Doug Dawkins in “Birds of a Feather”

On the White Horse Inn blog, Michael Horton has an excellent piece on the criticism of The New Atheists from within. One of their own, Terry Eagleton, wrote a book in 2009 criticizing The New Atheists’ approach to combating the Christian tradition. As I read the post, the New Atheists’–especially Richard Dawkins’–problems are twofold: ignorance and arrogance. Or as Horton more nicely puts it, they get Christianity wrong, and their smug rationalism allows them to ignore the realities that otherwise militate against their position.

As I was reading this post on Ron Paul, I couldn’t help but think the same thing about the Federal Visionaries, particularly Doug Wilson. In this note, Wilson takes Paul to task on an abortion question. Here’s what he writes:

In response to this question, Ron Paul said that a woman who is raped should go to an emergency room immediately, and get a shot of estrogen, which would prevent the implantation of a conceived child in the uterine wall. Further, he said that he would administer that shot of estrogen. Piers Morgan, astonished, said that he thought Ron Paul believed life begins at conception. Ron Paul said that he did, but that we don’t know at that point whether the woman is pregnant.

This, in effect, was saying that if we don’t know if someone is living in a room then it must be okay to fill it up with poison gas.

Wow. I can’t say that I would defend Ron Paul’s comments in this interview (especially since the context is missing), but is this what Paul is really advocating? Is there really a direct, iron-clad moral equivalency between filling a hopefully empty room with poison gas and what Paul is suggesting here (again, we are without context)? There may well be a moral equivalency, but I assure you that it is not as iron clad nor direct as Wilson would have us believe. What if the question to Ron Paul asked for his advice to pro-choice women theoretically living in a state that outlaws abortion? In such a context, the estrogen shot might exploit a loophole available to pro-choice women who had been victims of rape. In such a case, would one woman’s actions, especially as it represents all the babies not aborted in that state, really be a moral defeat for the pro-life cause? How would such advice compare to the use of regular birth control shots or pills? Don’t they work essentially the same way? And what about the burden of the woman in terms of the pregnancy itself? Wilson is totally mute on that point, even though I’m sure he’d affirm the reality of the curse made against Eve in Genesis 3. There may very well be answers to all of these questions. But skipping them only exacerbates the problem. It doesn’t solve it.

And yet that’s exactly what Wilson would have us do. In reminiscing on a recent speaking engagement, he writes,

When I was in Minneapolis last week, we had a number of really edifying conversations in the context of the speakers’ dinners. One of the most edifying was the last one, where John Piper and I spent a lot of time exulting in (get this) the law of identity. A is A. A is A means that A is not something else, like B, for instance. And those who want it to be something else, or a little bit fuzzier for them, are trying to escape accountability. They don’t want to be held to the terms of the argument — whether we are talking about their own argument or someone else’s.

This pro-life issue is one of the reasons I know that God expects us to grow up into the maturity of logical precision.

I’m glad (not really) that everything is so black-and-white for Wilson. And that he has firsthand knowledge of God’s expectations for our capacities for logic (pass the prooftexts, please). But for the rest of us mere humans, we rarely have the luxury of being so glib about the moral-spiritual dilemmas of life. At worst, we might have to counsel a woman who has been raped. At the very least, I will likely have to preach a sermon series one day on the life of David or Moses or Jacob. Talk about moral ambiguity! And for the record, my elders will be there to keep me accountable.

In my mind, this rationalistic approach to straw men and inconvenience characterizes well the Federal Vision approach to theology and the church. They argue all baptized people, even libertines living in open sin, are Christians. After all, aren’t married men who cheat on their wives still married? Sure. But you can only draw that line if you ignore the fact that unfaithful-yet-baptized Christians usually have never taken vows, and yet married men have. They argue that Adam, even prior to his fall, lived by faith in the covenant promises of God, i.e. not by works. After all, isn’t God the same yesterday, today, and forever? Sure. But what about the fact that the voice of God walked in the garden in the cool of the day, looking for Adam and Eve, especially in light of the definition of faith in Heb. 11:1? What about the fact that the covenant of works in Reformed orthodoxy technically includes both grace (in its establishment) and works (in its conditions)? Sadly, none of Wilson’s literature addresses these problems, and yet it goes on to make it’s Visionary claims all the same, stealing the name “Reformed” along the way.

Richard Dawkins would be proud.


Magisterial Minus the Magisterium

The Presbyterian and Reformed tradition grew out of what is called the magisterial Reformation: the part of the Reformation that accepted and even called upon the civil government (magistrates…”magisterium”) to promote church reform in doctrine and practice.  While maintaining the emphasis on biblical doctrine and practice, American Presbyterianism represents a marked break from the magisterial Reformation in terms of the role of the civil magistrate.  In particular, the American version of the Westminster Confession of Faith consigns both the magistrate and the church to operate in their separate spheres, crossing over only in exceptional cases (e.g. public order, humble petitions).

This central, although often overlooked, doctrine of American Presbyterianism lies at the heart of a book review by Dr. Darryl Hart.  In reviewing two books–one that baptizes the idea of a Christian empire, the other the American republic–Dr. Hart warns us not to baptize the regimes of those who are in authority over us.  There is only one kingdom of God, and they are not it.