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)

-StriderMTB

[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: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/panel-debate-craig-hitchens-wilson-strobel-dennison

[5] See: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/panel-debate-craig-hitchens-wilson-strobel-dennison

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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.

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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.

-StriderMTB

[1] See my article “Calvinist Quotes on God Determining All Evil” https://atheologyintension.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/2376/
[2] http://www.amazon.com/Reason-God-Conversations-Faith-Life/dp/0310330467?ie=UTF8&tag=apologetics31-20&link_code=btl&camp=213689&creative=392969
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGX1fHWU1TA
[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGX1fHWU1TA
[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 http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/booklets/Sin_and_the_Fall.pdf
[8] Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 11 See also http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/booklets/Sin_and_the_Fall.pdf
[9] Calvinists commit the fallacy of necessity. See Martin Glynn’s article “Why I am an Arminian Part IV: Theology” http://evangelicalarminians.org/why-i-am-an-arminianpart-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 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_03
[13] Westminster Confession of Faith 3.2 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_03
[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.” http://www.vincentcheung.com/library/
[16] Westminster Confession of Faith 3.8 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_03
[17] Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 11 See also http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/booklets/Sin_and_the_Fall.pdf
[18] https://atheologyintension.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/the-folly-of-doing-theology-in-an-echo-chamber-a-thorough-examination-of-pipers-two-wills-view/
[19] Bavink, Herman quoted in Sin and the Fall Crossway, 2011, p. 11 See also http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/booklets/Sin_and_the_Fall.pdf
[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 http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/Complaints/ac_sin.html
[22] Tozer. A.W. The Sovereignty of God, Ch. 22. See http://www.heavendwellers.com/hdt_chapter_22_koh.htm
[23] Cheung, Vincent. “Problem of Evil,” See: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/ProblemEvil.htm (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 http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/booklets/Sin_and_the_Fall.pdf
[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.” http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/prayerchangesthings.html
[34] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.” http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/prayerchangesthings.html
[35] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.” http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/prayerchangesthings.html
[36] https://atheologyintension.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/the-folly-of-doing-theology-in-an-echo-chamber-a-thorough-examination-of-pipers-two-wills-view/
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.” http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/prayerchangesthings.html
[39] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.” http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/prayerchangesthings.html
[40] Carson, D.A. “A Sovereign and Personal God.” http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/prayerchangesthings.html
[41] : See more of William Lane Craig’s compelling five arguments against the Calvinist view at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism#ixzz3Q63gy7HU
[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.
Posted in Critiquing Calvinism | 27 Comments

The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s “Two-Wills View”

The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s “Two-Wills View”

By Strider MTB

*Permission is freely granted to share this article in its entirety or in portions. My friends call me Matt and I write under the pseudonym “Strider MTB” for two reasons. Tolkien’s “Strider” character from his LOTR trilogy is one of my literary heroes, but more importantly I hope to one day publish children’s books on the Christian market. Unfortunately to attack the bastion of Calvinism is to invite scathing rebuke and limit that potential market. May the Lord give you His discretion and humble wisdom as you wade through this comprehensive critique. I will probably divide up this article into a 5-part series in the near future. For now I share it in its entirety.*
INTRODUCTION: WHY THIS EXAMINATION?
Critique 1: IS GOD’S PERFECT WILL CONTESTED AND CHALLENGED BY GOD’S WILL OF DECREE, OR IS GOD’S PERFECT WILL COMPLEMENTED BY GOD’S CONSEQUENT WILL?
Critique 2: HAS GOD UNILATERALLY DECREED ALL EVIL IN ORDER TO BRING ABOUT GOOD, OR DOES GOD EXPLOIT EVIL FOR GOOD?
Critique 3: DOES PIPER’S TWO-WILLS VIEW COLLAPSE INTO A CONTRAIRITY WITHIN GOD?
Critique 4: IS THE GLORY OF THE CROSS JESUS DYING FOR SINS OR THE PREDETERMINATIONS OF THE FATHER? DOES THE PREDESTINED DEATH OF CHRIST FOR SIN SERVE AS EVIDENCE GOD PREDETERMINED ALL SIN?
Critique 5: IS HATRED TOWARDS THE HARLOT OF REVELATION ANOTHER PROOF GOD SOVEREIGNLY DECREED ALL SIN?
Critique 6: WHAT DOES PIPER MEAN “GOD WILLS IN ONE SENSE WHAT IS AGAINST HIS WILL IN ANOTHER SENSE?” IS GOD’S MORAL WILL A COSMIC CHARADE SUBSERVIANT AT ALL POINTS TO GOD’S WILL OF DECREE?
Critique 7: IS GOD A MORAL ARSONIST? A CRITICAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN ARMINIANISM AND CALVINISM: REDEEMING EVIL FOR GOOD VS. DECREEING EVIL FOR GOOD
Critique 8: THE NATURE OF THE UNCONDITIONAL: UNDERSTANDING THE HINDGE ON WHICH THE DOOR OF PIPER’S CALVINISTIC SOVEREIGNTY SWINGS
Critique 9: REBUTTING ANOTHER PIPER ASSUMPTION: IF GOD CHOOSES TO JUDICIALLY “HAND PEOPLE OVER” TO THEIR OWN SINS, DOES THAT SERVE AS EVIDENCE GOD DETERMINATIVELY DECREED THOSE VERY SINS?
Critique 10: PIPER’S ABYSMAL MISHANDLING OF ABIMELECH AND ELI’S WICKED SONS
Critique 11: PIPER’S REPEATED MISSTEPS INTO MEANINGLESSNESS: DOES GOD DELIBERATE OVER RESTRAINING OR PERMITTING HIS OWN PREDETERMINATIONS?
Critique 12: IF GOD SAYS HE TAKES NO DELIGHT IN THE DEATH OF THE WICKED, HOW CAN GOD BE SAID TO DELIGHT IN PUTTING ELI’S WICKED SONS TO DEATH?
Critique 13: DOES GOD’S HARDENING OF PHARAOH PROVE THAT GOD HAS DETERMINATIVELY WILLED ALL EVIL? DOES GOD RESPOND TO WHAT GOD DOESN’T LIKE ABOUT WHAT GOD DECIDED GOD SHOULD DECREE?
Critique 14: PIPER’S STACKING OF THE DECK: SIHON KING OF HESHBON AND THE CANAANITE KINGS
Critique 15: WHY DID GOD HARDEN AND BLIND THE NATION OF ISRAEL? DEALING WITH PIPER’S UN-CONTEXUALIZED ASSERTIONS
Critique 16: MORE EVIDENCE OF DOING THEOLOGY IN AN ECHO CHAMBER: DID GOD DETERMINE ISRAEL’S DISOBEDIENCE AND DEFIANCE JUST SO HE COULD HARDEN THEM FOR COMMITTING THE VERY ACTS OF DEFIANCE HE DETERMINED FOR THEM?
Critique 17: PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF ROMANS 11:31-32
Critique 18: PIPER’S GRIEVOUS CONFLATION OF TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES OF “HARDENING”
Critique 19: EXPLORING GOD’S ACCOMMODATING WILL FURTHER IN ROMANS 8-11: GOD WILLS MERCY AND WILLS HARDENING NEITHER CAPRICIOUSLY NOR ARBITRARILY BUT IN ACCORDANCE WITH HOW HIS SOVEREIGN TERMS ARE MET
Critique 20: WHY DID GOD GIVE ISRAEL A “SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES THAT SHOULD NOT SEE AND EARS THAT SHOULD NOT HEAR” IF ISAIAH 42:18 SAYS GOD COMMANDS PEOPLE TO SEE AND HEAR?
Critique 21: DOES CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION REQUIRE GOD TO DECREE SIN AND EVIL?
Critique 22: PIPER’S ARMINIAN DOPPELGANGER RUNS THE CALVINIST GAUNTLET AND GETS SKEWERED: DOES GOD NEED TO GET PERMISSION FROM HIMSELF?
Critique 23: SOVEREIGNTY MISCONCEIVED: DOES GOD SOVEREIGNLY INTERRUPT HIS OWN SOVEREIGNTY?
Critique 24: SOVEREIGNTY RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD: HOW WE CAN AFFIRM GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY WHILE DENYING GOD’S DETERMINATIVE CONTROL OVER ALL THE DETAILS OF OUR LIVES
Critique 25: PIPER’S CARELESS TREATMENT OF HEBREWS 6:3
Critique 26: ANOTHER PIPER MISFIRE: THE FOLLY OF LOOKING TO PROVERBS TO UNVEIL A UNIVERSAL THEME OF EXHAUSTIVE, DIVINE DETERMINATION
Critique 27: IS GOD’S JUSTICE A COSMIC UNINTELLIGBLE CHARADE? MORE SCRIPTURE PLUCKING AT THE EXPENSE OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT: PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF JEREMIAH 10:23.
Critique 28: CAN THE WICKED REST ASSURED THEIR EVIL ACTS AND LIVES ARE “LIVED OUT IN THE HANDS OF GOD” JUST AS EQUALLY AS THE RIGHTEOUS SAINTS THEY PERSECUTE? ANOTHER INNANE QUESTION THAT ARISES OUT OF A PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF MATTHEW 10:29
Critique 29: THE PIPER SWITCHEROO: THE SUBLTE MOVE FROM “ALL THE DETAILS OF LIFE” TO “GOD’S SOVEREIGN PURPOSES.”
Critique 30: DOES GOD ASSURE US HIS PURPOSES WON’T SHIPWRECK ON THE WEAKNESS OF HIS OWN WILL? WHY PIPER’S EXAMPLES RESULT IN UNINTELLIGIBLE GOBBLEDYGOOK WHEN MARRIED TO HIS OWN THEOLOGY
Critique 31: PIPER’S APPEAL JONATHAN EDWARDS: EXPLORING WHY BOTH MEN SUCCUMB TO APPALLING DOUBLESPEAK
Critique 32: AUTHORSHIP OF EVIL AND THE INCOMPATIBILITY OF PIPER’S COMPATIBILISM
Critique 33: THE ALLEGED BALANCED VIEW OF STEPHEN CHARNOCK: ANOTHER DEAD END FOR PIPER
Critique 34: THE ERADICATION OF OBJECTIVE MORALITY: IF EVERY CONTRAST TO GOD’S MORAL GOODNESS IS ITSELF CONCEIVED AND DECREED BY GOD’S MORALLY GOOD NATURE, WHAT THEN IS LEFT TO BE DEFINED AS OBJECTIVELY EVIL?
Critique 35: THE NONSENSE OF PIPER’S APPEAL TO GEORGE WASHINGTON AND GOD’S “COMPLEX EMOTIONS” TO EXTRICATE GOD FROM DIVINE POLARITY
Critique 36: THE FINAL VERDICT: A PIPER-BUILT HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF. ARE GOD’S COMMANDS REALLY COMMANDS AGAINST EVIL OR ARE THEY SUBSEQUENT COMMANDS ISSUED AGAINST HIS OWN PRIOR DECREES?
APPENDIX: IS GOD’S ALLOWANCE OF SIN THE SAME AS GOD’S DECREE OF SIN? DEALING WITH JONATHAN EDWARD’S  ASSERTION THAT THE DISTINCTION IS JUST SEMANTICS
 

