Is The Omnibus Evidence?
My Wife Advising Boehner
To say that John Boehner doesn't like Ted Cruz would be a great political understatement. Recently he called Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh" and said, "I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life." These are added to his previously describing Cruz as a "jackass" and "false prophet." So great is the animosity that Boehner has toward Cruz that Boehner declared that he would not vote for Cruz if he were the Republican nominee for President.
To say that Rachel Miller doesn't like Doug Wilson would be a great theological understatement. She probably would not call Doug a SOB, at least not in writing, but she might pray an imprecatory Psalm or two against him. She has nothing but righteous indignation toward the man.
She has gone to great lengths (Carl Trueman referring to her as "the indefatigable Rachel Miller") to expose plagiarism in his writings. There seems no doubt that he has "heavily borrowed" from others and that this is quite unacceptable on the part of a man who considers himself an academic.
Yet, as I have thought about this, I have recalled the case of a most beloved and highly respected man, now deceased, who wrote a book much used by Reformed and Evangelical men. But I noted many years ago that his book much relied on a book on the same subject written by a mainline Presbyterian professor I had read in seminary. I have wondered how this happened. I know this teacher was not a dishonest man. I have constructed this possible scenario in my mind: He read the best books in preparing lectures on this subject. I expect he made copious notes and copied lengthy quotes for his lecture notes. As he taught the subject year after year, this material became "his." Eventually he decided to turn his lecture notes into a book. When he did, there was a significant amount of "borrowed" material included. I bring this up, not to defend Doug Wilson's use of others' material, but to say that men can do what the good professor did and what Wilson did without being evil men - and this is especially the case where there are not professional editors to guide the writing process, to check for errors, and to make sure such things do not happen. Now, Wilson may be a thoroughly bad man, but I do not think his incorporation of material written by others is conclusive proof of it.
On May 3 Rachel published Doug Wilson's Influence on "Classical Christian Education". Let me say I am not a fan of Doug Wilson nor a devotee of Classical Christian Education. When years ago I served on the board of a Christian school that read a Wilson book and watched some Wilson lectures, I was unimpressed. When the school introduced Latin and made other curriculum changes, I did not object, but I was not a cheerleader either. My view of Classical Christian Education is that it is one way to skin the cat, but not the only or necessarily superior one.
Rachel's concern in this essay is with The Omnibus Curriculum, which is for Grades 7-12 and is based on The Great Books. Her goal is clear:
My purpose is to illustrate that the content of the Omnibus Curriculum has been influenced in many ways by Wilson and his heterodox views. I would strongly caution any family or school against purchasing and using this curriculum.Rachel's first criticism of the Omnibus curriculum has to do with credentials:
First is the issue of credentials. As Wilson’s own credentials are questionable, he has never been to seminary or been ordained, it seems that many of the Omnibus essay authors do not have the credentials one would expect from this type of curricula...
The bulk of the essays and sessions were written by Wilson, his family members, and CREC pastors and elders. Wilson wrote over 30 of them himself. Many of his essays were on literature outside the areas of his educational background. His degrees are in philosophy and classical studies. In Texas, in order to certify to teach at the secondary level, a teacher has to have a certain number of college hours in a subject. To use myself as an example, I have the credit hours to certify in History, English, and Spanish.
While Wilson lamented in Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning that many teachers in today’s schools are not experts in their subject matter (RLTL, Kindle Locations 1587-1589), it doesn’t seem that the authors of the Omnibus essays and sessions fared much better, with a few notable exceptions. Gene Edward Veith and David Ayers, among other college faculty, are clearly qualified to write on the topics of their essays. Other authors may also be qualified, but without biographical information, it’s hard to know.A few comments: 1. The curriculum is a classical liberal arts curriculum, and Wilson's formal education in "philosophy and classical studies" is just the kind of background that is suited to a liberal arts curriculum. 2. Wilson is (a) smart and (b) self-educated beyond his formal education. No one could otherwise hold his own in debates with the late Christopher Hitchens. Not a few fine scholars, writers, polemicists, theologians, and preachers, lacking "credentials," have combined native intelligence with wide-reading to make themselves more than competent. 3. Why would a homeschooler of all persons put such an emphasis on formal academic credentials? Do not homeschoolers contend that an ordinary parent is competent to educate a child in all the essential subjects? And, it is worth noting that plenty of people are more than competent to teach and write without academic credentials. Professor John Murray, for instance, had no PhD. 4. The way to judge the material is not by the names or degrees of the authors but by the quality of their work.
