[Vision2020] Is Doug Wilson a Good Calvinist?

Mike Hall mikehall at moscow.com
Sat Mar 26 18:33:40 PST 2005

Professor Gier,


In this post I will attempt to respond to your first point.



From: vision2020-bounces at moscow.com [mailto:vision2020-bounces at moscow.com]
On Behalf Of Nick Gier
Sent: Saturday, March 26, 2005 11:45 AM
To: vision2020 at moscow.com
Subject: [Vision2020] Is Doug Wilson a Good Calvinist?


        Mike Hall has requested that I demonstrate the ways in which Doug
Wilson differs from Calvinist orthodoxy.  I’ve written up the following
response and will share it with all those interested in the ongoing Wilson
saga.  It’s 838 words, so you may want to print it out instead, or delete it
entirely if you are not interested.
        I will defer to other conservative Presbyterians, especially the
authors of Not Reformed at All, by John W. Robbins and Sean Gerety,
published by the Trinity Foundation in 2004.  This book is a thoroughgoing
critique of Wilson’s theology and it succeeds in proving that Wilson’s views
are fundamentally at odds with the Westminster Confession, the primary
Calvinist statement of faith.
        Robbins and Gerety (hereafter R&G) generally characterize Wilson’s
writing as containing “a facial glibness and an adolescent smart-aleckness”
(17), and they specifically charge him with rational incoherence,
eclecticism (i.e., mixing several theologies into one), misinterpreting
scripture, neglecting to define basic terms, and false accusation.
        Mr. Hall wants me to concentrate on fundamental doctrine, so let us
focus on that.  With regard to the role of scripture and tradition, R&G
argue (21-29) that Wilson undermines sola scriptura, the central doctrine of
the Protestant Reformation.  I find it unusually tolerant and theologically
interesting of Wilson to grant authority to previous church traditions, but
Luther nor Calvin made a clean break with them.  Wilson and his followers
are very liberal and promiscuous in the way they pick and choose, but this
does not make for a systematic theology in general or a Reformed theology in
Mr. Hall is very proud that he and other members of Christ Church recite the
Apostle’s Creed, but R&G are scathing in their attack on the deficiencies of
this early Christian affirmation: (1) it was in no way authorized by the
Apostles; (2) it was used for political purposes; and (3) it “omits the sine
qua non of [Reformed] Christianity: justification by faith alone, not even
mentioning the substitutionary atonement of Christ” (78)

The reason I posted those ancient Christian creeds was to demonstrate that
we agree with these fundamental statements of faith from our Christian
forebears.  I could also post a statement from the Westminster Shorter
Catechism or a “modern statement” which I assume was put together by the
elders (see below).  These are further down on the website under “Our
Confession”.  They most certainly deal with the issue of the substitutionary
atonement (see bolded sections).


As we both know, and the reason why those early creeds did not deal with
this, is because the more developed theological statement we now refer to as
substitutionary atonement did not become formulated as such until Anselm.
Up to that time the expression of atonement commonly referred to as Christus
Victor was the predominant theological expression of the Atonement.  Both
expressions are true and provide two “facets” of the diamond of truth that
is the atonement of Christ.  And to go further, our faith is not in
theological expressions, but in Jesus Christ himself.  Our theology is an
attempt to express the truth of the Bible but it is not the Bible itself.
The Westminster Confession is not the Bible either, and falls under the
authority of the Scriptures.  The men who formulated it were not inerrant.
Inerrancy and infallibility can only be ascribed to the Scriptures


As for granting authority to previous traditions, and somehow undermining
sola scriptura, or “Scripture Alone,” I must admit that I do not see how
agreeing with the clear statements of biblical truth from Christians who
came before us, undermines the Bible.  I’m wading in to water up to my neck,
but isn’t “orthodox Christian teaching”, historically speaking, set within
the bounds of these expressions of what the Bible teaches?  They are in no
way elevated to the level of the Bible in terms of authority, but they do
help “define” orthodoxy.  As I understand it, these statements often came
about in reaction to attacks from groups that were advancing unbiblical
teaching.  The formulation of the Nicene Creed is probably the best example
I can think of to demonstrate this.  When some tried to minimize Christ’s
divinity and teach that he was somehow less than God the Father, a
theological battle ensued and the Nicene Creed was the result.  The entire
western and eastern Christian traditions, at least those who would be
considered orthodox Christian traditions, agree that the Nicene Creed is a
faithful expression of the teaching of Scripture.  I would imagine that this
is true of every Evangelical Christian church on the Palouse as well.  This
does not undermine sola scriptura, it rather expresses humility in that we
realize that the Bible, and how we understand it, was not dropped into our
laps in the 21st century for us to interpret “ex cathedra” apart from our
historical forebears.  


