Wilson’s War

Those who follow the Reformed world will well know the battle royal that continues to be waged among those putatively Reformed. I have stated my conviction more than once that it may be a case where two sides are arguing over what it means to be Reformed with the interesting insight that neither side may indeed be Reformed. If this is accurate it may be a pity if either side wins.

One of the protagonists in this battle is the Bishop from Moscow, Doug Wilson. Now one could fill pages with the recounting of all the good that Wilson has done for Christianity. But even the guys in White Hats can fire blanks now and then, and on the issue of Federal Vision in relation to justification Wilson is just plain wrong.

Below I have culled a quote from Wilson that he recently wrote on his own always active and energetic blog.

The Mablog one writes,

The real issue that is confounding the Reformed world is the relationship of Christ to the individual believer and the relationship of Christ to His corporate body, and then the relationship of the individual believer to that corporate body. Put this question another way — this recapitulation of Israel’s history, this active obedience of Christ — is it imputed to the reprobate covenant member? If we say that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to each elect covenant member only, one at a time, thus building up the body of the elect (as an abstracted roster), then we are disparaging the role of the organic Church. But if we say that the imputation of Christ’s obedience is “for the new Israel,” and I am a covenant member of that new Israel, then His obedience is mine, right? Q.E.D. But this leaves us to puzzle over the differences between the elect covenant member and the reprobate covenant member, and leaves the classic TR (rightly) suspicious. The imputation of the active obedience of Christ cannot be taken as simple handwaving over the entire visible Church. In my appeal to the recapitulation of Israel’s history in the life of Christ, that is not what I am trying to do.

Part of the struggle in the whole Federal Vision debate is how to understand the relationship of the Church as a whole to Christ vs. the more commonly pursued understanding of the individual’s personal relationship to Christ. A great deal of time is spent examining how the individual comes into relation with Christ (ordo salutis) without spending as much time examining the question of how the Church as a whole (both elect and un-elect members) is in relation to Christ. When we make this kind of emphasis the inevitable consequence is that the historical concrete Church takes it on the chin in terms of importance over against the Church invisible. The problem crops up when we insist that all who belong to the visible Church (whether elect or non-elect) belong to the justified community. Certainly we don’t mean that non-elect covenant members of the justified community are justified, do we?

This is how I understand the difference between the elect and reprobate covenant member in their enjoyment of the benefits of that covenant. By “benefits of that covenant” let us use the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, but I believe the same thing applies to all the blessings of the covenant. The elect enjoys them with the result of ultimate salvation at the last day. The reprobate enjoys them temporarily as the common operations of the Spirit, to use the language of Westminster.

Wilson’s attempt to resolve this dilemma immediately crashes on the shore of Scripture and reason.

Wilson appeals to the reality that the non-elect covenant member enjoys all the ‘benefits of the covenant’ but only temporarily. The problem with this reasoning is that one of the ‘benefits of the covenant’ that Wilson says that non-elect covenant members (henceforth NECM) share temporarily is the final perseverance and preservation of the saints. So we have Wilson saying on one hand that NECM get all the ‘benefits of the covenant’ while on the other hand we get Wilson saying that the NECM get all the benefits of the covenant except for the one they don’t get. This kind of reasoning by contradiction shows up frequently in Federal Vision doublespeak when it comes to the issue of justification.

It seems that the only distinction that Mr. Wilson is making between ECM and NECM is that one perseveres and the other doesn’t. But if this is accurate this would be to say that NECM are genuinely temporarily saved up until the time that they quit persevering and being preserved. It seems that Wilson is saying that both the ECM and the NECM have the essence of the covenant, which is Christ, until they commit soteriological treason. Is it the case that according to Wilson both NECM and ECM share the same ontological regenerated nature until the NECM goes apostate? Now, this could be squared with Arminian Theology, and probably most non-Reformed Theology but it can not be squared with Reformed Theology unless we redefine what it means to be Reformed.

It is difficult to see how this can be squared with Reformed Theology.

