Review: Rules for Reformers


One gets the feeling, from the first section of Doug Wilson’s book Rules for Reformers, that he has unwittingly provided us with an example of a foot-soldier trying his hand at generalling. (p. 2, 15) He is “very competent indeed” (15) but seems to lack a grasp of the “Main Objective” and so his principles and examples end up with a very limited scope of effectiveness: America.

When he discusses “The Objective”, Principle One, he explains how important it is to be able to “tell when you are done” and not let it slip into a “murky place.” (25) He then goes on to explain the objective by means of a metaphor. Our objective turns out to be kind of like a “fixer-upper house.” (30) So however murkily you interpret that metaphor, so goes the objective.

He finally does give a clear objective at the end of Section 1: “for every tribe and nation to confess the name of Jesus and bow down to him” (79) to which I wholeheartedly agree. The problem is that every single one of the principles that he lays down in the chapter seem limited in scope to the situation facing Christians in America, and fixing-up that particular house with very little relevance to the task of reaching “every tribe and nation” in the rest of the world, and the thousands of other houses that they represent. Almost every single one of the principles includes an America-specific illustration: Principle 2 – “homosexual marriage in our state” (37); P3 – “say something objectionable is going down in your sleepy little town.” (40); P4 – “say that the city council tagged something onto the agenda at the last minute…” (45); P5 – “No, honestly, if our candidate wins election to the city council…” (49); P6 – “in our current culture wars…” (52); P7 – “the fact that we all oppose something together- say an abortion clinic” (56); P10 – “the goal of many Christian organizations is a limited goal—“a place at the table”…” (71).

It’s hard to see how any of these relate directly to the main objective of reaching “every tribe and nation” with the gospel. There needn’t be a false dichotomy.  A church—or “The Church”—should certainly be involved in both. But if the point is effective engagement toward a clear objective, I fail to see how this book contributes in anything but a limited and subsidiary way.

In fact, one can be so busily (and “optimistically”) engaged in local “reformation” that you lose sight of the scope of the main objective. To use the popular war metaphor, it’s like a platoon given the task of claiming a town, but one group got distracted redecorating the 3rd house that they took, while there was still 40% of the rest of the town left to be conquered. One might add, that these “redecorating” soldiers displayed a dogged optimism while they tore down that old wallpaper, and painted over the enemy symbols on the living room wall. “Well, we can’t export what we don’t already have” – so, eventually, when someone gets around to taking the other 40%, we know who to call when it comes time to paint.

This is why we need generals, to lead us toward accomplishing our clear objective.

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