No Quarter November: How Is Doug Wilson Not an Abolitionist?

James SilbermanAbolitionism

Doug Wilson is one of the people I least want to argue with here on the FTS blog, and we have thus far avoided it. But he is perhaps the person we most need to argue with. At this stage of the movement, The Gospel Coalition publishing Scott Klusendorf articles is beautifully powerless to slow the spread of abolitionism. Groups like Texas Alliance for Life, National Right to Life, Equal Rights Institute, and others who we regularly, publicly refute are seen as soft and milquetoast by hardcore, salt-and-light-focused Christians.

But Wilson is another story. His crowd, to a significant degree, is our crowd. Many of those who like us also like Wilson. He has the ability to slow the growth of the Abolitionist Movement and delay abolition in a way that no other pro-lifer does. The type of conservative, reformed, postmillennial, theonomic, presuppositionalist Christian who follows Doug Wilson is the type of person who is almost always quick to convert to abolitionism when presented with it. That is unless they’ve already come across Wilson’s anti-abolitionism, in which case they are the most belligerent anti-abolitionists around. In my experience with pro-lifers of various strains, Moscow is cultivating (whether intentionally or not) much more militant anti-abolitionists than any other group I’ve encountered.

I understand why Roman Catholics are overwhelmingly incrementalist, judicial supremacists. It makes sense that people who like Josh Brahm wouldn’t follow us. But every theological belief Wilson and his incrementalist followers hold directs them toward abolitionism. Were it not for Wilson and Cross Politic using their substantial influence to pull people away from abolitionism, that crowd would naturally be with us.

An important note before we get to the point: there are many non-reformed, evidentialists, premillennialists, and even dispensationalists in the Abolitionist Movement. There are even some like Dr. Daryl Rodriguez of Love of Truth Ministries who are all four! The Free Will Baptist pastors in Oklahoma are some of the most faithful abolitionists in the movement. We are extremely thankful for them. The purpose of this article is not to say that you have to be reformed, presuppositional, and/or postmillennial to be an abolitionist. It is merely to explain some of the ways these doctrines overlap with abolitionism and should lead a Christian toward the doctrines of abolitionism.

With that, let’s consider five of Wilson’s foundational beliefs and how they would lead him to abolitionism if he let them.

1) Being Consistently Prophetic

Wilson and CP often emphasize the nature and importance of the prophetic voice. This should be especially important when child sacrifice is the sin in question. Old Testament prophets often preached against this sin in particular. We should speak about child sacrifice in our day as Jeremiah and Isaiah did in theirs.

I challenge Wilson or any pro-lifer trying to be Biblical to find one prophet who demanded a society turn from injustice gradually; one prophet from whose lips came a call for incremental repentance. Of course, this is a fool’s errand. And how could it be otherwise? How preposterous is the suggestion of calling someone to repent of adultery gradually? How risible the thought of a prophet demanding some of the high places be torn down and coming back for more next time! The only reason pro-life, smashmouth incrementalism is not as shockingly anti-Christian to the senses as the two previous examples is because our wicked politicians and lobbyists have successfully made us accustomed to compromise and sin as the rule in politics.

It is possible to be in the world without adopting its norms. But pro-life leaders — and worse, Church leaders — have become the tools of politicians, delivering word of political norms to the Church, instead of being the Church preaching God’s Word and bringing it into conflict with sinful political norms.

The sin of our nation is almost too great to fathom. The wicked magistrates, lobbyists, and voters who make up our political system need Christians to preach the uncompromising law and gospel to them. If we are to imitate the prophetic example set forth in God’s Word, we have no choice but abolitionism.

2) Consistent Presuppositionalism

Wilson is one of the better Christian apologists I have seen, applying the presuppositional method expertly. Abolitionism is simply presuppositionalism applied to the Christian task of fighting the evil of the age.

Abolitionism is explicitly Biblical because apart from God’s Word, there is no coherent, substantive moral standard by which to call abortion evil. Pro-lifers, who almost exclusively make secular arguments, are arbitrary when they fail to argue from God’s word. Presuppositionalism is Biblical because apart from God’s Word, there is no coherent, substantive logical standard by which to call anything true or false. Presuppositionalists reject evidentialism because we believe that evidentialists, like pro-lifers, make arbitrary arguments when they argue apart from a foundation of God’s Word. Abolitionists and presuppositionalists view God’s Word as the foundation of all thinking and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Abolitionists call abortion sin because that frames the issue correctly as a matter of people in need of repentance. On the other hand, pro-lifers (at least the pro-life leaders and apologists) don’t call abortion sin or use Biblical terminology because they think they have to remain neutral to be taken seriously by the other side. Presuppositionalism calls unbelief sin because that correctly frames the issue: not a situation where unbelievers have legitimate reasons for unbelief but one where they have no excuse not to repent and believe. Most evidentialists don’t refer to unbelief as sin when they do apologetics because they think they have to remain neutral in their starting points.