But what of the ‘common operations of the Spirit’ language (from the WCF) that Wilson appeals to? Instead of insisting that it means that the NECM have genuinely and truly the all the saving benefits of Christ, if only temporarily, it would be better and more Biblical to say that the NECM are like the dogs who get the crumbs that fall of the children’s table that Jesus refers to in his conversation with the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24f. The dogs are getting part of the feast (hence ‘common operations’) but nobody suggests that the dogs are equal to or are the same as the children.

Doug continues,

If this following illustration helps, great. If not, then maybe we can find a better one later. We are all in the car of salvation, barreling along at a high rate of speed, headed toward the eucatastrophic wall that bars the road at the end of history, and which we will all hit at that high rate of speed. We are all in the car, we all have a seat, we all have equal access to the drinks and snacks in the cooler, and we are all buckled up, except for some sons of Belial in the way back. We have all been expressly told to buckle up, and we have mostly done so. Some of those buckled have just shoved the thing in thoughtlessly, but the converted covenant members hear the click. That click makes all the difference, for everyone and in everything.

Rev. Wilson is famous (or infamous depending on whom you ask) for his illustrations. I have, over the years, found many of them to be quite good. This isn’t one of them.

First, note that for Wilson both the ECM and the NECM who are together members of the covenant are all together in the ‘car of salvation.’ Now in the sense that all are in the place where salvation is to be enjoyed and lived out this is true, but in the sense that all are headed to the same destination this is not true. The NECM are never on their way to salvation and for them that wall is not eucatastrophic but rather dys-catastrophic. The fact that Wilson puts them all headed towards a eucatastrophic wall belies Wilson’s failure to realize that the NECM have always been, in Brian Johnson’s phrase, ‘on the Highway to Hell’ and not on the highway to a eucatastrophic end.

Pressed to its logical conclusion Wilson’s analogy teaches salvation by works. If the differentiation between ECM and NECM is found in who buckles up and who becomes a ‘test crash dummy’ then owning salvation really isn’t equated to being in the car but rather it must be equated to buckling up. And further, in Wilson’s analogy, why can’t I boast in my contribution towards salvation since what I did (buckling up) is what makes me differ from the poor NECM slob who didn’t buckle up?

Second, this illustration could be read to be teaching that all the members in the vehicle get in by grace but they must stay in by works. (The difference between ECM and NECM according to Wilson’s analogy is that the former perform a necessary work while the latter doesn’t.) In Michigan language the NECM don’t ‘click it so they get a ticket.’It seems that Wilson could easily be accused of teaching, by analogy, that believers keep their salvation by works. Now, certainly, all Reformed Pastors worth their salt teach that work (clicking) happens in the Covenant of Grace but no Reformed Pastor worth his salt would ever teach that we keep our covenant status by our works. How can we work to keep something that is irreversibly given? When Christ put me in the covenant of Grace He did it all including clicking the seat belt.

Finally the Moscow maven offers,

So the qualitative difference between the elect and reprobate extends to their enjoyment of every blessing. It affects every blessing, and it affects it totally. Is the obedience of Christ given to the reprobate car-rider? Yes, but no click. Is the obedience of Christ rendered to every elect covenant member? Absolutely . . . and click. In this respect, the reprobate covenant member’s enjoyment of the common operations of the Spirit is exactly like the reprobate non-covenant member’s enjoyment of rain and sunshine. The greater the enjoyment, the more we should have a sense of gathering tragedy and doom. As C.S. Lewis points out somewhere, damnation works backwards.

This really looks to be obfuscation on the part or Rev. Wilson. On one hand the NECM has the obedience of Christ imputed to them while on the other hand it is not imputed to them because they didn’t click. Which is it? Imputed or not imputed? It seems what Wilson has introduced is another step in the ordo salutis. Wilson now offers, ‘justification, click, regeneration, sanctification, etc…. Apparently some can be justified (and let’s keep in mind what justification means) but because there is no sweet sound of the click then their’s is just a non-click version of justification.

Anybody want to bet that we are now going to divide in to the ‘Click Reformed Church vis a vis the No Click Reformed Church?

Anyway in the end Rev. Wilson’s attempt to continue to bridge Federal Vision with classic expressions of the Reformed Faith fails. Doug ought to just give up this attempt to bridge these expressions and go join his Federal Vision compatriots and diligently pray that God will raise some other movement up to defeat the Reformed derangements of many of his radical two Kingdomists Luthernaized opponents.

