A Federal Vision debate?

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by DaveJes1979, Sep 19, 2006.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. DaveJes1979

    DaveJes1979 Puritan Board Freshman

    From Wilson's blog: http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=2844


    Some weeks ago, after I finished reading Guy Waters' book on the Federal Vision, I contacted him, and offered to work with him to set up some kind of discussion/debate between the two of us. I was willing to fly to Jackson and have our interaction there. Our phone conversations were very cordial, but he was not interested in a face-to-face debate of that kind. He indicated that a written debate would be a possibility, so I wrote up a proposal and sent to him. That debate would be published in Credenda, and Dr. Waters would have the freedom to publish it in whatever setting he would like.

    Today I heard back from him. He wrote that he had "been advised by [his] presbytery's study committee on the New Perspectives and Federal Vision that [he] not engage in this debate." Wishing to respect their counsel, Dr. Waters declined the invitation.

    Unfortunately, that being the case, I would like to extend the invitation more broadly. I would like to ask any anti-FV pastor or theologian (who would be recognized as a credible spokesman for that position), and who is willing to identify with Dr. Waters' critique of the FV, to please contact me.


    Hmmmm...any takers?

    Cheers, all.
  2. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Someone emailed me about this today. To forestall other such posts: my response is "no."

    1) I'm not quick enough to debate well. A debate plays to the strengths of the glib, of which Doug is chief. I'm a plodder. It took me several years to get a handle on this business (NPP/FV). I doubt I can hear his argument, analyze it, and respond constructively as quickly as necessary in a debate.

    2) Doug's views keep morphing. When Mike pressed him in the interview Doug just "shape-shifted" his way through the interview. One week merit is bad, the next week he's (sort of) in favor of active obedience. How does one debate a moving target?

    3) Do debates actually accomplish anything? Does anyone ever actually LEARN anything at a debate? I've seen them and my impression is that they attract the faithful from both sides and the committed leave as committed as before? Should anyone change views on the basis of debate?

    4) If a speaker does a poor job in making a case or in rebuttal, does that mean he has a weak argument?

    5) They take a lot of prep time. I would rather spend my time writing and teaching.

    6) Sometimes they do damage. I saw a debate several years ago where some of the participants let their emotions get the better of them and some friendships were damaged permanently and unnecessarily. We've all seen Internet debates go south.

    7) The Hart/Frame debate is a good example of the weakness of even of a written debate. I'm a big fan of DGH but I don't think he did a good job making the case for the RPW (which he admits; he thought it was a lark, after all it was only an "Internet thing") and now it circulates as some sort definitive case for the RPW.

    8) Is there an "up side" for the confessionally orthodox? Does it advance the gospel? Does it advance the understanding of the orthodox pov? Is my view remotely ambiguous? Is it hard to find? Are my criticisms obscure? Am I likely to say anything new in a debate? I think the obvious answer to all these questions is: No.


  3. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    Don't assume that this is a proposal for a definitive debate, pro and con, on the Federal Vision.

    It is probably about showing that Doug Wilson does not personally hold any of those horrible views that are attributed to the Federal Vision. The purpose of the debate would then be to have accusations raised so that he can explain, regarding each charge, how he does not believe that thing in that sense. Then he will proclaim himself cleared of all taint and suspicion. He is relying on the status of his opponent to make this vindication definitive.
  4. AdamM

    AdamM Puritan Board Freshman

    Scott, since any debate with Doug Wilson on the Federal Vision is guaranteed to be a three-ring circus, I'd question your sanity if you even seriously considered it.

    [Edited on 10-4-2006 by AdamM]
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    My cultural knowledge is nil. What's a three ring circus?
  6. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    A big one. They can stage three acts at once.
  7. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Kids these days...

    I guess Circuses are pretty rare these days. I can't even remember the last time I saw one advertised.

    Cirque de Soliel doesn't count. They're too refined and artsy to count as a Circus.
  8. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    Come on guys... "don't debate it might make the other guy look good"???

    Truth never fears a challenge.

    If Dr Clark doesn't feel God has given him the gifts to take up the challenge OK. We all do what we can & no one would doubt that Dr Clark Can do alot more the 99% of the rest of us can do.

