Jonathan 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.
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.