Are woke pastors committing vocational suicide? Is it enough to not be woke? Or must a pastor be explicitly anti-woke in order to remain faithful?

I admit upfront I know absolutely nothing first hand about the Scott Sauls case and therefore anything I say here is strictly speculative. The charges brought against Sauls that he has been abusive and manipulative are very interesting because Sauls would definitely have been considered at the forefront of the so-called winsomeness crowd that is constantly arguing for civility and a “third way,” that is, some kind of rapprochement with progressivism, even though he is within a conservative denomination. Now, maybe Sauls has been abusive and manipulative and neglectful. Maybe he has been a tyrannical leader. Sometimes men become the very thing they most rail against; sometimes we fall into the sins we say we are most opposed to. Maybe Sauls was a hypocrite in this way, calling others to be civil in public while being very uncivil behind closed doors. Again, I don’t know. The only knowledge I have of the situation comes from second and third hand reports in articles relying on anonymous sources – and we all know how anonymous sources can be.


But I also wonder if something else could be going on. Sauls was one of the first PCA pastors to jump on the woke train as it was leaving the station. What if Sauls’ “woke” tendencies actually undermined his own ministry? What if his commitment to winsomeness and empathy created an environment in which any kind of real leadership became absolutely impossible? I wonder if this is a case of the woke eating their own, if this is a case of a woke pastor who dug a pit and then fell into it himself. The bottom line is that wokeness makes leadership of any kind impossible. Wokeness is an acid that eats through anything and everything until nothing is left. If all relationships are viewed in terms of an oppressor and oppressee – a foundational plank in the woke worldview, deriving from critical theory - it does not matter how winsome you try to be, or how empathetic you seek to be, you will still be viewed as an oppressor, and therefore an abuser and a tyrant.


It’s interesting that in the articles I’ve read about the Sauls situation, the charges against him are terribly vague. He’s accused of being harsh and cruel and neglectful, but no specific examples are given. Patterns of manipulation and insensitivity have apparently been detected, but we are not given any concrete evidence. It’s very hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is. What commandment has been broken? What is the precise nature of the sin that has disqualified him? Further, reading Saul’s statement of repentance, it almost sounds as if he is the one being manipulated and treated harshly. It’s sounds almost as if his confession is the result of a kind of CCP-style struggle session.


Again, I know that pastoral ministry is highly relational and therefore very messy. Sauls may very well have hurt the feelings of people in his church. But that’s not the same as sinning against them. Faithful pastoral ministry sometimes requires telling people things do not like and do not want to hear. Further, for precisely this reason, pastors need to be ready to guard against sabotage that comes from those who would accuse them of sinning when they were just saying what needed to be said from Scripture. A person might claim, “You hurt my feelings,” or “You did not love me well,” when in reality they are just making their own feelings (rather than the Word of God) their final authority. There is no sin called “hurting someone’s feelings” in the Bible. Sometimes we need to have our feelings hurt. A therapeutic age might want “safe spaces,” especially in church, but God has not promised that to us. Indeed, just the opposite. The Lord had no problem bruising Isaiah’s ego when he called him to be a prophet. No doubt, many modern counselors would have told Isaiah he should go immediately into therapy after seeing the Lord high and lifted up in the temple and having his sinfulness painfully exposed. Jesus humiliated Peter on more than one occasion – though he certainly needed it. Jesus handled Peter a bit roughly at times, though always for his ultimate good. But again, a modern counselor might tell Peter he has been the victim of cruelty and abuse. Euodia and Syntyche probably felt shamed after Paul called them out by name in his letter to the Philippians. Who does this Paul guy think he is, naming names – and women’s names at that?! Surely, Paul must be some kind of misogynist. Surely Paul should resign from his office as an apostle because his ministry is so harmful, right? We have to face the fact that our culture is very much at odds with Scripture. Who will we trust? God speaking in his Word or the modern therapist and critical theorist? There is no getting around it: Jesus, the apostle Paul ,and the prophets, all hurt people’s feelings, and yet they did so without sinning against them. People’s feelings are never the standard. Scripture is the standard.


This is why it is absolutely crucial for pastors today to not give one inch to the modern obsession with the therapeutic. When the categories of “sin” and “repentance” are replaced with “brokenness” and “trauma,” we are actually dealing not with a recasting of the same old gospel, but with a rival religion and an alternative worldview to that given to us in the Bible. Of course, there is such a thing as real trauma, and when people experience real trauma, we should bring all the resources of Scripture and the church to bear upon it in order to bring healing. But today, the use of trauma has become so inflated that it tends to trivialize real cases of trauma. Trauma inflation, like racism inflation, and abuse inflation, actually ends up hurting those who are really suffering. Did Sauls really traumatize church staff and congregation members? Or are people just being overly sensitive?


