Wilson's Warrior Children

There is only one strong man.

This entire article may be a fool’s errand. I mean, it’s easy to watch two men mud-wrestling from afar with the hopes that none of the mud lands me as a spectator. But there are some fights so nasty that the mud is unavoidable. And if you are one to pray for rain, you certainly have to deal with the mud. That’s somewhat how I feel reading the responses to Kevin DeYoung’s article that raised concerns over the “Moscow Mood.” As a whole, I thought DeYoung’s article addressed some very fair concerns about the trajectory of what is clearly a movement that should concern Christians in terms of mission and witness. Yet, the responses indicate, as I suspected, that the issues plaguing Christians over the end of Christendom are far beyond that of a mood.

I’m not convinced you can take on Doug Wilson over style alone. As one friend said, that’s like teeing up your head and Wilson likes to swing with bats. Jared Longshore likes the metaphor since he expressed that DeYoung certainly teed this up for Wilson, but he just didn’t mention the bat. Yet, to engage Wilson over style is a losing battle—every time. Many will silently read a piece like DeYoung’s and say, “just another critique of ‘Moscow man bad’ over tone.” There is much more to the issue, of course—things to which DeYoung alluded—but to make any progress in helping people see clearly through the issues, theological substance has to drive the critique.

But the present confusion of Christ and culture is complex, and we American Christians do not like complexity. There is a sense that something must be done to curb the flood of iniquity coming upon us. It's a tough pill to swallow in accepting that what happens in the culture is the will of God, especially as he executes his righteous judgments. But exactly what our calling should be in a moment like ours dominates the minds of Christians in the West. Wilson has taken the reins and is offering a vision forward that few seem to have. Yes, it’s all about vision. And I agree, other current eschatologies are not resonating with people at the moment in terms of vision. No matter how many different reasons Wilson may present as to why people are flocking to Moscow, what undergirds it all is an eschatology that gives people a sense of doing something to stop the avalanche of our culture. And therein lies the heart of the issue.

Wilson’s vision stands somewhat alone in its robust, Billy Sunday, strong-man approach, while many quarters of the church are caught up in the pathetic woke ideals that have invited much of this reaction to begin with. Who can forget Mark Driscoll convincing us that he was a tough guy from the other side of the tracks in his constant take down of effeminate men? It worked, certainly--for a while. And let me say that unequivocally, I agree that wokeism is a neo-orthodoxy that also is crippling the church’s witness. I’m only going to assert here that the approach under consideration is not the solution.

A Tree and Its Fruit

DeYoung is absolutely correct to raise a concern over where Wilson’s trajectory will lead. But on this point, I think, DeYoung has not captured well where Wilson’s trajectory has already led. Wilson writes, “Well, and if a time comes when I am no longer presenting a forthright Christian faith in an age of compromise…then I would hope that somebody would point that out.” Really? He can’t be serious. Did not, across the board, NAPARC churches already point that out—a vast somebody, by the way—in the condemnation of Federal Vision theology? He was a great spearhead of that entire theological system.

Any reference to FV is disregarded or even scoffed at when evaluating Wilson. Jared Longshore even prompted people to “insert FV here” as another way of sarcastically writing off the concern as ridiculous. But can this really be disregarded? Wilson tampered with the sacraments in promoting ex opere ideas, popularized paedo-communion, taught that the act itself of water baptism conveys all spiritual realities, redefined faith by inculcating works into the justifying act, confused the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone--just to name a few. Does the present effort of cultural transformation erase these things? Have we forgotten that, in response to all of this, the late, great, Dr. R.C. Sproul stood up on the floor of the PCA General Assembly and said that “we have had an unprecedented attack on sola fide in our day, I can’t fathom the hesitancy on this matter…this is about the gospel gentlemen.” Yes, this is about the gospel--still.

I’m not spending time recording, as DeYoung does, the provocative rhetoric, coarse language, and boundary pushing that come along with this. While most of these concerns are written off as pietistic and nauseating ramblings of those who “strain out gnats and swallow camels,” it should be noted that it truly is ironic how the law of God is so easily set aside by the strongest theonomic proponents of our day.

We all have used bad language, at times, I trust, and we should all be for showing mercy and forgiveness to the contrite of heart. But it’s an entirely different thing to hold up the law of God claiming, “Oh how I love your law, Oh God,” and, in pretense, advance that ideal as the way of saving Christendom, but then so easily set aside the commandment: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” (not words, but “word”) as a necessary vice to confront a culture throwing sex-change operations at us. Jesus had something to say about setting aside the law of God for the sake of our own tradition, and this certainly applies to our ideals of cultural transformation.

