The Greatest Iconoclast

“We should know that God is the great maker of icons. As the Creator of a world full of His image-bearers, He has made billions of them . . . And this is why it is necessary for us to confess that God is also the greatest iconoclast. As the Judge who governs a sinful world, He is the preeminent caster down of idols and images, especially those images or places or sacrifices or liturgies which He Himself commanded to be made in the first place. No one desecrates a holy place like YHWH. No one desecrates His holy places like YHWH. No one flings holy relics away in disgust like He does” (Against the Church, pp. 16-17).

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34 thoughts on “The Greatest Iconoclast

  1. Hi Matthew, Obviously I don’t know the answer, but if we follow typical patterns of writing, it looks like Pastor Wilson would mean desecrating (a violent behavior in a sacred building) to be, “No one flings holy relics away in disgust like he does”.  Referencing Matthew 21:12

  2. carole: I agree that’s the most natural reading. The issue that I have with that reading, is that Orthodox and Catholic churches have not been historically thrown away. So it seems that the throwing away is moral–because of their sins, the community is no longer accepted. But when I tried to ask how that second reading squares with Augustine, he roundly denied that that second reading was correct. So I’m left unable to make sense of these passages, and would sincerely like him to help me out.

  3. M: I’m not following the second part of your reading, so are you saying that since, as the Pastor points out, God has both created icons (man, the temple…) and he also at times has torn those icons down, are you asking why he hasn’t destroyed the Catholic church and its community?

  4. In a different blurb, he said:

    I cannot tell, by examining these parallel liturgies, which tradition contains prayer to graven images. I cannot tell, by examining these liturgies, which ones allow the service to be led by a lesbian minister. In short, by looking at these liturgies, I cannot tell whether God accepts them as ‘acceptable worship’ or not.

    As I read this, it suggests that the Orthodox and Catholics already have been spewed out of his mouth, that is, that their liturgies already have been desecrated. Which doesn’t make sense in a historical sense–the Catholic church is by far the largest church–and so seems only to make sense in a moral sense. But his response is:

    Matt, I do believe in the objectivity of the covenant….

    Which I hear as meaning that he doesn’t mean it in a moral sense, but in a historical sense–the Church of Ephesus, for instance, has had its lampstand removed, historically, since there is no longer a church in Ephesus. And so I’m still left confused. Both options I can come up with for the meaning of desecration are, so far as I can tell, denied.

  5. Matthew, it must be really strange since you used to live in Moscow and go to Logos to now come to this blog. From the 1000s that visit the blog, most of us, of course, have never met Pastor Wilson or had a conversation with him, as you have. I dare say most have never been to Moscow. You have known him for so long, probably before he had 1000s of people daily reading his blog.  That is a completely different relationship then most of us. You know, he rarely, if ever directly responds to any of us after posting.  I don’t think he doesn’t respond because he is arrogant rather that he is extraordinarily busy and leaves the discussion to us. He has responded to you, of course, and to Pastor Sproul, since he knows you both personally I imagine.  To be honest it is one of the good things a lot of us find here,  that he poses (often with a heavy hand) a problem and then lets us work it out amongst ourselves.  I for one really enjoy that.  I think if you are looking to rekindle that personal dialogue you had with him before, it will be really frustrating to do it here.  It is just the nature of the blog format that the real personal conversations are amongst the readers and not between the writer and one reader.   I don’t think the blog could work successfully if it were any other way, do you?

  6.  I see what you mean, it is confusing.  Have you had a chance to read the whole book yet, as I haven’t.  I wonder if these “teasers” are just tempting us to buy the book so we will understand fully. It’s working on me, I must say! :)

  7. Your first comment here may be close. Though, I have seen blogs where there is real discussion, but it’s hard. And no, I haven’t read the book, I find these quotes confusing, and would like clarity, but I’m not attacking the book. :P

  8. I didn’t think you were attacking the book.  It will be fun to have a real discussion about it when there are a group of us who have read it.   To the first comment, I have great sympathy for your unique circumstance.  As a young man, you probably had no idea that there were so many people out there devouring your teacher’s/principal’s books.  But, I really do think you will be much, much happier brother, if you resign yourself to discussing his posts with us.  Though I am not one of the brilliant members, there are a lot here who can provide true analysis, encouragement and rousing debate.  Then when you visit Moscow, you can have a pint with your ol teacher and have a private discussion. 

