I’ve appreciated Kevin DeYoung’s work. He’s taken faithful stands on homosexuality, biblical repentance, and Christian holiness. I attended a regional talk he gave one time and remember being encouraged by it. If I remember correctly it was connected to his book The Hole in our Holiness. And now DeYoung has written a thoughtful engagement with the Moscow Project, specifically trying to answer the question of what he thinks of Douglas Wilson.
Of course, I’m nothing close to an objective, outside observer. I moved to Moscow as a 17 year old punk kid, went to New St. Andrews College, slowly picked my way through Greyfriars Hall, left for two years to go to Erskine Theological Seminary, and then landed back in Moscow pastoring Trinity Reformed Church for ten years before serving alongside Pastor Wilson as an associate pastor for three years and then helping Christ Church launch a new church plant called King’s Cross Church that I continue to pastor. My ties with Pastor Wilson are deep. He still serves as a pro tem elder on my session (and I on his session), and there is only one office between his and mine, occupied by Jared Longshore. And we’re all thick as thieves.
I Have Thoughts
But I have thoughts about DeYoung’s article, and I’m going to share them with the world. But first DeYoung’s conclusion: for all of Doug’s helpful contributions to cultural engagement and the attractiveness of his “angular, muscular, forthright Christianity in an age of compromise,” DeYoung is concerned that Doug’s defiant, militant “mood” is “too often incompatible with Christian virtue, inconsiderate of other Christians, and ultimately inconsistent with the stated aims of Wilson’s Christendom project.”
As I stated on social media when I shared DeYoung’s article, “A good-hearted critique that puts its finger on something very crucial but can’t see the strategic importance and biblical necessity of it. Worth considering, and if you share similar questions or concerns, we have answers.”
And at least a few people asked what I meant. What is the strategic importance and biblical necessity of the “Moscow mood?” First, what is that mood? DeYoung summarizes it quite well: “It’s a mood that says, “We are not giving up, and we are not giving in. We can do better than negotiate the terms of our surrender. The infidels have taken over our Christian laws, our Christian heritage, and our Christian lands, and we are coming to take them back.”
This is quite right, and it is of strategic importance and a biblical necessity. And what do I mean? What is strategic and necessary and why? I mean that the Moscow mood of not giving up, not giving in, and determining to fight for a Christ-honoring culture is strategic and necessary because it is central to a healthy and thriving biblical immune system. Our culture, the Christian West (what is left of it), is in the last gasping hours of a Stage 4 terminal cancer. Secularism has metastasized, and it’s in all our organs and lymph nodes. You can tell because after chopping up millions of unborn babies for more than 50 years, we decided to start chopping off the body parts of our children and chemically castrating them. We are well on our way, as a culture, to making the Aztecs look civilized. We’ve sent groomers into libraries and elementary schools, and we have Christians insisting that this is the cost of a free republic. We have Christians insisting that if we don’t sacrifice to Baal, we won’t get any rain. Some of our most stalwart Christian men cower before the glare of Rachel Denhollender, and only occasionally peer out from behind the skirts of Megan Basham and Rosaria Butterfield.
There are good answers to all of Kevin DeYoung’s concerns, and Joe Rigney has done a marvelous job giving them. But the central point I want to make is not that Moscow is perfect, is not that we have always done everything right (we haven’t), but the central thing is that God in His grace has given us a biblical immune system. We fight sin. We fight wolves. And we fight brothers (and sisters) who are trying to get us to play footsie with the wolves (but enough about Rachel Denhollender). And yes, we’re eager, and we’re joyful about it. We sing Psalms in four part harmonies while we mock the prophets of Baal and the schoolmarm Pharisees of our day, just like Jesus did and all of the faithful prophets.
