Adversity Lesson 3: How the end product of affliction can be a hope that does not dissappoint

Romans 5:2-5 says, “Through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

There is a great deal of deep truth packed into these verses, and the Lord has been helping me to unpack some of it:

(1) What is proven character? To have character be approved it must be measured by a fixed, perfect standard. Who or what is that standard? It is the character of Christ. Christ’s character is character proven at the highest level—perfect holiness. Therefore when Paul says affliction can result in proven character, he is repeating his common theme that God’s desire is for Christ to be formed within us. It is God’s intention that the afflictions He allows in His wisdom not be empty of purpose, but pregnant with purpose. One of those purposes is that the character of Jesus be produced within us.

(2) In Proverbs 13:12 it says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” In others words when our hopes end in disappointment we are left desolate, empty and heartbroken. But in Rom. 5:5 Paul says there exists a “hope that does not disappoint.” There is only one hope in the entire universe we can grab a hold of that will not leave us disappointed, disillusioned or heartbroken. It is the “hope of the glory of God” (v. 2). But what hope is that? What does that mean? How is that acquired? Does it simply mean a hope to go to heaven and escape all pain on this earth? Is it a hope we have to wait to experience, or is it a hope we can have now and live in now?

I believe the “hope of the glory of God” we are to have and which “cannot disappoint” is given more definition in Colossians 1:27. There Paul declares, “God wanted to make known…the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In other words, the “hope of God’s glory…that does not disappoint” in Rom. 5:2,5 is nothing other than “Christ in you, the hope of glory” in Col. 1:27.

(3) But that only pushes back the question one step further: What does it mean to speak of “Christ in me?” Throughout the N.T. we find a common theme coursing its way through the Scriptures like a winding river. It is the theme of being conformed to the image of Christ and having Christ’s nature and character formed within us. That is why Paul in Romans 5:2-5 connects our “hope that does not disappoint” with “proven character.” Paul is essentially saying the end result of affliction that God allows is meant to produce and form within us the transformative character of Christ. And the character of Christ is indomitable, invincible and cannot be overcome by anything this world throws at us. In contrast other things we put our hope in can be taken away, such that we are left heartsick and in despair

But when Christ’s character becomes formed within us, we become more than conquerors, and many of the promises of God that use to seem so distant and unrealized, are now within our reach—such as having peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7), finding rest for our souls (Mt. 11:29) and souring high on wings as eagles (Is. 40:30). When the character of Christ becomes formed within us, we may suffer disappointment and sorrow in other areas of life, but we can never be left permanently disappointed or disabled emotionally.

(4) It is interesting to note how Paul connects our “hope that does not disappoint” with the reason why it does not disappoint. He states, “This hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (v. 5). In other words the Holy Spirit has been given to us an agent of divine love to pour into us none other than God—who is love (1 John 4:8). This is the essence of the gospel that makes it good news.

However to “pour into” signifies there is both a vessel and room within the vessel to pour into. It implies we are soft, new wineskin that has the capacity to expand to the measure God pours in. When our lives are cluttered and congested with the “gospel of self-fulfillment,” wherein we always run from “x” if “x” is hard and pursue “y” if “y” is easy and pleasant, then we cannot experience how God can both allow and redeem the afflictions of life to produce within us a hope that does not disappoint based on a love that cannot be overcome.

We need to work from this verse going backwards to see how God’s ultimate desire to pour His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit can become our personal experience with God. So if we “connect the dots” by starting with the last truth and trace the sequence back to the beginning we discover the following:

(A) Individuals who can testify of God’s love being poured into them through the agency of the Holy Spirit are those who have a hope that cannot leave them disappointed (v. 5).

(B) And those who can testify of that hope are those who have allowed this unique hope to be produced within them through their character be proven (v. 4).

(C) But proven character—the character of Christ— cannot be produced within unless it first be produced by endurance (v. 4).

(D) Yet endurance only comes by persevering through hardship and affliction (v. 3).

(E) Nevertheless in order for this entire process to progress forward we need our starting place to not be bitterness, anger or resentment, but an attitude of “rejoicing in our afflictions” (v. 3).

(F) However our attitude of rejoicing in affliction grows out of our rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God—which is submitting ourselves to Christ being formed within us—the hope of our glory.

(G) If we truly want it, the grace of God to persevere and rejoice is available to us because “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v. 2).

(H) And lastly all of this is made possible because “we have been declared righteous by faith” and “ have peace with God through our Lord Jesus” (vs. 1).

That last point is a critical point of origin for any journey we take in the Lord and with the Lord. We must know that our starting place with God is always peace and goodwill, not hostility and opposition. We don’t have to “win” God over to our side. He is already there—ready and willing to be our refuge in time of trouble. No matter what comes our way we can be assured that God is for us, not against us; He comes to us as friend not foe.

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Adversity Lesson 2: “They will pass through the valley of weeping and make it spring” (Ps. 84:6).

There are two authors and speakers that God has graciously used to bless me and teach me over the past weeks. One is Bob Sorge and the other is Francis Frangipane.

Early on when the pain and confusion was most intense I found a sermon titled “Falling Forward” preached by Francis Frangipane on YouTube. I probably listened to it four times. It deeply touched me and gave me a helpful and desperately needed context to weep before the Lord. It also exposed me to the beauty and promise of Psalm 84:5-7, a section of Scripture I never saw before–  but shall now carry within my heart till the day I die. I have typed out the most helpful parts and only slightly changed some of the grammar and word order.

“Falling Forward” a sermon preached by Francis Frangipane
(click here to hear)

“When things aren’t going your way and the Lord is working to break you, if you resist the breaking, you prolong the process. You prolong the process by just not allowing yourself to be broken. How do you know you’re not broken? You have to go through it again. And as we go through it, if we keep hardening our heart, it takes longer and longer. You see God is after the soft dimensions of our heart to be released.

In every difficulty there is the opportunity to allow it to soften us. If we go through difficult things and it actually hardens us, then we need to beware. Friends, this is not a minor issue—please listen to me. Many Christian go through difficult things and instead of passing through it and becoming broken and soft, they become hard and cynical. A huge percentage of American of Americans say they believe in God, but they aren’t in church. Why? Because they went through some difficult thing, and instead of softening their hearts, they hardened their hearts.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 13 about the end of the age in which he spoke about the tares and the wheat. The thing about the tares and the wheat is they look the same. They have the same coloring and the same blade structure. In fact you can’t tell the difference between the tares and the wheat—except at harvest time. When the grain grows at harvest time the head of the wheat begins to bow from the weight. But the darnel, or tares, is still standing straight up and stiff. It is pointing straight up—it cannot bow. It can’t go through difficulty and “bow” on the other side.

Do you understand what I am saying? We are all going to go through something unpleasant, and how you go through it, what happens to you on the inside, is critical. You either allow it to break you, to relax you on the inside in the destiny God has, or you become hardened and embittered. It is God’s desire that you allow the breaking to do its work so that Christ can come out of you. You might ask, “How does Christ come out?” He comes out in many ways, such as forgiving the one that perhaps God used to break you.

The only way you can really prove that you are wheat is to not worry about the tares, but instead simply make sure you are growing as wheat. It is inescapable that sometime during your life you are going to grow side by side with someone who does not have a sense of love, does not have a sense of timing, does not have a sense of compassion and does not have a sense of what is truly going on inside of you. They may hurt you or offend you in some way, but you cannot say, “Well they are a tare!” I will tell you what the wheat does—the wheat prays for the darnel. The wheat prays for the tares. In contrast the darnel judges the wheat and other tares.

The truth is we have Christ. We don’t need to try and be holy, we are holy—if in fact Christ is in us. If we really want Christ to come out through us, then He comes out forgiving, He comes out praying, He comes out blessing those who curse us and He comes out going extra miles. He seeks to come out in the very context of our conflict so we can survive that conflict. And that’s how you know you are wheat in the process of life.

In the expanding of your destiny in God you will go through breakings, and how you relate to the breaking is critical. If you still have in your mind what so-and-so did to you 2, 6, 10 years ago, you are in jeopardy of becoming darnel—a tare. If you have not forgiven your way out of that “thing” then you need to examine whether you are moving as wheat or developing a tare-like nature. The darnel can look just like wheat. It can go to church, it can go through all the motions, but it does not have the character of the life of Christ at the center. You know it’s the life of Christ because in the breaking time Christ comes out. What you bleed when your cut determines what’s inside of you. And so we need the failure, we need the difficulty and we need the conflict so that Christ can emerge in that area.

Look again at Psalm 84:5 “How blessed is the man whose strength is in thee.” Note it does not say “whose strength is in himself.” We all have an innate strength within us, where we rely on our abilities to promote and make something happen. But in this passage the Psalmist is saying, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in God—whose strength is not centered in themselves.” In other words it is God who makes happen for them all the things that need to happen. God goes before them and prepares the way. God does what only God can do and we discover the strength of God is supplying what we can’t get within ourselves.

The Psalmist continues, “How blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are highways to Zion. Passing through the valley of Baca, they make it a spring…” (Ps. 84:5-6). You will see in your margins the word, “Baca” means “weeping.” So the Psalmist is saying, “Passing through the valley of weeping, they make it a spring.”

Everyone has a valley of weeping. Some of us have more than one—there are many valleys of weeping that we must pass through. But if your strength is in the Lord, not yourself, and you have gone through the breaking of your outer nature and now realize your strength is in God who loves you, then the tears from your weeping—which were as bitter as salt water— become something to drink. They become a spring, something that refreshes you! You see, the things you go through when God is breaking you can become the very things that refresh you later on in your spiritual journey.

The Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man”—happy is the man, indwelt by God is the man, to be envied is the man—“in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” You see it is Christ’s heart that is the highway to Zion. The person of Christ, the seed of inner life whom you received when you said, “I take you into my life” is the blueprint and pattern that will continue to unfold, grow and emerge throughout all of our lives.

It is “Christ in you” and therefore to give yourself always over to Jesus in every single conflict enables you to come out on the other side and “go from strength to strength…appearing before God in Zion” (v 7). That is what God is after when we go through these breakings. Failure becomes our friend, because the breaking produces an end to the old way of us—and the beginning of a new way in Him.

No one is super-natural, we are all only average. We are all going to make mistakes. We are all going to fail. But with God none of those things become limitations, because  we are told “God chooses the weak things.” The only thing we need to do is not remain stiff—not remain unbending. Allow Christ to emerge. “Passing through the valley of weeping, they make it a spring.” Brothers and sisters there is something to drink in your tears that you’re going to need later on in life. They will become something you will be able to fill your canteen with, and it will give you life and refreshing later on.

Lastly when the Psalmist says, “Everyone appears before God in Zion” he is not talking about landing up in heaven one day and appearing before God in Zion. He is saying, “Right now in your context, in the life you are now living, in the failure you just experienced, in losing your job, in going through whatever conflict you are currently going through, you can appear before God. God is looking—He is watching—and He knows the battle you are going through. And He has allowed that battle to give you the opportunity to be broken—but even greater—to give Christ the opportunity to emerge.” – Francis Frangipane in a sermon titled “Falling Forward.” 

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Adversity Lesson 1: God comes to change us not only console us

“Dear Matt, what I am about to tell you I say with a very heavy heart. I met someone else when I returned home last month, and he recently proposed to me. It was not planned–it took me by surprise. I know it might sound crazy, but I felt peace about it. I am now engaged to be married to him in three months time. Please know everything we shared together was genuine and from the heart. I am so sorry.”

I will probably never forget those words. They became seared into my heart as if they were put there by a branding iron.

It has now been a month and a half since the woman I thought for sure I was going to marry this year turned my world upside down and emptied my heart on the floor. Her news was a total, unexpected shock to my soul. I was left completely undone, devastated and shattered. Depression and nausea enveloped my soul in thick darkness as I saw my hopes and dreams of the future vanish before my eyes. Truly, as the proverb declares, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Pr. 13:12).

I have been through difficult breakups before and buried a best friend not too long ago, but the intensity of loss, the sting of rejection and the inexplicable, sudden reversal of her heart was of such a nature that it sent me into a tailspin of emotions and confusion to a degree never before experienced.

I was too broken, frail and tortured within to be angry or embittered at God. I ran into His arms for my very survival. Even now my day must start with the Lord as a source of strength, perspective, trust and surrender. It is not easy to surrender all, but I believe reaching that level of desperation and surrender incorporates two essential truths:

1) It is the only way through the shadowy valley of death, loss and disappointment.

2) It is the only means by which the valley can become a rich and fruitful experience as we deny ourselves and become more conformed to the image and character of Christ.

