Doug Wilson is a local pastor, author of many books, and regular blogger. I’ve been reading Doug for a couple years now (and have even visited his church a few times). He represents a particular flavor of “reformed” Christian theology, along with some of his peers, such as Peter Leithart. It’s not so much Doug that I’m attached to. I’m really much more weary now of following any particular personality. I’m attracted to what he stands for and teaches about God and how to live the Christian life. There are a host of things that I agree with and I’ll highlight them in a later post.
I’ve hesitated several years in putting this list together. It’s changed over time. The reformed view is different than what I’m used to in many ways. I wanted to make sure I understood what was going on before I opened my big mouth. These guys are really smart. Am I just stupid if they say something I don’t agree with? I wanted to make sure. A lot of things I thought might be problems have turned out not to be. I think I finally have a pretty good idea. I’ll run through this in maybe 3 posts. This is all to try and solidify in my mind what I believe.
1. Focus on the corporate (church) relationship to Jesus VS. the individual personal relationship to God.
Here, his position is briefly explained:
I am fond of telling people that Christianity is not a relationship, it is a religion. Of course, after having made the point, I hasten to add that it is a covenantal religion with a covenantal relationship at the heart of it. God promises that we will be His people, and He will be our God. But this is not what the religion of revivalism demands. Revivalism demands that there be what is called “a personal relationship.” And of course, we must be careful here. Each believer is a person, created in the image of God, and God has poured out His Spirit into the hearts of believers, causing them to cry out, Abba, Father. In a profound sense, this is a personal relationship. But this is not what revivalism means by “personal relationship.”
In revivalism, this personal relationship is isolated and individualistic. In the orthodox Christian faith, our personal relationship is covenantal and connected. God never establishes Himself as an individual’s Father without simultaneously giving that person countless brothers and sisters. This is another way of saying that there is no salvation outside the Church. Note the difference it makes in the nature of devotion – one emphasizes a personal “quiet time” while the other emphasizes corporate worship.
Now, here is the problem I have with this: It serves to explicitly deemphasize personal prayer and devotion. In the larger discourse he points out problems that can arise from personal quiet time. OK fine. But if there is anything I have learned in my journey following Jesus, it is that personal “quiet time” is actually very very important. How do I know? Because the amount I sin is inversely proportional to the amount of time I spend alone talking to Jesus. It is NOT directly related to the amount of time I spend at church, in corporate worship services, in ministry or service, or fellowshipping with believers. Those things can help, but the prayer and personal devotion to Jesus is by far the most substantial element in my walk with the Lord. It is the thing that gives me the most peace (and I’ll say it again) the thing that stops me from sinning. Hard heart? Bad attitude? Lustful thoughts? Jealously? Take them to Jesus. He is the great redeemer and intercessor and HE alone can renew our minds and change our hearts.
I don’t say any of this to diminish our relationship with our brothers and sisters in the church. I have a new found respect for the Christian community since studying the reformed way. I think both are critical. I’ve heard taught in my charismatic background that spending personal time with Jesus every day is what recharges us to live righteously each day. Doug teaches that it is our participation in corporate worship every Sunday that recharges us to live righteously the next 6 days of the week. I disagree. I think we (sinful man) is quick to take this as a license to be LAZY. I think that personal time of devotion and prayer is not to be minimized. If you look at the Saints and heroes of the faith, all of them, not just the contemplative ones, would agree with this. I think if questioned about it, Doug would say that he isn’t trying to minimizing personal devotion, just redefining it’s place in our lives. It’s a reaction to “every man is an island”. Sorry, I have to move it to a more prominent place when I describe the church.
So what is the source of this? I’m putting my own personal experience against a (particular way of interpreting) scripture. Oh, that’s a quick way to get into trouble! True, but I don’t think Psalm 119 should have been any shorter than it is. Our personal connection to Jesus is vital.