Not Pugnacious Enough
DeYoung seems to have some appreciation for that sentiment in the abstract, but then when he sees it in action, he’s concerned that it’s too worldly, too pugnacious, and too irreverent. Joe Rigney has already answered the concerns about worldliness, as did Pastor Wilson on CrossPolitic, so I will (mostly) leave that charge to the side. But I can barely think of a more blinkered concern in our day. Sure, we must not be jerks; and the fruit of the Spirit must be vibrant in all that we do and say. But I’m sorry: too pugnacious when the forces of globalistic sexual fascism are surrounding us and gunning for our children? No, if anything, we are not pugnacious enough. We are not fierce enough. And too irreverent? If only we could topple more idols. If only we had more sarcasm for the Goliaths that taunt the armies of the living God. Seems like we have a few dozen giants at this point, and most of Israel is cowering in their tents. When the prophet told the king to strike the earth, he only struck it three times, and DeYoung is concerned about that. He’s concerned about David’s tone with Goliath. But we should be striking the ground five or six times so that the world may know that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And I can hear some first year seminary student piping up, “But they will know us by our love, Sumpter!” To which I reply, ‘quite right, and true love fights evil.’
DeYoung objects to Pastor Wilson’s jabs at the ERLC and G3: “This isn’t Wilson using his famous “serrated edge” to make a prophetic point against a godless culture. This is intentionally making fun of other Christians for a quick chuckle.” Actually, DeYoung is simply wrong here. These are exhibits of godless culture seeping (more or less) into Christian circles. As others have pointed out, the ERLC needs to be lampooned out of business, and the fact that DeYoung wants to run interference for them is frankly a bit astonishing. The G3 guys are our friends and doing some good work, but they are far too concerned about their reputation and what internet karens think. When CrossPolitic was invited to do a liveshow at G3 in 2020, and we announced that Doug Wilson would be our guest, the G3 leadership insisted that he not be our guest, or that we only interview him in a back corner of their exhibit hall. But lest anyone think we were offended (we weren’t and had a grand time anyway), we followed that up with an invitation for Josh Buice to be our main speaker at New St. Andrew’s high school worldview summer camp. And major kudos to him, he actually came. But since then, Scott Aniol wasn’t allowed to come hang out with us for our Christian Nationalism liveshow at the Ark Encounter. It might have been too close an association with Ken Ham, but we have our suspicions.
DeYoung claims that “Moscow cannot become the American Redoubt for conservative Christians if it is too similar to other places, with basically the same kinds of churches, schools, and institutions found in hundreds of other cities. Differentiation is key, and this can only be sustained by a mood of antagonism and sharp antithesis.” He’s wrong that we care very much about being “too similar to other places, with basically the same kinds of churches, schools, and institutions.” Heh. That’s actually pretty funny. Pastor Wilson helped start Logos School and the ACCS and the CREC all of which have literally helped start and encourage hundreds of other classical Christian schools and churches that are similar to us (and different).
But DeYoung is correct that we care about a certain kind of differentiation. We care about the kind of emotionally mature differentiation that isn’t bound to the careening feelings of the culture or unstable brothers. This is why we’ve taken so much heat over our rejection of untethered empathy. We do have a strong mood of antagonism to being steered by vague “concerns,” you know, the concerns that one of your friends heard about from their mom who was talking to a friend in another church who heard that someone’s pet chihuahua was offended. We certainly have cultivated a sharp antithesis to the world, the flesh, and the devil. And we want to be the kinds of friends who call one another out. And to be clear, this is the kind of community we have. It is not unusual to raise concerns within our community. It is not unusual for people to have differences of opinion. We have remarkable like-mindedness, remarkable unity, and yet we are self-consciously seeking to cultivate true Christian individuality, and we refuse to be what Edwin Friedman calls “emotionally fused” to everyone around us. But this is true friendship and leadership, true Christian community, with faithful wounds, and we are on record of happily hanging with anyone from G3 to Founders to Desiring God to Kevin DeYoung, with open invitations to a number of our most vehement detractors.
In a similar vein DeYoung sounds the alarm, saying, “Once [Wilson] wrote that a committee was “as stacked as Dolly Parton after her new implants.” There is no excuse for this language. To be sure, the prophet Ezekiel could use extreme language in extreme situations to show the ugliness of extreme wickedness. Likening a study committee of a confessionally Reformed denomination to Dolly Parton’s anatomy is none of these things. It’s juvenile, sensuous, and entirely without biblical warrant. This isn’t using graphic language to highlight the horror of sin; it’s a bawdy way to make fun of a group of orthodox churchmen with whom Wilson disagrees.”