Mailbag — Gary Glenn meets Bret McAtee

Recently Gary Glenn, President of Don Wildmon’s Michigan Chapter of the ‘American Family Association’, wrote in response to my article posted on www.lewrockwell.com It seems Mr. Glenn took exception to my pointing out the faults of Huckster Huckabee. Below I have reproduced Mr. Glenn’s letter interspersed with my comments as to where Mr. Glenn is in error.

Gary Glenn, President of American Family Association – Michigan, writes,

Given the current direction of the campaign, we both may well have to comfort ourselves with that knowledge (that God often uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines), since your candidate has no chance of being elected or even winning the GOP nomination and mine has a much better though still uphill course to climb.

Bret Responds,

Here we see the problem that we see so often among our Christian friends and that is the imbibing of rank pragmatism. Mr. Glenn supports Huckabee because he has a ‘much better chance of winning.’ Mr. Glenn and people like him (and I have dialogued with legions of them) hold as gospel truth whatever is considered conventional wisdom. Mr. Glenn doesn’t pause to consider that perhaps one reason that there is a perception that Congressman Paul doesn’t have a chance of being elected is that people like him, in leadership positions, keep going around saying that ‘Ron Paul has no chance of winning.’ Secondly, would a principled person quit supporting what is right all because that which is right has no chance of winning? Has the Church become so pragmatic that we will base our allegiance on how likely it is that someone will win? By that standard we would not have supported Daniel’s three friends in their contest with Nebuchadnezzar, Washington in Valley Forge, the Texans at the Alamo, or any number of perceived hopeless causes. Thirdly, the kind of money that Ron Paul has raised indicates that Paul has a winnable message but one of the biggest obstacles is people concluding, because of the mainstream media, that they will not support that winnable message because it has no chance of winning. I have never been able to understand this kind of reasoning coming from people who should know better.

Gary Glenn writes,

God is of course as capable of using Huckabee to draw a straight line as He is Ron Paul, should He so choose. Which may be the easiest explanation of why some feel called as I do, to support Huckabee, while others feel called, as you do, to support Paul. I assume you don’t go so far as to suggest that the only legitimate calling is to support the guy who disputes something as fundamental as the Bible’s definition of sin, though apparently (and remarkably) you do go so far — by your use of quote marks around the word “Christian” — to question the faith of anyone who supports Huckabee.

Bret responds,

God is capable of using Joseph Stalin to draw straight lines but that doesn’t mean that we should support Joseph Stalin. I have gladly admitted that Congressman Paul is not a perfect candidate but the difference between my candidate’s imperfections and your candidate’s imperfections is that your candidate wants to cure a few symptoms while leaving the disease in place while the candidate that Biblical Christians should support wants to cure the disease while not having a full appreciation for how deadly some of the symptoms are. You’re problem Mr. Glenn, is while you are full of good intentions you do not seem to realize the difference between symptom and disease. You are supporting the candidate that wants to cure some of the symptoms but who will leave the disease of Governmental Gigantism in place. You want to cut off a few of the snakes from Medusa’s head without realizing that in order to kill Medusa you must cut off her head.

Now, I do go so far as to suggest that no Christian who is thinking Biblically can support Huckabee for the reasons that I have given elsewhere. Now, I have no doubt that there are hundreds of thousands of Christians out there who are indeed Christian and who support any number of Liberal Statist candidates. This reveals what a woeful job the Church has done in teaching people what it means to think Biblically. A right thinking Biblical Christian can not vote for a candidate who has resolved to support and enlarge the idol that is the State. You see Mr. Glenn the biggest threat to Christians is to support a Theology that is contrary to their own Theology. Our Theology teaches that God is sovereign and brooks no Idols. The Theology of America today teaches that the State is sovereign and brooks no competition. With your support of candidates like Huckabee you are supporting the one Theology that represents the main opposition to the God of the Bible that we find in our culture today. Ron Paul is grossly mistaken in his estimation of Homosexuality. It is pitiful that he has the opinion that he has on that issue. But at the end of the day Ron Paul wants to topple the Idol that is the chief competitor for the hearts and souls of God’s people and Mike Huckabee wants to prop up that idol. So, I do go so far as to suggest that the only legitimate calling is to support the guy (Ron Paul) who ignorantly disputes something as fundamental as the Bible’s definition of sin on the issue of homosexuality. Besides, to you really think Mike is going to change the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy we now have?

