Wednesday, January 02, 2019

God Rest Ye Merry Puritans

 Doug Stabbed You In The Has Got Your Back 
– Or So He Says   
[updated & revised 1/27/19]

God rest ye merry Puritans, 
Let nothing you dismay, 
Doug Wilson is a poser  
Whatever he may say. 

Like it or not, it's that time of year again and come to find out, some of the usual rascals are up to the same old same old.
In other words, what follows is  a somewhat critical review of: 
God Rest Ye Merry, Why Christmas is the Foundation for Everything,
Douglas Wilson, Moscow: Canon Press, 2012, 151 p. 

There are any number of problems with this attempt of an apologetic for a robust Puritan celebration of Advent and Christmas, i.e. the ecclesiastical/church year with its seasons and feastdays in God Rest Ye Merry (GRYM), but the chief one is curious enough. Wilson's idea of a Puritan more resembles what he says  about St. Nicholas of Myra. Somehow Nicholas, who supposedly punched an Arian at the Council of Nicea in  325 AD, transitioned from a bishop to an elf to a jolly Dutchman till he finally ended up as  the current occupant at PO. Box 1, The North Pole. “But [what] we must learn from this [is] that if we do not tell our stories faithfully, they will gradually change over time until they become quite unrecognizable.” Moreover, “we have to remember that St. Nicholas probably would have slugged somebody over it.” (p.120). Indeed. As we shall see what Mr. Wilson describes and defines as Puritan defense of Christmas is not just unfaithful to genuine Puritanism, but the exact opposite.  

Puritan and Reformed Preliminaries
Not that we would punch Judy over it or suggest Mr. Wilson seek employment as an Everlast heavy bag, but really.  Mr. Wilson’s not so stellar record on all things Puritan and Reformed include an assault on the reformed doctrine of worship  as a charter member of John Frame's Worship Children and the requisite fundamentalist read of the Second Commandment in common with the crowd he has run with in the past.  The same  bunch which largely morphed into Norm Shepherd's Covenant Children and came up with the theological novelty of  the Federal Vision. Because all Israel is not Israel, our theological sophomores decided baptism is what it signifies,  grace is not irresistable, walking by sight trumps walking by faith  and the visible church is the real church. Until it's not. Or something like that.

Indeed, Peak Wilson might have occurred with his little bio on John Knox,  For Kirk and Covenant, The Stalwart Courage of John Knox (2000). The latter correctly notes Knox’s adamant witness against both error and protestant weasels a.k.a.  temporizers, as well as the place  the purity of worship (but not the Second Commandment)  played  both in his theology and the Scotch Reformation (pp.169-72, 161-4). Yet again,  with Wilson’s embrace of John Frame’s fundamentalist read of the Second Commandment which denies  the reformed  doctrine of worship, i.e.  the Regulative Principle of Worship (p.162),  along with corresponding collegial relations with Steve Schlissel,  James Jordan and Peter Liethart, all of the same mind and ilk, his 2002 book  Reformed Is Not Enough and signing the  2007 Joint Federal Vision Statement, only seal the deal regarding Wilson’s temporizing credentials on worship, justification, election and covenant theology.    

Federal Vision Is Not Enough
As far as John Knox on the doctrine of election goes, the preface to his On Predestination, In Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist (1560) pretty much puts away Wilson’s FV covenantal vacillations in Reformed Is Not Enough. What Knox accords to the doctrine of election, Wilson and the FV accord to the “objectivity” of the covenant and visible church membership. They damn it with faint praise, if not faint mention; if not the addition of and emphasis on the visible church to the exclusion of the doctrine of election and predestination. Yet Knox's preface closes, 
But let us, dear brethren, be assured that none other doctrine does establish faith, nor makes man humble and thankful unto God. And finally, that none other doctrine makes man careful to obey God according to his commandment, but that doctrine only which spoils man of all power an virtue, that no portion of his salvation consists within himself; to the end that the whole praise of our redemption may be referred to Christ Jesus alone . . .
Can Wilson's much vaunted Federal Vision's "objectivity of the covenant" say as much? Hardly. 