INTRODUCTION: WHY THIS EXAMINATION?

John Piper is a man much loved by God. John Piper is a man much in love with God. Unfortunately John Piper is also a man much confused about who God is and how his divine nature, character and sovereignty intertwine. It is most unfortunate because there is a great deal of pastoral teaching and passion that Piper can contribute to the Church— passion and teaching that I can only extol and applaud. However when any person, no matter how noble their intentions, embarks on a path to inculcate Christians into a theological paradigm that does not ultimately ground God’s glory in God’s good character (Ezekiel 33:19), we have no recourse but to dismiss their viewpoint as misguided from the start and warn believers of the perils that lie concealed and cloistered behind their passionate oratory.

The following critique will largely be an examination of Piper’s popular article “Are There Two Wills in God”.[1] However, as the need arises, other key statements he has made will be pulled from other articles so as to present a fuller portrait of his theology. Quotes without a specific citation are taken from Piper’s “Two-Wills” online article cited above. Piper’s principle aim is to layout his case that God can sincerely and divinely will two seemingly contradictory things. He starts off attempting to show how God can sincerely will all persons to be saved while purposely willing that all people in fact not be saved. To say on the one hand God wills that all be saved, yet on the other hand assert God does not will all to be saved may sound like an internal contrariety within God, but Piper assures us no such contrariety exists—not because logic demands it, but because Scripture demands it. Piper then proceeds to lay out his case by grounding his initial thesis into an explorative journey through the Scriptures that purportedly show how God can sincerely will that certain evils never occur while simultaneously purposing and decreeing that those very evils ought to occur and therefore will occur unfailingly. As we will discover, Piper considers such a view, however unpalatable to our moral senses and logical deduction, to be the signature piece of evidence that makes the Calvinist view of sovereignty reign supreme over and against Arminian views of divine sovereignty.

Though his commitment to Calvinism is beyond question, his reticence to be theologically consistent and transparent when it most counts is also beyond question. Time and again we will see how Piper intentionally seeks to shield the utter horror of his view behind euphemistic language and innocuous phrases—going so far as to insist God decreed all evil and then lapsing into inconsistency by borrowing terms that only make sense in a robust Arminian paradigm (i.e. “God permits evil”) when he needs to extricate God from moral dilemmas inherent to exhaustive, divine determinism. The reader will discover the following examination to be a hard-hitting denouncement of Piper’s deceptively shrewd use of obscuring, lofty language to misdirect the reader away from apprehending the moral bankruptcy of his view, just as much as it is a denouncement of his theological conclusions.

It is also my intention to demonstrate how Piper is completely closed off to any interpretation that does not reinforce his preconceived assumptions on what divine sovereignty means in a Calvinist context. In that sense the whole of Piper’s theology functions as little more than a privately enclosed echo chamber, with the result being a distorted theology cut off from God’s good character and glory. To approach the whole of scripture in such a manner is misguided and prone to commit many interpretive errors. We will repeatedly see how his view is informed by an extreme and unwarranted extrapolation of the biblical data, which in turn causes him to trade in a healthy dose of common sense and objectivity for unflinching, blind dogmatism.

Critique 1: IS GOD’S PERFECT WILL CONTESTED AND CHALLENGED BY GOD’S WILL OF DECREE, OR IS GOD’S PERFECT WILL COMPLEMENTED BY GOD’S CONSEQUENT WILL?