    But to use this as an excuse to avoid letting that "tricky Doug Wilson" get away with "proving" he is orthodox...that seems a bit narrow minded.

    I can't imagine any of the Holy Apostles or fathers worrying about how the other guy "looked".
  9. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    My reluctance to debate Doug or anyone is not a matter of fear. I've been preaching the gospel since 1984 (and officially since 1988). I've preached in city missions, on the street, in the pulpit, and on the radio, and anywhere anyone would let me. I've gone door to door, handed out tracts, called folks on the phone, recorded cassettes and done what I could to make known the foolishness of the gospel.

    I've had to talk with folk face to face about excommunication and the jeopardy of their eternal souls. That's a lot more frightening than any debate!

    I give papers before (sometimes) hostile academic guilds composed of world-class scholars - despite profound misgivings about my own weakness.

    I've been dealing with articulate, thoughtful, and sometimes sharp-tongued students for 11 years.

    I've never feared anyone when it comes to making Christ known.

    I have learned, however, that there it is possible to cast pearls before swine.

    I've watched Mike Horton -- who really is quick on his feet and brilliant! -- try to argue/talk with Doug and I don't see any benefit. I don't see any evidence either that Doug is willing to have an honest exchange nor do I see any evidence that such debates have any benefit for the orthodox. I do see that the unorthodox use such things to their own advantage. That's different than Paul speaking on Mars Hill. Do you have any evidence that the apostles "debated" the errorists named in Scripture (e.g., 1 Tim 1:19-20)? I don't think so.

    As I asked, what is the benefit of such a debate? Do you have any evidence that these things produce any real enlightenment or understanding that is not better accomplished through writing and reading? I get the sense that some folk want a debate for the spectacle and excitement of it, to watch gladiators in the arena. I get the impression that some folk might not want to do the hard work of reading and digesting all this material for themselves, that they want others to do their work for them.

    It might be emotionally satisfying to watch Matt Dillon gun down a bad guy, but the gospel is not a gunfight.


    [Edited on 9-20-2006 by R. Scott Clark]
  10. Kevin

    Kevin Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks Doc.

    I didn't mean to imply that you were afraid to face him. I understood your point from your first post.

    Thats why I (tried) to point out that you have done more for the kingdom than most of us posting here have.

    My point was only that the FVers' as a group seem more willing to debate then their critics.

    IF DW's review of Waters book is correct then we would all profit from an open & frank exchange. If not a face to face debate then in print.

    Again I did not mean to imply that I thought YOU were afraid!

    And you are correct I was thinking of St Paul on Mars hill. As far as the Holy Apostles debating "errorists" you may be (probably are) correct. The Fathers on the other hand...not to mention the reformers.

    My only concearn here is that we have a tendency to hunker down with other "split-p's" who think-just-like-us and stay away from discussions with others in the reformed world WHO EVERYONE KNOWS ARE WRONG.

    just my :2cents:
  11. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    Suppose a debate is proposed between two groups. One group objects to having the connections drawn between its ideas, and the implications drawn out. They think that is wrong. They also object to "abstract propositions" and "narrow crabbed scholasticism", these being their terms for cogent criticisms.

    Suppose further that this side also continually recreates itself, and denounces criticism based on the published ideas as unfair, because those were yesterday's ideas, not what they thought up today.

    Finally, suppose this group constantly tries to justifiy itself by appropriating material by older writers and ignoring the systematic context of that material.

    Then, suppose that on the other side is a group that regards theology as a science, indeed as the queen of the sciences. It seeks to develop and explore the systematic relations between ideas in order to understand them better and to test the truth of their theological formulations by examining their mutual implications, and their adequacy as a whole system.

    What sort of debate can these two groups have?
  12. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    I take your point and appreciate your kind words (for which I was not looking) but when did readiness to debate become a virtue?

    How is that different from contentiousness? It might be, but how?

    I write here because I see evidence of mutual understanding (most of the time) and because I learn from the board and want to contribute as I can. In other words, there's benefit from writing and reading here.

    What is the benefit of a debate with a leader of sect be it Doug Wilson or Harold Camping? (I think there are real parallels - neither of them will listen to or unite with the mainstream of confessional Reformed churches)

    As I understand the history of "debating," it is derived from the medieval academic practice of the disputation in which a topic or question was put to a student and he had to make an oral defense of a proposition. It was meant to demonstrate mastery of basic academic skills. It lives on in, to some degree, in the "oral defense" of the MA thesis (which we practice here in the MA HT program) and the "viva voce" for the PhD.

