Friday, September 9, 2011

Beware of Doug Wilson: Part 4: Redefining "Works"

In his redefining of obedience to not
mean "works," Wilson sets the stage
for people believing they are saved by
works. This is a burden that no one
can bear. 
by Steve C. Halbrook (posts in this series: part 1part 2part 3, part 4)

According to the Bible, good works are the natural fruit of saving faith. That is, good works naturally follow saving faith; however, they are not the essence of saving faith. (See, for example, Romans 4:1-12;  Matthew 7:17, 18, and Ephesians 2:8-10.)

But Doug Wilson makes no such distinction. For him, works do not follow faith, but are rather the essence of saving faith. Wilson makes the fruit out to be the root.

However, in his view of works, Wilson can subtlety appear orthodox. This is because he redefines what "works" means. In a blog post, Wilson, after quoting one of his critics, writes: 
“But here are some terms that one ought not be allowed to interchange as though they were synonyms – obedience and works. Not one of us believes that the WCF was wrong to say that Adam had to obey. He disobeyed, and here we are in a sinful world.
“Had he obeyed, we would not have been. We all hold to the necessity of that obedience, as the Confession says. So when we deny that the gift was conditioned upon Adam’s “moral exertions or achievements,” we are denying the idea of autonomy. We are not denying the idea of trusting obedience, upon which continued bliss absolutely depended.”[1] 
In the comments section of this post, Wilson similarly writes: 
We distinguish between obedience and works because Paul does. In the Pauline vocabulary, deeds without faith is works. Deeds done in faith is obedience.”[2]
Here we will not address Wilson's arguments about the notion of autonomy as it relates to works. (Sean Gerety does, however, in his piece Hunting Wolves.) Our present concern is Wilson's distinction between obedience and works. For him, they are two separate things.

This, of course, is a false distinction. Works and obedience are the same. But keep in mind that Wilson's statements about the Gospel and saving faith show that he holds to salvation by works.

Therefore Wilson's distinction between works and obedience does a lot more than say that "works" are autonomous and "obedience" isn't. It enables him to mask his view that works are the essence of saving faith. 

After all, 
Wilson's theology, to appear Christian, requires the appearance of orthodoxy. Wilson accomplishes this (at least to the undiscerning) by denying that he teaches salvation by works. On the other hand, to maintain its actual doctrine of salvation by works, Wilson's theology needs to subtly uphold a doctrine of salvation by works by using another term ("obedience"), which supposedly is something different than works, but in actuality is the same.

In short, Wilson's works/obedience distinction enables him to actually teach salvation by works while claiming to oppose salvation by works. 

(Note: only God knows whether Wilson consciously sets out to redefine the meaning of works in order to deceive others. However, whether Wilson intends to deceive or not, his works/obedience distinction is deceptive nevertheless.) 

Redefining terms is a common approach
by wolves in sheep's clothing; it enables
them to appear orthodox (that is, as sheep)
when they actually aren't. 
And so for Wilson, law-keeping doesn't save us when we call it "works," but it does save us when we call it "obedience." Or, as Sean Gerety commented on Wilson's post: "Wilson tries to draw a distinction where none exists. This explains why for him salvation is premised on our own faithful obedience, yet is somehow not to be confused with salvation by works."[3]

Wilson's distinction is like someone who, while acknowledging that "pre-born infanticide is wrong," also says that "abortion is okay."  While different words are used, "abortion" and "pre-born infanticide" mean the same thing.

Wilson's false distinction between works and obedience is seen in the fact that t
obey God’s commands is to do God’s commands; and to do God’s commands is works by the very nature of the case. Works and obedience are one and the same.

In his blog post Wilson nowhere demonstrates that works and obedience differ—he merely asserts this to be the case.  In fact, after Sean Gerety challenged Wilson on the comments section of Wilson’s post to prove the Apostle Paul makes a distinction between works and obedience, Wilson is nowhere to be found.

Below are some passages about Jesus Christ where the Bible clearly considers obedience and works the same thing.  Here we see that Christ came to do works for God the Father, that is, to obey Him.
“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John 10:37-38) 
“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17:4) 
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19) 
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name …” (Philippians 2:8-9) [4]
James 2:18 tells us that for Christians, works are the fruit (not the root) of saving faith:
"But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
This clearly refutes Wilson's false distinction of works and obedience. Remember, for Wilson, "deeds without faith is works. Deeds done in faith is obedience." But as James 2, shows, Christians show their faith by their works (no distinction from obedience here).

In other words, Christians show that they've come to true saving faith by their works, which naturally follow saving faith. Only Wilson will make works the cause--not the fruit--of salvation. 

Redefining terms is a common approach by wolves in sheep's clothing; it enables them to appear orthodox (that is, as sheep) when then actually aren't. (Regardless of whether they redefine terms consciously, or blindly.) And Wilson has much sheep's clothing--he redefines the Gospel, saving faith, and works.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15)


     [1] Douglas Wilson, “Obedience and Life.” (Blog & Mablog, April 22, 2008). Retrieved August 20, 2011.
     [2] Ibid.     
      [3] Ibid.     
     [4] (special thanks to the comments of “rgmann” on Sean Gerety's post, Hunting Wolves)

Doug Wilson: Heretic or Reformer? Part 2

Note: In this sermon (another excellent critique of Wilson), Pastor Schwertley argues that saving faith is more than just understanding and assent; it involves trust as well. However, Sean Gerety argues that assent (belief) and trust are synonyms, and so adding trust to assent is not only tautological, but it opens the door for Federal Visionists to drive trucks through the meaning of the word trust. See the following:
When You're Strange
Still Strange
For more on faith and assent:
John W. Robbins gives another argument against the traditional three-element view of faith 
Gordon Clark quotes Thomas Manton to make a case that the original Reformers didn't hold to a three-element view of faith

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