“Reformed” Is Not Enough: Overall Review

I am planning on here starting a series of posts examining Douglas Wilson’s book “Reformed” Is Not Enough, published by Canon Press (Moscow, ID, 2002). In this post, I will record my inital thoughts about the book as a whole. I am not blogging as I go. I have already read the book, and so I will have the chance to reflect on the theology as a whole in addition to particular ideas.

Overall, I have to say that I was expecting worse. This is not to say that I agree with what Wilson says. However, the title really turned me off, scare-quotes not withstanding (this is not helped by the fact that he uses the phrase without scare quotes on page 13). However, the first sentence of this paragraph doesn’t really say anything about what I really think about the book.

Wilson’s concerns in the book center around the objectivity of the covenant. Indeed, the subtitle of the book tells us that: “Recovering the objectivity of the covenant.” Further defined, I think Wilson’s concern is with a denigration of the visible church that is present in many sectors of Christian thought, not least in the Reformed world (pg. 70 hints at this, at least). Also of concern to Wilson is the credal formula “I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Wilson does not want us to think of the church as two, but as one.

In line with these concerns, Wilson makes a large effort to define the church. He devotes an entire chapter to the marks of the church (chapter 9). I appreciate very much this one-liner: “A Church with no discipline is a Church with no immune system” (pg. 80). Wilson affirms the traditional three marks of the true church: Word, Sacraments, and church discipline, although noting that the last-named mark came later (pg. 80).

Positively, Wilson seems to affirm many aspects of traditional Reformed thought. The monergism of God in salvation is present throughout the book. Justification by faith alone is clear on page 45, for instance.

He makes a very interesting comment on pg. 85: “Misunderstanding about what actually constitues sacerdotalism is at th heart of the controversy over the objectivity of the covenant.” One would assume from this comment, then, that a correct understanding (and rejection of) sacerdotalism is key to a proper understanding of the church. He then goes on to emphasize the closeness of the relation of sign and thing signified, saying that sacramental union means union (p. 89. I’m not quite sure how strong he means for this to sound; it sounds very strong indeed).

Nevertheless, there are criticisms that I would make of this book, some of which Wilson has already acknowledged. One is the lack of clarity in some of the formulations. The visible/invisible church distinction is not the same thing as the historical/eschatological distinction, an error which he seems to make on pg. 73, when he says, “The different terminology (historical/eschatological LK) is suggested because it affirms the same doctrine (as the v/i distinction, presumably) and is not open to the same objections.” Now, I don’t know about you, but this is confusing at best, and wrong at worst. This confusion is not helped by his (honest!) desire to improve on the language of the Confession (pg. 74).

Another place of confusion exists in his discussion of sacramental efficacy. To my mind, he does not seem to emphasize properly the efficacy of sacraments in their sign-ness and seal-ness. The point here is this question: the sacraments are efficacious for what? For the thing signified, or for the sign-ness and seal-ness? I believe strongly in the latter. I say that the former is too Roman. I’m not quite sure where Wilson will net out on this, but I was not clear as to his real position on this. More later.