Then there is slavery:
Wilson’s views on slavery and history show up in the Omnibus curriculum. Those familiar with Wilson’s book Black and Tan should recognize the line of thought in these quotes. I should note that not all of the following quotes were written by Wilson. Many of the examples here and further down will be from other authors, but the point is that views that Wilson has made public through his own writing appear in these Omnibus essays and sessions.(1) I find it interesting that Wilson is held responsible not only for the the things he has said (which she quotes) but for the things others have said (which she also quotes). (2) It is true that Wilson's views of slavery are both impolitic and questionable. But, they are not historically anomalous. Rachel calls herself "a daughter of the Reformation." The Reformers views of slavery, and other subjects, were most unenlightened. She has also in the past identified herself as Southern Presbyterian. Try reading Dabney. (3) On the subject of slavery a modern writer can scarcely quote the Apostles Paul and Peter without being accused of moral evil. Wilson may very well be wrong (or at least unbalanced) in his views of slavery, along with Steve Wilkins and others, but to hold a view that is not that of the majority of one's own day does not necessarily discredit the holder of the views.
Rachel also calls out Wilson's view of the American Revolution:
Wilson’s views on revolution and American independence are also apparent in the Omnibus essays. In Wilson’s essay “American and French Revolutions Compared,” Wilson explains why he calls the Revolutionary War a War of Independence:
Nevertheless, clear-headed Americans knew that what they had fought for was of a completely different order than what the French Revolution was seeking to establish. To blur them together is to be guilty of an historical slander, and it is to throw away one of the great achievements of the American founding—a righteous heritage. So we have already noted that War of Independence is the better name for our founding war. But in conclusion, let’s use the word revolution in order to set the two side by side, that we may look at them directly. The American revolution was legal; the French revolution was illegal. The American revolution was constitutional; the French revolution was unconstitutional. The American revolution was defensive; the French revolution was offensive. The American revolution was conservative; the French revolution was radical. The American revolution fought to preserve the existing form of government; the French revolution fought to annihilate the existing form of government. The American revolution had a clear and definite object; the French revolution never had a clear and definite object. The American revolution was righteous; the French revolution was unrighteous. (Omnibus VI: American and French Revolutions Compared, pg. 137)
The first two quotes demonstrate the influence of Federal Vision teaching on justification:This is the Federal Vision? If so, then countless Reformed writers one would never associate with the Federal Vision are Federal Visionists. The quotes as they stand seem to be a rather standard statement on the relation between Paul and James.
Abraham was declared righteous by God before he was circumcised, therefore his right standing before God was based on his faith, not any good deeds. (Etter, Omnibus 1: Romans, pg. 518)
James is significant in that it shapes our thinking in several important areas. First, it provides the perfect balance to the writings of Paul concerning true, saving faith. (Etter, Omnibus 1: James, pg. 527)
Another evidence of the influence of the Federal Vision:
This quote from an essay and session on Robin Hood says that Christians can use deceit:
Is it proper to deceive deceitful people? Can we trick the wicked? Although Christians must use it extremely wisely and carefully, deceit can be a legitimate weapon against the wicked. (N.D. Wilson, Josh Stevenson, Omnibus II: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood 370 (teacher’s edition))This is a sticky ethical issue. It is often put this way: "If you are hiding Jews in your attic, and the Germans knock on your door and ask, 'Are you hiding Jews here?' may you say, 'No'?" Did the Israelites sin by feigning a frontal attack on Ai? For that matter, can you look right and go left in basketball? The view that Christians may use deceit, while questionable, is hardly distinctive to Rachel's bugaboo.
Steve Wilkins is criticized for his view that it was a mistake for the New England Settlers to get rid of the liturgical calendar and substitute for it a national calendar. Steve's view is interesting, novel, and probably wrong, but it is hardly distinctive of the Federal Vision. Rather Rachel's pointing to Steve's view is evidence of her pointing to the Christian Year as the root of every kind of evil.
Next comes N.T. Wright:
N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul have clearly influenced a couple of essays:
Paul was preaching a new cosmos, a new order, in Christ. The resurrection of Christ had already happened, and this reality was going to permeate the old social order and, as a result was going to overthrow it. (Wilson, Etter, Omnibus III: Philemon, pg. 279)
And the gospel is not just about getting people’s souls into heaven when they die. The gospel does promise that, but it also promises far more. That “more” includes the transformation of all the cultures of all men. (Wilson, Fischer, Steveson, Omnibus III: Slave Narratives, pg. 203) And,
Wright is quoted in a couple of other essays and his books are included in the books recommended for additional reading.I find myself within conservative Anglicanism sometimes disagreeing with the view of some of my brethren that N.T. Wright has saved the church from grave misunderstandings because Wright understands the worlds of Second Temple Judaism and Greek culture better than all who went before him. In my view this is hogwash. But N.T. Wright has a lot worthwhile to say (as has been noted by a number of his critics), is worth reading, and is helpful (when read with discernment) in understanding the Scriptures. The presence of Wright is not the presence of evil.
