Why Doug Wilson Matters to the Rest of Us

Douglas Wilson’s name seems to cause a strong, equal, and opposite reaction in those Christians familiar with his ministry, and this tends to be less of a reflection on the individual’s theological convictions than the manner in which he or she first encountered Wilson’s work or ideas. Why do some love Wilson while others hate him? Well, did you first encounter him in the form of a punchy blog post critiquing certain feminist orthodoxies of our age? Or were you attending a conference of the Association of Classical Christian Schools? Which Doug Wilson do you know best? Pastor? Blogger? Educator? Controversialist? Do you only tune in during the month of November (this matters, surprisingly)? One could easily argue that any of these labels is fitting from a certain perspective, which is somewhat of a testament to the impact he’s having on the Christian scene. What I hope to convey presently is that if you take the whole of Wilson’s ministry into account there is much that can be heartily recommended to Christians for their edification, Anglicans included. Upon greater familiarity, whatever “rough edges” he has (and there are a few) become easier to understand. I certainly don’t agree with everything Wilson says or does, but that doesn’t stop me from being able to recognize and recommend his work on a variety of subjects. 

Classical Christian Education

As Editor of The North American Anglican this evaluation will reflect my Anglican theological perspective and my orthodox Christian convictions. I also write as a husband and a father trying to raise joyful Christian children in a hostile culture, which is why I am also a classical Christian educator. All of these factors combined to make contact with Wilson and his influence pretty much unavoidable. His contributions in the area of classical education are especially relevant, as many who are barely familiar with Doug Wilson or his conservative theological and cultural positions are active participants in the modern, classical Christian education movement he kick-started with his 1991 book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. This book examined an earlier essay by unofficial “Inkling” and friend to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, who had issued an earlier call for a return to the classical “trivium” (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and “quadrivium” (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) which are also called the 7 liberal arts. When Wilson sought to establish a Christian school to serve his congregation at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho it was this classical approach that guided the founding of Logos Christian School. Later, after his daughter had completed high school there he pledged to found a Christian liberal arts college named New Saint Andrew’s College. To give you an idea of the kind of student they produce, NSA alumnus Brad Littlejohn is now president of The Davenant Institute and has published several works on the Anglican divine Richard Hooker, including a multi-volume modernization of Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. These efforts turned into a movement in Christian education and led to the creation of the Association of Classical Christian Schools, as well as scores of other organizations producing their own curricula, often made to fit their specific context; Classical Conversations in the homeschool world, and the Chesterton Academy Network for Roman Catholics. In one way or another all of these parents and educators have Doug Wilson to thank for bringing Sayers’ essay, and the classical framework it promotes, back into Christian conversations in such a powerful way. When you consider the scope and impact of the Association of Classical Christian Schools alone it’s easy to understand why so many people are grateful for Doug Wilson’s work. From the ACCS website:

  • We represent over 400 member schools and accredited schools.
  • We sponsor Repairing the Ruins in June of each year. This is the largest national conference on classical Christian education with around 80 vendors and over 1000 educators in attendance.
  • We organize and provide a comprehensive set of member resources to help start new schools and improve established schools
  • We represent classical Christian education nationally.
  • We help direct nearly 50,000 parents per year to a classical Christian school nearby.

Reformed Catholicism

As a Pastor and Theologian, Doug Wilson has also made an impact with his writing and ministry in the areas of theology and ecclesiology. The Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches is a conservative and Protestant denomination that was formed in 1998. Beyond Christ Church in Moscow, ID the CREC is now represented by scores of congregations, with a national and international presence. Apart from Wilson, the CREC is home to several popular theologians, including biblical scholar James Jordan and Peter Leithart who studied under Anglican theologian John Milbank, is president of Theopolis Institute and is widely regarded as an important liturgical scholar in Anglican circles. These three were once upon a time associated with a theological movement in the Reformed world called the “Federal Vision.” Very much like previous “high church” movements in Reformed theology (the Mercersberg theology for example) they emphasized a sacramental theology that put them at odds with certain Presbyterians, but frankly made them sound pretty Anglican on such points. I don’t think any of these men claim the “Federal Vision” today, but the coupling of Reformational theological distinctives with a high view of sacramental efficacy has made their work, including Wilson’s a continued source of interest in Anglican circles. Not everybody is thrilled with Wilson’s theology obviously. He’s a Calvinist and a presuppositionalist (I’m neither) and yet his trajectory has led him into the broader pool of “Reformed Catholicism” that Anglicans occupy. Part of Wilson’s appeal is that he is not shy about applying his theological lens to every aspect of Christian life, which brings me to comment on his broader, “cultural” work.