But this is right to the point. DeYoung is correct that if Wilson is merely using graphic language to mock orthodox churchman with whom he disagrees, that would be completely inexcusable. Period. Full stop. And I would join DeYoung at the front of the line if that’s what that was. But click on that link. Read the whole article. That article is not at all juvenile, sensuous, and the full context more than provides the biblical warrant for such a description. The whole point of the article was to point out the mass hypocrisy and travesty of justice being carried out by a PCA presbytery. The whole point is to call into question their orthodoxy. Read the article. Follow the links. He used extreme language in an extreme situation to call out an extreme wickedness.
And remember this: at the very center of our faith is a presbytery meeting that was called to order, a motion made, with an orderly second and no further discussion, passed without objection, and it was all entered into the minutes neat and tidy to crucify the Son of God. The gospel teaches us, if nothing else, that the good guys are sometimes the bad guys. If Jesus could tell the Apostle Peter to get behind Him, “Satan,” then sometimes, faithful men of God will need to tell otherwise faithful men of God to stop acting like the Devil. And if they’re acting like the Devil, sometimes the kindest way to try to wake them up is to mock all the socks they’ve stuffed into their Presbyterian bra.
DeYoung summarizes his concern: “I fear that much of the appeal of Moscow is an appeal to what is worldly in us. As we’ve seen, the mood is often irreverent, rebellious, and full of devil-may-care playground taunts. That doesn’t make us better Christians.” Well, to this I would simply say that DeYoung should spend more time in the prophets. Of course, there is a kind of callousness that is utterly unchristian, but when the Titanic is sinking, this is no time for niceties and platitudes. The PCA has teetered on the edge of embracing REVOICE, barely managing to make it a relatively uncomfortable place for Greg Johnson, and three cheers for all the faithful men who did that. But after a hundred years of losing our denominations, colleges, and seminaries, you’d think some folks might realize that what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked.
DeYoung suggests that Wilson be more like Al Mohler: “He could try to be an evangelical statesman or lean into his role as a seasoned mentor to younger Christians—especially men who don’t need permission to be brawlers, as much as they need a godly role model to emulate and a spiritual father to correct their youthful excesses.” But Al Mohler, for all the wonderful good he has done (and there is a great deal to praise), has not kept the woke virus out of Southern Seminary and he submitted to the worldly zeitgeist of face masks… oh wait, just like DeYoung’s church through September of 2021.
Look, I’m not saying we did COVID perfectly here in Moscow. We closed down worship and went online for three weeks, and we should not have. We conducted drive-in services for another three weeks, and we should not have.* We waivered for a moment. But we learned our lesson. Never again. Not like that. Too much is at stake. Pastor Wilson is not the mentor many want, but he is the mentor that we need. He is the godly role model we need to emulate, the spiritual father that has and will correct our youthful excesses. But jolly fighting of sin and worldliness isn’t one of them. We need more of that mood.
At the end of Joshua, when the land was being settled, the nine and half tribes on the other side of the Jordan got wind of an altar being built by Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, and Phinehas and the whole congregation of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh and marched to war (Josh. 22:11-12). Of course when they arrived, they found out that the altar was only an altar of witness and not an altar to a false god, and so the nine and a half tribes called off the war and went home satisfied. Surely there were a few editorials in the Israelite Gazette cautioning everyone about Phinehas’s “Warrior Children” and the long term consequences of that pugnacity. And maybe the editorials got to some of them, as the book of Judges seems to suggest.
There’s tons more to the Moscow mood – things like folk dancing, block parties with Psalm singing, football and lacrosse, reading Narnia and Lord of the Rings over and over, Sabbath feasts, making love, and writing poetry – but yes, also this zealous martial spirit. It is strategically significant and biblically necessary for our children and our children’s children, that we might not forget how to war (Jdg. 3:2). It’s not incompatible with Christian virtue; it is one of the necessary Christian virtues. It is not inconsiderate of other Christians; understood rightly, it is the most considerate of Christian virtues. In Book 1 of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Saint George is the Red Cross Knight of Holiness. And what he learns through his many adventures and trials is that the life of Christian holiness is one of constant war.
*Post Script: In saying this, I am only speaking for myself and not for the sessions of Christ Church or King’s Cross.