A little lacking in objectivity

Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root
by David J. Engelsma

I respect the author of this book, David Engelsma. He has done quite a bit of good work on Christian education and bringing up children in the faith. This however, is not his best book. He is concerned with the problems of what is known as “federal vision” theology. I will not take the time to explain these beliefs here. The fact is, there isn’t one particular system of belief known as the “federal vision.” By that I mean there isn’t a book that systematizes it as a doctrine of belief. Rather it is a group of pastors, professors, and laymen who combine a Lutheran view of baptism with covenant theology (and this is a gross oversimplification, but it will have to do for now).

Regarding this particular work, the author intends to warn the reader of these beliefs, which he (and others) consider heresy. He uses quotes from various authors to develop a system of belief. The problem is that you can’t construct someone else’s theological system based on snippets of unrelated essays written to different audiences. That being said, Engelsma is clear regarding his differences with those who hold to the federal vision. It comes down to a different view of God’s covenant. Engelsma is closer the a Reformed Baptist view of the covenant, while men who hold to the federal vision are closer a continental Reformed view of the covenant.

But the biggest problem with the book is the tone. There are denunciations throughout the book of various men who disagree with the author. Ironically, these variances of opinion could also be found among those who wrote the Westminster Confession. Yet the men who wrote the confession were able to abide one another’s difference for the sake of the gospel (see Robert Letham’s book on the Westminster Confession). The harsh tone will only further convince those who despise the federal vision, but it will not convince the objective reader of anything except how much author dislikes the movement.

If you want to understand the federal vision, don’t read this book. It will not present an adequate description.

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