Abolitionism calls for the immediate abolition of the evil because to partially repent is not a true repentance before God. Until the entire framework of legal abortion is done away with, nothing is done away with. Presup calls for the total defense of Christian theism because a partial or piecemeal defense of Christian theism leaves the entire naturalistic framework of presuppositions in place.

Abolitionism is applied presuppositionalism. Forget meddling with surface-level nonsense. Don’t trim the branches. Whether the sin be unbelief or child sacrifice, put the axe to the root.

3) Consistent Reformed Theology

The most prominent distinctive of reformed theology is its understanding of and emphasis on providence. God has foreordained all things according to His holy will and for the ultimate good of His elect. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). He “removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:15). “He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and disperses them” (Job 12:23).

Knowing that He is governing and directing all things, we look first always to Him for success. Honing our abilities as apologists and lobbyists is a good thing to do, but such proficiencies do not bring about the abolition of child sacrifice in a society where the people love death and the Church is being thrown out and trampled underfoot: repentance does.

Which brings us back to the importance of speaking the uncompromising law and gospel as heralds of God’s Word. Our trust for national repentance and abolition ultimately rests on God working powerfully through His Word being proclaimed by His Church. To the world, this is foolishness. The political system before us that hates God and loves child sacrifice is a 13-foot-tall philistine. But we trust in the God who uses a single shepherd boy to send entire armies of giants fleeing in terror. He does this on purpose: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). God powerfully works through faithful, insignificant people so that the boast is in His might rather than human strengths.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with building influence, but if, in calling our society to repent, we operate according to norms of worldly politicians because we think this is the way to obtain influence or make progress, we have lost sight of what fundamentally separates us from the world. They hope in themselves — their own strength, their own influence, and what seems right to men. We trust in God to providentially conquer His enemies through the uncompromising proclamation of His Word by His Church. Abolitionists are people of providence. Duty is ours. Results belong to God.

4) Consistent Postmillennialism

Pride is the most common hurdle to pro-lifers (particularly pro-life leaders) embracing abolitionism, but pessimism is also a substantial contributor. When Free the States Media Director Sam Riley was converting to abolitionism, a pro-life leader — attempting to persuade him back — told Sam that he needed to temper his expectations. We have a duty to stand for life despite the fact that we aren’t going to win, the pro-life leader argued. He thought the best way to convert Sam back to pro-life thinking was to lower Sam’s expectation of God working powerfully here on earth.

Postmillennialism is optimism that this world will be won to Christ because of the conviction that such is what God’s Word prophesies. Wilson correctly understands and preaches that this victory will not be won with carnal might: “The power of the sword is not the foundational basis from which we operate. What is it that overcomes the world? John asks in First John. ‘Is it not our faith?’ He says. ‘Is it not our faith?’ Faith is that which goes forth conquering and to conquer. We believe in Jesus, we proclaim Jesus, and we have faith in Jesus… For the man of faith, there are things that sound like bad ideas; they look crazy. But this person is keeping Christ central. They are obeying the gospel. They are obeying Christ and submitting to the great commission.”

Wilson then tells the story of reformed preachers Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley who were martyred by Queen Mary. As they were being roped to the firewood, Latimer turned to Ridley and said, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Wilson comments: “They’re about to be burned at the stake, and Latimer turns to Ridley and says, ‘We’ve got them now.’… What is it that allows someone like Latimer to say something like that? ‘I trust that we are going to light such a candle as will never be put out in England.’ And he’s right.”

Doug Wilson believes that Christ is reigning now. He preaches that God is working through the faithfulness of His people to make the supreme court and all of Christ’s enemies into His footstool. But when it comes to abortion, it’s a different sermon. Wilson preaches not the conquering power of Christ on High, but the awesome power of the federal government. He teaches (not in these words, but in essence by virtue of his constant scaremongering) that we should be more fearful of what the federal government will do to us if we abolish abortion than what God will do to us if we don’t: “These people running the national [government], abortion is their blood sacrament. It’s not a trivial thing for them. And if anybody thinks that they would let Idaho do this — or Oklahoma or some other state that is contemplating it — without sending in the troops is just out of their mind.”

Nullifying Roe is actually very unlikely to result in physical conflict. Economic retribution is far more likely. Conflict would only ever be initiated by the federal government as abolitionism is a peaceful movement, but if it comes to violent persecution against an abolitionist state, so be it. BABIES ARE BEING MURDERED. We refuse to value our lives more than theirs. We’re already in a civil war that takes as many lives as the first one every nine months.

In a hundred different sermons, you can listen to Wilson preach the power of the Spirit moving through His Church to subdue His enemies. But on abortion, Wilson speaks as an Israelite spy, reporting to the people of God that the supreme court has an army of Nephilim and that the Church is “like grasshoppers in their sight.”

5) Be Faithful, Not Careful

Because Wilson believes in the providence of God to move powerfully in footstooling His enemies and rescuing His people, Wilson teaches that the Church should fight boldly, rejecting the temptations of moderation and compromise. In his 2012 sermon to the Governor and Legislature of Idaho, Wilson famously proclaimed:

“History is filled with restorations and reformations that seemed impossible at the time. That is why we remember them. That is why we honor the people who were involved in it. No grateful descendants are going to build a monument for us because we called for and got ‘mild improvements.’ Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished by men who were prepared to be reasonable. The voices of prudence and caution have always whispered to the reformers that their cause was hopeless. And, of course, this was a plausible suggestion. Why? Because it always was hopeless. The precondition for reformation is deformation. It has to be a tangled mess in order for reformation courage to manifest itself. Desperate times call for faithful men, not careful men. The careful men come later and write the biographies of the faithful men, lauding them for their courage.”

Wilson lauds Latimer and Ridley whose blood was the seed of the English church. He often cites Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Germany’s famous theologian and martyr who gave his life fighting the Nazis. But when it comes to the particular holocaust which God has placed Doug Wilson in the midst of, Wilson preaches the unsurmountable strength of the enemy and the celebration of mild improvements (though, they really aren’t even mild improvements). He whispers prudence and caution in the ears of the reformers. Why? Because when it comes to God’s image bearers in the womb being poisoned, suffocated, and ripped limb-from-limb, Doug Wilson is a careful man, and not a faithful one.

Equivocating on “Incrementalism”

While I have his attention, it seems wise to deal with Wilson’s other objections which are a mixture of equivocations and misunderstandings. Wilson argues that incremental progress is inherent to political and social change. This is undoubtedly true and completely irrelevant to the incrementalism-immediatism discussion. Immediatists get closer to the goal incrementally as more people join the cause, more abolitionists get elected, more denominations and associations pass abolitionist resolutions, etc. The debate between incremental-“ism” and immediat-“ism” revolves around what we demand. Incrementalism proper refers to “advocacy of change by degrees.” An immediatist is “One who believes in immediate action; specifically, in United States history, one who favored the immediate abolition of slavery.”

Wilson has described various forms of incrementalism which he believes are inescapable and/or defensible.

“Local Political Incrementalism”: Wilson argues that abolitionists and pro-lifers alike are incrementalists: “Heartbeat laws are incremental, but no more incremental than starting in your efforts Oklahoma would be. The key is to accept the incremental nature of the battle.” In his 2019 article on the subject — Inescapable Incrementalism — Wilson called this “local political incrementalism.” The act of abolishing human abortion in one state, does not abolish it in others, the argument goes. Therefore, the abolitionist is fighting abortion incrementally.

This is a fundamental, common, and sometimes willful misunderstanding. Abolitionism is repentance and obedience. It is the obligation of every official at every level of government to obey Christ. Abolishing abortion (locally or nationally) is passing and enforcing a law in accordance with God’s Word. This is obedience to Christ. Regulating abortion (locally or nationally) is writing a law in rebellion to God’s Word. This is disobedience to Christ.

“Strategic incrementalism”: Wilson argues it might be wise for a general to delay invasion by a few days to wait for more favorable weather. Similarly, a legislator or lobbyist may delay a bill for this or that reason in order to give the bill the best chance of passage and enforcement. We totally agree. Upon news that a Senate committee was breaking norms to hear and kill an abolition bill just before an abolition rally was scheduled, we advised the bill’s sponsor to withhold the bill for a week so that it would be alive when reinforcements showed up, and the ralliers had a live bill to demand their legislators sign onto. Delaying invasion a few days to provide the best chance of success is not sin. Telling people when, where, and how to murder babies is.

