[Update: Some have questioned whether or not it’s accurate to say that Wilson is self-ordained. I have added a quote from Wilson on how he became a pastor. Many thanks to the reader who shared the quote with me.]
There are many articles right now about Doug Wilson and his role in the court cases and subsequent marriages of two pedophiles who attended New Saint Andrews in Moscow, ID. This is not the first controversy that Wilson has faced, and many of his supporters are adamant that he has done nothing wrong. I know that there are many people who are members of CREC churches who have chosen to align themselves with Wilson and his denomination. This question is not particularly for them.
My question is for those in the Reformed, Presbyterian world who say they really like or appreciate what Wilson says/has written/teaches on various subjects. My question is: what exactly do you like about Wilson?
Is it his credentials?
Doug Wilson is self-ordained, has never been to seminary, founded his own denomination, publishing house, university, seminary, and classical school curriculum. He is the head of his denomination. He is under no authority but his own.
Wilson’s explanation of how he became a pastor:
Having written this book, I must now apologize, at least in part, for how the book came to be written by someone like, as the Victorians used to say, the present writer. At the time of writing, I have been a minister of the Word for twenty-three years. But how that came about contains more than a few ecclesiastical irregularities.
I came to the University of Idaho in the fall of 1975, fresh out of the Navy, and ready to study philosophy. My intention was to study various unbelieving philosophies and to then get involved in some kind of evangelistic literature ministry in a university town somewhere. Right around the same time, a church was being planted in our town by an Evangelical Free Church in a nearby community. The fellowship was successfully planted, but this new church never affiliated with the Free Church. This was not due to any doctrinal or personal differences; it was due mostly to the fact that it was the seventies. I was at the organizing meeting for this church and wound up as one of the guitar-playing songleaders. The best way to describe this would be to say that it was some kind of “Jesus people” operation.
After about a year and a half of meeting, the man who had been doing the preaching (ordained by a Baptist denomination) announced that he had gotten a job elsewhere and that he was moving. We were on our own the following Sunday. As I said, it was the seventies. The idea of going into pastoral ministry had not occurred to me, but when it did, I didn’t like it very much. Nevertheless, as things turned out, I was up in front with the guitar. That was my call to the ministry; I knew all the chords. I began to preach.
Our church had been planted by an established denomination, but we had no constitution, no doctrinal standards, no established leadership. I started what we called a “responsible brothers” meeting to fill the void of leadership — ad hoc elders. We knew from the Scriptures that we needed to be governed by elders, but we didn’t have any. We received some teaching on elder qualifications from the pastor of the Evangelical Free church that had established our church, and as a result different men among the responsible brothers removed themselves from consideration. In this situation, I presented myself to the congregation and asked them to bring forward any objections to my holding office of elder within the next few weeks. If no one did, then I would assume the office. As it turned out, no one did, and I have been working with this congregation of faithful and longsuffering saints ever since.
All this, as I said earlier, was highly irregular, and I would rather be dead in a ditch than to go back to that way of doing ecclesiastical business. . . . (Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001] 267–268)
In early 1993, Doug advised the elders of CEF of a shift in his understanding of the nature of the church, of the means of entry into the New Covenant, and of the proper subjects of baptism. Those views became what he now calls the “Federal Vision.” After many months of joint discussion and study, the elders of CEF concluded that Doug’s emerging hyper-federalism contradicted the CEF Statement of Faith and Constitution at key points, and that, according to those documents, Doug was no longer qualified to hold office at CEF. In early December 1993, Doug was informed in writing of the conclusion regarding his qualifications, and advised of the following choice; either return to fidelity to the CEF doctrinal and constitutional standards, or be removed from office in three months. The families of the congregation were also informed, of this course of action. The elders of CEF called a meeting for December 10, 1993, to discuss the contents of the letter, answer questions, and receive comments from the men of the congregation. Almost to a man, those in attendance at the meeting rejected the conclusions and leadership of the CEF elders, and affirmed their confidence in Doug Wilson and intent to follow him. At this point the CEF elders could have simply changed the locks on the door, removed Doug from office, and continued to meet as CEF, with an albeit smaller congregation. Instead, they chose to yield, with Bob Callihan and Terry Morin resigning office and leaving the congregation, and Fred Kohl remaining in office in semi-retirement. New elders, supportive of Doug, were installed to take their place and the CEF Statement of Faith and Constitution were revised to eliminate the confessional and constitutional issues.
Is it his views on slavery?