Thriving in The “Negative World”

Every mature Christian living in the modern West ought to understand by now the world we live in has become increasingly hostile toward Christian convictions and values. This current state of Christian life is what Aaron Renn has called the “negative world” in a popular First Things article, and the inherent tension sometimes referred to as a “culture war,” has inspired a variety of responses from orthodox Christian leaders. One such response that has made a splash in recent years is journalist Rod Dreher’s proposals articulated in his book “The Benedict Option.” The Benedict Option recommends that Christians place a major emphasis on shoring up their communities via catechetical traditions and practices in order to successfully weather the storms of a hostile, secular culture with their integrity intact. The “Benedictine” element has resonated with many Anglican writers (examples here and here) noting our own Prayerbook tradition provides a special “rule” that we might use. I say all this because many people have noted that Doug Wilson’s labors to build up churches, schools, and institutions of higher education in Moscow, Idaho are a prime example of a “Benedict Option” community (even if Dreher himself seems to resent the association). Wilson’s pastoral care for his flock is not limited to Sunday mornings though, rather his efforts extend to a concern for the ways that a hostile culture can attack the faith in daily life. This concern for Christianity in cultural terms is especially expressed in his writing and the publication, educational, and media ventures of Canon Press.

A brief glance at the Canon Press website (now an app, Canon+) will immediately convey the confident, joyful, even “winsome” attitude that this community of believers involved is cultivating across a variety of media. While the subjects addressed often fall along the faultlines of conflict between Biblical beliefs and new secular orthodoxies; human sexuality, traditional families, education, entertainment media, etc… one gets a sense for why these resources are so beloved, especially by families wishing to raise up young Children in the way that they should go. Their growing offerings of children’s and family media is impressive enough to recall the heyday of Focus and the Family (I loved Adventures in Odyssey). Of course, those who tend towards a secularized moral compass (both inside and outside the church) are sometimes offended by the content, which generally serves as a commendation to the faithful. 

This vision for Christian, cultural renewal extends into the liturgical arts as well. One quickly picks up from leaders of Christ Church, Logos School, and New Saint Andrews that they see worship as a form of spiritual warfare. The Devil hates to hear God’s children proclaiming the Gospel into the world. This is why it’s no surprise that New Saint Andrew’s hosts an annual Summer Music Camp to train children in the art and spirituality of Christian worship in a fun environment. Their website states “We had over 390 students from all over the U.S.A. as well as from other countries, come to Moscow, Idaho to participate in our 2023 Summer Music Camp,” showing the wide impact and reception of this ministry in the Body of Christ.

No Stranger to Scandal

So why do some people despise Wilson? Well, apart from some simply not liking his conservative views on culture, some conservatives agree with “what” he says while objecting to the “way” he sometimes says it. For instance, in recent years every November is “No Quarter November” for Wilson, in which he doesn’t perform his typical toning down of rhetoric but favors a more direct approach. Those who think Wilson is always behaving like a bull in a china shop might be surprised to hear of his usual commitment to focused restraint, but there it is. Beyond this, Wilson has put forth some controversial opinions in the past. He has been called a “racist” for his view that slavery might have been abolished in the South without the tremendous loss of life that resulted from the Civil War. For the person who is predisposed to dislike Wilson for his conservatism, or his style, this discovery may appear like a “smoking gun” of heresy, or worse. However, a careful examination of the issue by Thabiti Anyabwile (a respected theological voice on race) for The Gospel Coalition shows that right or wrong, Doug Wilson cannot be called “racist” for this view. Their agreement and differences were spelled out in a jointly written article later in the same year. I reproduce the concluding passage of that article here, because I believe Anyabwile and Wilson model the kind of gracious and tempered charity that we should all strive for as we disagree on important issues:

It is possible for Christians to disagree about volatile issues. Moreover, it is possible — indeed necessary — to do so charitably. The strong disagreement makes us feel like enemies and strangers, while the charity reminds us of our brotherhood in Christ. The strong disagreement tests the bonds of our fellowship and love for one another, while genuine love covers over a multitude of sins and holds all virtues together. We believe we have experienced both the testing strain of strong disagreement and the preserving bonds of biblical love. We thank God for it even as we disagree about some things, agree about others, and hope to be faithful to our common Master in it all. We believe that this is what it looks like to labor to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace — it is kind of messy sometimes, but we believe it pleases God.

To conclude, I don’t think anybody is obligated to “like” Doug Wilson or his ideas, but I do hope that a spiritually mature (and adequately informed) person, especially one who bears the responsibility of a pastor, can easily see how Wilson’s work and legacy are a source of spiritual nourishment for innumerable Christians across the globe. This includes many people seated in important and respectable positions in higher learning and ministry in the Anglican Church. I also hasten to add that many of Wilson’s “fans” don’t like everything he says or writes, which is the sign of a mature Christian, right? Only the other day a plumber friend was fixing the water pressure in my house and began sharing his own views on Wilson’s work, “I like this, but he’s way off on that” was the general drift. Well, C.S. Lewis is a sort of spiritual father and patron saint to yours truly, but I could easily say the same thing about him. Let’s be careful not to let our passions infect our thinking as we appraise the whole life and ministry of a man, or attempt to peer into the hearts and hidden intentions of those who see something of value there. Besides, whatever Anglicans may think of Doug Wilson he at least has nice things to say about us, if his article featured in this very journal titled “Why Anglicans Matter to the Rest of Us” is any indication.