The beloved song we often sing in our churches does not say, “I surrender some.” Nor does it say, “I surrender most.” No, it says, “I surrender allall to you I give.” If the analogy can be followed I feel as if the past few weeks have upgraded my hunger for the Lord and my worship of the Lord from the obsolete “spiritual software” of an iPhone 1 to an iPhone 4 (not yet a 6–always room for improvement). As I have laid before the Lord my entire life, hopes, dreams and perceived “rights” to marriage, sex and intimate companionship, I feel as if there is an excavation of sorts occurring in the deepest chambers of my heart. I know I am being changed, I know that sin is being dredged out of me, and I know that Christ is being formed within me as I cling to Him through this crucible of disappointment and discipline.

That being said, there have been some days when all I can give to the Lord is my tears–and I have learned to be ok with that. As the Psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name (Ps. 103:1). Sometimes all we have within ourselves are tears–and so if nothing else we can learn to give God our tears as a sacrifice of praise.

I typically blog about theology, culture and apologetics, but I would like to take a short break from that and over the next 3 posts personally share some of the lessons the Lord has graciously deposited within me over the past one and a half months. I would like to begin with a poem I memorized years ago when I was going through an earlier, dark night of the soul.

I walked a mile with Laughter;
She chatted all the way;
But I was none the wise wiser,
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow;
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.” –Robert Hamilton

Lesson #1: God is zealous about changing us not just consoling us.

Since this season of brokenness has begun, one of the most pivotal encounters I have had with God’s word has been the story of how Jesus did not congratulate, console or even comfort Peter after he took 3 or 4 steps and then sank beneath the waves. Though He reached forth and saved Peter from drowning, Jesus also rebuked Peter for not having sufficient trust to walk on the water! This was revolutionary to me. I first became aware of this perspective on day three as I was crying out to God on my knees amidst a puddle of pain and perplexity. I picked up a book written by Francis Frangipane called The Shelter of the Most High and I began to read the following excerpt:

“It is one thing to trust Christ to calm the storm around us; it is another matter to leave our security and venture out with Him on the water! This very setting of raging wind and sea is the classroom that the Son of God seeks to perfect His disciples’ faith.

Let us affirm the Father’s highest purpose for us: Jesus did not come simply to console us but to perfect us! This is exactly where He will take us once we are willing… We should repent of carrying the image of a Savior who fails to confront our sin or challenge our unbelief, for such is a false image of God. If we are to genuinely know Him, we must accept this truth: Jesus is irrevocably committed to our complete transformation!

Of all the disciples, Peter alone responds to the occasion with vision and faith… Peter did not rest his weight on the water; he stood on Christ’s word: “Come!” Peter trusted that if Jesus told him to do the impossible—even to walk on the water— the powers to obey would be inherent within the command.

Moments later Peter’s faith faltered. He began to sink. But there is something extraordinary to be seen in Christ’s response—a view into Christ’s actual nature and His ultimate purpose. Jesus did not commend or congratulate Peter. He rebuked him! We would have expected praise and encouragement, but none came.

Was Jesus angry? No. The truth is, Jesus Christ is relentlessly given to our perfection. He knows that wherever we settle spiritually will be far short of His provision. He also knows that the more we are transformed into His image, the less vulnerable we are to the evils of this world. Thus He compels us toward difficulties, for they compel us toward God, and God compels us toward change. And it is the transformed heart that finds the shelter of the Most High.” [1]

Frangipane’s insight into Christ’s rebuke of Peter helped to snap me to attention early on before self-pity enveloped my soul. It was really a slap in the face and made me realize that self-pity and unbelief would be my greatest enemies to progressing forward as God intended. We often doubt our beliefs but sometimes we need to doubt our unbelief! As I put the book down I immediately felt captured by the conviction that God not only wanted to comfort and console me— but also change me into His image!

I knew God was giving me a desperately needed starting place— a point of reference to help me navigate my way out of the swirling pit of confusing emotions that would visit my soul in the weeks ahead. As I personally absorbed the rebuke the Lord gave to Peter, I sensed God setting me straight in my attitude as to what would be an acceptable form of grief in His eyes and what would not. The following message is what the Holy Spirit dropped into my heart like a weighted stone:

“Matt, this is how this is going to go down. Certain attitudes are unacceptable to Me if we are going to graduate you to a higher place of trust. I don’t want to just comfort you in your distress, or console you in your grief like I did your past heartbreaks. I don’t measure growth in years, height or age—I measure it trust and Christlikeness. I want you to grow in trust. I want you to reflect My image. I want you to fix your eyes on Me. I want change. I don’t want to just come to you as a Comforter, I also want to come to you as One walking on the water who commands you to do the same through keeping your eyes fixed upon Me and not doubting that I am greater than any storm.

I am zealous for you to become more conformed into My image. I am zealous for your faith and trust to graduate to a higher place. Therefore I will rebuke you if you fail this test and do not learn how to keep your eyes fixed upon Me in the midst of the raging sea and the strong wind blowing against you. I want you to walk on the water of distrust, fear, anxiety, rejection, sorrow, disappointment and grief by learning how to let your weight rest upon my command “Do not be afraid. It is I. Come to Me.”

Many years ago I declared to all wanted to follow me, ‘You will go through tribulation in this world, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’ Your challenge is to not give in to despair, hopelessness, anger, accusation, or distrust. You must believe I am greater than your current confusion, distress and trouble. You must trust that my way is perfect and my word is pure and I alone know how to exploit every distress and manage every trial to redeem it for good—just walk towards Me and let the strong winds blow by. 

Surrender your hurt and pain. Cast your cares of worry and anxiety over your own life and that of Sarah upon Me. Learn of Me. Be yoked to Me through this and know I am not giving you the burden of protecting, providing, or caring for Sarah at this time, so you must surrender her to my faithful love and not take upon yourself that burden or suffer from that regret. I know what is best. I know how to achieve what is best. Trust Me.”

[1] Francis Frangipane, The Shelter of the Most High, Charisma House, 2008. p 62-63

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Responding to the Problem of Moral Evil

God and EvilWhen the atheist asks– “If God exists how can he allow evils like rape, theft and murder to exist?”– it is critical to take note of the fact that the atheist is working off the assumption that actions like rape, theft and murder are a violation of some particular moral obligation humans ought to have in regards to other humans.

However to speak in terms of “ought” and “obligation”, and not just preference and societal taboo, is to presume we live in a universe where an objective moral law is part of the fabric and furniture of that universe. Objective, moral values are delineations between moral right and right that exist independent from and regardless of majority, human opinion or agreement. If the whole world somehow became brainwashed that pedophilia was a morally acceptable pursuit of one’s sexual orientation, pedophilia would still be morally wrong on objective grounds.

But therein is the perennial problem for the atheist. For to assume there exists a moral landscape that transcends the subjective court of human opinion, is to assume the very existence of God, whose morally perfect nature is the only anchor point for any objective, moral law that transcends human opinion. Moreover to assume objective moral values do exist is to assume there is something intrinsically special and nonnegotiable about human beings, such that violations against human beings can be grounded in moral categories.

For only human beings possess a moral dimension to their existence. Such a moral dimension does not exist within the animal kingdom, which is why we don’t seek to condemn the lion killing the antelope in moral terms. We see it as nature taking its course in terms of predator and prey, not killer and victim. So when the cheetah kills the zebra—it doesn’t murder it. And when the hyena sneaks in and takes a leg—it doesn’t steal it. And when the hyena drives off the encroaching jackal, it is surviving— not being greedy. [1]

The world of animals is a world of moral neutrality in terms of moral values and moral obligation. But therein lies another emerging problem for the atheist who believes only in naturalistic evolution. For in atheistic naturalism humans are simply animals! We are nothing more than more than primates that have evolved on an insignificant speck of dust called earth in the vast, purposeless, meaningless cosmos that is doomed to extinction in the final heat death of entropy.

So where then does this moral dimension arise within alleged human animals? From whence flows these moral obligations, and why is this moral dimension absent in the rest of the animal kingdom? Why are humans special? Where does the intrinsic worth of humans come from within atheistic naturalism? Where is it grounded?

Most atheists will try and articulate a view that suggests that humans are special and have moral value over other animals because humans have a higher evolved sentience and cognitive function than other animals. In other words it just comes down to neural grey matter.

But if moral worth and value is only being anchored in higher sentience and intelligence, would this not mean that mentally handicapped persons such as children with Down syndrome have less moral value and worth than others, such as an Einstein or a Rembrandt? It is doubtful that even hardened atheists would want to concede such a point—so it seems that in the end naturalism fails to provide a reason why human beings possess intrinsic, moral worth.

Therefore when the atheist objects to the existence of God by raising the question of evil, our first response should be to ask the atheist whether or not we are talking about objective right and wrong. If we are talking about objective morality, then the odds are that the question self–destructs, because virtually no atheist affirms universal, objective moral values. If the atheist affirms objective morality then he or she must provide an ontological grounding that anchors those objective morals within a purposeless, naturalistic, non-moral universe.

Within a naturalistic paradigm why should the universe care about humans? One can’t derive morals from molecules. If the atheist admits objective right and wrong do not exist, then the atheist’s initial objection to God on the basis of evil’s existence becomes meaningless. At most the atheist is voicing his distaste of evil. He does not prefer it. He does not like it, but such objections to evil carry no more moral weight than if he were to say, “I don’t like spinach.” In an atheistic world, where objective moral values are absent, morality is reduced to societal preferences that have evolved to support social harmony among the human “herd.” As such to commit rape, theft and murder against one’s neighbor is to only flaunt the normative social taboos and codes of proper conduct and act unfashionably. Much more can be said of this, but I will leave that for another time.

In dealing with the question of moral evil it is always helpful to ask the atheist what he thinks the situation should be. Usually the answer is that if God exists and He is all-good and all-powerful then God should intervene before moral evil is ever committed. In other words, God should stop it; He should preempt it somehow before the decision to act in an evil manner is accomplished. But seriously, if we really examine what the atheist is saying he is asking God to strip away autonomy from His created order.

Despite his genius wit and penchant for great insight, the late and much loved (I include my own affection), Christopher Hitchens, was the hallmark of inconsistency on this point. Hitchens was famous for railing against God on the grounds that if God existed it would be like living under a transcendent, tyrannical dictator of the sky whose very existence undermined the sanctity of human freedom. On the other hand, he would argue that if God existed, he ought to intervene and stop occasions where moral evil is committed against innocent persons.

But you can’t have it both ways. Let’s examine how a conversation might go between a theist and an atheist, like Hitchens, over this matter:

Atheist: If your God is real than He should have stopped the Nazi Holocaust and all of WWII!

Theist: What about smaller, lesser evils like a serial killer?

Atheist: Yes, God should stop them too!

Theist: Ok, let’s take it down a notch. What about just a one-time killer?

Atheist: Yes…murder is murder. God should stop them as well!

Theist: What about stealing? Is stealing evil? Should God stop thieves?

Atheist: Well… stealing is evil so, yes, God should stop them too.

Theist: What about lying? Don’t lies contribute to much evil in this world? Should God stop liars?

Atheist: Um, lying is also bad for society, but I don’t necessarily think God has to stop every little, white lie. But certainly many lies have caused enormous human suffering, so yes, God should intervene against them too.

Theist: What about just the thought of lying? After all, all evil actions are preceded by evil thoughts. Therefore thoughts can be evil too can’t they? What about the thought of adultery, lust and greed? Greed has caused a great deal of injustice and oppressive evil in this world, right?

Atheist: Well…I don’t know. I’m not saying God should control everyone’s thoughts. I’m just saying God should stop evil that causes others to suffer.

Theist: But all evil actions originate with evil thoughts and evil desires. In the end what you’re really demanding God to do is coercively control the thought life of every person on the earth—including yours. You would no longer be a free agent. Is that what you really want?

I’m sure if an atheist were to be subjected to a dictatorial thought imprisonment in which his freedom of choice is stripped away he would cry out against such injustice and impingement on his freedom. Why?

Because whether one is an atheist or a theist, deep down inside, we all treasure our free-will and we can get quite violent when we feel it is being violated! We all covet the ability to make free choices and we exercise that freedom everyday—sometimes for good and unfortunately, sometimes for evil. The atheist doesn’t seem to be fully aware that his case against God’s “negligence” in stopping moral evil is constructed on an alternative scenario that would render us little more than God’s robotic pets.

Has the atheist really probed the reality of what he is saying God should do if God exists? Probably not. He is suggesting that if God is good, God should coercively intervene into his or her mind every time they are about to have an evil or immoral thought. But it wouldn’t stop there. God would then have to infuse some sort of overriding stimuli into their thought pattern that short-circuits the evil thought and replaces it with one of God’s thoughts, such that in the end, what was once an evil thought undergoes a coercive manipulation to bring about a good action, rather than the reverse. But seriously—what is the reality of such a world?