Gary Glenn – President of Wildmon’s Michigan chapter of AFA,

I could just as easily observe — since it’s true — that your continued support of Paul will have no effect on the actual outcome of the nomination except to make it more likely that the most liberal of the remaining candidates will be nominated, though I do not disdain using the platform of a presidential campaign to preach correct principles and in general, wholeheartedly agree with the broader message of limited Constitutional government.

Bret responds,

Yeah, you agree in general, wholeheartedly, with the broader message of limited Constitutional government but you refuse to support it in particular opting instead to support a man who doesn’t support the message of limited Constitutional government. Which is it Mr. Glenn. You can’t have it both ways.

Second, Mr. Glenn you continue to show that is not Christianity that you practice but good old American Pragmatism of the William James type. You are basically arguing here that a vote for Ron Paul is a vote for a liberal since that vote will help the liberal win. Look, bottom line here Gary is that I am not responsible for the results, as that is God’s domain. My domain is to do what is right before God and heaven and let the chips fall where they will. Your reasoning is basically situational ethics dressed up in pious garb. Let us do evil in this situation, (voting for a Liberal Statist candidate) even though God says not to (Thou Shalt Have No Other God’s Before Me – That includes the State Gary), all the while rationalizing that King Jesus will find your vote acceptable because it was the pragmatic thing to do.

In the end you are practicing what is called a teleological ethic while I am practicing a ontological ethic. We are just not going to agree on your pragmatism.

Gary Glenn,

Among the candidates who do actually have a plausible chance of winning the GOP nomination, we have:

• the former governor who speaks falsehoods even about his own life story and who every other time he’s run for office was just as passionately for abortion on demand, the homosexual agenda, and gun control as he claims to be against them now.

Bret responds,

Yep, can’t vote for the Mormon guy with a clear conscience since he is a neo-con Statist along with ‘W.’

Gary Glenn,

• the quarter-century Washington insider who voted against the Marriage Protection Amendment (as Ron Paul did) and thinks we should spend federal tax dollars to create and then destroy human embryos.

Bret Responds,

McCain has far more problems then the two you cite. There is McCain-Feingold that violates the first amendment. There is his pushing of the global agenda through amnesty for illegal immigrants. There is his McCain-Lieberman Stewardship act that is redux Kyoto and leads to more power being centralized in the State. There is his opposition to tax cuts. I think McCain is more of a Democrat than a Neo-con.

Oh, and for the record, Paul voted against the Marriage Protection Amendment because he doesn’t think that is the Federal Governments business. Paul would leave it to the States and here it is important to keep in mind that this country went a long time without any notion of State sanctioned marriage licenses and it is a completely open question whether the State has any business at all sanctioning Marriage. Why not leave that in the Sphere of the Church? After all it is God that instituted marriage and not the State.

Gary Glenn,

• the former mayor who supports abortion on demand, the homosexual agenda, and gun control and whose image will be plastered all over the Arab street wearing ruby red lipstick, a blonde wig, and fake breasts.

Bret Responds,

Yep, Rudy can’t be somebody a Christian would vote for because of his big Statist aspirations.

Gary Glenn,

• the former senator who thinks that if New York or any other state wants to allow abortion on demand or legalize so-called homosexual “marriage,” that’s just fine.


Actually Fred Thompson’s is no conservative. He just plays one on TV and when he is campaigning. He is as much as a big government neo-con as the rest of them.

Gary Glenn,

• And the former president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention who, all else aside, does not shrink from Biblical truth on the cultural issues that threaten both life and the foundational unit of civilization itself.

