Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Federal Vision and 'Biblical Language'

There are many in the Federal Vision movement who are advocates of using ‘biblical language’ in our theology. That is, they want our theology to sound more like the Bible. On the surface this sounds very right—very pious. Why would anyone want to have a theology that does not ‘speak the way the Bible speaks?’ However, there are two huge problems with this.

First, a person can use biblical language and not mean what the Bible means. A clear example of this is the Arian controversy. Those who supported Arianism wanted to quote Bible verses about Jesus being a human and use that language. They highlighted those passages and that kind of ‘biblical language’ to the exclusion of other passages. This is why the Church held councils to hammer out this issue. This is why these councils used nonbiblical (not unbiblical) language such as homoousias, this was to keep or protect the biblical teaching. So to with the FV issue, just because someone is using the same words the Bible is (i.e. ‘elect,’ ‘baptism’) does not mean they are teaching the same thing the Bible is.

Second, this misses the whole point of theology. Theology is the Christian discipline of clarifying and systematizing the teaching of the Bible. In order to do this, by necessity, one has to use nonbiblical words. If all a person does is use ‘biblical language’ then they have done nothing to clarify the Word of God. The Bible can be confusing at times and it is the point of theology to use different words and different constructions to clarify the Word of God. The key is to be saying the same thing the Bible does, but in language that people can understand.

Hopefully this will move the conversation with the FVers forward and we can get to the heart of the issue and that is, who is saying what the Bible says.


  1. What is "Federal Vision"?

    I read your other blog and understand what you are saying. I have a couple non believing friends that would probably be as loyal or more loyal than many of my christian friends. Good thing we have a best friend who will not let us down like our christian and non christian friends will continue to do for the rest of our lives.

  2. Tim,

    Here is a link to a blog I posted a while back, it may be of some help.


  3. Also, for those who may be lost, Tim is referring to this post:


  4. I'm not sure what you mean by, "In order to do this, by necessity, one has to use nonbiblical words. If all a person does is use ‘biblical language’ then they have done nothing to clarify the Word of God." Can you clarify?

  5. Josh,

    Thanks for the question. What I was trying to say is that if we only use words found in the Bible (i.e. biblical language) then we are unable to clarify what the Bible is saying.

    For a historical example, take the two natures of Christ--the hypostatic union. In this biblical doctrine there are many nonbiblical words, nature and person, to name a few. Thus, it is the work of the Church to clear up the biblical teaching with precise words that are not found in the Bible, but do represent the biblical teaching.

  6. I think the point FVers are making though is that if, once all our helpful clarifying of the biblical language is done, we end up feeling icky about using the Bible's own words, then we have a problem.

    There are folks today who, as soon as they hear someone say that baptism is the "washing of regeneration", will accuse you of being a "sacerdotalist." Something has gone wrong; our systematic theology should clarify the biblical language in such a way that we can still use the biblical language, not look with suspicion upon those who do so.

    The truth is that there are lots of different perspectives on both sides of the 'FV' debate. The "biblical language" issue can be misplayed by both sides. But this is generally what I think FVers (as a sympathizer myself) are getting at.

  7. "There are folks today who, as soon as they hear someone say that baptism is the 'washing of regeneration', will accuse you of being a 'sacerdotalist.'"

    Xon, this is because the phrase "washing of regeneration" is confusing to many if read exclusively and out of context. Some phrases are not, but that is one example of a phrase which needs clarification. There's nothing wrong with explaining a phrase to people; they'll listen. The phrase "washing of regeneration" apart from the context makes it sound like this baptism is somehow bringing about or causing regeneration. We need to explain difficult verses because we don't want our parishioners walking around, shaking their heads saying, "What does regeneration mean? What does justification mean? I thought I knew, but now I'm just confused, because apparently there are two types of regeneration and now there are two types of justification as well, and this not helping me!"

    I do, however, think there is definitely some truth in that we should explain or preach on these hard phrases so as to explain their meanings, and then we can baptize people and tell them they are receiving "the washing of regeneration" and everything will be just fine. Just because it is a biblical phrase doesn't mean it will cause a biblical result (just ask the prosperity preachers!). It might lead someone to believe that because they were baptized they are now regenerate, and therefore definitely going to Heaven (which none of us want happening).


Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!