Countless pastors and elders have dealt with the attraction to Moscow because of this brazen approach to the faith, along with all of the theological aberrations. The problems these have created in confessional churches would be too much for this article. This is all indicative of the present fruit that should be considered when assessing what is clearly more than a Moscow mood.

In Search of a Strong Man

All of the above concerns, at least theologically, now seem to be purposely forgotten or given a pass because the cultural war is front and center. And this is my chief concern and the reason for the title. When we have those who we perceive to be strong men in political office, notice how much of the present emphasis on Christ and culture dies down. Our problems turn more inward to theological controversy. As soon as we feel the threat of losing Christendom, by electing a more wicked leader, these former problems are forgotten and the mission of the church is redressed to address cultural demise. This is a classic case of postmillennial optimism overtaking over the defined mission of the church as dictated by our present challenges. It's happened in history, and future readers may marvel at our moment.

DeYoung expressed, “Pugnacity and jocularity are not the occasional and unfortunate by-products of the brand; they are the brand.” He’s exactly correct. As Christendom has collapsed in the West, Wilson has offered a vision that plays on the fears and emotions of those who are panicking. This is precisely why the mission of the church, all of the sudden, takes a drastic turn in its elevating of cultural transformation while “saving people from their sins” becomes only a means to this greater end.

While we might look at the psalm-singing, the community, the safe space, the building of schools and churches in Moscow as good things (and I do indeed admire much of it) we can’t miss what has drawn such an attraction. The initial comments by Wilson to DeYoung’s article were met with an appeal to provide reasonable responses. I don’t know why such a qualification is needed if there isn’t some nascent fear, by example, that the blowback will be fierce. Anyone who dares address these things risks such social media ridicule.

The responses of Wilson’s warriors are revealing that the issue of cultural vision is what is primarily driving the whole movement. Toby Sumpter commends DeYoung’s assessment when he says: 

It’s a mood that says, “We are not giving up, and we are not giving in. We can do better than negotiate the terms of our surrender. The infidels have taken over our Christian laws, our Christian heritage, and our Christian lands, and we are coming to take them back.” Sumpter again, “Our culture, the Christian West (what is left of it), is in the last gasping hours of a Stage 4 terminal cancer. Secularism has metastasized, and it’s in all our organs and lymph nodes… No, if anything, we are not pugnacious enough. We are not fierce enough.

Notice that our current cultural challenges are described with the most dramatic language possible, as if we are to live in utter panic mode, and completely distressed. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling…run to Moscow”, is the implicit call. Be anxious for nothing means what, now? And what does it mean to be of good cheer as the world is already overcome? What is happening in the culture is presented as the absolute worst moment in history, and we have to do something to stop this, at all costs. And, really, who is complaining about some cuss words? This is a tactic to advance the brand, as DeYoung states. But it's far beyond a brand. There is an inherent offer in this language that Moscow’s strong man is offering the only vision forward to “stop the Titanic from sinking.” Of course, few are thinking now of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, but that’s for another article.

Again, here is Ben Crenshaw’s response, commended by Wilson,

If DeYoung can't handle naughty words by Wilson, then he'll never have the stomach for what's coming and what will need to be done to either preserve a portion of America or carve out a new nation for Christian rule… I want to see a return of true political Protestantism that can rule a nation wisely through civil law, fashion, rhetoric, technology, and more. Alternative 'cultural' movements are fine for now, but at some point Christians in America will have to get comfortable with becoming explicitly political again, and taking the reins of power in Washington.

This raises important questions. Is our purpose and calling in life to take the reins of power in Washington? Don’t misunderstand me, we should all want a god-fearing government. I certainly do. But I’m asking if the saving of Christendom is our appointed task in our brief stay here? Did Paul call Christians to anything like this in Acts? Further, shouldn’t Moscow be consistent and draw the sword, using Jesus words? I mean, seriously, if people really believe that it’s our mission to reclaim the power structures of America, and if you are already employing “battle words” I'm not sure what constitutes the boundaries to the achievement of this end?

In the numerous responses that followed, the single thread of Wilson’s warriors is a call for buy in of Wilson’s vision to save the U.S. from falling. The vision can be summarized this way: “We are not surrendering to the infidels; we need to use tactics and language at times that is crass to achieve the purpose of carving out a new nation for Christian rule.” This dominion ideal of reclaiming America has unequivocally become the great attraction that undergirds the Moscow project. I agree with DeYoung, this is not to call into question the faith of the many dear Christians living in Moscow, nor to say that good things aren't happening there. But it's a fair question as to whether the remarkable success of Wilson has everything to do with his strong man appeal as the leading figure to achieve this new Christian nationalism.

