Speaking a Foreign Language

In response to another post, Daniel F., one of Doug Wilson’s more ardent defenders, asked me to listen to a clip from a sermon which is supposed to demonstrate Wilson’s pristine evangelical, Protestant, Reformational orthodoxy on justification. What follows is a lightly revised running commentary written as I watched the clip—though I was not yelling at my windshield— which also serves to illustrate and justify (no pun intended) my claim that John Piper has interpreted Wilson quite selectively. Because the exchange happened in the comments box and would likely be lost among the other 10,000+ comments on the HB I’m reposting my running commentary here for fun and profit:

Okay, so I’m watching the segment linked above. I understand that it’s only part of a whole (and perhaps part of a series, I don’t know) but only 30 seconds in significant problems arise. First he says “It’s all grace.” Okay, fine, but what does “grace” mean for a Federal Visionist? It refers to an endowment given in baptism with which we must cooperate to obtain final justification.

Let’s assume temporarily, conditionally, historically he means by “grace” what we mean by it. 7 seconds later he says, “if you believe, the law is grace; if you believe, the gospel is grace….”

NONSENSE! That’s just not true. The law is not “grace.” It never becomes grace, not to sinners. This is a subversion of the entire Protestant Reformation. At the beginning of this segment he burns down the entire Reformed/Protestant/ classical evangelical house and now we’re supposed to marvel and what a good housekeeper he is?

Romans 5:20 says that the law came to increase trespasses, but where sin abounded, grace abounded more. Grace and law are NOT the same thing. This is Pauline/Reformation Theology 101. He continues in that same vein.

This is precisely I have doubted your claims about Wilson’s glorious, gospel preaching. I think Wilson is clever and able to mouth formulae but there’s a lot more to getting the gospel right than that.

Is true that to those who don’t believe nothing in the bible is grace? So, until a person believes, grace is not grace? Does unbelief turn grace into law? Before I believed God wasn’t gracious to me? How then did I come to faith? By law? What utter nonsense. I agree that, at the judgment, to all those who have spurned the offer of grace in this life shall have to stand before God on their own two feet, as it were, and shall face the fires of hell for it, but we’re not there yet are we?

At 2:10 et seq. he speak of how our “good deeds” stink. Presumably he’s speaking of those who are outside of Christ. Fine, but the controversy with the NPP folk and the FV folk is that they don’t think that cooperation with grace after baptism, or Spirit-wrought sanctity (by grace and cooperation with grace) count as “good deeds.” They fence off “good deeds” or “works” as something else. Thus we have two different definitions of “good deeds.”

It gets more complicated. He goes on to speak of “sanctification,” which certainly has external consequences but he speaks of it in wholly external categories. This is a little confusing.

It’s amusing to see Wilson (at 3:54) speak about escaping the “entanglement” of “destructive relationships.” I guess we have two different ideas of what some of those might be. I don’t suppose Doug is thinking of the relation members of his congregation have to him. That was the first thing of which I thought, however.

When did homeschooling (6:19) become a “good work” or “good deed”?

Am I suspicious of Wilson? You betch and with good reason.

Wilson is quite capable of saying orthodox things. That point has not been in dispute for some time. What is in dispute is whether he subtly (or overtly) undermines or eviscerates the good things he says with the errors he teaches, tolerates, and harbors.

The 2007 Federal Vision Statement still looms. Reformed is Not Enough is still out there. If I’m going to criticize Barth for dialectical teaching/preaching so I’m going to criticize Wilson for the same thing.

One of the great problems with the FV is that when dealing with “covenant” theology we hear essentially Arminian theology. Of course then there’s still the problem of the two-stage doctrine of justification of the FVists. Some of them are happy to concede so-called “initial justification” (as if there was such a thing) sola fide but then they become moralists/papists when talking about a so-called “final” justification. It’s always something with this lot. Here’s the language to which Wilson signed his name in July of ’07 just after the PCA GA rejected his theology:

We affirm that apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians. All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace. The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate has to Christ is not merely external.

We deny that any person who is chosen by God for final salvation before the foundation of the world can fall away and be finally lost. The decretally elect cannot apostatize.

This is the heart of the FV error, the refusal to recognize what Witsius called the “double mode of communion” in the visible church or Paul’s internal/external distinction (Rom 2:28). As has been shown repeatedly, there is no such thing as “covenantal election” as distinction from “decretal election.” For more on the internal/external distinction see the booklet Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace or click on the icon on the top left of the HB home page. For a more complete list of resources see this resource page.

I have to interpret Doug’s orthodox-sounding language, such as it is, in this sermon in the light of what he’s affirmed elsewhere. I can’t, as John Piper seems to have done, read Wilson selectively.

Just after 8 minutes he speaks of “Christians” falling away and doesn’t explain. Here’s where the external/internal distinction would help. “Christians,” in the truest sense of that word don’t fall away. Those who have only an external relation to the covenant of grace may fall away if they do not appropriate all the benefits of the covenant of grace by faith (resting and receiving) alone in Christ alone — something else corrupted by the FV statement of July 2007.

Further, I have it on good authority (reliable first hand witnesses) that, in other sermons, Doug has regularly contradicted the relatively orthodox sorts of things he says here. Another correspondent, who has been listening to Wilson’s sermons, describes how, in previous sermons, Wilson has said that the gospel is that “obedient faith” is the gift of God. That’s pure Shepherdite, FV stuff. Am I looking for a Shibboleth? Sure, if the Shibboleth is the gospel uncorrupted!

What I hear in this segment is a fellow struggling to speak like an orthodox protestant but his dialect has a funny accent. It’s not his native speech. He’s speaking a foreign language for public consumption. Like Paul, I’m glad when anyone preaches Christ, for whatever reason, but this segment isn’t all that reassuring.

One final, minor detail, at 8:38 Wilson says that Luther said that justification is the article of the standing or falling of the church. This is a common mistake. Once more, it was J H Alsted, a Reformed theologian, who said that in the early 17th century. Luther said things like it, but he didn’t say that.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Doug, sounds dangerous to me. Never listened to him, only read stuff about him — like this — to speak of grace as if it is a quality that we can cooperate with (cooperative grace) is indeed an error, and has terrible unintended consequences for the spirituality of his flock. He needs to be called out . . .

    • Is it correct to speak of cooperating with the law? That’s what everyone is supposed do, right? (Even though only Adam at first and the 2nd Adam had the ability to obey it perfectly.)

        • If we reach back further in Church history for Augustinian definitions, are the Reformation theologian’s in agreement with these? My understanding, and I could be wrong, is that Augustine’s previent grace is the same as the holy spirit acting upon the sinner’s heart. Augustine notes another aspect called operative grace in order to make it clear that this is all due to God and has nothing to do with the actions of man. Finally, Augustine’s cooperative grace (again I could well be mistaken) is similar to regeneration/sanctification.

          Thomis Aquinas, on the other hand, respected Augustine’s definitons (and again I be erring here) as well as his terminology but was dissatisfied and changed it, nevertheless. So Thomist’s termninology and definition of grace involves actual and habitual.

          This Thomist definition/terminology the Reformers dismissed, I presume, while the Reformers were essentially in agreement with Augustine here. So the Reformers would accept Augustine’s notion of cooperative grace as valid.

