Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Doug Wilson on Sola Fide

"I hold that a man is justified by the sole instrument of God-given faith, as that faith is placed by the grace of God in the active and passive obedience of Jesus Christ alone, He who lived and died in our stead. I maintain that the only legitimate response that a creature may have toward His God, or any words that his God speaks, whether those words are promises, laws, threats, or comforting words, is a response of sheer, unadulterated faith — faith plus nothing else. I also hold that when the response to any of the words of God is something other than this kind of faith, then that response is legal, autonomous, prideful, and damnable." (source)

What is remarkably absent from this definition is any specific denial of justification by works.

Someone named SovereignLogos responded: "Does this mean that good works are not a legitimate response to God’s laws? Or have you redefined faith in such a way that obedient works = faith? You say “faith plus nothing else.” What other “else” could you have in mind?" (source)

Doug Wilson responded: "SL, we are still talking about justification, right? And even after justification, faith is the sole legitimate response to God’s laws. And of course such faith necessarily results in obedient works — works that are not motivated and driven by faith are actually disobedient works." (source)

I'm not sure what to make of this. I can't follow whether Doug Wilson knows the Reformed Shibboleths and is deliberately avoiding pronouncing them to needle the "Truly Reformed" crowd - or whether Doug Wilson is deliberately avoiding the specific question of justification by works because of some other reason - or whether Doug Wilson thinks he has addressed the issue fully with the wording he has provided.

Perhaps I'm in an overly generous mood, but unless Doug Wilson is defining "faith" in two different ways in his two comments, I don't see how folks think he doesn't at least profess to hold to sola fide.

Now, whether the Federal Vision stuff that he has been involved with is consistent with sola fide is a separate and important question. Nevertheless, we need to leave open the possibiltiy that Doug Wilson is simply being inconsistent by accepting those Federal Vision tenets that would contradict sola fide, given his seemingly strongly worded commitment to the doctrine above.



John Bugay said...

Hi TF -- I know that we can't judge a person's theology on just a couple of quotes like this. I know that Lane Keister has spent a lot of time and effort interacting with Wilson. I'm wondering why he took the opposite position, which he needed to retract, in the first place.

I admit that the issues surrounding this are incredibly complex, involving issues that take an incredible amount of study to untangle.

You mention the "Federal Vision stuff" with which he has associated himself. That in itself has roots in a number of places, including the NPP (itself a whole mess of tangled issues, which, thankfully, is getting sorted out), and the idea not of "faith" but "faithfulness" coming out of Westminster and Norman Shepherd.

With regard to individuals like Shepherd and E.P. Sanders and James Dunn and N.T. Wright, I get the impression of personal pride of accomplishment wanting to aggrandize self, but in the process seeks after "every wind of doctrine." I think that's where the roots of this all lie.

I want to say for your readers, that if anyone is interested in beginning to understand and disentangle all of this, there is a fabulous lecture series (only three lectures, really), by D.A. Carson at iTunes.rts.edu on the NPP. Carson does a magnificent job of helping to understand what Sanders, Dunn, and Wright all were trying to say, and where they went wrong.

Also, the two volume series, "Justification and Variegated Nomism" is just fabulous. The first volume is dedicated to "out-Sandersing" Sanders. That is, Sanders came up with his theories on "second-temple Judaism" by reading a few works. Carson, O'Brien, Siefrid et. all read a much more complete set of "second temple literature" and really put Sanders into perspective. Yes, Sanders makes some good points, but no, that world wasn't dominated by "covenantal nomism" as Sanders implied. Rather, it was one small element in the backdrop against which Paul wrote. The second volume of that work talks more about Paul. (I haven't gotten into that one yet, but I'm really looking forward to it).

The bottom line, again, is that whatever Wilson believes, he has been careless enough, or prideful enough, to step beyond the boundaries of what Reformed teaching has been.

It's a shame that Wilson, a smart guy, and probably a devoted guy, has taken the stands that he has taken, to the detriment of those who find themselves within his orbit.

Rhology said...

DW is maddening, but I don't know what else you want from him than:

...faith plus nothing else

Why is that insufficient?

louis said...

"...faith plus nothing else

Why is that insufficient?"

Don't know much about Doug Wilson in particular, but FV guys have a way of redefining terms (while keeping the redefinition somewhat hidden). So, "faith" could mean "obedient faith", which could mean that obedience/works are part of it.

Pinning these guys down is difficult. It takes more than isolated quotes here and there.

Rhology said...

Good point.

Craig French said...

I think DW is saying two things:
1) We are justified by faith alone
2) All of our life is to be motivated by faith.

I wish I had specific references, but I have read (within the last 1-2 years) where DW has explicitly affirmed imputation/forensic justification. I'm not sure what all the hubbub is about anymore.

Turretinfan said...

Incidentally, all of our life is to be motivated by love, not faith. Our life is to be a response of faith, hope, and charity (these three) but the greatest of them is charity. It is lived by faith, in hope, on account of love. Love is the motive, at least in the primary sense.

The point is not to pick a theological debate over the issue, but simply to point out that even when he's trying to affirm his orthodoxy, Wilson is using squishy terminology. I really don't understand why he does that.