*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article contained information about leading figures in The Federal Vision that was either incomplete or inaccurate and the appropriate changes have been made.


Jesse Nigro

Jesse Nigro is Editor-in-Chief at The North American Anglican and lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife and children, where he teaches philosophy at a classical High School. He earned his BA in philosophy from Creighton University and MA in theology from Concordia University in Irvine. Jesse has been an editor and operator at The North American Anglican since 2012.

'Why Doug Wilson Matters to the Rest of Us' have 20 comments

  1. December 29, 2023 @ 10:47 am Zach

    Wilson says publicly that he no longer affirms the Federal Vision, yet in his books and sermons he teaches precisely the Federal Vision. Federal Vision is not some minor non-essential point of theology. It radically, and wrongly, redefines the historic Reformed doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is a very serious matter as Wilson’s views qualify as “another gospel”. We should shun Wilson until he repents, not write fawning blog posts giving him even more of the attention he seems to desperately crave!


    • December 29, 2023 @ 1:05 pm Devin

      Where does Wilson affirm anything other than justification by faith alone?


      • December 29, 2023 @ 5:41 pm Zach

        DW adds a new dimension to faith, thus adding something to the biblical teaching of faith. Adding these new definitions of works and obedience into faith. He is changing the definition of justification by adding works and sanctification into justification.

        Quotes from “Reformed is not enough”

        This book is still available on his website. //canonpress.com/products/reformed-is-not-enough/

        Below are several quotes where DW combines works into the definition of faith. He will clearly claim faith alone, but his definition of faith is not protestant because requires works to be a part of the meaning of faith.

        [I]n the historic Protestant view, good works are inseparable from biblical salvation…Because this is the case, James can speak of justification by works.
        Wilson, Douglas . Reformed Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant . Canon Press. Kindle Edition.



    • January 2, 2024 @ 10:33 am Trevor

      DW never said he no longer affirms FV. He has only said that he no longer like the label of FV. His views of justification, the covenants, ect. have not changed. He wrote a blog post about this in 2017, which can be viewed here: https://dougwils.com/the-church/s16-theology/federal-vision-no-mas.html.

      In it he says, \”This statement represents a change in what I will call what I believe. It does not represent any substantial shift or sea change in the content of what I believe.\”


  2. December 29, 2023 @ 11:28 am John

    * “The Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches is a conservative and Protestant denomination that was formed in 1998 to serve Christ Church in Moscow, ID.” What in the world does that mean? The denomination was formed to serve one church?! That isn’t accurate.

    * “These three [Wilson, Jordan, and Leithart] (along with other luminaries like Anglican Bishop Ray Sutton and Roman Catholic theologian Scott Hahn) were once upon a time associated with a theological movement in the Reformed world called the ‘Federal Vision.'” Sutton and Hahn (!) had nothing whatsoever to do with the so-called “Federal Vision.”


    • Jesse Nigro

      December 29, 2023 @ 12:06 pm Jesse Nigro

      Thanks for the common John. I was recently corrected by Leithart on this latter point and have made the appropriate change.


    • January 5, 2024 @ 10:34 am Steven McCarthy

      Jesse, this article is an embarrassment. Wilson is not objected to because he thinks slavery could have been ended bloodlessly, but because he portrays southern slavery as having been a beneficent institution. Look it up if you haven’t already.


      • January 5, 2024 @ 11:16 am Steven McCarthy

        Please accept my apology for the tone of my first sentence. I’m sure my disagreement and distaste came through, but I don’t mean to be inflammatory about it, and my objection is already registered for the reason I gave.


  3. December 31, 2023 @ 1:15 am Marissa Burt

    I have been so disappointed to see Anglican men ignore the egregious harm Douglas Wilson has caused. In the past, various clergy have told me they recommend his work, something underscored by the way they emulate his caustic mockery & contentious behavior online. This article, too, tiptoes around concrete objections to Wilson’s empire that extend far beyond disliking the way he says things. In addition to the 94 ecclesiastical charges brought against him by the denomination he started, the CREC, Douglas Wilson’s family life teaching & nouthetic counseling principles have both directly cultivated and enabled many abuses in his community & continue to cause exponential damage. The practical fruit of his teaching should be noted as well as the problematic content of his teaching, for instance: blaming victims of CSA for their sin, arranging the marriage of a known sexual predator to a young woman, failure to respond properly to multiple disclosures of abuse in his community, his continual use of violence against women in descriptive anecdotes & his erotic fiction, teaching that demeans men & women in marital life & promotes marital rape, teaching that tells parents “God has required us to inflict pain on those who are dear to us” and his viral moments this November advocating for “winning” via spanking toddlers into cheerful compliance.

