Beware of Douglas Wilson: Part 1 (updated)

Douglas Wilson is part of the extremely heretical Federal Vision movement.  This movement has already spread like gangrene in Presbyterian circles, and no thanks to John Piper’s endorsement of him, threatens to do the same in Baptist circles.

(We respect Piper, but his endorsement of Wilson is a dangerous mistake.)

Many Christians are honestly confused about Wilson.  Those who don’t know any better are likely to assume Wilson is a godly man since:

  1. Many influential and respected Christians promote him and his works.  How can he be dangerous if such respected Christians promote him?
  2. Wilson defended Christianity by debating the rabid atheist Christopher Hitchens.  How can he be dangerous if he defended the faith against one of America’s greatest enemies of Christianity?
  3. Wilson is so winsome.  How can someone so friendly and soft-spoken in his speech be so dangerous? (Of course, Wilson has a very snide and sarcastic side as well.)

But, as we, Lord willing, shall see throughout this series, Wilson is not the great Christian the Christian community makes him out to be.

For one, Wilson equates the law and the gospel.  We will give three examples:

1.“When we say that all of God’s word is perfect, converting the soul. When we don’t divide it up into law and gospel, when we don’t say law over here, gospel over there, when we say it’s all gospel, it’s all law, it’s all good. When we say that, someone is going to accuse us of phariseeism or legalism. What does Jesus say about this pattern? Matthew 23, “then spake Jesus to the multitude and to his disciples saying, the scribes and the pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, all, therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do, but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not.”

Douglas Wilson, “Visible and Invisible Church Revisited,” lecture (Auburn Avenue Pastors’ Conference, January 2002).  Cited in John M. Otis, Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision (Corpus Christi, TX: Triumphant Publications, 2005), 335.

2. The Bible says that the just shall live by faith, but this entails the fact that the just shall live.  What analogy shall we use? Faith as the starting gun of a race makes us fall into the Galatian error.  Faith as the foundation makes us think there are parts of the building that are supported ultimately by faith but are not themselves faith.  All such illustrations set us up for a traplaw and gospel divisions or grace and works divisionsBut we cannot divide the question of life and body the same way.  Life permeates the whole man, and if it does not, then we do not have a man.

Douglas Wilson, Reformed is not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2002), 42, 43.

3. I believe that the Scriptures divide men into two great categories, those who believe and those who do not (Matt. 25:33). This in turn gives us two fundamental hermeneutics—one of faith and love and the other of unbelief and hatred.

I believe that to the unbelieving heart, the Word of God in its entirety comes as law, condemning the sinner. This is particularly evident with the moral imperatives of Scripture (Rom. 3:20; 5:20), but it is equally true of the words of consolation and hope. To those who are perishing, the words of Christ our Savior are the very aroma of death (2 Cor. 2:14-15). So the unbelieving heart sees law and condemnation everywhere, including in the gospel.

I believe that to the believing heart, the Word of God in its entirety comes as gospel, bringing the sinner to salvation. This is particularly evident with the declaration of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the heart of the gospel message. But it is also true of the Ten Commandments, which are words of joyful deliverance and salvation (Ex. 20:1).

Douglas Wilson, A Short Credo on Law and Gospel.

On these last statements, Guy Prentiss Waters writes that for Wilson,

The law/gospel distinction, as applied to Scripture, is therefore grounded in the subjective state of the sinner, not within the biblical covenants themselves.

In summary, then, we have a flattening of a confessional understanding of the relationship among the covenants.  The principle of works, at the very least, appears to have been muted or diminished in Wilson’s statements concerning the first covenant.  The office of the law in continuing to convict the believer of sin appears to be diminished in favor of formulations that stress biblical obligations as “gospel.”

Guy Prentiss Waters,  The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006), 33.

Wilson’s denial of the law/Gospel distinction amounts to saying one can have forgiveness of sins by works.  In fact, that is exactly what his fellow Federal Vision proponent, Steve Schlissel, says,

The keeping of the commands of God is identified as putting trust in God; it is contrasted with forgetting God and disobeying God. To be in the Gospel, then, is to be in the law of God.”

