None Dare Call It Heresy? 

After writing last week’s article about the friendship that is developing between Doug Wilson and some Reformed Baptist pastors, I received thanks from many corners and rebukes from a few corners. I was accused by one person of slandering a “dear brother”, Doug Wilson, by one person. Anyone who has read either one of my two published books knows how careful I am to source everything. It is not slander to report the facts.  

I also realize that there are many people in today’s church, including many pastors, who believe that it is wrong to be polemical. They say that one should just preach the gospel and not worry about heresies. God bless my dear friends who think that way, but. . . they are wrong. Their view is contradicted by Jesus Himself (Matthew 7:15; 23:1-36; Revelation 2:14-16; 20; et. al.)  Their view is contradicted by Paul (Acts 20:28-30; Galatians 1:6-9; et. al.). Their view is contradicted by John, the beloved disciple, who wrote so much about love (1 John 4:1-3; many places in Revelation). Their view is contradicted by Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3). Their view is contradicted by Jude (Jude 3, 4). Their view is contradicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). Their view is contradicted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:21, 22). Indeed, their view is contradicted by the whole of Scripture.

Their view is also contradicted by Church history. I suppose we would not even be having this discussion without Martin Luther and John Hus and William Tyndale and John Calvin and so many others before, during and since the Protestant Reformation. If Athanasius had just kept quiet when Arius was teaching his heretical views on the Trinity, then there would never have been that phrase, ‘Athanasius Contra Munda’—Athanasius Against the World. If Augustine had just kept quiet when Pelagius was developing his heretical system against the free grace of God in the gospel, then the church would have neither Augustinianism nor Calvinism. How strange that people who claim to be Reformed Protestants would think that the polite and Christian thing to do is to not raise a voice of protest against re-packaged heresies today. It is necessary for the Church to be polemical concerning the essentials of the faith. The Church is responsible “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all  handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). 

It is against my natural instincts to be polemical. My personality is to want to get along with everyone, if I can, but not at the expense of truth. When I was a chaplain instructor at the US Army Chaplain Center and School, all personnel were required to take a test called StrengthFinders 2.0.  That test identifies the primary strengths of a person. Mine were these: Learner, Woo, Context, Connectedness, and Empathy. Woo means ‘winning others over’. It means someone who is a people person—someone who likes to engage as many people as possible in polite, friendly, team building conversations. Calling out heresy is not something I like to do, but it is necessary. Jesus did it. Paul did it. John did it. Peter did it. Moses did it. Jeremiah did it. The modern church must do it. It is not argument for arguments’ sake. It is standing for the truth like Luther: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” For that reason, whenever I see things being taught today that have been condemned as heresies by the great councils or creeds of the Church, then I will do the same without regret, without equivocation, without compromise, and without retraction. The Woo side of me would love to be able to speak well of everyone, but not by way of compromising my calling as a minister of the gospel. All who are true ministers of the gospel must open their mouths where the Scripture speaks and proclaim the whole message of life to their generation.  

Thus, in this message I am going to give you more information about the Doug Wilson’s statements in support of the Federal Vision heresy. It is important to remember that every heresy is a hydra sin with many heads. No heresy stands alone. The reason why is because God’s truth is a unified whole and, therefore, any heresy attacks the whole truth. Heresy on one theological point will inevitably affect many other areas of theology as well. I did not write my book, Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision, primarily about Doug Wilson. Yet, there are quotes from him in it that help us to understand his heretical views. No minister in the US today is more adept at getting people to think he is orthodox and reformed while slipping in heresy and Pelagianism than is Doug Wilson. Heretics are almost always smooth, cunning, and charismatic while also being deceitful and dangerous. Wilson is all of those things. I listened to a podcast once in which Wilson said that the Federal Vision people got their views from the Puritans and laughed, “I sometimes wonder if our critics even read the Puritans.” Of course, he never gave any references from the Puritans to “prove” that the Federal Vision people do indeed get their views from that source. I can assure you that they do not. So here are some quotes from Wilson with which I will interact.   

Doug Wilson, like all the Federal Vision proponents, signed a document called “A Joint Federal Vision Profession” in 2007. In a section of that document called “intramural disagree-ments,” there was this statement:

Another difference is whether or not personal regeneration represents a change of nature in the person so regenerated. Some of us say yes while others question whether we actually have such an essence that can be changed.[1]

All the signatories to that document agreed that questions about personal regeneration being a change of nature are simply an “Intramural debate.”  The second chapter of my book deals with whether man has an “essence” that can be changed and I show that the view of the Federal Vision is a heresy. Certainly, supernatural regeneration is not a doctrine that I can call a mere ‘intramural debate’ and I would never join hands in fellowship with any group that considered it to be such. As for Wilson, there is reason to think that he is one of those who believes a person does not have “an essence that can be changed” because of the following quote:

If you assume that in the supernatural act of regeneration God comes down and implants a grace node in your heart, then this is a form of gnosticism, and it helps perpetuate that pestilent nature/grace dualism. But if you hold the act of regeneration is supernatural, and that the results are entirely “natural”, then this is not gnostic.[2]  

That quote from Wilson is one of the most nonsensical statements I have ever read. How is the act of regeneration supernatural and the results entirely natural? Where does the Bible make such a statement? Does the grace of regeneration lose its supernatural properties somewhere between heaven and the heart of man? That is ridiculous. The first problem with Wilson is that he is not a trained theologian and has many gaps in his theological understanding. Another problem is that he  depends entirely too much on his philosophical distinctions (like the quote above) and too little on Scripture. Once again, where does the Bible or any reformed theologian describe regeneration as planting a “grace node” in the heart of a person? What is a “grace node”? The Lord says is that he will take away the heart of stone and give to us a heart of flesh. The Scripture never uses the term “grace node”. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” 