    The ecclesiastical form of that exercise was known as a "colloquy." The Protestants held "colloquies" (discussions) among themselves repeatedly in the 16th century, some of which have been chronicled in English language volumes such as Jill Raitt's marvelous work on the Colloquy of Montbeliard. Those meetings (see my essay on the Regensburg Collquy in MR and a forthcoming essay this summer in a volume from P&R) are like our "debates" with affirmative and rebuttal presentations.

    I've participated in and defended the value of such things. ACE used to hold colloquies in Colo Springs and I participated in some of those. I did learn from talking with people from outside my tradition, but spirit of these things was a little different than what is being proposed. For example, I would love to get a group of confessional Reformed scholars to meet with a group of confessional Lutheran scholars (one of the things ACE used to do). I always learn something when I talk with the confessional Lutheran fellows. I wouldn't mind participating in a colloquy with responsible Roman scholars or in other discussions of that sort.

    I am suspicious. As Sherlock Holmes says, "The game is afoot." Indeed. Now that the OPC has recommended a highly critical report for study, the RCUS has spoken, Barach has left the URC, and now that the PCA has a study committee, suddenly there is a call for debate. Why now? It couldn't be politics could it? Rallying the troops?

    What is there to debate? With Rome we have clear issues. With Lutherans we have clear issues. With the FV we have clear issues, but with Doug? Is he FV or isn't he? I think it depends with whom he's talking. I think he speaks one way on video and with Mike and another way in Credenda, in his pulpit, and in his books.


    Is there a FV? (well, there was, but then there wasn't. There is when they want there to be for conferences and books but "no," when they have to account for it theologically).

    He's written about the Reformation in volumes published by Crossway but he's also written Reformed is not enough. So apparently, Reformed isn't enough except when Doug wants it to be. Imputation of active obedience is silly (but now it's not, but it's not THAT important).

    Is it worth the effort it would take to sort through all this stuff? How would it not be debating a chimera? How would it not become the business of unwinding of the world's largest ball of theological twine?


  13. Bladestunner316

    Bladestunner316 Puritan Board Doctor

    I'll debate them when they put out a systematic theology. :banana:
  14. DaveJes1979

    DaveJes1979 Puritan Board Freshman

    I think that good old-fashioned published literature is the way to carry on a "debate." Think of Luther's responses to Erasmus in "Bondage of the Will." That's the sort of thing you need in order to have a scholarly and influential response to doctrinal errors.
  15. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Dr. Clark,

    Great posts as usual.

    I'm not certain of the precise history of debate but I think much of it does bear great resemblance to the Sophists' use of persuasion in Ancient Greece. So much of what makes a person seem correct is whether or not they're going to catch somebody on some small point or keep them off-balance. Due to a lack of time, a good debater can put the other on the defensive and control the terms of what is discussed. Like Sophistry, debating is popular to modern society because persuasion is more important than truth.
  16. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior


    This is called "free publicity."

    Doug Wilson's manners appeal to the sinful arrogance and self-validating bent of "sons of thunder Christians." He has no intention of possibly being corrected on false views.

  17. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Just curious: how come no one would personally and publically debate Greg Bahnsen on theonomy, if theonomy was so obviously wrong that any covenant child could refute?
  18. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    This is an interesting question for a couple of reasons. I see theonomy as a sort of analogue to the FV. Both movements reflect a similar pathology in the Reformed corpus. Both reflect what call the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty. The FV is making the doctrine of justification a little more "reasonable," by reducing the scandal of the cross and the offense of the gospel. As it turns out, we do have a small part in justification! That's just a little more reasonable than the confessional Protestant alternative. Theonomy represents another side of the same quest. It offers a kind of ethical precision and a kind of ethical authority that reduces ambiguities to certainties and, on its premises, makes Christian ethics a little more "reasonable." Put the quarter in the slot, pull the handle and out comes the correct ethical answer to one's particular question. The same spirit that produced the Talmud produced Rush's Institutes. The same devotion to the rabbis gives us the fascination with Rabbi Rousas, Rabbi Gary, and Rabbi Greg.

    Second, let me question a premise of your question. I've been thinking about and dealing with theonomy since you were (probably) a child. I don't know anyone, even one ardently opposed to theonomy, who thinks that it's childplay. I am convinced that it's profoundly wrong, but I've never thought it was "easy." Like the FV, theonomy has to be unravelled and that's hard work. Further, just as there are varieties of the FV, there are varieties of theonomy. Just as the FV is a moving target, so theonomy was a moving target. Today hardly anyone wants to admit being a theonomist. I half expect someone to deny that Greg was really a theonomist!

    Third, both movements have in common a deep concern for the collapse of the culture and our place in it. Some versions of theonomy/reconstructionism have culture being gradually regenerated through Christian influence and some expect a cataclysm out of which arises a Reconstructionist phoenix. FV wants to regenerate the culture through sacerdotalism (baptismal union). Both are visions of Christendom restored.

    These factors help explain why so many theonomists have been attracted to the FV and vice-versa. I realize that not all theonomists are FVists nor are all FVists theonomists and I realize that some theonomic groups have been justly critical of the FV, nevertheless, I regard those arguments as a family fight.

    The reluctance to debate Greg was grounded in some of the same concerns that folk have about the FV. At first it was regarded as a weird novelty, to which the critics didn't want to give credibility, and then it was viewed as a threat. The perception of the FV has gone through the same process. At first, no one wanted to take it seriously. It was only after the Kinnaird case that people really began to pay attention (and Kinnaird denies holding the FV, but his relations to the FV weren't clear a couple of years ago). Now churches are acting to protect themselves against the FV.

    Theonomy may be patently wrong, but that doesn't mean that it's an easy case to make. Like the FV, theonomy is a huge ball of twine that has to be unwound in multiple directions.

    Like theonomy/reconstructionism, FV has strong, colorful leaders.

    Like Doug Wilson, Greg was fast on his feet and a good debater. Greg was a trained philosopher and could be intimidating. That also probably contributed to reluctance to debate him.

    Non-theonomic students at WSC, when I was a student, who wanted to enter this presbytery of the OPC lived in mortal terror of being grilled by Greg. He was said to question non-theonomic students ruthlessly on the floor of presbytery unless they had taken private tuition from him! I'm not saying that this is fact, it's just my recollection of what happened c. 1984-7. I guess theonomists will deny it ever happened. "St Greg could never have done such a thing."

    I also remember Rabbi Gary saying once that if anyone criticized theonomy that he would "bury" them (ala Kruschev). I got some pretty heated correspondence for daring to offer some mild criticisms of theonomy/reconstructionism in a short dictionary article! Imagine what would happen to one who dared to question one of the Rabbis directly?


  19. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Thanks Dr Clark.
    You and Horton are far more experience on this than I will be, but you two look much younger than your age! (That was an off-hand compliment).

    I believe, if I am not mistaken, that Meredith Kline said that "child" remark in his original WTJ review of Theonomy. I will re check it later.

    True, Frame did say Bahnsen overdid it in presbytery floor. But then again, theonomists in some presbyteries get grilled pretty hard, too.

    Are people not devoted to the White Horse Inn, ACE, etc? I have had some sinful attitudes by immature people thrown at me from the above. Does that make it wrong? no. Movement mentalities are bad in all areas.

    This is a good issue but would derail the present discussion. You answered my question. Thanks.
  20. KenPierce

    KenPierce Puritan Board Freshman

    Let's not forget that Sproul debated Bahnsen at RTS, not on theonomy, but apologetics (moderated by John R. de Witt). So, there's one man that wasn't scared of Bahnsen!

    Dr. Clark's counsel on debates is wise. Debating is often preaching to the choir, and that not in edifying fashion. I don' t recall the apostles entering into debates.

    Plus, as any high school debater knows, one can win a debate and be completely wrong, or lose a debate, and be completely right. Rhetorical skills and truth are not the same thing.

    Wilson is good because he is so slippery in his use of language, and has no problem contradicting himself. That reduces debate to a magician's hat trick. Whoever is rhetorically sharpest, can get off the "you're no Jack Kennedy" line, wins, regardless of the merit of the ideas.

