Book Reviews: C.R. Wiley on the Household and the Cosmos

Dear Reader,

I recently read not one but two books from C.R. Wiley, a Presbyterian pastor from Connecticut. I actually read the second book, The Household and the War for the Cosmos (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2019), first, because a friend had asked my opinion on it. I realized as I did so that this book was actually a follow up to Wiley’s earlier work, Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter that Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart (Eugene, OR: Resource Publication, 2017), and that it did not stand well on its own. I walked away from Cosmos with a number of questions, often unsure at what Wiley was getting at, so I decided I had better read Man of the House, a longer book which explains his theories a little more fully. 

Though Wiley himself is a pastor, my short take on these two volumes together is that they are just not inherently Christian. The big idea Wiley presents will certainly appeal to some Christians and he does make use of the Bible in making his arguments, but he also looks to non-Christian sources, particularly Roman ones, and the theories he presents are more about economics and political order than about theology.  Now these things are not unrelated — everything ultimately comes back to our worldview and our ideas about God and the universe — and so we may evaluate Wiley’s ideas in the light of a biblical worldview, but how he gets where he gets is not an inherently theological exercise, if that makes sense. It actually helped me greatly to understand this. After reading Cosmos and to a lesser extent while reading Man of the House, I was left wondering about Wiley’s positions on certain high intensity theological debates of our day. He seemed at times to skirt various controversial issues but not to clearly state his view on them. When I realized he was just not giving me theological arguments, this made a little more sense. So while some of his positions may tend to support this school of thought or that one, if you are looking for books on Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS) or the Family Church movement, these are not really the place to go. 

The heart of Wiley’s books is to present a particular view of Creation (the cosmos, that is) and to make an argument for how we should live and structure our households within that greater structure. There are a few big assumptions which he makes from the outset which really shape his argument. He also covers a lot of ground so I have struggled in writing this to know how to organize all the material. In the end I think the best way to proceed is for me to go topic by topic and to sum up his arguments and give my reflections on each and then at the end to try to pull it all together and look at the bigger themes. 

Wiley on  . . . the State of the World Today

We can begin to see where Wiley is coming from even from the titles of his books. The Household and the War for the Cosmos tells us that there is a battle afoot, and  Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter that Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart tells us that Wiley thinks that a catastrophe is coming and that we need to prepare now. There is a tone of survivalism here but Wiley does not advocate running off to the wilderness with a stock of canned goods. Though he fears a breakdown of society, one which he would say has already come in many ways, his solutions have to do with building one’s own household and especially becoming self-sufficient in an economic sense. He does not advocate a retreat and actually does urge us to become involved with our neighbors and with local politics. 

One of the big assumptions Wiley makes is that the world is not in a good place and is headed for a worse one. He seems to idealize a past age, looking to a time before the rise of atheism and “sciencism” as the epitome of human civilization (Cosmos, p. 100). The modern world, on the other hand, is a low point. Even the paganism which came before Christianity is better than where we are now (Cosmos p. 101). While he is not without some optimism for the future (Cosmos p. 102), his theory is based on the premise that civilization will end and that it will do so relatively soon (Man p. xiii). It is a long, slow end he predicts and so his suggestions are not the “run away” type but the “build your life to withstand the coming cataclysm” type (Man, p. xiv).  What does the “end of civilization” look like? Beyond the breakdown of the family, Wiley mentions political disintegration and economic failure including such things as banks collapsing (Man, p. 9). 

I find Wiley’s critiques are often good and I like his point about how all the things the family used to do (eg. education, care of the elderly) have been taken away and outsourced to others. I am less inclined to agree with his assessment of the current situation vis-a-vis the past and the future. There is an eschatology underlying this all, one that says that the world is getting worse. Yet Wiley does not look to the end times for relief but anticipates a cataclysmic event which Christians can survive. It would be interesting to hear where Wiley places himself in the whole post-, pre-, a-millennial spectrum. The “world is going to hell in a handbag” attitude smacks of premillennialism, but he seems to look for answers, not in a rapture or the Second Coming, but in this time.

