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Podcast | 16 Minutes

Is Satire Good Rhetoric for Christians? ft. Doug Wilson

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Is Satire Good Rhetoric for Christians? ft. Doug Wilson

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Did you know that the relationship between Marlin Detweiler and Doug Wilson is over 30 years old? Over time there has been a distinct shift in how each man chooses to share about classical education and the Christian faith.

Join Marlin Detweiler and Doug Wilson as they continue and conclude their discussion on wit, rhetoric, and whether satirical language can be a tool in proclaiming biblical truth. Today they will discuss the words of the apostle Paul, their thoughts on Tim Keller’s ministry approach, and whether it is ok to study materials we disagree with from a Christian perspective.

Note: You may hear some static due to a technical glitch with Doug Wilson’s audio. We apologize for this unfortunate occurrence!

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription will vary from the original words used in the recorded episode for readability purposes.

Marlin Detweiler:

Welcome to Veritas VOX, the voice of classical Christian education today. Again, we have Doug Wilson with us. If you watched the first episode, you got a chance to hear Doug, and I banter a bit. If you did not watch the first one, I recommend you do that before jumping into this second one because it's going to be a continuation.

In fact, if you look carefully, you'll see that Doug and I didn't even change our shirts, and to be fully disclosed, we didn't even leave our seats. We stopped recording, and we're starting again. Here we go! Welcome.

Doug Wilson:

Thanks. Thanks. For having me.

Marlin Detweiler:

Something that I see going on today is the idea that people don't know how to disagree agreeably. And I would say that your style of rhetoric that we're talking about, which you describe, can be called mockery and belligerence. When it comes to speaking with those with whom we disagree, your brand of rhetoric simply doesn't strike me as disagreeing agreeably. And I would say that from a gospel standpoint, disagreeing agreeably is a far more effective way of winning our enemies. What do you say?

Doug Wilson:

The old joke comes to mind. The teacher says, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” And the boy in the back of the class said, “Yeah, but who wants to catch flies?”

So I think you're absolutely right. The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians that we're to be speaking the truth in love. It's not enough just to speak the truth. You can't defend yourself by saying, “Well, what I said was true.”

Paul says in Colossians, “Let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt.” But what does that mean? One of the things that I want to do is recognize that my pattern for rhetoric is not my Victorian great-grandmother. My pattern should be the Apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus and so on.

So, for example, in Galatians, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church because the Judaizers are saying you have to be circumcised to be saved. They were troubling the people and diverting them from the gospel that they had received. And the thing I want to point out is the juxtaposition. There's a place in that letter where Paul basically says, “I wish those who trouble you would go the whole way [in circumcision] and cut the whole thing off.”

Then just within a few verses after that, Paul says, “make sure to love one another. Don't bite and devour.” Right now, either Paul's a hypocrite, or there is there's another way of saying that “these people should cut the whole thing off” that's not inconsistent with this.

Same thing in Philippians, where Paul tells us to rejoice that this might bring us the humility and everything Jesus displayed. But in Philippians, Paul says, “be careful of those mutilators of the flesh, those dogs.”

So I want to be a biblical man. I try to keep this tension in my life. I want to have them be the same things I showed a moment ago that are in tension in the pages of the New Testament.

Now, one of the things that I've seen over the years and again, and this is not meant to talk about myself, is I know how my persona in writing comes across. If someone just read my sincere stuff or they just read my blog, and they hadn't listened to any sermons, and then they came to Moscow to visit, and we had dinner with them, halfway through the dinner, they’ll say something like, “You know, you're kind of pleasant!” I know that people are sometimes surprised by that.

At one time, I used to write a column for our regular newspaper here many years ago. At the time, my wife Nancy was selling fabric out of our home, and a customer, a lady, came to make a purchase; and they were chatting and looking at fabric. Slowly began to dawn on this woman who Nancy was. And she finally said, “Are you married to Doug Wilson?” And my wife said, “Well, yes, I am.” And the lady said, “But you seem so nice.”

And so I know that there are people who take one snapshot of what I do, and they don't believe that I'm capable of agreeing disagreeably. I live with that.

I've debated a number of people, some atheists even, and I have no problem loving them and interacting with them, being friendly with them.

I don't go loaded for bear on a personal level because I think you're right. I believe that we should be speaking the truth, love in our speech. We should be gracious, seasoned with salt. But I want to keep coming back to what the pattern is in scripture. Was the speech of Jesus gracious and seasoned with salt? Was the Apostle Paul's speech gracious and seasoned with salt?

Because some of the things they say, I've not ever gotten to the level of being willing to say in most company. I’m not there yet.

Marlin Detweiler:

Right. Well, I understand. But I'm going to make it personal here for just a moment. And first of all, it was something that you wrote that I watched. It was about our business at Veritas, and it got no traction. So I didn't. It didn't do anything with it. If I had wanted to do something with it, it would have been direct. And now I'm doing that, but not for the healing with it, but rather citing an example of an alternative solution.

