One of the things that Ausgustine did later in his life was to publish his Retractions, a book in which he went back and corrected earlier errors in his teaching. No getting the wrong idea here. As as a neighborhood toddler I am not worthy to come over and play in Augustine’s backyard . . . but I bet my list of retractions could rival his.
But the purpose of this post is not to go through my various doctrinal shifts. They have been significant, but they are not the subject here. I have to mention them though — although the intent of this post is not to defend myself against accusations, but rather to make a few of my own, I do need to begin with a exculpatory comment. During the course of my ministry, I have gone from Arminianism to Calvinism, from premillennialism to postmillennialism, from baptistic theology to paedobaptism, from semi-perfectionism to the Reformed view of sanctification, and a few other transitions on top of this. In conjunction with this pattern, one of the accusations that has sometimes been made against me is that “it is no use talking to Wilson. He never admits to being wrong.” But the real concern here, if you wanted a plausible charge, should actually be something more like “better watch what you say to Wilson. And by no means should you lend him any books.”
But as I said earlier, this post is not about my doctrinal spazz attacks, as my enemies would put it, or my doctrinal maturation, as I would put it, a little more kindly. My point here concerns some milestone screwups of a different order. Some are related to doctrinal shifts, but are not to be identified with those shifts themselves.
One of great mistakes I made was that of not recognizing that different doctrinal positions (on different subjects) are like different chemicals. And when you change one of them (and have all your Bible verses in a row) you need to be aware of the new interactions between that new position and some of your old positions that were previously just sitting there. For example, Calvinism interacts with baptistic theology quite differently than my previous Arminianism did. I am not here offering a particular critique of any position — I am just talking about something I ought to have been aware of before I opened my mouth. I think I did a great deal of damage by trying to persuade those around me of my new-found Calvinism (even though I wouldn’t call it that for a couple years). The reason it caused this damage is that Calvinist soteriology coupled with a high baptistic view of conversion can lead you (directly or by unspoken implication) to question whether other folks are really born again — people concerning whom this previously would not have been a question. This need not be something you do on purpose, it doesn’t have to be deliberate. All that is needed are certain premises in position and pressed, with the one pressing them blissfully ignorant of what he is doing and the effect he is having. And please note that I am not taking this occasion to lay a charge against my Reformed Baptist friends — I am sure that many of them have figured out a way to keep these two chemicals from blowing up in their faces and removing all their eyebrows. All I am saying is that new converts to a new paradigm, however well-intentioned they may be, need to spend some time getting the lay of the land. I did not do this as I ought to have, not even close, and I caused some real problems — some of which I am still dealing with even though I became a Calvinist in the late eighties.
Another milestone screwup had to do with a particular theory of temperaments. A Christian writer named O’Hallesby had popularized an ancient Greek notion of temperament, in which the human race is divided up into four basic temperaments — sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Or to take the insights of another great writer on the human condition — Tigger, Rabbit, Eeyore, and Pooh. A few decades ago, I think Tim LaHaye also spent some time writing on these temperaments, and spent a goodish bit of effort trying to mix and blend them. I was aware of what he was doing, but I don’t think I read him on the subject. I didn’t want to take it “that far.” But I had read O’Hallesby, and had assumed that I was a phlegmatic. I had assumed this because (to take one example) if I were to get poor service in a restaurant, I would rather have three root canals than complain about it to anybody. On all kinds of things, I take it easy, I go along, and I make no trouble (in restaurants). But I was once talking with friend and his wife about this, and it came out that I characterized myself this way, and they were astonished beyond measure — for it was clear to them that I was choleric, take charge, charge hard, outta my way, and so forth. Huh. Now this got me to thinking. The screwup here was not that they were right and I was wrong, or vice versa. The problem was caused by using that template at all. I now believe this whole approach is not grounded in Scripture the way it needs to be in order to give such a fundamental account of human nature. This is not to say that we cannot observe that some people are upbeat and cheerful, while others are sullen and introspective. Sure. We all have eyes in our heads. But to characterize people the way the theory of the temperaments does is to mislead many people into thinking they are necessarily coming across in a certain way (all the time, just as Pooh is Pooh all the time) when they are not necessarily coming across that way at all. This mistaken assumption on my part also caused (I am now convinced) a good bit of damage.
Well, I was going to get into the other 87 milestone screwups, but I see that I am out of time. Some other day perhaps. Starting what I don’t have time to finish. That could be another one.