Corpse Faith

corpse_in_coffinI have to wonder how many times Doug Wilson has to show his hand before the self-styled stalwarts of the Reformed Christian faith and so-called opponents of the the Federal Vision finally wake up and recognize this bag o’ bones for the heretic he is?  Readers of this blog will remember that not long ago PCA pastor and posturing foe of the Federal Vision, Lane Keister, handed Wilson a clean bill of health on the vitals of the faith.  This  after a year of publicly waltzing with Wilson as the two danced cheek to cheek through Wilson’s diatribe against the Christian faith, Reformed is Not Enough.  At that time Keister rewarded his dance partner with the following pronouncement:

Wilson holds to justification by faith alone, although he is too ambiguous on the aliveness of faith and its place in justification. He does hold to imputation.

According to Keister Wilson’s only sin, if you can call it that, is that he simply isn’t as clear as he should be on the central doctrines of the Christian faith.  Keister assured  his readers,  “Some of us wish to say that Doug’s ambiguity means that he doesn’t hold to JBFA at all. Others of us think that he does . . . .”   The others Keister had in mind include PCA pastor Rick Phillips who, writing in The Auburn Avenue Theology Pro and Con, also gave Wilson the tacit PCA seal of approval:

. . .  Wilson posits that this debate should be conceived of as an intramural contest within the orthodox Reformed tradition . . . We should be willing to critique one another, but we must acknowledge that all these views fall within the Reformed pale. So far as this particular paper is concerned I find myself in some agreement. The key to this matter is that Wilson affirms that saving grace is received through faith alone. I find that he uses language that muddies the clarity of this affirmation . . . but a charitable reading finds comfort in his support of sola fide.

Notice for Phillips Wilson’s use of language “muddies the water” but his affirmation that saving grace is received through faith alone shines through.  One wonders if any of these guardians of the faith ever asked themselves if the ambiguity they see muddying the waters on such simple and vital doctrines as salvation by grace alone through faith alone might be intentional.  After all, as Phillips notes, Wilson believes the Federal Vision is “an intramural contest within the orthodox Reformed tradition.”  Did it never dawn on Phillips (or Keister) that ambiguity can often be a mask for deception?  What Reformed man, much less a pastor and teacher, can be unclear on salvation by grace alone through faith alone?  Wouldn’t a teacher who is unclear on justification by faith alone be, at the very least, suspect?  This isn’t rocket science after all and rather than reading Wilson charitably, could it be that Phillips and Keister are just dupes?

While probably not likely to happen any time soon, both of these men should be forced to read John Robbins’ Why Heretics Win Battles.   In that piece, which is a blistering review of The Auburn Avenue Theology Pro and Con, Robbins observed:

At the foundation of Wilson’s heresies lies his irrationalism, which is perhaps the worst heresy of all. He writes: “In faith we want to say that children of believers are saved [“infant baptism is not a crap shoot,” he says emphatically]. But we are not making a categorical statement of the “All P are Q” kind. [Please note the contradiction between the two preceding sentences.] We are saying that we believe God’s statements and promises concerning covenant children…. Now these promises…have apparent instances of non-fulfillment. How are we to account for this?… The question of levels of discourse is central in understanding this. On one level, all of us confess that some of the children of believers are reprobate, and will eventually fall away. On another level of discourse, we say that God is God to our children. In preaching, in catechesis, in liturgy, the second level of discourse is operative. This level is operative because faith in the promises requires it. But an important point to note is that we are not saying contradictory things within one level of discourse.”

Now there is a simple word for Wilson’s doctrine: dishonesty. His nonsense about “levels of discourse” – what is true on one “level” is false on another – is a blatant rejection of both God and Scripture. Christ said, “Let your Yes be Yes, and your No be No” (Matthew 5:37). He did not add, “Of course I am speaking on one level of discourse, but if I speak on two levels, ‘Yes’ may be ‘No’ and ‘No,’ ‘Yes.’” In Wilson’s theology, “liturgical truth,” “catechetical truth,” and “preached truth” are one thing, “operative” on one level of discourse; and truth itself is another, inoperative in preaching, teaching, and worship.

Paul wrote, “As God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No, for the Son God…was not Yes and No” (2 Corinthians 1:17-19). Paul did not add, “but our word to you might be Yes and No if we talk on different levels of discourse.” One reason Christians and churches are held in such low esteem by the world is that churchmen like Wilson, through the ages, have dishonestly played with words and denied the truth. They prattle on about paradoxes, antinomies, tensions, levels of discourse, and other un-Biblical ideas, attributing them to Scripture, and impugning both the intelligence and the honesty of God himself.