What has happened with Sauls’ ministry is sad because it brings reproach upon the name of Christ. Whether Sauls is to blame, or his accusers, the reputation of Christ’s church has been harmed. But that being said, I wonder if there is a vital lesson here for the rest of us in pastoral ministry. Is it possible that pastors who go woke are actually undermining their own vocation? Are they making leadership simply impossible in their churches? Are they creating an environment that is toxic to real pastoral ministry? Imagine a church that forces out a pastor because he was perceived as “harsh” and “bullying” when in reality he was just trying to preach the Word. The congregation’s sales pitch to a future pastoral candidate, if it was honest, might go something like this: “We are a congregation of woke neo-Marxists who believe all relationships are characterized by an oppressor/oppressee dynamic. Would you like to be our next pastor so we can accuse you of tyranny every time you try to exert leadership and make a decision any of us does not like?” That’s why I say wokeness is an acid that eats through everything. How can real pastoral ministry ever take place in a woke context? How can anyone lead a group of people who view leadership as intrinsically abusive and oppressive?


Again, I’m not saying that is what happened (even in caricatured form) at Sauls’ church. But given what I know of Saul’s ministry, as a pastor who dabbled in wokeness and critical theory and a therapeutic from of the gospel, it is at least possible. Did his ministry inadvertently create a hyper-sensitive congregation, easily offended by every little thing? I can’t help wondering if Sauls was his own worst enemy here.


Pastors must be very wary of emotional blackmail of the sort John Piper describes:


Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, “If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.” There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.


It should also be noted that Sauls platformed women in church leadership, pushing the envelope of what the PCA BCO will allow. But as Alastair Roberts has pointed out, when women enter into church leadership it changes the whole dynamic in the congregation. Inclusivity is often emphasized at the expense of truth. Feelings are prioritized over facts. And a hyper-sensitivty to grievances arises. Is it possible that Saul's attempts to put forward women in positions of quasi-leadership created a feminized environment in which any exertion of male/masculine leadership would be perceived as tyrannical? Did Sauls contribute to creating an environment in which even the least bit of disagreeability would be considered cruel and harsh?


Whatever the specifics, it certainly seems to me Sauls had likely been playing with fire long before he got burned.


Sauls’ downfall may or may not be an illustration of this dynamic I’ve described – the way wokeness destroys the possibility of pastoral leadership. But whatever went down in Sauls’ case, I fully believe the dangers I am pointing out here are very real. When winsomeness becomes the ultimate virtue, one can never be winsome enough. Once a pastor or church goes woke, you can never be woke enough. If you are a leader who embraces and teaches critical/Marxist principles, do not be surprised if they are used against you. Pastors who coddle their congregations are making them too fragile to be led and taught the way Scripture requires. If you as a pastor contribute to a culture that glamorizes victimhood, fault-finding, and grievance, do not be surprised if you get victims, grievances, and fault-finders -- and they will eventually come after you. The left eventually eats its own, and this is true even (and maybe especially) when churches drift leftward. Wokeness destroys the pastorate and the church, one microaggression at a time.


That brings us to another pastoral controversy, which may be more than tangentially related to what happened with Sauls. The other day, highly respected and arch-conservative PCA pastor Kevin DeYoung caused quite a stir with his article criticizing Doug Wilson. Whereas I am probably on the opposite end of the spectrum from Sauls on most every controversial issue in the Reformed church today, I have a high degree of affinity for and alignment with DeYoung. To me, De Young has been a bright spot in the PCA; I would consider his ministry to be about the best the PCA has to offer these days. I like a lot of DeYoung’s books and have listened profitably to several sermons. I like much of what he has written about men, women, marriage, family, and even family size. I like what he has written on critical race theory. He has not been supportive of some of the undercurrents and movements in the PCA that Sauls advocated, such as Revoice (aka, the “celibate gay Christian movement”). I have visited DeYoung’s church and it’s a place I could probably feel at home, with its reverent worship and solid preaching.


To go one step further, there were at least a few bits and pieces of his criticism of Wilson that struck me as fair and perhaps even on target. I have also raised issues with Wilson about his blogging rhetoric a time or two. I was part of a CREC study report that made some pointed criticisms of some of Wilson’s language back in 2017. More than once, I have wanted to share a post from Wilson’s blog with family members or my congregation but decided against it because there was unnecessarily problematic language in it. (To see how I have framed the issues with Wilson in private correspondence, see the email excerpt from 2017 I have included as an addendum to this blog post below. I probably would not say everything exactly the same way today as I did then, but it gives you an idea of where I am coming from.)


That being said, I think DeYoung’s critique of Wilson seriously missed the mark on several counts. Whatever one thinks of Wilson’s rhetoric, even at his worst, he has done nothing worthy of defrocking, as DeYoung suggests. When pressed, Wilson generally does a very good job defending his “serrated edge.” Even if one continues to disagree with at least some of Wilson’s chosen metaphors or images, this is clearly an issue he has thought a lot about. He's not being careless or reckless. He can make a compelling biblical case for what he is doing. For my part, I do not think his strong or sarcastic or mocking language in general is sinful. God knows, the ERLC, TGC, and quite few PCA study committees are worthy of mockery, even if I might suggest doing so in a different way than Wilson. But even when I judge that Wilson has crossed a line of propriety, I do not think he is sinning, just being unwise. And I realize that such judgment calls are just that – judgment calls, over which good and faithful men may differ. When I have engaged Wilson on this issue (as in the email quoted below), this is where we have left it; we agree to disagree and move on. I am sure I am probably in sync with 98%+ of what comes from the pen (or keyboard or pulpit) of Wilson. (The book Against the Church is probably the only theological work from Wilson I have read and not thoroughly enjoyed. Several of his books are among my favorites, especially his writings on the Christian family and Christendom. Of course, Wilson writes faster than I can read so I have not gotten to all his books.)


DeYoung might think he’d be fired if he spoke from the pulpit the way Wilson blogs. Of course, that overlooks the fact that Wilson does not preach the same way he blogs (though it is fair to ask why). While I do think there is a danger that some will imitate Wilson in problematic ways (e.g., using Wilson-like metaphors in ways and in contexts Wilson would not approve), Wilson’s controversial rhetoric is used only in very limited situations, and probably less often now than in year's past. If DeYoung thinks he’d be fired for speaking like Wilson, what does he think would happen if he spoke like Ezekiel? My guess is that just reading certain portions of Ezekiel (much less imitating them) would get him into trouble with his session and congregation. But if that’s the case, what is the real standard for propriety?


A few quick sidenotes before getting back to the problems with DeYoung’s critique of Wilson and the Moscow “vibe.” I have seen some online social media warriors rush to Wilson’s defense against DeYoung and probably make things worse. Whereas Wilson himself gave a very measured response to DeYoung (with more to come, I am sure), calling DeYoung's article the kind of feedback he "welcomes," some Wilsonites have gotten carried away with their pushback. I’ve seen some justify pretty much any kind of rhetoric, provided it comes from blue collar type men. I’ve seen some justify pretty much anything rhetorically, given the magnitude of the social and cultural crisis we face. But these kinds of arguments simply do not work. There are biblical standards for speech (e.g., Ephesians 5:3), and they hold true whether you wear a blue collar, white collar, or clergy collar. Likewise, the standards do not change just because the culture decides to go running off a cliff into the abyss. Sure, different types of speech can be fitting for different occasions and contexts (just as we have different clothes for different occasions and contexts). But God’s standards are unchanging. We can debate exactly how God’s standard applies, but God’s standard is what it is. I can think of many brave Christian men who were effective leaders in a time of crisis, but did not resort to gutter language. It can be done! So cautions are in order.


Back to DeYoung. DeYoung gave multiple examples of Wilson’s supposedly over the top rhetoric. A few of the examples do indeed strike me as problematic (mainly the ones invoking female anatomy). But many of them do not. They strike me as cases of DeYoung being soft and overly sensitive, of lacking the sense of humor necessary to appreciate what the Moscow crowd is doing, of being tone deaf to what Wilson is saying. The fact is, Wilson speaks as a man in a masculine, direct way. He uses strong or cutting language when he finds it appropriate. In a feminized culture, this can be off-putting. But surely a word like “wusses,” while not exactly elegant, is lawful to use – and I cannot think of a better alternative that gets the same point across. In looking at DeYoung's analysis of Wilson's rhetoric, I find myself in the odd position of occasionally (but not always) agreeing with his assessment that something is amiss with an occasional Wilsonian metaphor, but then thinking DeYoung has blown the issue way out of proportion.


I want to raise two issues with DeYoung that I think get at the heart of the conflict he has with Moscow. Wilson’s blog rhetoric may be the presenting issue for DeYoung, but I do not think it is the core issue. The rhetoric is really a prudential, strategic issue, not the main point of division. It's important to grasp the real issue here because it is actually the deepest faultline in the evangelical and Reformed world today.


First, as others have wondered, why did DeYoung feel the need to distance himself from Wilson and Moscow with this critique? It reminds of Bill Evans several years ago writing a piece for the Covenant Theological Seminary journal Presbyterion against my views of baptism. (The journal allowed me to write a response and then Evans got the final rebuttal. I was obviously playing an away game.) Why would a scholar of Evans’ stature take on little ‘ol me? Well, I’m sure he’d say it’s because he disagrees with me and perhaps he saw my views getting too much traction in certain Reformed circles so he wanted to provide a correction. Perhaps that all there was to it. But I also wonder if it’s because Evans and I (and the so-called “Federal Vision” men more generally) were so close on so many issues that he felt the need to put some space between himself and the hyper-controversial FV men, lest he be lumped in with us. I’d guess some people had wondered if Evans’ himself had skated too close to FV positions in a few areas and so he figured it would be good to show he’s not close to “being one of us.” My hypothesis is that something similar is happening with DeYoung. Some have wondered if maybe DeYoung is just a little too close to CRECish or Wilson-ish positions in some areas and so he figured it would be good to show that he’s not “one of us”  -- you know, one of those leprous CREC-types – in any way, shape, or form. In the broader Reformed and evangelical world, nothing sinks a man's creditability and respectability faster than friendly association with Wilson and the CREC. We are definitely the black sheep of the Reformed world.


Why do I think this? Well, I find it very interesting that DeYoung has had virtually nothing critical to say about those to his evangelical-and-Reformed left, even when he is quite closely associated with them institutionally, e.g., TGC. (Maybe he will come out with a critique of them soon, or maybe he is working behind the scenes against their progressive tendencies, but there is no way to know that.) To this point, DeYoung has done what so many other pandering pastors in our day are doing: punching those to their right, coddling those to their left. Why does this happen? Because it is advantageous to do so. It costs DeYoung nothing to criticize Wilson, Moscow, and by extension, the CREC. But it would be quite costly to him to critique TGC, or the late Tim Keller, or others to his left inside and outside the PCA. How is it that the most prominent PCA pastor of the last generation (Keller) went through the whole course of his ministry over several decades without once denouncing abortion as murder from the pulpit? Keller ministered in a place where more babies get obliterated in the womb than are allowed to be born alive. How can a faithful pastor simply marginalize the issue of Molech worship going on all around him? Is that not a troubling vibe? Why don't we have articles about the dangers of the "Manhattan mood"? A whole generation of PCA pastors simply let Keller get away with silence on abortion and some even praised him for it. They let Keller set a precedent. This is nuts. Surely DeYoung knows better, but he too treats Keller as if he were above reproach. And that’s because it would be costly to critique Keller, whereas critiquing Wilson draws praise. DeYoung acknowledges differences with Keller, but he does with much softer gloves than those he uses to punch Wilson. Why is silence from the pulpit on abortion (and homosexuality) permissible but blogging "naughty words" and using sarcasm worthy of being defrocked? I think our sensibilities about such things are far too often shaped by the culture rather than Scripture, and this is an example. It hurts to lose respectability in the eyes of the powers that be, and those who align with Wilson, Moscow, and CREC in public ways run that risk. DeYoung obviously knows that. Bottom line: I think there are political and sociological reasons behind DeYoung's decision to criticize Wilson at this time. Could I be wrong about that? Sure. But it is certainly a plausible way of connecting the dots.


Second, DeYoung, thinks the real attraction to Wilson and Moscow is not theology per se; rather, it’s the vibe that Wilson puts off. Maybe so. But so what? This doesn't really prove anything one way or the other. And it's certainly not true for everyone who comes to appreciate the mini-Christendom being built in Moscow. In my case, I came to virtually all the same theological convictions as Wilson before there was such a thing as the Moscow vibe; in some cases, I came to those convictions even before Wilson did, though I’m a bit younger. I started reading Credenda magazine when I was a college student in the 90s, but I was already convinced of paedobaptism, paedocommunion, and postmillennialism. I connected with the stuff Moscow was putting out immediately because they were not just doing theology, they were doing applied theology. The practical, applicatory nature of Wilson’s teaching was something I noticed and embraced from the first time I was exposed to his work. I read his book Reforming Marriage before I got married in 1995 and rejoiced over every page of it. The vibe that Moscow has come to be known for did not arise overnight. I would say that the vibe grew out of the theology over time. In the case of Wilson himself, the theology certainly preceded the vibe. Whatever the case has been for others, I do not think the theology and the vibe can really be separated. The theology produces the vibe and could not be sustained without the theology. I would guess that just about everyone who is drawn to the vibe is simultaneously drawn to the theological convictions that support it.