On  . . . Piety and the Cosmos

In Cosmos Wiley champions the virtue of piety. In our society “piety” has been downgraded first to “devotions” and then to “quiet times” (or even “QTs”). These take something that was meant to be all-encompassing and make it a personal matter accomplished in 15 minutes in the morning (Cosmos p. 14). When we eliminate the word “piety,” we also eliminate the idea (Cosmos p. 17).  For the definition of true piety, Wiley turns to both classical, especially Roman, sources and to the Bible. Based on Acts 17:23, he defines piety as reverent action towards God, leaders, family, and all to whom reverence is due (Cosmos p. 25). 

Piety is based on a certain understanding of the world which was believed in ancient times, both in (pagan) Roman culture and among Christians, but which has been lost to us today. Again, his sources are both biblical and classical, though he tends to lean heavily on the Roman ones. This worldview is summed up in the word “cosmos.” This word implies that everything that is is part of one unified and ordered system. It includes both the physical world and the spiritual one, and every thing and every being within this system has its place. Wiley advocates a return to the idea that everything is connected and that it has order. With order comes hierarchy. Piety, right duty to the other members of the hierarchy, holds the whole thing together (Man, p. 93). 

Within the cosmos are microcosms. The most basic unit within this order is the household. The cosmos itself is like one giant household of which Jesus is the governing Lord (Cosmos pp. 63, 64). The structure of the cosmos he compares to a set of Russian nesting dolls. The household is the smallest but also the most essential unit. Households together form villages, which in turn form cities, and so on. 

The purpose of our households is to serve as microcosms of the largest “cosm” of all (Cosmos p. 88). The head of the household is a kind of mediator, standing “between his household and heaven, representing each to the other” (Cosmos p. 74). Even the small household has power, like the fulcrum of a lever, to impact the world (Cosmos, p. 116). 

Though he relies more on Roman than biblical texts to support this view, I do think Wiley has something with this view of cosmos. The Bible certainly does give us an ordered Creation, containing both physical and spiritual beings, with God as the Creator of all and the Authority over all. I am a little less enamored of some of his particular emphases. I think there are dangers in the nesting doll image he uses and he overemphasizes authority structures, points we will explore as we delve a little deeper. 

Sidebar (Wiley uses lots of sidebars within his first book so I am going to use them too, to discuss a few points which would not otherwise fit well in the overall narrative): Within the layered cosmos, Wiley says: “Just a little above us, there are principalities and powers . . . Paul actually names their chief: ‘the Prince of the Power of the Air’” (Cosmos p. 56). This name is, of course, given to Satan. But this is not the biblical order. Satan is not our rightful ruler. Nor are we subject to spiritual authorities (other than God Himself), but we will rule over and judge them. Wiley later says: “The principalities continue to rage against the Lord of the Cosmos (Cosmos, p. 114), again implying that there is an active and powerful role that Satan plays in our world whereas the witness of Scripture is that Satan is bound. Yes, our battle is a spiritual one, but our enemy is not a powerful one.

On . . .  the Household

Wiley traces the origin of the household as the basic human structure to the first chapters of Genesis.The command to households there is to be fruitful, a task which he applies to work, procreation, and culture (Cosmos, pp. 117-18). Woman is given to man because “it is not good for him to be alone,” which Wiley understands as meaning that he will not be as fruitful alone (Man, p. 58). [Certainly he will not produce children alone!] For his biblical model, Wiley looks primarily to Abraham’s household which includes not just his wife and son but also many slaves or servants (the Hebrew word is the same). A household is a family but more than a family. A household is a stronghold (Man, p. xvi). Built rightly it can withstand the cataclysm to come.

Part of being built rightly is to have the right structure. There is duty within a household because there is an authority structure.There is also a common goal. Because the sons inherit, they are in a sense working for themselves when they contribute to the family business. They have a stake in the greater enterprise which a slave or hired man does not. Wiley makes a nice connection here to our status within God’s household — we also are heirs and when we work for His Kingdom, we are working for our own good as well (Cosmos, p. 97). 