“But the law itself is to be our life. “This is your life,” God says. “In the law I have given you atonement. In the law I have given you promises of forgiveness. In the law I have given you the way to live. In the law I have given you the key to life. In the law you will find grace abounding to the chief of sinners.”

“We turn it around and say, “No, we will have none of this! That’s law as opposed to Gospel.”

Steve Schlissel, “Auburn Pastors Conference 2002—Covenant Series: Covenant Reading” (January 2002).  (Schlissel likewise proudly upholds salvation by works in his debate with John Otis.)

In denying the distinction between law and Gospel, Wilson (as does Schlissel) denies the Gospel.  In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul distinguishes between law and Gospel:

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?” (Galatians 3:1-4)

The Apostle Paul teaches that those who rely on works for salvation cannot be saved (Galatians 5:1-4).  And he even curses those who equate the Gospel with the law (Galatians 1:6-9).

(Posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) (see also Video Versions)

Related Links:

Is the Federal Vision Heresy?
Refutation of the Federal Vision on Galatians

Recommended resources exposing Wilson’s dangerous views:

1. Blog: God’s Hammer (several posts on Wilson can be found via a keyword search)

2. John M. Otis, Danger in the Camp: An Analysis and Refutation of the Heresies of the Federal Vision (Corpus Christi, TX: Triumphant Publications, 2005)

3. Guy Prentiss Waters,  The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2006)

4. John W. Robbins and Sean Gerety, Not Reformed At All: Medievalism in “Reformed” Churches (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004)
(A response and refutation of Wilson’s Reformed is not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant.)



  1. I have no qualms about answering this question in this fashion.
    Jesus: Why should I not destroy you as an enemy?

    Me: Because I keep your laws, that’s why.
    Because I am baptised
    Because I go to church
    Because I obey your Spirit
    Because I have eaten your body and drunk your blood many a time (I like the homemade bread best and a nice merlot, too)
    Because I asked you into my mind (insert, heart, soul, mind and strength if you can’t get it)

    Sheesh, lighten up people. Like you love others the way you ought. Oh, I’m sorry. Am I holding you to the law? Oops.

  2. Is this a joke?
    I ask because it’s almost comical.

  3. Although we have lived in Mississippi for years now, we sat under the teaching of Steve Wilkins and Doug Wilson for many, many years. I GUARANTEE you that neither men believe that law trumps gospel. It is this notion that the law is nothing (which is anti-gospel anyway), which allows men and women to sit in our church pews, openly having affairs and involved in various other sins and say to themselves “the law is nothing….Jesus loves everyone and will forgive me….when I ask…..
    Are the people writing this stuff ‘law haters’? My husband used to tell our children “a person who is a law-hater is a sin-lover”.

  4. BJ,
    Oh, you must be a disciple of Douglas Wilson. That would explain your sarcasm. No, false gospels that send men to hell are not comical.

  5. Katharine,
    I don’t know if either man has said that law trumps gospel, but they equate law with gospel, as all proponents of the Federal Vision do. And this amounts to law trumping Gospel in terms of salvation.

    Denying that one is saved by works is not the same as hating works, or being antinomian. Paul anticipates this argument when he says,

    “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:27-31)

    Christians are justified by faith alone, but they will naturally produce good works as a result of faith–a good tree bears good fruit. (But the Federal Vision has it backwards–it argues that good fruit bears a good tree.)

    Thus Ephesians 2:1-10 teaches salvation is completely free from works, but those who are truly saved will do good works–not to save themselves–but because they have been predestined to do so. When one’s nature has been transformed by the Holy Spirit, he naturally produces good works. It’s inescapable.

    And so, the spiritually fatal error of the Federal Vision (as with Roman Catholicism) is that they say works save. This view is no less damning than the view of the carnal “Christian.”

    A carnal “Christian” (one who professes Christ but denies him by living in constant rebellion towards him and hates His law) simply demonstrates that he was never a true Christian to begin with.

    God bless,

  6. Travis,
    More sarcasm–you must also be a disciple of Douglas Wilson.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: