Doug Wilson has done it again — he’s written another provocative, pithy, and fun-to-read-while-frustrating-to-read book. This one deals with the church. Believe it or not, it’s actually a case for the church (a regenerated church…a reformed church), though the title of the book would never lead the passer-by to conclude as such. Why, then, does he title his book “Against the Church”? Wilson says that “it is only possible to be for the church…if you begin by mastering the case against the church” (1).
Let me just say up front: this book was incredibly frustrating for me. I like a book to have a discernible structure, one that makes an argument and moves along in a logical flow of thought to make that argument. That is not at all this book. Rather, it reminded me more of a series of loosely connected Facebook statues, blog posts, and journal articles, all put together to try to form a book. Not only did the book not seem to have a discernible structure, neither did the different parts, and worse yet, neither did the individual chapters themselves. The chapters were broken up into randomly connected paragraphs and flows of thought. And just when I thought I was sensing a structure, there he went again…into some random aside for the fifteenth time.
Such is the case with the Wilson’s, I guess. I’m talking, of course, about Doug Wilson, and his son, N.D. Wilson — both of whom are prolific and engaging authors. My first (and only) experience with Doug’s son, N.D., was a few months ago when I read his newest book, Death By Living. His writing style is much like is father’s, though a little more arranged.
Anyway, I will give you the structure of the book that Doug Wilson lays out in his introduction, though the normal reader would have a hard time picking this structure out on his own.
- Part One: Against the Church – In this section, Wilson lays out the case against the church, both generally and specifically. Again, his reasoning for doing so is that he says one must master the case against the church before being able to be adequately for the church. Why is this so? It seems to me that what Wilson means by this is that one must be able to spot the areas in the church today that do not match up with Scripture’s description of the church. He does this in a variety of ways, by attacking everything from liturgies, the sacraments, tradition, and a whole host of other things.
- Part Two: Background Assumptions – This section addresses all sorts of different background assumptions that go into the discussions on the previous matters addressed.
- Part Three: The Father Principle – The third section is where Wilson discusses “the source of life in the heart, the family, the church, and the world” (1).
- Part Four: Doctrinal Leftovers – Finally, in this last part Wilson lays out his case for the church.
With that structure laid out, let me share with you just a few quotes that I found insightful and helpful:
“Many modern knostics have wanted to learn how to appreciate the arts of narrative. As far as that goes, nothing is wrong with it, but whether writing about novels, or movies, or stage-plays, they have found ‘redemptive’ or ‘death and resurrection’ themes in all kinds of grimy stories. It turns out that Dawn of the Dead has resurrection themes. In other words, an abstract thing, the structure of the story, is mysteriously able to sanctify the actual content of the story. By means of this amazing magic trick, any amount of Tarantino sludge can be made edifying. Now . . . three cheers for structure, but CONTENT MATTERS. CONTENT IS DETERMINATIVE” [Emphasis mine] (13).
And this one…
“Systematic theology is nothing less than remembering what you read in other passages while you are reading this passage. The kind of thing that gives systematic theology a bad name is remembering what you thought other passages said, privileging them in some form of special pleading, and making the verse in front of you do little poodle tricks. Illegitimate systematics is done by the kind of people who put together jigsaw puzzles with a pair of scissors and a mallet handy. The solution is not to abandon systematics, which is not possible anyway” (53-54).
“Moralism is just a three-dollar flashlight to light the pathway to Hell…Overt immorality is the fifty-dollar flashlight” (85).
So, would I recommend this book to someone to read? No, I probably wouldn’t. There are many other great books laying out the case for the church, and in a much better way. Wilson makes some astute observations, to be fair, and does so in his characteristically humorous and pithy way. And I enjoyed quite a few of those. But overall, I thought that the book was confusing, disorganized, and flat-out wrong and misleading in a few sections, including infant baptism, children taking communion in order to make them feel like they are “part of the family,” and sentences like this: “We trash the sacraments, if and when we do, because we are ministers of the Word. We trash the Word, if and when we do, because we are ministers of the sacraments” (24). What does that even mean — for a minister to “trash the Word?”
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Canon Press for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review