  9. How silly of me, of course you must have been a teacher, I think you mentioned that in a past post. But I think it will still be easier to discuss with us, and then have a pint with your colleague when you visit.   I am going to look for your responses on educational Thursday, which I hope has not gone by the wayside.

  10. Educational Thursday? I wasn’t a teacher at Logos, I did teach at a different school in Moscow, at Montrose Academy, and then I got my masters in Mathematics from the University of Idaho, and now I’m working on a Ph.D. in Math education. But perhaps you’re right that I could interact better. I’m actually trying to, but I keep feeling like I get told “positions like Matthew’s shouldn’t be tolerated”, and so I push against that.

  11. Yes, but not by any of the really interesting people you don’t get told that.  Best not to react against the others, don’t you think?  It’s just frustration no one needs.                                       //  Well done on your doctorate.  I never got past the MA. Though I don’t live and have never lived in Moscow, I have many relatives who do and who have taught at the University.   // I thought I understood that there would be posts on Thursdays regarding education.  I am particularly interested in them and hope for some edifying discussion.

  12. Ok, I’ll try just commenting, and ignoring the rhetoric. :P But it’s not the commentators who are saying “Matthew’s position oughtn’t be tolerated” but, rather, without naming me, Pr. Wilson’s comments seem to say that. And it’s the rhetoric that I find most troubling–a I understand it, and those guys are just bad–sort of rhetoric. (Though, that’s obviously a gross oversimplification.)

  13. Yes, I know what you mean and lots of folks have said he has, “shock-jock” like rhetoric. But as Jill (a great commenter) has noted, that is what keeps some of us keeping back to the blog.
    Quite typically then we take away the basic argument, leave the rhetoric, and have a discussion.  That is what I wish you would join in on and not have a one to one dual with Pastor Wilson.  It just isn’t the place, and you will get more and more frustrated by the mere fact that it is his blog.  I notice lots of commenters are able to leave their names so that we can then visit their own blogs.  If you have one, you should do that, then we could see your argument in full.  If you don’t have one, I think you should start one.

  14. M: 
    If I may add, I can see why you think the Pastor at times is speaking only to you, since he does clearly respect your opinion, but I think two things are sometimes clouding your interpretation: 1, You are accustomed to having private conversations with him, so it is tricky to communicate here where he is speaking to you, yes, but also to thousands of others. 2, Because you are predisposed to thinking in terms of a private conversation, it seems like he is talking about your position, when really he is not. 
    With all due respect and I have immense respect for your field, I truly do think you are interpreting some of his blogs incorrectly.  I bet this isn’t the first time someone has said to you, You are over-thinking it.  Most of his arguments (if not all) have a political science/theological or philosophical point.  Even when science is involved it is generally a philosophy of science point.  As a philosophy of science student myself, we are not taught the actual science but are evaluating the philosophies behind  it. I can tell you have read Nagel, so Pastor Wilson is doing the same sort of thing he does, right? Wouldn’t you say it’s just a whole different ball game?  I am sure it is frustrating to you and to all math/science folks, but as an outsider to your relationship it truly, Matthew does not look personal. 

  15. Carole: Thanks, and I really appreciate your working with me. It’s not that I think he’s only talking to me (sorry I made it sound like that), but that opinions like mine are ruled out of bounds, so when I comment, everyone sees that I’m already in the wrong, and my position can’t be heard. (At least, that’s the impression I get.) Regarding Nagel: Yes, I have read Mind and Cosmos and What it’s like to be a bat”. The difference I see between the two is that Nagel says “The science looks really good, but these philosophical holes are papered over.” Whereas Pr. Wilson says “The science doesn’t look good, these scientific holes are papered over.” If Pr. Wilson said that as science, evolution is beyond him, but it is very good science as far as it goes (though his brother has some pretty strong objections to it), it has a few conceptual holes (which doesn’t refute it, but does raise the question of whether the resolution of the conceptual holes will involve a radical rethinking of the paradigm), and more importantly, the Scriptures say it isn’t true, and that is a more sure defense, I’d have no problems. Similarly for global warming: If he said the science is probably excellent (though he’s not qualified to judge), and we should be aware that problems may be coming, and etc. but the proposed *governmental* solutions aren’t worth while; I wouldn’t have a problem. (Not all the proposed solutions involve the government.) But he doesn’t, he says that the science itself is junk. (Or, on the issue of food, used supposed motives to black-ball his opponents so he wouldn’t have to listen to them.)