In such a world freedom becomes meaningless and it is all but eradicated! We become nothing more than automatons that respond to a limited range of programmed stimuli much like Japanese humanoids do today. Is such a world really to be desired? Would the atheist really be willing to trade in his autonomy of choice for a forced, coercive intervention from God? Almost certainly no—so why should anyone else?

You see the atheist is really saying, “Why doesn’t God stop this person or that person—but not me. I’m a good person so He can leave my freedom untouched. If God does exist, I demand that He strip away the free will of people in my neighborhood that can potentially harm me and my family. I want Him to make them into robotic zombies, but not me. I want divine restraints, controls and handcuffs snapped on the will of the “bad” people, but not on me!”

It is safe to assume the theist and the atheist alike would both resist coercive divine controls over their wills, because even the atheist can realize that if his freedom of thought, conscience, and choice is stripped away, he suffers the tremendous price of losing the very place from which flows the tender love and affection he shares with his wife and children. Would he be willing to give all that up to ensure that his children never suffer hurt or harm at the hands of others?

That is a heavy price to pay. In a way, we can say God was faced with the same choice on a much larger scale–a cosmic scale. He could have created all persons as His robotic pets or action figures, but in such a world how could God have genuine communion and fellowship with people? Despite the possibility of people introducing hate into His creation, God chose to have a world where tender love, adoration and devotion were possibilities of real choice—in much the same way that any loving father would be unwilling to surrender away the tender love he shares with his family just so the neighbor next door can’t abuse his own.

Once the value of freedom is realized, the typical response many skeptics throw out is: “Why didn’t God just create a world in which our wills are free, but they also always freely choose to do the right thing?”

The faulty logic of this is quite simple to observe. For how can God guarantee that our supposed “free” wills will always and perfectly choose the right thing— unless He coercively makes us choose the right thing. But that would be absurd. Not even God can make or force someone to freely do anything. Such a statement is logically contradictory. “To force” and to “freely do” are oxymoronic and cannot exist logically in the same affirmation. It’s like I want God to make a round square or create a married bachelor. “Married” and “bachelor” logically cancel each other out and so we are left with a nonsensical, contradictory, meaningless statement.

In creation God was not in pursuit of a nonsensical, contradictory, meaningless world. He was in pursuit of a purposeful world! He sought to infuse His creation with great purpose and meaning by creating a world of people whose natures were capable of love and hate, kindness and cruelty, courage and cowardice. In a sense we can say that moral evil is nothing less than the wrong use of the right thing—freedom.

The brilliant Christian philosopher and apologist Alvin Plantinga sums it up nicely: “Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”[2]

On this view then it is necessary that we understand that unlike the animal kingdom, God has endowed humanity with freedom of thought, conscience and choice from which arises our moral dimension. When we abuse this freedom wrongly, we have the unfortunate corollary of introducing into our lives and the lives of others calamity, disaster, suffering and pain.

Lastly, in examining issues such as this, it is important that we don’t overlook the Christian understanding of God’s creational intention, and why, from the very beginning, God chose to institute a source of testing through the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After all, wouldn’t mankind have been better served if God had decided to leave out such a tree and such a choice from His created order? Or if God knew the consequences, why didn’t He—at minimum— stop Adam and Eve?

To answer these difficult questions it must be understood that the Christian worldview holds that God placed an enormous value upon free will when He freely chose to create mankind in His own image. This was the critical centerpiece of His whole creation. Men and woman became endowed with a personality of intelligence, creativity and freedom that no other earthly creature possesses. God placed such a high degree of import and significance on the freedom of his humanity, that if He had intervened with Adam and Eve’s choice, He would have completely killed off and aborted His own intention in creating humanity in the first place.

When we understand God’s heart and the original intention of His creative genius, we can better understand why God saw fit to place a source of testing in the Garden of Eden— and why He had to allow Satan’s tempting influence.

As one writer insightfully explains: “He did not want automatons and robots, but a family and friends. He wanted cooperation based on love, not fear or compulsion…God created man with a free will because you cannot really have fellowship with a computer… That is why He put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden. He did not do this to cause Adam and Eve to stumble, but to give them the opportunity to prove their obedience and love. There can be no true obedience if there is no opportunity to disobey. There had to be freedom to not worship God for the worship to mean anything.”[3]

So in concluding the moral category of evil, we can begin to see the absurdity of life that arises if God were to oblige the skeptic or atheist and make the committal of evil an impossible choice.

FURTHER Answers to the Problem of Moral Evil

The following is a selection of other possible answers I have gleaned or encountered that I believe are noteworthy in regards to the perennial tension between the existence of evil and a belief in God.

Question: How can God just stand there in heaven and watch a little girl be raped? If there is a God than he is obligated to stop such things from happening. If he doesn’t then either he doesn’t exist or he isn’t worthy of our worship because he doesn’t care enough to stop the evils of our world.

Answer #1 Because I believe there is a God, then it means little girls who are raped live in a universe where they have justice coming. If little girls are living in your (atheist) universe then there is no justice— ever! That’s the issue. Consider John Lennon’s song, “Imagine There’s No Heaven… no Hell below us, above us only sky.” It means the only thing above girls who suffer terrible evil is just empty, non-moral “sky.” That’s all you can offer. However in my world “justice” is real. It’s not just an empty social invention of human sentiment. My world says, “Hold on—justice is coming. Every tear will be wiped dry. Every wrong will be put right. Everything will be straightened out and reconciled in the end.”

But in your word there is only “sky.” As a Christian I’m in a position to condemn evil and say, “Patience, confidence, faith—it will be put right.” As an atheist, you’re saying it will never be put right because there is no objective, over-arching, moral dimension of justice in the universe that would require anything to be put right. However that cuts the nerve of saying there is anything wrong with it now. That’s the difference between your view and mine. Your atheist “sky” doesn’t care about evils like rape or Auschwitz, so the question is why do you care? (my adapted paraphrase of an answer given by Douglas Wilson in a debate against Christopher Hitchens) [4]

Answer #2 It is very natural to want God to intervene when people misuse their freedom and do horrendous things. I often find myself wanting God to do that, because if I were God I would intervene if I saw someone misusing their freedom to do horrendous things. But then I would have to ask myself, “Where do I draw the line?”

Let’s say we draw the line at saying God must intervene if someone is about to use their freedom to commit murder. I don’t want anyone to murder my sons, so I will draw the line there.

But when I think about it further, neither do I want anyone to harm my sons. So now we step the line back.

Now I want God to intervene whenever anyone is about to use their freedom in any way that will hurt my sons physically.

But upon further reflection I don’t want anyone to hurt my sons morally or personally or emotionally, so I’m going to draw the line there.

In fact I don’t want anyone to hurt my sons in any way—so I am going to draw the line there.

The problem is, at what point when God starts intervening to stop people’s free use of human free, does God stop intervening? The Bible tells us God weeps, God grieves at the outrages he sees among his children. So how does God feel when he sees horrible evil committed by his children against his children? He is first and foremost a father, therefore he grieves when they grieve, he cries when they cry, he hurts when they hurt. If he intervenes by removing freedom where does he stop?

That’s the issue that is troubling. The question of sovereignty and freedom has troubled Christians across all the generations of Christian theology. Orthodox Christianity answers the question in the following way. God, because he is sovereign and absolute, wants a relationship with us. But he knows that relationship of worship must depend upon our choosing worship or else it’s not worship, it’s not love—it’s not relationship. So God chooses to give us that freedom and chooses to honor that freedom. It’s God’s sovereign choice to give me freedom and to honor the freedom that he has given me. That makes him no less sovereign, and at that same time allows me the freedom, that he has chosen as my Creator to give to me.

It’s the same thing parents do with their children. When we give our children limited freedom, we give them autonomy so they can make the right choice and grow into the adulthood we wish for them, but all the while, what they are choosing is in the context of our sovereignty as parents. That is how sovereignty and freedom work together in such a way that God is sovereign and we are free. (my adapted paraphrase of answer given by Jim Denison in a debate with Christopher Hitchens) [5]

Answer #3 The following exchange would go something like this:

Atheist: “ I don’t believe in God because any God that would knowingly allow his creatures to be brought into this world where he knows they will suffer, pain, evil and death, would be an evil being unworthy of belief.”

Theist: “Do you consider yourself evil?”

Atheist: “I do not.”

Theist: “Do you have a child?”

Atheist: “Yes.”

Theist: “Did you choose to bring your child into this world?

Atheist: “Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

Theist: “It means by your own logic you must be evil, because you chose to bring a child into this world knowing full well the possibility existed for your child to suffer, have pain and eventually die! You deny the existence of God because he allows evil, suffering and death but you refuse to apply the same judgment to yourself. However I can affirm that your decision to bring your child into this world, knowing he will experience pain, disappointment, sickness and eventually death doesn’t make you evil anymore than it makes God evil for creating a world of freedom and choice and allowing it to be populated by people who he knows have the capacity to choose love or hate, kindness or cruelty, life or death—not just for themselves but others.

In choosing to create a world of free creatures, God only creates the possibility—not the actuality— that evil may occur. It is only through our wills that we make moral evil an actual occurrence. But it is also through our wills that make virtues like love actual. God only could have removed the possibility of all moral evil occurring by removing the very nature of freedom that makes other goods like love and kindness equally possible. (I have to thank Steve McNelley for his helpful insight on the above exchange)


[1] I must credit William Lane Craig’s debates for the inspiration behind many of these remarks

[2] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 30.

[3] Rick Joyner, Morning Star Journal update, 2007.

[4] See:

[5] See:

Posted in Apologetics and Athiesm | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Response: What would you do if your son came out as gay?

The titled question above is an excellent question. It cuts right through all the rhetoric and gets very personal. It is also why many professing Christians squirm uncomfortably and do a piss-poor job of articulating a response worthy of the gospel. It should be the place where Christians are at their finest. The fact that so many are not tells us the Church has become too content to remain at a stone-throwing distance from this critical issue. Nothing less than love and truth are at stake. A small little disclaimer is in order: I am straight, unmarried and not a father. However this question has long appealed to me because I enjoy thought provoking questions that require us as Christians to go beyond our chatty, cliché talking points and get real. I have had conversations with parents on this question before, and I have gleaned some insights along the way. The following is my response if I were a married father being interviewed by a non-Christian who is genuinely concerned for children coming out as gay in a Christian home:

Question: What would you do as Christian parents if your son came out as gay?

Answer: We would tell him we love him, that we adore him, that we would give our life for him and that our love for him would never diminish no matter what path of life he took in life. We would assure him that our love for him would be a constant in his life that would never change. But at the same time we would tell him, as Christian parents, there is a wide range of beliefs, behaviors and paths in life that we cannot support, encourage or celebrate. Not because it goes against our sensibilities or preferences, but because they go against a higher authority we as Christian parents have chosen to submit our lives to.

We live in an age where to simply have a desire is a sufficient reason to justify and pursue the desire. But Christ says the exact opposite. He says we must deny ourselves, deny our desires, pick up our cross and follow him. Now we have to be careful here. Jesus never said or denied that certain desires and urges are real. He knows they are! What he says is that we must not seek to fulfill those desires, preferences or urges if he considers them ultimately destructive to human flourishing and one’s pursuit of God’s holiness.

But this also means any attitude or display of hatred and violence towards the gay community is also off limits for Christians– parents or otherwise. In summary as Christian parents we believe picking up one’s cross and denying ourselves includes everything from denying any urge to hate one’s child because they are gay to denying the urge to overlook or dismiss what the New Testament says about God-ordained sexual contact.

So while we would assure our son of our love, we would also explain to him that we cannot pretend to believe other than we do. We cannot become hypocrites of what we believe to be true simply because we love him— because do so would ultimately be unloving and a lie.

Now if you think that is strange, barbarian, or bigoted let me flip the question around to you. What if your son came home and said he was going to be an extreme right-wing, Bible-thumping, gay-hating, “Christian” televangelist. You might be able to convince yourself you still love your son, but would you offer him your support, encouragement and affirmation. Would you honestly be able to celebrate his life’s direction if it went against your core beliefs? Probably not— but it doesn’t mean you don’t love him.

Agreeing to love and disagreeing in love are not mutually exclusive. Moreover we should not confuse love or agreement with tolerance. Tolerance implies the thing to be tolerated is not something you love or affirm—otherwise you wouldn’t tolerate it, you would agree with it! Sadly the true understanding of tolerance is lost on this youthful, liberal generation where tolerance has become a synonym for agreement and affirmation, at least up until the liberal comes across a belief or attitude they don’t agree with! Then they don’t call for tolerance—they just call you bigoted and intolerant. The self-defeating irony is often lost on them.

*This is just a preliminary response. Specific matters such as what to do if your son wants to bring home their partner to your house would have to be prayerfully considered on a case-by-case basis according to one’s conscience before the Lord.

