Wilson’s Influence on “Classical Christian Education”

As I noted in the last post, Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. are present in materials that many CCE schools, programs, and homeschools use. In doing my research, I focused on the six-volume Omnibus produced by Veritas Press. Veritas Press is owned by Marlin and Laurie Detweiler who were members of Wilson’s CREC denomination.

The Omnibus Curriculum consists of six volumes covering the time periods from classical civilizations to the modern era. The material is intended for students in grades 7-12. Each volume consists of essays and “sessions” discussing the “Great Books.” The Omnibus volumes range between 500-800 pages in length and cost from $75-$100 each. The first three volumes were edited by Doug Wilson and G. Tyler Fischer. Volumes 4-6 were edited by Wilson, Fischer, and Gene Edward Veith. The first volume was published in 2005, and the last volume was published in 2011.

From the description on Christian Book Distributors website:

In Latin, Omnibus means “all encompassing.”

The Omnibus Curriculum from Veritas Press is designed to help enlighten, train, and develop young minds through the study of everything important, long-lasting, and true: the ideas, arguments and expression of the Western Canon as expressed in the Great Books. …

Each volume features lists of both Primary and Secondary books. Primary books are the traditional Great Books, while the Secondary books provide balance in the areas of Theology, History and Literature …

Each chapter covers a Great Book, examining the author, context, significance, main characters, summary and setting, worldview, and providing an in-depth essay analyzing and teaching the important points of the work. Chapters conclude with five sessions that provide questions to consider, optional activities, reading assignments, cultural analysis, biblical analysis, application, summa questions, recitation comprehension questions, lateral thinking, review questions, and evaluation questions. …

Covering literature, history, and theology from a solidly Reformed perspective, editors Douglas Wilson and G. Tyler Fischer weave their understanding of God’s providence and sovereignty throughout history.

In reading through various essays from the Omnibus Curriculum, I found examples of Doug Wilson’s influence throughout. I decided to organize the material here using the list of topics from my post, A Question for Wilson Fans. I’ve made some adjustments, but the basic format was useful in categorizing.

First is the issue of credentials. As Wilson’s own credentials are questionable, he has never been to seminary or been ordained, it seems that many of the Omnibus essay authors do not have the credentials one would expect from this type of curricula. There is no biographical information in the Omnibus for the authors of the essays and sessions. Some of the names were familiar to me as various CREC pastors or members of Wilson’s family. Other names I found through Google, some of them were teachers or administrators at CCE schools, others were former students from New Saint Andrews, Wilson’s college. A few names were of professors from Patrick Henry or other colleges.

The bulk of the essays and sessions were written by Wilson, his family members, and CREC pastors and elders. Wilson wrote over 30 of them himself. Many of his essays were on literature outside the areas of his educational background. His degrees are in philosophy and classical studies. In Texas, in order to certify to teach at the secondary level, a teacher has to have a certain number of college hours in a subject. To use myself as an example, I have the credit hours to certify in History, English, and Spanish.

While Wilson lamented in Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning that many teachers in today’s schools are not experts in their subject matter (RLTL, Kindle Locations 1587-1589), it doesn’t seem that the authors of the Omnibus essays and sessions fared much better, with a few notable exceptions. Gene Edward Veith and David Ayers, among other college faculty, are clearly qualified to write on the topics of their essays. Other authors may also be qualified, but without biographical information, it’s hard to know.

The author of one essay, Michael Metzler, wrote that he was asked to write his essay on Oresteiaa group of Greek tragedies, but he “had never even read a greek tragedy”:

A few years ago I agreed with Veritas Press to write for their first Omnibus text book. True, I was an old friend of Marlin Detweiler, and I even remember offering a little bit of volunteer help when the Detweilers were developing those world famous flashcards, but I don’t think this connection has much to do with my obtaining of the assignment. The assignment was an introduction to Aeschylus’ Oresteia … Although the marketing literature of Veritas Press spoke of the “experts” that were writing for this new release, I must confess that I had never even read a greek tragedy.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Wilson’s views on slavery and history show up in the Omnibus curriculum. Those familiar with Wilson’s book Black and Tan should recognize the line of thought in these quotes. I should note that not all of the following quotes were written by Wilson. Many of the examples here and further down will be from other authors, but the point is that views that Wilson has made public through his own writing appear in these Omnibus essays and sessions.