In defending his view that “God has ultimate control of all things, including evil” [2] which is euphemistic, “Piperneze” language for saying, “God’s ordaining mind is the conceptual and decretive origin for every sin and act of evil throughout human history” Piper principally goes to the Old Testament. For in the O.T. Piper sees great fodder for his view. There is nothing particularly wrong in looking to the O.T. to substantiate one’s theology, but we obviously need to trend carefully—for a great deal has changed. However God is the same yesterday, today and forever and therefore we must assume that God’s holy character and relation to sin and evil is consistent throughout time. In this post I will seek to delve into the alleged evidence—both in the O.T. and N.T. that Piper elicits to substantiate his view. For starters it is of crucial importance when reading the Bible to discern the difference between what is God’s perfect will (i.e. ideal will) and what is God’s accommodating will (i.e. consequent will). Because Piper’s viewpoint exists in a Calvinist echo chamber that drowns out all other competing viewpoints, he never bothers to seriously consider how the Arminian view not only can explain the alleged disparities but also preserves God’s holy, good character—something Piper’s view does not.

There are some things in the Bible—especially in the Old Testament that occurred solely because God is seen to be accommodating His will to a fallen situation that he neither desired nor sovereignly decreed. In that sense it is not what God wills ideally but consequently. Three short examples will suffice: polygamy, law of retribution and divorce. God tells us that His ideal, perfect plan is for one husband to be married to one wife and that they would be united to each other for all their life. But in the fallen world of the Ancient Near East God was faced with a less than ideal situation in which agricultural feuds and wars would erupt subsequently leading to the early deaths of husbands and sons. Consequently wives and mothers back home are immediately thrust into a situation of vulnerability, wherein they find themselves alone in a violent world and unable to work the land by themselves. The result is that food runs out and starvation becomes a real risk. Due to the corrosive effects of sin that God did not intend He is now faced with a decision between what is bad and what is worse.[3] It’s bad that you have to have polygamy, but its worse having vulnerable, unprotected starving children and starving widows, so God accommodates Himself to the situation and says, “This is not my perfect will. Yet my perfect, ideal will is unattainable for the time being, so for now let’s go with polygamy.” God never prescribed polygamy as a rule, but God allowed it in the light of other circumstances. That many in the O.T. abused this allowance is another witness of man’s un-decreed fallen state and indeterminate freedom.

So in sum God’s allowance of polygamy for a period of time is not evidence of an eternal, hidden sovereign decree, but rather God accommodating His will in a manner that accords with his wise counsel. However all along God is trying to move the culture and his people along to a place of maturity where polygamy is off the table and his ideal, perfect will for monogamous unions is realized. There is a progressive ethic taking place in the O.T. we cannot overlook. Hence we must be careful when we read the Scriptures that we don’t eternalize what God is merely accommodating himself to and allowing. The same holds true for God’s provisional form of justice through lex talionis or the law of retaliation witnessed in the common ANE phrase “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Christ signaled the end of that provisional accommodation and sought to introduce God’s perfect, ideal will with the declaration, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Mt. 38-45).

It is not God’s will today that we preach polygamy or gouge out each other’s eyes because such allowances were God’s accommodating, provisional will for a period of time. Another example is how God accommodates His will in allowing divorce—yet he establishes strict parameters around it as best He can so that husbands don’t start discarding their wives for trivial reasons that leave their wives uncared for in the future. Yet even in this God is seeking to move his people along to a place of greater maturity and moral development.[4]

I say all that to make the crucial point that we ought not to divide God’s will along moral lines—as does Piper (i.e. God’s moral nature decreed everything opposed to his moral nature), but along consequential lines (i.e. what God seeks to achieve within a context of a world gone astray). God’s perfect will is his idealistic, first desire in all matters because what God principally desires flows out of his morally perfect nature. God’s consequent, accommodating will is a recognition that God is not deterred or threatened by genuine human freedom, and is therefore what God wills and seeks to achieve in light of human rebellion. In all matters of earthly and heavenly affairs God’s perfect will is the heartbeat of a perfect morality inherent to his nature. However sin’s intrusion into the world has become parasitical upon God’s perfect desires for his world. As such God has sovereignly chosen to accommodate himself to a fallen creation that is not of his ideal. He does this because he is loving, merciful and understanding of our frailty.

As mentioned, God’s perfect will is that marriages would never result in divorce but as the O.T. bears witness to and as Jesus points out, God knows our frailty and propensity towards sin; therefore God accommodates his will to allow divorce in certain situations. God would rather there be no divorce—that is his perfect will. But given sin’s intrusion into the world and our human frailty to succumb to external pressures and temptations, which God did not decree, God accommodates his will to our fallen condition and allows it.

Yet it is another thing entirely to say God decreed every act of adultery or every divorce that shatters families because he needed such tragedies to further glorify himself to the maximum. On the one hand Piper believes God is irrevocably bound by his own nature to maximize his glory in all things. Yet on the other hand Piper believes God decreed all things. Therefore it is no strain on logic to conclude that God needed “all things” to be exactly as they are to achieve his current, maximal state of righteous glory. In that sense God has a need—evil—to achieve glory, and God has a need—sin—to achieve righteousness. God’s glory and moral character becomes muddled beyond recognition in Piper’s theodicy. This will be threshed out in subsequent critiques.

Critique 2: HAS GOD UNILATERALLY DECREED ALL EVIL IN ORDER TO BRING ABOUT GOOD, OR DOES GOD EXPLOIT EVIL FOR GOOD?

Throughout this examination I will try to zero in on how Piper uses Scripture to substantiate his view that God’s holy mind is the origin of conception and decree for all sin and evil. There is no ignoring the fact that sin and evil occur in our world, so there is no argument there. Moreover there is no getting around the fact that God is sovereign over sin’s occurrence. Indeed all informed Arminians recognize that fact. But what does that mean? That is where the controversy lies. Does it mean— as Piper’s Two-Wills View requires— that all sin and evil was fabricated in the workshop of God’s willing mind and then issued forth via divine decree to secondary wills?

Hardly.

The contrast of Piper’s position is neither to deny sin’s occurrence nor to suggest God is helpless in the face of evil. Rather the position the Scripture’s most consistently take is that in all situations God reluctantly seeks to use sin and exploit evil for purposes that accord with his own counsel. In that sense God never decrees sin through personal, purposeful agency! That is Piper’s key mistake. Rather God accommodates his will to a paradigm of sin that he did not decree, and seeks to use sin within the moral boundaries of his counsel that is informed by his morally perfect nature.

In that sense much of what Piper points to as God’s decree of sin or his will for sin to occur is nothing of the sort. Rather it is merely evidence of God reluctantly accommodating his will to a fallen humanity that allows him to: 1) exploit sinful events to achieve his own purpose; 2) ransack evil by overruling its intended effects for good; 3) use sin and evil as his sovereign tool to bring either redemptive discipline or deserved judgment upon rebellious people; and 4) establish a world of condition and moral consequence where the onus is on us to respond to God’s graceful initiatives.

