FV, TR, Presumption, Assurance, and Despair
I do not intend to make an argument here. There is plenty of that elsewhere on this blog and in numerous other sources. I just want to point out something that occurred to me this morning that I find interesting and maybe helpful concerning FV and TR perspectives. If I lost you on that last sentence, reading on might help define for you some distinctions between FV and TR emphases.
The TR brethren typically frame God’s promises in the context of eternal, decretal election, while the FV brethren typically frame God’s promises in the context of historical, outward, objective covenant. The TR believe that the FV “covenant promises” lead to presumption, while the FV believe that the TR “election promises” lead to despair.
The TR brethren typically frame scriptural warnings in the context of reprobation, while the FV brethren typically frame scriptural warnings in the context of historical, outward, objective covenant. The TR believe that the FV “covenant warnings” lead to despair, while the FV believe that the TR “hypothetical warnings” (only a reality for the reprobate, hypothetical for the elect) lead to presumption.
So for the FV, promises and warnings are typically framed in the same context (covenant), while for the TR, promises and warnings are typically framed in opposing contexts (election/reprobation).
Note what the PCA Study Committee on FV/NPP/AAT considers the FV position promotes:
“The Committee views the FV position as ultimately leading to presumption or despair, not assurance. At the heart of their belief is the view that water baptism serves as the means for uniting each participant to Jesus; those baptized receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation except final perseverance. Our concern is that some of those who are baptized will simply presume on God’s grace, “continuing in the covenant” without “apostatizing” but also without justifying faith (cf. Matthew 22:1-14); others will be driven to despair, working for a salvation out of “covenant faithfulness” instead of resting and receiving Jesus alone for their salvation.” ~ “The Report” pg 34
Their concern is a legitimate one. We can agree on this. Where we disagree is that I don’t see this concern as something unique to the FV.
Election vs. Covenant Promises
For the TR, affirming the promises that accompany baptism (Acts 2:38-39) *to all baptized Christians, head for head*, will lead the Christian to presume that he is “in” on the basis of his baptism and that this status is sufficient for salvation.
For the FV, affirming the promises that accompany baptism *only for the elect* will lead the Christian to wonder in despair if that includes him individually. A contemporary Christian folk band of a reformed baptist persuasion by the name of Caedmon’s Call expresses this sentiment in a song entitled “Prove me wrong”. The song’s opening verse goes like this:
Sometimes I fear maybe I’m not chosen
You’ve hardened my heart like Pharaoh
That would explain why life is so hard for me
And I am sad Esau hated
Crying against what’s fated
Saying father, please, is there any left for me
Hypothetical vs. Actual Warnings
For the TR, expressing the scriptural warnings that accompany baptism (Acts 2:40) *to all baptized Christians, head for head* in a “this could happen to you” fashion denies all sorts of Calvinistic points of doctrine and leads the Christian to despair, constantly wondering whether or not he will be able to do the work of covenant faithfulness sufficient for eternal salvation.
For the FV, expressing scriptural warnings in a hypothetical, “you’re elect, this can’t happen to you” fashion is akin to teaching a child he cannot be physically hurt or killed. The child, presuming himself to be impervious to harm, will attempt more and more dangerous feats until he inevitably proves his teacher wrong. Likewise, the Christian, presuming himself to be impervious to spiritual harm, will attempt more and more feats dangerous to his soul until he finally falls away in his sin.
Presumption, Assurance, and Despair
I think both persuasions can agree that there is a continuum of faith and fear with presumption on one end (faith without fear), despair on the other end (fear without faith), and assurance somewhere in between (faith and fear). Saving faith trembles (WCF XIV.II). I also think we can all admit that there are challenges to both systems that can lend toward one extreme or the other or both. Are there no presumptuous or disparaged among the TRs? Are all the congregants in FV churches fully assured of their salvation? No and no.
The main challenge I see is the number and diversity of souls being ministered to. To put it in the simplest terms I can think of, innately, some folks are too happy and some folks are too sad. The former spend too much time beholding God’s goodness and not enough time beholding His severity (Romans 11:22), and the latter have the opposite problem. There are those who tend to doubt their salvation and need to be encouraged with covenant promises, and there are those who tend to think church membership is salvific in itself and need to be threatened with scriptural warnings. And because there is a heteronomos at work in our members, those who need badly to give heed to the warnings typically latch on to the promises and vice versa.
One of the criticisms I constantly see coming from the most outspoken FV critics as well as those brothers who don’t know any better is that the FV has made the gospel confusing. I think we FVers can agree with the TR sentiment that the gospel is simple and should be presented clearly and plainly. We don’t deny this. But can the TRs brothers agree with the FV sentiment that people are complex?
The Aim of Covenant Promises and Scriptural Warnings
All that to get to this. The aim of covenant promises is to produce faith. The aim of scriptural warnings is to produce fear. These respective ends are what God intended them for. The interesting thing that occured to me this morning is that the TR brethren’s complaint against the typical FV application of promises and warnings is essentially that of over achievement. The FV application of promises, in the mind of the TR, leads to too much faith and not enough fear (presumption), while the FV application of scriptural warnings leads to too much fear and not enough faith (despair). Conversely, the FV complaint against the TR application of promises and scriptural warnings is that it (albeit unintentionally) tends to produce in the hearer the exact oppostite of what God intended.
So if both the TR and FV brethren’s concerns on this matter are granted, which I am willing to do for more than the sake of argument, who is misusing God’s Word? Who is using God’s promises and warnings in the way they were intended to be used (even if in an imbalanced way, giving more heed to one or the other), and who is using them in a way contrary to God’s design?