The first quote Rachel cites is the sort of thing that one finds in Wright, and, while it can be disagreed with, it is the sort of thing that one can also find in any number of commentaries on, for instance, Colossians. The second quote could be found to be said by any number of "cultural transformationalists."
The influence of Wright is not the presence of heresy.
Where Wilson, Wilkins, and Wright are found, Jim Jordan must be near:
When God created Adam, He put him in a garden, naked as a newborn. He told Adam to carry out the priestly task of “serving and guarding” the garden (Gen. 2:15). Adam was allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, but before he received the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he had to grow up. Life is for babies; knowledge or wisdom is for adults, who have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:14). Eventually, Yahweh would have allowed Adam to eat the fruit of knowledge, and his eyes would have been opened to judge and rule (cf. Ps. 11:4; Heb. 4:13). Eventually, Adam would have grown up from priest to king. (Leithart, Omnibus IV: Proverbs, pg 13)
“Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect,” Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 5:48. When we hear that, we usually cringe, thinking that Jesus is being totally unreasonable. How can we be perfect? Don’t we still sin? Jesus’ demands are too hard for us, and we might decide that Jesus doesn’t really mean what He says. Jesus does mean what He says, but we often misunderstand it. In the Bible, the word “perfect” doesn’t usually mean “without sin.” Instead, it means “mature.” Jacob was a “perfect” man (Gen. 27:25), and so was Job (Job 1:8). Neither one was sinless, but they were both “complete.” They were both “grown-ups.” That is what the Bible is all about—showing us how to be “perfect,” to be “grown-ups.” Adam was a baby in the Garden of Eden, as naked as a newborn. God planned for him to grow up and put on a crown and a royal robe of glory. But Adam acted just like a baby, grabbing the food he wasn’t supposed to have, and so God put him out of the Garden. When Jesus came, though, He came to bring us to maturity. Jesus came to make us “perfect”—all grown up. (Leithart, Omnibus IV: Phillipians and Colossians, 377)One could hardly be less a fan of James Jordan than I. He is in my view speculative, imaginative, and novel as an exegete and theologian. But, does Rachel really think that the word "perfect" as used in the New Testament means always moral perfection and not "completeness, arrival at the the goal - maturity"? Is the man of God who is "perfect in every good work" morally perfect in every good work?
Rachel objects that the subject of paedo-communion is offered for discussion in the curriculum:
At one point, the Omnibus session recommends that students debate the issue of paedocommunion. It’s interesting to note the reasoning behind the suggestion:There is a live debate about paedo-communion as about the presence of Christ in the Supper. The only question I have about this is that in light of the fact that the Orthodox churches practice paedo-communion, that the Roman Catholic church allows first communion before confirmation, that many Protestant churches practice paedo-communion, and that there are those within Rachel's own conservative Presbyterian denomination who believe in but do not practice paedo-communion, it is really inappropriate to allow students in grades 7-12 to consider and debate the views?
Paedocommunion In our discussions on the Lord’s Supper, we discussed the differences of opinion between the four groups regarding the presence of Christ. We did not touch upon another debated issue regarding Communion—that is, the question of who should participate in this sacrament. While most churches only allow adults and older children to participate in the Lord’s Supper, more churches are now practicing what is known as paedocommunion, or child communion. Today, we are going to debate the question of who should participate in the Lord’s Supper. (Wilson, Etter, Omnibus V: Institutes of the Christian Religion, pg 307, emphasis added)
Then, of course, there must be patriarchy:
Wilson’s patriarchal views are also frequently seen in the Omnibus curriculum.