We can summarize so far by saying whenever and wherever possible God reluctantly seeks to exploit evil and trump its intended effects by overruling it for his sovereign purpose. God’s glory is not best seen in him justifying all evil in virtue of decreeing all evil.[5] Rather it is best seen in him exploiting evil and overruling certain evils for good purposes while simultaneously denying that those evils were conceived and decreed by God in order to bring about those good purposes. There is a vast difference between the two. It is not my wish to belabor the point, but it is critical that we recognize that God is sovereign over evil in the sense that God lovingly and mercifully accommodates himself to us rather than wipe the dust of humanity off his feet. God knows we are ravaged by evils he never intended or decreed, and at all times he stands ready, willing and able to use evil (reluctantly since it is not his ideal) as a means to bring about his own purposes. Overruling unintended, un-decreed evils for good is a mark of his sovereign mercy, justice and glory.

So yes—God is glorified through sin and evil, but not in the way Piper envisions at all! Again, we need to be careful here. Though it is correct to say God can exploit sin and use a fallen humanity to glorify himself, it is outrageous to say God unilaterally decreed every sin and act of evil for the purpose of glorifying himself. To argue for the latter is to inescapably and undeniably assert that God’s morally perfect nature and holiness is the origin of conception for every God dishonoring sin and un-glorifying evil. It cannot be repeated enough that this is exactly the bedrock assertion that Piper’s confused aberration of divine glory rests upon. He argues:

“Everything that exists–including evil–is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly.” [6]

“He wills that evil come to pass that good may come of it.” [7]

God’s collusion with sin and evil does not just exist on the margins of Piper’s theology; it goes to the very core of his entire theological foundation. We are talking I-beams and pillars not wallpaper and trim.

Critique 3: DOES PIPER’S TWO-WILLS VIEW COLLAPSE INTO A CONTRARIETY WITHIN GOD?

Piper begins his lengthy attempt to ground his view of God being the conceptual and decretive origin for all sin and evil by quoting Spurgeon who said, “The Arminians ridicule the distinction between the secret and revealed will of God, or, more properly expressed, the distinction between the decree and the law of God; because we say he may decree one thing, and command another. And so, they argue, we hold a contrariety in God, as if one will of his contradicted another.”

Piper never tries to demonstrate why the Calvinist position does not indeed logically collapse into a “contrariety in God” wherein God’s revealed will (moral will) is contradicted by his secret will (decretive will). Rather Piper simply dismisses the accusation by saying, “In spite of these criticisms the distinction stands, not because of a logical or theological deduction, but because it is inescapable in the Scriptures.”

Piper appears to be conceding that logic and reason oppose him, but scripture embraces him. Indeed it is an unfortunate reality of our world today that all theologies, both good and bad, often get traced back to the Scriptures in some way. So let’s begin to rollout Piper’s hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures and behold how it is radically governed and controlled by his myopic propensity to see his biased assumptions everywhere he looks.

Piper seeks to defend his view that all choices to sin ultimately originated in God’s decretive will by arguing that God possesses two wills in regards to sin and evil. On the one hand Piper holds that God hates sin and never desires that it occur, but on the hand everything God hates and wishes should never occur, does indeed occur because God intended and decreed that it ought to occur and therefore must occur. Piper tries to split the difference by consigning one aspect of God’s will as God’s “will of command” and the other aspect of God’s will as his “will of decree.” Piper tries to argue they are not in conflict. But we shall see they are unquestionably in conflict given that God’s will of command is that human beings ought not commit sin and God’s will of decree is that we ought to commit sin in every instance (not just some) where God commands that we ought not commit sin!

As both Spurgeon and Piper rightly note Arminian scholars contest that Calvinism’s interpretation of God’s two wills is grossly misconceived since it inescapably presents a contrariety within God that makes his essential nature and character morally ambiguous and contradictory.

Shockingly Piper attempts to commence building his defense by outrageously abusing and misrepresenting a quote from an Arminian theologian named I. Howard Marshall. Piper makes it appear as if Marshall’s understanding of the nature of God’s “two wills” is synonymous with his own. For instance Piper states, “Marshall …concedes the existence of two wills in God.” And then Piper proceeds to quote the relevant portion of Marshall’s statement in defense of his own view:

“To avoid all misconceptions it should be made clear at the outset that the fact that God wishes or wills that all people should be saved does not necessarily imply that all will respond to the gospel and be saved. We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.”

Piper then attempts to perch atop Marshall’s quote and throw a drag net over every perversity contrary to God’s moral nature by saying:

“In this chapter I would now like to undergird Marshall’s point that “we must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and [that] both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.”

It should not be missed that when Piper speaks of what God “actually wills to happen” he is not talking about God’s consequent will in light of human rebellion (as is Marshall), he is talking about God’s decree to unconditionally predestine multitudes to hell and render all their sins certain, if not necessary, via sovereign, irresistible determinations. Though Piper obscures this definitive goal at crucial junctures, his ultimate aim is to prove just that, using Marshall’s quote as a catalyst to that end.

So how is Piper’s treatment of Marshall’s statement an egregious abuse of what Marshall said? Quite simple. When Marshall speaks of “what God would like to see happen, and what God actually wills to happen” he has in mind a complimentary difference—not a conflicting difference as does Piper. In context Marshall is seeking to elucidate what all non-Calvinists believe and which the Scriptures affirm concerning God’s will in reconciling humanity unto himself. Marshall is saying that God’s perfect will is that no man perish but that all people come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9). Yet this does not occur. Now the question is why? Is it because God has a conflicting desire deeply sequestered in his sovereign will that trumps the intentions of his universal, saving desire? Is it because God’s secret, decretive will leads him to unconditionally restrict and purposely thwart the fulfillment of own sovereign desire from being realized?

Piper must answer, “yes” to these questions because in his theology salvation is ultimately an act of God’s raw power overcoming all human resistance. Obviously if it is just a power move that can brush aside any resistance, what God can do for some he can do for all. As such in a Calvinist context the reason God’s redemptive desire for all to be saved collapses into an unrealized desire is principally due to the existence of an escapable conflicting desire within the divine will that is so powerful it even brushes aside his universal, redemptive desires! In Piper’s interpretation God actively works against the fulfillment of his own desire— unless of course God’s stated desires are insincere and artificial posturing.

Marshall, being the Arminian he is, would profoundly disagree that God actively works against his own redemptive desires. The Arminian position is that God’s desires are genuine, but that God sovereignly ordained the realization of certain aspects of his desires would be contingent upon the free, moral agency of his people. God can no more be said to have two wills (as Piper distinguishes them) than an earthly father can be said to have two wills when he tells his children that he desires to give dessert to all his children, but adds the complimentary condition that he wills to only grant dessert to children who eat all their vegetables.

The Arminian position is that God is just and gracious, and therefore he can neither dismiss sin nor force his sovereign desire that all be saved upon all people. So in that sense the fact that God’s sovereign desire for all to be saved goes on unrealized is due to God’s accommodating, complimentary will (not conflicting will) that takes into account human freedom and hence conditions salvation only upon those who freely respond to his graceful initiatives. Just as there is no conflict in saying a father genuinely wills to give dessert to all his children, but qualifies the actual giving of dessert on the condition of finishing one’s vegetables, so also there is no conflict in saying God genuinely wills that all respond to his work of grace and be saved, and also saying that God wills to save only those who meet his condition and respond to his work of grace. For as the scriptures say, “God is the savior of all men– especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10).

In the Arminian view God’s power seeks to undergird his divine desire that all come to repentance and be saved, rather than intentionally undermine it, as Piper’s view undeniably demonstrates.

