To major on minors (part 1)

The following by Doug Wilson is nothing new — he said pretty much the same thing with his, “Better Christians than Logicians” post. This time Wilson uses an analogy of a licensed electrician compared to a little child reaching the light switch. The minister is like the electrician and the lay person is the little child who can reach the light switch. I’ll intersperse a few comments below.

Here is Wilson:

==Major and Minor
Topic: Auburn Avenue Stuff

Yesterday Dr. David Field gave the final Calvin lecture in NSA’s commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of that great reformer. And what a lecture it was — the video will be available on line sometime, and I will let you know when and where. In the meantime, the lecture jabbed some thoughts of my own that had been lounging on the couch, and told them to go get a job already.

The title of the lecture was “Calvin’s Catholicity and Birth of English Nonconformity,” with particular emphasis placed on the courageous stand taken by John Howe. The only foretaste of the lecture I will give here is that the definition of sectarianism has nothing to do with the size of the sectarian body, but rather with the size of that body when compared to the size of Christ’s body. The latitudianarians receive as Christ’s those who are manifestly not Christ’s and the sectarians reject those who manifestly are.==

Chris: But according to Wilsonian logic he is denying justification by faith alone by saying that ANYONE is “manifestly not Christ’s.” When Wilson asserts that there are actually certain doctrines (or lifestyles perhaps) that clearly show that they are not Christ’s, then according to his previously seen logic, he is insisting on “tiny doctrinal works before a man can go to heaven.” Or, if it’s not doctrine that Wilson is judging by here but rather character and conduct, then his illogic states that he is insisting on works of obedience as a prerequisite or condition of salvation and therefore is denying the doctrine of justification by faith alone.


==In the meantime, here is a related comment that I would add. A minor issue is a minor issue unless it is treated by the one who holds it as a major issue — then the minor issue becomes a major issue, and it may be treated as such by those for whom the minor issue is not a major issue in itself. To major on minors is a major issue, even though the minor issue being majored on is not in itself major.==

Chris: For Wilson, things like the efficacious atonement of Jesus Christ, the deity of Jesus Christ, the Sovereignty of God seen in His predestinating grace in Christ is superficially put forward as a major issue for those on the ministerial payroll, but for the little children (i.e., the unlicensed laity of varying age) all of these aforementioned doctrines are minor issues. I say “superficially” with regard to the ministers since while Wilson would not allow an Arminian in his pulpit — thus demonstrating that certain doctrines are in fact “major issues” — he would never say that the Arminian is, “manifestly not Christ’s.” In fact he won’t even say that Pelagians are necessarily ones not belonging to Christ:

“Men are often better Christians than they are logicians. There is a vast chasm between maintaining, as I do, that semi-Pelagians (and Pelagians too, for that matter) can be saved, and maintaining, which I do not, that semi-Pelagianism saves” (Doug Wilson).

Chris: Marc had written in response to Wilson’s comments:

“Wilson said that Pelagians ‘can be saved’ — which doesn’t mean that he believes that they are unregenerate and may be saved in the future; he’s saying that Pelagians may be saved people!

For those of you who don’t know, Pelagians deny original sin and deny that Adam’s sin is imputed to anyone and deny that all humans are conceived in sin. It is a ‘purer’ form of works salvation, because no “grace” is mixed in at all.”

Chris: This is an amazingly heretical view espoused by Doug Wilson. He shows himself imperceptive (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:12) by quoting Piper, quoting Edwards and Owen. But hey, at least he’s in “good company.”

Doug Wilson wrote:

“To quote Piper, quoting Edwards and Owen
respectively . . .”

‘How far a wonderful and mysterious agency of God’s Spirit may so influence some men’s hearts, that their practice in this regard may be contrary to their own principles, so that they shall not trust in their own righteousness, though they profess that men are justified by their own righteousness’ (p. 24).

‘Men may be really saved by that grace which doctrinally they do deny, and they may be justified by the imputation of that righteousness which in opinion they deny to be imputed.’

Chris: Wilson quotes from Piper’s book, “The Future of Justification.” The Owen and Edwards quotes are found in footnote 30 on pp. 24-25 of Piper’s book. Piper references for Edwards and Owen:

(Jonathan Edwards, “Justification by Faith Alone,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 19 [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001], 242)

John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, chapter VII, “Imputation, and the Nature of It,” Banner of Truth, Works, Vol. 5, 163-164.

Continuing with Wilson:

==Say that someone holds a peculiar eschatological position, and the Church can certainly accomodate it. Nothing new here, right? But suppose he says that holding this position is the sine qua non of salvation — he has made his minor a major, and that is a major issue.==

Chris: I am unaware of anyone who held an eschatological position in this way. But I suppose Wilson is just supposing for the sake of making a point regarding majoring on minors.

== And this is where I must point out a distinction of major importance. I have been saying that regeneration is a sine qua non of salvation. A man won’t see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. But this is not the same thing as saying that a man cannot see the kingdom unless he agrees to Wilson’s particular formulations of what it means to be born again. There are born again people who would argue with me, long into the night, about my belief that regeneration precedes repentance and faith, for example. They deny it, and they deny it hotly. But what matters is that this person is one in whom regeneration actually did precede his repentance and faith (as I believe), which is not the same thing as saying that it is necessary for him to believe that. It has to happen to him. He doesn’t have to know what happened to him.==

Chris: As should be clear by Wilson’s past doctrinal history, reductio ad absurdums prove quite ineffective. We witnessed above how a reductio would fair with his position on at least some Pelagians. I guess my most recent effort is to apply the reductio to Wilson’s problem with those latitudinarians who receive those who, “manifestly are not Christ’s.”

== There are Lutherans who don’t agree with me on what it means to be born again, but that’s all right because they are born again. At the end of the day, I don’t care what they say about it. And there are Reformed evangelicals who would say exactly the same thing about it that I would — the only problem being that they are not in fact born again themselves.==

Chris: How does Wilson know that certain Reformed evangelicals — who, “say exactly the same thing” about it as he does — are, “not in fact born again themselves”? Wilson, according to his own fallacious reasoning, has just added a tiny little cerebral work to the purity of the gospel and has denied justification apart from works, by adding this little cerebral work.

== Now when I say that I don’t care “what they say,” that sentiment has to be placed in context. I would care very much what they say about it at a presbytery exam for ordination. But when it comes to receiving them to the Lord’s Table, I don’t care at all. It is the Lord’s Table, not mine, and my job is to receive the same people the Lord receives, to the best of my ability.

A minister is like a licensed electrician. He has to wire the room so that the lights work. But a child can flip on the lights. I want high standards for the theological electricians because this is the house of the Lord, and we don’t want it to burn down. I want low standards (work with me here) for the people who live in the house. I want every three-year-old with curious fingers, and a rudimentary knowledge of cause and effect, to be able to reach that light switch.
Posted by Douglas Wilson – 12/5/2009 ==

Chris: Wilson cares what a Pelagian or Arminian says at the presbytery exam for ordination. He would never ordain such a one, but he will call them regenerate Christians — illogical perhaps, but regenerate nonetheless. Wilson would not be so negligent and reckless as to hire the Arminian to do the necessary electrical work in his respective Synagogue. For if he did then the Arminian “electrician” who was licensed at a different Synagogue would probably electrocute himself. The lights would be flickering rapidly, and then the poor little children could not even find the light switch. But whether they did, or didn’t find the switch wouldn’t really matter.

In fact BOTH the low-standard incompetent electrician and the “three-year-old with curious fingers” could be in pitch-black darkness (cf. Matthew 15:14) and Wilson will still say that they are somehow in the light by a “blessed” or “felicitous” inconsistency (or something).