"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The individualism of the Federal Vision

In this thread it looks like the participants in the De Regno Christi discussion on the Federal Vision are starting to see that there is no middle position between individualism and sacramental authority, as I argued here. The discussion is helping to bring out the intrinsic contradiction in the FV position between its denial of individualism and its individualistic foundation in biblicism. Will the FV defenders continue to deny that they are individualists (see, for example the combox discussion here), or will they openly embrace and acknowledge their individualism, or will they turn away from individualism by finding sacramental authority? Ad hoc positions always eventually collapse into what they are in essence. Here too, FV must either collapse into the individualism that it is in essence, or seek out the sacramental authority it needs to ground sacramental community and sacramental life.

In May of this year, Rick Phillips responded to Michael Liccione with an article titled "Beckwith, Trueman and the Holy Spirit". (My response to Phillips can be found here.) Phillips wrote:

I suppose that if I had to choose between the witness of the Church and the witness of private interpretation, I, too, would reluctantly submit to Rome. Fortunately, I am faced with no such dichotomy, because in step with the Reformed faith for the last half-millennium I may rely on the Spirit's authority for both the church and the private individual.
Today at De Regno Christi, Jeff Myers wrote:

You asked "then who is to decide which interpretation is right?" The answer can be "no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." If that sounds too Evangelical, then I don’t know what to say.
I do not see any principled difference between Phillips' and Myers' positions here. If each person's determination of what the Spirit is speaking in the Scriptures is equally authoritative, then how is this anything other than gnostic individualism, the very thing Myers tries to distance himself from here?


contrarian 78 said...

One set of individualism is gnostic in that it is tied to an inner knowledge, without regard to whether the outcome is in line with any historical tradition. The other purports to do what the RC church purports to do, that is, to work within the traditions that have been passed down throughout the church. After all, some Arminians object to Calvin's theology on the basis of his frequent quoting of the fathers.

Whether this inward reflection on tradition is inherently individualistic if not tied to some sort of apostolic succession---to me that is the big question....

Bryan Cross said...


Thanks for your comments. To me it comes down to this: Is there a sacramental magisterial authority or not? If there is, then we should be submitting to it. But if there isn't, then each person has to decide for himself what the interpretation of Scripture is, what the canon of Scripture is, and whether any new revelation should be included in that canon, etc. What does not make any sense (and is entirely ad hoc) is the denial of sacramental magisterial authority and the simultaneous denial of individualism and all its implications.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Tom B. said...


Thanks for this post. I am coming to see that the men involved with Federal Vision are being very reasonable (which doesn't make them right) and seeking truth in earnest (which doesn't make them right) - such that this pursuit may be a healthier one for the church (at least my branch of it) than I had previously given them credit. It is helpful to me to see them wrestle through some weighty matters.

Peace in Christ,