To those critical of Wilson: yes I may be being naively generous to him.

Lockheed said...

Why are you basing this on three comment posts from GreenBaggins and not direct quotes from Pastor Wilson's sermons, blog, or specific statements? Just wondering. :)

Anonymous said...

Wilson isn't "squishy" at all. The accusation is reminiscent of Dave Hunt's responses to James White's exclamations about the clarity of the unconditional election in the Scripture.

DW couldn't make his position more clear ... time after time after time (as the Scripture couldn't be more clear) And yet "squishy" is the accusation (on both counts).

Apply that exegetical prowess to Wilson - he's plainly spoken.

Turretinfan said...


Ok, let's pretend you are right for a second. Are you going to be leading the band of folks who are going to correct Wilson for his denial of any role for love?


Anonymous said...

No. But primarily because I've listened to and read him enough so that I wouldn't take the summation of a comment on a blog that "all of our life is to be motived by faith" as implying anything like a "denial of any role for love."

Especially when the blog post was basically (yet another) implication that Wilson denies sola fide - and hence the comment (yet another) reassurance to the contrary.


Turretinfan said...


Wilson wrote: "I maintain that the only legitimate response that a creature may have toward His God, or any words that his God speaks ... is a response of sheer, unadulterated faith — faith plus nothing else."

Wilson also wrote: "And even after justification, faith is the sole legitimate response to God’s laws."

Before I continue, let's be clear that I don't think Wilson intends to deny that a godly response is one motivated by faith plus hope plus love, or that faith plus hope plus love is a legitimate response to God's laws.

That said, if you're going to interpret his "sole instrument" comment with wooden rigidity to affirm his orthodoxy, you have to acknowledge that applying that same rigidity to his other uses of "sole" and "plus nothing else" in the immediate context would result in problematic theology.

That's why I said his language is squishy. Do you understand the rationale with this further light shed on it?

Jim said...

... sorry if this is a dup. I sent it a while ago and it never showed up.

I never actually said I was interpreting his "sole instrument" comment to affirm his orthodoxy - I said he's repeated himself and explained himself "time after time after time" - this is just one of those instances.

I'm baffled by your comment about the context since that was MY point. What do you expect in the context of that post? A dissertation on, say, 6-day creationism? You would never do that when interpreting, say, Eze 33 or 2 Pe 3.

There's a "steady drum beat" (as James White recently said about the theme of God's sovereignty in the scripture, which I mention to perpetuate the original parallel) in all of his talks and writings that deal with this issue - and he doesn't simply repeat the same phrases but carefully explains himself - and yet a steady stream of detractors don't listen, ignore context, and therefore infer based on their own preconceived notions (a la Dave Hunt) what his position is/must be - the first comment on this post is a good example - clearly someone that never read the source material.

Jim (previously anonymous)

Turretinfan said...

As I hinted at above, what I would want here is something that says we are not justified by works, the sacraments, or perseverance. It's the absence of those sorts of disclaimers that render his comment a little squishy.

I'm not sure why he omitted such disclaimers, and I'm not expect every blog comment he writes (even one designed specifically to establish his orthodoxy on sola fide) to be a treatise.

- TurretinFan

Jim said...

OK. BTW, thanks for your posts. I've been reading them on and off for a while and I appreciate your efforts.


Jim said...

OK. So I go from typing what I said above to DW's blog and there's this:

the law informs the regenerate individual, already justified apart from works, what love looks like in action


Turretinfan said...

Indeed. The odd thing is its omission from his exculpatory comment I quoted.

sovereignlogos said...

When I asked Wilson "have you redefined faith in such a way that obedient works = faith?", I did so already knowing the answer.

As Louis pointed out, Federal Visionists rarely define their terms clearly, and when they do, it is rarely the historic definition.

Anyone can repeat "justification by faith, plus nothing else" but if they've defined "justification" as "covenant membership" and "faith" as "living a life of obedience," then "justification by faith" hardly means the same thing as when Luther said it.

-Patrick T. McWilliams

Turretinfan said...

Thanks for the clarification PTM!

Jim said...

sovereignlogos wrote:

>When I asked Wilson "have you
>redefined faith in such a way
>that obedient works = faith?",
>I did so already knowing the

Is this somewhere I can find it - your question, his answer? I've been listening and reading Wilson for a while and I've yet to find him making this mistake. What exactly was his answer? That's not to say I haven't heard this from other FV proponents.


sovereignlogos said...


I asked the question somewhere around the #72 mark. Just for further clarification, I have not read anywhere where Wilson defines faith as such. I do believe that that is the logical conclusion of his views. Like I said, it's difficult to get a straight answer.

If you look at all the comments made by myself and Wilson on that thread, you'll find that he never answers my question, and ignores when I point out his backpedaling. (I was still figuring out my blog settings at the time, so I posted as SovereignLogos and my actual name.)

I also just realized that my last comment here may have been misleading. By my using quotation marks around "covenant membership" and "living a life of obedience," I did not mean to imply that those were direct quotes of Wilson. I was just illustrating how different definitions change the meaning of a phrase. (Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that's how N.T. Wright defines Justification, if I remember correctly.) Sorry for any confusion.

-Patrick T. McWilliams