Posted in Church and Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

John Calvin: Heresy Hunter with an Axe to Grind

“Does a fountain send forth at the same place both sweet and bitter water?”

James 3:11

Did you know that John Calvin staunchly believed that executing unrepentant heretics was justified? Did you know that despite his reading of the New Testament he continued to believe that Old Testament capital offenses should be enforced today– such as rebellious children being executed? Did you know that when one individual in Geneva had the gall to call Calvin an “ambitious and haughty hypocrite” Calvin conceded to having him arrested, tortured, nailed to a stake and then beheaded for heresy? Did you know that during his influential, pastoral rule over Geneva there were 139 recorded executions? Did you know that one of John Calvin’s friends implored him to repent of his despotism and departure from Christ’s mercy, stating, “If Christ himself came to Geneva he would be crucified” (see article below).

Since Christ died for his enemies and commanded his followers to likewise love and pray for their enemies, there is no greater blasphemous heresy one can engage in than to kill one’s enemies in the name of Christ– no matter how heretical you think their teachings depart from your own. Sadly one’s views didn’t have to depart very far from John Calvin’s before he deemed you worthy of being banished or put to death– such as Anabaptists who propagated a belief in adult baptism over his view of infant baptism. [1]

In defending his role in having the Spaniard heretic, Michael Servetus, burned at the stake (though Calvin initially sought for him to be beheaded), Calvin made this shocking statement: “Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed.” [2]

To be sure we all have our sins and failures, and it is only fair that we view Calvin in light of the moral standards of his age, but we must never forget that for all Christians–no matter the age they live in– the New Testament is the standard by which all other standards must be measured. And as far as the timeless, unqualified teachings of Christ are concerned, to kill a heretic for being a heretic always makes you the bigger heretic. Or we might put it another way: to kill a perceived enemy of the gospel for being an enemy of the gospel always makes you the bigger enemy of the gospel. Here are two excerpts of a well researched article by Frank Viola:

Calvin believed that executing unrepentant heretics was justified.

The best known example of this is when Calvin consented to the execution of Michael Servetus, a man who denied the Trinity and infant baptism. Servetus burned for one hour simply because of his theological views. Calvin supporters are quick to point out that the great Reformer didn’t directly execute the man. He even tried to persuade Servetus not to come to Geneva. Calvin also tried to get Servetus to repent and sought for him to be granted a more humane execution (which was beheading instead of burning).

Even so, Calvin made this remark regarding Servetus, showing that he believed death for heresy was justifiable. “But I am unwilling to pledge my word for his safety, for if he shall come [to Geneva], I shall never permit him to depart alive, provided my authority be of any avail.” [1]

During Servertus’ trial, Calvin remarked: “I hope that the verdict will call for the death penalty.” [2] Nine years after the execution, Calvin made this comment in answering his critics: “Servetus suffered the penalty due his heresies, but was it by my will. Certainly his arrogance destroyed him not less than his impiety.” [3]

Calvin is also quoted as saying, “Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church.” [3a]

Whether you agree with Calvin’s view or defend his actions because he was “a man of his times,” many Christians find the idea of executing heretics to be shocking. This brings up another point for another post, but consider for a moment if murder was legal in our time. If it were, I think we’d have a lot of dead Christians who lost their lives to other Christians over doctrinal trespasses. If you think I’m wrong, just watch the vitriol and hatred in many “Christian” online forums as they verbally bludgeon one another over theological interpretations.

In addition to Servetus, Jerome Bolsec was arrested and imprisoned for challenging Calvin during a lecture, then banished from the city. Calvin wrote privately about the matter saying that he wished Bolsec were “rotting in a ditch.” [4]

Jacques Gruet was also a man who disagreed with Calvin. He called Calvin an ambitious and haughty hypocrite. The administrations of Geneva tortured Gruet twice daily until he confessed, and with Calvin’s concurrence, Gruet was tied to a stake, his feet were nailed to it, and his head was cut off for blasphemy and rebellion.

Pierre Ameaux was charged with slandering Calvin at a private gathering. He was to pay a fine, but Calvin wasn’t satisfied with the penalty, so Ameaux spent two months in prison, lost his job, and was paraded through town kneeling to confess his libel, also paying for the trial expense. [5]

Calvin believed that the Old Testament capital offenses should be enforced today.

The city of Geneva was ruled by the clergy, which was composed of five pastors and twelve lay elders chosen by Geneva’s Council. But Calvin’s voice was the most influential in the city. Here are some laws and facts about Geneva under Calvin’s authority:

* Each household had to attend Sunday morning services. If there was preaching on weekdays, all had to attend also. (There were only a few exceptions, and Calvin preached three to four times a week.)

* If a person came to the service after the sermon had begun, he was warned. If he continued, he would have to pay a fine.

* Heresy was regarded as an insult to God and treason to the state and was punished by death.

* Witchcraft was a capital crime. In one year, 14 alleged witches were sent to the stake on the charge that they persuaded satan to afflict Geneva with the plague.

* Clergy were to abstain from hunting, gambling, feasting, commerce, secular amusements, and had to accept annual visitations and moral scrutiny by church superiors.

* Gambling, card-playing, frequenting taverns, dancing, indecent or irreligious songs, immodesty in dress were all prohibited.

* The allowable color and quantity of clothing and the number of dishes permissible at a meal were specified by law.

* A woman was jailed for arranging her hair to an “immoral height.”

* Children were to be named after Old Testament characters. A rebellious father served four days in prison for insisting on naming his son Claude instead of Abraham.

* To speak disrespectfully of Calvin or the clergy was a crime. A first violation was punished by a reprimand. Further violations with fines. Persistent violations were met with imprisonment or banishment.

* Fornication was punished by exile or drowning.

* Adultery, blasphemy, and idolatry was punished with death.

* In the year 1558-1559, there were 414 prosecutions for moral offenses.

* As everywhere in the 16th century, torture was often used to obtain confessions or evidence.

* Between 1542-1564, there were 76 banishments. The total population of Geneva then was 20,000.

* Calvin’s own step-daughter and son-in-law were among those condemned for adultery and executed.

* In Geneva, there was little distinction between religion and morality. The existing records of the Council for this period reveal a high percentage of illegitimate children, abandoned infants, forced marriages, and sentences of death. [9]

* In one case, a child was beheaded for striking his parents. [10] (Following Old Testament Mosaic law, Calvin believed it was scriptural to execute rebellious children and those who commit adultery.) [10a]

* During a period of 17 years when Calvin was leading Geneva, there were 139 recorded executions in the city. [11]

Sabastian Castellio, a friend of Calvin’s who urged him to repent of his intolerance, made the shocking remark, “If Christ himself came to Geneva, he would be crucified. For Geneva is not a place of Christian liberty. It is ruled by a new pope [John Calvin], but one who burns men alive while the pope at Rome strangles them first.” [12]

Castellio also made this remark: “Can we imagine Christ ordering a man to be burned alive for advocating adult baptism? The Mosaic laws calling for the death of a heretic were superceded by the law of Christ, which is one of mercy not of despotism and terror.” [12a]

Click HERE to read the entire article (with source citation), including more shocking beliefs of John Calvin, such as his view that Jews were “profane dogs” and should “die in their misery without pity of anyone.” 

[1] See Defense of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus, published in 1554

[2] A visiting Anabaptist by the name of Belot was arrested for passing out anabaptist literature in Geneva. His books and tracts were confiscated and burned and Belot was banished from the city. He was warned that if he returned he would summarily be arrested and hanged. (See J.L. Adams, The Radical Reformation, Westminster Press, 1967, p. 597-598)

Posted in Critiquing Calvinism | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Calvinism: The “Gumby” Theology

gumby 2Gumby—a green clay humanoid character that can twist and turn to get out of every predicament. A great toy it makes; a great theologian it does not.

There is no greater theological imperative today then to restore Christianity to a proper understanding of God’s glory—which is unadulterated, pure holiness and moral perfection. In speaking of his glory, God told Moses, “I will have all my goodness pass before you” (Ex 33:19). D.A. Carson and Tim Keller are self-confessed Calvinists of our 21st century—diluted for mass consumption but nonetheless still drawing from the same murky well. God’s goodness, the very essence of his glory, is not an attribute that God wants to leave us in the dark about. Nor is it an attribute that theology should ever directly or indirectly push into the realm of mystery when other divine attributes are highlighted—no matter how precious those other divine attributes are to our theology. You can be assured that when any theology unwittingly places God’s morally perfect nature and his sovereign will into an inexplicable tension where mystery is the only escape hatch—something terrible has gone wrong. Our theology has become poisoned.

Calvinism has long had a dark secret—a secret so utterly horrific and monstrous it is hardly allowed into public view to see the light of day. God has unilaterally and unconditionally predetermined every God-dishonoring sin and act of moral evil men commit before the world began. Men only do what God has unconditionally predetermined they do through irresistible decrees. God has foreordained all things that happen—and did so unconditionally. In other words God did not condition his decrees of sin or evil on any prior knowledge of human free will or choice. All choices humans make allegedly (according to Calvinism) originate in God’s sovereign will of decree before the foundation of the world. If you think historic Calvinism does not teach this—then simply click here and behold Calvinist splendor, un-cloistered and unfurled in all its “glorious” expression.[1]

Unfortunately many popular Calvinist theologians today bend over backward to conceal the dark and sinister logical implications of Calvinistic sovereignty behind obfuscating, inconsistent language that borders on sophistry. A small caveat is needed. I am about to embark on a strongly worded criticism of D.A. Carson and Tim Keller, but first I want to say that I believe Carson and Keller possess a genuine love for the Lord that is beyond question. I agree with them on a host of issues and consider them my brothers in the Lord. They are sincere men, precious to the Lord and I would never want to put that in question. It is so important that I be understood on this point that I do not want to marginalize it to a footnote that may or may not be read. Tim Keller, in particular, is one of my favorite speakers to listen to—because I agree with so much of what he states and how he states it. He is immensely gracious, understanding and insightful. Right now my weekly Bible fellowship is on their second book and DVD series put out by Keller. Except for a few disagreements, they are fantastic! I would highly recommend them to anyone.

That being said it is all the more astonishing to me to hear Keller say things that simply do not logically cohere with his Calvinist “Doctrines of Grace.” For example in his DVD series on The Reason for God[2] he is in a room full of only non-believers, and while looking intently at each one of them, and without any qualification, he says to all of them, “God came into the world to forgive you of your sins.” However we all know such general statements of God’s universal intent to forgive people of their sins has no grounding in Calvinist theology. Since Keller affirms Calvinism he can only guess, only hope, only wonder that what he is saying is true. Unlike an Arminian, he actually doesn’t know! It could very well be that God unconditionally predestined all of them to suffer eternal damnation and intentionally left them out of the orbit of his redemptive love. And therefore it would be a malicious lie to say, without qualification, “God came into the world to forgive you of your sins.” But it gets even worse.

In the second section of the DVD series titled, “How can you say there is only one way to God”, Keller astonishingly converts to full blown Arminianism concerning the extent of Christ’s atonement for sins. In speaking of Christ’s mission to enter our sinful world, he states without qualification, “In the gospels Jesus comes into the world and forgives all sins. Jesus says, ‘All sins are against me and so I forgive you.”

There is no way Keller, the Calvinist, can honestly say such statements. As a Calvinist, Keller is bound to the view that Jesus did not die for “all sins” and that a large section of humanity was intentionally left out of Christ’s redemptive love, intention and forgiveness.

Moreover when asked what the Bible teaches about people who die without knowing Christ, he states, “I don’t know… that belongs to the secret things of God.” Such statements can’t be given a pass. Keller is sweeping the dark elements of his Calvinism under the rug. For a principle doctrine of Calvinism is that one of God’s many “secret things” was his “secret decree” to foreordain a particular portion of mankind to damnation. But for Keller to feign ignorance on this question is nothing new. In a public Q&A at Harvard he was asked the same question. He stated,

If right now someone doesn’t have him, he or she needs to get him. If someone dies and they don’t have Jesus– I don’t know. In other words I’m on a need-to-know basis.[3]

He went so far as to say that individuals that “don’t have Jesus…and are headed toward a Christ-less eternity…are those who have chosen not to turn towards the grace of God.”[4] This is quite astounding given that Calvinism repudiates any idea that God’s redemptive, irresistible grace is of a nature that it can be turned away from! Keller’s public statements would be more congruous with his privately held beliefs if he had said, “Millions of people go to hell because Jesus ultimately didn’t want them. Therefore he decreed that his redemptive grace would turn away from them.