Bret responds,

Boy, Huckabee sure as you snookered. Did you look at those links I sent you that explicitly lay out his pro-big government tendencies? The basic Biblical truth we have to keep our eye on is that the State is not God. When I look at Huckabee’s record I see much that suggests that he believes that the State should be aggrandizing power to itself. Remember it is the ongoing centralization of power in Washington that is our chief problem as Christians.

Gary Glenn,

Seems to me that there’s virtue in trying to actually influence which of those five candidates ends up being nominated, rather than support a candidate who (1) rejects Biblical truth and (2) has no chance of being nominated.

Bret responds,

Gary, did you see Mike interviewed on the Charlie Rose show where he admitted that he didn’t know if Scripture were true? It sounds to me like Mike has a problem rejecting Scripture also, but Mike is gifted at hiding how obvious that rejection is. Also there is Mike’s rejection of the 1st commandment to have no other God’s before God. It can be seen that Mike rejects that because of his reluctance to limit the State in its continued aspiration to be God walking on the earth.

Gary Glenn,

I do dispute the obvious suggestion of your “open letter” that anyone who believes differently is a mindless lemming whose faith in Christ itself is questionable. But I’m sure I don’t feel any more strongly about that than you would if I suggested that your faith is suspect because you knowingly support the candidate who flatly rejects Biblical truth.

Bret responds,

As I said earlier, I don’t doubt that hundreds of thousands of genuine Christians will vote in an unbiblical fashion. I do doubt that they can square their vote with the teaching of Scripture. A vote for Mike Huckabee can not be squared with the 1st commandment. Any candidate that is not insisting that Government must be decentralized and defanged is advocating that the Government continue to challenge God’s sovereignty.

Gary Glenn – President of Wildmon’s Michigan chapter of AFA,

The last thing we need is a president who would use the bully pulpit of the presidency to preach moral relativism on the issues of abortion and homosexuality, which is what we would get by electing Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama…or Ron Paul. I’ll take my chances supporting the candidate who, if elected, would use the bully pulpit to combat rather than advance the moral decay which poses the greatest threat to make impotent our ability to ever cast off the chains of the State.

Bret responds,

Gary, you are well intentioned but keep in mind that good intentions pave the road to hell. Moral decay cannot be arrested by the State when it is rampant in the Church. You are looking to the wrong sphere to check the inroads of moral decay. Moral decay exists because the Church will not discipline its errant members. Moral decay exists because fathers have given up their responsibility to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Moral decay will not be fixed by the State but by the Gospel being promiscuously preached in the Church and lived out and taught in family life. I agree that Moral decay is a problem but I don’t agree that the State is where we begin to find the solution. You are looking for the Sword to accomplish what only the Keys and the Rod can do.

In the end you are a moralist Gary, and that certainly has its place, but what you fail to realize is that you are spinning your wheels trying to fix a million symptoms when you would be better served by curing the disease. The disease is the Federal State’s tendency to want to play God. Remove that diseases and the symptoms will take care of themselves.

Which is why I insist that right thinking Christians should be voting Ron Paul.

Trying to solve Evangelism — Thinking Out Loud

Typical Evangelism seeks to pick people off one by one while paying little attention to the context in which people are living. This is like going to a group of Pirates, resplendent with all the appropriate scenery, gear, and pirate habits and urging Pirates to convert to becoming Cowboys without providing them any kind of context in order to understand the Cowboy life vis-a-vis their Pirate lives. The consequence of this kind of evangelism, when successful, is to have a few Cowboys walking around in a Pirate culture not really making much of an impact since everything is understood in terms of Piracy. The consequence of this kind of evangelism, when unsuccessful, is to have a bunch of pirates walking around who fit right into pirate culture but who constantly insist that they are Cowboys, or perhaps even going so far as to say that Cowboys are really Pirates, only better.

Indeed, I would contend that much of our evangelism today is the type that doesn’t really confront people with the idea that conversion means understanding, and so living life, in a measure and in a way that is dramatically different then what is considered common-place. Our Evangelism has largely forgotten the anti-thesis that insists that the thinking of Christians must be overwhelmingly different then those who are not Christians. This has resulted in whole Churches and denominations, and thus Christians, that are devoted to aping the culture in their Worship services.