While not wanting to be called heretical, Wilson called out B. B. Warfield as a heretic. Concerning a quote from B. B. Warfield, “any view which says God uses any means to accomplish His purposes in salvation is a corrupted system,” Wilson made the following remark:

What Warfield thought of as “pure supernaturalism” is actually closer to a form of refried Gnosticism, an invisible conduit from God to man, with no contact made with contaminating earthly, incarnational influences.[3]

Wilson was taking issue with Warfield’s book, The Plan of Salvation, in which the author was writing against the heresy of sacerdotalism.  Sacerdotalism teaches “that God in working salvation does not operate upon the soul directly but indirectly; that is to say, through instrumentalities which he has established as the means by which his saving grace is communicated to men.”[4] The Federal Vision and sacerdotalism are related to one another. They are similar heresies. I read Warfield’s book in seminary almost 50 years ago and it is probably the reason I was never seduced by the false teaching on the sacraments of the Federal Vision proponents. Warfield shows that sacerdotalism is Pelagianism. Wilson does not like Warfield’s position and, thus, accuses him of the gnostic heresy. Warfield taught that God saves men immediately without any instruments between Him and them (such as the sacramental signs). Wilson teaches that God saves men mediately through the sacraments and, thus, accuses Warfield of teaching a ‘refried Gnosticism.’ Wilson’s views are deeply connected with ‘baptismal regeneration.’ Wilson accuses anyone who disagrees with him of being a heretic. A. A. Hodge wrote about baptismal regeneration:

The Protestant advocates of Baptismal Regeneration. . . hold that baptism is God’s ordained instrument of communicating the benefits of redemption in the first instance.[5]   

Wilson took exception to Warfield writing that God saves immediately without the use of any instruments, such as baptism. That is the nub of the issue with Wilson and the Federal Vision people. The Federal Vision ministers all deny that they hold to baptismal regeneration but that is only because they do not understand what baptismal regeneration is. All the greatest reformed theologians, the greatest reformed commentators, and the greatest reformed creeds or confessions are against the views of Wilson and the Federal Vision proponents. That is why it is so concerning to me when people like James White and John Piper receive Wilson with open arms and so readily accept his teaching as orthodox. Here is a statement by Wilson that shows his adoption and agreement with baptismal regeneration. 

Baptism is covenantally efficacious. It brings every baptized person into an objective and living relationship with Christ, whether the baptized person is elect or reprobate.[6]

How does baptism bring the baptized person “into an objective and living relationship with Christ, whether the baptized person is elect or reprobate”? Jesus says concerning the reprobate, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who work lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). Wilson says that such baptized but reprobate persons are in a “living relationship” with Christ—at least for a while. There are a number of heresies bound up in just that one sentence by Wilson and it shows that he is a very poor theologian. Yet, he is also very dangerous because so many people follow him and read his books and are taken in by him. His theological system is Pelagianism—not Augustinianism or Calvinism, much less Scriptural.  Warfield’s, The Plan of Salvation, proves that sacerdotalism and baptismal regeneration are Pelagianism. My book proves the same thing. 

There are many other things that Wilson has written which proves he is not a reformed theologian. I did not collect all the quotes by him in my book because it was written against the system that Wilson represents—not against him personally. I quoted many FV advocates in order to represent their system fairly. The Federal Vision is not a reformed system of theology. Rather, it strikes a stake through the heart of reformed theology by attacking the doctrine of salvation. Thus, the FV is not just about the meaning of baptism. It replaces God’s immediate work of grace in the heart of a sinner through the Holy Spirit with the mediate work of grace through the instrument of the sacraments. That one error leads to them to take additional heretical positions concerning every one of the doctrines of salvation—eternal predestination and election; effectual calling, justification by faith alone, adoption, sanctification, glorification, perseverance (and apostasy), imputation, assurance, etc. Every single doctrine of salvation is mangled and destroyed by the FV heresy. I agree, therefore, with B. B. Warfield:

But, as we have been told, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, so the Church soon found that religion itself can be retained only at the cost of perpetual struggle.[7]  

I wish that it was not necessary to sound a warning against heresies, but as long as they are being published far and wide then the Church must warn the sheep to stay away from them. 

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL

Please send any donations to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540

The Lord has blessed us with gifts both large and small in starting this denomination. We praise the Lord for those gifts. But we continue to have many needs and would love to be able to give more support to our mission churches and church planters. We have a new church—Westminster Presbyterian Church—that will be starting in Grand Rapids, Michigan on July 2, 2023 under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Sacha Walicord. They have a great building for their services which will cost $1,000 per month. Please pray that all their needs will be met. Especially pray that their opening service will be filled with people.  

Update on Rev. Mark Turcio’s car situation. Mark is another of our church planters who receives a very small stipend from Vanguard and is engaged in a tent making ministry as he starts Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Northford, CT. He has found a good used car with 34,000 miles on it. A lady in his church gave him the money to buy that car and he must pay her back each month. He still needs about $500 to get the car titled and licensed so he can drive it. 

[1], accessed October 20, 2014. 

[2] Doug Wilson, “Can a Nature/Grace Dualism Be Born Again?” Credenda Agenda, Volume 19, Series 3, Special Edition, (2007): 22. 

[3] Douglas Wilson, “Sacramental Efficacy in the Westminster Standards,” in The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision, ed., E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 240. 

[4] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1970), 52.  

[5] A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), 627. 

[6] Douglas Wilson, “Credos on Baptism,” #6, Credenda/Agenda 15/5:24. 

[7] Warfield, Ibid., 36.  

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