Critique 4: IS THE GLORY OF THE CROSS JESUS DYING FOR SINS OR THE PREDETERMINATIONS OF THE FATHER? DOES THE PREDESTINED DEATH OF CHRIST FOR SIN SERVE AS EVIDENCE GOD PREDETERMINED ALL SIN?

I quote Piper at length:

The most compelling example of God’s willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan (boule) and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.

Moreover Herod’s contempt for Jesus (Luke 23:11) and Pilate’s spineless expediency (Luke 23:24) and the Jews’ “Crucify! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21) and the Gentile soldiers’ mockery (Luke 23:36) were also sinful attitudes and deeds. Yet in Acts 4:27-28 Luke expresses his understanding of the sovereignty of God in these acts by recording the prayer of the Jerusalem saints:

Truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel to do whatever thy hand and thy plan (boule) had predestined to take place.

Herod, Pilate, the soldiers and Jewish crowds lifted their hand to rebel against the Most High only to find that their rebellion was unwitting (sinful) service in the inscrutable designs of God.

At the outset Piper fudges on using straightforward, clear language to establish his point that God has two wills (that are unquestionably split along conflicting moral lines). When Piper couches his view in terms of “God willing sin to come to pass” it is easy to assume Piper means God is permitting sin to come about freely but intends to use it for good. But that is not what Piper means at all. Whenever Piper says, “God wills that sin come to pass” he means that God divinely determined that sin occur and nothing is going to stop his decree from rendering it certain that men sin in exactly the manner God conceived and decreed they ought to sin. This is no minor point and we must always keep this at the forefront of our minds because, as we will see time and again, it makes many of Piper’s Scriptural examples ultimately meaningless and absurd.

It is quite odd that Piper’s first salvo to prove God determinatively willed all sin is to point to the atoning death of Christ for all sins. That should be our first red flag that something is amiss and everything that follows is likewise out of alignment with the breadth of scripture. That being said, Piper is not alone in looking to the predestined death of Christ for all sins as an anchor point to subsequently assert God unconditionally willed all sins. To argue in this manner is right out of the playbook of Calvinism and has a deeply rooted history. But just because something has a long history doesn’t mean it has amassed credibility.

Unless one is already doing theology within a self-enclosed echo chamber, where meticulous, exhaustive determinism is the only voice that can be heard, it is inane to think one can point to the crucifixion and assume they have good grounds to hold that God must have also determinatively predestined child-sex trafficking, murder, rape and spousal abuse— the very evils Christ sought to atone for and overcome in death.

To attempt to highlight the crucifixion of our Lord as a hermeneutical perch to sit upon whereby we can cast God’s determinative ordination net into the world and “catch” every sin and every sordid evil event of world history 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 ordained 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 “a most compelling example” of evidence that God determined and decreed all the sin of that world!

It is furthermore ridiculous to assume that every demonic temptation towards sin and scheme of the devil that God seeks to deliver us from has its ultimate origin of conception in the holy mind of God and his eternal decree. Jesus rebuked such foolishness long ago when he rhetorically asked, “Can a kingdom be divided against itself stand?” Lest his theology fall like a house of cards, Piper cannot concede even one sinful act of man or Satan arising independent of God’s prior divine conception and decree. How can we trust in God’s opposition to sin if he previously decreed all our sins? That this very mentality has become a staple diet of thought and an indispensable doctrine of many in the church is not just bizarre, it is concerning. One of the devil’s main schemes, going all the way back to the garden, has always been to bring into question God’s trustworthy character.

That being said it is only fair that we address in greater detail Piper’s underlying confidence in viewing the death of Christ as evidence for just that view. The related texts Piper points to only require us to understand that by God’s “predetermined plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23) Christ was “delivered over” to “wicked men” to carry out their own wicked intentions—intentions that are fully known to God. It bears repeating that the event of the crucifixion was predestined—not the evil motives and characters of those involved. That is where most Calvinists get tripped up.

God can use to his own advantage his knowledge of people’s evil characters and intentions and exploit them to fulfill certain predestined ends— like the betrayal and crucifixion of his Son. That is to say God can override the wicked characters of people— not by decreeing that they occur— but by exploiting them for his own purposes.

Piper erroneously thinks God needed to have exhaustively and meticulously predetermined all the means in order to reach a predetermined end. As such Piper wrongfully assumes God had to predetermine certain persons to have certain evil characters to do certain things to arrive at a certain, predetermined end (i.e. Christ’s betrayal and death). But this just doesn’t follow.

When Piper reads that Herod, Pilate and certain Jews “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:28) ” he unpacks his Calvinistic presuppositions in toto and automatically (and mistakenly) assumes that Herod, Pilate and others must have had their individual, wicked characters causally determined via God’s irresistible decrees in order to guarantee the crucifixion. His entire case rests on this assumption. Otherwise his view would be no different than the Arminian view that God can exploit the self-chosen, un-decreed characters of people to bring about a decreed end.

Jacob Arminius, a brilliant theologian much maligned and hardly read by most Calvinists, astutely recognized early on the principal assumption that was driving the Calvinist’s error of interpretation. He wrote:

“God, indeed, ‘determined before’ that death should be inflicted on Christ by them.  But in what character did God consider them when He ‘determined before’ that this should be done by them?  In that character, surely, which they had at the time when they inflicted death upon Christ, that is, in the character of sworn enemies of Christ, of obstinate enemies and despisers of God and the truth, who could be led to repentance by no admonitions, prayers, threats or miracles; who wished to inflict every evil on Christ, if they could only obtain the power over him, which they often sought in vain.”[8]

In other words Arminius rightly understood God could have sovereignly arranged Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to occur when it did— knowing it would naturally force the hand of the Jewish ruling authorities who hated and despised him, and the Roman authorities who feared them, to respond in a manner resultant in Christ’s crucifixion.[9]

Piper’s first example not only fails to convince, it is an insult to the glorious saving mission of Christ to die for sins. The glory of the cross is the love and obedience of the Son dying for our sins, not dying for the predeterminations of the Father.

Critique 5: IS HATRED TOWARDS THE HARLOT OF REVELATION ANOTHER PROOF GOD SOVEREIGNLY DECREED ALL SIN?

Pipers’s second example is to bring up Revelation 17:16-17 where it states:

“And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.”

To this Piper asserts, “Without going into all the details of this passage, the relevant matter is clear. The beast “comes out of the abyss” (Revelation 17:18). He is the personification of evil and rebellion against God. The ten horns are ten kings (v. 12) and they “wage war against the Lamb” (v. 14). Waging war against the Lamb is sin and sin is contrary to the will of God… Therefore God willed (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they would do what is against his will (in another sense).”

Is Piper’s interpretation correct? Does this example in Revelation serve as critical evidence that God has unilaterally determined through decretive agency each and every evil throughout world history? Remember— that is what Piper must prove, for he rightly knows if he were to concede that just one act of wickedness did not originate in the divine decree of God, it would mean his understanding of God’s sovereignty is incorrect. And if his understanding of God’s sovereignty is correct then Calvinism’s entire house of cards collapses in a heap.

