A parishioner recently asked me for my assessment of Doug Wilson. It isn’t the first time I’ve been asked. And no wonder. He’s well-known in conservative Christian circles. Closer to home, Wilson is frequently quoted in Reformed Perspective as “Reformed pastor Doug Wilson.” He’s also a polarizing figure – either loved or loathed. In this three-part series I’ll lay out where I’ve landed in my evaluation. We’ll look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I’d say I have an above-average familiarity with Wilson. When I was in university, I subscribed to Credenda/Agenda, a magazine of which Wilson was the editor and heavy contributor. I read every issue front to back. That led me to Wilson’s books, of which I’ve read (and reviewed) more than one or two. Over the years I’ve continued to follow his output, especially on his blog.
Wilson (born 1953) is the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Christ Church is a congregation in the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC). He has a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy and a B.A. in classical studies from the University of Idaho. He never graduated from a seminary, but his breadth of self-taught theological knowledge is readily evident. Wilson is exceptionally well-read and an eloquent speaker and writer.
High View of Scripture
Doug Wilson claims to be an inerrantist. He believes Scripture to be the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God. I’ve never observed him to fudge on that high view. I may disagree with some of his interpretations of Scripture, but I believe he has the right view of the authority of Scripture. This is reflected in how he stands on important issues like creation and women in office.
Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation. In this area, Wilson is in general agreement with the Canons of Dort. Broadly speaking, he affirms the so-called Five Points of Calvinism. I have never read or heard anything from him to suggest otherwise. How consistent this is with other positions he holds is another matter, as is whether this qualifies him to be labelled as Reformed.
Cornelius Van Til pioneered the application of Reformed theology to apologetics. However, Van Til himself was not a practitioner – that was left to another generation. After Greg Bahnsen’s death in 1995, Doug Wilson rose to become one of the best presuppositional debaters. In 2008, Wilson debated atheist Christopher Hitchens and the encounters were filmed and later released as a documentary, Collision. For several years, I used this documentary in my apologetics classes as an engaging example of how to do presuppositional apologetics. While I didn’t agree with every word that came from Wilson’s mouth, the overall approach was still exemplary of how to do Reformed apologetics.
Wilson falls on the right side of many issues in the culture wars. He’s pro-life. He sees the destructive madness being foisted on society by the sexual revolution. And he’s not afraid to call it out. Wilson’s bold denunciations of today’s death, debauchery and decadence have won him many followers. When so many Christian leaders are mealy-mouthed and ambiguous about the issues facing us, it’s easy to see why many look up to Wilson.
There’s a memorable scene in Collision where Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens bond over their love for the English humourist P.G. Wodehouse. They trade famous quotes from Wodehouse. Wodehouse was a clever, witty writer and so is Wilson. Having been brought up with the staid, solemn prose of our church magazine, Credenda/Agenda was a breath of fresh air. Wilson could make a serious point in an amusing way. There’s no shortage of creative artistry in his writing. He makes it easy for the reader. This is a gift.
I didn’t even have to try to come up with those five points of the good about Doug Wilson. They sprang readily to mind. Anyone even superficially familiar with Wilson would quickly notice the same things. What they might not notice so quickly are the bad and the ugly. I’ll get to those in the next couple of installments.