I think the core issue between DeYoung and Wilson is found in this section of DeYoung's essay:


We must never forget that no matter how important Western civilization may be, we are still sojourners and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). 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).


This paragraph sums up the conflict: DeYoung sees a dichotomy between “the faith” and “Christendom.” Wilson would say Christendom is just the fruit of faith; to fight for the faith is to fight for Christendom and vice versa. Christendom is the fruit and outworking of our faith in the culture, as we seek to obey Christ's lordship in all of life. In other words, DeYoung sees the faith as essentially private whereas Wilson rejects privatization. For DeYoung, the culture war is not the "fight for faith" -- in other words, he rejects the view that the culture war is actually a manifestation of the spiritual war described in Ephesians 6. Wilson, by contrast, sees the culture war as an aspect of spiritual warfare.


Further, DeYoung sees the permanent condition of the church up until Christ’s return as one of exile. We should not expect cultural influence and power. We should not expect success in the Great Commission. We will always be sojourners and exiles here. When we do evangelism, we are calling people to join a community of exiles. For Wilson, exile is not a permanent condition of the church in this age. We are a royal priesthood and we expect the kingdom of God to grow and fill the earth, like a mustard seed that grows to become the greatest tree in the garden. Likewise, Wilson would say that while we have long, long ways to go, the leaven of the gospel has already begun to knead its way into the dough of human life and culture, bringing transformation, renewal, and restoration. The point of the faith is not just to get souls to heaven, but to build a Christian civilization on earth. There may be times of declension when the church experiences a kind of exile (after, all the church's relationship to the culture is fluid, not fixed, since culture is always changing), but exile is not the church's normative condition anymore than it was for Israel under the old covenant. For DeYoung, the church must remain a cultural loser. Wilson expects the church to win. Hence, their different vibes.


For DeYoung, we must choose between a theology of the cross and a theology and a theology of glory. For DeYoung, we must not be confident or triumphalistic. For Wilson, a theology of the cross and a theology of glory go together. The church suffers and serves her way to victory -- but the victory can be tasted within history to a degree, not just at the end of history. Yes, we are the people of the cross, called to live lives of sacrificial love and humility, willing to suffer for the truth. But we are also people of the resurrection, called to manifest the new creation Jesus already inaugurated, as we go forth, conquering and to conquer. For Wilson, our blessed hope for the return of Christ and the consummation of the heavenly city does not rule out a historical hope for the conversion of all the families and nations of the earth before the last day.


It seems to me the difference between DeYoung (and so many others in the Reformed and evangelical world today) and Wilson comes down to one thing: confidence. Wilson is confident in ways that others are not. And that confidence creates a vibe. It draws folks in. But note that Wilson's confidence is not fundamentally self-confidence, it is Jesus-confidence. It is confidence in the gospel, in the church, in the promises of God. Wilson exudes a confidence in God that is simply missing from much of the church. It's the kind of confidence that has historically characterized much of the church's preaching and teaching (see., e.g., Iain Murray's book The Puritan Hope) and much of her best hymnody (e.g., "Jesus Shall Reign." "Joy to the World," "Before the Lord we Bow," etc.). If there is one thing the contemporary church lacks that Wilson supplies, it's confidence. So much of the church today is so unsure of itself, so wavering, so easily swayed this way or that. So many pastors are lacking in real confidence, they are constantly trying to reinvent themselves and their ministries in order to keep within the culture's Overton window. Not Wilson. Wilson is confident in who he is, what he's doing, and why he's doing it. It's a confidence that springs from knowing and believing the gospel in the deepest way. It's a Pauline-like confidence that the Word is going to conquer all. Young men are understandably (and rightly) drawn to the kind of confidence Wilson constantly displays. Because Wilson is so utterly confident in what he's doing, he is able to continually rise to challenge after challenge and overcome. His confidence makes him and his ministry anti-fragile. His confidence gives him a sense of buoyancy and joy that laughs in the face of controversy and danger. His confidence allows him to not get sidetracked by mistakes he's made along the way. His confidence is exactly what the church needs in 2023.


