The Federal Division Part 2

“Heretics are slippery with words”

Last week Doug Wilson officially split from the doctrinal faction he founded — the Federal Vision. He cited the need to clarify language as his cause of action:

This post is simply an attempt at a more careful qualification of terms, but must itself be carefully qualified. . . . So one of the few things I have been successful at doing is persuading a number of people that I am a sly fellow, and one who bears close watching. Heretics are slippery with words, and since I have spent a lot of time trying to grease this particular piglet, I must be a heretic. . . . and I believe that the terminology is getting in the way of making important distinctions. . . . I am making this lexical shift for the sake of clarity and communication — defining more precisely what was already there. . . . I would still want affirm everything I signed off on in the Federal Vision statement . . . I would now want to go further in some directions with that statement. . . (Federal Vision No Mas)

The problem is not the failure to use precise terminology or clearer definitions. These are symptoms of the problem. The problem is that Doug Wilson relies on deception to communicate and he will say anything necessary to escape the problem at hand. Scroll through the category Public Deceit to observe the ease with which he lies. He tailors his answers to suit his audience. To be sure, in the previous post we saw him claim distance from the Confederate flag for righteousness’ sake in public, even as he flew the Rebel colors in private.

Here is another example of Doug Wilson altering his true belief to fit the need of the hour. It regards his definition of the word “covenant.” In the following examples Mr. Wilson used the same definition of the word covenant. But when he discovered that the Federal Vision required a different definition to facilitate the FV doctrine of baptismal union with Christ, he changed the definition, without notice:

1995, Credenda/Agenda:

God always deals with men by means of covenant. He is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. This sounds nice, and very religious, but what does it mean? These covenants are a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. God made a covenant of creation with Adam before the fall (Hos. 6:7); when we all sinned in Adam, He made a covenant of redemption with Adam (Gen. 3:15), Noah (Gen. 6:17–22; 8:20–22; 9:1–7; 9:8–17), Abraham (Gen. 17:1–2), Moses (Ex. 2:24), and David (2 Sam. 7:12–16). (Credenda/Agenda Volume 7-5, emphasis original)

1996, Beyond Promises:

Covenants between God and His people are solemn bonds, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. Hence, the term “covenant” describes the way God deals with us as His people and our seed. He promises to be our God and to make us in turn His people. (Douglas Wilson & David Hagopian Beyond Promises: A Biblical Challenge to Promise Keepers [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996], 64)

Remember, a covenant is a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. Every covenant home needs a head, both to oversee the home and to represent the home to other covenant entities. (Ibid. 71)

1999, Federal Husband:

We must begin with the definition of covenant, and we come to the various passages of Scripture which instruct a husband in his duties, how the definition applies will be clear: a covenant is a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. (Federal Husband [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999], 13, emphasis original)

2001, Future Men:

A covenant is simply a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. With this definition, we must still consider the outworkings of God’s covenants with men throughout history. We are faced with two basic options. Either God has made one basic covenant with men throughout history, or He has made more than one — possibly many. As we shall see, Scripture teaches that God has made one basic covenant with fallen men throughout history, which we may call the covenant of grace. In the New Testament, we see the proper scriptural name for this covenant in the New Covenant. (Future Men [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001], 34)

2001, Mother Kirk:

In addition, our music must acknowledge our covenantal obligations and promises, and the blessings and curses sovereignly administered by our Lord (Ps. 72:5; Ps. 79:13). (Mother Kirk: Essays & Forays in Practical Ecclesiology [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001], 142, emphasis original)

2002, “Reformed” Is Not Enough:

We will begin with a working definition of covenant, and as we come to the various passages of Scripture, how the definition applies to the text quoted above will become clear. Covenants among men are solemn bonds, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. (“Reformed” Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002], 63, emphasis original)

Seven examples over seven years. Six are identical definitions — Mother Kirk used identical terminology, in a different order. But in 2003 Doug Wilson changed the definition of “covenant” to fit the one used by his fellow Federal Visionists:1

2003, Credenda/Agenda:

A covenant is a relationship. (Credenda/Agenda Volume 15-1, 4)

“A covenant is a relationship between persons.” End quote. A covenant was no longer “a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses.” It was “a relationship.” And to remark the obvious, “a relationship” is not the same as “a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses.”