In 1996, Doug Wilson published a pamphlet, Southern Slavery as It Was, with Steve Wilkins, a former board member of the League of the South, a Southern nationalist organization. The pamphlet generated a good deal of controversy. Here are some quotes from it. (HT: Libby Anne)
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. The credit for this must go to the predominance of Christianity. The gospel enabled men who were distinct in nearly every way, to live and work together, to be friends and often intimates. This happened to such an extent that moderns indoctrinated on “civil rights” propaganda would be thunderstruck to know the half of it.
Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care.
With the slave trade, the vast majority of the slaves had already been enslaved in Africa by other blacks. They were then taken down to the coast and sold to the traders. The traders transported them, usually under wicked conditions, to those places where a market did exist for their labor, but where the civil leaders had repeatedly and consistently tried to stop the slave traders. One of those places, Virginia, had attempted on no less than twenty-eight occasions to arrest the slave trade, but was stopped by higher (non-Southern) authorities. If the slaves were not sold in the South, they were taken on to Haiti and Brazil, where the condition and treatment of slaves was simply horrendous. The restoration of these slaves to their former condition was a physical impossibility. Now, under these conditions, was it a sin for a Christian to purchase such a slave, knowing that he would take him home and treat him the way the Bible requires? If he did not do so, nothing would be done to improve the slave’s condition, and much could happen that would make it worse.
Is it his plagiarism?
The other controversy over Wilson and Wilkins pamphlet on slavery was over plagiarism:
As they prepared Southern Slavery As It Was for publication, Douglas Wilson and his co-author, Steven Wilkins, plagiarized extensively from Fogel and Engerman’s “Time On the Cross,” a book that was highly criticized by historians of the South.
Another source explains:
Professor Robert T. McKenzie, a civil war expert at the University of Washington and a member of a sister Christ Church in Seattle, urged Wilson to withdraw the book for another reason other than its ugly, unsupported thesis. McKenzie knew Time on the Cross very well and he was able to determine that about 20 percent of the slavery booklet had been lifted from the book.
Wilson first explained that it was sloppy editing on this part, but Wilkins finally came clean and admitted that it was his entire fault. …
The original slavery booklet was republished as it was (the footnotes were fixed) in The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War(Bluebonnet Press, 2005), John J. Dwyer, general editor.
Is it his Federal Vision beliefs?
In 2007, Wilson co-authored and signed “A Joint Federal Vision Profession.” There have been numerous articles and books on the Federal Vision. Nearly every NAPARC denomination has a statement on it explaining why it’s contrary to the Bible and to the Westminster Standards. For this article I’ll focus on two crucial points, the denial of justification by faith alone and baptismal regeneration. Because Federal Visionists deny the distinction between the law and the gospel and because they teach that all who are baptized are united to Christ, they deny justification by faith alone and teach baptismal regeneration.
This means that every proponent of the Joint Federal Vision Statement denies sola fide. They will, of course, claim the opposite. And they will also claim that denying the distinction of law and gospel in the text of Scripture does not mean that they deny sola fide in justification. This will have to be a difference between them and me. For if there is no difference between law and gospel in the text of Scripture, then faith is no longer what the Reformers said it was: which is opposed to works in justification.
Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).
Many might wonder what in the world this means. Happily, they define this “regeneration” elsewhere:
In establishing the Church, God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham and established the Regeneration of all things. God has established this Regeneration through Christ — in Him we have the renewal of life in the fulness of life in the new age of the kingdom of God (p. 4).
This “regeneration” is the renewal of life in Christ. That’s what all the baptized receive at baptism.
Is it his teaching of paedocommunion?
Connected to the Federal Vision teachings is the belief in paedocommunion. Because baptism unites a person to Christ, and babies are baptized, then why deny young children, toddlers or even younger, their place at the communion table?
We cannot argue for paedocommunion, urging that little children be allowed to come to the Table that disciplines us all, and then protest if when this discipline starts to take effect. Just realize that it takes effect, in this instance, with the parents. Bringing your children to the Table involves far than bringing them to bread and wine. It means bringing the whole family, heart and soul, hugs and swats, mom and dad, the whole fam, to the Lord Jesus, and He receives us here. So come and welcome.
My toddler grandchildren coming to the Table have true faith — but it is blade faith. We’re not anywhere near done.
Is it his views on patriarchy?
Wilson says patriarchy is “inescapable“:
Patriarchy simply means “father rule,” and so it follows that every biblical Christian holds to patriarchy. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23), and fathers have the central responsibility to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Children are required to obey their parents (both of them), and since the wife is to follow the lead of her husband in all things (Eph. 5:24), this means that the father is responsible to provide for and protect his family. Father rule. That’s the good part.
The point is that patriarchy is inescapable, and our only choice is between men being faithful, for blessing, and men failing, for humiliation and chastisement. The thesis is not that men are good, but rather that men are crucial. When they are crucial and selfish, a lot of bad things happen. When they are crucial and obedient, a lot of good follows.
