Engaging “Against the Church” by Douglas Wilson

In this book, Doug Wilson does what he does best. He offers a return to ol’ time religion, but without altar calls and endless refrains of Just As I Am.  The book is divided into four sections. The first, the most controversial, is entitled Against the Church (also the title of the book). In it, he attacks liturgy, sacraments, infant anything, tradition, systematics and doctrine in favor of the new birth. Wilson’s central premise is that “it is only possible to be for the church in this effectual way if you begin mastering the case against ita. We, in liturgical traditions, value holy things and holy means. Doug writes that “God does not show sufficient respect for our holy things.” He means that our liturgical services are less than appetizing to God if God is not directing the holy.

God is the ultimate iconoclast. The Church has become a place of idolatry masqueraded by the holy. Part of the thesis is that we have arranged our holy furniture after our own desires, and thus, used them for our own purposes and as a result have left God out of the equation. Our house is being left desolate and we kinda like it as long as “our” sacred means are left untouched.

Wilson’s goal is to stress that outwardly we have beauty, but inwardly our churches are dying a thousand deaths because of the stench of death that has permeated our furniture. Central to this analysis is the necessity of the new birth. According to Pastor Wilson, we have failed to stress the new birth and also failed to make distinctions that the Bible makes concerning who is in and who is playing like he is in. In other words, true baptism changes the stuff inside and without that you only have a “wet member of the visible covenant” (18).

Wilson is not contra institution, he is after an institution with an evangelical heart (35). We cannot affirm a religion where the outward controls the inward, but the opposite is desired. What flows from the heart produces the type of church/liturgy that is pleasing in God’s eyes.

Engaging Doug Wilson and Some Notes

I love Doug Wilson. In order to let the reader know what my samba dance looks like, I should say upfront, this man has changed the direction of my life. He is my presiding minister in the denomination I serve. I have spent much time with him in meals, private conversations, phone calls, etc. My admiration for this man is truly heartfelt. God bless him. To make it even better, may the whole Trinity bless him. He’s a man for such a time as this.

So, here it comes…

Actually, nothing comes. I learned long ago from John Frame that throwing mud at friends is a losing strategy. And if I were to throw mud it would be very little. In fact, it would be the type of mud that my little kids may accidentally eat on a rainy day causing no tummy pain. I would simply say, “Well, look at that honey: little Zeke had a little mud for lunch, but I think it will help him make better distinctions between good food and food that may look good, but is not.” Then, we would laugh for a bit and move on.

I rarely finish a book these days. In fact, I can honestly say this is only the third book I have read from cover to cover this year, and in this case, the cover and its title gave me a quick heartache. I spend most of my time reading essays, various portions of books, commentaries, and writing a fair bit, but finishing a book is rare. Maybe because of the nature of my relationship with Doug and our denomination, I was able to work my way through the 212 pages of this book. I confess: this is not my favorite of Wilson’s books, and many of his books have I consumed in this last decade. But still, it was a needed book to consume, if only to perform a type of pastoral introspection that is needed from time to time.

Wilson sees things most of us can’t. Maybe it’s his view from Moscow that helps…you know, he’s near Russia and stuff. But from my vantage point–and I kid you not I am staring at the prettiest Florida waves ever a I write–the world down here is not in need of liturgical iconoclasts, but of any liturgy worth a darn. The south is replete with happy-happy-joy-joy Christianity. And sometimes my desire as a zealous disciple of Calvin (God rest his soul) is to use my clerical garb (which is magical, I hear) and walk right to a certain campus in my hometown that rhymes with Pee-See-See and start going all Book of Common Prayer on them. But alas, I actually did that and the looks I got….my, oh my!

Seriously, Doug’s points are valid. I know the liturgical dangers of loving something so much that we end up forgetting the point of the means; and the point is to show us how terribly idiotic we are if we forget the Point of the point.

So, kudos to Doug for pointing us to Jesus more fully; for making us more aware that bad people hide behind bread and wine and peace be with you. Also, thanks to Doug for directing us to the regeneration…whatever that means, it means new life, new world, and new order. And I want me some of that everyday and hope that the people I minister to want some as well. Great thanks also for calling us to lively worship; the kind that makes the kingdom of darkness tremble and God’s people rejoice.

Finally, my thanks to Doug for getting me in such great trouble in the last 12 years. It’s been real. As a result, I’ve seen happy babies, communing babies, spitting up babies, screaming babies, halleluiah babies, and my own babies. But I’ve seen them all, as a friend of ours would say, through new eyes. And to me, that matters a whole lot. In fact it matters so much that I am up for a good beer right now; the kind that is dark and foamy. Cheers for iconoclasts and to hell with the Church choir if Jesus ain’t leading it.

  1. Introduction  (back)
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