There is no denying Keller is being thoroughly inconsistent with his definitive, unambiguous Calvinist beliefs as to why people are not ultimately saved. As a Calvinist he is not at all on a “need to know basis.” He knows! Nonetheless he simply couldn’t bring himself to say what Calvinists believe privately and tend to utter only in safe quarters. Had he done so, he would have been forced to say,

“According to my honest beliefs, God didn’t atone for the sins of all people and didn’t love multitudes of people enough to unconditionally elect them to ‘get Jesus.’ God could have elected all to salvation–because what his irresistible grace can do for some, it can do for all. So in the end those that didn’t ‘get Jesus’ before they died were those God secretly decreed ‘to not get Jesus’ and be saved.

Such is the unembellished truth of Keller’s privately professed Calvinism, as taught by none other than Calvin himself, who taught that men are destined for either heaven or hell according to “the eternal election, by which God has predestinated some to salvation, and others to destruction”.[5]

However Keller perceptively knew that if he answered the interviewer’s question in a straightforward, Calvinist manner he would have immediately lost all intellectual and moral credibility in the eyes of the public audience. The critical point not to be missed is— if it can’t be preached in public it shouldn’t be believed in private. Keller’s “Gumby-esque,” theological inconsistency is indefensible.

That being said, I want to acknowledge my own sinfulness, depravity and self-righteous pride. It is very difficult for me to humbly write against a theological position I passionately disagree with—because I so much want to be found in the right. However it is that desire to be right, not just live right that can be dangerous if left unchecked. I can only ask for forgiveness if any reader feels passion has drifted over into fleshly pride. Please know my forthcoming use of words like, “absurd” and “nonsense” should not be considered reflective of my opinion on Keller’s or Carson’s intelligence. They are not stupid men. They are eminently intelligent, and I consider them far more intelligent than I, despite their dissemination of what I believe to be a morally bankrupt theology and their reluctance to speak forthrightly and clearly on matters that relate to God’s sovereign relationship with sin and evil. In sum while I affirm them as my brothers, I do believe them both to be under a spiritual deception, and history bears out that intelligence is no barrier to deception.

In their co-editing work of The Gospel as Center Carson and Keller rely on fellow Calvinist, Reddit Andrews III to set forth the Calvinist understanding of God’s sovereign relationship with sin and evil.[6] In the chapter titled “Sin and the Fall,” we read:

God created Adam upright. He possessed what we might call original righteousness. This was a probationary period in which Adam and Eve were exposed to temptation and capitulated to it. It was possible for them not to sin, and it was also possible for them to sin. God gave to man the power of contrary choice. Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination, used that power in the commission of sin. There was no necessity arising from his physical condition, nor from his moral nature, nor from the nature of his environment, why he should sin. It was a free movement within man’s spirit. [7]

So far so good, right? I could not agree more. Everything they have said is 100% Arminianism par excellence. Now comes the Calvinism. Notice how they subtly and without explanation re-interpret “freely sinning” as sinning in the exact manner God sovereignly decreed! In the very next paragraph they declare,

God sovereignly decreed that sin would enter the world, and Adam was responsible for freely sinning.”[8]

So let’s get this right. First Andrews, Carson and Keller want us to believe that, “Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination, used that power in the commission of sin.” Then they say, “God sovereignly decreed that sin would enter the world…”

What? God’s external will decreed Adam and Eve to sin, but did not determine them to sin? Does that make one iota of sense? If not, don’t worry, it makes about as much sense as saying I found a one-ended stick in the forest. But that is part of the Calvinist strategy. They habitually present contradictions and then qualify them as unexplainable, glorious mysteries.

Truth be told neither Calvinists nor Arminians believe God’s sovereign decrees only render events possible. Arminians and Calvinists (at least the intellectually honest ones) agree that God’s sovereign decrees determinatively render events certain and necessary. They render events certain because they determine what will (and must) happen and necessary because they are ordered extensions of the mind of God and stem from the necessity of his very being.

The key difference that separates Calvinists from Arminians—and it is a big difference—is that Calvinists will say because God is sovereign it must mean God has decreed everything that occurs. Arminians on the other hand hold that God’s sovereignty is free and not threatened by genuine freedom, contingency and indeterminacy. That is to say God is free to not decree some things just as equally as he is free to decree other things. In short for God to be sovereign does not require the view that God must decree all things.[9] To suggest that it was necessary or required for God to decree all things, because he is sovereign is to suggest God’s sovereign acts are not free, but are rather obligatory to some law of necessity outside God himself.

No Calvinist would want to say this; nonetheless they insist that divine sovereignty requires that God decree all things. But therein lies the problem. If God’s eternal decrees render our actions non-negotiable, such that we are not free or able to act contrary to God’s decrees, then by definition our choices are not free—they are determinatively authored, controlled and caused by God. The liberty and contingency of the human will, at least from God’s sovereign vantage point, is simply non-existent in the Calvinist scheme. Moral responsibility now becomes our responsibility not to commit what God decreed, which is of course impossible. Any suggestion otherwise is to dabble in incoherent gobbledygook to deflect away the undesirable consequences of deductive reasoning.

But lapsing into incoherent jargon is nothing new to Calvinism. It has a long history. The following is a prime example. A.W. Pink in his book The Sovereignty of God will attempt to argue that God decreed Adam to fall, decreed the sin of every man and determined its course in the world. He will then declare that man is held morally responsible because man is responsible to not commit the sins God secretly decreed. He writes,

That God had decreed sin should enter this world through the disobedience of our first parents was a secret hid in His own mind. Of this Adam knew nothing, and that made all the difference so far as his responsibility was concerned… Though nothing contrary to holiness and righteousness can ever come from God, yet He has for His own wise ends, ordained His creatures to fall into sin… God never tempts man to sin, but he has by His eternal counsels (which He is now executing) determined its course… though God has decreed man’s sins, yet is man responsible not to commit and is to blame because he does.[10]

It just doesn’t get any more confused than that above. But to top it all off Pink in another book realizes he needs to come up with a sound reason as to why God, who has sovereignly decreed all of man’s sins, would be angry at the very sins his sovereignty decreed. Bewilderingly he declares, “God is angry at sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong committed against his inviolable sovereignty…”[11] So let’s get this right. God’s inviolable, unbreakable sovereignty decreed all our sins, and God is angry at sins because they are wrongs committed against His inviolable, unbreakable sovereignty. Folks you just can’t make this stuff up. It is delusion and deception of the highest order.

Andrews, Carson and Keller try to appeal to the Westminster Confession, which tends to act as an infallible, paper “pope” for Calvinism, to assuage their views in a more reasoned manner. But their logic fares no better. We are provided the following quote:

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[12]

Now perhaps we might be tempted to think the phrase “God, from all eternity, did…of His own will…ordain whatsoever comes to pass…” doesn’t require the morally absurd view that God unconditionally and unilaterally predetermined every act of sin and evil. Maybe it can be taken to mean God took into account his foreknowledge of our fallen and depraved natures and in that sense ordained our sins as acts that stemmed primarily from our own free wills. In other words God’s foreordination of all our sinful choices is merely a sovereign act of confirmation that seals us into doing what he already knows we will freely do—meaning it is a conditional ordination. But that is not the case—and every informed Calvinist knows it. Unfortunately neither Andrews, nor Carson and Keller as editors, thought it necessary to cite the next line in the Westminster Confession which states, “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”[13]

In other words God did not condition any of his decrees on the basis of any foreknowledge he possessed (which would include our sinful depravity). Good or evil—it matters not—God first unilaterally conceived what we will think, desire and do and then decreed to “ordain all things” on the basis of that unconditional decree. However many “Gumby-type” Calvinists today will deny that makes God the author of sin by appealing to what I would call a “just because” fallacy. This is committed when you deflect the logic of your position, or the need to offer a reasoned explanation, by appealing to some alleged authority on the matter. For Calvinists that is typically the Westminster Confession. God is not the author of the very sins his mind conceives for people to commit “just because” the Westminster Confession says he is not.

It all becomes even more confusing and contradictory when we read that John Calvin explicitly stated his view of divine sovereign makes God the author of the very evils he wills, saying,

“[It] is easy to conclude how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice by the suggestion that evils come to be not by His will, but merely by His permission. Of course, so far as they are evils…I admit they are not pleasing to God. But it is quite a frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.”[14]

To be sure, no Calvinist to date has been able to parse the difference between God’s holy mind being the origin of conception for the sin of X, but not be the author of the sin of X. Calvinists who are more logically inclined will usually admit that God is indeed the author of every sin he unconditionally conceives of and decrees because a proper view of God’s sovereignty demands it.[15] Calvinists who want to shove logical implications under the proverbial rug (to save what’s left of God’s character) will usually embrace the contradiction but call it an unsearchable mystery. Co-editors Carson and Keller apparently opt for the latter since the Westminster Confession qualifies its position as being the “high mystery of predestination…”[16]

The confusion notwithstanding, one thing is abundantly clear. In choosing to believe that God has determinatively ordained “all things” (i.e. every thought, word and deed) Andrews, Carson and Keller are dismissing the Arminian position that God has only sovereignly ordained to permit sin and evil in his sovereign wisdom. For Arminians hold that God is more than just sovereign in power, he is sovereign in wisdom. And it was on the basis of his sovereign wisdom that God realized that for true worship, love and obedience to be most meaningful and viable, the choice to not worship, to not love and to not obey must also be possible and undetermined (i.e. free). Notice their rejection of the Arminian position, believing it to be in need of a critical addendum—the addendum of determinative ordination.

Many people question whether God was wise and just to ordain evil. God, who is holy and not the author of evil, did not merely “permit” evil. It is not as though God did not ordain evil but allowed it to occur. The view that God merely permits evil fails to provide an answer that removes the tension that comes from affirming that God ordains evil, because in both cases God is ordering the entrance of sin.[17]

Here we find Andrews, Carson and Keller again twisting their theology into an unworkable, Gordian knot, saying, “God, who is holy and not the author of evil…ordains evil…” But more to the point they assume the Arminian position is deficient. It is not enough to say God permits or allows evil, God must ordain evil—which is to say he must design, order and decree that evil occur unfailingly and necessarily. For as we have already noted, it is nonsense to suggest God’s irresistible, sovereign decrees only render events probable and possible, but not actual and necessary. If one wants to explore in depth the oft-repeated charge from Calvinists that God’s sovereign decision to permit a world of genuine freedom, wherein evil is rendered possible (the Arminian view) is the same as the Calvinist view wherein sin and evil are rendered actual and necessary via divine decree, click here and scroll all the way down to the Appendix on Jonathan Edwards.[18]

But in a nutshell let me summarize the key distinction. For Calvinists to insist the Arminian position (God allows the foreknown possibility of moral evil) is the same as the Calvinist position (God determinatively decrees moral evil) evinces a stubborn refusal to concede there exists a critical distinction between the making of X possible and the making of X actual. In creating a world populated with free creatures God creates the possibility for evils to occur, but it is through our free wills that human beings actualize those possibilities. Hence God’s foreknowledge does not act deterministically upon our wills because our choice to actualize one possibility over another is what informs God’s foreknowledge– not the other way around. Calvinism inverts this and says God’s foreknowledge of human decision is informed by his exhaustive determinative decrees that render our decisions not just possible, but actual (and necessary since God is a necessary being). It is that critical error that makes God responsible for moral evil in a Calvinistic paradigm. In an Arminian paradigm God is only responsible for creating a world where moral evil is rendered possible, but not actual. Once again the sovereign wisdom of God understood that he could only remove all possibilities for evil to occur by removing our freedom and countermanding his own sovereign decision to endow us with free moral agency.

The next section is where the obscuring wordplay of Andrews, Carson and Keller is particularly manifested and becomes as thorny as a cactus. It is impossible to extricate oneself from their view without getting hung up on a protruding discrepancy. They choose to quote the esteemed, Dutch Calvinist theologian, Herman Bavinck to aid their position. Take notice of how Bavinck firmly stakes his claim in a Calvinist paradigm of God willing sin and evil before quickly retreating into the safeguards of Arminianism to reclaim God’s morality by establishing the occurrence of sin and evil in terms of human free-will and divine allowance and permission—not divine design and determination. I quote Bavinck at length,

He [God] did not fear its [sin and evil] existence and power. He willed it so that in it and against it He might bring to light His divine attributes. If He had not allowed it to exist, there would always have been a rationale for the idea that He was not in all His attributes superior to a power whose possibility was inherent in creation itself. For all rational creatures as creatures, as finite, limited, changeable beings, have the possibility of apostatizing. But God, because He is God, never feared the way of freedom, the reality of sin, the eruption of wickedness, or the power of Satan. So, both in its origin and development, God always exercises His rule over sin. He does not force it, nor does He block it with violence but rather allows it to reach its full dynamic potential. He remains king yet still gives it free rein in His kingdom. He allows it to have everything—His world, His creatures, even His Anointed—for evils cannot exist without goods. He allows it to use all that is His; He gives it opportunity to show what it can do in order, in the end, as King of kings, to leave the theater of battle. For sin is of such a nature that it destroys itself by the very freedom granted it; it dies of its own diseases; it dooms itself to death. At the apex of its power, it is, by the cross alone, publicly shown up in its powerlessness (Col. 2:15).9[19]

This is called trying to have your cake and eat it too. It is so misleading it can be qualified as outright misinformation. Being the faithful and informed Calvinists they are, Andrews, Keller, Carson and Bavinck believe God unconditionally decreed “all things”—good and evil, so in what sense does God “allow…freely” what he has determined must occur unfailingly and of necessity? Does God need to ask permission from himself? That makes about as much as sense as me saying, “I am resolutely determined to go to the store and buy milk, therefore I will allow myself to go to the store and buy milk.” In a deterministic world “allowance” is simply an empty formality of means, vacated and void of any meaning.