The second person mentioned on Keister’s blog and who stands in agreement with Keister and Phillips on Wilson’s Christian and Reformed orthodoxy is John Piper.  Yes, that John Piper.  In an interview Piper was asked,  “. . . in your defense of the gospel against N.T. Wright have you found Federal Vision theology of Doug Wilson to be another gospel?”   Piper replied:

No. No, that’s easy. Doug Wilson doesn’t teach a false gospel. I don’t think N.T. Wright teaches a false gospel, just a confusing gospel. Doug Wilson is incredibly bright, but he has people around him who are dumb. I think Doug Wilson is more consistent than some of his followers are. But I am concerned about the trajectory.

Notice again, Wilson – and even New Perspectives guru N.T. Wright – are not teaching a false gospel, just a confusing one.  If these so-called Christian “leaders and teachers” are confused about the gospel then they ought to shut their big Christ defaming mouths, find themselves a bible believing church, and learn to preach and teach the gospel clearly.  Of course, actually believing the gospel would be a good first step.  Regardless, anyone who is confused about the gospel and would obfuscate the simple truths of justification by belief alone has no business in any pulpit, much less drawing a salary off of the poor suckers foolishly dumping their money in Wilson’s and Wright’s collections plates.  Frankly, I worry about the people  dumping their money in the collections plates of Keister, Phillips and Piper.  These men ought to know better.  Of course, for Piper to say that Wilson and N.T. Wright aren’t spreading a false gospel is hardly a surprise to anyone who has suffered through Piper’s Neo-legalistic Fullerite nightmare, Future Grace.  I suppose to be charitable, since that seems to be all the rage these days, all I can say is at least one confused teacher has no problem  recognizing another.

The only thing demonstrated by these well respected and even revered churchmen who have all concluded that Wilson is sound on justification by faith alone if only a little confused, is that ordinary Christians cannot count on these leaders to defend the gospel against transparent and deadly heretics like Wilson, N.T. Wright and other fellow travelers in the FV/NPP movements.

Those like Keister, Phillips and Piper who continue to extend the right hand of fellowship to men like Wilson are like Peter who similarly played the hypocrite with the legalists of his day.   By their actions they have embolden and empower Christ’s enemies.  By their actions they give credence to Wilson’s lie that the fight over the Federal Vision is “an intramural contest within the orthodox Reformed tradition.”

Paul said, “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”   Of course, when Paul heard that Peter withdrew himself from the company of Gentile believers out of fear of the Jews corrupting the simple truth of the gospel, resulting  in even Barnabas being “carried away by their hypocrisy,” he forcefully and publicly rebuked Peter when they met in Antioch (Gal. 2:11).   Sadly, none of the other authors and moderators on Kesiter’s Greenbaggins blog, which includes elders Andy Webb, Bob Mattes, Jeff Hutchinson, Reed DePace, and G.L.W. Johnson, seem willing to confront Keister publicly  for giving his blessing to Wilson’s Federal Vision.  Like Barnabas they too would rather play the hypocrite and remain silent as  Keister is blindly taken in by a clever conman.  I guess that’s the trade off in order to be listed as a contributing author on Greenbaggins.

Well, in what appears to be one last college try, Wilson has once again painted a billboard sized picture of where he stands on the “vitals of the faith” so that even those who might have thought Wilson is just a confused Christian brother, who can neither think, write or even speak clearly on even the most basic doctrines of the Christian faith, can no longer be fooled.  In an ironically titled piece, Living Faith, Wilson proved once gain — and in the clearest terms — that he does not believe in the biblical doctrine of justification.   Wilson writes:

And so what do I mean by living faith? What do I mean by obedient faith? When God issues the imperative live!, the faith that comes into existence and lives in the manner commanded is being obedient. God says to live and it is doing so. That is the obedience rendered — simply being what God commanded it to be. It is obedient by virtue of the life within it.

By obedience in the phrase obedient faith, I am not referring to any of the doing that proceeds out of this being. I am treating obedient faith and living faith as synonymous. The subsequent actions performed by this obedient faith are genuine and sincere, but not perfectly so (because of our remaining sinfulness). Because they are not perfect, they cannot be the basis at all our our[sic] justification — our best works would condemn us in the worse way. Neither can the living faith that gives rise to all these actions be the ground of our justification. But it is obedient in its life, and in that living condition it is the instrument of our justification.

For Wilson to say that faith is alive is the same thing as saying it is obedient; that is, it works.  Of course, these works or “actions” that are part and parcel of a living faith are not the ground of our justification.  Why?  Because of remaining sin of course.  But, really, so what?  While not the ground of our justification, these works or “actions” are for Wilson the instrument of justification.  That’s because an obedient faith and a living faith are synonymous. And, to be obedient is to live “in the manner commanded.” Obedience is not something that results from or that is the fruit of a living or sincere faith; they’re synonymous.

Wilson could not be clearer: Obedience is the instrument of justification in the Federal Vision’s scheme of salvation, not faith alone.  Or, as Wilson put it, faith is “obedient in its life, and in that living condition it is the instrument of our justification.”

When I brought this to his attention, even thanking him for again making his position crystal clear so that even men as seemingly bamboozled as PCA pastor Lane Keister might finally wake up and grasp what he’s been saying all these years, Wilson again clearly restated his position:

Sean, the only obedience I was referring to was the obedience of being what it is — genuine faith, living faith. If it were disobedient, it would be a dead faith, which Westminister says is not the instrument of justfication[sic] (11.2). Right?

Well, no, Doug. The Westminster Confession 11.2 states that “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification . . . .”   Belief alone, that is, belief plus nothing is the alone instrument of justification.  Not according to Wilson.  In his mind the belief that connects us to Christ includes our imperfect works of obedience and is what constitutes a “living faith.”   Whereas, and according to Westminster, belief alone in the finished and perfect work of Christ alone, completely and utterly outside and apart from any works of obedience is what justifies a sinner.  Of course, the Confession writers are quick to add, this belief that receives and rests on Christ and his righteousness in justification is “not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” The Confession writers are showing the causal relationship between justification which is by faith alone and the works of sanctification which flow from it.  By contrast, for Wilson the faith that saves and the works that result from it are synonymous.  They’re one and the same.  However, what Wilson joins together, the Confession writers — along with the entire Reformed and Christian world —  tear asunder.   The Confession writers clearly and unambiguously differentiate saving belief from the works that flow from it.  How this first-rate fake, phony and fraud has  successfully snowed so many in the PCA, OPC and beyond is a mystery.  Needless to say Wilson gets a big red “F” on his Westminster gospel final.

This is Protestantism 101.  Works of obedience that result from and are the fruits of belief are not belief nor are the two ever to be confused or conflated. Believing is believing and doing is doing. While the one affects and is the cause of the other, both are qualitatively and logically different.  Belief is an assent to an understood proposition. Saving belief is an assent to the understood propositions of the gospel.  Obedience, as Wilson said, is to live “in the manner commanded”– or, more simply, to do as we are told.  And for Wilson obedience, not faith alone, is the instrument of justification.  That’s because, as should have been obvious to all a long time ago, there is no such thing as faith alone in the Federal Vision.

I honestly cannot see how any admission and denial of the gospel can be any clearer?

Works of obedience that result from belief may provide evidence – to other men — of a true and abiding belief in the finished work of Christ, which explains the Confession’s mention of belief’s resulting obedience in sanctification and the accompanying prooftexts that include James 2:26; “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Dead faith, both in the Confession and in James, is to have no real or genuine belief in Christ at all.  It’s the feigned belief of the hypocrite, the charlatan, or even the errant belief of the self-deluded and deceived. Funny, since Wilson is “Mister Analogy” and prefers word pictures to ever saying anything plainly, it’s ironic and even more telling that he does not understand what is being pictured in the phrase “dead faith.”  Could it be because Wilson’s own faith is dead? You would think by now that would be something the whole world could see most especially those charged with protecting Christ’s sheep.

Admittedly, Wilson has tried to make his position crystal clear.  I really do not fault him. For what it’s worth, some of us have never considered him unclear, just a bit slithery.  I have to think by now he is simply amazed that so many Reformed men still don’t get it.   Does he have to wear a special hat?  Get a tattoo across his forehead?  Buy a neon sign?  Yet, many are still so desperate to believe that Wilson is a Christian pastor and teacher, after all they’ve all bought and recommended his books,  that they’re willing to hang their hat on anything to try and make Wilson appear to be a Christian.  God willing the wistful and wishful thinking of those who should have known better can now be put to rest.

Explore posts in the same categories: Doug Wilson, Heresies

5 Comments on “Corpse Faith”

  1. justbybelief Says:


    A ‘collective’ inability to discern on the part professed elders is what this sounds like to me and a clear violation of the tenth commandment–coveting the praise of men more than the praise of God, if not also, a ‘practical’ violation of the first, second, third and fourth commandments.

    Thanks for telling it straight Sean!

    Eric Broch

  2. Sean Gerety Says:

    There might have been a time when ignorance or even agnosticism concerning Wilson might have been excusable (although I think you’d have to go back prior to 2002), however to continue to pretend this man is a Christian is inexcusable and unconscionable. Aside from the above citations, Wilson recently wrote:

    “To set faith (a motive for action) over against obedience (the action itself) seems to me to simply be confused.”

  3. John Bradshaw Says:

    Even though I’m reading this 11 years later, it is as relevant today as it was then. Wilson may not be a PCA pastor any longer, but his confusion on faith, works and justification is still a widespread problem amongst pastors.

  4. Sean Gerety Says:

    Thanks John. However, just to be clear Wilson was never PCA. He has his own FV friendly denom, the CREC.

  5. John Bradshaw Says:

    Oh, thx for clearing that up. I was mistaken on that. Cheers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: