The Federal Division: Excursus II

“grace is a covenantal relationship”

“grace is no longer grace” Romans 11:6

In the previous post we saw Pastor Douglas Wilson of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, redefine the theological term grace to mean “a covenantal relationship between persons.” The self-described wordsmith hammered this definition in his 2002 book “Reformed” Is Not Enough [RINE], which was his explication of the Federal Vision. Six months later, in the first 2003 issue of Credenda/Agenda, Mr. Wilson redefined the word covenant to mean essentially the same thing as his pseudo-grace: “A covenant is a relationship between persons.” Watch the shell game:

“Grace is a covenantal relationship between persons.” (RINE, 2002)

“A covenant is a relationship between persons.” (Credenda/Agenda, 2003)

Doug Wilson needed a word that would make baptism a performative act so he could argue for instantaneous union with Christ, else the Federal Vision would collapse. In RINE he used grace; in Credenda he used covenant. And in both instances he abandoned his well-documented definition of each term for his newly minted definition. Now watch him revert to the correct meanings, as needed:

“This is all grace, unmerited favor.” (Credenda/Agenda, 2003)

“A covenant is a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses.” (Westminster Nineteen: Of the Law of God, 2006, italics original)

Douglas Wilson has established a pattern of forked-tongue communication. This is one of several examples. Definitions are relative to the need of the moment. Now you see it; now you don’t. The same is true of his theology. It shifts according to his needs. “Reformed” Is Not Enough was his “HERE I STAND” book and his only soteriological work. Yet he sacrificed grace to validate a false doctrine of baptism. Six months later he restored grace to its correct definition and sacrificed covenant instead. This is why I categorize these posts under Cult. False doctrine is the hallmark of every cult. The charismatic leader, the authoritarianism, the closed community, the legalism, the loyalty oaths, the sex abusers, and all the other madness result from the false doctrine. And when a man tampers with critical terms such as grace to accommodate baptismal regeneration, he does more than reveal false doctrine (and moral relativism). He demonstrates faithlessness. If grace is up for grabs, then what else is negotiable? Where does he draw that line? — does he even have a line?

Today’s excursus will demonstrate that Doug Wilson knew the correct definition of grace when he wrote “Reformed” Is Not Enough. In turn, this will demonstrate that he knowingly redefined the term and did not act out of incompetence. The following list of quotations covers 20 years of writings — from 1996 to 2016. In each instance you’ll see Douglas Wilson define the term grace correctly, as unmerited favor. In this period he defined the word incorrectly only once — in 2002 for his book “Reformed” Is Not Enough. Pay particular attention to the set of quotes from 1996, which are taken from Beyond Promises: A Biblical Challenge to Promise Keepers. Doug Wilson always performs best when he hectors others for their failures.

*   *   *


We don’t have to earn God’s favor since Christ has done so for us already. (Beyond Promises: A Biblical Challenge to Promise Keepers [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1996], 46)

Salvation is by grace. It is a gift of God, not a reward for who you are or what you have done. (Ibid. 81)

But there has been a tragic blurring of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Now in the history of the church, the combination of strict and high moral standards and a muddy understanding of the free grace of the gospel has always resulted, in the long run, in various forms of legalism and hypocrisy. The problem is not the high moral standard — for that we are grateful. But we must recognize that in Scripture the only possible foundation for righteous living is the grace of God in Christ. But in order to build upon the foundation of grace, this grace must be preached, thoroughly explained, vigorously defended, carefully articulated, and zealously guarded against possible distortions and corruptions. Thus far, this has not been done by Promise Keepers — an organization works in concert with other organizations which are the avowed enemies of a biblically-defined grace. (Ibid. 187188)

Because Christ alone is our salvation, we can say that salvation is all of grace. And grace, by its very nature, does not combine at all with any human effort or work. As Paul put it, “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom. 11:6). This is the biblical message. The grace found in Jesus Christ does not mix with anything else. The ground of our salvation is the person and work of Christ alone. Now as we look at church history, we see many attempts to subvert or twist this message so that it is no longer the biblical good news, the gospel message which saves. (Ibid. 226227)