This confidence makes Wilson an alpha pastor in a church full of beta pastors. A lot of pastors today seem to think a lack of confidence is some kind of virtue. But their humility is in the wrong place; real humility is humility before the Word of God, not about the Word of God. We must be utterly confident in the Word of God to accomplish its mission. So many of today's pastors are not confident in God's Word to build the kingdom. Wilson, of course, constantly shows that his deepest confidence is outside of himself. Wilson, again much like Paul, particularly as demonstrated in Acts and 2 Corinthians, is an indomitable force for the gospel. This confidence means Wilson (in good Edwin Friedman style) never has a failure of nerve. His confidence makes him assertive and decisive in leadership, particularly in the midst of crisis like what we went through in 2020. This confidence makes him remarkably calm and productive in the face of opposition. This confidence means Wilson is committed to having "no problem passages" from Scripture, as he has put it. This confidence means Wilson can fight the culture war and have fun doing it -- which might be the greatest offense of them all! This confidence gives rise to courage, and courage is what we need more anything at the moment. "Now is the hour for the man; where is the man for the hour?," Charles Spurgeon once said. For quite some time now, in the Reformed world at least, Wilson has been the "man of the hour."


Let's be honest: Most pastors today are scared. They are scared of losing their congregations. They are scared of offending people, especially women. They are scared of the left's cancel culture. They are scared of the LGBTQ lobby. They are scared of coming off too political. They are scared of government agencies coming after them if they are perceived as too right wing. They are scared because they simply do not have confidence in the Word of God to get the job done. They are scared because their anemic theology has diluted their understanding of the promises of God.


This does not mean everything comes down to eschatology, as if DeYoung moving from an amillennial to a postmillennial position would bring about full rapproachment. It goes much deeper than that. Yes, Wilson's confidence and courage are tied to his particular brand of postmillennialism. But the differences are deeper and wider. Frankly, the issues that divide DeYoung from Wilson are precisely the issues I sought to address in my newest book, The Measures of the Mission. DeYoung’s privatized version of the faith really poses very little threat to the powers that be. The world says, "Oh, you have no interest in building Christendom? Very well, carry on with whatever spiritual activities you prefer doing." DeYoung gives quarter to the enemy in ways that Wilson will not. DeYoung talks about the church having to endure persecution, but paradoxically he’s far less likely to face persecution than Wilson precisely because he has accommodated himself so much to the status quo and to the historical defeat of the church. Wilson holds to a much more optimistic eschatology, but (again, paradoxically) views our present cultural situation as far, far more dire than DeYoung. That’s why Wilson (probably with fewer resources than DeYoung has access to at his well-heeled PCA church) has been committed to building institutions that will continue to change the culture for the better and carry forward his vision long after he’s gone. This is because Wilson has the right goal, namely, Christendom. By comparison, it's hard to know exactly what DeYoung's goal is. Everyone knows exactly what Wilson wants to build. But with men like DeYoung (and so many in the PCA), it's not nearly as clear.  Or, to the degree it is clear, I'd put it this way: Wilson wants to see Jesus at the head of the cultural table because he owns the table. DeYoung would be happy just for Jesus to keep his place at the table, even if its at the foot. Wilson wants all of Moscow to enjoy the blessings that come from living under Jesus' lordship. It's not clear exactly what DeYoung wants for Charlotte because he's said he's not interested in fighting for Christendom


If the worst that can be said about Wilson ‘s ministry today is that he occasionally uses raw, edgy, uncouth metaphors, then he’s doing just fine. His positive contributions to the kingdom so vastly outweigh any negatives. If the church in America is going to get back on track in fulfilling the Great Commission by discipling our nation, it’s going to come not from genteel, soft spoken, never-rock-the-boat pastors, but from courageous men who in the pulpit and out of it are willing to denounce today’s “clown world” in the way it so justly deserves and preach the whole counsel of God without compromise. One does not have to see eye to eye with Wilson on every last detail in order to perceive that he has filled a void of leadership in the Reformed world over the last 20 years, and especially over the last 3, when so much cowardice and compromise in “Big Eva” began to be exposed. I fully expect Wilson to go down as the premier Reformed leader of the last fifty years, with a lasting legacy that will outshine that of Keller, Sproul, and many others. The Christian Reconstructionists talked about building a Christian culture back in the 1980s, but never made it happen. Wilson has made it happen on a wide scale since the early 2000s (and successful marketing has inevitably been part of this success -- that doesn't make Wilson a celebrity pastor, but it does help build his brand, which is necessary to the work he is doing).