    I love debates as much as the next person, and probably would enjoy nothing better than sitting down and watching all the firing lines back to back, but I do not see how they advance the cause of Biblical truth.
  21. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    That's true. How come Ligonier doesn't advertise that debate and sell it?
  22. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Because a majority of critics are antinomian and dont wish to have it exposed. (If one is not a two table person it is basically almost pointless to talk about theonomy. One has bigger issues to deal with) They also wanted to take their cues from Kline who was willing to say a good bit as long as he got the only word.

  23. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Cause he lost?

  24. AdamM

    AdamM Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm not 100% sure, but I seem to remember that in the old days they did offer it.

    I suppose the whole issue of who "won" that debate takes us right back to Dr. Clark's point. If you were a presup going in, I'm sure you thought Bahnsen won, but even then, who "won" that debate might be irrelevant to the truth of the issue. I think of it like this, even though (in my opinion) he's usually dead wrong on the issues, in most debates I've witnessed, James Carville can often mop up the floor with his opponent, making them look silly. Also, didn't John Eck twist Luther like a pretzel in a debate too, although I'm sure most of us here think truth was on Luther's side?

    [Edited on 9-21-2006 by AdamM]
  25. WrittenFromUtopia

    WrittenFromUtopia Puritan Board Graduate

    I find it a little troubling how this "offer to debate" is being proposed by Mr. Wilson. It seems, for lack of a better term, childish. I may be entirely wrong, as one's temperment and attitude is difficult to discern over the internet, but that is how it comes across to me, personally. I don't see the "need" for this debate at all. This is an issue for the Church to decide on, and Mr. Wilson isn't even a "part of the Reformed Church," ecclesiastically speaking, in my opinion. In fact, one could argue -- based on his own writing and spoken word -- that he does not believe this to be the case as well. His independency and seperation from any NARAPC body is a problem for me. *shrug* :2cents:
  26. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    Wilson's "independency and seperation from any NARAPC" was not a problem for those who used to invite him to speak at conferences, subscribed to his magazine, read the books that he wrote and read the books that he published.

    But given the doom that seems to be overhanging the Federal Vision, Wilson's identification with the Federal Vision may be a problem for the present and potential future consumers of his publications and services.

    Wilson has to do something about this. Perhaps he regrets being led in this direction by his pals, but he has to show the he never intended whatever excesses it eventually becomes the consensus that the Federal Vision has committed.

    Wilson has to do something to maintain his standing. Probably, he has already waited too long. Already he has become much more of a target than the people who came up with the Federal Vision theology. There are various blogs devoted to attacking him, something I don't know to be the case with other FV types.
  27. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    Or maybe not!

  28. Magma2

    Magma2 Puritan Board Sophomore

    If he has regrets concerning his chosen path then wouldn't it be more fitting to repent instead of debate?
  29. Answerman

    Answerman Puritan Board Sophomore

    Since one of the qualifications for an elder is to be able to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9) shouldn't someone stand up and take up this challenge. As a layman, I would personally like to hear a clear presentation of where DW (or FVT) is teaching heresy with the opportunity for a response and a rebuttal.

    In previous generations, Christian leaders seemed willing to carry on a debate for days or even weeks amongst entire assemblies of representatives investing the needed time to clarify the issues. I personally would like to see at least a week long debate with multiple representatives from each side hammering out the true differences between the positions so that any pronouncement of heresy could be grounded on a accurate representation of the position(s) in question. I know that this may sound like I am asking too much, but in my opinion, this appears to be the most biblical method for resolving such conflicts, as in the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. I realize that the circumstances are a little different, since we have a muct more divided church, but I would at least like to see a joint effort by reformed denominations come together and settle this issue in this way.

    As we saw in Luther's case, a call to recant without giving a person an adequate opportunity to give a response could spark a reformation.

    I know that some will claim that they have been given and adequate opportunity, but I have yet to see a meeting between the two sides that spends enough time to have the issues clarified. Please let me know if such a meetings has already taken place.

    For Christ's Crown and Covenant,
  30. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    James White and Doug Wilson debated this issue two years ago, or so. While White is a good guy, a few Reformed people wondered if White was the person to debate him. I guess they wanted a paedo guy to go after him.
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page