I ask again, “Does God need to ask permission from himself to follow through with his own sovereign determinations?” To even have need to ask the question is to reveal the utter nonsense of their position and demonstrate their intentional display of duplicity to shield the average lay person from apprehending the true, sadistic horror that lies at the root of Calvinism—i.e. God is the primary cause that lies behind all evil. Their doublespeak is witness that Calvinism cannot stand on its own two feet. It must be propped up by Arminian theology so as to not collapse into total moral ruin. [20]

Accept for Bavinck’s key phrase “God…willed it [sin and evil]” his explication on sin and evil could grace any Arminian textbook on theology. However Bavinck is a Calvinist and we must put his comments in their proper Calvinist context. Arminians believe the Calvinist context is an unacceptable libel against God’s glorious character and holy nature. For one cannot separate God’s decrees from God’s holy nature from whence all divine decrees issue. God cannot circumvent his holy nature in issuing sovereign decrees anymore than we can circumvent our own nature in any decision we make. As already noted Arminians believe any sense of God “willing sin and evil” can only go so far as to mean God has sovereignly willed to create a free world, where sin and evil are rendered possible, that he might obtain the greater good of rendering love and moral responsibility also possible and maximally meaningful.

The perceptive reader will also notice their inexcusable attempt to conceal the true nature of their theological determinism by redefining God’s decree of sin and evil as simply God rendering the power of sin and evil a “possibility”, that he “allows”, but not a certainty stemming from a divine decree. They again quote Bavinck to their case:

If He had not allowed it to exist, there would always have been a rationale for the idea that He was not in all His attributes superior to a power whose possibility was inherent in creation itself.

To speak of God’s choice to create a free world that only renders sin and evil as “possibilities” that God “allows” and not “certainties” that God “determines” is to toss the logical implications of Calvinism to the wind and place both feet firmly into Arminian theology. Their level of deceptive word play is astounding and completely out of line. I am convinced that the majority of lay Calvinists are actually Arminians—they just don’t know it! How could they know it when principle Calvinists repeatedly slander Arminianism on the one hand while simultaneously redefining the most pernicious features of their theology in the language of Arminianism on the other hand?

Another example is in order. Careful to skirt around the unpleasant, deterministic nature of his own theological position, Bavinck rewords God’s sovereign relationship with sin and evil it in a manner completely unhinged from the determinism his theology demands. He writes,

…He does not force it…but rather allows it…He remains king yet still gives it free reign in His kingdom.

Such fence straddling again reveals Calvinism for what it is—a logically incoherent theology wrapped in oratory that shields the inquisitor from apprehending the moral absurdities and logical incongruities that stem from its principle doctrines. The Calvinist will reason that for God to be extolled as sovereign, means he is to be extolled as the one who has determinatively decreed every sinful choice humans make. But Calvinists insist we are morally responsible for every choice we make because we choose our sins freely. But when you ask a Calvinist if humans are free to resist God’s decrees, they will say no—God’s sovereign decrees render our choices certain and cannot be resisted by human will. But then they say that doesn’t mean God’s decrees force you to make the sinful choices you do, it just means God doesn’t allow you the freedom to not choose what he determined you must choose.

At every turn Bavinck (not to mention Andrews, Carson and Keller) seems desperate to avoid at all costs the unsavory, logical ramifications imbedded in the Calvinist view that God determinately decreed all sin and evil. This is quite strange since Calvin had no problem admitting that God’s decrees act coercively upon our wills— so much that he stated the devil and ungodly are “forced to serve” God’s commands and are not free to break away and do other than what God willed. He even goes so far as to say our wills are in bondage to God’s will.

“[The]…devil and all the ungodly are reined in by God, so that they cannot conceive, plan or carry out any crimeunless God allows it, indeed commands it. They are not only in bondage to him, but are forced to serve him. It is the Lord’s prerogative to enable the enemy’s rage and to control it at will, and it is in his power to decide how far and how long it may last, so that wicked men cannot break free and do exactly what they want….” [21]

Let’s return again to the remarks of Bavinck. Why would Andrews, Carson and Keller think it useful or even meaningful to call on Bavinck to point out, “God did not fear sin and evil?” Obviously since every Calvinist believes God unconditionally foreordained all sin and evil, God wouldn’t fear sin and evil—he would want it! In the Calvinist context, what God fears, what his sovereignty is most insecure about, is indeterminacy and genuine, human freedom. The Calvinist depiction of God’s sovereignty does not extoll or glorify God; it makes him look small, anxious and too insecure to engage with an indeterminate world of human freedom.

A.W. Tozer, in his disagreement with the historic Calvinist view, astutely summarizes the deficiency of the Calvinist view to engender a confident God. He rightly points out that any theology of divine sovereignty that assumes God must determine all our choices, in order to be qualified as sovereign or remain sovereign, is to completely misunderstand the nature of God’s sovereignty. Rather than diminishing or undermining God’s sovereignty, human freedom extols God’s sovereignty! With tremendous insight he explains,

“Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”[22]

One more note of Bavinck bears further examination. In speaking of the origin of sin and evil, he states, So, both in its origin and development, God always exercises His rule over sin.

Yes— God does rule over sin, and has done so ever since the fall of man. But we must be careful here. Arminians hold that sin and evil are parasitical upon God’s sovereign designs for the world—they are not part of his original design. And yet God still reigns and rules over our fallen world. His rule over sin and evil is demonstrated in his ability to overrule and usurp the intentions of sin and evil for our good (“He causes all things to work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose” Rom. 8:28). That is to say God is able to overrule evil by redeeming the evils committed against us, and cause good to come through them. But that is a far cry from the Calvinist position that suggests God causes evil to cause good. Calvinists are remiss in thinking God’s sovereignty is the primary cause of all things. Far from it. God’s sovereignty is the cause that can bring good out of all things—not the cause of all things. In his glorious sovereignty God is able to exploit all things and “work [them] together for good to those that love God…”

In sum God indeed rules over sin and evil, but God’s rules over sin and evil should never be interpreted deterministically as meaning God’s holy nature is the origin of decree and determination for all that opposes his holy nature. For if God’s nature is the paradigm of good, and yet we say all that opposes his moral nature was decreed by that same, divine nature, what then is left to qualify as objectively evil—which by definition and by nature is anything opposed to God’s moral nature? The entire idea is self-defeating, and yet Calvinism posits just such a scenario— insisting that God’s “rule over evil” means his will is the determinative origin for every act of human wickedness. As the Calvinist theologian Vincent Cheung unapologetically explains:

“God controls everything that is and everything that happens. There is not one thing that happens that he has not actively decreed – not even a single thought in the mind of man. Since this is true, it follows that God has decreed the existence of evil, he has not merely permitted it, as if anything can originate and happen apart from his will and power… Those who see that it is impossible to altogether disassociate God from the origination and continuation of evil nevertheless try to distance God from evil by saying that God merely “permits” evil, and that he does not cause any of it. However, since Scripture itself states that God actively decrees everything, and that nothing can happen apart from his will and power, it makes no sense to say that he merely permits something – nothing happens by God’s mere permission.[23]

We should not think Cheung’s remarks to be exaggerated or overstated. He is simply being consistent with the logical ramifications of holding a Calvinist view of divine sovereignty, and refuses to make it a more palatable pill to swallow. He is certainly going no further than John Calvin himself, who taught that God’s will is the inspiration and primary cause of our decisions, and all of man’s deliberations and actions find their origin in God’s previous, secret decrees.

“Men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what he has previously decreed with himself, and brings to pass by his secret direction.[24]

But where it is a matter of men’s counsels, wills, endeavors, and exertions, there is greater difficulty in seeing how the providence of God rules here too, so that nothing happens but by His assent and that men can deliberately do nothing unless He inspire it.[25]

What we must prove is that single events are ordered by God and that every event comes from his intended will.[26] 

For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.[27]

That last phrase particularly stands out. “God is the chief and principal cause of all things.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

So when Bavinck is quoted as saying “both in its origin and development, God always exercises His rule over sin” Andrews, Carson and Keller do not have in mind the Arminian position that God possesses sovereign power to overrule the intentions of sin and evil and exploit them towards his own purposes. Rather they have in mind the historical Calvinist position that “God’s rule over sin” must be primarily interpreted in terms of God’s determination and control of every sin—not just his authority over sin. Being the good Calvinists they are, they are bound to the dogma that each and every sin (not just sin in general) has been sovereignly fabricated in God’s mind and determinatively willed by God before any other minds even existed. And because Calvinists insist (wrongly) that divine sovereignty means divine determination of all things, and maintain nothing can occur outside what God has determinatively willed, they are logically committed to the view that God unilaterally and unconditionally predetermined the fall of Adam and Eve. Moreover it requires them to hold that men and women have never possessed the power of contrary choice, for everything they choose was determined for them ahead of time by a transcendent will external to their own— i.e. God’s secret will of decree.

But wait! Didn’t we already see that Andrews, Carson and Keller set forth the motion that Adam and Even sinned of their own free will, and were undetermined by external causes and that God gave man the power of contrary choice? Yes they did. In point of fact we read,

It was possible for them not to sin, and it was also possible for them to sin. God gave to man the power of contrary choice. Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination, used that power in the commission of sin” [emphasis mine].[28]

Here Andrews, Carson and Keller are as slippery as wet fishes; trying to get a grip on what they are saying is near impossible. For example what do they mean, “It was possible for them to not sin, and it was possible for them to sin?” Calvinists and Arminians both agree that God’s perspective frames all reality. So do Carson and Keller really expect us to believe that God sovereignly decreed Adam and Eve to fall, but from God’s sovereign perspective “it was possible for them to not sin?” Do God’s sovereign decrees only render events possible, not certain? Can man act contrary to God’s sovereign determinations— or not? And what do they mean “Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination” chose to sin. Did God determinatively decree the sin of Adam and Eve and of every subsequent human thereafter—or not? Did God unconditionally, of his own will, preordain every act of child abuse, every act of adultery, every homoerotic porn film, every act of rape, every act of greed—or not?

The answer is either yes or no. Either God did determinatively will every sin, including the fall of Adam and Eve, or he did not. If not—then we need to simply affirm the negative and embrace Arminianism. If yes—then we need to own up to it and stop obfuscating with eloquent oratory. God’s moral character, not just his power and sovereign freedom are in question, and therefore the issue deserves a forthright answer not cryptic mystery and an obscuring use of words.

It is impossible to reconcile the words “man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination…sinned” with the words of John Calvin who taught God’s sovereign providence determines and compels reprobate, wicked persons to commit their sin in obedience to God’s prior predeterminations.

To sum up, since God’s will is said to be the cause of all things, I have made his providence the determinative principle for all human plans and works, not only to display its force in the elect, who are ruled by the Holy Spirit, but also to compel the reprobate to obedience.[29]

If Carson and Keller disagree with Calvin, why do they call themselves “Reformed Calvinists.” We already have a name for people who disagree with John Calvin. They are called “Arminians.” Whether they see it as a problem or not, Carson and Keller both have an unnerving talent to play both sides of the field—Keller especially when he is discoursing on theology for the general public. For example in the companion study guide to his book “The Reason for God” the language of Calvinism is dropped and the language of Arminianism is readily picked up. The question is asked, “Why is there so much evil in the world?” That should be an easy question for any Calvinist like Keller to field. Obviously the amount of evil in the world is directly related to the amount of evil God wanted and decreed! But rather than forthrightly declare that God decreed all acts of human evil, and that is why moral evil exists, we read these words instead,

“Human freedom is an enormous good. As this theodicy points out, perhaps this freedom is worth the terrible evil that results from abuse of free will. A great deal of suffering in this world should not be blamed on God; it is the mean, cruel, inhuman choices people make that cause much of the evil.”[30]

It is astonishing that anyone could call themselves a Calvinist and say such things. It is thoroughly dishonest and inconsistent with historical Calvinism. Whatever happened to Calvin’s statements highlighted above thatsingle events are ordered by God and that every event comes from his intended will. And that the “the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things… ?

