Pastor Doug Wilson of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, has said “no mas” to the name Federal Vision. Mr. Wilson has not renounced any doctrine associated with the FV — only the name. This raises eyebrows for a few reasons but primarily because Douglas Wilson threw himself into the forefront of the FV controversy as the chief spokesman for the cause. He wrote the first book on the subject — “Reformed” Is Not Enough — and he propagated RINE to the four corners of the earth, as its chief advocate.
Previously we considered A Handy Guide for Navigating Theological Controversies, which Doug Wilson wrote on August 3, 2004, to help readers “keep things sorted out.” But three weeks later he had enough. On August 26, 2004, Mr. Wilson declared that “continued conversation (as mere talk) is fruitless . . . . And more words won’t sort it out.” He pushed all his chips to the middle of the table, and he called. Douglas Wilson appealed to God:
Topic: Auburn Avenue Stuff
Nothing reveals a person’s approach to epistemology more rapidly than trouble-shooting in conflict does. “What’s the trouble here? How did the trouble start?” Almost always the way this kind of question is answered serves to extend and continue the trouble.
When Ahab decided to start worshiping Baal, the end result of this was a drought that turned Israel brown. Jezebel persuaded him to start worshipping the idols of green, and the first thing that happened was lots of brown everywhere. But the interesting thing was that when Ahab and Elijah encountered one another after three years of this drought, they still had differing interpretations. Ahab thought Elijah was the trouble, and Elijah thought that Ahab and his idols were the trouble (1 Kings 18:17–18). Scripture tells us clearly that Achan was a troubler of Israel (1 Chron. 2:7). Is that how he thought of it? Is that what Achan’s mom thought? Let’s get her on CNN to tell her side.
Whenever we get to this point in the polemical proceedings, continued conversation (as mere talk) is fruitless. Those who are stubborn remain stubborn. Those who are faithful remain faithful. Those who are ignorant remain ignorant. Over the last several years, in our various controversies, I have seen a remarkable amount of treachery, dishonesty, and invincible ignorance. But if this is the case, then how are these things ever to be resolved?
But as we answer this question, we have to take care. Giving up on endless discussion, dispute, debate, etc. is not the same thing as giving up generally. When we tend to think that to give up on talking is the same as giving up period, this indicates that perhaps our faith was in our words, and not in Christ.
Theological impasses are resolved in two ways — the first is obviously the ultimate way in which God will sort out everything in the final judgment. We will not enter eternity still trying to tie up all the loose ends. God will bring everything together, and the entire story will make wonderful and perfect sense.
But what about in the meantime? The second way a sovereign God resolves many of these issues is through how He governs the course of history. The names of many honored saints today have that position precisely because of the abuse they were willing to endure at the time. Athanasius is not against the entire Christian world now (contra mundum) precisely because he was willing to be in that position then.
When controversy erupts in the Christian world, there are the two sides of the dispute, and then there is a large, getting-up-to-speed group in the middle that spends its time trying to figure out who started it. And regardless of who started it, some members of this middle group usually take St. Paul, or Athanasius, or some other faithful Tishbite aside, and urge them to be more gentlemanly in how they fight the Lord’s battles.
And more words won’t sort it out. We must appeal to God, who sees it all. “Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast holpen me, and comforted me” (Ps. 86:17).
Posted by Douglas Wilson — 8/26/2004 2:57:11 PM
Accordingly, Doug Wilson affirmed that “continued conversation (as mere talk) is fruitless . . . . And more words won’t sort it out.” The “it” refers to the confusion caused by the Federal Vision. Mr. Wilson had spun it for two years plus, without success. No one bought it. All called it non-confessional. Some called it “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8). Still Doug Wilson refused correction. He was right. Therefore, he quoted the psalmist and called upon the Almighty to settle this controversy by showing him a “token for good.” Doug Wilson wanted his enemies to see that God favored him in this controversy — that they may “be ashamed.”
Now to be clear, on the crazy scale of 1 to 10 — 10 being just plain nuts — Doug Wilson’s request for a token snapped the needle. He didn’t need a sign. He needed to repent of his deceit. The so-called “conversation” ended the moment Mr. Wilson redefined the word “covenant,” without notice, to accommodate the FV system. That was when he signaled his priority. For Mr. Wilson the Federal Vision was not so much about doctrinal integrity; it was about his refusal to concede error as well as his resolve to win “the Lord’s battles” at any cost, truth notwithstanding. The Federal Vision stands or falls on the meaning of “covenant” (Federal Visionists represent the FV as “covenant theology”). The system unravels if the FVists use the correct definition of “covenant.” Mr. Wilson knows this. He also knows that a covenant is not a relationship, contra the Federal Vision, which is why he reverted to the correct definition of the term after his role in the controversy cooled. Nevertheless, Mr. Wilson beseeched heaven to show him “a token for good,” to resolve the question “in the meantime.”