  2. Wilson doesn’t elaborate on this “all grace vs. all law” topic much in the sermon, but I’ve read where he explains in greater detail what he means by this. I’m not sure it is fair to jump all over him based on a sentence in one sermon. His point seems to be that, in an existential sense, for the believer the law is no longer simply a looming terror, but has been put into the service of grace, such that for the believer it convicts sin, bringing about repentance and fleeing to Christ, as well as serving as the gracious revelation of the Father’s perfect character and will, the rule of thankful living. In this sense, for the believer, the law operates in the economy of grace now and when God speaks the law to the believer, that revelation is comprehended as expressing the gracious will of the Father for his child to be justified, forgiven and sanctified.

    On the other hand, when Wilson says that for the unbeliever even grace is law, his point seems to be that (existentially again) the unbelieving heart (cf. the Pharisees) will twist even God’s gracious gift of salvation in Christ into a work to be accomplished and something to be earned.

  3. Rom 1:5, 16:26

    Dr. Clark can you briefly give your understanding of the two passages? I would just like to compare your take with wilson’s. Thanks.

  4. I think what’s missing in all of this — on both sides — is grounding grace in God’s life through the vicarious life of Christ. To speak of grace apart from Christ, as if it is a ‘thing’, is a serious error (which both FV and Federal Theology) suffer from.

  5. Just because the law has gracious elements, it doesn’t follow that it is a gracious covenant. I think this is where the Golawspel folk get confused. I’ve yet to read a satisfactory NPP or FV ‘take’ on Gal. 3:11.

  6. Dr. Clark, I hope you listened to the whole sermon before writing about it. Did you?

    If anyone is interested in listening to the full context, the sermon may be found here:

    • So Daniel, does His Wilsoness become more Orthodox in the rest of the sermon? Does He magically become more clear in the rest of his sermon? Does he go on to repudiate the errors of the FV? Does he retract his earlier statements, and say, “Now I really should have said this instead of this?”

      You are not winning arguments and influencing people by whining and saying, “Well you didn’t listen to the whole thing! You’re not being fair.”

  7. I am convinced now more than ever that a debate would resolve this controversy once and for all.

  8. You might want to check out Psalm 119 (to name but one example). It sounds like the Psalmist viewed the law of God as God’s grace in his life.

    • That point has been made many times. The question is what does the noun Torah (‏תוֹרַ֥ת יְהוָֽה) means. Does it refer to the 613 mitzvoth or does it refer to the divine revelation more generically? Historically, Reformed writers have taken it in the latter sense.


      John Calvin. But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded, (Galatians 3:11, 12. For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again, (Romans 10:5-9.) Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith (Institutes, 3.11.14).

      John Calvin. The Law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because to obtain justification by it, works are required; and hence it follows, that to obtain justification by the Gospel they are not required. From this statement, it appears that those who are justified by faith are justified independent of, nay, in the absence of the merit of works, because faith receives that righteousness which the Gospel bestows. But the Gospel differs from the Law in this, that it does not confine justification to works, but places it entirely in the mercy of God (Institutes, 3.11.18).

      John Calvin. For Paul often means by the term “law” the rule of righteous living by which God requires of us what is his own, giving us no hope of life unless we completely obey him, and adding on the other hand a curse if we deviate even in the slightest degree. This Paul does when he contends that we are pleasing to God through grace and are accounted righteous through his pardon, because nowhere is found that observance of the law for which the reward has been promised. Paul therefore justly makes contraries of the righteousness of the law and of that of the gospel [Romans 3:21 ff.; Galatians 3:10 ff.; etc.] (Institutes, 2.9.4).

      Zacharias Ursinus (1534-83). Q.36 What distinguishes law and gospel? A: The law contains a covenant of nature begun by God with men in creation, that is, it is a natural sign to men, and it requires of us perfect obedience toward God. It promises eternal life to those keeping it, and threatens eternal punishment to those not keeping it. In fact, the gospel contains a covenant of grace, that is, one known not at all under nature. This covenant declares to us fulfillment of its righteousness in Christ, which the law requires, and our restoration through Christ’s Spirit. To those who believe in him, it freely promises eternal life for Christ’s sake (Larger Catechism, Q. 36).

      Caspar Olevian (1536-87). For this reason the distinction between law and Gospel is retained. The law does not promise freely, but under the condition that you keep it completely. And if someone should transgress it once, the law or legal covenant does not have the promise of the remission of sins. On the other hand, the Gospel promises freely the remission of sins and life, not if we keep the law, but for the sake of the Son of God, through faith (Ad Romanos Notae, 148; Geneva, 1579).

      Theodore Beza (1534-1605). We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the ‘Law,’ the other the ‘Gospel.’ For all the rest can be gathered under the one or other of these two headings…Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity (The Christian Faith, 1558)

      William Perkins 1558-1602). The basic principle in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel. For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently. The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect, stimulates and stirs it up. But it provides no remedy for it. However the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it….A statement of the law indicates the need for a perfect inherent righteousness, of eternal life given through the works of the law, of the sins which are contrary to the law and of the curse that is due them…. By contrast, a statement of the gospel speaks of Christ and his benefits, and of faith being fruitful in good works (The Art of Prophesying, 1592, repr. Banner of Truth Trust,1996, 54-55).

      I think these boys were familiar with Ps 119.

      If you want to see an orthodox handling of Ps 119 see Hywel Jones’ commentary on Ps 119 just published and available via the WSC bookstore.

      • Those quotations are all fine. However, they are all dealing with the law in its pedagogical use and its inability to justify. That is not really the issue at hand. When we say that the law is grace to the believer (not in the sense of salvation from sin of course), it is really the third use that is in the forefront. We are saying that for the person who has faith, the law is now a friend. It’s seen as a gift of God’s kindness and grace. The sabbath (for example) is now seen as a gracious gift from the hand of God, which it is.

        As for Psalm 119, while Torah may have a broader meaning than the specific commandments given through Moses, there are in fact several references to statutes, testimonies, rules, precepts, and commandments. At a minimum, the laws of Moses would seem to be at the forefront of the Psalmists mind.

        • Yes, this is precisely why I quote them. This is the distinction that Wilson didn’t make! The law never becomes the gospel. It never becomes unconditional. It never stops being the law. This is the problem here.

          The Reformed have (or used to have) a precise way of talking about these things but this precision has been ditched by the biblicists, theonomists, moralists, and other wackos that plague our churches.

          “The law” as juxtaposed to “the gospel” may be used historically to refer to different epochs (Moses and Christ) or to different forms of speech, to the command, “do this and live” or to the “promise.” It’s in this latter or theological or hermeneutical sense that we are speaking here. The law, in that sense, never becomes “the gospel.” “Do this and live” never becomes “Christ has done for you.” These are two different words, even for the Christian.

          The Christian’s relationship to the law does change, but the law doesn’t change. It never becomes grace. It is a gift. We do come to love it, to see its holiness, its righteousness, and its beauty. The law of God is perfect. The law of God is just. The law is perfect but we are not. The law continues, even in the third use, the normative use, to convict even the believer of sin. The law still accuses. Only the gospel gives what the law demands: perfect righteousness and that is imputed and received through faith alone.

