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.