Last time, I ruminated a little about FV (“covenant moralism”) as QIRC in RRC. This time, I have some thoughts about FV as IQaRC; rather than a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty, an Illegitimate Quest against Religious Certainty.
What is FV, in 3 words or less? Overreaction to antinomianism. I’m sure every Federal Visionista would agree at least that FV is a reaction to antinomianism, and of course, their critics judge them to be over-reacting. Clark (at his most charitable) attributes the FV crisis to “a sincere but misguided desire to produce sanctity among God’s people.”
What does the FV see when they look at today’s Reformed church that gets them so upset? It is Religious Certainty. Easy-Believism. People too assured of their own election. “Don’t try to peek under God’s skirts,” they exclaim, “The secret things belong to the Lord.” So all things decretal are pushed behind a curtain, as they are ethereal, unknowable, and lead to navel-gazing and morbid introspection. While admitting to decretal truths if pressed, they assert that God intends for us think “concretely,” so they trot out parallel, lesser, “covenantal” analogues to decretal concepts: defectible election, temporary union, conditional assurance, etc. Focus on unconditional election, irresistable grace, and infallible assurance are dangerous (they tell us); it is Illegitimate to Quest for such Religious Certainty. But the lesser analogues are concrete and knowable; therefore, they become Religious Certainties for which we may Legitimately Quest. Using the lesser analogues, pastors can confidently comfort their sheep by preaching from the pulpit that every butt in the pews is definitely elect (“covenantally”, but you better not mess that up!) — that every baptized Christian has assurance (that God will be faithful to his end of the bargain of redemption, as long as you remain faithful on your end).
So the question boils down to whether it is Legitimate to Quest for infallible assurance of decretal election. Peter Kreeft (by way of OHS JJS) makes a similar point, that “Otherworldliness is escapism only if there is no other world. If there is, it is worldliness that is escapism.” In the same way, questing for infallible assurance of decretal election is QIRC only if there can exist no such assurance. If there can, it is the FV that is illegitimate.
However, my intention here is not to settle that question (obviously I believe there is plenty of biblical and confessional support, but this post is long enough. Greenbaggins does a good job here). My intention is simply to note the curious way in which the FV Quests for Illegitimate Religious Certainty when it comes to the tension between justification and sanctification, but Illegitimately Quests against Legitimate Religious Certainty when it comes to infallible assurance of decretal election. To top it all off, FV demonstrates in the end that they really do want to Quest for Religious Certainty after all — they want it so bad that they suck the meaning out of the terms ‘assurance’ and ‘election’, until they are sufficiently Uncertain that the FV no longer feels Illegitmate in Religiously Questing for them.