Let’s give credit where credit is due. Doug Wilson’s tactics may occasionally be obnoxious, but the guy absolutely deserves a gold star for trying things. And he has been perfectly positioned for evangelicalism at large to get a glimpse at what the world really thinks of us, in real time, and what works and doesn’t in responding to them. Lately this has come into specific relief with the spike in attention he has received from Vice magazine, The Guardian, Drudge Report, The American Conservative, and The Federalist. And if that eclectic list doesn’t make you stroke your beard and go, “Hmmm” I don’t know what will.
The point is, love him or hate him, Wilson is getting attention from the world and it would behove Christians to, at a bare minimum, pay attention. Many evangelicals object to Wilsons gaudy display because they feel it to be indecorous. Doesn’t he know we are supposed to be the moral majority dag nab it? However, the truly obnoxious ones were the moral majority, because like the victorians before them, they wanted the morals without Christ as the Foundation. Wilson gets attacked not because he is flamboyant, but because he is unwavering, he is a threat, he not only pokes the world in the eye he laughs while he does it, he is an irascible scamp who is not institution friendly. And institutions, being serious and censorious, hate a goof in the back heckling and throwing popcorn at them. Yet these behaviors attract the kind of attention early that the rest of us, who are keeping our heads down, will be getting sooner rather than later. If this current evil age is anything it is a stark reminder that we really do war against powers and principalities, and that sometimes they come in with flesh, blood, and hobnail boots.
Wilson is a canary in a coal mine, and it would behove us to watch and see if the survives or not. Let me briefly point out some areas for us to consider.
Fight Laugh Feast Vs. The Moore’s
I wrote a few weeks back a missive titled Wilson’s Gay Sermon and I stand by my assessment of the sermon. I was obviously not the only person to take notice, The American Conservative put out an interesting pice contrasting the conference in Nashville Wilson was at (run by elders of his church) and a live recording across town where Russell Moore was interviewing Beth Moore (no relation). The point of both events was what the future of the church should be. Baptist News Service was in an interesting position because before them was a bunch of raucous Presbyterians on one hand and two snooty ex-Southern Baptists each with a different vision of what evangelicals should be. At the end of the day The American Conservative went with Wilson. His conference was joyful, there were tons of kids, everyone knew not only what they believed but why they believed it. They were, as Wilson would describe, “velvet covered bricks.” The masculinity and femininity on display was attractive more “authentic” than the acid washed jeans of most Baptist Pastors. On the other side of the isle was Russ Moore and Beth “Go home” Moore. Doing their very best not to be offensive, explaining away pesky doctrines that might give a trauma to an un believer, and frankly taking an active dump on Southern Baptists every third chance they got.
I stopped reading The American Conservative some time ago because their devotion to the Vicar of Satan started to get overwhelming. But when even they are looking at a group of Presbyterians and thinking, “This might be the way to go.” The rest of us should probably take note.
Not Defending Religious Liberties, Simply Using Them
Again we come up against another one of those things that I agree with Wilson on principal but still have doubts about his methods. Obviously I am totally on board with his stance on masks, as in, “I’m agin em.” I don’t know if I am totally on board with the protests he led.* That said, other than three protests, which are fair to have if the other side holds protests, and has; what he follows it up with is simply gathering his church for worship. Un-masked, and un-distanced at that. I think he has a solid case to do so. The law of this land says he and his parishioners have a right to do so, it says nothing about their dress or physical arrangement. Local authorities declared that they had to right to do so, and Wilson, with his people, simply said, “no.” As he pointed out, “they don’t own your face you know.” And he is right. Many people lost their minds over this. They also did over John MacArthur, who likewise turned out to be right. Wilson, again managed to be the fly in the ointment of a perceived liberal utopia simply by doing what he is guaranteed by our constitution he can do, and the left is determined to destroy him for it. Again, this is something to pay attention to.
The Truth, Tartly Told
This is one of the areas where there was a previous canary who went down the shaft first. That was Driscoll and granted there were other things that killed Mars Hill, but the tip of the spear was driven in by people like Rachel Held Evans and Warren Throckmorten, who despised his Biblical complementarian theology. In Wilson’s case there is a winsomeness where Driscoll was aggressive. And it is a lot harder to argue with someone who has the truth on their side and is wittier than you. There is a reason Wilson is simply soundly denounced and condemned rather than interacted with. A. It is hard to argue up hill, and B. He isn’t stupid enough to get flustered by blasphemy. Christopher Hitchens found that out the hard way. The real danger of Douglas Wilson is that the day may come where John Pipers assessment no longer holds true, “Doug Wilson is a very smart guy, but he is surrounded by idiots.” There are still a few of the obnoxious types attached to him, but more and more I am seeing people who are learning where to take good from him and where to reject the bad. And where Wilson is good, he is good. Also that goodness is presented in such a manner that repeating it frequently gives off an edifying enjoyment to the hearer. To the vast majority of people who are in the middle, they much prefer a charmingly taught truth over a screamed dogma, riddled through like logical Swiss cheese. As Wilson has said in his Redeeming Marriage book the aroma of your home matters. Is it one of uncleanliness or freshly baked bread. Wilson presents a house of truth that obnoxious kids keep throwing flaming bags of dog poop at the door, but on the inside swells with the smells of roasting potatoes, seared steak, and a freshly opened bottle of scotch ready to be served up in a double, followed by strong coffee served with heavy cream. And it is hard to not be drawn to such a place. So again the left, the lost and dying world (but I repeat myself) wants to burn down that exceptional house, in the name of equality.
There are other reasons to pay attention to Wilson, even if you don’t start reading him. There is the current obvious persecution of his family over a sticker on a light pole, or even just the gif posted at the top where people walking by the Christ Church offices step out of their way just to spit on the doors out of their hatred. Wilson sits in a place where we can observe what happens to him as a preview of what is coming for the rest of us, who don’t consider ourselves nearly as flamboyant.
Recently a quiet young Christian man in my city was shown the door at his job in a coffee shop for the crime of being a quiet young Christian man. He was not obnoxious in his conduct, or overly zealous in his evangelism. He would occasionally pray with customers who knew he was a Christian and would ask. And if his co-workers inquired as to his beliefs he was humble and honest. And even this unobtrusive faith was ultimately considered too dangerous. Co-workers build up a file of complaints of feeling unsafe around him solely because he was a Christian. There simply was no room for someone who, it was simply understood, held intolerant beliefs. They felt threatened by his presence, emotional damage was done just seeing him there doing his job. This happened in a place far from Moscow Idaho, in the Bible belt. Wilson may appear garish But it should be considered that the gaudy display is a tactic after years of engagement with an enemy that would be over the top in their actions and attitudes had he simply kept his head down and kept quiet.
Canaries are sent into coal mines to find out if what lies ahead is deadly. Though most of us would wish it to be otherwise, most likely, so goes Wilson, so go we all.
*To hear him tell it they were the mildest most unoffensive protests that could be conceived of. Four hymns outside of city hall, six feet apart, maskless. The city even painted some circles in the parking lot to helpfully guide in distancing. The problem comes in that Wilson knows in advance that cops and counter protesters will show up and turn things into a circus. And he seems to be of the mind that all publicity is good publicity. The tension comes in at where do you draw the line on an elder qualification like, “must be well thought of by outsiders” when the outsiders not only hate you for simply existing, but you stir the pot by poking them constantly.