May 15, 2015

Review of “Federal Vision, heresy at the root” by David J. Engelsma

By In Blogs, Douglas Douma

Federal Vision, heresy at the root By David J. Engelsma, Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2012.

David Engelsma of the Protestant Reformed Churches pulls no punches in his analysis of the theology of Federal Vision.

Englesma calls out Federal Vision as a doctrine which openly and expressly denies the five points of Calvinism (p. 83), is unbiblical (p. 118), Arminianism (p. 109), a doctrine of terror (p. 169), a false gospel (p. 69) which serves the antichrist (p. 173), a damnable soul-destroying heresy (p. 96), essentially Roman Catholic theology (p. 175), a mark of a false church (p. 178), and an astounding, unmistakeable, significant stage in the great apostasy forecasted for the last days in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (p. 171).

The focus of Englesma’s book is to point clearly the root of the heresy of Federal Vision—a false view of the Covenant. Engelsma argues exhaustively that the covenant of the Federal Visionists is a “conditional covenant” and that this conditional covenant strikes at the very heart of the Gospel. Martin Luther called the doctrine of justification by faith alone the “standing or falling of the church.” John Calvin called it “the main hinge on which religion turns.” Federal Vision and its conditional covenant rejects this central tenet of Protestant, Biblical thought. Engelsma rightly concludes therefore that Federal Vision should be rejected.

Engelsma’s book is directed towards the lay reader in his denomination as a warning against the pernicious doctrine of Federal Vision and its conditional covenant of faith and works. But his warning extends also to the whole Reformed and Protestant world. As he writes, “nothing less than the doctrine of justification by faith is at stake.” This should get you up out of your chair.

If Federal Vision is a foreign concept to you then it is even more pertinent that you read this book. Perhaps more than any other issue, this errant doctrine has the potential to be the cause of schisms and falling away in the Reformed and Presbyterian world in the coming years. We should pray that the Lord swiftly destroys this heresy.

Though not as concise as Engelma’s masterpiece Hyper-Calvinism and the Free Offer of the Gospel, this book is full of wisdom regarding the topic at hand. Part I presents his case for eradicating the Federal Vision. Part II, in question and answer format, addresses the numerous questions brought to the author from among the pews. These answers provide important reference for those dealing with the same questions in their own churches or in theological debates.

Written by Douglas Douma

I am a seminary student at the Sangre de Cristo Seminary - a reformed seminary in Colorado. I previously studied Engineering at the University of Michigan and got an MBA at Wake Forest University. I've learned far more from books than in school. I'm particularly in debt to Martin Luther, Ludwig von Mises, and Gordon H. Clark for any thoughts I have.
  • Engelsma is correct in his denunciation of the Federal Vision as heresy. However, his solution is not biblical. The PRCA denies any possibility of conditionality or human merit in any covenant, including the prelapsarian covenant with Adam. They therefore reject the confessional doctrine of the covenant of works, and therefore have no basis for the law/gospel distinction, precisely the distinction that FV and Shepherd deny. He therefore fails to provide an adequate defense against the heresy he identifies.

    • C.Jay Engel


  • Ryan

    This seems so ridiculous, it’s hilarious. The “calling out” by Englesma literally gave me laugh after laugh.

    I read Wilson, Jordan and Leithart pretty regularly and they have been nothing but
    helpful at opening up the bibles teaching. If Wilsons “reformed is not enough” or the joint statement is a summary of FV, then I am baffled at how any half discerning Calvinist can claim that it is heresy.

      • Ryan

        I might listen to that Q & A. Thanks.

      • Ryan

        …Or should I spend my time reading mises? Whats a better use of time?

        • C.Jay Engel

          Justification is a million times more important than economic theory:)

          • Ryan

            One thing I’m finding really difficult is that I keep seeing opponents of the FV, talk about “confusion” from their writings. When it seems to me that although what I’ve read from fv had taken me a while to get, I can’t see that’s its confusing itself, and I can’t at all work out why so many think it contradicts the reformed tradition. The honest impression I get is that opponents don’t understand it, then find it confusing, then charge those they don’t understand with heresy. But then it’s wrong to assume the worst in people.

            Then I listen to parts of those talks on fv view of baptism for eg; see that they critique Leitharts view. They say that leitharts problem is that he reads “baptise” in Rom 6, 1 Cor 12 and actual Baptism; this directly leads to his views. “Well ok” I think, so if this reading leads directly to heresy lets at least check how Calvin reads those passages, google it only to find he reads them as Baptism as well… Do you see my problem?

          • Ryan

            The second half of the lecture on justification was better.

  • Jim Carroll

    Read Ryan’s first line of his first comment. Englesma’s comments in the review will strike anyone that know FV the same way as someone that claimed “Calvin was against missions” would strike most here; eliciting … well … a statement like “this seems so ridiculous, it’s hilarious.”

    Having read Douglas Wilson and listened to the majority of what he’s published in audio, having met Leithart and read several of his columns, having attended Gregg Strawbridge’s church a few times, I’m with Ryan.

    It’s actually stupid. Sorry. It really is. In fact, just based on the above commentary I know exactly what Englesma’s mistake is. And since it’s so simple, so foundational, so often corrected by FV adherents, I’m fairly certain nothing else Englesma wrote is worth reading.