Fortunately for us Piper’s interpretation once again falls woefully short in proving his underlying assumption. There is no need to surrender to his dogmatic insistence that for the sake of glory, God’s righteous and holy character sovereignly conceived and decreed every act of moral filth and evil that occurs in our world. Firstly we need to recognize that Revelation is thoroughly allegorical and figurative in nature. It is not even clear individual people are in view. For example the immoral harlot who is brought to desolation is not a woman, but is most likely a reference to a thoroughly corrupt world system elsewhere called Babylon. Secondly verse 16 and its accompanying violence and disturbing imagery is specifically in relation to the ten kings and the beast hating, desolating, devouring and burning the wicked “harlot”— not the Lamb!

Piper’s quoting is somewhat confusing and seems to give the impression that when the text speaks of the ten kings being purposed by God to be of “one mind” to “make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire,” it is talking about the Lamb being the object of their scorn. But that is incorrect. It is the harlot. Piper appears to confuse these two when he subsequently states “waging war against the Lamb is sin…” But it is not hatred or destruction of the Lamb that is specifically in view in verse 16 but rather the harlot who is evil herself. As Ben Henshaw astutely explains:

“And what was that purpose? This is the key to understanding this passage. Verse 16 tells us what God was trying to accomplish: ‘And the ten horns [kings] which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.’ God put it into the hearts of the kings to be of one purpose with the beast to destroy the whore of Babylon. God was using the beast and the kings to exercise divine judgment on her (who probably represents the corrupt world system). So God put it in their hearts to do His will, which was to destroy Babylon (the great harlot). Was the destruction of Babylon a bad thing? No. It was a good thing for Babylon to be destroyed, an act of divine judgment, and it was that alone which God put into their hearts to accomplish. So God actually put it in their hearts to do a good thing, even if their intentions were not good!”[10]

It is the nature of evil to not only war against what is good, but to eventually turn inwardly against itself and reap the fruit of its own insidious, self-destructive morality (Ps. 7:14-16). God does not need to actively work such self-destructive hatred into the “ten kings” or the “beast” in line with some irresistible, eternal decree because the context makes it clear the “kings” had previously chosen of their own wills to align themselves against God and throw in their lot with the harlot by “committing sexual immorality with her” (vs. 3).

Consequently God purposes to coalesce their focus and attention towards the harlot and use them as his divine tool of judgment against immoral, obstinate wickedness much like he used wicked nations as a means to bring divine judgment on his own wicked people. If Piper is assuming God eternally and unconditionally decreed to irresistibly work sin and evil into the hearts of people, he is reading far too much of his theological spin into the phrase “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose” (vs. 17)

Piper may contest that his view does not assume God unconditionally engineers or irresistibly works sin into people’s hearts, but only permits sin to occur for his own ends. But then why bring up this passage at all? After all Piper is trying to contrast his view with Arminianism, and the Arminian position is that God permits and exploits sin and does not does actively engineer it via irresistible, sovereign decrees.

Critique 6: WHAT DOES PIPER MEAN “GOD WILLS IN ONE SENSE WHAT IS AGAINST HIS WILL IN ANOTHER SENSE?” IS GOD’S MORAL WILL A COSMIC CHARADE SUBSERVIENT AT ALL POINTS TO GOD’S WILL OF DECREE?

We return again to Piper’s example of God allegedly predetermining sin in Revelation 17:16-17. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember again Piper’s primary goal in all of his examples is to eventually lead us to the controversial conclusion that God has purposely fabricated every evil in eternity past and has sovereignly put it in each person’s heart to carry out the evils he divinely determined they must commit. Yet notice again that Piper tries to shield his readers from discerning such is his underlying belief by intentionally softening his language and saying, “Therefore God willed (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they would do what is against his will (in another sense).”

What can be said of this?

Firstly keep in mind that the specific purpose that God “put in their hearts to carry out” (Rev. 17:17) is to bring judgment and ruin to the evil of the harlot Babylon. Far from being an evil purpose it is actually a good purpose, even though the manner in which it is carried out may involve self-chosen, motives that are neither good nor divinely determined. This point alone makes Piper’s utilization of this passage for exhaustive divine determinism a non-starter.

Secondly the way Piper pulls up short and re-couches his view of God’s universal decree of sin as nothing more than “God willing in one sense what is “against his will in another sense,” even an Arminian could agree with him! For Arminians would argue that the best interpretation “in one sense” would be to say God reluctantly willed[11] to confirm the “ten kings” in their own wickedness and give them over to their own freely chosen desire to throw in their lot with the Antichrist. Yet all the while God’s plan “in another sense” is to exploit their rebellion and use it towards the fulfillment of his own purpose to overthrow the harlot and judge a world of evil that he neither authored nor decreed.

We will see time and again how this intersection between God and evil disarms Piper’s hermeneutic and preserves both God’s character and sovereign decision to create man with a genuine, significant decree of self-determination.

Thirdly Piper’s two-wills view contains no real distinction between “one sense” and “another sense” in matters that pertain to God’s will because unless God is internally confused and conflicted as to what he really wants, there is only one sense of God’s will— what he divinely determined! Everything else is just artificial posturing on the part of God. For in Piper’s view God decides, not us, when, where and how he wants his moral will to be violated. Hence any other alleged “sense” of God’s will is just insincere sentiments of pretension in light of the fact God has intentionally willed against his will—and did so from the start! To put it bluntly God wills to will what he has willed to not will.

Piper must either admit he is erecting his theology of “two wills” on an equivocation fallacy, adopting two fundamentally different meanings of the word “will,” or he needs to admit to positing an inexplicable, mysterious contrariety within the person of God. Alas the latter charge is exactly what he is seeking to defend himself from by agreeing with Edwards who said, “The Arminians ridicule the distinction between the secret and revealed will of…because we say he may decree one thing, and command another. And so, they argue, we hold a contrariety in God, as if one will of his contradicted another.”

So we are left with an equivocation fallacy that invalidates Piper’s “two wills” argument. When Piper speaks of God’s decretive, secret will he really means God’s sincere, genuine will. And when Piper speaks of God’s moral or revealed will he really means God’s disingenuous, insincere will, because a guiding principle of his theology is that God— not man— has ultimately determined if, when and how his moral will is violated via his decretive will.

Piper fails to offer any compelling reason (beyond mere assertion) as to why we shouldn’t assume that God’s moral will or will of command is nothing more than a cosmic charade to give us the false impression that is God is opposed to evil. For if Piper’s Calvinist view is correct, all evil becomes subsumed under the determinative decree of what God really wanted and decided ought to occur.

We simply cannot give Piper a pass on this point. In his Calvinistic view the moral will of God confusingly becomes the self-opposed, unfulfilled longings of God’s own heart. Every moral intuition of God becomes marginalized by God and stampeded under the hooves of his decretive will surging forward— ensuring that his moral will never sees the light of day. Indeed God’s moral will becomes nothing more than the submissive servant of the decretive will of God that at every turn must capitulate under the suffocating weight of His own, exhaustive determinations. Such is the unadulterated, unfiltered glory of Piper’s warped concept of divine glory. Divine glory and divine morality become collateral damage in Piper’s much extolled “God entranced world view.”