By blurring the central doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone, Promise Keepers has tragically obscured and confused the way to the Father. . . Without being reconciled to God by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone, we can never be truly reconciled to one another. (Ibid. 232)

*   *   *


First, there must be a return to the doctrines of sovereign and efficacious grace. (Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001], 79)

*   *   *


But this means we must really understand grace. . . Going back to the covenant with Adam in the garden, many theologians look at this and see a situation calling for raw obedience and strict, merited justice. But this misses the wonderful context. God created Adam, placed him in a luxurious garden, created a beautiful woman for him, gave him all the fruit in the garden to eat, with just one tree excepted. He even allowed him to eat from the tree of life. He walked with Adam in the garden in the cool of the day. This is all grace, unmerited favor. Adam had done nothing to deserve it. (Credenda/Agenda, Volume 15-2, “A Home in the Right Key”)

*   *   *


I just can’t stay off this monocovenantal thing. This whole fracas is a real head scratcher, and the word grace appears to be the thing that causes the great game of paradigm bumper cars to begin. But this is highly selective. The fact that I want to use the word grace to describe the unearned favor of God that was bestowed on unfallen Adam is highly offensive to our critics. . . . Why are the critics struggling with something that is so simple?

  1. God’s favor was shown to the unfallen Adam, the grace of creation. All glory goes to God.
  2. God’s favor would have been shown to Adam had he not fallen, the grace of sovereign preservation. All glory would have gone to God.
  3. God’s favor was shown to the unfallen Christ, the grace of sovereign preservation. All glory to God.
  4. God’s favor is shown to the reprobate, the common grace of earthly goods and postponed judgment. All glory to God.
  5. God’s favor is shown to us, His believers, the grace of salvation from sin. All glory to God.

“Too much grace around here! Too much emphasis on the fundamental graciousness of God. You must not be Reformed!” (Common Grace. Uh Oh., May 20, 2004)

Our salvation is an unmerited gift of God, lest any should boast (Eph. 2:8–10). (Secret Atheism/Psalm 14, August 9, 2004)

The word grace signifies divine favor, and divine favor to an innocent creature and a fallen sinner will necessarily be manifested in different ways. (Can We Play Too? October 6, 2004)

*   *   *


We have not arrived, and the fact that we reject the general apostasy does not make us mature. Apart from the unmerited grace of God, we would be beneath contempt. (Bread Not Crumbs, November 10, 2005)

*   *   *


But God uses sin, not just as a wise Physician, but also as an indignant Judge and Executioner. Other men, no better or worse in themselves than the elect, are blinded and hardened because of their previous sins. Grace is withheld from them, but remember that grace is a gift, not a wage. If that withheld grace had been given then their understanding would have come into light, and a gracious work would have been done in their hearts. But God not only withholds grace, He sometimes also removes what gifts they had, and lets them run headlong. When His wrath is manifested, He gives free rein to their lusts, the lies of the world, and the power of the devil. When God lets go of a man, and the man runs headlong, this is the wrath of God. The result of all this is a continuing hardening, even when the same external means (used in the salvation of others) is being used. (Westminster Five: Of Providence, September 13, 2006)1

*   *   *


Grace is where we begin, and when we have run around the stadium circuit of our lives, we should see that the finish line is also grace. This is all undeserved, unmerited favor from a God who cannot be restrained from giving. (State of the Church 2007, January 3, 2007)

The first is that the scriptural doctrine of grace would have to include scriptural uses of the word grace (charis), would it not? “And the child [Jesus] grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him (Luke 2:40). This does not eliminate the legitimate possibility of using the word grace in certain theological circles to refer to demerited favor only. Fine. But surely it should be recognized by those doing this that other theological circles might have reasonable scriptural grounds for seeing it as unearned or unmerited favor? (Why Not Now? April 15, 2007)

*   *   *


Our God is a God of both grace and mercy. In the English language, grace is generally unearned, unmerited favor. Mercy is demerited favor that we receive anyway. When we have forfeited goodness, and God gives it to us anyway, He is showing mercy. When Adam was first created, he had obviously done nothing to deserve it, so his experience of the Garden before the fall was an experience of God’s grace. After he fell, and God promised a savior, this was mercy. Adam had forfeited God’s kindness, and yet God remained kind to him anyway. All mercy is obviously grace, but not all grace is mercy. (Grace and Mercy Both, August 10, 2008)

