If the Bandwagon of Reformed Pop-Theological trends were a Jewish family, they would always set an extra place at the dining room table for big names willing to sock it to N.T. Wright. Tonight, Doug Wilson’s coming to dinner. In the interest of full disclosure (and, more importantly, of honest charity), Wilson is a former teacher who taught me many valued and treasured lessons, as well as a man I still harbor a great respect for. However, any man who can consider his heroes honestly will be able to identify not only the qualities he admires in them, but those he does not. Wilson is many things–most of them admirable–but he is not always as careful or consistent as one would like. In his recent blog post, “In Which N.T. Wright Discovers the Moon Again,” Wilson complains that Wright makes the same urbane revelations over and over again, all the while asserting their novelty (this from a guy who has published a dozen versions of the same book on parenting):
Here is an example from this chapter, but there are other little comments like it scattered here and there. And it is why somebody once coined the word insufferable. “It is my belief that the broad sweep of Western theology since way before the Reformation, and continuing since the sixteenth century in both Roman Catholicism and the various branches of Protestantism, has been subbiblical in its approach to that potent combination of themes, eschatology, and ecology” (p. 83). But in actual fact, the broad sweep of Protestant eschatology, from shortly after the Reformation down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, was postmill. The point here — for my non-postmill readers, love you all — is not whether or not postmillennialism is correct, but whether it was held by anybody significant who was contained within Wright’s dismissive “broad sweep of Western theology.” Anybody heard of Jonathan Edwards? B.B. Warfield? David Livingstone? William Carey? Iain Murray was right to label this as the Puritan hope. Anybody out there heard of the Puritans? Geez Louise, Tom.
Wilson’s problem with all this is, as he puts it, “Wright is here making claims about the broad history of theology, and he gets it spectacularly wrong.” This charge has the ring of irony, though, as Wilson’s own comments indicate that he doesn’t (at least for practical purposes) conceive of the Church /having/ any meaningful history prior to the 16th century. While this may not be entirely true, his comments still open him wide to such an inference. But, even giving him the benefit of the doubt, he still seems to be suggesting that because his friends and narrow selection of favorite time-locked theologians think one way or acknowledge some truth, everyone else at all times and in all places has thought or observed similarly. An approach such as Wilson’s reveals flaws in his own historical theology that (together with the disparate reputations of the two men as historical theologians) might weaken criticisms of the same kind leveled against Wright.
Wilson looks to strengthen his argument with a thinly veiled ad hominem by pointing out Wright’s reluctance to use the term “postmillenial.” It is not perfectly clear why Wilson would upbraid Wright for propounding an eschatology similar to his own while diplomatically shying away from us-and-them polemics in order to impact a broader audience (or why it’s relevant to the main thread of his post). The entire encounter leaves Wilson appearing consciously tribalistic while Wright is unwilling to define himself over and against other groups of Christians unnecessarily.
Wilson has always possessed an admirable willingness to say the same thing over and over–as many times as it takes to be heard. It’s hard to see the sense in criticizing a brilliant theologian for doing the same thing.<>