A household has an economy and a polity and a law. A husband and wife together form the smallest polity (Man, p. 14). Even within such a small unit, a head is needed (Man, p. 15). There is a common good which is worked for and each member has a role to play and something real to contribute, even young children. This is the economy. The law refers to the rules and duties which structure the household interactions. 

The structure within the household Wiley compares to that of a Sovereign and his subjects. The king defends the subjects and they in turn support him (Man, p. 7). The responsibility of the one is defense and of the other is obedience. In this analogy, the husband and father plays the role of king and his wife and children are the subjects. Working towards a common goal — which bringing one’s work home again allows — helps cement these authority structures (Man, p. 71). Within that structure, everyone has a role to play: “In a justly ordered house there are roles to assign; but we should also exercise wisdom when working with people and their idiosyncrasies” (Man, p. 70). The family business, whatever it is, gives everyone a role since it provides more work to go around. Of course, there is other work to do as well. Wiley seems very much in favor of homeschooling (Man, p. 45), but there are of course other jobs that need done to make a household run smoothly as well. I will say for Wiley that he seems to value everyone’s contribution, men and women, adults and children. Wiley does favor traditional sex roles, though his argument is not from Scripture but from nature — the traditional roles work well because men and women have natural strengths and weaknesses (Man, p. 46). Children, too, are contributors to the household and Wiley argues that we would have more children if we valued them for their economic and labor contributions (Man, p. 61).

The household is indeed an important biblical concept. Though Wiley makes it a cornerstone of his schema, his conception of it is ill-defined. He seems to imply that all people should be part of households but he does not address how this happens. Singleness, for Wiley, is not an ideal choice.Though he references the biblical text in which the Apostle Paul seems to praise singles as better able to serve God, he does not seem to accept this principle but to be rather dismissive of it, saying that:

“Rather than challenge [the choice to opt out of family life], or even question it, many evangelicals, especially in coastal cities, justify it, citing 1 Corinthians 7 and Paul’s reflections on the advantages he enjoyed as an unmarried apostle.” (Cosmos p. 8) 

Even if singles were to join themselves to households, it is not clear what role they would play. Abraham’s household which included many servants/slaves is Wiley’s model and yet when he discusses the household he speaks as if every man should be the head of a household. There is no place for workers in his schema (as we shall see when we look at his economic views). Yet big households don’t run without labor. If you are to have a successful family business, you will need eventually to hire people beyond your spouse and children. Wiley’s model seems to necessitate and yet disparage those who work for others.

Wiley does not address those households mentioned in the New Testament. In many ways, these would strengthen his argument. Often we see households operating, and being saved, as a unit. There is certainly much here for us independent, individualistic Amercians to think about. But there are also some ideas which may not fit well in Wiley’s schema. We see, for instance, women as the head of households in the New Testament. (The roles of men and women within the household will be discussed further below.)

On  . . .  the Household Economy

The problem Wiley sees in modern society is that all these parts of the household have broken down. There is no head and so there is no law. A major focus is the lack of an economy. As people began to work outside the home more and more, there was no common purpose for the family and thus nothing to tie its members together. As an antidote Wiley urges each household to build its own economy. What this looks like practically speaking is owning a means of production and working for oneself: “Productive property gives the household economy something to work on together, something to offer the world in exchange for a living” (Man, p. 30).  To work for another he calls “wage slavery” (Man, pp. 40ff, 116), a loaded term if ever there was one. “Here is the truth: if you do not own productive property you work for someone who does. Ownership is freedom and wage earners are not owners. It is just that simple”(Man, p. 39). By essentially establishing a family business, the household decreases its dependence on the larger societal system but also gives its members a reason to once again work together. 

“The goal is to bring your work home with you — to make the household the center of productive enterprise once again. This can mean bringing members of your household into the venture at some point” (Man, p. 42). Beyond working out of the home, Wiley also advocates other practices which make one less dependent on the border economy, from gardening to homeschooling to a certain kind of estate planning.