In Calvinist theology, it makes no sense to say “terrible evil…results from abuse of free will.” It would be more accurate and honest to admit the logical end of Calvinist thought, which is that “terrible evil is the result of God abusing his sovereignty.” Unfortunately it seems that Calvinism, at least in its honest form, is only allowed out see the light of day when people are already conditioned to accept its horrific ramifications. Apparently Keller feels it is not at all dishonest or deceitful to conceal hard-to-swallow, Calvinists truths in the public arena. But what is more shocking is his appeal to an Arminian theodicy of free will to explain the occurrence of evil in our world. To the degree he does this, he forfeits Calvinism and adopts Arminianism.

Like Keller, Carson also does all he can to avoid allowing his Calvinism to become overly exposed to new believers and a thoughtful analysis that could lead one to see the moral and logical flaws inherent to his view. So far our citations are coming from Carson’s co-editing initiative to establish a Calvinist perspective on core Biblical doctrines he believes are in jeopardy.[1] It is a work geared towards a general Christian public for a general consumption of Calvinism that has all the technical, sharp edges smoothed over. I would call this “comfort Calvinism.” That is why Carson allows Andrews to say, “God gave to man the power of contrary choice” and that man’s will does not operate under “external compulsion or determination.”

To qualify Calvinistic sovereignty in this manner appears to retain a semblance of reason that man is morally responsible for his choices. As such it is a pill that goes down much smoother than his fully informed, robust Calvinism where the sharp, deterministic edges come into view in a rather embarrassing manner that exposes “comfort Calvinism” for what it is— an outright fabrication and falsehood. For in his technical, scholarly exposition of man’s willing and God’s determinism Carson contradicts his “comfort Calvinism” and declares,

If ‘free will’ be taken that human actions are ‘indeterminate’ and therefore ‘unpredictable’, the most that could be said (if one is simultaneously to accept statements about divine sovereignty) is that such uncertainty exists solely in the mind of the human perspective, not the divine.[31]

No “comfort Calvinism” there! Carson is saying from God’s perspective all of man’s actions are indeed determined by an external will— God’s will—and therefore man only enjoys the illusion of having a will that is free and undetermined by God. Not too surprisingly Carson also contradicts his earlier, “comfort Calvinism” contention that God “gave to man the power of contrary choice” when he categorically states in the same scholarly work that,

…free will defense apologists are sometimes challenged by theists, Christian, who do not hold that human freedom, conceived as power to contrary, is logically defensible in the light of divine sovereignty… I find myself aligned with those who remain unconvinced by apologists of the free will defense. [32]

Whereas Carson earlier had no problem allowing the Calvinist position on human freedom to be defined as “God giving to man the power of contrary choice” he now distances himself from such “comfort Calvinism” and states unequivocally that he counts himself among those “who do not hold that human freedom as power to contrary, is logically defensible in light of divine sovereignty.”

If you find yourself confused with Carson’s inconsistency, you are not alone. It is as clear as mud. But “mud” is the glorious, alleged “mystery” Calvinists bask in, but in truth do not affirm. They give lip service to “mystery” but in actuality they try to resolve the alleged mystery and unravel it by redefining “freedom” in compatibilistic terms that affirm determinism. For when Calvinism is at a safe distance from the uninitiated minds of a lay public, we discover that a will defined as “free” should not be conceived as a will free from external, deterministic factors. Far from it. Instead freedom is redefined as choosing to do what God determinatively decreed you must do! This is a view called Calvinistic compatibilism. This is also called “redefining terms” to suit one’s own bias.

Carson again provides all we need, saying,

First, we refuse to think of these two statements [God’s sovereign decree of all things and human freedom and responsibility] as embracing a deep contradiction. Granted there is mystery in them, and we shall have to explore just where that mystery lies. But if we are careful about semantics, we can avoid setting up these two statements as if they were mutually exclusive. [bracketed text mine][33]

This is almost humorous since it is readily discernible that Carson is habitually “careful about semantics” only in so far as he can twist them towards his own bias. So when he says there exists no contradiction “if we are careful about semantics” he is really advocating for the complete rejection of the long-standing, common-sense definition of what “freedom” actually means—which is that an act is free if and only if it is not causally determined or constrained by an external will. In its place Carson wants to redefine “freedom” along Calvinist lines (i.c. compatibilistic determinism), and suggest that if we reinterpret the semantics “Calvinistically” then any suggestion that my freely choosing X could somehow be in conflict with my being determinatively caused by God to choose X, completely disappears!

Notice how Carson subtly makes this move while simultaneously assuming the very thing he is trying to prove—i.e. sovereignty understood in a Calvinist paradigm is the only sovereignty that counts.

That means, for instance, that we must be careful with the notion of freedom. Many Christians today think that if human beings are to be thought of as morally responsible creatures, they must be free to choose, to believe, to disobey, and so forth. But what does “freedom” mean? Sometimes without thinking about it, we assume that such freedom must entail the power to work outside God’s sovereignty.[34]

Who are these alleged Christians who have assumed human free choice must be defined as “entailing the power to work outside God’s sovereignty”? Arminians have never said that— and if any person has, they certainly aren’t Arminian! I believe Carson knows this, but he wants to set up a false dichotomy. Either one embraces his Calvinist view that divine sovereignty means God has determinatively decreed everything humans think, desire or do, or one doesn’t have a legitimate view of divine sovereignty to speak of at all. If we start with that controlling assumption, then of course it follows men cannot “operate outside God’s sovereignty.” Obviously Carson is begging the question. The conclusion of his argument is being smuggled into the premise of his argument as an assumption, such that the premise of his argument would fail if the conclusion weren’t already assumed to be true. His view could be summarized as follows:

  1. God is sovereign.
  1. For God to be sovereign requires that he unconditionally decree every human choice.
  1. Therefore if men and women were free to make choices God did not determinatively decree, it would mean humanity possesses some greater power to operate outside God’s sovereign rule.

Once again the contrast to Carson’s Calvinist view is not to say, “God is not sovereign” or “man can operate outside God’s sovereignty.” The Arminian contrast is to say God is sovereign and he has sovereignly decreed to permit a world of genuine freedom. It is abundantly helpful to recall the insightful words of A.W. Tozer on this matter, who wisely stated, “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice… the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it.”

To his credit Carson isn’t a theologian who avoids Scripture. Quite the contrary he thinks the scriptures provide ample testimony to conclude God has determinatively rendered certain everything human do. What is his number one example for such confidence? The predestined death of Christ for sins.

He points out that in Acts 4:27-28, we read “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

Then comes the most underhanded display of mischaracterization I have ever come across—especially as it relates to a doctrine held precious by both Arminians and Calvinists alike. Speaking specifically of Christ’s crucifixion in Acts 2:28 he writes,

Even brief reflection demonstrates that any other alternative destroys the fabric of the Christian faith. Suppose God had not been sovereign over the conspiracy that brought Jesus to Calvary. Would we not have to conclude that the cross was a kind of after thought in the mind of God? Are we to think that God’s intention was to do something quite different, but then, because these rebels fouled up his plan, he did the best he could, and the result was Jesus’ atoning death on the cross? All of Scripture cries against the suggestion.[35]

Carson attempts to prop up his own Calvinist position by drawing our attention to the death of Christ in a manner that completely subverts the historically recognized position of his Arminian brothers and sisters. He attempts to argue that only the Calvinist position can speak of God’s sovereign plan in the predetermined death of Christ, and that “any other alternative destroys the fabric of the Christian faith.” He is of course speaking of Arminianism. He then goes on to define what alternatives to Calvinist theology would have to say in the most fraudulent manner possible, declaring they must “conclude that the cross was a kind of after thought in the mind of God” and that because “rebels fouled up his plan” God had to make the most of it and “did the best he could.” Words fail to convey how utterly unfair and underhanded his mischaracterization of the alternative, Arminian position is.

Please click here (and scroll down to “Critique 4”) for an explanation of the Arminian position that affirms the predestined nature of Christ’s death while avoiding the unnecessary, Calvinist add-on that God had to unconditionally decree the wickedness of individuals like Herod, Pilot and Jewish authorities in order to bring it about.[36] But to summarize it very briefly in a few sentences, Arminians believe the Scriptures affirm God is sovereignly wise and adept enough to exploit foreknown human characteristics and bring about certain predetermined ends without needing to have exhaustively predetermined all the behavioral means to bring about those ends. (The same holds true for his examples of Joseph and Assyria).[37] In other words in order to bring about the predestined death of his Son for sins, God was more than capable of exploiting the foreseen sinful characters of ruling authorities, without needing to have eternally decreed and pre-engineered that such ruling authorities would have such wicked, sinful characters. God’s sovereign glory in the cross is best seen in him having trumped the wicked intentions of enemies—both human and demonic—without having predetermined their wicked intentions in the first place.

We need to remember that one of Carson’s main aims is to argue that God has sovereignly willed all human decision— including all sins. He then attempts to highlight the crucifixion of our Lord as a key hermeneutical perch to sit upon whereby he can cast God’s sovereign “net” into the world and “catch” every sin and every sordid evil event of world history. This is an insult to the cross and wide of the mark. Put simply to view the one act that removed the sin of the world as the hermeneutical key to justify how God could have sovereignly decreed all the sordid sin of that world, is an exegetical leap that is unwarranted and misconceived. It is undoubtedly absurd to think the one act of God to remove all sin in the world is key evidence God determined and decreed all the sin of that world! Jesus died for our sins—not the predeterminations of his Father.

Carson goes on to argue that the Calvinist position alone can blend God’s sovereignty and moral responsibility together, and even goes so far as to indirectly claim that the Calvinist understanding of beholding divine sovereignty in absolute (i.e. exhaustive, universal) terms is equal to the gospel itself—such that if a person rejects the Calvinist view of divine sovereignty and man’s moral responsibility—he or she must “give up their claim to be a Christian.” He writes,

God is absolutely sovereign, yet his sovereignty does not dimin­ish human responsibility and accountability; human beings are morally responsible creatures, yet this fact in no way jeopardizes the sovereignty of God. At Calvary, all Christians have to concede the truth of these two statements, or they give up their claim to be Christians.[38]

It is necessary at this juncture to examine Carson’s claim that Calvinism alone can embrace both God’s sovereignty and humanity’s moral responsibility. For the latter is manifestly not true— since moral responsibility cannot be reasonably affirmed in a context of doing only that which God sovereignly willed you to do. Of course to put it that way sounds far too counter-intuitive and contradictory. To their credit most Calvinists are much too intelligent and crafty to be—if I may be allowed to say— caught with their pants down on this issue. Rather than speak forthrightly of their view that freedom should be understood as being causally controlled and constrained to only do what God has determined you must do, they will obscure the obvious discrepancy by again setting us up to receive another indispensable, deflecting presupposition. It is typical for them to start with the smuggled in premise that God has sovereignly decreed all human action, and then say something along the lines of, “Freedom is not the ability to choose against God’s sovereign will, but rather the ability to choose in accordance with what one desires to do.”

However what they keep tactically keep hidden from view is the fact that “what we desire to do” must itself be tied to God’s all-encompassing sovereign will—so the qualification is meaningless. Carson again models for us this approach. Like we saw before he astutely recognizes that God’s determinative decrees, human freedom and human responsibility can only be subsumed together if we redefine the critical terms in play and load them with Calvinist assumptions. Speaking of Calvinist theologians he writes,

That is why many theologians have refused to tie “freedom” to absolute power to act contrary to God’s will. They tie it, rather, to desire, to what human beings voluntarily choose. [39]

However what Calvinist theologians, like Carson, will never confide in you, at least not until they feel you are conditioned enough to absorb the shock, is that what you “voluntarily” desire to do has itself been determined by God! For Calvinists believe God has not only exhaustively predetermined the ends of all things, they believe he has exhaustively determined the means to bring about those ends—and since action proceeds from desire, what we desire must be subsumed under the “all things” God has foreordained.

One last remark deserves mentioning before we bring this examination to a close. Notice that Carson states that human “freedom” is tied to what “human beings voluntarily choose.”

Voluntarily choose?

This is beyond mere inconsistency. We are now planting both feet firmly in intentional misinformation. The last I checked every dictionary defines “voluntarily” as meaning, “freely chosen without being constrained, forced or necessitated.” Therefore the key question to be asked is, can Carson honestly say our choices are “voluntarily chosen”— especially given the fact the very definition of “voluntarily” would dictate that our choices are “not forced, constrained or necessitated” by God’s will?

No he cannot.