So as to be doubly clear, the Arminian position is that any use of language that speaks of God “willing” for sin to occur is a passive and reluctant willing (not of his ideal) to withdraw and justly confirm people in their own freely chosen disobedience, with the resulting effect being either judgment or an exploitation of their sins for his own ends. It is a reluctant willing because rebellion, sin and evil never were and never are God’s ideal or perfect will for anyone. However God permits sin and rebellion to occur in recognition of his own sovereign will to create man free in the first place, yet all the while he seeks to redeem its existence by bringing about good in spite of it and through it. That is the true nature and glory of his sovereignty. God is not intimidated by human freedom. God can accommodate his will to take into account human rebellion while correspondingly achieving his own ends in spite of human rebellion—especially when his people partner with him in prayer and obedience. As such we can assert God exploits evil for good ends, but unlike Piper we can deny that God decreed evil and/or actively worked evil into the hearts of anyone for the purpose of those good ends.

Critique 7: IS GOD A MORAL ARSONIST? A CRITICAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN ARMINIANISM AND CALVINISM: REDEEMING EVIL FOR GOOD VS. DECREEING EVIL FOR GOOD

The Piper Theodicy on God’s two wills cannot reasonably affirm any of the above magnificent truths (see previous critique) about God’s sovereign decision to create man with genuine moral freedom and God’s sovereign glory over our misuse of freedom [i.e. evil] by redeeming evil events rather than justifying evil in virtue of decreeing all evil. Therein lies a critical distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism. Piper can’t meaningfully say God redeems the evils that occur any more than an arsonist can be praised for putting out a fire he started!

In Calvinism God is nothing more than a moral arsonist—>turned hero—> turned moral arsonist—> turned hero, flip-flopping himself throughout human history. All meaningful trust in God’s nature is lost, crushed under the weight of an extreme doctrine of divine sovereignty that ultimately justifies all evil in virtue of conceiving and decreeing all evil. All one must do is take truth to an extreme and it becomes error. This Piper does and does so exceedingly well.

Piper may be reticent to admit that his view entails God justifying all evil in virtue of decreeing all evil, but it goes to the very core of his hermeneutical approach in justifying why evils occur. They occur because God needs them to occur in order to meet an insatiable need to maximize his alleged glory via decreeing and thus authoring all things. So when Piper says God willed in one sense to influence men to do what is against his will in another sense he really means God decided before the foundation of the world to purposely thwart his moral character and moral will by intentionally conceiving of every vile evil throughout human history and rendering them certain via an irresistible decrees that no person can resist.

In other words the only reason why God’s moral will for good is not realized in any given situation, is because his will of decree determined that it not be realized. That is to say Piper thinks God’s perfect will could have occurred if only his decree had not determined that it not occur. Piper divorces God’s decretive will from his moral nature and in so doing presents a contrariety within God, despite his every protest to the contrary.

There is one more point that needs mentioning before . And that is, if exhaustive, divine determinism is true then there exists no exceptions where God has not causally determined something to occur. Therefore it is rather pointless to understand why God would bother telling us of examples wherein he has determined or purposed that something occur. It would be like a puppeteer reminding not only his audience but also his own wooden marionettes that marionettes only move when they are acted upon by having their strings pulled. Why bother making a point of a universal given if both parties are already fixed and locked into a relational dynamic where it is impossible for any exceptions to exist given the very relational nature between a puppeteer and his puppets? Perhaps Piper would say God’s intention is that we be more aware and more appreciative of his glorious sovereign control over everything we think, desire and do—and so God seeks to remind humanity from time to time of this universal law. But obviously given the nature of universal, meticulous, divine determinism, it is likewise pointless to assume that God’s aim could be our awareness or appreciation of divine determinism over all things because “all things” would necessarily include whether or not we will be appreciatively aware of the fact that he has determined all things! No matter a Calvinist spins it, there is a self-defeating nature to divine determinism that cannot be escaped. Or as William Lane Craig aptly puts it,

“There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so… When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.”[12]

So in returning to Piper’s example of Revelation 17:16-17, if everything we think and do was irresistibly determined by God, then it only seem reasonable to ask why God even bothers to make a point of saying he has willed to “put it within the heart” of evil kings to “carry out his purpose” and bring judgment upon the evils of the harlot, Babylon?

Henshaw alludes to this very point when he states,

“Even if God had irresistibly influenced them to be of one purpose it does not follow that this is always how God operates. In fact, the fact that the text specifically tells us that God put it into their hearts would seem to suggest that this is not how God usually operates. If God always controls man’s thoughts and will, then there would be no need to make a point of it here. The fact that the text makes a point of God’s involvement suggests that this is not always the case.”[13]

Lastly take further note of the clause that follows the clause Piper thought to make much of: “…for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled” (Rev. 17:17).

That second clause is critical to note because it compliments scripture elsewhere that speaks of God purposing that unrepentant, wicked persons be delivered up or “given over” to their own evil and impurity. For example in Romans 1:24-29 we read,

“Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity… This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions…And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice…”

Similar to Jacob Arminias’ explanation concerning Christ’s predetermined death at the hands of “wicked men,” in what condition did God find these ten kings when he purposed to exploit them and use them as his tool of judgment on the harlot? Surely it was as obstinate sinners “filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed and wickedness” in line with Rom. 1:29. Consequently God judicially purposes that these evil “kings” should be handed over to their own obstinate ways and their authority be surrendered over to the beast until God’s judgment on the harlot is finished. Calvinists are extrapolating far outside what the text permits in suggesting God unconditionally willed (in any sense) their evil before they were born. Any sense of moral justice is utterly lost in such a view for one simple reason: In Calvinism God judges people as sinners unconditionally—that is to say before he even considered them as sinners. More on this to follow in the next critique.

Critique 8: THE NATURE OF THE UNCONDITIONAL: UNDERSTANDING THE HINDGE ON WHICH THE DOOR OF PIPER’S CALVINISTIC SOVEREIGNTY SWINGS

The aforementioned points in the preceding section need to be explored further because Calvinists will often say God is just to send all to hell on the basis that all have sinned. But in Calvinistic thought every sense of justice is carried away in the winds of divine determinism. For in Calvinism God did not foresee people’s sin and on that basis consider people as sinners deserving of his judgment. Rather God first decreed people to be siners and only then did he consign them as sinners deserving of his judgment for the very sins he decreed they must commit.

We cannot ignore the hinge on which the door of Calvinist sovereignty swings. Calvinists insist God’s sovereign will is unconditional. In other words he does not consult or condition his decrees on any foreknowledge of human decision. The Westminster Confession, which operates like an infallible paper pope for many Calvinists, states, “[God] hath not decreed any thing because he saw it as future.”[14] Therefore for God to unconditionally will anyone to do any evil means he willed their evil before he even regarded them as fallen sinners. That’s bad enough, but it gets even worse for the Calvinist when one considers the fact that the very fall of man into sin was God’s unconditional decree. In essence it is God’s eternal decree that damns people, not their rebellion or sin that defines them or distinguishes them from others. Piper can’t rebut this because he argues elsewhere, “Double predestination, is simply the flip side of unconditional election. Just as God chooses whom He will save without regard to any distinctives in the person…so also he decides whom He will not save without regard to any distinctives in the individual.”[15]

The moral framework of Calvinism is once again rendered unintelligible. This leads to our next line of critique.

Critique 9: REBUTTING ANOTHER PIPER ASSUMPTION: IF GOD CHOOSES TO JUDICIALLY “HAND PEOPLE OVER” TO THEIR OWN SINS, DOES THAT SERVE AS EVIDENCE GOD DETERMINATIVELY DECREED THOSE VERY SINS?