It strikes me that the solution to this is to start asking ourselves if an Evangelism that picks people off, one by one, without paying any attention to the context in which they live is proper evangelism. This is especially true given that we live in an anti-intellectual age while ours is a Gospel that requires one’s thinking to be radically altered in order for adult conversion to be genuine.

But maybe there are other means to see genuine conversion apart from demanding people, living in an anti-intellectual age, to engage in struggling directly (and ‘directly’ is a key word) with the propositional nature of the Gospel. Perhaps, instead of expecting individuals one by one, here and there, to do intellectual labor and so be converted we might pursue an Evangelism that seeks to change the whole scenery and context so that people are converted because they indirectly do the intellectual labor unto conversion by means of seeing themselves fitting into a different cultural and contextual storyline.

Imagine trying to convert Little Red Riding Hood. All she knows is her story. But if you change her story (her scenery, her preoccupation with the wolf, her sorry Red Riding hood) and suddenly she might be able to hear the new message that there are other story lines where she isn’t forever having to flee from carnivorous wolves.

People are chameleons. Most people are eclectic or conglomerate thinkers who do not think about their convictions but pick them up like the common cold by being infected and affected by the cultural backdrop against which they live. In our culture most people (including Christians) are pagan humanists, not by choice, but because, being chameleons, they have blended in with the worldview scenery. One can’t help but wonder whether or not if one changes the scenery, or if one provides an alternative scenery for people to live against, the consequence wouldn’t be large scale genuine conversion as chameleons change their colors to fit against their new backdrop.

This would require our Evangelism to be stocked with another arrow in our quiver. While we would retain the arrow that presses the propositional nature of truth that thinkers could engage and so be converted via the Holy Spirit’s awakening of their intellect via direct challenge, we could add the arrow that creates a beautiful living context that people would be invited to so that they might be genuinely converted via the Holy Spirit’s awakening of their intellect via an indirect challenge. An indirect challenge that invites them to exchange the storyline they are living in from a culture of death to a very different storyline where they can find a culture of life. This is, it seems to me, a covenantal approach to evangelism, if only because what people are being asked to do is not to individually arrive at the truth, but rather to experience, in a covenantal context, the goodness and the beauty of the Christian life. To pick up the metaphor that we used earlier, we would ask them to quit being pirates and come into a different story line that is more appealing. (“Just imagine…no more swabbing the deck, no more being hung from the highest yardarm or walking the plank or being keelhauled, or having parrot poop on your shoulder.”) We would quit expecting people to embrace a naked, solely intellectually driven Christianity, and offer to them a Christianity that doesn’t demand every single individual to understand all the propositions of Scripture but does provide a story line that implicitly contains all the propositions of Scripture as the scenery against which they can understand their living.

This would require the Church to start (it’s already happening in some places) to build alternate communities. These Christian faith communities would be parallel but not isolated communities. They would be parallel enough to provide a contrast to the life of non-Christian communities but not so isolated that those living in faith community would cease being salt and light to the larger community.

Failing this approach, but still harmonious with the thrust is the suggestion that perhaps our Evangelism needs to be done in this culture by means of writing good stories. Once again, the foundation of the thinking is that people, being chameleons, are more prone to draw meaning out of a good story about the true and the beautiful quite apart from holding direct conversation with themselves about what is true. In an non-intellectual age perhaps giving people the means by which they can be drawn into a narrative they find appealing, even if they can’t articulate why, is a way of doing sound evangelism.

The common strand here is the idea that most people don’t live the life they live because they have sat down and had a conversation with themselves about what is true. Most people don’t build their worldview houses with propositional sticks and stones but rather move into houses that they think look nice that other people have built before them. Now the houses they move into do indeed have a propositional structure but that is not what they are seeing when they move into them. Rather what they see is that the worldview house they are moving into fits the context of the storyline they are living. Change the storyline and they will want different houses, perhaps not even knowing why.

Nobody is advocating dispensing with individual evangelism that focuses on the propositional nature of truth. That still needs to be done because people who convert in that kind of context are the people who can help build the proper cultural storyline. What is being advocated is embracing, for those who are not thinkers (and legion is their name) a way to offer Christ that still includes all the propositions of Scripture but serves them up in a embodied context.