Rome and the slippery slope argument against Federal Vision theology
June 22, 2007
In the ongoing debate regarding the "Federal Vision", Reformed critics of FV theology not infrequently use a slippery slope argument against it. This argument takes the form of the suggestion that FV theology is a path to Rome, or leads to Rome. FV proponents tend to respond to this argument by denying that FV theology necessarily leads to Rome.
As a Catholic, one thing that concerns me about this particular part of the interchange is that the term 'Rome', all by itself and entirely unpacked, has so much force that the suggestion or hint of any movement toward 'Rome', no matter how small, is unquestioningly treated by both sides as a legitimate objection to any theological claim. Why is that problematic? Because it sweeps together the entirety of Catholic doctrine and practice, places it into a term ('Rome'), and then uses the fallacy of guilt-by-association to dismiss arbitrarily doctrines or practices similar or identical to those packed into the term. In this way, the particular merits of the theological claims in question are not properly evaluated. This tactic allows the claim to be dismissed without receiving a fair and objective hearing based on the evidence for and against it. In some contexts, this tactic is called 'fear-mongering', and it should be pointed out for what it is wherever it is used.
Another thing that concerns me is the unspoken anti-ecumenical assumption underlying this slippery slope argument. That assumption is that if a doctrine or practice is Catholic, then it cannot be right, or is at least automatically suspect. At what point will the FV proponent start responding to this slippery slope argument by saying, "So what? Show me where what I'm saying is false. If what I am saying is true, and it happens to be closer to Catholic doctrine/practice than what I used to believe, then so what? 'Rome' is not a synonym for 'false'. If I had been a Zwinglian or an Anabaptist, and in the process of becoming Reformed I came to affirm infant baptism and the Real Presence, I would there too have moved 'closer to Rome', but you would then congratulate me." At what point will FV proponents stop treating 'Rome' like a dirty word? A 'theology-stopper'? At what point will they stop conceding to their critics that the term 'Rome' is a weapon that they have to dodge and parry? At what point will they say, "Well, if what I now believe to be true is closer to Catholic doctrine and practice than what I once believed, then great; I'm one step closer to ecumenical reconciliation with my Catholic brothers and sisters."
The impression I get from watching the way this slippery slope argument is used and received, however, is that any step toward Catholic doctrine or practice is perceived by both sides as a threat to the Reformed *tradition*, and to all those things for which the Reformers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries toiled and sacrificed. This slippery slope argument is used in such a way that we can see that the debate is not just about truth; it is also about tradition and pride in one's tradition. Pride in one's tradition is a good thing, all things being equal. But I hope we can agree that if tradition becomes an a priori test of truth, then we are unable to come to perceive any errors that may exist in our tradition. And whatever prevents us from perceiving our errors, prevents us from coming to the fullness of the truth, and prevents us from being truly reunited. Fallacies, assumptions, and pride all get in the way of pursuing truth and unity. May God lead us all to truth and unity in Christ.