It is odd actually to read these books in the midst of 2020, a time of pandemic and unrest, when many have lost their jobs, stability and possibly their health. It is odd, but it is also instructive. I suppose we all evaluate things based on our own experience. For me, my husband spent some years working as a “freelancer” (something Wiley praises) though he is now once again working for a (relatively) big company. He has also worked with and for friends who have started their own businesses. I have been in the craft world and know many people who make and sell goods as a way to support themselves. I have to say any kind of working for yourself is tough and when the hard times have hit, as they have in 2020, these people have taken a big hit.  I am much happier and more secure with my husband working for a big company that has some deep pockets to help it ride out this rough spell than I would be if he were still “freelancing”, or than my friends are who work for themselves. [It is actually quite heartbreaking to read their stories.]

Wiley says that self-employment brings freedom and security and that working for a wage is slavery (Man, p. 40). I would say that is not necessarily the case. As I would think anyone who owns their own business would say, there is a lot of “slavery” involved in that as well. You cannot walk away from it. You cannot go on vacation easily. There are lots of ways we are bound and constrained in life and working for oneself is often less certain and more constricting. Wiley does acknowledge that there are trade offs, but comes down firmly on the side of owning one’s own business: “Most people today depend on the corporate economy to maintain their freedom from the demands of self-employment and business ownership. But the price of that freedom is wage slavery.” (Man, p. 129) Yet those who work for themselves are still in many ways dependent upon other people. You need customers to patronize your business and to buy your goods or services. When a crisis like COVID comes and the economy shuts down and people have less money, those with small businesses are hit hardest. There are different kinds of crises of course, but in the current one, the person working for a large company is a lot more likely to still have an income than the small businessman.

Wiley starts with an economic assumption — that to work for someone else for a wage is akin to slavery. He equates freedom with ownership and minimizes other obligations and risks that come with owning one’s own business. I would add that in doing so he also minimizes the difference between actual slavery in which one person owns another and simply having a job one can walk away from. In the words of Ishmael, narrator of Moby Dick:

“Who aint [sic] a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about — however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way — either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)

Side bar: As I have said, Wiley doesn’t spend a lot of time on theology as such but he does occasionally touch on the topic. In discussing the roles of people within the household, he dares a comparison to the roles within the Godhead:

“In the Trinity, each of the persons is equally God, yet each has a function within an ordered hierarchy. The Son obeys the Father, but the Father does not take orders from the Son. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, but the Father and the Son do not proceed from the Spirit. By using the Trinity as a model for understanding human hierarchies, people are free to honor those above them without degrading themselves. And those in authority can honor those beneath them without any loss of authority.” (Man, p. 21). 

Though it is not completely clear how Wiley would draw the lines here, this sounds a lot like the heresy known as Eternal Submission of the Son (ESS) or Eternal Functional Subordination (EFS). By either name, this heresy says that in eternity (and not just during Jesus’ time on earth) the Son has been and will continue to be subordinate to the Father. The problem with this idea is that it makes the Son less than the Father and thus inserts a difference within the Godhead, ultimately making the Son less God than the Father is. For more on this topic, I would refer you to the Reformed Brotherhood and The Aquila Report

On . . .  Marriage and Headship

In his second book, Wiley addresses the biblical commands for a husband to love his wife and a wife to submit to her husband. Here he says that submission is a stumbling block for many but that it should be something to be proud of because in submitting, one is playing their part within the larger order (Cosmos, p. 108). His argument grates a little because it emphasizes the command to wives to submit and largely ignores the command to the husband to love. I think he could actually make a much stronger argument if he were to appeal as well to the commands for Christians to submit to one another. In a context in which submission flows in many directions and everyone has those they submit to, the whole thing becomes more palatable to modern sensibilities and highlights as well the ordered schema Wiley proposes.