*   *   *


. . . the chapter begins with no condemnation, and it ends with no possible condemnation. And the basis for this glorious and exalted grace is the entire argument of Romans up to this point — the free gift, justification, and the love of God. (Untouchable/Romans XXXI, August 12, 2009)

At the same time, grace is what it is, and cannot be redefined by sinful man into anything else. The grace of God in Christ saves us from our sins. (Senator Edward Kennedy, August 29, 2009)

*   *   *


Hatred of free grace is a fundamental issue for every unforgiven sinner. (Go Boil Your Antinomian Head, January 30, 2010)

*   *   *


It would seem that grace is a good deal, and absolute grace would be a really good deal. If salvation is free, unearned, unmerited, and undeserved, then this means that absolutely anyone can be saved. (Not at All Symmetrical, March 6, 2011)

One of the most obvious features of our Christmas celebrations is the gift-giving. . . Because our lives are to be lives of grace, and because charis means grace or gift, this is something we have to understand throughout the course of our lives, and not just at Christmas. (A Theology of Christmas Gifts, December 17, 2011)

*   *   *


And, if we think about it rightly, from the vantage of those jealous for the wildness of grace, we will never try to reconcile grace with merit, for the two are mortal enemies and cannot be reconciled. (Grace and Sweat, May 12, 2012)

While we are here, I need to take a moment to define grace as favor that is unmerited. Demerited grace (forgiveness of sin) is our common understanding of grace, and it is certainly grace. But Adam received grace when he was created, and again when Eve was created. He did not merit these gifts, but he hadn’t demerited them either. The demerit came later, when we fell into rebellion. (A Garden of Grace, November 3, 2012)

*   *   *


And if you want to accuse Him of eschatological hate crimes, remember He is the same one who died on the cross so that we might have the tremendous privilege of offering free forgiveness, free grace, and imputed righteousness to homosexuals everywhere. (A Planet Full of Sexual Pirates, June 22, 2013)

This conclusion has to be developed more, but this is why the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ is so important. If Christ died in our place, then this central fact of human history is sheer gift. (The Crucifixion of Coercion, May 23, 2013)

*   *   *


One other thing needs to be said: The grace of God is grace. (A Justice Primer [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2015] 29)2

If you have received this gift of free grace, then this is a glorious opportunity to rejoice in a life well-lived, and to stir yourself up to imitate it. If you have not received this gift of free grace, then it would be hard to imagine a better time than now to do it. (Fred Kohl, R.I.P., December 30, 2015)

*   *   *


In Christian circles we are very accustomed to the word grace. The word refers simply to the unmerited favor of God, but we need to be careful here. We sometimes confound the difference between unmerited favor and demerited favor. . . . But because sin intruded, because our race rebelled against this sovereign kindness, on top of all the unmerited favor that God has bestowed on us, we now have to add the fact that these gifts we are receiving have been actively forfeited by us. We are now receiving demerited favor, but we still receive it anyway. God gives unmerited favor because He is simply like that. God gives us favor despite our demerit because Jesus died on the cross so that we might we made right with Him, and able to receive gifts again. (Ian and Lydia, July 29, 2016)

*   *   *

1 Douglas Wilson states accurately the terrifying doctrine of reprobation. He also describes himself.
2 I included this quote from A Justice Primer for fun. “The grace of God is grace” and “The plagiarism of Doug is plagiarism.”

1 Comment

  1. Even Doug’s definition of “covenant” is not in keeping with his actual meaning, which is “contract.” In Dougspeak, a “covenant” is actually “A contractual obligation between persons, with legal imperatives, which we will coerce you into entering into for the sole benefit of Doug Wilson and Doug Wilson’s pecuniary interests. I mean sure, we’ll use elaborate ruses and labyrinthine subterfuges and mountains of pseudotheological terminology in order to convince you you’re just joining a perfectly normal average ordinary everyday church, but really, we’re tricking you into signing a legal bear trap.””


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *