As the title indicates, more will need to be said, but the thoughts seem to warrant a note, even if it is something like a sticky note with a “To Do” list on it. The recent post on Ursinus is obviously relevant, but so are the older observations on Martin Luther, particularly his view of liturgical evangelism and his proto-pietist “third service.” What these show is that there is a distinction between a pastoral approach and application of sacramental and liturgical theology and the actual reception of spiritual benefits on the part of the individual subject. One can have a very high view of the sacraments and the liturgy, and one can even put those things to pastoral use in the service of soulcare, and yet still maintain that the “actual,” “real,” or “true” salvation occurs in the subjective act of faith on the part of the believer.
This connects to the Federal Vision in that it clarifies one of the major points at issue. The issue is not whether the sacraments can be effectual means of salvation but how (see Westminster Shorter Catechism 91). Within the proponents of the Federal Vision there are at least two positions on this, typified most publicly by Douglas Wilson on the one hand and Peter Leithart on the other. Pastor Wilson gives the sacraments lots of uses and ascribes to them lots of blessings, but they are, finally, pedagogical devices for faith. This is not strictly cognitive, of course, but it is, nevertheless, a sort of training unto belief, and the faith which is cultivated then receives the blessings of salvation. Dr. Leithart, on the other hand, sees the sacraments as actual creators of a spiritual polity, and that spiritual polity simply is the truest definition of “salvation.” While not working in quite the same way as Roman Catholic theology, because of underlying disagreements over metaphysics, Dr. Leithart still sees the sacraments as themselves constitutive of salvation rather than evangelistic devices offering salvation. This difference is why Pastor Wilson can defend B.B. Warfield’s conception of an “immediate” union with Christ, whereas Dr. Leithart is mostly critical of it. One would suppose that the same would be true for Ursinsus’s distinction between “true” and “apparent” Christians. While holding out the right to criticize the best adjectives, Pastor Wilson would still agree with the substance of Ursinus’s distinction, while Dr. Leithart would reject it as being a part of a flawed system.
When it comes to the critics of the Federal Vision, however, there are also at least two positions. There are those who closely approximate Pastor Wilson, sometimes to the point of total agreement, and merely criticize word choices or rhetorical strategies. Then there are those who see sacraments and liturgy as actual threats and competitors to faith. These two positions are apparently allied because of their desire to safeguard certain theological expressions and to prioritize certain topics over others, but they are in actual disagreement when it comes to the theological logic of the means of grace.
This would mean that it is true that a large part of the Federal Vision controversy was due to verbal disputes and socio-political alignments, and that it is also true that there were and are significant, even fundamental theological disagreements. The two basic matters are how the benefits of salvation should be offered and how they are actually received.