  16. Thanks for talking with me Matthew, and wow, this is the first time I think I am really getting your position.  I guess what I would love to see is you making all these points on the threads to the other commentators, and forget about trying to change the Pastor’s rhetoric.  Even if the conversation is sort of a meta-rhetoric one, like how should we talk about theories of evolution as Christians?  This is the kind of thing I find really valuable.  It helps me as a Christian when I am out in the world and the issue comes up.  I think that would be a conversation that would get a lot of discussion in a calmer, more rational way.  One that we can all relate to and value, rather than just discussing the Pastor’s rhetoric, it would give it a broader relevance for all of us.   And truly I don’t think anyone agrees with the idea that your opinions are out of bounds.  I like it here because all opinions seem to be in bounds, (perhaps  not the ones that appear to be personally attacking the Pastor), but some of my favorite people here adamantly disagree with me on some issues, but on a personal level I feel a lot of mutual respect. 

  17. Carole: I’m trying really hard on the other threads to make the same points. But I’m responding to different tones. I probably shouldn’t have posted everything I did just now, but I don’t like having everyone blame me any more than the next guy does. And, I think, if you, now, go back, and read the starts of the threads, you’ll be able to understand my points.

  18. Matthew:  I was reading the other thread you were writing on and I want to reach out to you as a sister in Christ.  You are hurt, I can see you are hurt, and I am so sorry that you are.  There have been unkind and uncharitable words spoken and it isn’t right for any of us to behave that way as children of our Lord.  But I do think you have more friends here than enemies.  I urge you to forget about correcting the Pastor.  If it needs to be done, it is clear that it won’t be done this way, and you are hurting yourself doing it.  I think if you would avoid that topic, trying to make the Pastor see the error of arrogance, then you would enjoy this blog much more.  Again, I truly urge you to let that go.  God bless you brother Matthew. 

  19. We cross posted, but I can totally see the points you made.  I truly can.  I do see it.  It just isn’t the place and isn’t worth the toll that it is taking on you.  I think God wants to use your talents in other areas.  I beg you to leave the idea of correcting him alone.

  20. I had no idea how difficult it is to be Petersen.  If only we understood the many problems he has endured as a voiceless victim on this blog; ruled out of bounds, unable to be heard. <crocodile tear>
                                                                                                                                                                  Petersen wrote:

    “(Or, on the issue of food, used supposed motives to black-ball his opponents so he wouldn’t have to listen to them.) ”

    Since Petersen has plunged so deeply into the ridiculous, I should let most of the rabbits go.  I did want to point out that it is very easy for Petersen (and others) to blackball Wilson when Wilson is taking on a sacred cow in our modern culture.  Food holiness is a real and serious sin (a species of legalism).  Wilson tackled it in a very pointed and appropriate fashion.  This encourages other shepherds to take courage and do the same.  He offered specific qualifications along the way, to indicate that he was not talking about people who had actual food allergies.  However, folks like Petersen ignored those qualifications in order to denounce and debar Wilson anyway.  Petersen continues to do it now.
                                                                                                                                                            It’s easy to engage in attempted murder on someone’s reputation by casting them in the expected stereotype.  Certain categories of evil men already exist in peoples’ minds, and it’s just a matter of planting a plausible narrative to assign Wilson in one of those categories.  If people are inclined to believe the worst about someone, their imagination will supply the rest.  The mental pigeon holes are already prepared to receive new tenants.  Not for Wilson’s sake, but for his own sake, Petersen needs to begin to deal with Wilson honestly and charitably, without trying to assassinate his character.

  21. Carole: It’s really hard to *just* let it go, for this reason: It would be relatively easy to say “That whole blog is just so bad, I’m never going back there”. But I think that would be a much less respectful response. And so I post in an attempt to show respect for Pr. Wilson. (At least that’s why I came back originally. I decided that I needed to try to simply interact with him on his blog. And that really is why I find it so hard to just stop posting.)

