Free Book Offer Dealing with Federal Vision by PRC pastor/instructor Dr. Englesma

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Puritan Board Freshman
Hello PBers, I found a great free book offer a while back and wanted to encourage you to check it out. I found it in World Magazine. I was thumbing through and saw an advert "Free Book- Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root" published by the PRC. I wrote for my copy- see the message I sent below. It came in a short while. There were also two very well done little pamphlets enclosed with the hardcover book on the subject of the 5 points of Calvinism and Children in the Covenant. I've finished all of it and found it remarkably edifying and educational. I've loved it.

This hits right at the heart of the subject of the Federal Vision, Norman Shepherd and perversions of the doctrines of grace and the covenant of grace. Mind you, it is certainly not a piece that would make for an "introduction to the Reformed Faith." But, it is a remarkable treatment of the subject and very disturbing. Where I find it the most helpful is in the fact that none have taken aim at this in the Reformed community in a thoroughgoing, layman accessible manner- the nature of the covenant itself in contrast with the FV heresy with a look at the history and development of the creeping perversions. Justification and sacramentology have been well worn, but I can think of none besides Englesma who gets to the heart of the matter.

It evenhandly uncovers the many who held/hold such unBiblical perspectives and shows how they are/were in high seats of power in our shared Reformed circles. It is a sound vindication of the 3 Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards and roundly identifies the Reformed doctrine of the Covenant of Grace and defends the same. My suggestion is that you read or reread the Westminster Confession/Catechisms, the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession in preparation as he deals at length with those documents, besides the Scriptures.

My qualifications are few. It gets a bit repetitive at points as the second portion of the book delves deeper into points already well made in the first section. In some places, he spends ample space talking of applications to PRC as it relates to the matter which takes from the more general appeal/common ground. But, even that is somewhat helpful for we nonPRC in putting us in the know about the "state of affairs" with a sister denomination. He polemicizes Postmillenialism briefly which is an unnecessary distraction, misguided, and wrong in its characterizations of we who do hold this perspective of eschatology. He chafes a little overmuch at the use of term "covenant of works" as used in the Westminster Standards, though he takes no issue with the original intention of the Confessors' meaning. I didn't walk away from this portion with any disagreement on the whole, though. None of the above were deal breakers. And besides these brief caveats, I have few reservations in wholeheartly recommending this read.

All you need to do is write an email similar to the one I drafted below to the email address in the address line you see in the message:

"From: Christopher Henderson's Email Address
Date: Sun, Jul 22, 2012 at 10:56 AM
Subject: Free book- Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root offer
To: [email protected]

I would like a copy of the book advertised in World magazine, please.
Thank you for doing this, it is a VITAL topic!

Christopher Henderson
My Address Street number
Dayton TN 37321"
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Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Since it was free, I also decided to request a copy. They turned it around very quickly, and helpfully included some bonus materials. It is quite well put together, and I am very impressed with the proofreading standards of the Reformed Free Publishing Association. It seems quite rare for books to be published in our time that do not have typographical errors leaping out at one (even PRRD, for instance, which is the sort of thing one would expect to be produced with elaborate care, has quite a few). The book is in two parts, the first part expanding upon a lecture Professor Engelsma delivered, and the second containing answers to questions (and a reply to a comment) received as a result of the lecture.

Although Professor Engelsma will probably not be winning any style awards while he relies so heavily on paragraphs comprised entirely of one short sentence, and though the book could have been briefer if it had been less repetitive, I found it easy to read, and it went by quite quickly. He even got a vocal chuckle out of me at one point (p.221) when he said,
Shepherd's theology was the issue in the Shepherd "case," although "rhubarb" would be a more fitting term, because of the failure of his adversaries ever to make and prosecute a case, church politically.
Certainly the implied proposal to refer to instances of theological error that should have been dealt with by way of ecclesiastical trial, but were not, as "rhubarbs," must meet with nearly universal acceptance. It was also very interesting to have some of the Dutch Reformed background to the controversy filled in a little more than I had previously seen. The strong and clear insistence that election governs the covenant was quite a tonic (e.g., p.131).

Professor Engelsma makes some very penetrating criticisms of the Federal Vision, and deploys the Canons of Dordt to better effect than anyone else I have seen write about the controversy; yet I do not think that this book will accomplish his stated aim of destroying the theology of the Federal Vision (p.23), for various reasons:
1. While he demonstrates his own positions clearly and well, the representation given of the FV generalizes and aggregates too much. Some acknowledgement is made of differences, but he speaks of "the men of the federal vision" (p.126, and very frequently) as a unit which can be critiqued together. Since, in his view, this includes Shepherd, Frame, Gaffin, Kinnaird, Wilson, Lusk, Wilkins, Schlissel, Sandlin, etc., it is so sweeping that it leaves wiggle room for them to escape. Lusk and Shepherd, I think, are the ones most extensively quoted and critiqued.
2. His quotations from FV proponents are so brief, few, and selective that his case is not made persuasive. In other words, he will provide some useful information to those already convinced that the federal visionists are wrong, and may well cast their errors in a new light. But the book falls short in sufficiently documenting their errors from the words of the men in question. It could be that the professor's apparent neglect of the Internet (p.18) deprives him of many of the juiciest remarks. To one convinced, as I am, that there is duplicity, ignorance, and cognitive dissonance at work among proponents of the FV, the lack of extensive incriminating quotation is not enough to overthrow Professor Engelsma's argument, but it does mean that the book may well not be as persuasive as otherwise it could have been. The repetition of the same quotations on multiple occasions could also give the impression of limited familiarity with the writings of the errorists.
3. Some of his criticisms stem from a distinctly PRCA perspective, and as such will not seem as cogent to others. I very much appreciated his emphasis on the uniqueness and superiority of Christ's person and work to Adam and anything that Adam could have acquired for us under the covenant of works (chapter 9, pp.139-145,196), and thought that pp.150-153, on the connection of the "well-meant offer" with FV theology, were intriguing; still I could not help but be disappointed at the way in which he explicitly (pp.191,192) and implicitly (pp.208,209) suggests that the Westminster standards leave those sincerely subscribing to them less well equipped than 3FU types to resist the Federal Vision -- though it should also be mentioned that he does vigorously clear the WLC from any charge of countenancing FV ideas through its use of "condition" in Q&A 32. On this last point especially I couldn't help feeling that Professor Engelsma's enthusiasm for his own denomination and desire to connect every part of doctrine more closely with every other part may well have led him to assert more than can be demonstrated.

While it is excellent value for a free book, and an interesting contribution to the controversy, it is not exactly the resounding and thorough defenestration of the FV that the opening might have led one to expect. And no doubt many of those reading will be left with additional questions -- why is Berkhof mentioned as one against whom the gospel of grace had to be preserved (p.211)? How did Bullinger corrupt "the pure truth of the covenant" (p.64)? Do Professor Engelsma's formulations tend to unnecessarily exclude certain authors from entire orthodoxy with regard to the covenant?
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Puritan Board Senior
Christopher and Ruben, thanks for reviewing the book. I have too many books on my shelf I have not read but based on your recommendation I will get Prof Engelsma's book and work through it.


Puritan Board Graduate

your review is excellent. I feel very much the same about Professor Engelsma's Book. Although I am not yet all the way through it, I have learned a lot about the background of the FV theology as it relates to Schilder's covenant theology. I also was helped very much by Prof. Engelsma's use of the Canons of Dordt.

The book's downfall is, indeed, its limited use of quotations, and the broad brush with which he paints. When I was in FV circles, I sometimes heard FVers (like Wilson) assert wholeheartedly that children are born into the covenant (or rather conceived into it), and not in it by baptism. Others (like Lusk) had no problem talking about being grafted into the covenant by baptism. Prof. Engelsma's book is weakened by undue generalizations. As I read it, I can see that he understands FV theology in a broad way, but one wonders whether he has any intimate knowledge of the various teachers associated with the Federal Vision. His inclusion of men like Frame who (to my knowledge) have never identified themselves as a part of the "Federal Vision"--though they may assert the orthodoxy of those who identify themselves as such--also hurts Prof. Engelsma's credibility.
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