“Pre-requisite incrementalism”: This is the idea that you must build public support for a law before undertaking the mission of altering public policy. He writes elsewhere on this subject that, “[The apostle] Paul occupied himself with missionary work and church planting either because he didn’t care about the social implications of the gospel, or because he was an incrementalist who understood what the preconditions for responsible social legislation were. I believe it was the latter.”

Wilson is incorrect that Paul was incrementalist, but correct that Paul planted churches instead of writing laws. This is not Paul “advocating change by degrees” but Paul possessing a correct understanding that the gospel is the foundation of social change. The Abolitionist Movement spent six years (2010-16) as street activists and evangelists before even trying to make inroads into politics with OK Senate Bill 1118. Even now, Free the States’ chief concern is the awakening of the Church. Every conference, rally, pamphlet, podcast, article, email, quad-fold, and drop card is geared toward exhorting and equipping the Church to bring the gospel into conflict with the culture of death until abortion is abolished and we can ask, “What shall we abolish next?”

There are some in or tangentially related to the Abolitionist Movement who argue that the gospel going forth has nothing to do with abolishing abortion. Winning in the political realm is exclusively, in this view, about raising money and sending campaign mail. For the reasons Wilson explains in his article and many more, this is foolish, worldly, and short-sighted.

Where Wilson errs is in his definition of carnal politics and his blindness to the magisterial reform that is taking place. He contests that even though there are millions of Christians in America, “what is missing from our churches is theological instruction that instructs a spiritual church how to have an earthly impact without becoming carnal. In short, what is missing is the theology of the magisterial Reformers.”

Supporting compromise laws that regulate child sacrifice because “it’s the best we can get” is a definition of becoming carnal. As C.R. Cali writes in his book The Doctrine of Balaam:

The secular Pro-Life establishment positions are primarily rooted in a utilitarian approach to carnal objectives and results gained by carnal means and methodology through carnal worldly wisdom of moral relativism. Their pragmatism stimulates their entire ideology and practice. The underlying principle at play is: ‘Do what you can to save as many babies as possible given the current conditions.’ And the ends justify the unjust means used to achieve them. The primary goal in the secular Pro-Life scheme is the carnal or physical result of saving babies. It is to that end that their pragmatic methodology develops. The secular Pro-Life establishment, being of the world, adopts and perpetuates the worldly wisdom that holds their position together. To them success is measured solely by the carnal results of saving babies from the slaughter. The obvious irony is the actual effectiveness and coherency in their doctrinal methods, as shown in the previous chapters.

Before continuing, let me first say that we want to save as many babies as we can. Carnal or physical results are not evil in themselves, and pragmatic methods of achieving those desired carnal results are not necessarily evil either. I am very grateful to God when even one child is spared through these evil and sinful laws produced by the secular Pro-Life establishment. It is a godly desire to seek the saving of babies and the enacting of just laws. But for the Christian, our primary objective is obedience. Our success is measured, not in the carnal results (in this case numbers of babies saved from being killed by their parents), but in whether or not we were obedient. Even as we are as wise as serpents, we must be as innocent as doves. It is the compromise of truth and God’s Word in their worldly pragmatism that is the issue. It is the fighting of injustice with more injustice that we are against. It is not incremental steps that we are against, it is the use of unjust incremental steps that stand in opposition to the Word of God that we are against…

Our trust is in God, who directs and governs all creation, dissolves the obstacles in front of us, even those that seek to distract us from obedience. We are able to set aside the wisdom of the world for what God has said. We can do what God has said in the way that He has said it, regardless of what the world says will and won’t work. We are able to measure our success by our obedience instead of by the carnal results the world demands.

There is a movement of Christians and even entire churches rooting out political carnality from among themselves and those around them, prophetically bringing God’s uncompromising Word to bear on political and cultural sins. They are being granted by God tremendous gains in churches, denominations, and legislatures all around the country. Tragically, Wilson stands athwart their reform. Why? Because he has been taken in by the carnal methodology of the worldly Pro-Life Movement. When it comes to abortion, he doesn’t understand that the prerequisite for effective social and political change is the uncompromising proclamation of repentance and adherence to God’s word in all spheres.

Conclusion

If Doug Wilson, Toby Sumpter, Chocolate Knox, and Gabe Rench consistently applied their foundational theological beliefs to the abortion holocaust, they would be abolitionists. And were they to drop personal distastes, set aside historical biases, and follow God’s Word and their own theology to its unavoidable, logical conclusion of abolitionism, the impact for the kingdom of God and pushing back of darkness would be immeasurable. We will continue praying that this would transpire, and ask that you join us in so doing.

Three things to do!

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