Perusing the Auburn Avenue Stuff archive of Doug Wilson’s personal website doesn’t indicate that he received this token. Further, Mr. Wilson did not explain what he meant by “a token for good.” He didn’t reveal how others would know that God had shown him this sign or how they would know that it meant God favored Mr. Wilson and the Federal Vision. The difficulty here is the subjectivity of the objective token. Paul Simon sang “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” and Doug Wilson’s request creates this same dilemma. It’s a matter of perspective. Scripture gives no hermeneutic for interpreting providence; consequently no one reads tea leaves exactly the same way. Superstition abounds and the practice is rife with flaws: “for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). An evil man can interpret sunshine as God’s pleasure and a just man could interpret drought as God’s displeasure — yet both would be wrong. So Doug Wilson’s goal was clear: “that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed”; the means to achieve that goal not so much.
I think another issue may have been at work here as well. Douglas Wilson had just suffered a streak of embarrassing headlines in the local papers when he asked for a token. In July 2004 the Latah County Commissioners revoked the Kirk’s property-tax exemption when they discovered Mr. Wilson had been operating for-profit enterprises beneath his 501(c)(3) cover. And both papers reported that Southern Slavery As It Was contained plagiarized text (SSAIW had been the subject of numerous front-page stories less than a year before). Presumably Douglas Wilson did not interpret these headlines as tokens for good:
This headline is from the Lewiston Morning Tribune on July 20, 2004:
Doug Wilson woke up to these four headlines in less than a month’s time. So it’s conceivable that he secretly meant “please stop the headlines” when he asked God to show him “a token for good.” But that’s just a guess — and that token never came. 2005 saw as many embarrassing headlines as 2003 & 04. Still, we do not know how to divine the token Mr. Wilson sought, when he asked God to show the world that he was the twenty-first century’s Athanasius and that the Federal Vision was true. Therefore, let me postulate my theory.
First, we must ditch Doug Wilson’s assumption that he was right. He requested “a token for good,” which was essentially asking for vindication. But his overarching appeal was for God to judge the matter with some kind of divine intervention.
Now look at this timeline of events. Please note that the Federal Vision controversy took center stage at the exact time that two confessed child molesters serially raped Kirk children:
- February 2001–June 2002 — Jamin Wight sexually assaulted Natalie Greenfield
- January 2002 — The Monroe Four announced the Federal Vision at the Auburn Ave. Pastor’s Conference
- June 2002 — The RPCUS declared the Federal Vision false doctrine
- August 2003 — Steven Sitler moved to Moscow; he immediately began raping children
- August 2004 — Douglas Wilson declared an end to the Federal Vision conversation and asked God to show him “a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed”
- March 2005 — Steven Sitler was caught; Doug Wilson helped him cross state lines before reporting
- July 2005 — Steve Sitler pled guilty to one count of Lewd Conduct With a Minor Under Sixteen Years of Age
- August 2005 — Natalie Greenfield reported Jamin Wight to the Moscow Police Department
Normally, I would never interpret providence by suggesting “this is because of that.” For me the subject is off limits. But in this case two aggravating circumstances prevail:
- Doug Wilson posted to the worldwide web his request for a token, or sign, from God; and
- Doug Wilson documented for the world his hermeneutic for interpreting rape:
Violent rape is a judgment of God upon a people. . . Violent rape is God’s judgment upon a culture, and individual women who are part of that culture are included in the judgment. . . . We see the same judgment at work in disintegrating cultures: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11). Here the rape is not being perpetrated by foreign soldiers, but is the result of citizens turning on one another. Every culture is a gathering of sinners, and so rape is always a possibility. But when God’s hand of judgment is heavy upon a people, women are in far greater danger of sexual assault than at other times. (Fidelity: What it Means to Be a One-Woman Man [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999] 82–83)
Doug Wilson wrote this two years before Jamin Wight began committing sexual violence against a fellow kirker. Notice that Mr. Wilson doesn’t hesitate to argue “this is that” (exegesis by assertion). He repeats it three times:
“Violent rape is a judgment of God upon a people. . . Violent rape is God’s judgment upon a culture. . . . when God’s hand of judgment is heavy upon a people, women are in far greater danger of sexual assault. . .”
And he observes the treachery of the crimes, just as it happened in the Kirk:
“Here the rape is not being perpetrated by foreign soldiers, but is the result of citizens turning on one another.”
Jamin Wight was a kirker who turned against another kirker and Steven Sitler was a kirker who turned against multiple kirkers — all of them helpless. These horrible crimes occurred when Douglas Wilson requested “a token for good.” He got his token all right. He saw firsthand the fruit of his deceitful & abusive ministry. He planted a disintegrating culture that was, and still is, under the judgment of God — that is, if he actually believes what writes. He may have disowned the name Federal Vision, but nothing else has changed. Barring genuine repentance, the judgment of God is as good as it’s gonna get. And he can’t ask for much more “objectivity of the covenant” than that.