In the essay and sessions on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Toby Sumpter writes:

While Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work was by far the most popular, there were also popular novels of the period written from a Southern point of view, seeking to show that most slaves were treated fairly and compassionately. These stories show many slaves being given opportunities to learn, attend Christian worship services, and in many ways being treated as members of the family. These novels attempted to show how there were often “covenantal” ties that were thicker than blood existing between masters and servants, with mutual love and respect existing between them. (Omnibus III: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, pg. 177)

In the essay and sessions on Slave Narratives, the author (Wilson, Fischer, or Josh Stevenson) writes:

As you read through the Slave Narratives, exclude the abolitionist argument that the relation of master/slave is necessarily wicked. (Omnibus III: Slave Narratives, pg. 201)

And,

The problem the abolitionists had was … they wanted to maintain that the very relationship of slave and master was prima facia, or on its face, immoral. … The abolitionists rejected the authority of Scripture when it came to slavery, and many faithful Christians were right to resist them at this point. (Omnibus III: Slave Narratives, pg. 203)

Wilson’s book, Black and Tan, is listed at the end of this essay as additional recommended reading.

The following quote is from an essay by William Chad Newsom on Battle Cry of Freedom. It also demonstrates Wilson’s influence on the issue of slavery and the Civil War:

But while McPherson acknowledges the presence of complex factors and the reality of Southern ideals of constitutional liberty, and while he is usually careful to avoid coming across as biased, he nevertheless casts his lot with the North, the Union, Abraham Lincoln, and the radical abolitionism and egalitarianism that provoked the war. (Omnibus VI: Battle Cry of Freedom, pg 257)

Wilson’s views on revolution and American independence are also apparent in the Omnibus essays. In Wilson’s essay “American and French Revolutions Compared,” Wilson explains why he calls the Revolutionary War a War of Independence:

Nevertheless, clear-headed Americans knew that what they had fought for was of a completely different order than what the French Revolution was seeking to establish. To blur them together is to be guilty of an historical slander, and it is to throw away one of the great achievements of the American founding—a righteous heritage. So we have already noted that War of Independence is the better name for our founding war. But in conclusion, let’s use the word revolution in order to set the two side by side, that we may look at them directly. The American revolution was legal; the French revolution was illegal. The American revolution was constitutional; the French revolution was unconstitutional. The American revolution was defensive; the French revolution was offensive. The American revolution was conservative; the French revolution was radical. The American revolution fought to preserve the existing form of government; the French revolution fought to annihilate the existing form of government. The American revolution had a clear and definite object; the French revolution never had a clear and definite object. The American revolution was righteous; the French revolution was unrighteous. (Omnibus VI: American and French Revolutions Compared, pg. 137)

It is worth noting that other essay writers in the Omnibus curriculum acknowledge the fact that contemporary sources call it the American Revolutionary War:

Revolutionary War I realize this name is not the best description of this conflict, but it is how Irving himself refers to the war. (O. W. Leithart, Omnibus VI: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, pg. 536 End Note 1)

Next up is the issue of Federal Vision and other questionable theology. Because most of the essays on the books of the Bible in the Omnibus Curriculum were written by CREC and Federal Visionary pastors, various aspects of Wilson’s theology show up in many essays. What follows is some of what I found.

The first two quotes demonstrate the influence of Federal Vision teaching on justification:

Abraham was declared righteous by God before he was circumcised, therefore his right standing before God was based on his faith, not any good deeds. (Etter, Omnibus 1: Romans, pg. 518)

And,

James is significant in that it shapes our thinking in several important areas. First, it provides the perfect balance to the writings of Paul concerning true, saving faith. (Etter, Omnibus 1: James, pg. 527)

This quote from an essay and session on Robin Hood says that Christians can use deceit:

Is it proper to deceive deceitful people? Can we trick the wicked? Although Christians must use it extremely wisely and carefully, deceit can be a legitimate weapon against the wicked. (N.D. Wilson, Josh Stevenson, Omnibus II: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood 370 (teacher’s edition))

Steve Wilkins in his essay On Plymouth Plantation writes that the downfall of the U.S. is partly due to the Pilgrims’ rejection of the liturgical church calendar:

The Reformers … wanted to retain the more historic observance of the Christian calendar. The Puritans saw even this modified position as dangerous and decided it was safer simply to throw out the entire calendar. But this did not mean there would be no “man-made holy days;” it only meant that distinctively Christian celebrations were replaced with other celebrations. Man cannot live without commemorations and celebrations. … The Christian celebrations were replaced with days which celebrated the accomplishments of the state (e.g. Artillery Day, Election Day). The calendar no longer centered around the life of Christ and the church but around the accomplishments of the body politic. Men celebrate what is important to their gods. (Omnibus III: Of Plymouth Plantation pg. 48-49)

N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul have clearly influenced a couple of essays:

Paul was preaching a new cosmos, a new order, in Christ. The resurrection of Christ had already happened, and this reality was going to permeate the old social order and, as a result was going to overthrow it. (Wilson, Etter, Omnibus III: Philemon, pg. 279)

And,

And the gospel is not just about getting people’s souls into heaven when they die. The gospel does promise that, but it also promises far more. That “more” includes the transformation of all the cultures of all men. (Wilson, Fischer, Steveson, Omnibus III: Slave Narratives, pg. 203)

Wright is quoted in a couple of other essays and his books are included in the books recommended for additional reading.

Another example of questionable theology comes from the essay and sessions on The Old Man and the Sea. This is not orthodox, Reformed teaching on Christ’s death:

Hemingway likens Santiago to Christ, who gave His life for the greater glory of mankind. (Newsom, Stevenson, Omnibus III: The Old Man and the Sea, pg. 530).

James Jordan’s teaching on Adam as needing to grow in maturity appears in a handful of essays:

When God created Adam, He put him in a garden, naked as a newborn. He told Adam to carry out the priestly task of “serving and guarding” the garden (Gen. 2:15). Adam was allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, but before he received the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he had to grow up. Life is for babies; knowledge or wisdom is for adults, who have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14). Eventually, Yahweh would have allowed Adam to eat the fruit of knowledge, and his eyes would have been opened to judge and rule (cf. Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:13). Eventually, Adam would have grown up from priest to king. (Leithart, Omnibus IV: Proverbs, pg 13)

And,

“Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect,” Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 5:48. When we hear that, we usually cringe, thinking that Jesus is being totally unreasonable. How can we be perfect? Don’t we still sin? Jesus’ demands are too hard for us, and we might decide that Jesus doesn’t really mean what He says. Jesus does mean what He says, but we often misunderstand it. In the Bible, the word “perfect” doesn’t usually mean “without sin.” Instead, it means “mature.” Jacob was a “perfect” man (Gen. 27:25), and so was Job (Job 1:8). Neither one was sinless, but they were both “complete.” They were both “grown-ups.” That is what the Bible is all about—showing us how to be “perfect,” to be “grown-ups.” Adam was a baby in the Garden of Eden, as naked as a newborn. God planned for him to grow up and put on a crown and a royal robe of glory. But Adam acted just like a baby, grabbing the food he wasn’t supposed to have, and so God put him out of the Garden. When Jesus came, though, He came to bring us to maturity. Jesus came to make us “perfect”—all grown up.  (Leithart, Omnibus IV: Phillipians and Colossians, 377)

At one point, the Omnibus session recommends that students debate the issue of paedocommunion. It’s interesting to note the reasoning behind the suggestion:

Paedocommunion In our discussions on the Lord’s Supper, we discussed the differences of opinion between the four groups regarding the presence of Christ. We did not touch upon another debated issue regarding Communion—that is, the question of who should participate in this sacrament. While most churches only allow adults and older children to participate in the Lord’s Supper, more churches are now practicing what is known as paedocommunion, or child communion. Today, we are going to debate the question of who should participate in the Lord’s Supper.  (Wilson, Etter, Omnibus V: Institutes of the Christian Religion, pg 307, emphasis added)

Wilson’s patriarchal views are also frequently seen in the Omnibus curriculum.