When it comes to arguing for the husband as the head of the household, it is not to the Scriptures that Wiley turns. His arguments on this point come from what we might call natural law or perhaps just good old-fashioned common sense. In order to lead and judge, he says, the head of the house must be able to distance himself from the other members of the household. A mother, he says, is not able emotionally to do this (Man, p. 75). Physical strength is also a factor: “When it comes to household order, might must serve right. In the vast majority of households the father is the best equipped for the job” (Man, p. 75; emphasis original). The leader must have what he calls “gravitas” which we might define as the weight of authority. One with gravitas commands respect by his mere presence. This, Wiley says, comes more naturally to men: “Here’s something else egalitarians don’t like about gravitas: it is easier for men to acquire it than women, Physical strength is a big reason, but not the only one — height helps — as does a deeper voice” (Man, p. 78). As he defines it later, this gravitas comes down to a willingness to walk away if need be (Man, p. 81), not something that I would consider a good quality in a husband and father. The rule that the man of the house exerts, for Wiley, is one of power and the ability to bring physical judgment to bear (Man, p. 79). And, as he makes clear, the law of the house is to be one of justice, not primarily of love (Man p. 68). 

In terms of how a man is to lead, Wiley argues that the man of the house should be above all just. He must not lord it over his “subjects” but must have self-mastery. In order to do so a man must follow the command to — here Wiley appeals to the wisdom of the oracle at Delphi — “know thyself” (Man, p. 82). 

There is an assumption here that might makes right. The man is the head of the household, not because this is what the Scriptures dictate, but because of his physical, and to a lesser degree his emotional, characteristics. One is left wondering, if a wife were the physically stronger party if it would be okay for her to be the head.

Biblical ideas and models of leadership are not discussed. The command to the husband to love his wife is downplayed and biblical servant-leadership seems to be completely unconsidered. Instead, a man attains leadership because of his physical superiority and maintains it through a combination of physical power, economic savvy, and emotional distance. 

Sidebar: As has been alluded to above, the man of the house is also a mediator between the household and the rest of the cosmos within which it is nested (remember those Russian nesting dolls?): “In order to honor the past, or what is above, people in your house will need to pass through you to do so. It is simply a matter of where you are in relationship to these things. You come between . . . You are the priest of your house. You are the first of many layers.” (Man, p. 95). Here again we teeter on the edge of a particular heresy. And again it is not completely clear where Wiley stands theologically but what he has to say sounds very much like the Family Church movement — good words that nonetheless convey a bad idea. Simply put this theology posits a kind of series of “umbrellas of protection.”  A man’s wife and kids are under his umbrella of protection. They are safe as long as they stay there. The man in turn represents them to the larger world, including both the church leadership and God Himself. Practically speaking if a wife has a question, she is to go to her husband and does not have direct access to her elders. That can be quite problematic of course if she has issues with her husband. But even more problematic is that the husband/father is made the mediator for his family whereas Scripture tells us that there is one Mediator, Christ (1 Tim. 2:5). For more on this topic see  Theology Gals.   

On . . .  Parenting

Wiley doesn’t have a lot to say directly on parenting. He does tell one rather disturbing story from his own teenage years in which he decided he no longer had to obey his mother. In the heat of argument she tried to slap him, he ducked and she ended up injured. For Wiley the point of this story is that the father, who is bigger and more powerful, is necessary to keep the child in line (Man, p. 67). The entire dynamic here is again one of might makes right. It is sad to me that Wiley endured this as a child, but it is even sadder that it is still the dynamic he expects as an adult. There is no talk here of training, no mention of sin or of guilt, and nothing about addressing the child’s heart attitude. 

In a schema in which there must be one leader in each household, it is unclear how a child transitions to adulthood and at what point new households are formed. Because the person your child marries essentially comes into the family business, Wiley is in favor of, if not arranged marriages, at least parents having a strong say in whom their children marry (Man, p. 131). Children (presumably fairly grown ones) may also be exiled from the household. While he cautions patience, Wiley also says children must earn their inheritance and some are simply incorrigible and must be disowned: “[I]t may be necessary to cut a child off completely” (Man, p. 132).   

