Leithart's future-end of Protestantism X: F-V men accuse opponents of being hamfisted and stupid...

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During the past year, a refreshing honesty has surfaced among Dr. Leithart and his Theopolis Institute fellows as they finally make public their call for peace with Rome.

In prior years the Romanizing thrust of their movement was more hidden. Anyone who noticed their Romanizing tendencies and pointed them out was met by vociferous denials. This allowed the rank and file F-V men to continue dwelling in plausible-deniability land. The F-V leaders pulled off quite a feat. They were able to convince their followers that they were not merely hawking an amalgamation of old errors. Rather, they were selling brilliant insights gained from a new (and finally Biblical) theology. 

Still, F-V's deconstruction of Reformed doctrine centered on sacramentology. And for some of us, reading these men left us with the eerie feeling that, despite their possession of the terminal degree from reputable institutions of higher learning and their ministerial credentials being held in Reformed churches, F-V's leaders had no clue what they were doing because they had no clue what they were undoing. Listening to their dogmatic assertions that they were simply restorationists bringing back the Reformers' views on the sacraments was like listening to Mark Noll tell us Jonathan Edwards, John Stott, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones were populists. Could they be serious? Had they ever read the Reformers? Had Noll ever read any of...

Jonathan Edwards or Martyn Lloyd-Jones's sermons? Even one of them?

Sadly, it was not difficult for the F-V leaders to bamboozle their disciples. They had not read the Reformers enough to see the deceit, so vociferous denials of Romanizing were enough to protect the leaders from being understood for what they were. F-V leaders assured their ill-informed and naive followers that their sacramentalism was not really sacramentalism and their Romanizing was not truly Romanizing. They were being misunderstood by stupid pastors lacking the terminal degree who had no curiosity, nor any willingness to take risks in their approach to the deep meanings of Scripture.

Outside the F-V camp, though, smoke and mirrors wouldn't suffice. Men had read the Reformers carefully; they knew the toxicity of Roman Catholic doctrine and recognized that much of Federal Vision's highly vaunted insights bore Rome's family likeness, particularly at that all-important juncture of justification and the sacraments. Thus it was that Federal Vision came under the sustained criticism of the Reformed churches and was eventually condemned by Reformed judicatories across the country.

The sturm and drang they had aroused outside their gnostic community led F-V leaders to put the damper on some of their more radical ideas. And, for a while, they exercised a degree of restraint over what they admitted to in public. But this restraint was not characteristic of their private discussions. Outside the public eye, F-V guru James Jordan demonstrated a candor that caused some of his fellow F-Vers to gnash their teeth when he wrote:

Oh, it’s true enough: We depart from the whole Reformation tradition at certain pretty basic points. It’s no good pretending otherwise. ...We are NOT traditional presbyterians. ...we are poison to traditional presbyterianism. (this is an actual quote and the emphasis is in the original)

Move forward some years and now F-V men have splintered into two groups variously called the "Oatmeal Stouts" or "Lutherans" and the "Pale Ales" or "Puritans." The divergence of these camps has begun to clarify the muddy waters that prevailed these past fifteen years and those pastors and elders who had trouble getting a grasp on the original F-V project should take comfort that help has arrived. The division long brewing within the F-V camp has now broken into the open and truth in advertising is one of the principal beneficiaries.

Finally cutting themselves loose from the Puritans, the Oatmeal Stout men have begun to admit things that concern for unity among their F-V brethren of a more moderate stance would have caused them to keep under wraps until now. For instance, it would have sunk the Federal Vision ship before it left the harbor if ten or twelve years ago Dr. Leithart and Pastor Bledsoe had issued a public call for reunion with Rome. Lots of F-V men would have been angry with them for spilling the beans, but now the division has brought Dr. Leithart and friends a freedom to speak their minds. So now, we need no longer content ourselves with seeing Dr. Leithart as through a mirror darkly.

Now, without blushing, these men carrying Reformed ministerial credentials announce to the world that their liturgical innovations combined with their doctrinal departures from Reformed theology in the areas of justification and sacramentology are the utopia they languish for; these are the parameters of their Catholic ecumenicity.

But of course, those who love Scripture and have read the Reformers knew all along that this was their goal.

Yet even now, all is not honesty and candor. If we call the Oatmeal Stout men's push for an ecumenical posture towards Rome "making peace with Roman Catholicism," "seeking reunion with Rome," or "Romanizers' Romanizing," these men resort to their same old tactics. They say anyone who would describe their grand vision in such a clumsy way has failed to devote the time necessary to understanding that vision.

Before, when men pointed out that F-V men's sacramentology was Roman Catholicism's ex opere operato, F-V men responded (although this is not an actual quote, it is an accurate summary of what they've said for years):

Don't be so clumsy. We're simply pushing for the recovery of the Reformed view of the sacraments that John Calvin believed and taught. Our sacramentology is not Roman Catholic—it's merely Reformed Protestantism.

Trust us.

Now, a number of years later, when men point out that Oatmeal Stout's promotion of reunion with the Roman Catholic church is the natural result of turning away from justification by faith alone to embrace baptismal and eucharistic regeneration, the response of F-V men begins again with the accusation that their accusers haven't spent the time necessary to understand what they are really saying. We could expect them to say something like this:

Don't be so clumsy. Our project is much more sophisticated than simple reunion. The Reformed church is dead and we dwell in a new era when bold men will blaze a path of transformational ecumenicity that leaves all the old categories and distinctions and divisions behind. It's our purpose to strike a blow for the freedom of the sons of the Reformation; it's our hope finally to follow the Spirit's leading into the new age dawning.

We've seen a vision. We've dreamed a dream. It's just as Master Rosenstock-Huessy prophesied: "The future, it is arriving." As Rich Bledsoe put it: "Jesus is catching up with the world."

Disagree and you're just stupid—it's always this way with Federal Vision men. They say their opponents are ham-fisted and backward, but it doesn't matter because they own the future. It's not reunion with Rome they're seeking, but something larger, something spectacular, something that transcends all the old patterns and ways of thinking. They are not proclaiming the death of Protestantism in order to get their fellow Reformed men to cross the Tiber. Rather, they proclaim the death of Protestantism because they have seen the vision and know with utter certainty that Rome herself will meet us in the middle of the Tiber where, listening to the sweet song of birdies and basking in the afternoon sun, we will tie our boats together for a downriver cruise into the glorious future! Here's a prospectus of what we'd expect to hear from them:

We're above all the old sectarian divisions, confessional commitments, and doctrinal distinctions. Employing our new literary tools and numerological insights allows us to approach the text of Scripture with a humility unheard and unseen across Protestant history.

And we have seen such wonderful indications that Rome is taking note and wants to work with us! Trust us: like we have been saying, there's been such wonderful healing of the Lutheran/Roman Catholic divide over justification these past few years that the End of Protestantism has arrived!

In fact, we would announce the end of Roman Catholicism, too, if it didn't sound so triumphalist.

Here on the Protestant side, it's Presbyterians like us who are declaring how needless further hostilities over justification are at this late date. Maybe over on the Roman Catholic side, it will be the Jesuits who have the courage to recognize and declare it with us?

Really, the best way to understand Rich Bledsoe, Jim Jordan, Peter Leithart, and their Theopolis Institute friends is to think of them as coders and a graphic designer using the pages of a Roman Catholic journal and their credentials as Presbyterians to mount a Kickstarter campaign to design and build their brilliant vision of the future Christian church. And that vision was revealed to them by deep wisdom given them for coming to an understanding of ages, numbers, new moons, commandments, stages, sabbaths, and genealogies—all in the service of the very revolution prophesied years ago by the Late Great Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!