Monday, February 09, 2015

Book Review: 'Reformed' is not Enough, by Doug Wilson

Wilson's Reformed Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant is a book I really want to recommend, but a book that is hard to recommend for a couple of reasons.

I picked this book up recently because I've been teaching two Sunday classes, one on Union with Christ and the other on the Doctrine of Eternal Security.  The controversial subset of Reformed theology referred to as Federal Vision came up in the readings I was doing to prepare, so I decided I needed to know more and went to one of the sources - Doug Wilson.

Because this book is written to defend the proponents of Federal Vision theology against charges that they're teaching is out of step with the standards of the Presbyterian church, Wilson spends a good deal of time working through sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith, showing how his teaching is in keeping with this standard (and often where his opponents are out of line with it).  This is fine and good...for a Presbyterian, but it's one of the reasons I'm reluctant to recommend it to many of my church friends. It is, in many ways, an intramural affair. That's one of the weaknesses in my opinion, but, given the intent of the book, it was necessary (basically, I just wish he'd written a different book). So if you aren't completely turned off by the Westminster Confession (I really hope you're not), or by eavesdropping on a denominational squabble, or you can ignore it and get to the meat; then this book is worth the read.

Wilson begins the book with a bang, contending the "Judas was a Christian." Doug's point, which forms the central thesis of the book, is that the new covenant is an objective covenant, just like the old covenant. Those who are baptized are covenant members just as those who received the mark of circumcision were members of the old covenant. And, in that sense, they are Christians - they have come to be identified with the covenant people of God and the name of Christ, bear the mark of the covenant, and are to be regarded as members of the covenant community.

That does not mean that all covenant members are born of the Spirit, are justified, or will ultimately be saved.  Some, though in the covenant, will play the role of unfaithful covenant members and will reap wrath rather than reward. Both blessing and curse are aspects of the [old and new] covenant, as the book of Hebrews plays out.

In articulating this truth, that the covenant is a visible, objective 'thing', Wilson is helpful. Also helpful are the discussions on the visible/invisible church (hint: he doesn't care for that distinction), sacredotalism, baptism, the Supper and the church.

I found the second to last section on apostasy and assurance less helpful. I think Wilson is correct - apostasy is real and Christians can commit it by rejecting what their baptism signifies and spurning the grace given to them in the covenant (to their destruction).  It certainly makes Hebrews easier to handle. I wasn't as thrilled with the chapter on assurance. It left me wanting more, though I'm not sure more of what.

The final section makes good points, but is a little rambling. In fact, that may be a critique of the whole book. Sometime I read a paragraph and wondered how it connected to the preceding paragraph at all. Paragraph one makes point A, paragraph two makes point F.

Many will walk away thinking this a call to return to Catholicism. It isn't, but we're so far from the Reformers and the theology they endorsed that even those early Protestants sound Catholic. A move in that direction may not (no, let me be stronger - IS NOT) a bad thing!

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