Looking For Strength in All the Wrong Places

I expressed earlier that the only effective way to engage Wilson is to engage him theologically. But I’m not convinced that engaging Wilson at all is the answer. It’s the plethora of Christians in their present fear who most need to be addressed. The way to accomplish this is by (re)introducing people to their only true strong man who, in is his day, was derided and rejected for refusing this kind of kingdom project among the Jews.

Maybe the 2nd Helvetic Confession helps at this point:

We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt., chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different."

In John 6, after Jesus had fed the five-thousand, there is a remarkable moment in Jesus’ ministry when the Jews attempted, after seeing his power, to take him by force and make him king. The scenario is not much different from ours. Wouldn't it be great if Jesus chose to take his seat in the White House? That's what they thought, imagine if he took Caeasar’s throne? Christ wanted nothing to do with it and walked away from it all. This is precisely what the theonomists of our day are attempting to accomplish.

“Are you, at this time, going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” became the driving hopes of the disciples in reclaiming national Israel. This is what distressed the two men on the road to Emmaus, they were hoping that that the time of Jewish nationalism had come, and the death of the Messiah was a failure to that optimistic vision. Peter had this same inherent confusion. When Peter witnessed the unfolding plan of Christ to go to a cross, which had been explained to him, he immediately pulled the sword in fear that the kingdom would be lost if Christ died. 

Yet, Jesus’ kingdom was not brought by way of sword, nor by “taking the reins of power in ‘Rome.’” We see this no clearer than in Christ’s very first sermon when he turned everything on its conventional head. Consider a few of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” In our current context, can you imagine the offense of this among the Pharisees who expected a political Messiah to save them from Rome? One might expect the Pharisee to respond, “but blessed are the culture zealots for they shall inherit Rome. Who cares about some crass language along the way.” But Christ expresses that the earth itself (a promise of the future eschaton) is won by meekness--that quality of denying our wisdom, strength, and submitting to the providence of God by treating one's enemies with kindness and love. On all accounts, this would be considered weak, and effeminate in our context.

Again Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”No, I am not advancing some liberal agenda that says we justify sin or refuse to speak against it. But can we hear Jesus’ beatitude in our context, at the moment? Do we know what Jesus is talking about, or is it completely ignored? One more: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Do you mean, in God’s providence, all these things—the collapse of Christendom—may be happening precisely because it is God’s appointment of our persecution, and that God may bless us to suffer for righteousness’s sake? We’re not much in control of these things, even if I pray and make efforts to avoid such a providence.

Let me make clear what I am not saying. I am not saying that we are pacifists, or that we should avoid calling out sin, or that any of these beatitudes mean that we are to be steamrolled in this life, as if Jesus is saying, “blessed are the doormats,” or “the weak shall inherit the earth.” It’s precisely our view of strength and weakness, however, that is all backwards the moment.

Strength is not measured by the size of one’s bicep in the kingdom of God. If so, some of these guys need to get to the gym. Nor will it be found in the strength of a bearded man in a flannel blow torching things as a symbol of how to take down corrupt American culture. Human strength does not win the kingdom of God this way. It never has. Paul had to learn through a thorn in the flesh and human weakness, where true strength is found. This overturns all conventional ideas of what constitutes power and strength. Our ideal of a strong man is not who Jesus has in mind to win the battle. Anyone remember Saul? Strength is found in a theology of Christ’s cross, and once our appointed tribulation ends, then we shall see our strong man graciously give us the kingdom, when he returns in blazing glory. "Do not fear little flock, it’s the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

The vision of Moscow is an over-realized eschatology and that of a strong man to whom we are attributing entirely too much attention, strength, and glory. Since we are in the season of celebrating Christmas, we need think carefully about the mission assigned to the only true strong man: “He shall save his people from their sins.” Yes, we may lose America, and we may lose our lives. We may be abused, hated, persecuted, for who we are as Christ-followers. This is precisely what Jesus told us to expect. Evil men will certainly go from bad to worse. In the midst of whatever may be our present darkness, our savior is reigning from heaven and has called us to be of good cheer. The victory has already been won and the world overcome. In this way, we are ultimate optimists.

Our influence in the culture should be as Jesus defined it, as salt and light. The results belong to the Holy Spirit. As Christ was about his father’s business of seeking and saving that which is lost, our efforts should demonstrate that same vision.

The best line from DeYoung is the one few seemed to engage, so it’s probably a good thought to leave the reader with:

The most important fight is the fight for faith, not the fight for Christendom. The Christian life must be shaped by the theology of the cross, however much we might prefer an ever-present theology of glory. That means blessing through persecution, strength through weakness, and life through death. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14). If we want God to be unashamed to be called our God, our desire must be for a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16).

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