Genesis 2 describes the origins of sexual difference. How does Genesis 2 define masculinity and femininity? Genesis 2 shows that Adam is created to “cultivate and keep” the garden (2:15) and that Eve is created to assist him in this task. Adam is the leader, initiator, beginner of things. And he is also the guardian who protects Eve from spiritual and physical assaults. He puts his strength to work in service and sacrifice. (Leithart, Omnibus II: Macbeth, pg 195-196)

And,

From a Christian perspective, feminism must be seen as a reaction to the sins and abdication of men. If men were genuinely devoted to Christ-like masculinity, if they truly gave themselves for their wives and daughters as Jesus did for His bride, if men honored women as their glory and crown, the feminist movement would have had very little impact. Feminism is a movement about women, but it is just as importantly a movement that poses questions to men. What does it mean to be a man? Christian men are not supposed to be brutal, but Christian men are not supposed to be stuffed teddy bears either. Where is the balance? (Leithart, Omnibus II: Macbeth, pg 1)

And,

Why is Deborah’s victory over Jabin and Sisera bittersweet for Israel? It was bittersweet because on one hand, it was a great victory for Israel, and Deborah was a godly, decisive, courageous judge and prophetess in Israel. On the other hand, when she implored Barak to lead Israel into battle, he would only comply if she went along. She warned him that a woman would receive credit. The bitterness lies in the cowardice and laziness of the men in Israel. In her wisdom (and subtlety) Deborah praises “the princes of Israel who willingly fought” (5:9). (Lusk, Becker, Omnibus IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, pg. 487)

And,

Egalitarianism can mean many different things. I am here using it to describe the philosophy that, while much more obviously present today, was very much a part of the modern outlook in the nineteenth century: the idea that there must be no (or few) boundaries or hierarchies in human relationships and that all people must be “equal” in every possible way. This goes well beyond equal treatment under the law to include equality of income and lifestyle, and the rejection of traditional, biblical roles that give different, complementary spheres to the work and life of men and women, ruler and subject, master and servant. (Newsom, Omnibus VI: Battle Cry of Freedom pg. 274 End note 5)

Wilson’s teachings on marriage also appear in the Omnibus essays and sessions:

Paul views men and women as equal in worth, but different in nature and function. Men and women are created equally in the image of God; indeed, they can only fully image God in community with one another. Further, men and women share equally in the Fall and participate equally in Christ’s redemptive work. But they are also profoundly different, and those differences are more than just a matter of biology. Men and women were designed to complement one another, with their strengths and weaknesses fitting one another like two pieces of a puzzle. Men were made for taking initiative and exercising responsible leadership in both church and home, which the Bible calls “headship.” Women were designed to be helpers and completers. The woman’s role is different, but no less valuable than the man’s. Further, these roles are not arbitrary; they fit with our God-given natures as men and women. We see these basic orientations laid out in Genesis 1–3, where the man’s primary focus is his work in the world (3:17–19), while the woman’s primary focus is the home (3:16); by fulfilling these roles, men and women together rule over God’s good creation (1:26–28) (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg. 446)

And,

These complementary gender roles are most clearly seen in marriage (Eph. 5:21ff). The man is the head of his household, taking responsibility for the state of those under his care. He is the primary leader, protector, and provider. The woman is to be in submission to her husband, as his helper, not because she is inferior to him (after all, God is called “helper” more than anyone else in Scripture!), but because he needs her support and aid to fulfill his calling in the world. John Piper defines masculinity and femininity this way: At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.13 These are excellent Pauline definitions. There are biblical/theological models that help us understand how men and woman can be equal yet relate asymmetrically to one another. In the Trinity, the Father and Son share in the same “Godness.” They are equal in every way. But they are not interchangeable pieces because they have different roles to play. In the economy of creation and redemption, the Son submits Himself to the Father (1 Cor. 11:2ff). (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg 449)

And,

Of course, not all Christian men and women are called to be married, and in those cases, there are opportunities for alternative forms of service outside of home life (cf. 1 Cor. 7). But, statistically speaking, it is obvious God calls most people to marry, and the woman’s role as helper to her husband and homemaker for her children should be honored. (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg. 456 End Note 10)

The last section I want to cover is the significant amount of disturbing material (sex, nudity, violence) in the Omnibus volumes. Some of it is text that reflects Wilson’s teachings.

