The Art of the Abusive

You always know when someone has lost the argument when all they can do is resort to abusive ad hominem. That’s exactly what we find in Doug Wilson’s recent blog, An Anarchic Personality. Simply put, abusive ad hominem is to attack the man rather than the argument and Wilson uses this fallacious argument very effectively in his attack against a liberal critic of his, Idaho University professor of philosophy, Nick Gier.

Gier, who evidently is not at all pleased with Wilson’s growing “religious empire” in tiny Moscow, is called an “unbeliever” and a “liberal” repeatedly by Wilson and throughout his piece. Wilson also accuses Gier of being “one of the chief voices in our local disturbances here in Moscow.” Of course, being an unbeliever and a liberal, even being a “chief voice” in a local disturbance, doesn’t mean that Gier’s arguments against Wilson are false, but that is exactly the conclusion Wilson hopes his readers will draw. So, to play along, and since I have no idea what “local disturbance” Wilson has in mind or even who Professor Gier is, for my purposes here I will take Wilson at his word that Gier is an unbeliever and a liberal.

What sets Wilson off is what he calls the “two-way schmooze traffic between the TR camp and radical progressive camp.” Wilson is clearly irritated that both TR’s and unbelieving “radical progressives,” as he calls them, can both recognize that Wilson is not Reformed at all. Yet, rather than deal with his critics head-on and answer their arguments, Wilson says his intent is “not to defend myself from the charges one more time.” One more time? I’ve been reading Wilson for a long time and I have yet to see him defend himself against the charges of his critics even once. Generally his defense, if you can call it that, has been along the lines that his critics are too stupid to understand him, he didn’t say what his critics quote him as saying (even when they cite him saying the very things they said he said), they’re lying, it was just a typo, all of the above.

His argument now is, which I guess we can add to his various attempts to defend himself listed above, consists of guilt by association and abusive ad hominem. Basically, Wilson’s argument is:

1. An unbeliever and a liberal called me not Reformed at all.
2. The arguments leveled against me by the unbeliever and liberal are false. Why? Well, because he’s an unbeliever and a liberal.
3. Believers and TR’s call me a not Reformed at all.
4. The arguments leveled against me by believers and TR’s are similarly false. Why? Well, because they’re in agreement with an unbeliever and a liberal.

Wilson even accuses his “Christian critics” of bearing false witness and that they’ve lied about his soteriology and his conflation of justification with sanctification in his scheme of salvation by covenantal faithfulness and claims we “may observe the fruit of their labors in this article of Gier’s.” OK, so let’s take a look at some of points raised in Gier’s piece.

Gier begins by arguing that in spite of Wilson’s claim to be a “crawling-over-cut-glass” Calvinist, that “[m]ost conservative Calvinists . . . have not been impressed with Wilson’s crooked sword.” This is true. In support of this thesis Gier cites everything from the RPCGA’s statement condemning the “Federal Vision” and the “Auburn Avenue theology” back in 2002 to the recent PCA’s Committee report which also condemns Wilson’s errant theology. Liberal Gier even correctly identifies Wilson as a fellow liberal and writes:

In reading Wilson’s Reformed is Not Enough one is struck by how liberal he is when defining what it is to be a Christian and how little “cut glass” there is on his road to salvation.

This too is true and comports with an observation made by Paul Elliot concerning the FV and NPP as it has manifest itself in the OPC and which he documents in his book, Christianity and Neoliberalism. What is gnawing at Wilson, and I imagine embarrassing too, is that an unbelieving liberal recognizes him as one of their own and exposes him as a fellow unbeliever and liberal.

Wilson trying his best to remain in the closet, takes Gier to task for even commenting on what he calls an “arcane intramural disputes among conservative Presbyterians.” The problem is, and regardless of how Wilson might like to characterize this dispute, Wilson is not a conservative or even a Presbyterian and the FV and NPP which inform Wilson’s theology and which cuts to the heart of the gospel is anything but “arcane.”

However, what really ruffled Wilson is that Gier quotes from Not Reformed At All, the book John Robbins and I wrote early on answering Wilson’s attack on the Christian faith. Gier writes:

In their book Not Reformed at All John W. Robbins and Sean Gerety offer a thoroughgoing critique of Wilson’s theology. They agree with PCA delegates 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.

. . . Wilson states: “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”(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, one that does not even require continued belief in basic Christian doctrines.

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) R&G make the further observation that when Wilson speaks of justification by faith, he does not qualify it with the essential Reformation “alone.”

Again, Gier’s observations are all true and thoroughly spot on. Thankfully this was one area where Wilson takes a short breather from more glib name calling and attempts to advance an actual argument, albeit an old one. Wilson writes:

Gier refers to, but does not understand, the distinction I make between Christians by covenant and Christians in evangelical truth. An adulterer is really married — that’s in part what makes him an adulterer.”

While it’s true that in order to be an adulterer one has to be really married, it’s also true, as we pointed out in Not Reformed At All, that a fornicator does not become a husband by participating in some of the activities of a husband. And he faces greater judgment because he does so, precisely because he is not married to — not in covenant with — his partner.

The problem in Wilson’s distorted Federal Vision is that there are no such thing as fornicators. According to Wilson, all those baptized by an “authorized representative” of the church (Rome included) “is a Christian, a visible saint.” The fuller version of Wilson analogy found in RINE is as follows:

[A man becoming a Christian inwardly] would be comparable to a man who was married for ten years but was regularly unfaithful, who finally had a real change of heart. After ten years, he might say, as might his wife, that on the day he repented he finally became a husband. And he did — he finally knows what it is all about. But we need to remember that covenantally he was a husband all along, and had all the obligations of marriage

As Dr. Robbins and I noted in our book, Wilson routinely confuses faith with faithfulness and does so here again in this tired and misleading analogy. Wilson assumes that by ritual baptism people are really united, married, to Christ. As Dr. Robbins notes:

Wilson’s assumption (most arguments go wrong right at the beginning) — for which he offers no valid Scriptural argument — is simply false. Ritual baptism does not unite sinners to Christ; belief of the Gospel does. It is those who believe who are “added to the Lord.”

No matter how tragically flawed, there is no question that Wilson is wed to his analogy, and it’s at this point that he goes into extended rant against Gier:

A faithful husband is really married too, but there is far more to the story than the two of them being “really married.” The reason this doctrine is eating at Gier is because he had a Christian upbringing, and he is covenantally obligated to return to a genuine faith in Jesus, an obligation which he feels deeply, and which he is nevertheless refusing to do. Most evangelical Christians refuse to talk about this obligation, and this is the nerve that I suspect I have hit. Under ordinary circumstances, Gier would applaud any developing “liberalism” on my part. The reason he attacks it (as a liberal!) is because he understands it is not liberal in the standard sense at all. He must repent and believe, and return to a simple faith in Jesus. His baptism still obligates him. And, if Robbins or Gerety are reading this, let us be clear that he must return by faith alone.

I’m reading it Doug, but remember it is not the parroting of certain words or phrases that determine orthodoxy, rather it is what is meant by these words and phrases that does. Notice too that the man Wilson attacks as an unbeliever and a liberal is one who, at least in Wilson’s mind, is also married to Jesus Christ, otherwise he cannot be the “adulterer” Wilson says he is. Yet, how can an unbelieving liberal be married to Jesus Christ? Because according to Wilson Gier had a “Christian upbringing” therefore he is “covenantally” wed to Christ and is “obligated to return to a genuine faith in Jesus.”

Couple of major problems here. First, what does it mean for a man who is an unbeliever to return to genuine faith in Jesus? Was Geir a believer at one time and no longer is? Is Wilson’s Arminianism showing? Second, aren’t all men obligated to repent and believe in Jesus regardless of their upbringing? Didn’t Jesus say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”? Didn’t Jesus’ words apply just as much to unbelieving and circumcised Jews in his day as it does to baptized unbelievers in our own? Third, what exactly does Wilson mean by faith even faith alone? Wilson makes it crystal clear in RINE, on his blog, in his magazine, and elsewhere, some of which I have documented and examined at length on this blog, that faith means doing. Throughout RINE Wilson maintains that “faith in the biblical sense is inseparable from faithfulness” and in his scheme of salvation faith and faithfulness are synonyms. In Wilson’s theology there is no such thing as “faith alone” in the traditional sense. According to Wilson “covenant faithfulness” is the one thing needful in the Christian life and this is what he confuses with faith alone. For Wilson:

[w]hat determines one’s salvation is one’s own “covenant faithfulness.” That is, salvation depends on one’s own performance. Keep in mind that [contrary to Wilson] “faith” is not synonymous with “faithfulness.” By “faithfulness” Wilson means loyalty, obedience, works. In Wilson’s theology, salvation is by ritual baptism and good works. This, of course, is essentially the position of the Roman Church-State: Membership in the Church, conferred by ritual baptism performed by an authorized representative of the Church, is necessary for salvation, but it is not sufficient for salvation. In order to be finally saved, the baptized person must also perform satisfactorily [Not Reformed At All].

While claiming to be Reformed Wilson simply apes the false religion of Rome and this is something that even an unbelieving liberal like Gier correctly recognizes and identifies. The reason Gier doesn’t applaud Wilson’s “developing liberalism” is because Wilson is a hypocrite and likes to portray himself as a conservative, a Calvinists and a Presbyterian. Besides, one does not have to be a believer or a conservative to understand and recognize the biblical doctrine of justification which is by mere belief alone, nor does one have to be a believer or a conservative to understand and recognize its denial in others.

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2 Comments on “The Art of the Abusive”

  1. Mark T. Says:

    Excellent essay.

  2. magma2 Says:

    Thank you Mark.


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