Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Quick Correction to Doug Wilson's Doctrine

A Quick Correction to Doug Wilson's Doctrine

Doug Wilson, an eminent preacher and influential writer in Reformed circles, recently published a blog post regarding his Reformed status. Here is a link.

I'll analyze Pastor Wilson's post in chunks.

DW wrote:
Green Baggins has come to the chapter of RINE where I seek to establish my Calvinistic bona fides. Some have interpreted the FV as though it were some form of Arminianism or semi-Pelagianism. So early in the book, I set aside a chapter to demonstrate that I wish that the Synod of Dort had promulgated a couple extra points so I could believe them too.

I reply:
One problem with the Federal Vision (FV) is that it has no tangible systematic theology for anyone to critique. Instead it is held in various flavors by various advocates, and reflected primarily in passing references and oblique commentary. The presbyteries that have considered the issue have generally opposed it (example here), but the individual preachers responding to the opposition have typically claimed that they were misunderstood. Thus, the moving target of FV continues to persist. While it certainly appears to be at variance with Orthodoxy, its distance from the narrow path of doctrinal orthodoxy is less so than Arminianism or semi-Pelagianism, at least as far as this author can tell.

DW wrote:
The review of this chapter is fair, with Green Baggins mostly wanting to have a few questions clarified. So here I go.

I reply:
Note that DW is responding to someone else's critique of DW's book. That critique, in relevant part, can be found linked here or more specifically here.

DW wrote:
The first is whether I am a compatibilist when it comes to questions of free will. The answer is yes, if we are talking about creaturely choices, like whether to go left or right, or whether to pick this flavor or that one at the ice cream store. But when it comes to moral choices, I believe that unregenerate men are not free unless and until God creates that freedom in them by granting them a new heart.

I reply:
This response indicates that DW does not understand the theological terms involved in the discussion.

First, "compatibilist on questions of free will." It is clear from DW's response that DW does not understand what the term means. To be clear, a compatibilist is someone who asserts that Sovereign Divine Providence (also known as "predetermination" and/or "predestination") and Human Freedom are compatible.

The Reformed position in contrast to the Arminian and Hyper-Calvinist positions is that God both sovereignly decrees all that will happen, and that man is free in the choices man makes. In other words, the Reformed position asserts the compatibility of the Decree of Providence and the freedom of man.

This is in contrast to the Arminian position (which denies compatibility and chooses to accept human freedom) and the Hyper-Calvinist position (which denies compatibility and chooses to accept the Decree of Providence).

Second, the distinction between "creaturely" and "moral" choices is a poor explanation of the issue. Possibly because DW does not understand the issues, DW creates to classes of choices, one which he refers to as "creaturely" and the other "moral."

This distinction is not a Biblical distinction, a conventional distinction, a relevant distinction, or a coherent distinction. That this distinction is not Biblical can be seen from the lack of Biblical support for the distinction. The Bible does not distinguish anywhere between "creaturely" and "moral choices."

The distinction is also not a conventional distinction. The lack of conventionality can be seen, for example, by a quick Internet search on the terms. For the truly lazy Internet scholar, here is a pre-defined search, which provided only four hits at the time this article was written, one of those four being DW's own article. Presumably this article will boost the number of hits by 25%. Here is the link.

Relevance is also not a strong suit of this distinction. In Reformed Theology, the "creaturely choices" as defined by DW are every bit as predetermined as the "moral choices" that DW mentions. Even supposing that DW means by "creaturely" those choices that are morally indifferent (and assuming for the sake of brevity that such a set of choices exist), the Free Will debate is not significantly concerned with those choices.

Finally, the distinction is not coherent. Moral choices are not distinct from creaturely choices. Creatures, man included, make many choices, at least some of which are moral choices. Furthermore, God makes choices that appear to be morally indifferent (for example, his choice to create precisely the number of people that will ever live and not one soul more) and yet God cannot be said to be "creaturely" in his choices.

Thus, the sets are ill-formed and poorly named.

Worse, DW denies compatibilism where it really matters, i.e. on moral choices. In doing so, DW abandons the Reformed view of Scripture on the issue of human freedom. The Reformed view is that fallen man freely out of a corrupt heart brings forth corrupt fruit, just as a sanctified man freely out of a good heart brings forth good fruit.

It looks as the DW has, perhaps, read Cliff's Notes on Luther's "Bondage of the Will," and is attempting to repeat what he learned.

It certainly is true that man's will, his entire heart, is in bondage to sin and corruption prior to God giving grace. Nevertheless, man has a free will, even in a fallen state, prior to regeneration. Man's will is given over to corruption and sin, and so man freely chooses what is bad, wicked, and evil.

Thus, DW seems to be confusing freedom of will in the sense of natural ability with freedom of will in the sense of compatibilism. That is to say, DW seems to have failed to recognize the important difference between Pelagianism and Arminianism, namely that Arminianism asserts that grace is necessary for a fallen man to do what is right, whereas Pelagianism asserts that man can do what is right without divine assistance.

DW continued:
Secondly, when I said that God ordained us making free choices, one of the commenters at Lane's blog was correct in assuming that I was referring to the teaching of the Westminster Confession at that point -- that God's ordination is the foundation and establishment of our creaturely freedom, not the annihilation of it. But I want to keep categories distinct. Lane appealed to the "coercive" nature of Saul's conversion. And okay, I would agree that the new birth is "coercive" in the same way my first birth was. Nobody consulted me in 1951 about whether I wanted to be born in 1953. But we don't normally describe that kind of thing as coercive, but it is clearly monergistic. And I affirm that as well.

I respond:

I, for one, am not fully persuaded that DW knows what he is talking about on these issues. In as far as the printed words above stand, however, they do generally comport with the Reformed view. God ordained men's free choices, each and every one of them.

And last, Lane points to a place where I say that I am not denying the Reformed faith -- the objectivity of the covenant is the Reformed faith. He is right to catch me here; this was an unfortunate overstatement. I have said in other places that there are those in the Reformed stream who do not emphasize the objectivity of the covenant, and yet should be recognized as Reformed (Reformed Baptists). I should have said that here. I do believe that this understanding is the best understanding of the Reformed faith (which is why I hold it), and that this part of the stream in which I am floating goes all the way back. But I did not mean to say that there were not disagreements over these issues all the way back.

I respond:
I'm not going to kick DW when he is down, more than to point out that surely, with more careful thought before writing, DW would say that he believes what he believes not because it is the Reformed faith, but because it is Scriptural.



Tim H said...

Yes, I think you have nailed him on the compatibilist claim. A few buzzwords + poetry = philosophy for that guy. When people get tired of the poetry, where will the amen-corner go? is the question.

Lane Keister said...

Thanks for a very thought-provoking post. I was not really qualified to deal with his categories in my own post. I like your blog, by the way, and am going to establish a link to it. Keep up the good work!

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Keister, Thanks for the compliments and the link!

Tim H., thanks for the compliment and the comment.