          The law, in this sense, has, of itself, no power to justify nor even any power to sanctify. Only the gospel sanctifies, or more properly, only the Holy Spirit sanctifies through the gospel. Our lives, in Christ, are normed by the holy law of God but it never becomes “unconditional acceptance with God.”

          In our resistance to antinomianism and dispensationalism we cannot obliterate good and necessary distinctions.

            • Ditto to “Someone.” This forum is God’s gift of marvellous grace, if I dare. Awesome is right, but Dr. Clark sends me in 100 directions and doing the level best to follow. I’m still stuck on Packer and the Frame hit job.

          • Yes, this is an awesome reply. I wish more of our Reformed pastors got this. I still hear the law used as having the power to do something more than accusing us.

          • An essay that I think is very helpful in understanding Torah Psalms is Richard B. Belcher Jr.’s “The King, the Law, and Righteousness in the Psalms: A Foundation for Understanding the Work of Christ.”

            You can find it in “The Law is not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant” (Eds. Estelle, Fesko, Van Drunen; published by P&R).

            I would have linked to it, but I don’t know how. I know the WSC bookstore carries it for less than $15, and it contains 11 great essays. Worth every penny.

  9. Dr. Clark, I was wondering that, since your main critique of Mr. Wilson’s lecture was not clear– how precise do you have to be when talking about law/gospel/grace/justification issues?

    Obviously, this is a gospel issue and is therefore most important, it just seems like it would be difficult to draw the line on what the speaker (Mr. Wilson) thinks would be understood and what the audience might understand/misinterpret. I realize that on gospel issues, clarity is at a premium, but where do we draw the line?

    “Yes, this is precisely why I quote them. This is the distinction that Wilson didn’t make! The law never becomes the gospel. ”

    Mr. Wilson did not say the law becomes gospel, but grace. Is there a good rule of thumb? (pointing me to a book is fine, too!)

    • Fair enough, but in Reformed theology, grace and gospel are synonymous are they not? He has said, as I pointed out, that the “gospel” is that the Spirit helps us to obey.

      How clear was Paul?

      How clear is the Belgic Confession Articles 22-23?

      How clear is Heidelberg Catechism QQ. 1, 2, 3, 19, 21, 56, and 60?

      These aren’t rhetorical questions.

      These places (e.g. Paul in Rom 3, 4, 5, 8; Gal 2, 3) are very clear about what the bad news is and what the good news is.

      I think resources are pretty clear:

      Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry

      Venema, Getting the Gospel Right


      Waters and Johnson eds, By Faith Alone

      are pretty good guides to getting it right.

      • Thanks for your, really quick, reply. I think the links you gave will be really helpful. I was wondering about the clarity needed for articulating those truths to the congregation.

        Obviously, saying something like “the law is grace” could really confuse someone and even a pelagian could agree. Is it ever justified to say that, or should a pastor refuse to use that kind of terminology?

        It seems like the link to your book would address that question before Venema’s and Johnson’s.

        Dr. Clark, I would like to say that I am very thankful for your blog and your time. You didn’t have to respond, but you always have–and in good character. Thanks for your responses and help. (p.s. I feel called to the pastorate, and I don’t want to appear on any blog misrepresenting the gospel by saying something like, “law is grace.”)

  10. “These are two different words, even for the Christian.”

    Amen, Dr. Clark.

    This was why Barth was very wrong and could not claim to be Reformed in the strict and orthodox sense of the word.

    • That was Berkouwer’s judgement in the 1950s. Saw what you will about CVT’s critique, even Berkouwer read Barth as a universalist who allowed grace and election to swallow up everything. Further, he rejected the Reformed doctrine of baptism, and his doctrine of the Word is just irreconcilable with the Reformed confessions.

  11. What think ye of Ernest F. Kevan’s “The Grace of Law”? (Soli Deo Gloria, 1993) According to the back cover, “the author proves that God’s Law and God’s grace are not enemies but allies in bringing men to repentance and faith and leading them continually toward perfection in Christ.”

    • Here’s what I wrote in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry

      In the light of these examples, it is remarkable that Ernest F. Kevan’s, widely read The Grace of Law: A Study of Puritan Theology (1965; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), makes no mention of the distinction between law and gospel. His less well-known volume, Moral Law (1963; Escondido and Phillipsburg: den Dulk Christian Foundation and P&R Publishing, 1991), 66–70, does admit the traditional Protestant distinctions affirmed in this essay but manifests some confusion over the history of Reformed covenant theology.

  12. Dr. Clark,

    So in whole does Doug Wilson preach the gospel or not? I would imagine that you are familiar with his theological works.

    I would like you to clear this up, because I listen to Doug from time to time and I don’t want to listen to someone preaching a false gospel.


    James R.

  13. Is Doug Wilson preaching the gospel? Would you clear that up. I listen to him from time to time. Thanks

      • But as we’ve seen, your agreement flows from your fuzzing of the distinctions between law and gospel.

        • Hi David R.
          Yes, I’ll admit to being pretty skeptical of the distinction between law and gospel as presented on this blog and at WSC. But please understand, I’ve been influenced by Murray and Ridderbos (and their take on Paul and Leviticus 18:5), and by Dabney’s fantastic treatment of the Covenant of Grace (and its relation to Moses) in his ST, and by the fact that this approach to L&G was specifically criticized at the Reformed seminary that I attended–so it would take a lot to convince me!
          However, while disagreeing with Dr. Clark and WSC, I consider my views on Law and Grace to be well within the Reformed spectrum where we find such stalwarts as Murray and Dabney.
          Also, “The Grace of the Law” by Kevan has also been mentioned on this blog. Dr. Clark may have problems with it, but that book has been published by Reformed people, and has been greatly appreciated by Reformed people. You’ll find a very positive review of it at the website “APuritan’s Mind.”

          • Michael,

            What do you mean “as presented on this site”?

            I just quoted those radicals Calvin, Ursinus, Olevianus, and Perkins!

            Before you make up your mind, do some research. Read the law/gospel chapter in CJPM. Then go read the primary sources for yourself.

            I understand that the law/gospel distinction SEEMS radical today but that’s only because over the course of the 20th century we lost our way, we lost our bearings.

            Are you suggesting that Mr Murray didn’t teach a law/gospel distinction? If so, you’re quite mistaken. He certainly did. He didn’t write on it at length. He took it as a given, a basic.

            Murray wrote:

            John Murray (1898-1975) …the purity and integrity of the gospel stands or falls with the absoluteness of the antithesis between the function and potency of law, one the one hand, and the function and potency of grace, on the other (Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957], 186).

            See this piece by Mr Murray.

            See also John Colquhoun on law and gospel. Read the Marrow of Modern Divinity.

            I don’t know if I’ve posted this link but there are lots of sources here: http://www.wscal.edu/clark/classicalcovtheology.php#On_Law_and_Gospel

            Here are more quotes:

            Edward Fisher (c.1601-1655). Now, the law is a doctrine partly known by nature, teaching us that there is a God, and what God is, and what he requires us to do, binding all reasonable creatures to perfect obedience, both internal and external, promising the favour of God, and everlasting life to all those who yield perfect obedience thereunto, and denouncing the curse of God and everlasting damnation to all those who are not perfectly correspondent thereunto. But the gospel is a doctrine revealed from heaven by the Son of God, presently after the fall of mankind into sin and death, and afterwards manifested more clearly and fully to the patriarchs and prophets, to the evangelists and apostles, and by them spread abroad to others; wherein freedom from sin, from the curse of the law, the wrath of God, death, and hell, is freely promised for Christ’s sake unto all who truly believe on his name (The Marrow of Modern Divinity; 1645, repr. 1978, 337-38. NB: The author of the Marrow was designated only as E.F. Therefore some scholars doubt whether Edward Fisher was actually the author).

            William Twisse (1578-1646). How many ways does the Word of God teach us to come to the Kingdom of heaven? Two. Which are they? The Law and the Gospel. What says the Law? Do this and live. What says the Gospel? Believe in Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Can we come to the Kingdom of God by the way of God’s Law? No.Why so? Because we cannot do it. Why can we not do it? Because we are all born in sin. What is it to be none in sin? To be naturally prone to evil and …that that which is good. How did it come to pass that we are all borne in sin? By reason of our first father Adam. Which way then do you hope to come tot he Kingdom of Heaven? By the Gospel? What is the Gospel? The glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ. To whom is the glad tidings brought: to the righteousness? No. Why so? For two reasons. What is the first? Because there is none that is righteous and sin not. What is the other reason? Because if we were righteous, i.e., without sin we should have no need of Christ Jesus. To whom then is this glad tiding brought? To sinners. What, to all sinners? To whom then? To such as believe and repent. This is the first lesson, to know the right way to the Kingdom of Heaven.: and this consists in knowing the difference between the Law and the Gospel. What does the Law require? That we should be without sin. What does the Gospel require? That we should confess our sins, amend our lives, and then through faith in Christ we shall be saved. The Law requires what? Perfect obedience. The Gospel what? Faith and true repentance. (A Brief Catechetical Exposition of Christian Doctrine, 1633).

            J.C. Ryle (1816-1900). To be unable to see any difference between law and gospel, truth an error, Protestantism and Popery, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of man, is a sure proof that we are yet dead in heart, and need conversion. (Expository Thoughts on John, 2:198-199).

            J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens… ‘Making Christ Master’ in the life, putting into practice ‘the principles of Christ’ by one’s own efforts-these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s obedience to God’s commands (What Is Faith?, 1925).

            Louis Berkhof (1873-1957). The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love o God in Christ Jesus (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 612).

            These are not “neo-Lutheran” radicals. These are mainstream theologians in our tradition.

            Further, this list doesn’t account for the clear distinction made by the Reformed confessions. See ch. 12 of CJPM.

            • Dr. Clark,
              I noticed that your collection of quotes on classical Covenant Theology has a section listed on assurance but is empty. Is the collection still a work in progress or do you just not have the quotes currently listed? I thank both God and yourself for all the work that you do.

  14. Yes, Pastor Wilson is preaching the Gospel!

    God graciously tells us how to be happy. The Lord is kind to His people and gives us everything necessary to keep and maintain healthy relationships; that goes not only for our relationship with Him, but with one another as well. The giving of the law is gracious in that sense. And, YES! Of course if one thinks he can obtain God’s favor by adhering to his own moral righteousness, then Christ, (as Pastor Wilson aptly pointed out), becomes a stumbling block to him. Christ is either a rock of offense, or He is the chief cornerstone. It’s either all of grace or not. However, as Christians we know saving faith is faith in action.

    God expects His covenant people to be obedient because He knows what is best for them. He saved His people from under the brutal yoke of Pharaoh and then told them how to live happily as His people! He expected them to obey and judged them when they did not! God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light.

    So no, Pastor Wilson is not preaching ‘another’ Gospel. I’ve read most of his books, and I listen to his sermons quite often. He does not support a works-righteousness in order to be saved, or even to stay- saved. He only agrees with the Bible when it says “apostasy happens.” How else to you explain passages such as Hebrew 6:4-8?

    • Chris,

      According to the Reformed understanding of the Christian faith, a conditional, historical, temporary, baptismal union (election, justification etc) is not the gospel. It is not good news to confess, as Wilson does in the 2007 FV State, quoted here, and elsewhere, that baptized people have a “real union” with Christ that can be lost. The Synod of Dort answered this claim in 1619. The Reformed churches since that time have also said that the Arminian doctrine, even if it is clothed with the word “covenant,” is still still semi-Pelagian.

      Making the law into grace or gospel is not good news.

      The errors of the FV in both covenant theology and in systematics are why the URCs decided in 2007:

      Synod affirms that the Scriptures and confessions teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone and that nothing that is taught under the rubric of covenant theology in our churches may contradict this fundamental doctrine. Therefore Synod rejects the errors of those:

      5. who teach that a person can be historically, conditionally elect, regenerated, savingly united to Christ, justified, and adopted by virtue of participation in the outward administration of the covenant of grace but may lose these benefits through lack of covenantal faithfulness (CD, I, V);

      6. who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone (HC 21, 60; BC 29);

      7. who teach that Spirit-wrought sanctity, human works, or cooperation with grace is any part either of the ground of our righteousness before God or any part of faith, that is, the “instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness” (BC 22-24; HC 21, 60, 86);

      8. who define faith, in the act of justification, as being anything more than “leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified” or “a certain knowledge” of and “a hearty trust” in Christ and His obedience and death for the elect (BC 23; HC 21);

      9. who teach that there is a separate and final justification grounded partly upon righteousness or sanctity inherent in the Christian (HC 52; BC 37).

      The Synodical FV Committee says in their report:

      “Douglas Wilson, another advocate of the FV, has expressed similar reservations regarding this distinction, since it allegedly undermines the importance of membership in the visible church. Wilson proposes that we should distinguish between the “historical” (as it visibly exists now) and “eschatological” (as it will perfectly exist in the future consummation) church. According to FV writers, the distinction between the “visible” and “invisible” church or a similar distinction between an “internal” or “external” membership in the covenant of grace, creates insoluble pastoral problems of assurance (Am I truly a member of Christ? Am I elect?). Contrary to the implications of the distinction between the visible and invisible church, FV authors argue that we should affirm that all members of the covenant community are truly and savingly in Christ. As we noted previously, while FV writers acknowledge that some members of the covenant people of God may not persevere in the way of salvation, they want to insist that all members of the covenant are nonetheless in true and saving union with Christ.29 In the FV view, the “objective” character of membership in the covenant and church of Jesus Christ is undermined, when we distinguish between the church as it visibly exists and as it known only to God.”

      Wilson says, in the Auburn Ave vol., ““Worthy receivers of the sacrament of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are effectually saved by these sacramental means through the working of the Holy spirit and the blessing of Christ.”

      This, at least not without considerable qualification, is not Reformed doctrine.

      The Reformed churches teach two modes of communion in the one covenant of grace. This is how we account for Hebrews 6 and 10. As Caspar Olevianus said in the 1580s and before and as Reformed writers (e.g. Wistius et al) have said since, there are always hypocrites in the covenant of grace. They are “in” but they are not “of.” The Schilderite/FV refusal to make the Pauline distinction between those who are jews outwardly and those who are Jews inwardly leads to the very heart of the FV error which leads Wilson to teach a sort of covenantal Arminianism.

      We do have a way of dealing more adequately with Hebrews 6/10. Those who apostatize were never united to Christ! Paul says so in Rom 9. Contra our Baptist friends, we should say that they really were in the covenant grace. They were members of the covenant community. They tasted of the powers of the age to come, but they were never united to Christ. Esau had ONLY an external relation to the covenant of grace.

      There’s more on this in this booklet:


      and there’s more here in this essay:

      http://www.cpjournal.com/articles/r-scott-clark-baptism-and-the-benefits-of-christ/ (this is not a complete essay but you can see most of it)

      Thus, we neither have to exclude Esau from the covenant of grace altogether (and thereby deny the reality of the administration) nor make him conditionally elect etc via circumcision/baptism.

      Ultimately, the FV ignorance of these distinctions illustrates the fact that they are just making up things as they are going along.

  15. To the cantankerous, all things are objectionable. You’re a wonderful fault-finder, Dr. Clark. You seem to be quite skilled in verbal equivocation, as your critiques are full of it. You and the late Dr. Robbins are cut from the same cloth, in that respect. Your work is a great deal more learned than his, but that negative, nit-picky, reading-to-find-fault attitude tends to ruin it for me and a whole lot of others.

    Good day.

    • Tim,

      Daniel F. has been after me for months to listen to this or explain why I think Wilson is a Federal Visionist. So I did what he asked and explained why, with respect to a concrete example, his teaching/preaching is problematic.

      Is this blog negative? I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I do what I can to promote mission/missions. Are you praying for the Reformation2Germany mission? I promote church planting and evangelism here but I didn’t see you here saying, “Hey, thanks for the good news.”

      Judging by the category cloud, most of the posts here are on “Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry,” ‘historical theology,” and WSC. Some of the first are negative, but I guess but few of the latter two are negative.

      • Dr. Clark: You missed Mr. Prussic’s point. He did not say that your blog is negative. He said:

        YOU are cantankerous and therefore find all things objectionable.
        YOU are a wonderful fault-finder.
        YOU seem to be quite skilled in verbal equivocation.
        YOUR critiques are full of verbal equivocation.
        YOU are cut from the same cloth as the late Dr. Robbins.
        And YOUR work is marked by a negative, nit-picky, reading-to-find-fault attitude.

        Can’t you read?

        Ironically, while no one could accuse Mr. Prussic of verbal equivocation, his comment was cantankerous, finding all things in YOU objectionable. His comment was rife with fault-finding YOUR alleged faults. And his comment was marked by a negative, nit-picky, reading-to-find-fault attitude against YOU.

        Beam meet eye.
        Eye meet beam.

        • *Rubbing eyes*

          Thanks for pointing out my negativity, Chunck. I take that to heart.

          Dr. Clark, Chunck nailed my point. I’ve benefited a great deal from much of your work (blog, published work, and even brief personal interactions). What I had in view above was your handling of certain issues. It’s like you’re so committed to finding fault that you slip up on things that easy, like hanging curve balls. Example: Wilson’s assertion that the law is grace. Instead trying to understand this, you simply declare it nonsense with great exclamation. The law is certainly gracious in that it’s divine self-revelation. The law’s gracious in that it points to Christ. It’s not gracious in the narrow, redemptive sense (that is, distinguished from nature), but it is certainly gracious in the sense of benevolence. Why can’t that be understood? Why’s that SO hard for a massive mind like yours (no BS’in’) to get? I think it’s because you’re committed to finding fault. That mental posture is just like that of the the late Dr. Robbins. I don’t mean to link your scholarship with his… there’s no comparison. However, at a certain point, your attitudes are similar and I find it less than charitable and, thus, not attractive.

          • Timmo,

            When does “do this and live” become gracious? How?

            The law and the gospel are not antithetical in God and we will experience no tension between them in heaven but this isn’t heaven. “Love God with all your heart” “do not steal,” these are not “gracious” nor are they gospel. They are true, they are holy, they are binding, but they are not gracious.

            If you’ll read my feeble post a little more slowly, you might see that I did call the law a gift. I understand the goodness of the law, but to call the law “gracious” is not terribly helpful. The law does not help me keep it. Grace, unconditional favor, and the Holy Spirit given freely by my gracious Savior — who kept the law for me! That’s the difference here; the law has to be kept, grace has to be received with an open hand! — helps me to keep the law, in union with Christ, out of gratitude.

            How does it advance our understanding of the faith to speak of the law as gracious? How does it advance sanctity or Christ-likeness to call the law, even the third use, as “gracious”?

            I’m not just the bull-dog, as you imply. There’s a point here worth defending.

            Have you read the Marrow of Modern Divinity?

            Have you read Boston and Erskine and the Marrow men?

            I don’t think I’m saying anything those fellows didn’t say against the neonomians of their day.

            The gospel is gracious. Grace is gracious, but law is not grace.

            We’re talking hermeneutical, theological categories here, not the history of redemption. The law is a gift. It is much to be desired and loved (per Ps 119) but it never gives what it demands.

            I agree that it’s reductionist to say the law only always accuses. The law doesn’t accuse believers, because Christ has extinguished the claims of the law against me, but the law continues to demand what I, even in Christ, cannot give: that is perfect, perpetual righteousness. Re-branding the law as “gracious” doesn’t change the facts nor does it advance the goal of piety.

            • Do you think that the term “grace” can be used legitimately in an non-redemptive sense at all, Dr. Clark? Can grace be used properly (if not narrowly or specifically) to denote God’s bare undeserved goodness and benevolence? It seems, both from your initial critique and from your comments immediately above, that grace is strictly equivalent to Gospel. So, we have a law/grace dichotomy; and that’s how you’ve interpreted Wilson and called his comment nonsense. If his terminology is unhelpful, that’s one thing. But it seems an impressive over reaction to say that because he calls the law gracious (in the broader meaning of the term), that he’s burns down the Reformation / Evangelicalism / kitchen sink.

              That said, I’ve appreciate the tone of our conversation… it’s been helpful and enjoyable. You’ve even called me Timmo, which is one step shy of giving me a noogie. I’d give you a noogie right back, but that kind of treatment is no good on a bald guy!

              Also, I’ve not read Marrow, but one of my seminary prof in particular made much of the Marrow Controversy

              • I agree with the Three Points of Synod Kalamzoo (1924 – if only because I like saying “Kalamazoo!”) but I doubt that the expression “common grace” (Gemene Gratie) is particularly helpful. We should rather speak about providence, or common benefits or the like.

                If Wilson hadn’t written all that he has written, if he hadn’t thumbed his nose (at least) to the entire NAPARC world by publishing/signing the FV Statement in July 07 after the PCA GA, and if this were a one- off fumble in a sermon, then yes, my critique would be unfair.

                Remember, however, that this clip was presented as prima facie evidence of Wilson’s pristine orthodoxy. I was asked to listen to it so that I could see how orthodox Wilson really is and how unfair my characterizations of his writing are.

                So I listened and 30 seconds into the message our hero turns the Reformation on its head.

                • The moment we have learned to know that other righteousness and holiness which God has given in Christ and which through faith He makes our own, our attitude towards the law and our sense of its significance changes entirely …. We let the law stand in its exalted sublimity, and make no effort to pull it down off its high pedestal. We continue to honor it as holy and righteous and good …. We delight in it according to the inner man. And we thank God not for the gospel only but also for His law, for His holy, righteous, perfect law. That law too becomes to us a revelation and a gift of His grace. How love I Thy law; it is my meditation all the day.

                  Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, trans. Henry Zylstra (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956), p. 490.

                • Scott,
                  The term “Common Grace” is confessionally used in the Canons of Dort Rejection of Errors III-IV paragraph 5:

                  “Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, that is, the evangelical or saving grace, and salvation itself; and that in this way God on His part shows Himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since He applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion.”

                  On historical grounds, to use this phrase “common grace” would lend to confusion? When I here the term “common grace” 1924 comes to mind, not the rejection of errors. I guess that’s just because I work with PRs all day.

            • I see, Herr Clark, I didn’t answer your initial question: ‘When does “do this and live” become gracious? How?’

              There are at least two types of graciousness involved, objective and subjective:

              It is gracious (read benevolent, if you prefer) in that it’s spoken in the first place. God don’t own us any revelation, but there some is right there. Also, it tells us of both things to do and that there is life out there to be had. So three gracious aspects right off the bat: divine revelation, instruction, and indication of (if not a promise of) life.

              Further, it becomes gracious as the Spirit uses it to humble us and teach us that we cannot do it and the we must obtain life not through doing, but through trusting in the One who dun it.

              Neither of these types of graciousness are gospel/redemptive grace, but are preparation for the gospel. That is the grace of law, which is quite distinct from the grace of gospel. Is it not gracious that God prepares us for the Gospel?

              I think the issue here is one of terminology. It’s that you’re using a very narrow definition of “grace,” while a great many others have a much broader definition, which includes the narrow definition. Do you think that is a denial of the law/gospel distinction?

              • Yes, Timmo, I said at the outset that God may be said to have given the law graciously but how does “do this and live” become “gracious”? Paul treats grace and works as two distinct principles in Rom 11. Why should we conflate them?

                Yes, the Spirit graciously uses the law to humble us, but this doesn’t make the law gracious.

                God is gracious but how exactly is the LAW (“do this and live”) gracious?

        • I must strongly object to such characterizations on the grounds that they just aren’t true. It’s certainly not Clark’s fault that pseudo-theology is a terribly ugly thing. It’s fantastic that he’s willing to deal with so much crap, including this unjust criticism.

  16. About time some one said this. I used to love this website until every time I came here RSC was picking a fight with someone who didn’t agree with him. I know you’re trying to defend orthodoxy, but you actually cause some of us to despair that we don’t quite have our theology all together like you do.

    Steve O’Neal.

  17. Dr. Clark, No, I am well aware that Murray taught a Law/Gospel distinction. My point was not that he denied it, but that his understanding of Paul, Law, and Grace (and Leviticus 18:5) has influenced my own thoughts on the matter.
    I actually can affirm a distinction between law and gospel, particularly when we are talking about the Pedagogical use of the law, and I certainly agree that the language is in the tradition. (All those are fine quotes with which I can largely agree, but again, they are largely concerned with the pedagogical use. In stating my disagreement, I wasn’t thinking of those quotes). Haven’t read the Marrow of Modern Divinity. However, I have listened with great sympathy and appreciation to Sinclair Ferguson’s lecture’s on the Marrow Controversy. I will try to read CJPM at some point. I appreciated Dr. Kim’s participation and presentation at the Desiring God conference, and this gives the book an instant shot of credibility for me.

    However, none of this causes me to have any problem in saying that for the justified believer , the law is grace, or to speak of the “grace of the law.” The Reformed, almost across the board have spoken of God’s grace in the Adamic covenant, and many have spoken of common grace. You call the law a gift. I don’t see why it’s a problem here to speak of grace. Especially in light of the way that Moses himself speaks of the Law (Deuteronomy 4). And again, there’s Psalm 119. I don’t think there’s any scriptural reason for not saying this. You would know better than I what the prominent Reformed theologians and Confessions have said.

    Finally, you said that Wilson didn’t make the necessary distinctions. He said that law is grace “if you believe.” That seems an ample distinction. No one here has understood him as saying the law is grace with respect to our justification (ie justification through a gracious law). He is clearly speaking of the person who is in the justified state. So the pristine Reformational, protestant doctrine of justification seems to be unmolested.

  18. A really penetrating and insightful piece. And to think I wasted all that time listening to the complete version. You’ve picked out all of Wilson’s central and anti-Christian errors in only a few minutes. Bravo.

    Couple of points that I think need to be highlighted. You wrote:

    there is no such thing as “covenantal election” as distinction from “decretal election.”

    Why is this simple truth so hard for so many to grasp? How on earth could FVists continue to ride this horse for so long? And, finally,

    What I hear in this segment is a fellow struggling to speak like an orthodox protestant but his dialect has a funny accent. It’s not his native speech. He’s speaking a foreign language for public consumption.

    Or, to put it another way, and for those who still remember RCA’s Nipper, it’s not our master’s voice.

  19. Dr Clark is doing what many others aren’t willing to do and that is expose the errors of both heterodox and heretical teachings which impact Seminarians, Ordained Ministers, as well as Parishoners. If that happens to rub you the wrong way then it’s just like TV, turn the channel and move on to something more to your liking.

  20. Did this passage from childhood come to mind for anyone else as they listened to Wilson redefine “grace”:

    `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    `The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    `The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master — that’s all.’

    * * *

    `That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

    `When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.’

    `Oh!’ said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

    `Ah, you should see ’em come round me of a Saturday night,’ Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side, `for to get their wages, you know.’

    If only our children were still raised on Lewis Carroll, E.B White, and A.A. Milne, they’d be wise to this sort of thing.

    • Dear RSC,

      I appreciate your desire to emphasize the law-gospel distinction found in our Reformed heritage.

      However, from what I’ve learned, simply pasting quotes about the law and gospel is not really sensitive historical scholarship. I figured you would know that of all people. What is important is how this distinction is worked out in any given thinker. Are these writers making this distinction in the context of justification or sanctification? Is this a pedagogical tool for interpreting texts or is it a redemptive-historical tool? Is it a covenant of works versus covenant of grace antithesis? Is it a OT/NT antithesis or Old Covenant/New Covenant distinction? These questions, and many more, are not always clear in the citations you give. What belongs to “law” and what belongs to “gospel” all depends on how you define those terms. Is repentance “law” or is it “gospel”? Ursinus answered that question differently than the classical Lutheran. But both would claim to uphold the “law-gospel” distinction.

      Steve O’Neal

      • Steve,

        A blog isn’t a place to do scholarship. I don’t pretend to do scholarship here. I do, however, actually publish research and you can see it, e.g., in Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry where there is a chapter on the law/gospel distinction.

        More recently, there have been a couple of essays on Olevianus’ commentary on Romans, which I’m translating. “The Reception of Paul in Heidelberg: The Pauline Commentaries of Caspar Olevianus” in ed. R. Ward Holder, A Companion to Paul in the Reformation (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

        “Olevianus and the Old Perspective on Paul: A Preliminary Report,” The Confessional Presbyterian 4 (2008): 15–26.

        I don’t always highlight the academic work on the blog because people complain that it’s either too academic or too expensive. Whatever. It does exist.

        See also this work:

        Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant: The Double Benefit of Christ. Rutherford Studies in Historical Theology, ed. David F. Wright (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2005).

