow’s argument is not what you have as “Y”.

    Rather, it’s something closer to this:

    Y: Barlow says that the only way for Phillips to make his argument (X) work is if he makes a fundamental mistake about words. It’s not that Phillips is self-consciously arguing with Wilkins over mere semantics; it’s that Phillips’ argument makes a serious error that pertains to semantics.

    Phillips gives arguments in his article, yes, but those arguments themselves slide between the way Wilkins speaks (for example) about the Biblical meanings given to the word “elect” and the things that Phillips thinks Wilkins believes about the Reformed doctrine of election. But these are not the same thing, and Phillips’ arguments as they are written in his article don’t work unless they are the same. For instance, if Wilkins said that the Bible used the word “elect” in a way that was absolutely contradictory to the way the Confession uses the word–say that Wilkins taught that the Bible sometimes talks of people predestined to Hell as “elect” (just pretend)–this would in no way prove that Wilkins is contradicting the Reformed doctrine of election taught by the Confession. It would only show that Wilkins thinks that the word “elect” in the Bible doesn’t always have to do with the Reformed doctrine of election.

    In other words, Phillips has to actually SHOW that Wilkins uses these words in ways that amounts to a contradiction of the Confession. This means Phillips needs to, as I have asked above, show what the Confession says (understanding how the words are actually being used), then show what Wilkins says (understanding how the words are actually being used), and then show that the two sayings are contraries. Until he does this (and in his article he doesn’t), Phillips has merely asserted that Wilkins is contrary to the Confession, he has not demonstrated it.


  5. Leino

    I suppose our brains are wired differently. Phillips demonstrates quite clearly his point to the satisfaction of many. He even rejoined that he is confounded by statements like yours.

    I guess the FV aren’t the only who are difficult to understand but, in this case, Phillips did not mix words so you’re really left with little excuse for not understanding him.

  6. Anonymous

    Phillips essentially fails to read Wilkins in his own terms. He’s imputing a meaning that’s not intended into the words. To take ‘elect’ as an example there is more than one way to use that word. I’ve bolded the words I inserted in the paragraph below to try to clarify how I’m interpreting this:

    3. With these preliminary considerations in mind, I propose to respond to TE Wilkins’s answers pertaining to the individual doctrines in question. The first is the doctrine of election. The CCP memorial complained that while the Confession states that “God hath appointed the decretally elect unto glory” (WCF III.6), TE Wilkins teaches that “the covenantally elect are appointed to a conditional relationship which they can lose through unbelief” (CCP Memorial). The memorial goes on to cite an example of TE Wilkins’s teaching to this effect. TE Wilkins responds first by pointing out his past and present affirmations of the Westminster Confession’s teaching on decretal election.


  7. Leino

    No. He completely understands, and rejects, Wilkins terms as being non-Confessional.


    Rich Leino

  8. Anonymous

    Terms like ‘justification’ and ‘elect’ have no essential meaning, so if someone wants to redefine them to mean something else, as long as their teaching, taking the redefinitions into account, is confessional it should be considered acceptable.

    That said I think that using definitions that differ from the ordinary Reformed understanding is unnecessarily confusing and thus wrong because most people will interpret what they hear by the ordinary definition.

  9. Anonymous

    Pastor Phillips and I have e-mailed back and forth a couple of times the last few days. I will probably post this exchange (with his permission, already granted) on my blog soon.

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