You noted that we had begun selling the Novare science curriculum. And one of the things, in spite of the fact that it is promoted as - and I believe is - effectively a Christian-oriented science curriculum, it has adopted an element that I would say falls way outside of orthodoxy. And it's the idea of theistic evolution that authors have embraced.

You noted that things were happening of a derogatory nature or maybe deteriorating nature even in Veritas as a result of having adopted that science curriculum. But here's what was on our website when you wrote that. This disclaimer was part of it: “This book contains views on Theistic Evolution which are contrary to the Creationist view which Veritas teaches as true. However, it remains one of the best curricula on science for classical education.”

However, it remains one of the best curricula on science for classical education. There is within the classical Christian school community the adoption of secular books, which are far worse. I understand that you confess about those too, and I wouldn't blame you for doing it.

But this strikes me as a very reasonable thing to do: Have that book, have teachers who use that book, who understand [and teach from] where we're coming from [as a Christian school] and recognize that some people miss it. Some people actually agree with them and not with us.

But why [did you think that] is that not a reasonable thing? And as it relates to maybe Tim Keller and how he handled the homosexual community in New York City, why not hear from them directly and understand more of what they're dealing with?

I would say that between you and me, I probably have more of a sense of what he's doing there. And frankly, I think, for the most part, I wouldn't say he's perfect, but for the most part, he's done a really good job of ministering to that community. And I think that your objection to it has been counterproductive to him doing that.

Doug Wilson:

OK, so two things, and you're going to have to refresh my memory on part of this. I'm assuming you mean to say that in the thing that I wrote about Novare, I didn't cite or link to Veritas’ disclaimer.

Marlin Detweiler:

You made no mention of it that I have ever seen.

Doug Wilson:

OK, so this is…?

Marlin Detweiler:

A blog post. I think you could find it pretty easily because I think there are enough keywords there that there are not going to be many things that are going to have that. You mentioned several schools and several businesses selling it. You mentioned us. And of course, for the audience's sake, you have my cell phone, you have my email, you have my wife's cell phone, and you probably have my kids' cell phone numbers.

You know how to get a hold of us. It's not a problem. And it was quite frankly, in that sense, to make your point, it was a misrepresentation from my vantage point. It struck me as a misrepresentation of my work.

Doug Wilson:

So when I did that, I went to Novare, and I looked at the Novare textbook and was interacting with that. If I didn't link to your disclaimer, it was because I didn't know about it. And my apologies for not knowing about it. I'm not trying to put you into a corner that you don't actually occupy.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, let me say something to the audience that you already know, OK? I initiated a conversation while on the Board of Ethics, first with you and then with the board, of my concern about the creeping element of theistic evolution that I saw coming because I had a little bit of advance notice on it in the curriculum.

What was particularly disturbing was you chose to call us out with all of that knowledge. And that struck me as quite disingenuous. Now I don't want this to become personal because I wasn't personally hurt by it. And I don't want the audience here to think that's what I'm doing.

What I'm saying is that part of the process of using an attack, maybe a mockery, maybe that kind of mentality sometimes requires having more information than we do if it's easily obtained. And in this case, it was [easy to obtain], right?

Doug Wilson:

So I remember that conversation with you, which is one of the reasons we were sitting on the ethics board together. And you expressed concern, and I agreed that the theistic evolution was making its way into our circles. Ok, so I remember that conversation and can testify to it. That was why I was surprised that you were carrying that textbook.

Now, if only I had known about your disclaimer. We have pagan literature in our rights. We teach things like Plato. I have no problem with teaching it with a disclaimer at New St. Andrews, we had students read Darwin's Origin of Species. We in classical education deal in primary sources and stuff. So the fact that you have interaction with a textbook that teaches something you and I believe to be a real threat is not in itself a problem. And if you recognize it and you've not changed your mind, and you don’t teach evolution to be right, as you said so plainly on your website, and I missed it, then I owe you an apology for that. I will, and I will go back and correct it [the post I made].

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, I'm not concerned about you correcting it, frankly. It might raise more questions. You can if you want because I don't care. The point, though, is not that you missed something with me in an instance, but it provided me an opportunity to have a conversation with you about a different approach.

I know I don't live in Tim Keller's shoes, but I understand him to have had what appears to me to be a very effective ministry in New York City. Tim says a lot of things that I wouldn't agree with. I don't think that the gospel starts in the city and goes to the country. I think it works the other way around. Things like that are things that I've heard Tim espouse.

I mean, I think he gets it in reverse, and I know that's not commonly held, and I'm not here to defend it because it would go down a trail. But I expect you to understand and probably agree. The point, though, is, and I'm in a little bit of danger here saying something that I know in confidence, but frankly, you don't have, as best I know, what I would consider to be a healthy relationship [with Keller].

In fact, I guess you don't have any relationship with Tim Keller, and that's a shame. I think you could learn from each other. And I think you don't learn from each other because of the rhetorical approach that you've taken to citing him.

Doug Wilson:

Just last week, I circulated it to our board an article by Tim Keller on church growth in church size. He did an article that I read that I thought was full of good, shrewd insight. I circulated it to our elders and said, this is something we want you to think about.