All of the Omnibus volumes open with prefaces and information for parents and teachers. One of the prefaces has an advisory that explains the editors’ approach to the subject of sex, nudity, and violence:

Advisory to Teachers and Parents

In the course of history there has been much fluctuation on what has been deemed age appropriate for young students. And for those of us alive today, there remains great variation as to what is considered age appropriate. The material we have created and the books we have assigned address numerous subjects and ideas that deal with topics (including sex, violence, religious persuasion and a whole host of other ideas) that have been the subject of much discussion of whether they are age appropriate. The judgment we applied in this text has been the same as we apply to our own children. In the creation of this program we have assumed that it will be used by students in seventh grade and above. Furthermore, we have assumed that there is no part of the Bible deemed inappropriate to discuss with a seventh grade student. Therefore, the material assumes that the student knows what sex is, that he understands the existence of violence, that he understands there are theological and doctrinal differences to be addressed and that he has the maturity to discern right and wrong. The worldview we hold and from which we write is distinctly protestant and best summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Bible is our only ultimate and infallible rule of faith and practice. We encourage you to become familiar with the material that your students will be covering in this program in order to avoid problems where you might differ with us on these matters. (Omnibus I: Advisory, Preface, xi)

Many of the essays recommend movie versions of the books being read. A couple of essays have warnings (like the one below) about the content of those movies:

View the 1964 movie production Becket and write a movie review, commenting on its faithfulness to the record in Lives. Warning: Within the first hour there is quite a bit of female flesh, near nudity, and immorality insinuated to depict Becket and Henry’s companionship in carousing and hunting during Becket’s days as chancellor. An adult should preview the movie and note the times of the offending portions and be ready with the fast-forward or instead find clips of the significant scenes online. The opening scenes are particularly good in showing the king’s penance and the church’s pressure and power in the aftermath of Thomas’s martyrdom. After viewing the film, discuss the following questions (Doud, Omnibus V: Lives of Thomas Becket, pg 226)

One of the books that 9th graders (generally ages 14-15) are expected to read is the play, Death of a Salesman. The play contains profanity, suicide, adultery, and call girls. The Omnibus essay has an end note warning teachers. Note that the warning only mentions the “vulgar and profane language”:

Teachers should be forewarned. This play contains vulgar and profane language. Common wisdom has been to avoid these realities. We think it is more righteous and wise to deal with such matters as God’s Word does: carefully, yet forthrightly and honestly. (Leithart, Omnibus III: Death of a Salesman, pg. 554 End Note 1)

What follows are examples that are representative of the many disturbing images used in the Omnibus curriculum.  It is especially disturbing because of how many there are. As a student of Medieval and Renaissance history, I know that there are many paintings and stories that are troubling. The issue is that there are options when choosing what to use in curricula. That they chose so many creepy images to highlight is troubling. (Each image can be viewed in full size by clicking on the image.)

O1-Samuel-74

(Leithart, Omnibus I: First and Second Samuel, pg. 74) Michelangelo’s David. While there are many nudes in the various Omnibus volumes, this one is particularly noticeable for the angle of the image. For whatever reason, this image was chosen when other angles are more common.

O2-Incarnation-62

(Dawson, Omnibus II: On the Incarnation, pg. 62) The Sacrifice by Edward Knippers. This image has the distinction of being disturbing, nude, and a violation of the second commandment. There was considerable controversy at Covenant College over an exhibition of Knippers work several years ago.

O-2-Beowulf-123

(Merkle, Omnibus II: Beowulf, pg. 123) Artwork by Matthew Clark. The monster’s detached arm is vivid and disturbing.

O-2-Inferno-232-233

(Vest, Omnibus II: The Divine Comedy: Inferno, pg. 232-233) Arwork by Matthew Clark. The caption for this image reads:

Judas, Brutus and Cassius get their just desserts for being traitors to both Lord and empire. Judas is head first as the worst sinner, Cassius the Epicurean screams in his torments forever and Brutus the Stoic suffers but utters no sound. He has a stiff upper lip for all eternity.

O4-Proverbs-20

(Leithart, Omnibus IV: Proverbs, pg 20) I do not know whose artwork this is. If you do know, please let me know and I’ll add that information. This image appears to be a depiction of the adulterous woman from Proverbs based on the surrounding text.

O-4-Apocrypha-245

(Wilson, Gore, Omnibus IV: Apocrypha, pg 245) Susanna and the Elders by Anthony van Dyck. There are other representations of Susanna and the Elders that are not quite so disconcerting, although the theme of the story is disturbing in itself. This is one of several images that depict violence towards women.

