Book Review: Easy Chairs, Hard Words

easy-chairs-hard-words-douglas-wilson-paperback-cover-art“Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:18-20)

Passages like the one above can be difficult to swallow. So difficult, in fact, that we may be tempted to take one of two courses. We may try our darnedest to explain it all away (and that usually involves tossing out the plain meaning of the text in favor of something less hard on the ears). Or we may act is if such verses do not exist, which is like trying to ignore a giant purple elephant standing in your living room. In no time flat, we’re doing our best David Copperfield impression: “I will now make this verse… disappear!”

And yet, for all our cheap tricks and shifty-eyed “explanations”, the truth remains: God’s words do not cease to be God’s words simply because they are hard words.

Pastor Doug Wilson makes this very case in his book Easy Chairs, Hard Words. Through a series of fictional conversations between a young believer and a seasoned pastor, Wilson delivers a cogent and beautifully-argued introduction to the Reformed faith, with both feet planted firmly in Scripture. Beginning with the question, “Can salvation be lost?” he wrestles with a number of tough doctrinal issues, including free will, election, and original sin.

One reviewer dubbed this book “the death of Arminianism in plain English.” An apt description, but it might give you the impression that this is a ham fisted attack on all things Wesleyan. Which it is – most emphatically – not. Wilson never stoops to acerbic language, nor does he adopt a smug tone. If you find that reading this book sets your teeth on edge, I would humbly submit that your problem is less with Wilson, and more with the Scriptural truth that Wilson teaches.

You might want to think about that for a minute.


9 thoughts on “Book Review: Easy Chairs, Hard Words”

  1. I agree with you about the book, and I’m happy about the stand for reformed theology that Pastor Wilson takes in it. But I don’t understand why you used a curse word to get that point across. Is “damnedest” not seen as a profanity anymore? It certainly is in my book…

    1. Glad to hear you appreciated the book, too, brother. :)

      I chose that word because I felt that it brought my point across in a stronger way than, say, “darnedest” would have. However, I will consider changing it, as the last thing I want to do is give needless offense.

      Speaking of Christians and the use of profanity, I recommend you check out Wilson’s A Serrated Edge. It’s primarily about satire/sarcasm, but it also deals with the question of if/when believers can/should use profanity to get their message across. A very helpful read.

      1. Thank you for your response. And I appreciate your willingness to change the word for my sake. I’m not horribly offended by the use of the word, but I was just curious as to why you chose a word that carries negative connotations with it.

        I will look into the book by Mr. Wilson, thank you. :)

  2. Interesting. I might need to read this book at some point. I know I got a lot out of Wilson’s book “The Case for Classical Christian Education.”
    I don’t consider myself to be an Arminian (nor am I of Paul, Apollos, Calvin, etc…. simply a Christian), and I may be kicking a hornet’s nest here, but aren’t there a few chapters in Romans that are more specifically discussing Israel, and are not necessarily to be taken as the basis for how we understand salvation as Christians? Admittedly, Romans 9 can be difficult to understand, but I would rather not fully understand how Romans 9 may apply to me than try to make the rest of the Bible fit my interpretation of Romans 9. I’ve found that when Romans 9 is taken as you and Wilson seem to imply, then we start running into problems elsewhere. Suddenly we find ourselves needing to “explain away” verses like the following:
    Prov. 22:6 “Train up a child…not depart.”
    Deut. 30:15-20 Choose to live for God or be punished
    Josh. 24:15 “Choose for yourselves… whom you will serve”
    Matt. 23:37 Jesus wants to gather, people unwilling
    Mark 16:15 “Preach… to all creation…”
    Mark 16:16 “he who has disbelieved shall be condemned”
    John 6:28,29 Choose to believe
    Romans 1:18-21 God’s wrath to those who turn away after He revealed Himself- they are without excuse
    John 3:14-17 “God so loved the world”
    John 12:32 Jesus draws all men (they must choose)
    Acts 17:30,31 “all people everywhere should repent”
    Rom. 5:18 “…life to all men…”
    2 Cor. 5:15 “He died for all…”
    1 Tim. 2:5,6 “…a ransom for all…”
    1 Tim. 4:10 “…Savior of all men, especially of believers…”
    Titus 2:11 “…salvation to all men…”
    Heb. 9:12 “…once for all…”
    1 John 2:2 “…the whole world…”
    1 Tim. 2:3,4 “…desires all men to be saved…”
    2 Pet. 3:9 “…not wishing for any to perish…”
    And there are others as well.
    Does Wilson explain these verses? If so, I might need to check this book out. I’m no theologian, but I don’t believe that faith is a work. I also believe that although God is all-powerful, He doesn’t choose to exercise all of His power all the time. He died for all and He calls all people to Him, but we are given a free-will choice because God prefers willing children who truly love Him, not robots who are simply programmed or “predestined.” As far as what we are to do, we must “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), trust in our loving Savior, and be as gracious as possible in spreading the truth of the gospel.
    Anyway, sorry for taking up a big chunk of your comment section. As always, I don’t mind learning, so if you feel like explaining the above verses in light of “predestination” I would be interested… otherwise have a great day!

    1. You ask some excellent questions; I’m glad to see you’re open to having an straightforward discussion about it, rather than simply dismissing the subject altogether (as I have seen others do). :)

      Wilson does address verses such as the ones you referred to, and I believe he does so honestly, without trying to “explain them away” or make his interpretation of one chapter fit the entire Bible. On the contrary, Wilson takes the whole of God’s Word into account as he weighs election, the freedom of the will, etc.

      And while we’re on this subject, I have to heartily recommend a few other titles: Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, Sproul’s Chosen By God, A.W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God, and Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (I believe that if more people read Calvin in his own words, there would be less misunderstanding about “Calvinism” itself).

      “I don’t consider myself to be an Arminian (nor am I of Paul, Apollos, Calvin, etc…. simply a Christian)…”

      On that subject, Wilson takes time in the very beginning of his book to discuss why he doesn’t like using a label like “Calvinist”; people tend to react rather than respond when they hear it (according to their preconceived idea of what Calvinism is).

      Thanks dropping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment. I hope you find Wilson’s book helpful!

  3. Somehow I never heard of this book by Doug Wilson and I thought I knew about all his books! I need to get around to reading this sometime. Concerning your note about Wesley, I just finished a biography on him by someone from a Wesleyan background titled “Wesley for Armchair Theologian”. (My review: I think having finished that book, I find him to be more problematic than I thought initially. So I suppose I need this book of fresh air.

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