Genesis 2 describes the origins of sexual difference. How does Genesis 2 define masculinity and femininity? Genesis 2 shows that Adam is created to “cultivate and keep” the garden (2:15) and that Eve is created to assist him in this task. Adam is the leader, initiator, beginner of things. And he is also the guardian who protects Eve from spiritual and physical assaults. He puts his strength to work in service and sacrifice. (Leithart, Omnibus II: Macbeth, pg 195-196)
From a Christian perspective, feminism must be seen as a reaction to the sins and abdication of men. If men were genuinely devoted to Christ-like masculinity, if they truly gave themselves for their wives and daughters as Jesus did for His bride, if men honored women as their glory and crown, the feminist movement would have had very little impact. Feminism is a movement about women, but it is just as importantly a movement that poses questions to men. What does it mean to be a man? Christian men are not supposed to be brutal, but Christian men are not supposed to be stuffed teddy bears either. Where is the balance? (Leithart, Omnibus II: Macbeth, pg 1)
Why is Deborah’s victory over Jabin and Sisera bittersweet for Israel? It was bittersweet because on one hand, it was a great victory for Israel, and Deborah was a godly, decisive, courageous judge and prophetess in Israel. On the other hand, when she implored Barak to lead Israel into battle, he would only comply if she went along. She warned him that a woman would receive credit. The bitterness lies in the cowardice and laziness of the men in Israel. In her wisdom (and subtlety) Deborah praises “the princes of Israel who willingly fought” (5:9). (Lusk, Becker, Omnibus IV: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, pg. 487)
Egalitarianism can mean many different things. I am here using it to describe the philosophy that, while much more obviously present today, was very much a part of the modern outlook in the nineteenth century: the idea that there must be no (or few) boundaries or hierarchies in human relationships and that all people must be “equal” in every possible way. This goes well beyond equal treatment under the law to include equality of income and lifestyle, and the rejection of traditional, biblical roles that give different, complementary spheres to the work and life of men and women, ruler and subject, master and servant. (Newsom, Omnibus VI: Battle Cry of Freedom pg. 274 End note 5)I have conducted weddings in which I read the Ephesians 5 passage about husbands loving their wives and wives submitting to their husbands and looked out on the congregation to see people (not of my own congregations) looking at me as though I had read from the Koran. Rachel belongs to the school of "very thin-anorexic complementarians," who struggle with Ephesians 5 unless wifely submission is mitigated by "mutual submission" (which is large exegetical mistake) so any kind of robust complementarianism is seen as patriarchy of the Bayly and Wilson (at his worst - though he is smarter and more nuanced than the Baylys) sort. While one can find hints of patriarchy in the quotes above, it is difficult to find them particularly objectionable from a Biblical view, even if one does not accept them without exception.
The same can be said of Rachel's objections to comments on marriage:
Wilson’s teachings on marriage also appear in the Omnibus essays and sessions:
Paul views men and women as equal in worth, but different in nature and function. Men and women are created equally in the image of God; indeed, they can only fully image God in community with one another. Further, men and women share equally in the Fall and participate equally in Christ’s redemptive work. But they are also profoundly different, and those differences are more than just a matter of biology. Men and women were designed to complement one another, with their strengths and weaknesses fitting one another like two pieces of a puzzle. Men were made for taking initiative and exercising responsible leadership in both church and home, which the Bible calls “headship.” Women were designed to be helpers and completers. The woman’s role is different, but no less valuable than the man’s. Further, these roles are not arbitrary; they fit with our God-given natures as men and women. We see these basic orientations laid out in Genesis 1–3, where the man’s primary focus is his work in the world (3:17–19), while the woman’s primary focus is the home (3:16); by fulfilling these roles, men and women together rule over God’s good creation (1:26–28) (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg. 446)
These complementary gender roles are most clearly seen in marriage (Eph. 5:21ff). The man is the head of his household, taking responsibility for the state of those under his care. He is the primary leader, protector, and provider. The woman is to be in submission to her husband, as his helper, not because she is inferior to him (after all, God is called “helper” more than anyone else in Scripture!), but because he needs her support and aid to fulfill his calling in the world. John Piper defines masculinity and femininity this way: At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead provide for, and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships. At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.13 These are excellent Pauline definitions. There are biblical/theological models that help us understand how men and woman can be equal yet relate asymmetrically to one another. In the Trinity, the Father and Son share in the same “Godness.” They are equal in every way. But they are not interchangeable pieces because they have different roles to play. In the economy of creation and redemption, the Son submits Himself to the Father (1 Cor. 11:2ff). (Lusk, Omnibus VI: 1 and 2 Timothy, pg 449)When Rachel finds John Piper, John MacArthur, and Jay Adams as ones to be be warned against because of their views regarding marriage (and I differ from all three), it is not surprising that such historically conventional teaching on marriage is quoted as though it were self-evident that is it false and dangerous.
Now, I am going to ignore the sex and nudity stuff Rachel mentions. I will only point out that I have seen at least one of those pictures she prints in Schaeffer's How Shall We Then Live?
I don't much like Doug Wilson. I don't read him. If I lived in Moscow, Idaho, I would not go to Doug Wilson's church, or send my kids to his school or college. If I were starting a Christian school, I would not follow the Classical Christian model. If I were a homeschooler I would not use The Omnibus. But then I wouldn't go to the Campus Church at Pensacola Christian, ever subject my kids to Pensacola Christian School, or ever use the Abeka curriculum. I expect the latter is the bigger danger to conservative Reformed homeschoolers than Doug Wilson. Having been through the Abeka school before the Abeka curriculum was produced, I would, if I had to choose between Abeka and The Omnibus, much prefer a curriculum that treated me like a person to be educated and not an animal to be trained. But, as in this election year, I would prefer "neither of the the above." But I am a "Never Abeka" man.
Necessary exposure of error is a friend of truth. Obsession with a person is not.