    Of course people may still choose to take whatever of merit they can find in his teaching, but in my opinion, it is pastorally irresponsible to essentially tell people to chew the meat & spit out the bones when such bones very well may choke the life out of them.


    • January 1, 2024 @ 9:28 pm Bryce Lowe

      Thanks for pointing this out. I have heard stories from someone raised in Moscow Idaho and his church community. The amount of abuse that is tolerated and hushed up is staggering and dismaying.


    • January 31, 2024 @ 11:49 pm Rhonda C. Merrick

      I usually disagree with the main points of your comments, but I heartily second everything you said here. It was Rod Dreher several years ago who made many of us aware of some of Wilson’s flaws.

      I’d like to add that I’ve read and recommend-with-caveats the children’s novels written by his son, N.D. Wilson. My biggest gripe with them is that the girl characters all seem like they want to be boys, not even just tomboys. It’s as if he has no appreciation for female human beings, so his portrayals of them are all cardboard cutouts at best. Too bad, because the boy characters are well done, and I think most boys would like his books. I let my son read them, but we talked about the flaws.


      • March 15, 2024 @ 6:07 pm Marissa Burt

        Thank you for sharing these insights, Rhonda. I have not read N.D. Wilson’s middle-grade books, but I think your observations make a lot of sense given the rest of the teaching of the community.


  4. December 31, 2023 @ 8:50 am Junia

    Interesting how you left out the lovely letter he drafted to help get his church’s repeat offender pedophile out of jail.


    • March 11, 2024 @ 10:50 pm Melissa

      As someone who worships at an Anglican church where former Wilson church attendees now also worship, I highly disagree that Anglicans should be in communion with him or the CREC. The abusive, patriarchical vitriol that Wilson espouses has done an immense amount of damage to Christianity.


      • March 15, 2024 @ 6:09 pm Marissa Burt

        Yes, Melissa. I have encountered people who have fled Wilson’s community as well, and the damage is immense.


  5. January 2, 2024 @ 9:19 am Ethan Magness

    The biggest red-flag regarding Doug Wilson is his attachment to Theonomy, however he tries to qualify it. Theonomy is heretical, full stop. It teaches that the Mosaic Covenant (not just its morals, but its social / national legal systems, along with Sinai\’s semi-eschatological blessings and cursings) must be reapplied in secular socieities (in which God has clearly NOT ordained those covenantal norms/consequences, as he temporarily did for Israel) in order to coerce and force the populus to act like regenerate Christians when they are often not regenerate Christians. Theonomy, and the Wilsonian version of it, is a toxic, legalistic, social Pelagianism. In other words, Doug\’s CORE theology is deeply and heretically flawed. We must stop backing this man simply because he\’s a \’brave\’ cultural warrior with some shared interests as our own.


  6. January 6, 2024 @ 7:54 am Jonathan

    I cannot get behind Doug Wilson in any way, no matter how much of a culture warrior he is.

    He is extremely anti liturgical (his “sissies in suplices” comments.)
    He also covers for child sexual abuse or what is more baldly termed paedophilia. Abuse is apparently rife in Moscow and he sweeps it under the rug. If it’s wrong for the Roman Catholics to do it (and it is!) then it is wrong for Wilson to do it, even if he says the right things about the culture.

    With all due respect, jettison this article. There is nothing beneficial about pulling for Wilson. Everything beneficial he says can be drawn from wells that are not poisoned with sin.


  7. January 8, 2024 @ 9:01 pm Seth

    Certainly no stranger to scandal, as the comment section shows.

    It’s always hard to properly evaluate comments that come with such vitriol.

    Could all those thousands of people really be so utterly deceived if he is such an obvious racist, abuse-covering, heretic?

    Or perhaps its all complicated and messy and that church is muddling through with good intentions, failures, repentance, repeat. You know, just like all of us.

    I also don’t have the time or energy to be an expert on someone else’s drama, I’ve got enough of my own.

    Count me as one that has benefited from his ministry.


  8. January 11, 2024 @ 9:29 am Samuel

    As someone who is a member of the CREC with a 1662 Prayer Book in my pocket, I am happy and encouraged to see this.


  9. February 1, 2024 @ 12:00 am Rhonda C. Merrick

    The use of corporal punishment in parenting should not be recommended, normalized, or promoted by pastors or their family members or, well, anyone. We don\\\’t need it to raise children in a Christlike manner, and we betray our own hidden cultural assumptions when we support it. We need to let better language studies inform our reading of Holy Scripture instead of a preacher who started up his own denomination after getting shown the door by the one he was in previously.


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