Carson is already on record unequivocally declaring such a view of human freedom to be contrary to his understanding of divine sovereignty, and therefore is a wrong assumption to be working from. He explicitly states we are mistaken if we assume human freedom “involves absolute power to be contrary that is, the power to break any constraint, so that there is no necessity in the choice we make.”[40] The reason is quite simple. Carson assumes God’s “absolute sovereignty” must constrain our choices to his prior, exhaustive decrees–rendering them necessary.

His obfuscating terminology notwithstanding, Carson is putting forth two motions: 1) that a proper view of human freedom is anchored in voluntary choice, and 2) human freedom ought to be interpreted ultimately in a context of constraint and necessity, not outside it. And for Carson that overarching force of necessity is God’s sovereign will of decree. So rather than assume that “voluntary choice” should be interpreted by its accepted, historical definition, (i.e. not forced, constrained or necessitated) Carson believes what is “voluntarily chosen” can be reworked to mean any act that is irrevocably bound to one, definitive constraint— God’s meticulous sovereign will! We might wonder why Carson doesn’t seem bothered by the glaring irregularity and definitional revisionism that dismissively ignores the very meaning of the word “voluntary.” But this would be of no use. Carson is following his own advice and “being careful about semantics”, and definitional revisionism is the lynchpin that keeps it all together.

It becomes all to clear that in Carson’s world there are no contradictions between exhaustive, divine determinism and human freedom, provided you redefine human “freedom” as God “allowing” you to do what God determined you must do, such that you are not free to choose against his prior determination. Hence if you think contradictions exist, it is only because you aren’t being flexible enough with your terminology and need to adopt a more “Gumby” approach to word meanings.

Given the Calvinist penchant to employ words while simultaneously ignoring their established meanings, any attempt to nail down modern-day Calvinists on key questions that relate to human freedom and moral accountability is as easy as trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. They inexplicably adopt “Gumby” theology in order to reflexively dodge every criticism that could box them in to a particular viewpoint that leaves them naked and exposed to simple, deductive reasoning.

Calvinists repeatedly seek to appeal to “mystery” whenever their views become too riddled with glaring discrepancies and contradictions. But in reality, their view allows for no mystery at all due to their belief that every thought, desire, word and deed has been pre-engineered by God’s sovereign decrees; decrees we are powerless to resist or act contrary to.

In his presentation of five compelling arguments against Calvinism, William Lane Craig rightly dismisses the Calvinist habit to couch their view in mystery, pointing out that there is exists no mystery in a compatibilistic view that is founded on universal, causal determinism. He writes,

“There’s nothing wrong with mystery per se… the problem is that some Reformed theologians, like my two collaborators in the four-views book, try to resolve the mystery by holding to universal, divine, causal determinism and a compatibilist view of human freedom. According to this view, the way in which God sovereignly controls everything that happens is by causing it to happen, and freedom is re-interpreted to be consistent with being causally determined by factors outside oneself. It is this view, which affirms universal determinism and compatibilism, that runs into… problems. Making God the author of evil is just one of the problems this neo-Reformed view faces.”[41]

Since Calvinism logically collapses into an affirmation that every God-dishonoring sin was conceived and decreed by none other than God himself for the express aim of extolling the greatness of his sovereign glory over the very acts of evil he conceived and decreed, the only thing left to be defined as mystery is how God can act like that and still be called “good”?

As it concerns God’s sovereignty over sin and evil, we must be resolute in grounding our theology into God’s holy character—not raw power and predestinating decrees that unquestionably leads to every perverse act opposed to God’s holy character. For God is more than sovereign in power, he is sovereign in virtue, which is why we are told “God cannot “lie” (Titus 1:2) nor “tempt men to evil” (James 1:3) for our God is a “God of light; in whom there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). To place limitations on what God can do does not diminish his sovereignty in the least. Rather it extols his sovereignty by grounding it in a morally perfect nature that is the paradigm of good and the antithesis of evil.

So let there be no place for mystery shrouded in “secret decrees” on this issue. When it comes to the question of God-dishonoring sin and wickedness we must understand God’s sovereign rule over evil in terms of exploitation and usurpation, not instigation and origination. In his sovereign glory, resplendent and transcendent over all creation, God brilliantly seeks to exploit sin and evil, not be its initiating, determinative cause. Make no mistake about it, the former is Arminianism and the latter is Calvinism (and Islam for those that care to know). Moreover for Calvinists to insist God has unconditionally predestined all sin and evil, while simultaneously insisting the ground of God’s moral exoneration and our moral culpability is an inexplicable mystery beyond our finite minds to comprehend, is a debased theological concept unworthy of God, unworthy of divine glory and unworthy of Christian affirmation, no matter how exalted the oratory it is wrapped in. [42]

If we must choose oratory over content, let’s at least try to get both right. G.K. Chesterton does exactly that, saying,

“The Calvinists took the Catholic idea of the absolute knowledge and power of God; and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built on it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon.”[43]

The preeminent Arminian theologian Roger Olson agrees. In his excellent book, Against Calvinism Olson similarly sums up the moral dilemma that faces Calvinism. He writes that at the end of the day the Calvinist rendering of God “is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil.”[44]

I could not agree more.


[1] See my article “Calvinist Quotes on God Determining All Evil”
[5]  Calvin, John. Institutes, Book 3, Chap. 21
[6] The core theological distinctives set forth in the Gospel as Center that Carson and Keller co-edited cannot be separated from Carson or Keller’s personal core beliefs. For the dust jacket has this description from them: “Important aspects of Christianity are in danger of being muddied or lost as relativism takes root in our churches today. What was historically agreed upon is now readily questioned and the very essentials of the Christian faith are in jeopardy. It’s time to reclaim the core of our beliefs.”
[7] Carson, D.A., Keller, Tim. Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 10-11 See also
[8] Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 11 See also
[9] Calvinists commit the fallacy of necessity. See Martin Glynn’s article “Why I am an Arminian Part IV: Theology” ]
[10] Pink, A.W. Sovereignty of God, Bridge-Logos, 2008, p. 351-354
[11] Pink, A.W. Attributes of God, Reiner Publications, 1968), p. 76
[12] Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1
[13] Westminster Confession of Faith 3.2
[14] Calvin, John, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. p, 176
[15] In his work “Author of Sin” available online in PDF, Calvinist theologian Vincent Cheung chastises his fellow Calvinists for refusing to own up to the inescapable, logical conclusions of Calvinist theology. He states, “When Reformed Christians are questioned on whether God is the ‘author of sin,’ they are too quick to say, ‘No, God is not the author of sin,’ and then they twist and turn and writhe on the floor trying to give man some power of ‘self-determination’… some kind of freedom that renders man culpable… and yet still leave God with total sovereignty. On the other hand, when someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my first reaction tends to be, ‘So what?’ Christians who disagree with me stupidly chant, ‘But he makes God the author of sin, he makes God the author of sin….’ However, a description does not amount to an argument or objection, and I have never come across a half-decent explanation as to what’s wrong with God being the author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective. Whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin.”
[16] Westminster Confession of Faith 3.8
[17] Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 11 See also
[19] Bavink, Herman quoted in Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 11 See also
[20] Bavinck declares that God “allowed evil to exist”, “gives it free reign”, that “sin…destroys itself by the very freedom granted it” and that God “never feared the way of freedom” and “does not force it [evil].” As an Arminian I can only give a hearty, “Amen.” But we would be remiss if we did not catch how he subtly slips in the paradigm-shifting phrase “God…willed it [sin and evil]” before contradicting himself by adopting language that can only accord logically and consistently in an Arminian paradigm.
[21] Calvin, John. The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book I, Ch.17, Sect. 10 I am indebted to the writers at “Examining Calvinism” for their research. One particular article they have written is devastating to the Calvinist claim that their theology does not result in God being the author of sin. See
[22] Tozer. A.W. The Sovereignty of God, Ch. 22. See
[23] Cheung, Vincent. “Problem of Evil,” See: (March, 2013)
[24] Calvin, John. Inst. I.xviii.l. 1559 edition. See A.N.S. Lane, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 73
[25] Calvin, John. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.171-172
[26] Calvin, John. The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Ch. 16, Sect. 4,
[27] Calvin, John. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.177
[28] Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 10-11 See also
[29] Calvin, John. Institutes Book 1, Ch. 18, Sect. 2
[30] Keller, Tim. The Reason for God: Discussion Guide, Zondervan, 2008, p. 58
[31] Carson, D.A. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension, Baker Books, 1994. p 208
[32] Carson, D.A. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension, Baker Books, 1994. p 208-209
[33] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.”
[34] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.”
[35] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.”
The same holds true for Carson’s other examples. They pose no serious challenge to any Arminian leaning theology that rejects the Calvinist view that God foreordained before the world began the sin of every person God is more than capable of exploiting the sinful intentions and wicked characters of Joseph’s brothers without needing to have eternally decreed for them to have such wicked characters. There is no reason why we can’t read the passage as meaning exactly what it states and nothing more. The actions of Joseph’s brothers were meant (in their minds) to do evil against Joseph, but God meant to overrule their evil intentions for good—which is why God did not try to forcibly prohibit their actions. Instead he exploits them in two ways: 1) He saves Joseph’s life because their original intention was to kill him in Gn. 37:20; 2) He establishes Joseph in Egypt for a future mission.
And as for God using Assyria as his tool of judgment upon his own wayward people, this also does not require the view that God determinatively decreed all sin. God uses the territorial greediness and prideful desire of conquest within the heart of the King of Assyria to bring about his pronounced judgment on Israel. We shouldn’t read too much into “Destruction is decreed…” (vs. 22). It need not mean some foreordained decree before the world began. It is a temporal decree due to Israel’s disobedience. In context it simply means that God determined that a judgment of destruction upon Israel was necessary to return a remnant to righteousness and reliance upon the Lord.
God uses the King of Assyria “as an axe that he wields” by simply removing his protection from Israel (which he promised to do whenever Israel fell into sin) and allowing the King of Assyria to do what was already in his own heart to do—bring utter ruin and conquest to Jerusalem and her “god” as he intends to do to all surrounding nations. Notice in verses 8-9 that the King of Assyria lists 3 cities that he intends to sack and whose idols and gods he sees as no match for his power. He then goes on to say in verse 10 and 11 that his power of reach will extend into their lands and defeat their idols…AND that in his estimation their idols are more powerful than the deity that protects Jerusalem—that being YAWEH!
As if that wasn’t damning enough, the king of Assyria then goes on to boast that he will specifically destroy Jerusalem and the deity of their city. God, in virtue of being the ultimate deity of Israel’s trust, takes great insult in this and determines that, after his anger is poured out on Jerusalem, he will bring judgment upon Assyria for her arrogance in intending to go further than he intended and for equating (or assuming) that his removal of protection over Israel was a sign of his inability or weakness to protect Israel.
In short God wields Assyria as an instrument of judgment by removing his protection over Israel and thus allowing the Assyrian king to carry out what was already in his heart to do. This should be no surprise because God warned Israel that his hand of protection and blessing would be removed if Israel disobeyed her God, and that she would be subject to the evil intentions of the pagan nations around her. It can truly be said that it is God’s work of destruction because unless he had removed his hand of blessing and protection from Israel, Assyria’s aims of conquest would have been thwarted from the very outset.
But more to the point, Carson’s Assyrian example become meaningless nonsense in his Calvinist paradigm since he must concede that each and every act of Israel’s disobedience was itself sovereignly willed by God just as equally as was his will to judge them for those same acts—the same acts he sovereignly willed them to do! The fact that Carson doesn’t bother to mention this key fact only goes to show how embarrassingly awful the Calvinist position is when unfurled and fully followed to its logical conclusion.
[38] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.”
[39] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.”
[40] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.”
[41] : See more of William Lane Craig’s compelling five arguments against the Calvinist view at
[42] Perhaps I shouldn’t say, “inexplicably.” I truly believe the underlying reason Calvinists are reticent to speak forthright and consistently, choosing instead to “play both sides of the field” under the guise of “mystery”, is due to an inherent moral intuition that Calvinism—logically understood—is morally bankrupt and renders the holiness of our Lord and God morally indistinguishable from the bowels of hell.
[43] Chesterton, G.K. The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, vol 3, p. 152
[44] Olson, Roger. Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology, Zondervan, 2011, p. 84. I highly recommend this book. I believe the only mistake Olson made was that he was too charitable to Calvinists—not wanting to offend them. I believe he intentionally did not lay down the gavel on their views as forcefully as he could because he wanted to be “nice” and “gracious.” This may have been the best tact to take though, given that Calvinists are infamous for dodging the most substantial critiques against them on the basis that their opponents are only erecting straw-men and mischaracterizing their views. Olson is successful in showing how Calvinism is logically inconsistent and the best way to argue against a Calvinist is to quote another Calvinist.
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