Mike Hall


A Westminster Creed
(A modern selection from the 17th century Shorter Catechism)

I believe man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever;
I believe God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being,
wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth; I believe there is
but one true and living God; that there are three persons in the Godhead:
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and that these three are one God,
the same in substance, equal in power and glory; I believe God has
foreordained whatever comes to pass; that God made all things of nothing, by
the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good; and that
God preserves and governs all His creatures and all their actions.
I believe our first parents, though created in knowledge, righteousness, and
holiness, sinned against God, by eating the forbidden fruit; and that their
fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery; I believe God
determined, out of His mere good pleasure, to deliver His elect out of the
estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a
Redeemer; I believe the only Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus
Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and
continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person,
forever; I believe Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the office of a
prophet, of a priest, and of a king. I believe Christ as our Redeemer
underwent the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, the cursed death of
the cross, and burial; He rose again from the dead on the third day,
ascended up into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, the Father, and is
coming to judge the world at the last day.  I believe we are made partakers
of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to
us by his Holy Spirit; I believe God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ,
and repentance unto life to escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for
sin; I believe by His free grace we are effectually called, justified, and
sanctified, and gathered into the visible church, out of which there is no
ordinary possibility of salvation; I believe that we also are given in this
life such accompanying benefits as assurance of God's love, peace of
conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance
therein to the end; that at death, we are made perfect in holiness, and
immediately pass into glory; and our bodies, being still united in Christ,
rest in their graves, till the resurrection; and at the resurrection, we
shall be raised up in glory, we shall openly be acknowledged and acquitted
in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of
God to all eternity.

A Modern Statement

We believe the Bible to be the only inerrant Word of God. It is our only
ultimate and infallible authority for faith and practice. We believe that
there is one God, eternally existent in three Persons; Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. The Lord God is omnipotent; He is the Almighty. He is omnipresent,
entirely present throughout all creation while not limited by it. He is
omniscient, with nothing at all hidden from His sight, whether past,
present, or future. In all things He is limited by nothing other than His
own nature and character. We believe the God we serve is holy, righteous,
good, severe, loving, and full of mercy. He created the heavens and earth,
and everything in them, in the space of six ordinary days, and all very
good. He is the Creator, Sustainer, and Governor of everything that has been
We believe in the true deity and full humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in
His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and
atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His
ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in
power and glory. 
We believe in the full deity of the Holy Spirit, acknowledging Him together
with the Father and the Son in the works of creation and redemption.
We believe that because of Adam's sin all mankind is in rebellion against
God. For the salvation of such lost and sinful men, regeneration by the Holy
Spirit is absolutely necessary. 
We believe that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and that faith
without works is dead. 
We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling
the Christian is enabled to live a godly life. 
We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and lost; those who are
saved to the resurrection of life, and those who are lost to the
resurrection of damnation. We believe in the spiritual unity of all
believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.



        Wilson is even more liberal when he defines what it is to be a
Christian.  Here are his very words: “A Christian. . . is anyone who has
been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by an
authorized representative of the Christian church”(Reformed is Not Enough,
19).  R&G take the three New Testament passages that Wilson uses to support
this doctrine and demonstrate conclusively that they do not support this
incredibly broad definition that does not even require continued belief in
basic Christian doctrines.  As promiscuous as ever, Wilson insists that
“unbelieving Christians” are still “covenantal Christians” (cited in R&G,
46).  To put his opposition to Luther and Calvin in the starkest opposition,
Wilson states that “the Bible says that baptism saves” and sides with Roman
Catholic theologians in denying that the Bible teaches justification by
faith alone (R&G, 82)
        Another basic doctrinal problem is Wilson’s talk about corporate
souls and collective salvation that is part of his “federal vision.” to
Luther and Calvin  This is the sort of theology that would excite a Hindu
Vedantist but not an orthodox Christian.  As we have heard so many times
from Wilson, democracy (one person/one vote) and individualism are the great
errors of modernism and the Enlightenment.  Theologically, this means that
there are no grounds for an individual coming to God by himself or herself
to be born again. Using Wilson’s own metaphor, we are no longer individual
eggs but all those who have been baptized are an indistinguishable part of
God’s Great Omelette.  R&G (74) note that Wilson completely ignores the
organic analogy that pervades the New Testament in which each individual
body part maintains its identity in the Body of Christ.
        With regard to the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, Wilson sides with
Roman Catholics once again, but, incredibly enough, argues that “the
Westminster Confession teaches that there is a real presence of Christ’s
body and blood in the act of faithful eating as His Table” (Reformed is Not
Enough, 111).  The Westminster Confession actually states that Christ is
symbolically not “carnally and corporally present” in the Eucharist. Any
Presbyterian Sunday School student knows that this was a major disagreement
that both Luther and Calvin had with the Roman Church. 
        Finally, in my debate with Doug Jones on the Trinity, I have come to
the conclusion that his views (and I assume Wilson’s) are not consistent
with Calvin’s, who is very much part of the Western tradition that has
always preferred to err on the side of modalism so as to preserve the unity
of God.  I’ve tried in vain to get Jones to clarify his position, but it
appears that he would rather support the Eastern Orthodox view that
emphasizes the three persons, but flirts with Tritheism in its inability to
defend divine unity.  For more see HYPERLINK
        I have gone on long enough but here is more than sufficient
evidence, Mr. Hall, for you to conclude that your pastor’s theology is not
consistent with traditional Calvinism.  Indeed, it looks as if it is very
liberal and promiscuous with regard to basic Christian doctrine. I suggest
that you change your membership to a local Presbyterian church where the
pastors will have been trained at accredited seminaries in the denomination.

"Modern physics has taught us that the nature of any system cannot be
discovered by dividing it into its component parts and studying each part by
itself. . . .We must keep our attention fixed on the whole and on the
interconnection between the parts. The same is true of our intellectual
life. It is impossible to make a clear cut between science, religion, and
art. The whole is never equal simply to the sum of its various parts." --Max

Nicholas F. Gier
Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, University of Idaho
1037 Colt Rd., Moscow, ID 83843
208-882-9212/FAX 885-8950
President, Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO

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