The Federal Vision
5Nov/140

Forward to “Reformed is Not Enough,” by Douglas Wilson

Reformed is Not EnoughThe forward to Reformed is Not Enough, by Douglas Wilson, is helpful to understanding the context of the Federal Vision debate. I received permission from Pastor Doug Wilson to republish the forward for all to read. I highly recommend the whole book, which you can pick up HERE.

On June 22, 2002, Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS declared that certain teachings at a pastors' conference presented by Steve Schlissel, Steve Wilkins, John Barach and, as the Victorians would have put it, the present writer, involved a "fundamental denial of the essence of the Christian Gospel in the denial of justification by faith alone." Consequently, the four of us were declared to be heretics.

This book project was already well under way when all of this happened and so it cannot be understood as a full-orbed response to the charges. At the same time, given the nature of the subject this book addresses, the materials here can be considered as part of the provocation and something of a response. The basic theme of this book is what brought about the charges in the first place, and in more than a few passages, I have written responsively with the charges in mind.

The charges assumed (which is incidentally not the same thing as proving) that the positions taken by the speakers were "contrary to the Bible and the Westminster Standards." As a result, in the following pages, there is a closer interaction with the teaching of the Westminster Confession than would otherwise have happened. This was not done in order to "get around" anything in the historic Reformed faith, but rather the reverse. It is our conviction that certain epistemological developments since the Enlightenment have caused many modern conservative Calvinists to read their confessions in a spirit alien to that which produced them. As a result, we were taken to task for denying our confessional heritage at just those paces where we were in fact upholding it. This of course does not make us right–as the Westminster theologians themselves told us, and as Steve Schlissel continues to tell us in a loud voice. Something can be "confessional" and wrong. But we are like the obedient boy in the parable–we say the confession could be wrong, but then we affirm the confession. Our opponents say the confession is as right as it gets–biblical Christianity in "its purest human expression"–and then proceed to merrily disregard what the confession actually teaches in this area.

What we always want in all "controversies of religion" is a plain and honest resort to Scripture primarily. But when we do this, we are still mindful of our confessional riches and we love that heritage. Given this, it is a bit much to be charged with abandoning our inheritance when those taking the charge abandoned the standards long enough ago to give it the color of "a historic position."

No single issue in this collective charge against us is very complicated, but, taken all together, things can become significantly tangled. This is because this was a heresy trial on the cheap–it was a veritable broadside of charges with no apparent need to contact us to get any clarification, no need to document the charges with quotations, no need to distinguish four men with different emphases, and so forth. Simple issues when collectively heaped can still make a big mess.

At the same time, this published response seeks to name this imbroglio appropriately. Apart from the specific charges, exactly is going on here? What worldview are colliding? This might seem like a nonsensical question to some–"what do you mean worldviews?" Both sides of this dispute hold to some variation of postmillennial, Calvinistic, presbyterian, Van Tillian, theonomic, and reformed thought, with additional areas of agreement standing off to the side. I bet none of us voted for Clinton. How could there possibly be enough material left over for a fracas?

The answer is found in a contrast we have used many time–medieval versus modern. We believe ourselves to be in the process of recovering what our fathers taught from the Reformation down to the Enlightenment–that is, a Reformed and medieval mindset. We believe our opponents to be sincere and honest Christians, but men who have erroneously made a bad truce with modernity and who have accommodated their theology to the abstract dictates of the Enlightenment. This is why we have been laid on the Procrustean bed of a particular understanding of systematic theology and have had our heretical feet cut off. The irony in this case is that the standard used to judge us were written with the mindset we are returning to and which are drastically misunderstood by the mindset we are rejecting. There will be more on this in the chapters to come.

So the dispute is not imaginary–there are real and important differences between us. We do not believe the differences to constitute heresy–any of the men who have taken this action against us would be welcome to worship at any of our churches and commune with us in the Lord's Supper there.  Nevertheless, the differences are real and deep, and the parties that differ ought to be properly named. If it were up to me, building on the acronym TR ("Truly Reformed"), I would suggest that this is a debate between the Enlightenment TRs (ETRs) and the historic reformed. But agreement with this naming will have to wait for further proof.

The basic content of this book appeared originally in a series of sermons preached at Christ church in Moscow. One of the chapters appeared originally in The Hammer, a publication of Community Christian Ministries, while another chapter appeared in Table Talk. The rest was written for the occasion.

Douglas Wilson
Christ Church
2002