Reviewed by: Larry Wilson
Date posted: 07/22/2007
Mother Kirk: Essays and Forays in Practical Ecclesiology, by Douglas Wilson. Published by Canon Press, 2001. Paperback. 286 pages, list price $16.00. Reviewed by editor Larry Wilson.
Douglas Wilson is pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine, and author of numerous books. He is in the process of coming to the Reformed ethos from a broadly evangelical background (see the book's epilogue). This gives his writing an insightful and exciting freshness. He challenges us in areas where we really need to be challenged. He has a pastoral heart, and he evidences deep concern for reformation in the church. His desire to promote a high view of the church as the "mother of believers" is right on target. For all these things, I thank God and say amen.
But, alas, like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead, when Mother Kirk is good, she is very good, but when she's bad, she's horrid! In both cases, however, brother Wilson (no relation) is always just as confident, witty, winsome, and resolute. Moreover, perhaps because it started as brief articles (hence the subtitle), the book is uneven, inconsistent, and even contradictory at points.
The essays have been grouped into chapters according to topic. The first chapter, on the church, is very powerful. The second chapter, on what to label his views, is somewhat convoluted and self-important. In my opinion, the chapter on Bible translations just further muddies the waters. On the other hand, the chapter on preaching is quite good.
Some of Wilson's comments on the sacraments are very good, and some are not so good. When he calls us to take more seriously the meaning of baptism, and as part of our evangelism to "grab" our baptized, covenant-breaking, "unchurched" neighbors "by their baptism," he is downright brilliant. But when he turns around and implies (in regard to the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper) that Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin just couldn't grasp what he so facilely explains, and when he boldly asserts paedocommunion as patently obvious, he is at his worst.
The chapter on the Lord's Day makes some good points, but is somewhat middling as a whole. The chapter on worship - except for the first few pages, where he pontificates about the regulative principle without saying much - is really quite good. His discussion of music in worship is balanced and pastorally sensitive. I wish every pastor would read his comments on public prayer, and that every congregation would read his remarks on the corporate amen.
The chapter on church government is confused and confusing (the hands are the hands of Presbyterianism, but the voice is the voice of Independency). On the other hand, he does give a clarion call to faithful pastoral care and discipline in the church. Amen! And when he discusses the minister's character ... ouch! Here is material that we desperately need to take to heart! But then his ideas for ministerial training smack of Independency again.
The final chapter is really a mixed bag of miscellaneous essays. Some are weak; others excel. His discussion of counseling steps on toes, but how we need to hear it! His comments on youth ministry are brief, but worthwhile. The essay "Moving Beyond Pro-Life" is bracing.
The brother has many good and invigorating things to say. But he also has other stuff to say. So read with caution. Remember to eat the chicken, but spit out the bones. And pray that our Lord will carry on to completion the good work that he has begun in him, and in us.