The problem with DeYoung is that he simply does not appreciate the true magnitude of Wilson’s achievements; if he did, he would realize that many of his complaints about Wilson are petty and trite compared to the scope and success of Wilson's overall project. The reason is due to a verity pointed out by Spurgeon: brave men are always regarded as mean-spirited by the cowards surrounding them. There is no way to be truly faithful in the midst of our culture today without having a head-on collision with the world (and by implication a collision with much of the church, since so many pastors are badly compromised). Wilson does not mind that collision; he plows full speed ahead into it. By contrast, many pastors seem to be shying away from the collision at the moment it most needs to happen. I am not saying that is the case with DeYoung -- he has proven himself over and over as a bold fighter for the faith. But in this particular case, I think his attack missed its target. We need more of the Moscow vibe, not less.


None of this is to say Wilson is infallible. Wilson and I have our differences, and they are not limited to occasional differences over how to use the serrated edge. Wilson suggested there was a "Birmingham-Moscow" polarity in the CREC a decade ago and while I'd like to think whatever gap he saw between us has largely been closed, there are still differences. But I see no reason to harp on those differences here. I have deep appreciation for what Wilson has done, for his family, for the ministries his work has spawned in Moscow, and for his influence in the CREC and beyond. God bless Doug Wilson.


And God bless Kevin DeYoung. My differences with him over Wilson and Moscow do not mean I no longer appreciate his work. He is definitely no thin-skinned pansy pastor like so many others. As I said above, I really like DeYoung and his ministry. He is a faithful and godly man in many respects. I have benefitted from him. I think his critique of Wilson is far more fair-minded and good-natured than most. But what he’s missing is largely inexcusable at this point in our cultural conflagration. DeYoung’s theology is diluted. (Dare I say it’s neutered? Castrated? Emasculated?) DeYoung simply does not “get” what it means to minister in an age of wokeness. He cannot quite bring himself to be a jolly (culture) warrior. No, he does not have to adopt Wilson's serrated edge, but he does need to make more allowances for what folks like Wilson are doing. DeYoung is not woke like Sauls became woke, of course. But I wonder if he is sufficiently anti-woke to make a real difference commensurate with his abilities and resources. I surmise if was, he would be a more polarizing figure, a lot like Wilson. Perhaps if DeYoung got into the trenches with Wilson a little more, perhaps if he got on the front lines more often in confronting what needs to be confronted in the church and the wider culture, he’d be more sympathetic with Wilson, his rhetoric, his vibe, and his achievements. Someone needs to put a flamethrower in DeYoung’s hands.



This is an excerpt from private communication with Wilson from 2017, based on Part 2 of the 2017 Presiding Minister Report, evaluating cases of sexual abuse in Moscow. Part 2 addressed Wilson’s blogging. I engaged in an email discussion with Wilson, with the aim of helping him better understand where the Presiding Ministers were coming from in offering friendly critique of a small handful of blog posts. Obviously, I cannot reproduce the whole context, but hopefully this is helpful:


  1. Your post suggests that the only persons who would object to your “small breasted biddy” type posts are long-faced dowagers from the HR department. This is probably the nub of the disagreement. I get the sense that you see yourself as the courageous culture warrior while those of us who do not like the derogatory language about women are wimps caving in to the effeminate culture all around us. But I think this misreads the situation. While I do think you are a courageous culture warrior (and I am thankful for that), I don’t think “small breasted biddy” type posts are really acts of great courage. If anything, I think they are pandering to your base — and to the baser instincts of that base. But more to the point, I do not think your language in those posts is standing against the flow of the culture at all. You can’t say you are fighting the culture when you are imitating it. As your post linked above recognizes, the culture is becoming more and more coarse in the way it talks about sex, women, and women’s bodies. You have chosen to actually join in with the culture’s way of speaking about women (and their bodies) in derogatory ways instead of challenging it and critiquing it.This, I think, is the real issue. Our point in the report is that pastors, especially, are the culture’s foremost guardians of virtue and propriety. We are the culture’s wordsmiths and the way we speak carries incredible weight and influence to steer the culture. This is why we argued in the report that we as pastors should oppose the culture’s degradation of language rather than join in with it. We should fight against the world, not try to use the same weapons as the world. Sure, the Clay Travis/CNN  case shows up the hypocrisy of our culture’s media elites. It’s great to make that point and expose their hypocrisy. But that does not mean we need to start talking like Clay Travis ourselves.Here’s my take: You think your “small breasted biddy” posts are prophetic, that you sound like Amos or Ezekiel. I think they are perceived as if you were joining in with the Clay Travises of the culture. And Clay Travis is no prophet. There’s not anything counter-cultural about the kind of language in question; if anything, it’s culturally captive. I don’t see anything edgy or effective in the culture war about a pastor using junior high lockerroom-type language to talk about certain women and their bodies. I do not see any maturity in stereotyping woman according to certain bodily features. (What does breast size have to do with being a biddy anyway?) These insults get attention but they do not move the ball forward. Part 2 of the Report was a reminder that instead of following the culture's flow of increasing degradation, pastors should embody standards of decency and goodness at all times, swimming against the tide. Question: Did Gresham Machen ever refer to Pearl Buck as a “small breasted biddy”? Or did he get his point across in other ways? Check out what she had to say about him: The point of the report was to call you to be more like Machen and less like Clay Travis, Donald Trump, etc. You may disagree with that advice  — as you have — but we are not long-faced dowagers any more than Machen himself. Machen was so good he could destroy an opponent (yes, even a female opponent) without resorting to cheap insults or anatomical mockery. Ah, but you might say that Machen belonged to another era. This is 2017, not 1937. True, but I think Machen's commitment to the high road, to showing respect to women in public debate, is not culturally relative, but provides a timeless model for Christian pastors and cultural warriors everywhere. Would Machen have been more effective and more faithful if he had used insults against Buck? If he had mocked certain of her body parts? Would his legacy have been helped or hurt by that kind of rhetoric? Machen was unyielding, but did not need to insult the woman to make his case. Likewise, we all believe you can be a valiant and effective culture warrior, on par with Machen, without resorting to crass language that insults your female opponents or mocks their bodies.