The Federal Vision redefines the word “covenant” as “a relationship” in order to bridge the gap between baptism and union with Christ. Doug Wilson didn’t know this when he wrote “Reformed” Is Not Enough, which was his “HERE I STAND” manifesto. Indeed, he titled the chapter Defining the Covenant. But someone corrected his definition by the time he published this volume of Credenda Agenda a few months later, which he named “The Objectivity of the Covenant.” Like “Reformed” Is Not Enough, he wrote it to specifically address the Federal Vision controversy.2

Three-and-a-half years later Doug Wilson reverted to his original definition of the word “covenant,” after the need for his written contribution to the Federal Vision controversy subsided:

But there was clearly a covenant in the Garden. A covenant is a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. The charge to Adam was certainly solemn, God administered it by speaking the words of it, and he promised death for disobedience and continued obedience would bring with it maintained access to the tree of life. This covenant was with Adam and all his posterity. It obligated us to entire obedience, and obligates us still. The fact that it is broken does not mean it ceases to be binding. If a man and a woman commits adultery once, this does not give them permission to continue. The fact that Adam was unfaithful does not mean we have a right to be unfaithful. Another way of expressing this is that outside of Christ we are constantly breaking covenant with God. Our rebellion is ongoing. (Westminster Nineteen: Of the Law of God, Blog & Mablog, November 2, 2006, italics original)

A covenant is a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. That is in fact what a covenant is, but we need to take care not to get off on the wrong foot with this. We too often assume that covenants, vows, oaths, etc. are simply a function of the fact that we live in a sinful word. Infidelity and divorce occur, and so we think that we have to do something to guard against such tragedies and failings, and so that is why we have vows. (Kellen and Noai, Blog & Mablog, March 13, 2015)

Douglas Wilson’s problem isn’t a failure to use clear terminology. His problem is his willingness to use clearly deceitful terminology. Or as he wrote, “Heretics are slippery with words, and since I have spent a lot of time trying to grease this particular piglet, I must be a heretic.” And he won’t get much clearer than that.


1 Page 11 (2211), footnote 18, of the PCA Study Report on Federal Vision states:

Virtually all proponents of FV agree that a covenant is a real relationship with God. “Covenant is relationship. That is what covenant is. Relationship” (Steve Schlissel, “Covenant of Peace, Part 1”). “The persons of the Triune God are eternally united in a covenant bond of love” (Ralph Smith, Paradox and Truth, 73). “The Covenant is a personal-structural bond which joins the three persons of God in a community of life, and in which man was created to participate” (James Jordan, The Law of the Covenant, 4). “Covenant isn’t a thing that you can analyze — covenant is a relationship. It is a personal, ordered and formally binding relationship” (John Barach, “Covenant and History,” AAPCPC Sermon). “Covenant is a real relationship, consisting of real communion with the triune God through union with Christ. The covenant is not some thing that exists apart from Christ or in addition to Him (another means of grace) — rather, the covenant is union with Christ” (Steve Wilkins [Italics, his], Knox Colloquium, 262).

2 This is the same issue with the “Craft Morecaroni & Cheese” advertisement.

1 Comment

  1. Maybe this entire thing was an attempt to increase NSA enrollment:

    “I have been asked a number of times what the response has been to my Federal Vision No Mas post. As best as I am able to gauge, there have been three visible responses. The first has been relief and gratitude. “Thanks much. I think this is a good move.” This comes, I think, from friends of our ministry who are grateful that they don’t have to start explaining an esoteric doctrine to their friends if they happen to commend something else we have said or are doing. Say that a student in their classical Christian school decides to come to New St. Andrews, and some concerned folks in the church start wondering aloud whether that is entirely wise, because they heard that they teach something out there called “federal vision,” and while they do not know what it is exactly, it sounds dubious. Our friend can now, without getting into the weeds, simply say no, that’s not true. This is not evasion because the concerns were pretty nebulous to begin with, and the answer addresses it at that same level. What do they teach there? We are Reformed evangelicals in the historic Westminster tradition.” (Straight Outta Calvin)

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