Although he believes that "the South was right on all the essential constitutional and cultural issues surrounding the war," Wilson has repeatedly declared that he is no neo-Confederate. He prefers the label paleo-Confederate.
"You're not going to scare me away from the word Confederate like you just said 'Boo!' " Wilson says. "I would define a neo-Confederate as someone who thinks we are still fighting that war. Instead, I would say we're fighting in a long war, and that [the Civil War] was one battle that we lost."
Wilson says his "long war" is not on behalf of white supremacy, though his criticisms of government-enforced desegregation echo those of neo-secessionist groups like the League of the South. Rather, Wilson seeks to revive the memory—however rose-tinted—of eras in Western history when faith and reason seemed at one, when family, church, and the organic "community of Christians" that T. S. Eliot describes in Christianity and Culture were more powerful than the state. When Wilson says that the mission of NSA is to "save civilization," this is his meaning.
A Would-Be Prophet Goes Mainstream
Wilson is the first to acknowledge that his views are not those of the evangelical mainstream—and that is fine by him. No true prophet, after all, can afford too much mainstream appeal, and Wilson has gone out of his way to alienate people. "I knew that if something started in Moscow—a movement of the Holy Spirit—it would be about three weeks before the suits and haircuts arrived, shrink-wrapped the whole thing, and took it on the road, because that's what evangelicals do," he says. "I decided that if fire fell on Moscow, as upon Elijah's altar, I wanted it to fall on an altar doused with water. I made a point of adopting certain unmarketable positions. I'm a televangelist with a blacked-out tooth—so if something happens, it's God's work."
Yet Wilson's statements about theonomy and race relations are not merely contrarian tactics—they are his firm beliefs. In his recent replies to atheists, he has left these beliefs in the background because the apologetic task at hand requires him to do so. It appears that Wilson wouldn't mind becoming the evangelical answer to Hitchens: a public intellectual whose iconoclastic wit and best-selling books could prove to the wider world that evangelicals can drink beer in a pub, crack jokes, and defend their worldview against all comers.
In his first major bid for a national audience, Wilson left behind his paleo-Confederatism and Reformed doctrinal debates in favor of a good-natured, if sometimes pedantic, exposition of classic arguments in favor of Christianity. "There are people who may not like my take on the Westminster Confession, but they see me debating Hitchens, and nine out of ten will be rooting for me," he says.
At the same time, once mainstream evangelicals learn more of Wilson's beliefs, they may refuse to let him speak on their behalf. "Hitchens is arguing not with a 'heavyweight,' " said one online commenter on the CT debate, "but a scoundrel."
In a culture as diverse as American evangelicalism, no spokesman could ever represent the views of all believers. It is worth recalling that C. S. Lewis, English-speaking Christians' most beloved apologist, was almost as far from the American evangelical mainstream as Wilson is—albeit on the Anglican, myth-minded, pipe-smoking end of the spectrum. Apologetics is an art very different from systematic theology or pastoral teaching. Mere Christianity, however, can never be severed from the more specific questions about doctrine and human life that follow, and an apologist's opinion on them matters more than his well-placed dig at the village atheist—even if it is a very clever dig against a global village atheist.