O5-Summa-112

(Clark, Dennis, Omnibus V: Summa Theologica, pg. 112) The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. From the description on Wikipedia:

Animals are shown punishing humans, subjecting them to nightmarish torments that may symbolise the seven deadly sins, matching the torment to the sin. Sitting on an object that may be a toilet or a throne, the panel’s centerpiece is a gigantic bird-headed monster feasting on human corpses, which he excretes through a cavity below him,[49] into the transparent chamber pot on which he sits.[53] The monster is sometimes referred to as the “Prince of Hell”, a name derived from the cauldron he wears on his head, perhaps representing a debased crown.[49] To his feet a female has her face reflected on the buttocks of a demon. Further to the left, next to a hare-headed demon, a group of naked persons around a toppled gambling table is being massacred with swords and knives. Other brutal violence is shown by a knight torn down and eaten up by a pack of wolves to the right of the tree-man.

O5-Decameron-515

(Tillman, Omnibus V: The Decameron, pg 515) The Banquet in the Pine Forest by Alessandro Botticelli. The caption reads:

The Banquet in the Pine Forest by Alessandro Botticelli (1445–1510) shows a portion of this story where, witnessing the horrible suffering of some ghosts, a young maiden realizes the cruelty with which she has treated a suitor and so consents to marry him.

Another source I read describes the image and the story behind it:

Directly after what we see in the second panel, the woman who has just been slaughtered rises up as if nothing has happened and Guido mounts his horse and begins to chase her all over again. It is explained that both Guido and the woman are dead. Guido killed himself over his unrequited love for the woman and he is doomed to hunt her for all eternity. The woman, due to her cold heart is doomed to flee from him. The scene Nastagio has witnessed will occur every Friday at the same time, without end.

Nastagio himself loves a woman who does not love him back. The third panel depicts the setup Nastagio has created to win over the woman he loves.
The dinner party depicted is “dedicated to frightening women into sexual submission” (Ricketts, 79) and we can see this through the way the women have all been seated together and have a front view of the gruesome scene.

It is also important to note that the women at the table have similar features to the nude woman Guido pursues and kills. Botticelli uses this resemblance to “imply that all the women were collectively affected…and that they were all potential victims.” (Ricketts, 85) Because of the possibility that they too could end up like this nude woman, the women’s response is exactly what Nastagio intended, which was “deferring to the men’s desires.”(85)

O6-Revolutions-137

(Wilson, Hensley, Omnibus VI: American and French Revolutions Compared, pg. 137) The Able Dr. or America Swallows the Bitter Draught. Particularly disturbing is the lecherous guy looking up “America’s” skirts.

O6-Huckleberry-218

(Iverson, Etter, Omnibus VI: Huckleberry Finn, pg. 218) I’m not certain where this image originates. There wasn’t a name for artist or painting in the caption. But it is clearly meant to depict the torments of hell.

O6-Dreams-621

(Dawson, Omnibus VI: The Interpretation of Dreams, pg. 621) Oedipus and the Sphinx by Gustave Moreau. Again there are other images of Oedipus and the Sphinx that are less disturbing. This one is worse than most, even given the nature of the Oedipus story.

There are other images and more quotes that I could have used here. This is only a small sample. My purpose is to illustrate that the content of the Omnibus Curriculum has been influenced in many ways by Wilson and his heterodox views. I would strongly caution any family or school against purchasing and using this curriculum.

A Justice Primer: What is the Purpose?

Last month I read the following book recommendation by Kevin DeYoung:

Douglas Wilson and Randy Booth, A Justice Primer (Canon Press, 2015). I thought this was a book on social justice, economics, and big picture politics. It’s actually a book about how the Bible would have us judge each other (or not) in the mad, mad world of blog warriors and internet vigilantes. This book is full of refreshing wisdom. I hope it reaches a wide audience. And if you already know that Doug Wilson is a good-for-nothing scoundrel (and I don’t know him personally and do strongly disagree with him at times), then that’s an indication that you really need this book.

While I was a little surprised by the positive review, I decided I should read the book and decide for myself.