I 2010 Wilson was claiming the FV theology was "my big promotion",  yet come    2017,  he posted  an  Amber Alert  nominally  disavowing "Oatmeal Stout" Federal Vision along with the claim at the same time to  be a "Westminster Puritan". Whatever that means in that it was as empty of substance as his  repudiation of FV theology, which  only added drunkenness to thirst,  consisting as it did in  nuanced generalities and distinctions among beers and bartenders. But  not biblical categories and reformed theology in that Wilson affirmed that he was  still in agreement with Joint Federal Vision Statement of 2007. Go figure. 

Yet as a smooth operator, facile and glib front man  and titular head (aka bishop) of the CREC safe haven for those fleeing ecclesiastical discipline because of Federal Vision affinities, one is not surprised at the recent claim to Westminster orthodoxy. Yet all invective aside, the proof is in the  pudding that follows, Tiny Tim and  the Sugar Plum Fairy notwithstanding. 

Basic Distinctions vs. Distortions and Contradictions
Wilson begins Lesson Three,  "How To Celebrate Christmas Like a Puritan (p.75-93)",  which is both the heart of his book and his error by saying “One of the most common caricatures of the Puritans is that they were a lot of ecclesiastical killjoys . . . it is manifestly not true of the genius of true Puritanism (p. 75)”. From there is it literally downhill. While he wants to commend and celebrate an exuberant joy founded on the intervention of God in the Incarnation, we are instructed that some “basic distinctions have to be made (p.75)”, which is true enough, but the pig’s breakfast that results is not faithful to the real Puritan position on the ecclesiastical year and holidays. For some strange reason.

The basic distinctions regarding the Puritan position contradicted by Wilson are four:
  • One: if the Puritan opposition to the church year was in principle because of Gal. 4 and Col. 2. Wilson thinks it is rather because of the immorality that accompanied "the feast of Christ's nativity . . ." which was "spent . . . rifling, dicing, carding, masking, mumming, and all licentious liberty, for the most part, as though it were some heathen feast of Ceres or Bacchus (p.78 quoting Gillespie  p.340 p.123). 
  • Two: if the Puritans considered an appeal to the Old Testament feast days to justify New Testament feast days to be judaizing in principle and practice, again because of Gal. 4 and Col. 2., Wilson on his part, thinks the OT example justifies post NT feast days. "If we want direction on how to observe a calendar year that is honoring to God, one of the places we should go is to the Old Testament (p.81)". 
  • Three: if the Puritans considered liberty of conscience to apply to what is not addressed in Scripture, yet by the same token, they considered religious holidays to be not only addressed, but forbidden  by Scripture in Gal. 4 and Col. 2., Wilson on the other hand, appeals to liberty of conscience in order to observe holidays, saying, "we should celebrate Christmas, and the rest of the church year, with a free (and clean) conscience (p.80"). 

    Furthermore, if the Puritans thought that liberty of conscience meant the right of the believer not to observe what God had not commanded in worship, much more again, God had forbidden weak and beggarly days in Gal. 4 and Col. 2, Wilson can only say "If someone's conscience does not permit them to celebrate any day like Christmas, we should be sensitive to that. Feeling sorry for their captivity to overdone scruples is one thing. But binding them, making them observe the day, or pressuring them to do so, is not permissable (p.78)". Again, "We should leave our overly scrupulous brother alone. If God did not command something, then neither should we (p.80)".
  • Four: regarding Purim, the Westminster Assembly considered the Book of Esther to contain  approved examples of days of prayer/fasting and  days of thanksgiving as occasional/circumstantial events,  as per the proof texts for Chapt. 21:5 of their Confession (Esth. 4:16, 9:22),  though  Purim later became  an yearly event (Esth. 9:26-32) But Wilson says, "Even the English theologians at Westminster . . . saw that it was lawful for the church to establish days for "thanksgiving upon special occasions (WCF xxi:v)"." Purim "was an annual recurring celebration (p.79)".