I don't treat Keller as an enemy. I also believe that he has done good work in Manhattan. I think there's much about his ministry that I would applaud, and at the same time, I don't think that he is as stalwart on some issues as he could be.

Like I disagree with his views on women being deacons in their church. The ACA doesn't allow it, and they've developed a workaround for things like that, which I object to. When I name Tim Keller by name, I don't treat him as being on the side and me on another. He is on our side, and I've got differences with him.

So while we were talking, I looked up the article I wrote, the blog post on the Novare Science curriculum. And the sentence I found was, “Novare Science is a science curriculum that is now commonly used in classical Christian schools, is published by Classical Academic Press, is also carried by both House Press and Memoria Press.” That is a good chunk of the classical Christian publishing world right there.

And then the next paragraph, I say, “Given that men like Tim Keller and Michael Horton are cool by logos, which is probably my central beef with Tim Keller, is that is the theistic evolution thing I'm saying he's on that side of that issue. And I think it's a big issue. So in that, I was mocking Thomas Frank.

Marlin Detweiler:

Why that would not be an example of mockery as much as that would be a category of treating your friends as enemies.

Doug Wilson:

That's not an enemy. I'm saying it's an item of concern. So what I thought when I wrote this particular blog post, I was talking about a classical Christian downgrade that I was concerned about in our circles. I absolutely don't consider Veritas Press to be an enemy, and I don't consider Tim Keller to be an enemy.

I consider Tim Keller to be on the wrong side of certain key issues of our day. So just like the apostle Paul, again in Galatians, didn't treat Peter as an enemy, but he confronted him at Antioch. Now, you know, he confronted him to his face because of what he was doing, but that doesn't make him an enemy.

You know, we're not; we're articulating two different points of view. So when it comes to me and Tim Keller not having a relationship or some of the others that I've interacted with, one of the things I think your listeners might be interested in hearing is that when various controversies have erupted and someone in the evangelical world accuses us of something, like being a racist or being a racist or a pedophile, enablers of slander and slander and the like. Things we've consistently done is we contacted that person and invited them to come out here on our dime and address our people, say whatever they want to say. We are happy to have a personal relationship with you. We have offered to fly you without publicity.

We've offered to fly to different places to have a behind-the-scenes meeting. And we proceeded with that over and over again. The people who are refusing to join in discussion are the moderate, “All you need is love” Christians.

I'd love to talk to Tim Keller face to face. I'd love to talk to Russell Moore face to face. I'd love to talk to these people. I'd do it in a heartbeat. But even when we set up conditions where they risk nothing in terms of bad PR, we'll do it openly, we'll do it privately, we'll do it however they want, and we'll pay for everything. The people who say, “all you need is love,” are the ones who are refusing to do that.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, well, I don't disagree with that. And that's another topic that we could go very deep into as well.

Doug Wilson:

Another rabbit hole. Yeah.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, it was not my purpose in these two sessions, these two episodes, to convince you. Better people than I have tried to convince you that this [your rhetoric style] has a counterproductive element that is outweighing the benefit. I do believe that we have taken an approach at Veritas to operate very differently, and we've done that.

Some of it, quite frankly, has to do with when we had our hiatus away from the Reformed Church in a broadly evangelical church. I learned something there that I hadn't learned in any of my Reformed Church experiences, and that was a love for the lost that I hope the Reformed Church can recover. This was a church that was literally baptizing more than 500 believers a year.

It didn't practice infant baptism; many of those were conversions. And I see the approach that I'm talking about with you is counterproductive to that happening within our communities. It simply doesn't draw the lost, and it doesn't provide a comprehensive sense of what I think the beauty of the gospel is at its heart.

Doug Wilson:

Part of the problem is that most of the reformed churches are the churches that brand new Christians would not feel comfortable worshiping in. It has nothing to do with satire or mockery; it has to do with the music and other aspects of how they teach the word.

Marlin Detweiler:


Doug Wilson:

Here in Moscow, we're actively up to our waist in evangelistic efforts. It's not like we have no concern for the lost. We have participated in a ministry where the people come to a meal on a weekly basis - even just out of prison or on the way to prison.

When those people are converted, they generally don't want to come to a church service where we're standing singing 17th-century Geneva songs. There are various cultural hurdles. I think the thing that we have to grasp is love for the lost. Love for God and His word are not things that can be commodified and packaged in any PR way. If you're a real person who really loves God and who really loves the person you're talking to, that's going to get through at some point.

Marlin Detweiler:

No doubt. Well, I appreciate your time. Again, I want to close with something here and give you a chance to respond. Also, I wrote this so that I could get it right:

Doug is controversial. Sometimes that's necessary. Sometimes it's not. Regardless of our differences in how we think we should approach public discourse, it remains the case that anyone who has enjoyed the benefit of the resurgence of classical Christian education owes him a great debt of gratitude. I am one, and I want to be the first to say it.

Doug Wilson:

You're welcome. Thank you. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk to you. And despite our disagreement, our friendship remains intact.

Marlin Detweiler:

Amen. Thank you. God bless.