  22. That is, I don’t think I started out correcting him. I started with a well reasoned point, though short, and on the next post gave a number of well reasoned points, in lay-man’s-terms.

  23. Yes, Matthew, I understand what you mean, but what I am saying is a blog, at least this one, isn’t a place to interact with the writer.  You won’t find that here.  But you can interact, respectfully and rationally with the other readers.  I find that to be a rewarding use of my time.  If you insist on correcting,  even with respect, the Pastor, I think this will continue to be a painful experience and it isn’t helping the rest of us either which you could do by debating with us on topics that have nothing to do with the Pastor personally.

  24. Carole, great words of wisdom and encouragement to Matthew.  “I urge you to forget about correcting the Pastor.  If it needs to be done, it is clear that it won’t be done this way, and you are hurting yourself doing it.”  Also, “If you insist on correcting,  even with respect, the Pastor, I think this will continue to be a painful experience and it isn’t helping the rest of us either which you could do by debating with us on topics that have nothing to do with the Pastor personally.”  Matthew, that was good advice, and it sounds like it was well taken by you.  As Carole suggested, I think God wants to use your talents in other areas.  And as I’ve suggested to you recently, it would be wise to change your tactics.  You have a valuable voice to be heard on this blog, and we all need to listen to one another and argue each topic on its own merit.  There’s nothing personal here; there doesn’t need to be.  One can question Pastor Wilson’s arguments (or anyone’s arguments) without ascribing sinister motives to them.

  25. Dan: I think if you look back, you’ll see that I did not start attacking the pastor, but offered a reasonable comment, which the pastor, and other CREC friends mocked, thus refusing to hear my voice, keeping my argument from being heard, and turning a number of the other commentators against me. I have been defending myself from accusation, but I have not been attacking the pastor. The volume of responses I have tried to respond to also contributes to what seems like my insistence.

  26. Matthew, I believe you but at this point that simply doesn’t matter.  On any board but especially a religious board, there will be people who interpret a statement such as “Pastor Wilson is occasionally too dogmatic about issues he is not really qualified to speak so decisively about” (you did not say this, but I have done so in the past)  as unwarranted attacks on a treasured religious leader or as attacks upon a cherished religious or political belief.  If the opposition you awaken when you appear to challenge the pastor merely amused or energized you, that would be one thing.  But what some of us are sensing (and with quite a bit of pain on your behalf) is that this opposition is hurting you and is making you–not your opinions, but you– feel marginalized and rejected.  I don’t like the tone of some of the comments written to you and about you, and I don’t take very kindly to people whose impulse on seeing an open wound is to open the salt box and start pouring it in.   Because you have a personal history with Pastor Wilson, it is easy for us to assume that you have an issue that you are struggling with, and that you are searching for responses and validations that you are not likely to find here.  My concern is that you are damaging yourself emotionally and perhaps spiritually in the process.   Dan said in an earlier post that it is as if you have the pastor’s voice in your head and that you are unable simply to dismiss the views you disagree with.  If that is true, I do relate to that completely and I know how difficult it is to realize that someone who you once regarded as spiritually authoritative (a pastor, a teacher, a parent, a nun, a therapist) may be fallible or worse but in any event no longer needs to hold any power over you.  If I am wrong about this, I apologize.   I value your comments which I often agree with and which always suggest to me intellectual acuity, articulateness, and sincerity.  In asking you to focus your attention less on the pastor and more on the argument itself, I am not writing with any particular concern for him but with a great deal for you.   I would be very sorry to see you disappear from here, but I would be sorrier to think that a contest of opposing views and loyalties is drawing blood.   Please listen to Carole and Dan, and remember that many people who read these comments care about you, want this source of pain to be resolved, and even sometimes agree with you.

  27. Jill, very well said.  Thanks for your heartfelt sincerity in all this, along with Carole too.  Matthew, it’s time to let go of some of the bitterness and move forward.  As you can see, many people on this blog have been encouraging to you and are open to your opinions.  No one is trying to silence you.  Like we’ve been saying, let’s all try and stick to the topic at hand and debate it on its merits.  Pastor Wilson holds no power over you unless you let him.  He’s just a man with a blog, and he’s inviting all of us to share in his journey of faith and ideas, and hoping to spur all of us to sharpen our own minds and strengthen our own faith.  Grace and peace to you.

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