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On Douglas Wilson and Covenant Children

In a discussion about Covenant Children, Rev. Winzer wrote:

Believing parents are given a prime opportunity to be the means of their children’s conversion. Children of believers are more culpable for their unbelief because they have sinned against means. Believing parents become culpable for their children’s unbelief if they do not provide the means for their children’s repentance.

Concise and elegant as usual.

As critical as I’ve been of Wilson, it is not because I am unfamiliar with his work on the Christian family. I have read a number of his works, even used portions for studies on marriage and child-rearing. It is not all bad and there is some practical wisdom found therein.

Even before I thought Wilson was going in the wrong direction theologically, I would have warned a person to read him with a grain of salt and not completely drink the Koolaid in his writings. When he teaches, it is nigh impossible to distinguish between when he is exegeting a didactic principle from the Scriptures from when he is stating a “seems to me” opinion (however well founded in his own experience). In fact his opinions become the basis for further reflection so the text of Scripture is left even further behind. Because Wilson has no small degree of charisma, not all are able to separate where their consciences ought to be bound and where they shouldn’t.

I honestly don’t believe enough work has been done to link this issue of the family as the real genesis of the whole Federal Vision controversy. It really is the issue of Covenant Children that drives this issue. As has been noted, some of the criticisms of the laxity of Presbyterians regarding their covenant responsiblities is to blame. I would attend the OPC Junior and Senior High retreats a few years ago and only 1-2 out of a crowd of 300 young men and women could fill in the blank on catechism answers. Memorization is not a guarantor of regeneration but it does indicate a lack of family worship and instruction in the home.

Thus, you have Ministers and Elders with many apostate children and Churches that take no action because, after all, “…the children are not elect…”, so what can these men do about it? That attitude is completely contrary to the Word regarding the subject of apostasy. God never blames Himself for unbelief. As Rev Winzer pointed out, He blames the unbeliever and He blames the parents. To say He ordained the reprobation of a child is rather like Adam reminding God that, after all, You gave me this woman. Read Psalm 78, which describes the cycle of apostasy as children are not taught the things of the Lord and then forget Him.

Now, as much as I agree with Wilson that the state of affairs in the Presbyterian Churches is lamentable (and not Reformed in their understanding of parental responsibility) his solution is not the correct one. As with most errors, the course correction is usually tacked too hard. It is my belief that they wanted to link the issue of parental responsibility too much to the nature of salvation as if the nature of God’s election does not include such things as means and our responsibility to obey His Word. In the end, even the best parent will find ample failures on their part that, if weighed in the balance of perfection, would be reason for them to conclude that God does not “owe” them a redeemed child.

It needs to be enough for us to live according to the commands of the Scriptures to train our children (and to enjoin them to obey) without presuming upon the hidden counsel of God and change our Sacramentology and Soteriology to give us more assurance that our efforts will lead to the salvation of our child. In the process, in fact, as they have left the Confessional understanding of such things they have undermined the very Gospel that they should be pointing their children to!

Thus, be wary of Douglas Wilson’s works. Because he has some good things to say in criticism of the modern Reformed Church, his work is very alluring. But because He prefers personal interpretation, converts Proverbs to didactic literature, and his opinions are indistinguishable from his exegesis, he leads his devotees down a path which ultimately abandons our Confessions. We need no more assurance than the true Gospel will provide and creating a category of faithfulness to make us feel better about those intervening years of a child’s development, while we have to wait in faith, is drinking a poisonous Koolaid indeed!

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous11-09-2007

    A friend of mine found this posting of Leithart admitting the child-connection:

    http://www.leithart.com/archives/003076.php

    I have suspected as much over the years as well. Professor Strange of MARS wrote an article (sorry I only have a text version) in their mag on Wilson’s view of fatherly headship and its dangers.

    I see a similar concern among some in the homeschooling movement (especially amongst the Uniting Church & Family). I have spoken with some of the leaders and some tend to have an implicit distrust of others teaching their children because of their fear of wrong influence which may in turn lead to their apostasy.

    Oh…nice site.

    –shawn
    polymathis.blogspot.com

  2. jmartinez83
    jmartinez8311-18-2007

    Actually, I never read any of Wilson’s works. Do you recommend a first reading?

  3. Leino
    Leino11-21-2007

    I wouldn’t swear them off as things to be burned. I would just read them with a grain of salt and watch for those points where he says things in the extreme.

    It’s funny, though, I recently read another of his books that I had bought a while back and never got around to it. I have to say that, as I’ve read more excellent theological works, I got increasingly weary of Wilson’s style. It’s so populist and full of “zingers”. I’ve started to figure out that the reason why he’s popular is that he’s “folksy” and has an analogy for everything.

    But, for me, after awhile, he just comes across as overly pompous on certain things and, regarding the Covenant, he starts out OK but his direction is perilous. I would never recommend him to a novice for fear that he might make them twice as fit for Hell.

    Rich

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