  1. To come at the same point another way: Part 2 of the Report was an attempt to get you to be a gentleman even when the ladies have stopped acting like ladies. Churches should expect pastors to practice truly masculine leadership, and to continue acting in masculine ways, even when many women have given up on trying to be genuinely feminine and many men have become all too effeminate. I see your posts that use derogatory language about women as a failure of manhood. This reminds me of a little story. A man was once walking towards a building door when he realized a woman was trailing a bit behind him. As he got to the door, he held it open and stepped to the side for the woman to enter. As it turned out, this woman was a feminist and so as she entered, she sneered at the man and said, "I hope you didn't hold this door open for me because I am a lady." He said, "No ma'am. I held the door open because I'm a gentleman." This is the point of our critique of your social media rhetoric: we're asking you to act like a gentleman even if the ladies won't act like ladies.We’re asking you to be chivalrous even in a culture that is degraded and debauched. But instead of lifting up discourse about men, women, and sex/gender, you have joined in its debasement. Please stop. Hold the door open for the ladies, even those who are biddies and dykes.Again, you can disagree with the counsel given, but do not assume there is anything wimpy or unmanly about objecting to your language. I think we’re the manly ones — we are, after all, the ones who are protecting women from derogatory forms of speech. If I heard my son talk about a woman — any woman — the way you talk about certain women on your blog, I would correct him and explain that men honor women by protecting them and by speaking to them and about them in respectful ways. I would not want my son to imitate the example of your rhetoric. I think the manly thing to do is continue to treat women and speak of women in respectful ways even when they don’t deserve it. And, yes, I know the prophet Amos called certain women “cows of Bashan.” There is a place for that kind of language (though it is even rarer in Scripture than on your blog). But I do not think what you are doing is comparable to what the prophet was doing; at the very least, your language is sexualized in ways that the prophet’s was not, and it comes a quite different context (to put it mildly).

  1. It is not enough to say things that make feminists mad. After all, Clay Travis and Milo make feminists mad all the time. But they are not faithful men. Faithful men will certainly bear the rage of feminists, but will make sure they do so for the right reasons. Scripture, not feminist anger, is the standard of righteousness. I understand your desire to provoke, but what ends up happening in these cases is the rhetoric you have used ends up distracting people from your point rather than making your point. Everyone knows you said "small breasted buddies;" no one remembers why you said it. Everyone remembers you insulted women — and that’s about it. Such language might be effective in stirring controversy and even generating blog hits, but it is not nearly as effective in actually teaching or persuading people. And our goal is not just mockery of those who despise God’s truth; we are to aim at bringing them to see the goodness and beauty of God’s truth. Your rhetoric in these instances is no doubt fun to use, but what purpose does it serve? Will it do anything to disciple our culture? Does it actually accomplish what God wants us to accomplish? Does it actually advance the cause? Does the kingdom of God consist of such? I cannot see that it has helped anything. I would actually say the same for the ways you have pushed back on Part 2 of the committee Report. Has defying the advice of the 7 PMs furthered the cause of Christ? Has it helped mature and strengthen our communion?...