My husband and I became aware of Moscow, Idaho and the work of Douglas Wilson sometime in the mid-1990s through Reformed friends helping us find a better homeschooling curriculum. We became fans. My husband enjoyed his witty political and social commentary and was helped by his insights into the modern church. I was using Logos school material daily with my children and following his wife’s blog. The first red flag was his sharp tongue, the freedom he took with his satire. It appeared to me that he was rising on the backs of those with whom he disagreed, his brothers and sisters in the church. In addition, his wife’s blog had the adverse effect in my life of deepening my over-wrought preoccupation with my home. We gradually stopped following the Wilsons closely.
Many years later, I began to notice Wilson again when a friend pointed out his work against “feminists,” defined as those who want to “smash the patriarchy.” I realized that if he knew my thoughts (not that I want to smash anything), I now stood among those in his crosshairs — and not only his, but a host of others trained by his satire to do his work similarly. I have become increasingly convinced that the deeper Protestant conception of Geerhardus Vos addresses Wilson’s misconception of the man and the woman.
On a personal note, I am inclined by God’s grace to joyfully do the things some might assume I try to avoid with my theology, and yet I do them without reference to natural or functional hierarchy in my marriage. I also would prefer that our children, though redeemed, did not have the glory and power postmillennialists extend to them in the new heavens and new earth inaugurated at Pentecost. It seems to me that authority, fame, and vast resources tend to ensnare Adam’s fallen offspring. As opposed to transformationalism, the gospel understood through Vos fuels my obedience to Christ. Vos sets my eyes on the triune God of the Scriptures as the substance of my blessedness in union with Christ.
Before I start, I found this helpful in tracing Wilson and his followers’ triumphalism. I found this helpful in demonstrating that Wilson’s method of dealing with those who oppose his transformationalism is unorthodox.
“Image”: Vos vs. Wilson
Vos’s anthropology begins with his doctrine of the image of God as a natural bond of religious fellowship with God (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2:12, 13). For Vos, the image of God means that each man and each woman are religious beings by virtue of creation in Genesis 1, formed to be “able to love, to enjoy (God), and to live in Him . . . disposed for communion with God, that all the capacities of (their souls) can act in a way that corresponds to their destiny if only they rest in God” (Ibid.). According to Vos, the nature of mankind as the image of God corresponds to the chief end of man as personal union and communion with God for all eternity. Vos would see the fruitful multiplying and filling that is commanded in Genesis 1:28 and Matt. 28:19-20 subserving the image in Genesis 1:26 as communion bond, not vice versa. In other words, the ultimate end of image for Vos is not cultural and societal dominion resulting from gospel expansion, requiring abstract notions of strength, intellect, and creativity. The intent of the image is personal communion, expressed in the words of the Psalmist,
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:23-26).
Nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than in the Song of Songs and the end of Revelation. The Shepherd-king of the Song brings his wilderness bride to rest, and the love between them is the very flame of Yahweh (cf. Luke 24:32). It is a love that makes known the love of God himself, Father, Son, and Spirit, in archetypal communion. It reveals the self-contained, self-sustained, exhaustive embrace of perichoresis.
In Wilson’s book For Glory and a Covering, image does not relate the man and woman naturally to God, but the man “iconically” to Christ, and the woman “iconically” to man, as representations of authority and submission. He writes,
“Man bears the image of Christ, and woman bears the image and glory of the man. Conversely, this glory is revealed through submission. Christ submitted to the glory of the Father, men submit to the glory of Christ, and women submit to the glory of a husband . . .” (Kindle Version, Loc. 671).
In this quote, Wilson fails to distinguish Genesis 1 and 2 (Covenant of Works) from Genesis 3 (Covenant of Grace), and this will hinder his ability to see the woman’s nature from God. In Genesis 1 and 2, we get two accounts of mankind’s creation. Both establish the nature of man and woman as from, through, and to God. The man and the woman at the beginning typify the Father, Son, and Spirit, existing as the one undivided essence, the same in substance, equal in power and glory, and yet having personal properties which align with their works in time and space. It is unhelpful to base our understanding of the nature of the woman on the work of the second Adam in obedience to his Father. The natures of the man and the woman of 1 Corinthians 11 do not reflect the Creator-creature distinction.
