One of the controversies brewing in the ranks of the PCA is concerning a theological perspective now known as "Federal Vision". Many will be aware that the PCA's General Assembly appointed a study committee in 2006 to examine Federal Vision theology, and that committee returned in 2007 with their report which was received by the Assembly (though not without some controversy).
This issue is an incredibly difficult one to understand; this is partly because, until very recently, there has not been any clear statement of exactly what it means to adhere to a Federal Vision position-- and, in some people's view, the study committee report mentioned above did not solve this problem, because there were no members of the committee that actually held the position. Others claimed that the committee's report made equivocations between the Federal Vision and other controversial perspectives that are not necessarily associated with Federal Vision. Our own Covenant Presbytery recently bumped into this as an ordained PCA Pastor, in good standing with another presbytery, met significant resistance to his transfer into Covenant Presbytery because of his sympathy toward paedocommunion (offering the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to any baptized child of any age); there seemed to be some concern among a few members of presbytery that his sympathy toward the one (Paedocommunion) automatically cast him in the category of the other (Federal Vision sympathizers). (Thankfully, there has been a document released, called "A Joint Federal Vision Statement," that summarizes their perspective.)
But I digress. In a recent dialogue with others on the blog that a friend of mine writes, I learned a good deal about the structure of the arguments that the Federal Vision (or FV) proponents bring to the table. What I believe many do not realize is that they actually make TWO arguments:
First, they assert that the Westminster Confession of Faith, as helpful as it is, does not offer exhaustive definitions for the terms that it uses to categorize theological concepts. In other words, just as there are often several ways (or definitions) that a word may be used, though we only mean one of those at any particular moment-- so it is with theological terms. They claim that the Bible itself makes use of many terms in broader ways than the Westminster Confession does; thus, they say, the terminology of the Confession is useful, but it isn't exhaustive or comprehensive.
Second, they stipulate that there are other uses for certain terms, and that these other uses could (and, if they are correct, should) change the way that we understand things like church membership, practices of the sacraments, and even how we judge whether someone is justified before Christ.
It is the second argument that has gotten all of the press and attention-- but the first argument has mostly been ignored! This has led to inevitable confusion, because without the first argument then the FV proponents appear to be making all sorts of logical errors and fallacies (when, in fact, they are not).
As far as I have read and learned, I cannot agree with the FV positions on the second argument. However, as far as the first argument goes, I wholeheartedly agree. I love the Westminster Confession, and agree with it almost completely (and Covenant Presbytery has indicated that the ways that I disagree are not even substantial enough to be considered exceptions). But I do not believe it is a sufficient and comprehensive measure of truth; in fact, the Confession itself claims that it is not so. We need the Bible for many reasons-- and one of them is that it presents us with a richer, fuller sense of what theological concepts mean than what any systematic theology can offer.