I like Doug Wilson, a lot. I am profoundly grateful for his sermons on fathers in the home and in the church. His lecture on Calvinism and Lewis is what pushed me over the edge into Reformed theology. I can not listen to The Romance of Protestantism without weeping. When he is on he is on. However, there are those times when I am wrenching at my head because he seems to be gleefully blasting away at his feet with a Colt 45. A prime example of this was his presentation at the recent Cross-politic conference in my neck of the woods.
Now I am very sure this was meant in the spirit of Chestertonian Calvinism. And it reads in exactly the manner you would expect, a macho call to the men, some snide humor about the left, and what I am sure in his view is a “hot gospel.” And while there is not a specific point that I would disagree with in the sermon. While his basic premise may be correct, how he tackles it is clearly the kind of problem that is endemic to him. Unfortunately it is yet another example of his worst impulses being cheered on by like minded people. And these are pretty much the last people that need to hear the message. I go back to Piper’s assessment of Wilson from years ago, “Doug Wilson is a very smart guy, but he is surrounded by idiots.” The Cross-politic gang and followers suffer from the same problem as Wilson, They are right on the merits of their argument, but how they argue is not as tart and winsome as they think. There is a difference between being right and being an ass. I know I have crossed that line plenty of times myself. The gospel is enough of an offense on it’s own and doesn’t need us adding any flamboyant accessories to make it more noxious to a lost and dying world.*
But more so, this particular lecture is the kind of short sighted work that does nothing in the short term for the audience and more damage to Wilson himself in the long term. As I pointed out earlier there is not one point I would disagree with on the face of the thing. But in how those points are fleshed out. This just becomes yet another sermon that Wilson’s enemies can point back to in order to bolster their claim that he is a bigot and a looser. It is written in such a way that makes it easy to not only ignore the points but to discount them entirely because of how they were made, which is what his enemies really want. Which is what enemies of the gospel really want. Ignore the truth, by attacking ad hominem or guilt by association.
There is a rule of comedy that you always punch up, never down. This lecture is an example of punching down. The audience is tried and true and in agreement, so basically it becomes open season on the straw-man of a liberal painted in words from the lectern.** It makes for a fruitless time, more akin to the kind of motivational speaking in pulpits that gives Wilson the willies. Preaching to his choir may be fun, but ultimately useless, because what pleases that choir is a stumbling block to those who actually need to hear the base message. If you read the talk you will realize very quickly that Doug managed to do exactly what he was railing against, “being gay in the pulpit.”
*It is an interesting thought experiment to play around with the distinction between Wilsons flame throwing accessorizing as an attractional model and some other guy adding on to his style with lasers and video clips…
**I am not assuming in the least that Wilson would have any qualms giving this talk again in a hostile crowd. The man has a spine of steel. I would contend, again, that the style would be wildly unhelpful. But I am in no way suggesting that Wilson would not put his money where his mouth is. He has demonstrated this many times and with the kind of grace, charm, and intelligence that know and love him for.