Side bar: Wiley also speaks to how children should address adults:

“All other adults should be ma’am and sir. Should it happen that some adult eschews such respect and says to your child something like, “Mr. Johnson is my father — call me Bob!” you ought to take him aside and let him know the ground rules with your children. If Bob can’t handle adulthood, don’t let your children spend time with him.” (Man, p. 97)

I have a couple of thoughts here. Ma’am and sir are fairly cultural. We had a family in our church for a while whose kids ma’am-ed and sir-ed everyone. They were from the south and it came naturally from them. My son picked up the habit but it did not come naturally to him. When he said ma’am to a dear sweet 90-something year old friend of ours, she was horrified and thought she had offended him and began apologizing profusely. In New England, ma’am and sir don’t always sound polite (though Wiley is in Connecticut so I don’t know why he doesn’t see this). I teach my kids that attitude in how they speak to adults is the most important thing. You can say ma’am and sir and still be sassy. You can not say them and still convey respect. When I told my teens about this passage, they thought it was rather rude not to call Bob, Bob, if that is what he prefers. To cut Bob out of one’s life seems cruel. Maybe he is a good Christian man at church whose influence would benefit your kids. Maybe he is not, but maybe your family’s influence would benefit him. 

On  . . .  Government

The household is the smallest institution and the government is the largest but in between there are others (Man, p. 114). It is the biggest institutions that Wiley is most critical of, including the government and large corporations: “[P]eople build institutions for shelter. But here is another thing: when it comes to institutions, bigger isn’t always better. Bigger usually comes with hidden costs” (Man, p. 62). 

While he acknowledges that a “[j]ust civil authority is a good thing” (Man, p. 103), Wiley does not seem to find much good in the government. They serve their own interests: “Governments are Janus-faced things, looking after your interests with one face, while pursuing their own with the other.” (Man, p. 103) The bigger and more powerful the government is, the worse it is: “The state continues to grow and centralize, technology tracks us (and increasingly it is used to manipulate us), progressive multinational corporations standardize us and commodify us, popular media seek to indoctrinate us and addict us, and state-run education and healthcare are eliminating private rivals so as to make us ever more dependent on government largess.” (Cosmos p. 115).

Not surprisingly a major function of government, as Wiley sees it, is to protect private property as well as to preserve order (Man, p. 104). In general, “householders should favor limited government” (Man, p. 108). He is not big on the welfare state, saying it undermines the household, and argues that child-care and eldercare should both return to the home (Man, p. 110). Though he is very careful not to advocate disobeying one’s government, Wiley gives specific advice on how to (legally) keep from paying too much in taxes (Man, pp. 108ff). It should be noted that most of his vitriol is reserved for big government. He advocates being involved in one’s local community and sees the value of local government (Man, p. 106). 

Again we see that there is a particular view espoused, and it is one that is fairly anti-government. This is not the biblical view. The Scriptures tell us that, however its powers may be abused, government is a God-ordained institution which is given as a blessing for mankind. Even under one of the most egregious governments known, Paul is able to say that governments are given by God for man’s good (Rom. 13:1ff). 

On  . . the Church

The Church is also a kind of household. As microcosms, our households bear witness to God’s: “Your household can even be a witness to the household of God by the way it works.” (Man, p. 134) In the end times, our households will not continue as they are but there still will be a Household: “Now, the bridge that connects the houses we live in today, and the one we will dwell in someday, is the Church. It is the witness to and even an inchoate embodiment of the eschatological household.” (Man, p. 98) 

But the Church is also a contemporary institution. Though quite skeptical of large secular institutions, Wiley does say that: “Households can’t stand alone.” They can and should unite with other households. In order to do so, they must find common ground. This common ground Wiley calls moral goodness. The Church is the mediating institution which promotes moral goodness (Man, p. 122). For a pastor, he has surprisingly little to say beyond this on the role of the church or its relationship to the individual households which comprise it. 

