A Response To Rachel Held Evans Regarding Wilson And The Definition Of “Reformed”

rachel-held-evansJonathan Merritt published a critique of Doug Wilson this morning on his Religion News Service. For younger readers, who might not remember the Federal Vision (FV) controversy, Wilson is the leader of the de facto denominational home of the FV, the Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches. Despite the fact that the CREC has the word “Reformed” in its title, it is not a recognized Reformed communion. It is not a member of nor does it qualify to join the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). It is essentially a boutique denomination that orbits around Moscow, ID the headquarters of his schools and publishing house (Canon Press). For those just tuning in, the FV is a doctrine of salvation that says that there are two kinds of election (real and conditional), that all baptized persons are temporarily elect, justified, united to Christ, adopted, etc and that the baptized can keep those benefits if they do their part. This is categorically opposed to Reformed doctrine as confessed by the Reformed churches. Wilson is also notorious for defending American slavery in a book, the first edition of which (Southern Slavery As It Was) contained plagiarism. The second edition cleaned up that little problem but remains highly controversial, to say the least.

In the comments of Merritt’s post Rachel Held Evans writes,

The Reformed crowd, particularly Piper and the Gospel Coalition, has been nothing but supportive of him in spite of his fringe views. It really blows my mind.

She is partly correct. Evangelicals such as John Piper and organizations such as the Gospel Coalition have uncritically embraced Wilson. Piper’s decision to endorse Wilson was a tragic and foolish mistake, as I noted in this space at the time (and here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Evans simply assumes that Piper et al are Reformed. Her confusion is understandable but not everyone who self-identifies as Reformed is Reformed. That The Gospel Coalition has also apparently embraced him suggests that TGC may be as much about coalition as it is about gospel.

Evans’ comment, however, is partly incorrect. Those of us who confess the Reformed faith ecclesiastically do not recognize Wilson as Reformed. That, for Evans and doubtless for many other other evangelicals, Wilson is regarded as Reformed is one reason why it is so important to define (and here) the adjective Reformed carefully and confessionally. Below is a revision of the brief response to Evans I left in the combox.

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Dear Rachel,

The Reformed have not all supported Wilson. In fact, those who confess the Reformed faith, as defined in the Reformed confessions, have been quite critical of his theology. Several Reformed denominations (e.g., the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, The Presbyterian Church in America, The Reformed Church in the United States, and the United Reformed Churches in North America) have either published reports or adopted ecclesiastical statements of various sorts expressly rejecting Wilson’s theology.

Further, there are several books and websites published by confessional Reformed authors (as individuals) explicitly rejecting Wilson’s theology, including his plagiarized work on slavery. I myself have been pointing out his errors on the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the church, slavery, and theonomy—the latter of which is the fuel for much of what he writes, which Jonathan has highlighted in this post.

It is true that there are popular evangelical figures (e.g., John Piper, Justin Taylor) who have uncritically embraced Wilson. Those of us in the confessional Reformed world, however, do not necessarily accept the “young, restless, and ‘Reformed‘” as authentically Reformed. Few in this movement are members of actual Reformed ecclesiastical bodies or subscribe Reformed confessions or practice a piety that is recognizably Reformed—on this see Recovering the Reformed Confession. The YRR movement is mostly composed of Evangelicals who have discovered the doctrine of predestination. That one qualifier is hardly sufficient to make them Reformed or else Thomas Aquinas was Reformed and that is absurd.

11 comments

  1. Dr. Clark, the “critique” and “writes” hyperlinks (I think that is what they’re called) seem to be off a bit with the URLs.
    http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/10/29/doug-wilson-says-pastors-who-voted-for-obama-should-resign/

    I saw Ms. Evans response, and I still don’t think she gets it. She seems to view the “Reformed evangelical” group as a subset of the Reformed tradition.

    Maybe it would also be helpful to say American slavery instead of slavery because people may get the impression that the slavery regulated in Scripture is not significantly different? Americans tend to think this way.

  2. As an iTunes subscriber to the HeidelCast, I was very excited to see that you had prepared an audio response to Ms. Evans on your latest podcast. However, when I downloaded the program, it turned out to be a three-year-old episode with Lane Greenbaggins (sorry, can’t remember his real last name — there are so many Reformed guys named “Lane” and “Jared,” I can’t keep track). This is at least the third time in recent months that I’ve downloaded a HeidelCast based on the Show Description, only to find that the content of that podcast did not match said description. Perhaps, in addition to your beloved bell (available, I’m sure at the Westminster California Bookstore), you could have one of those buzzer sound effects of the sort used in game shows to indicate wrong answers.

    Sorry to be such a scold, but since accuracy seems to be a recurring theme these days, it would be nice if the iTunes descriptions of the podcast were accurate.

    • Sergius,

      Thanks for listening.

      I think that you are subscribed to the general Heidelblog audio feed. In that feed any time I post an audio file it will go out to a Heidelblog subscriber. Any time I add a link to an audio file in a post that file will be included and sometimes that creates confusion.

      There is a specific feed for the Heidelcast. The details are found here:

      http://heidelblog.net/the-heidelcast

      If you do not want to receive audio other than the Heidelcast then you need to unsubscribe the feed to which you are subscribed.

      Finally, let me get this straight: you’re unhappy with a free service that provides abundant, free written and audio content?

      If you would like to become a donor or raise funds for the HB and the Heidelcast I could perhaps hire staff to do more. I have some excellent volunteer help with the technical side of the blog but no help with the day-to-day administration of the blog. I record and edit the the podcasts myself.

      The readers/listeners are many but the donors are few.

  3. Dr. Clark:

    Points well taken. I do appreciate the available material–and its eminently reasonable cost, and I apologize for not making that clear along with my complaint. If I were in a position to support your efforts financially, administratively, or technically, I would certainly do so.

    • Sergio’s,

      Well, you can always let others know about the HB and the Heidelcast and you can always help beat the drum to generate support.

      “When the coin in the coffer clinks, the cost of bandwidth shrinks.”

  4. Kedric’s comment was inadvertently deleted. He wrote,

    “The Reformed crowd, particularly Piper and the Gospel Coalition, has been nothing but supportive of him in spite of his fringe views. It really blows my mind.”

    could have been left out of the comment entirely. The rest would have stood on its own. To her credit Ms. Evans did say she should have qualified her statement. She does tend to jump the gun on things she is passionate about. However, that jumping of the gun often comes from a lack of deep historical research that, unfortunately, is a trait of those in the emergent/postmodern camp.

  5. HeidelPing: Is John Piper Really Reformed? – Kevin DeYoung

  6. HeidelPing: Is John Piper Really Reformed?

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