A Justice Primer is an interesting read. The basic premise of the book is that almost no one really understands Biblical justice. Wilson and Booth write:

And this is why we are writing now about justice. There are a number of people in our circles (in a number of situations) who clearly have no firm grasp of what justice is or how it functions. (61)

The authors are specifically concerned about public accusations and charges and how Biblical justice requires that we respond:

Justice often has to do with public accusations and charges that are denied by the one accused. When that happens it is necessary for the accused to be prepared to prove what he says. In order to do this, he must not be anonymous, he must be accountable for his charges (in case they prove deliberate falsehoods), and he must have independent confirmation of what he says. If these conditions are not met, we are prohibited by Scripture from even entertaining the charges (there must be two or three credible witnesses). (5)

Wilson and Booth also explain that they have personal experience with these issues:

These matters are not hypothetical. Some of us have been maligned and misrepresented more times than Carter’s got little liver pills. We also have friends around the country who have been in judicial meltdowns of various kinds, and we have had friends occupying different places in those meltdowns. We known conscientious pastors who have been slandered by parishioners. We know conscientious parishioners who have been slandered by elders. And we have heard of a fracas (from time to time) that doesn’t concern us, and we do not want to take a passing dog by the ears. (41)

What is interesting to me is the unstated purpose for writing this book. Starting back in 2006 or so, Doug Wilson began a series of posts on his blog with the category tag “A Justice Primer.” The reason that is significant is that most of the book is taken from Wilson’s “A Justice Primer” blog posts. From the very first many of the posts addressed the Federal Vision controversy and trials:

Public records still need to be sifted, assembled, arranged, and the arguments presented. … This is the response that the RPCUS made when asked why they thought the Auburn guys were heretics. Their “proof” of the charges were the conference tapes themselves.

The blog posts also dealt with R.C. Sproul, Jr. and the circumstances surrounding him and his session at Saint Peter Presbyterian Church. Sproul, Jr. was defrocked and deposed for a number of reasons including tax fraud, practicing paedocommunion, and ecclesiastical abuse. After the session was deposed, they apologized to the RPCGA and then transferred the church’s membership from the RPCGA and to Doug Wilson’s denomination, the CREC. The CREC examined Sproul, Jr., restored his credentials, and accepted him as a member in good standing.

All of this was going on during the writing of Wilson’s blog posts:

3. Who took their complaints to the internet before they were appropriately adjudicated by the appropriate governing bodies? Who took the show on the road before the church had dealt with the issue? A good example of this would be the recent flap surrounding R.C. Sproul, Jr. and the RPCGA. Everyone who is posting or running some variation of passingdogbytheears.com ought to withdraw their cyber-charges and privately offer any legitimate evidence they might have to the appropriate adjudicating bodies.

Though they have been stripped of any mention of R.C. Sproul, Jr., these blog posts are a significant portion of A Justice Primer. The advice takes on a different significance when the purpose is known:

If someone comes to you from another Christian church, and they are under some kind of cloud, admonition, rebuke, suspension from the Table, or excommunication, what this should mean is that the burden of proof has shifted. An individual in your own church is innocent until it is proven that he is guilty. Guilt has to be established, and it has to be established beyond any reasonable doubt. But if another church has taken disciplinary action of some sort against one of its members, and then that member comes to you, the burden should be on him to demonstrate and prove that an injustice was done to him. If he can do so, and all the principles of justice are remembered (with the former body given full opportunity to present its reasons), then there is no problem (in principle) with a receiving body overturning a judicial decision by another church. (48-49)

And,

Honest sessions and presbyteries discipline liars who run off to other churches and tell lies. So be careful. Dishonest presbyteries heave godly saints out the door. Do not honor judicial outrages. The list of saints who have been treated unjustly by ecclesiastical assemblies is a long and honorable one. (49)

And,

From time to time we hear of some Internet dust-up where the charges are leveled against the pastor, session, or leadership of a Christian organization. The Bible is very explicit in the way it tells us to handle such circumstances. Therefore, when the charges are framed contrary to these biblical standards, they should simply be round-filed. (62)

And,

[C]hurch discipline is one thing, and persecution is quite another. Church discipline honors and protects the name of Christ. Persecution, or zealously hounding dissenters, disgraces the name of Christ, and in effect denies the gospel. That this is a perennial temptation for Christians who take the Scriptures seriously can be seen in all the attempts we have seen to get us to take this particular bait. … The church must not only discipline its members, it must also discipline itself. (219)