While there is some grand language about it, there is little practical discussion of how individual households relate to the Church. I would argue on the contrary that, while it is a great blessing to have one’s biological family as part of one’s spiritual family, for Christians the spiritual family, i.e. the Church, is the primary unit. This understanding helps resolve some of the problems which Wiley’s understanding of the household raises. Singles, who are not otherwise  part of a household, have a place within God’s household. The Church itself should not be viewed as a confederation of separate households but as the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). Nor is it bound together by “moral goodness.” It is rather our union in Christ which unites us. 

On  . . . Virtue

Though he does not spend a lot of time discussing it directly, virtue is an important subject for Wiley. This is how he ends his first book:  “[I]f your household can retain its independence through moral virtue, like Noah and his house, your heirs may someday step into in [sic] a world wiped clean.” (Man, p. 136) There is an implication here that just as Noah’s family, out of all his contemporaries, was saved because he was a righteous man, so our families too will be delivered because of our virtue. Elsewhere he says: “If the members of your household are virtuous, then even if they lose everything, they stand a good chance of recovering their fortunes, given time” (Man, p. 125). There is an element of prosperity gospel in this — we are rewarded for our virtue with material success. 

There is no doubt that for Wiley the primary virtue to be cultivated is piety, that right relation to others within the household and the cosmos (which seems to come down more than anything else to submission to those who hold a position of authority over one). How then does one cultivate piety or any other virtue? Wiley says: “But virtue is the most difficult thing of all to give someone, because it isn’t really ours to give. It has to be drawn out of the person himself.” (Man, p. 134) This is an interesting statement. We have seen that Wiley relies fairly heavily on classical sources, especially Roman ones, and I detect the flavor of classical thought here as well (See this post on David Hicks’ Norms and Nobility in which I discuss how the classical approach known as dialectic assumes that knowledge is within man and must be drawn out). Wiley seems to say that virtue is something inherent within us that must be brought out. This is not biblical Christianity. Goodness is defined by the character of God. As fallen people, we have no inherent goodness unless and until He redeems us. 

Drawing Some Conclusions

There is a lot of material in these two short books of Wiley’s and much to respond to. Above all I would say that what Wiley gives us is not a theological treatise but an economic and to a lesser extent a social one.  Though his books have an eschatological tone, the crises he sees and solutions he proposes are very much of this world. The heart of his theory is an economic view which says that freedom, protection, and deliverance come through ownership and work. The end goal is to have sufficient financial independence to withstand economic and societal crises in this world. There is little here that is spiritual. The overall outlook is quite materialistic in that it speaks to and about the physical world and its problems. 

In his sources, Wiley as often as not turns to non-Christian, even pagan, classical sources.  When he does use biblical sources, he does not look at the whole counsel of Scripture on a subject. For instance, his take on households is based on Abraham and Noah but does not consider how households are spoken of in the New Testament. Even when there are good biblical arguments, eg. for the husband/father as the head of the household, Wiley turns to non-biblical arguments. 

I don’t want to imply that there is nothing good here. Wiley’s critiques of our modern society and especially of how certain policies undermine the family are on point. His argument for the cosmos as a greater structure which has order, particularly as contrasted with modern views of a completely materialistic “cosmos,” are also good. 

The bottom line on both Man of the House and The Household and the War for the Cosmos is that they are promoting a particular view of what a household, and particularly the work of that household, should look like. While it may be a position some Christians take, it is not an inherently Christian position nor is it the only way Christians can see the issue. Christ’s work on the cross, His incarnation and His act of redemption on our behalf make absolutely no difference to Wiley’s theory. 


[1] Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter that Will Last in a World That is Falling Apart (Eugene, OR: Resource Publication, 2017)

The Household and the War for the Cosmos (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2019)

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Trent on December 29, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    Thanks for this.
    I habe seen many a Reformed complementarian using a vocabulary and ideology that is more informed by modern red pillers and yesteryear’s paterfamilias. Its unbecoming of Christians.


    • Posted by Trent on December 29, 2020 at 6:00 pm

      I forgot to add that Wiley was quite involved in the Genevan Commons group. Wonder if he is dealing with of the fallout from his behavior?


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