An Open Letter to Doug Wilson

Doug Wilson is older than I. I am therefore hesitant to write this, since it could be perceived as arrogant. However, I am fairly confident that older men than I who are critics of the FV would agree with either all or part of what I am about to write.

Firstly, I want to note that responses I have seen to Wilson’s post are generally skeptical. Wilson has not really moved in his theology, though the responses are also acknowledging gratitude for Wilson’s distance from Leithart. The critics want to see some movement in Wilson’s theology towards the Westminster Standards, though, not just in his terminology. Some still see Wilson’s post as yet another example of slippery language. It’s possible, although I want to leave the door as wide open as possible for Wilson to move towards us.

Secondly, I think Wilson needs to do some rebuilding, specifically, of his theology. Wilson does not have a seminary degree. There is something about a wholesome seminary education that allows one to see the virtues of one’s theological tradition in a holistic way. In the past, I have seen Wilson (and others in the FV tradition) cherry-pick the Reformed tradition, looking only for statements that seem to support their position, ignoring the vastly more solid (not to mention voluminous!) majority of what the Reformed tradition has to offer.

How does one rebuild a Reformed theology? It should happen in an encylopedically sound way. By this I mean that all the theological disciplines need to be seen as interdependent (this is what the science of theological encyclopedia is all about, especially in non-Enlightenment driven, confessionally Reformed circles). In other words, the best works in each discipline ought to be the building blocks that one uses on top of the foundation of Scripture itself (which nothing can replace, of course).

What would these building blocks be? Well, the most encyclopedically sound approach would be to take the best representatives of Reformed systematic theology and read those. The advantage of this approach is that not only do the best systematicians have an eye towards the other disciplines, but also one can have a much better opportunity to learn what “vanilla confessionally Reformed” theology is from its best proponents. The systematic theologies of Calvin, Turretin, Hodge, Bavinck, Vos, and Berkhof come immediately to mind as non-idiosyncratic representatives of the Reformed tradition.

On certain topics, additional focus should be given. The three main topics of the Reformation should have a certain priority after general dogmatics: doctrines of Scripture, justification, and worship. On Scripture, William Whitaker’s Disputations and Richard Muller’s volume 2 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics will cover most of the important bases. On justification, besides the excellent treatments in the systematic theologies listed above, essential reading is volume 5 of John Owen’s Works, as well as Buchanan’s treatment of justification. J.V. Fesko’s recent book will cover all the modern debates from a confessional perspective. On worship, authors like Calvin, Gillespie, Old, and Johnson seem to me to be the most important.

I have recommendations on commentaries (see the indices), so that leaves biblical theology, church history, apologetics, and practical theology. In biblical theology, one cannot do better than Vos, Beale, Goldsworthy and Clowney. For church history, there is Kuiper’s history of the church, which, although brief, is exceedingly good. One will have to go outside the Reformed tradition a bit, however, if one wants more depth in general church history. There is d’Aubigne, of course, but even he does not cover everything. Nor does Schaff, who is somewhat idiosyncratic, as good an historian as he was. For apologetics, one reads Van Til, Bahnsen, Oliphint, Pratt, and Edgar (Wilson is already an accomplished apologist). For practical theology, one needs to read the Puritans, the Puritans, and a little more of the Puritans. Owen, Brooks, Bunyan, Goodwin, Flavel, Sibbes, Manton, and Edwards come to mind.

So, suppose Wilson answers by saying, “I’ve read all these, what more must I do to inherit eternal life?” My response would be, “How did you read these?” Did you read them in order to confirm what you already hold by virtue of listening too much to the modern FV proponents, Girard, and a few other authors? I suspect not, in which case they need to be reread. Read for the center of confessional Reformed theology. Dig deeper, not sideways. Ditch the Joint Statement entirely. Don’t go for idiosyncratic, but instead go for the vanilla. The whole Reformed world would welcome you back.

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10 Comments

  1. January 19, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Lane,

    I’m sure that you are familiar with the concept of “studied ambiguity,” which has been the hallmark of heretics down through history. FV relies upon studied ambiguity heavily in using orthodox terminology but redefining that terminology to allow their errors to skate. They can sound orthodox at a surface level, but the errors come to light upon probing their definitions and assumptions. I see Wilson’s current approach as more of the same. I don’t know why you waste your time on this. Can a leopard change its spots?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Maybe not. What I see is a man no longer tied to the weight of the dark ale FV guys. I thought that maybe he could be persuaded to come our way more, now that he does not have to be any longer the poster boy for the FV.