The other person that “A Justice Primer” blog posts were written about and for is Steve Wilkins. Steve Wilkins is pastor of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Louisiana. He, and it, were originally part of the PCA. He, and it, left the PCA because of his adherence to the Federal Vision theology. At the time of the blog posts, Wilkins was facing a trial over his views. In “To Get the Chimps Jumping” Wilson wrote:

Now the occasion for writing all this is the examination of Steve Wilkins that is currently underway in the PCA. I have said, and I continue to say, that what is most necessary here is for as many people as possible to acquaint themselves with what Steve has been teaching. If they read through some stuff a couple years ago, they should refresh themselves on it. They should settle in their own minds whether Steve, when he says that he affirms the Westminster doctrine of election, is affirming the Westminster doctrine of election. Having done this, they should pray that the Louisiana Presbytery will make a godly and wise decision, and then, that the Standing Judicial Commission will make a godly and wise decision in letting that decision stand.

The advice from that post also appears in the book with the references to Wilkins removed:

There are public sins that must be dealt with publicly, but not every accusation against a leader rises to this level. … [I]t is perilously easy to fall into the species of harmful do-goodism that wants to uproot the tares, but that kind of do-goodism is at root diabolical. This is true of accusations of private wrongdoing (e.g. embezzlement) and accusations of public heresy. … The second matter, is a public matter, should be handled as a public matter in public view … The overall theme of the Scripture is that the true conservatives are the falsely accused; it is one of the great ironies of our day that ostensible conservatives want to earn their gunslinging stripes by accusing. … Where in Scripture is the theme of the zealous accuser who wants to root out some troublemaker? … But the words Satan and devil (with their deep connotations of adversarial accusation) are used as they are for a reason. (244-245)

And,

There are some who are distressed on our behalf over the lies that are being told about us. But this is just part of the cost of doing business. Jesus said to expect it and to rejoice when it happened, and Scripture requires those in spiritual authority to take care that they not react in a manner that makes the accusations retroactively true. False accusations of tyranny could provoke a man into tyranny. (246)

Wilson also wrote about Steve Wilkins in a post, “Appealing to the Cheap Seats“:

But when the charge concerns what someone has been teaching and saying in public, it is fully appropriate to appeal to that public, which is precisely what Jesus did in this situation. I will have more to say on this in a follow-up post, but I have known Steve for many years, and have heard him teach and preach in many settings. I have read what he has written here. I have heard him explain his full commitment to the doctrinal system found in the Westminster Confession to his critics, face to face, and in an unambiguous way. What he has made available to the public in this setting is fully consistent with what I have heard him say in other places and times.

All this is simply a biblical defense of what I urged everyone to do yesterday. Read what Steve wrote, listen to what he has taught, and then wait patiently for the response of the PCA. The more people who are watching this, the better. This is a public event, and it concerns the public teaching of a public minister. This is a place where many people are involved in making sure justice is done.

That post also appears in the Justice Primer book without reference to Wilkins:

In many of these cases what a person is saying or teaching has been said or taught in many settings. We have read what they have written. For example, we have heard them explain to their critics their full commitment to the doctrinal system found in the Westminster Confession, face to fact, in an unambiguous way. What the teacher has made available to the public in this setting is fully consistent with what we have heard him say in other places and times. In other words, the public has access to all the pertinent facts. If a judicial body is involved (e.g., a church court), then wait patiently for their response. … The courts don’t always get it right. (68-69)

What’s my point with all of this? Well, the book is based on blog posts that were written to defend and protect certain men against perceived injustices by church courts and by those who were discussing the cases on the Internet. With that context, the purpose of the book becomes clearer, and we can then decide if the book’s advice is as useful as it claims to be.

As Wilson and Booth write in the book, “Persons bring charges. Persons have motivations. Those motivations need to be evaluated, just like the charges do.” (92) Persons also write books and have motivations that need to be evaluated.

 

A Question for Wilson Fans

[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)

On the formation of Christ Church:

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.

The denial of justification by faith alone:

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.

Baptismal regeneration:

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?

Wilson writes:

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.

And:

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?