A Primer on Reformation

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Primer on Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan, by Douglas Wilson

Here's another book by Douglas Wilson, kindly sent by the nice folks at Canon Press. Doug Wilson can always be counted on to give his reader plenty to think about, and I'm still thinking. Pondering. Musing. Here's a description of the book, which will hopefully prompt you to read it and think about these things with me.

He starts by establishing the need for reformation in the American church, something his audience surely can't disagree with. Full steam ahead, he launches into an indictment of the shallow and commercial nature of our church, as can be seen by the title of chapter one: They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Schlock. We gladly rip off pop culture in our desire to relevant, but in the process make light of God's holy name, and make lots of money doing it. It reminds me of a quote from the sitcom King of the Hill. "You're not making Christianity better, you're making rock music worse!"

Wilson makes the case that we ended up with such a trivial faith because we focus on ourselves, not on God. The sin of individualism is seen as a virtue. He argues that individuals have pitted correct doctrine and unity of the body of Christ against each other. This false dichotomy leaves no room for submission to each other (i.e., Ephesian 4) and genuine humility.

So what's the answer? Becoming a "high church Puritan." The word "Puritan" couldn't be more misunderstood today. I aspire to be like the Puritans, but I'm afraid I'm not intelligent enough, not educated enough, and not passionate enough. (Doesn't fit with the modern definition of Puritan, does it?)

And so I want to use the word in its original sense -- one who has a deep desire to purify the Church, but who has no intention of voluntarily separating from that Church if he doesn't get his way immediately. ... He has a high view of the covenant, and of our corporate identity with one another. Because he is a Puritan, he intends to be a theological cavalier, and he fights for the integrity of obedience. He does not do this as some gloomy caricature, sitting in the back pews lamenting the regrettable apostasies up front...
This cannot be done without affirming, sola Scriptura, the primacy of Scripture, and the centrality of the gospel within those Scriptures. (page 22)
The rest of the book describes how proper worship will necessarily promote respect for God's Word and a fierce love for His people. The following chapters are brief but thorough, addressing transforming cultural evangelicalism, corporate worship, Biblical preaching, correct understanding and practice of communion, psalm-singing, Sabbath-keeping, and our children's place in the covenant.

Wilson starts this book with both barrels blazing, but the topical chapters change their tone and are crammed full of Scriptural proofs and really good points. I could nit-pick the chapter on psalm-singing, but the chapter on why so many Christian parents are failing to evangelize their own children was excellent.
Christian parents are commanded to teach their children to believe, and instead, in the name of high conversion standards, we teach them to doubt. Then, when they grow up and mature in the doubting that we have taught them, we point to that doubt as clear evidence that we did the right thing in keeping them away in the first place. (page 64) (emphasis his)
I'm still chewing on this book, and I'd like to hear your input, dear reader. It seems like there are two audiences to Mr. Wilson's book: the typical American Christian, and the theologically conservative pastor. I can't help but feel like I missed a crucial point or something, but at first read I don't fit either of those two categories. However, I don't want to read something convicting and just agree how it applies to other people. What can I learn from this? Where is my sin?

I'm certainly not going to pastor my own church, so the chapters on liturgy, communion, and preaching were a little frustrating (although still edifying). I suppose it would be nice if my own church did things differently, but I'm so grateful for the church I have and I have no intention of leaving it, even if the "perfect" one popped up in my neighborhood.

As for the first part of the book, it didn't step on my toes so it was easy for me to cheer from the sidelines, so to speak. I make it a point to avoid most "Christian" pop culture stuff, because usually it's not very good and a little embarrassing. I prefer Stufjan Steven's music over most Christian acts, never wear messaged tee shirts in general, and don't even own any VeggieTales DVDs (no offense, VeggieTale fans.) I think I'm struggling most with this question: in regards to to the root cause of our shallow faith, how can I, as an individual, repent of of the corporate sin of individualism?

The easy answer is for me not to cause a church split (so far, so good). I'm sure the "right" answer is for me to have proper submission for the authorities God has put in my life (I still have a long ways to go). But I still have a nagging feeling like I'm missing something. If you've read the book, what are your thoughts?

Perhaps if I were a true Puritan, I would have figured it out by now.


Lissa said...

Hi Rachel!
congratualations on your sweet new girlie! I really enjoyed your review on Wilson's book - which I now plan to track down and read (for free if possible). But I'm already wondering if each persons' being a different part of the body is or isn't individualism. Perhaps this is addressed by Wilson,
or perhaps I have an imperfect understanding of the word "individualism."
On the other hand, just to make trouble, it seems pretty individualist to sail across the ocean to do church your own way.
(Admittedly a very good way though)
Can't wait to read it!