Reformed is Not Enough

“Reformed” Is Not Enough”-Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant, by Douglas Wilson★★★★

This book was written in 2002 during the inception of the so-called Federal Vision (FV) controversy. I’ve read books that allegedly refute the FV heresy, yet have failed to grasp exactly the core issue(s) at stake. Back then, my overwhelming problem was in grasping for a precise definition of FV, something that Wikipedia does not help with. Neither did I get help from the various books responding to the FV “heresy”, as even they noted that the FV movement is diverse and heterogeneous. Worse, the person who has written the most in defense of the FV movement, Douglas Wilson (and author of this book), now claims he is not a Federal Visionist. When a person focuses on movements rather than issues, problems will arise. It would be like refuting a Jehovah’s Witness while ignoring their Arianism. One particular text, Christ and Covenant Theology by Cornelis Venema, mentioned this book by Wilson frequently when refuting the Federal Vision concept of the covenant. In my recent review of Venema’s book, I suggested no interest in exploring the FV issue further. Yet, cold shoulders at church and mentions over the pulpit of the need to attack the FV heresy piqued my curiosity to no end. Curiosity did kill the cat, you know!

I had other reasons for not wishing to read this book, mostly related to the person of Douglas Wilson. I have nothing against Dougie, and there is a lot about him that I like. His fervency for the Lord cannot go unnoticed. His desire for a truly Reformed belief system is admirable. His willingness to stick his neck out against authorities is praiseworthy, especially his unwillingness to shut down his church during the so-called Covid “crisis”. Yet, I believe that Dougie spent too many hours down under riding in a (yellow?) submarine during his Navy years. Doug has a veneer of haughtiness and rough edges that are grating. Doug is most arrogant about matters of theology that can be questioned, not from a heretical standpoint so much as from a point of simple differences in interpretive position, such as his views on eschatology (post-millennialism) and theonomy (offering flashbacks to the Reconstructionist period of the 1990s). Doug’s viewpoints often fluctuate over the years, as his views on race and slavery in antebellum America, and his stated adherence to the FV movement. I get a sense from his videos that any and every theological controversy is best resolved with a debate or argument. Some of his publications are so bad as to deserve negative stars, such as his commentary on Revelation, and his book on how to exasperate your wife, or his books on raising so-called “real” men. So, bluntly stated, I am NOT a Dougie Wilson fan. Still, I needed to pinpoint straight from the horse’s mouth exactly what heretical statements Dougie was making. This book was read with an extremely critical spirit, rooting through each page as a pig roots through the mud.

To my joy (dismay?), I found little in this book to take issue with, especially regarding the main themes of the book. It was well-written, Dougie’s attempts at humor were more subdued, and Dougie followed a logical, though not comprehensive argument. It was all consistent with what I’ve learned from my reading of the Puritans, and from the most influential contemporary Divines that have graced my life, including John Gerstner, JI Packer, and especially my old pastor Rob Rayburn. FV was never (or perhaps, rarely ever?) mentioned in this book. Doug focused on issues at stake. I am left deeply perplexed as to how the PCA could possibly bring charges of heresy against the so-called Federal Vision movement if this book is representative of FV theology. I am even more perplexed as to why so many theologians of the Ivory Tower would take issue with the claims of this book, especially regarding the assertion that FV denies the doctrine of sola fide or the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. All that I can determine at this point is that some of the elitist Ivory Tower theologians have had their dander ruffled by a rough-and-tough, crude submarine-ist turned theologian. The arguments result in ad hominem vindictives rather than substantive rebuttals. I have a sense that if the two Johnnies (Calvin and Knox), most of the Puritan Divines, and any 19th-century Reformed scholar were to visit today’s Reformed scene, they wouldn’t recognize it as Reformed. If I’m not mistaken, Dougie’s entire intention in this book is to return us to a Reformed cultus as found in the Christians of yesteryear.

The book has four parts. The first details thoughts on the nature and extent of the Covenant of God with his creatures. It does not wrangle over the issue of the “covenant of works”. The second part focuses on the sacraments and the significance of those sacraments. Wilson refutes the action of “magic” in the sacraments, and yet affirms that there is an objective reality, being true signs and seals of the covenant, which occurs as we partake in the sacraments. Partaking of the bread and wine is far more than a means that God uses to help jog your memory that Christ died on the cross for your sins. The third is a necessary focus on a problem area for Reformed theologians, that of the apostate. Covered in this second are not only the apostates, but those who would be deemed to be a part of the covenant community through baptism, yet never show signs of true faith. The fourth part contends with the faith/works issue. I recall RC Sproul exegeting the book of James as being in the wisdom genre rather than the theology genre. Even a short reflection will demonstrate this to be eisegesis rather than exegesis. The “James-ian” notion that works saves a person from the world’s perspective but that “Romans-style” salvation is in God’s eyes is total nonsense and inconsistent with so many other passages of Scripture. This is an example where the explanation of the ex-submarine-ist Dougie transcends that of the Ivory Tower-ist Robbie (RC) Sproul. Before the concluding chapter, Wilson includes a chapter on covenantal succession, a doctrine that is sadly too often ignored or rebutted.

FV type issues were not mentioned. Wilson notes his belief in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, but doesn’t explore the uses and abuses of that doctrine. Wilson speaks much about paedobaptism, but almost nothing about paedocommunion, which is a strange trigger point for the anti-FVists. What do they suppose will happen? When a neonate or newborn (freshly baptised, of course) comes forward for their communion experience, they will be offered pureed bread and wine, applied to the baby bottle nipple or to the mother’s teats? I’m neither for or against paedocommunion, as there is insufficient data from either the Old or New Testament to argue one way or another. Any age determination for first communion is fraught with problems as Scripture is entire silent on the topic. So, how can paedocommunion possibly be grounds for heresy? Equally ridiculous is the suggestion of administration of the host to a newborn… don’t the Reformed scholars have anything better to argue about?

Summary: 1. I have not become a Federal Visionist. How can I be if I can’t have a well-formed definition of what it is? 2. If this book represents the sum total of Federal Vision thinking, then the heretic hunters have some serious explaining to do. 3. Wilson provides a beautiful reply to the Sola-fide-ists about the nature of “works”. 4. I commend Wilson for a well-written text.