I once heard Pastor John MacArthu say that the biggest need of Chrisitans in our day was discernment. Discernment is using the Bible to sort out right from wrong. A net in a river filters the smaller bad things while capturing the fish. Christians are called to examine the input we receive from preaching, books, and media compared to the Scriptures, rejecting the errors and holding onto to the truth (1 Thess. 5:21).
It is easier to sort out the good from the bad when a preacher is almost always wonderfully biblical or almost always awful. We kind of wish everyone was either totally black or totally white. It is much more challenging when a preacher has a lot of good with some bad elements in his work, or a mix of being good on the majors and bad on some minor points.
Sometimes it might seem easier to highlight a point of disagreement about a preacher and then reject the rest of his teaching. In doing so, you may miss out on many good treasures. If you don’t like the anchovies or onions, it is better to pick them off and enjoy the rest of the pizza, as opposed to missing out on the entire meal. Yes, it is more work to evaluate all that you are hearing by the teaching of the Bible, but that is what the Lord expects of us.
Jesus was the only one who has taught us perfectly. Now that he is in heaven, we are left with imperfect teachers and preachers. Thankfully, we have a perfect book to use for comparison.
One of the preachers that I have often enjoyed with discernment is Doug Wilson, from Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He is a brilliant man who has taught many wonderful things and written many provocative books. He has a lot of content online and in the Canon+ app. But, his provocations have also gotten him into many controversies. As an exercise in discernment, let me consider some of the good things that I have appreciated about him, and then highlight some of the red flags that I watch out for.
Doug Wilson has a comprehensive view of the Christian life. Therefore, he writes on a wide range of topics such as the Christian family, education, and even politics. He seeks to apply the Bible to all of these (and so many more), and he is unafraid to get into the details. He doesn’t just say, for example, that men should be leaders in their homes, he gives practical counsel about how that should work out.
Doug is an excellent writer. He works hard at it, and makes difficult topics readable. He even wrote a book on writing (which is quite good).
He is also funny. I think that also helps the reader relax and engage with what he is saying. That humor often turns to sarcasm. Doug actually wrote a book on defending the use of sarcasm from the Bible (there is more in the Bible than you might think!). That style of humor can expose inconsistencies and weaknesses of the other side in dealing with tough topics.
His desire for a comprehensive picture of Christian families, working hard, playing hard, serving in the church, and impacting society for the Lord down to the details has created a movement of people in Idaho attempting to live that out. That vision has attracted Christian transplants and drawn much attention.
I have read many of Doug’s books and heard in speak several times. I have often been stirred up to think about a topic in fresh new ways. I have been driven back to the Bible to see if what Doug says matches up. I certainly believe his sincerity as a pastor to teach what he thinks is right and biblical. That said, I also note some red flags to be careful about in his teachings.
I’m suspicious that because Doug was trained in philosophy and logic as opposed to a more standard seminary education, he comes up with different ideas about things than standard evangelical views. Don’t get me wrong, he is a self-made scholar. But sometimes I have seen a tendency to push the logical consistency of his systems beyond the Bible.
It is good to seek to apply the Bible to all of life. But the Bible doesn’t speak directly to all of life. Therefore, when preachers give their ideas about how you should live, they can push too far and slip into opinions. That’s okay. Wise opinions are good, but they must always be distinguished from biblical teaching. Doug is such a powerful preacher and writer that I think some of his readers blur the lines.
One example of the system overpowering the Bible is paedo-communion. Doug believes that Israel and the church are the same (Covenant Theology). Presbyterians agree with him that the Old Covenant sign of circumcision that brought the baby boys of Israel into the covenant, is now infant baptism in the New Covenant. That view is a more logical inference from those assumptions than directly taught in the Bible.
Very few Presbyterians, however, would keep pushing the logic of their views to say that babies and young children in Christian families should also be given communion at church. Christ Church in Idaho practices that. I think that actually makes sense logically, based on Doug’s assumptions. I don’t think, though, it matches with what the Bible teaches about the New Covenant, where all actually know the Lord savingly.
While I appreciate Doug’s lightning fast wit and even his effective use of sarcasm, that kind of humor is deadly. I’m afraid sometimes Doug has crossed the line. He is also earthy and plain-spoken, which helps his hearers understand his points, but can also come across sometimes as crass. Ministers are real people and need to communicate clearly, but must also be dignified, according to the Bible (1 Tim 3:2).
When your profile is elevated more people find things about you to criticize. In addition to becoming more well known, Doug Wilson has made so many comments about such a wide variety of topics (sometimes with sarcasm, etc.), he has drawn a lot of criticism from a lot of circles. Much of the heat thrown against him has been easily answered on his website.
I do think Doug’s pizza is worth eating. He has challenged me to think better about a variety of issues. I don’t always agree with him. I toss out plenty of anchovies and maybe even some onions, but I have appreciated the meal. He is a good example of the importance of discernment. Chew the meat, but always test everything by the Bible, and spit out the bones.