        I’ve written about this topic at great length on the HB:

        Here is a link to more than 15 posts where the sorts of distinctions about you comment/ask are discussed:


  21. As a homeschooler, I would like to know what Bavinck said about homeschooling…would you please fill me in? Also, as a new homeschooler, I am wondering if Wilson’s books on Classical Education and materials from Veritas Press are dangerous for those of us who are not very discerning and should be avoided? I feel completely inadequate to enter this conversation, but I am finally somewhat understanding the problem with FV, thanks thus far to RRC and Dr. Clark’s blog, and don’t want it to make its way into the philosophy of education for my kiddos (we are planning on using the classical model.)

    • MrsD:

      When I inquired about Bavinck, I was making a point with a silly question, which I based on Dr. Clark’s observation about Wilson noting that homeschooling is a “good work” or “good deed. Bavinck’s quote dealt directly with law and gospel, directly contradicting Wilson’s position, and the only reason homeschooling is an issue is because Wilson made it an issue by threading it into his sermon, not long after he declared the law grace. I seriously doubt Bavinck ever commented on the subject.

      Regarding Wilson’s brand of classical education and his close association with Veritas Press, you should only do business with them if you want their worldview, including their theology, to help shape your children’s minds, and you should be aware that Wilson’s “classical education” is not classical education proper any more than his theology, which he calls “Reformed,” is Reformed theology. Personally, I would no more welcome their books into my home than I would invite the devil to instruct my children.

      I apologize for my dumb comment.

      • Chunck,

        Though I remain as unconvinced that theology has any appreciable bearing on creational enterprise like education as I am that Wilson is Reformed, I am curious as to what you mean when you say that Wilson’s brand of education isn’t any more classical than his theology is Reformed.

        • Zrim,

          I wouldn’t say that theology has “no appreciable bearing on creational enterprise.” That seems like just as much an over-reaction to the neo-K’s as “Christian softball” is to “secularism.”

          • RSC,

            I suppose I don’t see how Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has much to do with his running of the Olympics or Massachusetts, nor how Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism is relevant to her fitness for office.

            But, while I realize it’s likely all part and parcel of the Moscow project, I was mainly just curious how Wilson’s classical education departs from conventional CE, if at all.

        • Zrim:

          I don’t agree with your premise that theology does not have any appreciable bearing on creational enterprise[s] like education, as I believe that our theology informs and influences all of life, from posting comments on blogs to educating our children. This supposition was the premise for my comparison between Wilson the Reformed theologian and Wilson the classical educator. Therefore, to complete the analogy, just as Wilson is not a theologian proper in that he is untrained and unteachable, so he is not an educator proper in that he is untrained and unteachable. He knows as much about classical education as I know about Japanese aviation.

          So there’s the ad hominem: he is not a classical educator because, despite his claims to the contrary, he is neither a specialist in the field of education nor a specialist in the field of classical education.

          But he is teaching those children something and he calls their education classical, so exactly what constitutes a “classical education” according to his model? I think the most alarming answer to this question is his revision of American history, where he teaches,

          “Slavery as it existed in the South was not an adversarial relationship with pervasive racial animosity. Because of its dominantly patriarchal character, it was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. There has never been a multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” (Southern Slavery As It Was)

          Should a responsible educator include revisionist history in their curriculum and call it “classical”? Not in my book. But once you establish the godly nature of slaveholding, it’s not difficult to make the next leap:

          “When the Confederate States of America surrendered at Appomatox [sic], the last nation of the older order fell. So, because historians like to have set dates on which to hang their hats, we may say the first Christendom died there, in 1865. The American South was the last nation of the first Christendom.” (Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth)

          I’d have to double check Dabney, but I am not aware of anyone who believes the antebellum South constituted the first Christendom and I would hope that even the staunchest Wilson defender would blush at this kind of nonsense, unless he’s wearing a hood. Therefore, in my opinion, to whatever extent this poison (or any other poison he brews) infiltrates Wilson’s classical education, we cannot call it classical without redefining the term. We should call it by its real name — malpractice, indoctrination, or lying to children — but certainly not of education.

          MrsD, if you’re still out there, this is why I wrote that I would no more welcome their books into my home than I would invite the devil to instruct my children.

      • Chunck – Thank you for your thorough reply. I now remember the earlier homeschooling comment. Forgive me for my denseness.

    • Mrs D,

      I agree with Chunck. I’m not opposed to home-schooling (we are or were members of the HSA) and I’m a big fan of the Dorothy Sayer’s essay that really re-ignited all this. Classical education is a terrific model but I think the educational materials coming from Moscow are like starter drugs. They connect with people on a social-educational level and then those materials become paths to Moscow’s theology, piety, and practice which is not Reformed TPP. E.g., as I understand Wilson’s account of familial federalism (which he is not alone in teaching) it’s really a sort of familial theonomy. This is the stuff that suggests the theocratic/theonomic underpinnings of much of what Moscow is about. Scripture warns about smooth talking people worming their way into homes. I worry that the homeschooling materials from Moscow perform that function. They seem harmless but are they? If the Mormons published “classical education” materials, would we be skeptical about them? Sure! Obviously the Muscovites are not Mormons but if their theology is seriously defective then shouldn’t we be alert to the connections between their theology and their educational materials?

      I’ve had testimony from folk who’ve been connected to the Wilson educational system and from churches (particularly in the N.W. part of the US) who are gravely concerned about the influence the Wilson movement is having in both areas. Pastors write to me of trouble in the congregations fostered by the ideas and personalities in Moscow.

      It’s not benign. It’s not benevolent. It’s not neutral.

      That’s why I caution folk to use discernment and discretion.

      • Dr. Clark,

        Thank you for your response. I’m in the “grammar” stage of learning about this issue and really appreciate your blog and writings as they are the first clear, concise, and comprehensive materials I’ve come across that have actually helped me to understand the FV problem. May God richly bless your efforts.

        • MrsD, if you’re at the beginning of your FV/TR trivium, please make sure you give due attention to people like Wilson. I, for one, don’t think that folks like Dr. Clark give him a fair shake. I think Dr. Clark’s very quick to misread him (as I’ve tried to show in the comments on this very post). Anyway, two bits worth of free advice. 🙂


          • Timmo,

            We’re it just Clark, then you might have a case but it isn’t “just Clark.” It’s the URCNA Study Committee, it’s the OPC Report, it’s the PCA GA (which relied on the Mississippi Valley Presbytery Report), the RCUS Report, and several authors in several books. They’ve all reached the same conclusion.

            The Mullah of Moscow is busy rehabbing his image but the truth is the truth. He’s a not a plain, orthodox, Reformed preacher. He’s a dyed-in- the wool federal visionist and the FV is not the gospel.

          • Sadly, Tim, I’ve been taught by Wilson for much longer than I’d like to admit via the Wilson family books and blogs, as well as some teaching from his books in our PCA church. I recently became very despondent because I could not live up to the good works the Wilsons were espousing in one of their books so I googled FV to try and see if there was some substance to the critics’ arguments and happened to stumble upon Dr. Clark’s blog. (I’d previously dismissed the FV controversy as “theological nit-picking” and just didn’t have the time or the brain power to explore it.)

            So, in a sense I am at the beginning, but in another sense I tried for a long time to understand from Wilson’s own mouth, but couldn’t make any sense of what he was saying when he defended himself regarding the FV controversy. Dr. Clark’s blog is the first time I’ve heard a cogent presentation from the other side and it really meshes with my own experience of difficulties I’ve had with the Wilsons’ materials and influence.

            • MrsD, very good. Your explorations are well worth your time. I’m curious what good works were so depleting to you. For my part, I’ve spent a lot (too much) time trying to reign in FVers and TRs at various blogs and help them stop talking past each other. I’ve found a range of open to closed minds on both sides. In my opinion, this blog is the most closed-minded I’ve spent time on, which, to me, is sad – as there’s so much value on this blog, too.

              As an example of that closed-mindedness, Dr. Clark’s critiques on this blog too often range into nit-picking and equivocation. You can see that in this string. The big hoopla is that Wilson calls the law gracious. Dr. Clark equivocates and says that grace means gospel, thus he accuses Wilson of confusing law and gospel. He even claims above that, in the Reformed tradition, grace = gospel. First, this is biblically untenable and it’s also false with respect to the Reformed tradition. Have you ever heard or read a Reformed theologian mention common grace? Do they mean common gospel? Of course not. There are broader and narrower definitions of the word “grace.” Dr. Clark, for whatever reasons, wants to ignore that, even to the point of contorting the tradition he’s so (rightly) proud of, in order to get Wilson. That’s one easy example of the closed-mindedness.

              So, just be careful. Some of Dr. Clark’s critiques are helpful and some are very narrow and uncharitable.

  22. Dr. Clark – What difference does it make if a John Piper approves of/invites, Pastor Doug Wilson to this or that event? After all, does not your particular interpretation of the 3-Forms drive you to conclude, with Mike Horton, that Piper BECAUSE HE IS A BAPTIST is “not a members of a true church”, but a “sect”, and that, with all non-Reformed believers (that is, Christians who do not belong to Reformed churches), Piper cannot be said to have true assurance of salvation?

    As to the equivocating use of language underscored byTim Prussic, note that Bavinck declared the law to be a revelation of God’s grace. On your logic (sans equivocation), this was the very peccadilo for which you lambasted Wilson in your missive.

    One of the young men involved in the filming of Wilson’s debate with Hitchens encountered some Westminster students remarking that they were “hoping Wilson lost”.

    Very telling.

    It seems you are animated by a similar spirit, with far too much time on your hands. You really ought repent of the slanderous charges you muster together relative to Christ Church Moscow, Logos School, and other fine developments there (and beyond). Even as I hope you would seek to thank God for His work among Anglican, Lutheran, and Bible church believers (or would you?), so ought you do the same with regard to His work among Calvinists who – at the end of the day, after all your puerile cap-gun firing – believe 99.8888% of the things you do.

    • As I said during the discussion of the DGM conference and as I tried to make clear in the 2 podcasts I did on the same topic, the concern is the message that is sent that Wilson’s theology is fine and that the FV error is of no consequence. That matters. John is very influential and thus he has a responsibility to use that influence wisely. In this case he failed.

      There’s more here:


      Actually, contrary to your assumption, I agree with everything Bavinck said. Evidently you haven’t been paying attention in class.

      As to slandering the Mullah of Moscow, I wish I was. Unfortunately I’ve had a steady stream of emails and calls over the years from pastors whose congregations have suffered from the influence of Moscow.

      As to who is an isn’t a true church, that’s a long discussion but your conclusions are mostly false. It makes me suspect that the “logic” part of the classical education program is Moscow isn’t working very well.

      I do think that Belgic 29 means that Baptist churches cannot be true churches, but it doesn’t follow that Lutheran churches are not true churches nor does it follow that Anglicans cannot be true churches. There were Anglicans at the Synod of Dort and at Westminster and our churches have never said that the Lutherans are not true churches, even though they’ve been most adamant since 1580 that we are not. At least, unlike the Baptists, they recognize our infant baptisms as valid. Olevianus called the Lutherans (probably) “half-evangelicals” signaling that our relations to them are ambiguous. Our issue with the Anglicans is polity and the RPW but those things don’t disqualify them from having the marks of a true church. The Lutherans preach the gospel, administer infant baptism, and minister the body of Christ in the supper (even if we disagree with them over the nature of his presence).

      I’m not a Donatist. I’m happy to have anyone defend the faith or preach the gospel, from whatever motives. That doesn’t mean that I should be happy that the Mullah is becoming the defensor fidei for evangelicalism.

      Thanks for your gracious and charitable post. It’s what I’ve come to expect from Moscow.

  23. Those of you who insist that there is nothing wrong with Wilson’s statement that “the Law is grace,” I really think you should work on your theology. And, by that, I am not simply referring to what you guys believe in but, to be more specific, how you convey what you believe. The fact that you guys make statements that hardly show clarity and precision is what really makes you into bad theologians.

    It has been asserted here that the Law was given “graciously” and that is in reference to the fact that God’s revelation of His moral will, like all of God’s revelation, was given by way of CONDESCENSION to man. Dr. Clark does not deny that at all. Read pages 142-144 of his book, ‘Recovering the Reformed Confessions,’ wherein he discusses the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology. God’s revelation to us (ectypal) is merely derivative of “that which exists in the mind of God” (archetypal). This revelation is accommodated to man’s finiteness and thus, it is referred to as a condescension on God’s part. It is in that sense that one might say that all of God’s revelation to man (this would include the LAW) is “gracious.”

    Yet, this so called “graciousness,” which has reference to God’s revelation as a whole is not the grace that we speak of in the Gospel. If one were to indicate in the same sentence that the Law is grace and that the Gospel is grace, then he is either ignorant of what I have been trying to explain here or, better yet, he really intends to make no distinction between God’s condescension in His revelation to man (Ectypal theology) and God’s condescension to be incarnated and be sacrificed on the cross for the salvation of His people (Gospel). Now, if one were to say, “Well, it’s all the same; it’s all condescension. Therefore, let’s label all of that grace.” Then I must say to that person that he is either stupid or just plain stubborn.

    Now let’s put this into context. What was Doug Wilson doing? Wasn’t he delivering a sermon? Wasn’t he supposed to be in the role of being the mouthpiece of God for the edification of His people? Isn’t it then just right that we subject this person to a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ especially when this man has identified himself with a position (FV) that various Reformed denominations have concluded as errant? Those of you who are accusing Dr. Clark of “nitpicking” are the ones who are speaking out of context. In a sermon, the speaker identifies himself as the deliverer of God’s message. That is not the case in a blog. So, who are the ones that are really doing the “nitpicking” here? Is the nitpicker the one who is careful to examine the claims of Wilson while he is supposedly delivering God’s message? Or, rather, is the “nitpicker” the one who is criticizing Dr. Clark who is merely doing his duty of sharing his findings on his blog? I believe the answer is obvious.

  24. How would we interpret Romans 8:13? Is that law or grace? How am I to live as a Christian before my Redeemer? Will my life be better off if I love to obey God’s commands, or if I do not? Are we really supposed to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” as God works in us?

    One other question, how are we supposed to understand Matthew 25:37-39? It seems as if those who have already been declared righteous at a point in the past, are proven to be righteous by their good deeds, and thus “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works”.

    Would appreciate any comments Dr. Clark 🙂

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