Wilson’s missteps in For Glory and a Covering are costly for the woman. In this book, man alone is the image and glory of God, not the woman. Though 1 Corinthians 11 never says the woman is the image of the man, Wilson indicates that only together with the man does the woman share God’s image, “(Paul) says that man is the image and glory of God, but he does not say that woman is the image and glory of man. This is because Genesis is very clear that man and woman together constitute the image of God” (Loc. 1134). What Wilson seems to say is that the woman, apart from the man, is not God’s image. Though that is “very clear” to Wilson, that is not clear to me or any Genesis commentator on my shelf (cf. Gen. 9:6).
God creates the man and woman of Genesis 1 as finite representations of himself. The man and the woman reflect the unity of God as one mankind, as well as the diversity of God as male and female. Both the man and the woman of Genesis 1:26-30 are in a natural, unmediated bond of religious communion with God by virtue of creation. They both hear his voice. They are individually from him and through him and to him. In other words, each bears the hallmark of humanity, the image, directly from God. In the Genesis 2 unfolding, what the woman symbolizes, comes into view in the second account of her creation. It reveals her supernatural procession from man’s side as God animates her as man’s glory. I believe her generation signifies mankind’s “becoming,” a movement from innocence to glory, from the natural to the eschatological, and yet this does not detract or add to her “being” as image bearer. God takes a “wall” from Adam, a term used almost exclusively for objects from sacred space, and he builds the woman while Adam sleeps, pointing to her as a type of the Genesis 1:1 and 2:2 “heavens,” the currently veiled realm of Sabbath rest.
Genesis 1 and 2 show that the man and the woman have missions immediately from God. God tells the man to “work and keep” the garden. Similarly, God gives the woman her mission. As I understand it, God commissions her to help the man in his coventantal work under the ominous shadow of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is a work that tests their devotion to God and can advance them from their fellowship with God in Eden to consummate communion with God in the heavenly sanctuary. They must obey the command, “You shall not eat,” to enter Sabbath rest with God beyond probation. The woman helps the man to whom she is united covenantally, as unto God, who made her for himself beyond the shadow and type of marriage. When Adam and Eve fail in their mission, a second federal head of a new humanity is revealed. The Second Adam will succeed where the first Adam failed in “guarding and keeping” the garden and in bringing God’s people to Sabbath rest.
Although Scripture gives only two federal heads of humanity, Wilson extends the office to all husbands. He depends on Ephesians 5, which calls husbands to imitate Christ, but he goes beyond imitation to offer husbands an office in their homes analogous to Christ based on 1 Corinthians 11 (Federal Husband, 14-17). That office necessitates authority and subordination. Calling husbands federal heads is confusing at best and misleading at worst. Wilson himself seems to sense the awkwardness. He finds he must stretch to define the husband’s responsiblities as federal head. He decides that the husband’s headship means that he assumes responsibility for his wife’s sins, somehow liberating her, though she is still personally resonsible for her sin before God. If we are confused by this, he says it is not his fault, but the fault of the individualism of our age (18).
I believe that Wilson’s system places the husband between God and his wife in a way that could cause his wife to stumble. Wilson’s husband fills his wife’s horizon. She is told that her godliness is measured not by her love for Father, Son, and Spirit, as she daily worships her Maker in union with her Savior by the Spirit who indwells her, but by her devotion to her earthly husband. By suggesting that her husband somehow mediates her duty to God and her personal sin, he leads the wife to set her mind on things below, things that are seen. He distracts her gaze away from things above, things that feed her soul and sustain her in the wilderness. I believe that Wilson distorts not only the nature of the woman, but the work which God gave her in the garden, to spur her husband heavenward toward his finish line and to enter Sabbath rest. She does this both by what she represents and what she proclaims. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
I can appreciate that Wilson calls husbands to imitate Christ’s sacrificial love for his bride, to be examples of Christ, who alone perserveres in perfect obedience in the wilderness, lays down his life in love for his bride, and thus spearheads her heavenward ascent to Sabbath rest. The wife likewise imitates the church’s obedience to Christ as she submits to her own husband. This glorious reality which we reenact comes without a reductionistic anthropology that essentializes the man and woman based on nature or on anything other than the truth expressed in Vos’s Sabbath principle. That truth is God’s purpose to bring a pure bride to a holy realm through a faithful covenantal head, that he might commune with her forever.