Is it his views on marriage?
Wilson has written several books and numerous articles on marriage. Valerie Hobbs and I wrote an article looking at way Wilson addresses husbands and wives in wedding sermons. Here are some other Wilson quotes on marriage:
He has created us as male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage. If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord—Dominus—at the cross. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 24). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Nevertheless, the dominance of the husband is a fact; the only choice we have in this regard concerns whether that dominance will be a loving and constructive dominion or hateful and destructive tyranny. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 25). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Second, wives need to be led with a firm hand. A wife will often test her husband in some area, and be deeply disappointed (and frustrated) if she wins. It is crucial that a husband give to his wife what the Bible says she needs, rather than what she says she needs. So a godly husband is a godly lord. A woman who understands this biblical truth and calls a certain man her husband is also calling him her lord. It is tragic that wholesale abdication on the part of modern men has made the idea of lordship in the home such a laughable thing. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (p. 80). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
A man may not be a vocational theologian, but in his home he is still the resident theologian. The apostle Paul, when he is urging women to keep silent in church, tells them that “if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home” (1 Cor. 14:35). The tragedy is that many modern women have to wonder why the Bible says they should have to ask their husbands. “He doesn’t know.” But a husband must be prepared to answer his wife’s doctrinal questions, and if he cannot, then he must be prepared to study so that he can remedy the deficiency. – Wilson, Douglas (2009-04-01). Reforming Marriage (pp. 40-41). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
The first time the dishes are not done, he must sit down with his wife immediately, and gently remind her that this is something which has to be done. At no time may he lose his temper, badger her, call her names, etc. He must constantly remember and confess that she is not the problem, he is. By bringing this gently to her attention, he is not to be primarily pointing to her need to repent; rather, he is exhibiting the fruit of his repentance. He does this, without rancour and without an accusative spirit, until she complies or rebels. If she complies, he must move up one step, now requiring that another of her duties be done. If she rebels, he must call the elders of the church and ask them for a pastoral visit. When the government of the home has failed to such an extent, and a godly and consistent attempt by the husband to restore the situation has broken down, then the involvement of the elders is fully appropriate. ‘Not Where She Should Be‘
Is it his views on sex?
Another area that has drawn controversy for Wilson is his teachings on sex. Here is one of the most frequently quoted passages:
In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed. But we cannot make gravity disappear just because we dislike it, and in the same way we find that our banished authority and submission comes back to us in pathological forms. This is what lies behind sexual “bondage and submission games,” along with very common rape fantasies. Men dream of being rapists, and women find themselves wistfully reading novels in which someone ravishes the “soon to be made willing” heroine. Those who deny they have any need for water at all will soon find themselves lusting after polluted water, but water nonetheless. – Wilson, Douglas (2011-03-07). Fidelity (Kindle Locations 978-985). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Is it the way he treats women who disagree with him?
Wilson frequently responds to critics with sarcasm and sharp words. Here are some examples for how he’s talked about women who disagree with him:
the clueless women who blindly liked Wilkin’s article on Facebook, but who are themselves pushy broads, twinkies in tight tops, or waifs with manga eyes ‘Waifs With Manga Eyes‘
So feminism — smash the patriarchy feminism — wants us to be ruled by harridans, termagants, harpies and crones. That sets the tone, and the pestering is then made complete by small-breasted biddies who want to make sure nobody is using too much hot water in the shower, and that we are all getting plenty of fiber. ‘Smash the Complementarity‘
Unbelieving women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of “easy lay,” or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes. ‘On Why Christian Women are Prettier‘
The silly women here are perpetual students — bluestockings — and they are constantly learning, but never getting the point. It would be hard to come up with a better modern example of this than the evangelical feminists. ‘Bluestocking Feminism‘
Is it the way he never apologizes or admits he’s wrong?
Given the number of controversies that Wilson has been a party to, it would makes sense for him to have apologized at times for saying or doing the wrong thing. Everyone makes mistakes. However, aside from a handful of posts that apologize for wording things in an awkward way, Wilson has not apologized.
I know that every man is a sinner and that even my favorite pastors/theologians are almost certainly wrong about something. And we certainly shouldn’t dismiss every author out there because we disagree on a point or two. But is there a point at which the depth or breadth of the problems becomes significant enough that it’s time to rethink defending a man?
To all those Reformed, Presbyterians out there who are willing to look past the recent Wilson controversies, is it time to consider if what you like is worth defending? For anything that he’s written that you’ve appreciated, isn’t there someone else who has said something similar without all the baggage? Are the qualifiers worth it?