  3. David Morgan said,

    January 20, 2017 at 3:59 am

    What did you have in mind by (George?) Gillespie to read on worship?

  4. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2017 at 9:43 am

    David, the volume is English Popish Ceremonies.

  5. January 20, 2017 at 10:01 am

    I doubt that the whole Reformed world will welcome him back; because, though he is being forced in God’s good providence to grow in sanctification, I’m not sure the same can be said of our denominations/presbyteries universally. See the above comment “can the leopard change his spots”, in other words, Wilson is an unregenerate false teacher, in that commentator’s opinion.

    I would have hoped we would all have learned many lessons from the FV controversy, but I am afraid that American Reformed folks enjoy their FV boogeyman (real AND imagined). Quote Calvin, Bavinck, Vos on issues surrounding the sacraments, covenant, children, etc. and see how often you’re instantly accused of being FV.

    Thought experiment: What if we were to find that in significant ways Wison is actually more like “Calvin, Turretin, Hodge, Bavinck, Vos, and Berkhof” than the average NAPARC minister? Wouldn’t that be awkward! Would we all be willing to do more homework?

    And BTW, which of our churches offers this promised land of vanilla Reformed theology and practice? I think the OPC, of which I’m a part, is immensely blessed in that regard, but we certainly have our own troublesome problems. And my flavor of vanilla is probably not the same as some others.

  6. January 21, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    As someone who has been somewhat controversial, I would admonish Doug Wilson to seek a good place of known Respectable Men to be accountable to. That has been a place I found to be refining and protecting. It refined me. God protected me and His testimony. The later is what I really desired. I want God’s Testimony to be true through my life. And my critics where some of his as I criticized them. I have been justified in my of my criticisms by the OPC report.

    Finding a place of submission among those whose conversation is good (their way of life) is of vital importance. I would admonish DW to seek that out and to keep clear of things that are and might be found confusing. All of NAPARC spoke on the issues of the Federal Vision. Their voices were one. He needs to deal with that. It is a good place to start.

    Heb 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
    Heb 13:6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
    Heb 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
    Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

    Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
    Heb 13:18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

    If Doug Wilson wants to be right with God and good men then he has some work to do. One place to start would be to find some good authority to submit to in my estimation. If he doesn’t believe that exists in NAPARC then let it be known he is not one of us. He seems to be claiming to be.

    In Humility.
    Randy Martin Snyder

  7. January 24, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Shane – You have no idea what my broader opinion may be, having only the Scripture quote that I made above, You might want to reread Jer 13 to get the context of the verse.

    I do not limit God’s grace in theory or practice. That said, it’s also true that DW has been through decades of unaccountable theological wandering. From a human perspective, this round looks no different – hence the reference to Jer 13:23. Only God knows what it looks like from His perspective.

  8. Frank Aderholdt said,

    January 24, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    I remember Doug Wilson speaking at the Ligonier National Conference in the early 2000’s (2003, I believe), shortly after the “Auburn Avenue theology” controversy broke wide open. During a Q & A session, he strongly affirmed that he believes in justification by faith alone, without exception or qualification. Even back then, I felt that he was uncomfortable with a foot in both theological camps. I also remember telling several friends that Wilson is too smart to swallow all the federal vision errors whole. For fifteen years as least, I’ve viewed Doug Wilson as a man conflicted. His is eloquent and effective, yet somehow unable to decisively build on the unshakable rock of confessional Reformed orthodoxy.

    Maybe there something’s to the view that Wilson has so many gifts that it’s hard for him to settle firmly and focus his energies. (Many men of far greater gifts have done this, of course.) I also recall in 2007 remarking to a PCA minister who was perplexed by Wilson, “I think he wants to be G. K. Chesterton.”

    A few years ago, it was fashionable to highlight everyone’s life “journey.” Wilson’s is more visible than most. May he find and stick to the old paths, where he will find rest for his soul.

  9. Ron said,

    January 24, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    “Maybe there something’s to the view that Wilson has so many gifts that it’s hard for him to settle firmly and focus his energies.”

    I find that those who are independent and baptist are seen as more gifted than they might be had they been numbered among the many more gifted Presbyterians. No need to name names of non Presbyterians. We can just consider how under rated are men like Ferguson and Letham. Maybe it’s because they aren’t bloggers, or just maybe they’re big fish in an enormous pond.

  10. January 25, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Frank – Don’t forget that Wilson’s “old path” was that of the mouthpiece of the theonomy movement. I don’t think that would be much of an improvement.


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