Paragraphs 2, 3, and 5 under the heading “but” have been revised. In the original publication, I compared FV theology to Lutheran and Anglican theology. These were tongue-in-cheek remarks, but I believe they came off otherwise. To avoid confusion, and to correct any implication that I actually think FV was/is a Lutheran/Anglican step-child, I have revised the above stated paragraphs accordingly.
Doug Wilson Derangement Syndrom (DWDS) is a real condition that affects thousands. If you or a loved one suffers from DWDS and has taken medications like Internet Troll or Strawman, manufactured by Bring Back the Dividing Wall LLC, you may qualify for…
wait, wrong manuscript. hang on a second…
..ah! Here. Let me just start over:
I doubt there are many Christians hated by Christians more than Douglas Wilson. The situation breathes a lot like John Chrysostom in Constantinople, circa AD 400. Chrysostom was a gentle man, though he rarely minced words when dealing with Scripture and righteousness. He pissed off fellow clergy by insisting that offerings be used for the work of the kingdom, not for lavish banquets. He enraged upper class women (the ecclesiastical mean girls) by mocking their solid silver toilet utensils, while fellow Christians slept in streets outside. He was definitely a Christian hated by Christians. This even culminated in an assassination attempt. Let that give you a bit more urgency next time you sing, “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”
Douglas Wilson, if I may buy a vowel to make this comparison, is our John Chrysostom. First, he has been smoked over baptized charcoal more than anyone else I can think of. Second, he is a wordsmith. “Chrysostom” means “Gold Mouth,” in reference to John’s uncanny way with words. Wilson fits the bill, I’m telling you.
As should be clear by now, I’m fine with associating with Douglas Wilson. If I anticipate onset DWDS, then I may start wearing a mask when I read Blog and Mablog… but things are fine right now. In fact, they’re more than fine. We need more men like Douglas Wilson.
Unfortunately, I have received some local heat for endorsing, reading, sharing, or otherwise refusing to burn Wilson’s work, and so I want to head-off the complaints before things get out of hand. They’re not out of hand, but I know how light Gossip is on her feet. I want to throw the first punch. Simply put, I associate with Douglas Wilson because he is a capable, measured, and joyful proclaimer of the Gospel.
There is one big “BUT.” Some people drag-out crass terms he has used, or controversial church discipline decisions. In the end, there is one major rebuttal to answer: “Is Federal Vision No Mas?”
For those unaware, Wilson was involved for a decade and a half in a movement called Federal Vision (FV). An oversimplified explanation of FV would be hypostatically uniting a Calvinist and a Lutheran. That is an oversimplification, as I said. In most ways, I believe FV simply committed itself to trust paedobaptist doctrine by confessing and reflecting upon the objectivity of the New Covenant. From the early 2000’s, teachers such as Peter Leithart, Steve Wilkins, and Douglas Wilson met, wrote, proclaimed, and sought to define and shape FV within Presbyterianism.
I’m going to skip things, but you can read an excellent, multiple-article account here by Steven Wedgeworth. Basically, FV came to define itself in such a way that in 2017 Douglas Wilson felt it would make more sense to disavow his association with it. Long before 2017, though, he consistently distinguished between what he called FV light and FV dark. The bottom line is this: Douglas Wilson has left FV. The debate is nil.
The typical response to this is, “Well, he may have formally left FV, but he hasn’t changed his doctrine. Different title, same melody.” This is true, but it holds little weight. As mentioned above, when Wilson was involved with FV, the movement was still in the process of defining itself. In the last ten years or so, one might even argue that FV has sizzled out, giving way to a number of variant threads. Wilson has stated, clearly and forcefully, that he no longer considers himself part of FV. Anyone who is actually interested in dialogue and truth will stop labeling him FV.
The next rebuttal usually goes, “OK, but he has not renounced current FV theology as heresy!” At this point, we have moved beyond anything particular to Wilson and have entered into a larger, Reformed discussion. Is FV heresy? No. Even assuming it was, that would not be a reason to uniquely resist Wilson. Many people refuse to label FV as heresy.
The final rebuttal I will address is, “He may not be FV, but he sure talks funny about baptism.” Wilson’s quirk is the objectivity of the New Covenant. This is a concept largely lost in American Presbyterianism, but it has solid footing in Reformed, Calvinistic streams. The rub for most people I know would be that the objectivity of the covenant brings with it a realm of doctrine decidedly un-Baptist. Most American Presbyterian concepts of covenantal substance are quite close to Baptist thinking. I’m not saying this is wrong. I’m just saying that, on this spectrum, Wilson falls on the latter, non-Baptistic side of Presbyterianism.
The vibe this gives off to Baptists is a decidedly alien concept of sacraments, means of grace, and covenant theology. The Calvinism is there. The Gospel is there. The Reformation is there. But what is this covenantal objectivity? the Baptist wonders. This confusion is understandable and nothing to quarrel over, in my opinion. The confusion a Baptist has over what exactly Wilson means by covenantal objectivity that maintains salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone is not confusion that requires repentance. The friction is not between mature and immature Christians. It is between one concept of the New Covenant and another.
I’ll address one quibble directly and in the particulars. Wilson has been accused several times of teaching baptismal regeneration. He has made a few rhetorical comments that may be interpreted this way, but put simply, this is not true. Wedgeworth offers a good explanation here. Some may argue that he has been unhelpful or inconsistent on related matters, but Wilson has never gone along with the Church of Christ. Confusion arises when people take Wilson’s statements out of context, and then refuse to hear and/or believe his abundant, clear statements to the contrary. In other words, anyone who thinks Wilson advocates for baptismal regeneration is already out for his head and looking for an excuse.
The Bottom Line
So, here’s the bottom line. If you are rather indifferent about what Wilson believes, so long as he is thoroughly Protestant, evangelical, and Calvinistic, then I don’t think you need to study anything, unless you want to. You know he is a true brother in the Lord and not a heretic. Or, maybe you just don’t care about this whole thing, and you’d rather not have an opinion on the matter. That’s also fine. If, however, your heresy flags are tingling when you read Wilson and you just can’t see how he can be anything other than an apostate, which leads you to concern for anyone associated with him (e.g. me), then I recommend you begin a lengthy study – and I recommend that you take your time. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to make up your mind about something two weeks after you are first exposed to it.
If you want some pointers for beginning such an inquiry, I recommend you start with Wilson’s books Mother Kirk and Against the Church, then compare these with Reformed is not Enough. I once again recommend Wedgeworth’s work here… he does a much better job of explaining FV than I have above. Wilson has several informative videos on YouTube regarding FV (most recorded while he was still wearing the FV badge). James White conducted a helpful interview with Wilson for “The Sweater Vest Dialogues” two years ago on the matter of FV. Larger concepts and points of study could include Calvin’s covenantal theology, his and the Puritan’s treatment of baptism, references to baptism in the ecumenical creeds and early church history, the concept of “means of grace,” Martin Luther’s concept of baptism and apostacy, etc. It may also help you to review where FV advocates are today. FV has morphed and is in some ways a dead movement. Several FV fellows are moving away from Protestantism in such a way that to correlate modern FV with Wilson is beyond “stretching it.” Toby Sumpter has a helpful testimony here.
In conclusion, I commend Douglas Wilson’s work to you, and I happily associate myself with him. Does this mean I agree with him about everything? No – as my father has told me many times, “If two people agree about everything, then one of them is not thinking.” Further, if you don’t care to learn from Wilson, that is OK. Really. There are many books, sermons, and conferences to digest, and you are under no obligation to add Wilson to your list… though, he’s pretty great. I only implore you not to succumb to the heresy-hype.