Interestingly enough, Piper calls to his aid the three references in Romans 1:24-29 of God delivering people up or handing people over to their own self-chosen sins to buffer his view that God determinately decreed every person’s sins. He assumes these texts shed light on his view, and that they do, but not in the way he envisions. Unfortunately his Calvinist echo chamber causes him to miss another opportunity in seeing how the scriptures compliment each other in addressing different contexts of human sinfulness and God’s subsequent responses.

Piper expounds as follows,

Another line of Biblical evidence that God sometimes wills to bring about what he disapproves is his choosing to use or not to use his right to restrain evil in the human heart… [An] illustration of God’s choosing not to use his right to restrain evil is found in Romans 1:24-28. Three times Paul says that God hands people over (paredoken) to sink further into corruption. Verse 24: “God handed them over to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” Verse 26: “God handed them over to dishonorable passions.” Verse 28: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to a base mind and to improper conduct”… Part of God’s punishment on evil is sometimes willing that evil increase. But this means that God chooses for behavior to come about which he commands not to happen. The fact that God’s willing is punitive does not change that.

Right away we see another glaring problem with Piper’s analysis. Since, according to Piper, nothing can occur that God hasn’t already determined to occur, including evils that come from human hearts, it would only follow that if something does indeed occur it can only be because God chose not to restrain himself!

Oddly enough this simple logical deduction concerning exhaustive divine determinism escapes Piper. He thinks references to God judicially handing people over to their sins must serve as critical evidence God wills for evil to occur, otherwise God would have restrained them from committing the sins they do– which we must always remember, for Piper, is what God determined they do! But he conveniently (and in my opinion) shamefully leaves that part out.

It bears repeating, in arguing that God sometimes chooses not to restrain the evils men do, Piper is saying nothing more than God sometimes chooses not to restrain himself! Therefore in Piper’s view if something could have occurred but doesn’t, it is only because God did choose to restrain himself.

Piper’s argument is rendered unintelligible and meaningless, but his penchant and flair for words often masks this. For example, what should we say in response to Piper’s conclusion that God’s choice to judicially deliver people up to their own sin must serve as evidence for his underlying thesis that God possesses a second will that unconditionally wills moral evil over and against his own moral will of command? For as he concludes,

Part of God’s punishment on evil is sometimes willing that evil increase. But this means that God chooses for behavior to come about which he commands not to happen.

Of course when Piper says, God chooses for behavior to come about he really means God decreed specific acts of wickedness to occur unconditionally and infallibly before the world began. We can only assume such language is too straightforward and therefore too risky for Piper, hence his adoption of more assuaging terms. That being said, we still need to deal with Piper’s underlying contention that God wills for certain evils to occur that his moral will of command opposes.

There does indeed exist two senses of God’s will, but not in the sense that Piper thinks. Here we must return to our own opening thesis concerning God’s perfect will (what God wills ideally) and God’s consequent or accommodating will (what God wills in light of human rebellion). In Romans 1:24-28 God is reluctantly surrendering people over to their own obstinate ways to experience the due measure of their own sin. This has nothing to do with an irresistible, eternal decree for sin to occur.

In the light of this, we can confidently say what Piper points to as alleged evidence that God wills evil (via an eternal, divine decree) is nothing of the sort. Rather it is evidence of God reluctantly accommodating his will to a fallen world, which in turn allows him to judge people for their evil ways. In saying God hands wicked persons over to their own sin, Paul is simply making the point that God is judicially handing people over to the evil of their ways and the subsequent deleterious consequences of those ways. He is not willing sin as positive agency, as Piper’s view logically assumes (though he may dismissively ignore) given his commitment to theological determinism and the nature of an unconditional decree.

It is essential we see God’s actions in Romans as being judicially punitive. Piper appears to dismiss this as irrelevant saying, “God chooses for behavior to come about which he commands not to happen. The fact that God’s willing is punitive does not change that.”

Oh contraire! It changes everything! It is unfortunate Piper throws away as irrelevant the one thing that helps us interpret the text rightly and infer God is reluctantly handing people over to their own sins in order that they might punitively experience the full measure of their own iniquity and consequences thereafter. This is why Paul makes a point in saying, “…God delivered them over to degrading passions… and [they] received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error” (vs. 26,27).

In Romans 1 Paul is making the argument that the world has exchanged God’s truth (his ideal, perfect will) for a lie. Consequently God accommodates his will to take into account human rebellion and sin. He reluctantly wills to surrender people over to their own evil dispositions as an act of punitive judgment, but in so doing his intention is ultimately redemptive. In point of fact God will attempt to lead people to repentance through his kindness, patience and restraint, as Paul states in the next chapter:

“We know that Gods judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. Do you really think — anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same — that you will escape Gods judgment? Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that Gods kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:3-4)

Piper’s view is denied the full majesty of God’s accommodating love and kindness towards unworthy sinners (ultimately seen in God’s incarnation and crucifixion) because in Piper’s two-wills view God sovereignly determined every individual’s sins through an irresistible decree. Moreover Piper is denied the critical language of divine reluctance. In Piper’s two-wills view God cannot be said to will or allow anything reluctantly because he insists divine sovereignty means God unilaterally and unconditionally determined every evil for the sake of his own glory— and Piper would no doubt think it absurd to say God reluctantly wills to glorify himself!

Piper’s view again fails to convince.

Critique 10: PIPER’S ABYSMAL MISHANDLING OF ABIMELECH AND ELI’S WICKED SONS

In addition to Romans 1:24-28, which we have just dealt with, Piper points to God restraining Abimelech from sinning and God’s will to put to death Eli’s sons, as being evidence of his Two-Wills View.

He states,

What is apparent here is that God has the right and the power to restrain the sins of secular rulers. When he does, it is his will to do it. And when he does not, it is his will not to. Which is to say that sometimes God wills that their sins be restrained and sometimes he wills that they increase more than if he restrained them.

In reference to God restraining sin Piper is calling our attention to God restraining Abimelech from marrying Abraham’s wife Sarah. In reference to God willing not to restrain sin, and thereby (allegedly) willing sin, Piper has in view Eli’s wicked sons.

Lets deal with Eli’s wicked sons first because it will help us gain needed perspective before looking at Abimelech. In 1 Samuel 2:22-25 we read:

“Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And he said to them, `Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the Lord’s people circulating. If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?’ But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death” (1 Samuel 2:22-25).”

Piper wants to make much of the last verse saying, “Why would the sons of Eli not give heed to their father’s good counsel? The answer of the text is “because the Lord desired to put them to death.” This only makes sense if the Lord had the right and the power to restrain their disobedience—a right and power which he willed not to use. Thus we must say that in one sense God willed that the sons of Eli go on doing what he commanded them not to do: dishonoring their father and committing sexual immorality.”

So is this true? Yes and no. Does God sometimes choose to restrain sin and sometimes choose not to restrain sin? Yes, such as in the case of Abimelech, as we we will shortly see. But does it prove the underlying point Piper wants to make, that it was God’s decretive will from eternity past that Eli’s sons commit wickedness?

Not at all!

Keep in mind Piper is trying to use this passage as evidence that God has a hidden, cloistered will that decrees sin, but of course given Piper’s theology in toto, it is not enough to just say God has decreed some sins— God must have decreed all sins! Therefore Piper must concede the very sins God saw fit to put Eli’s sons to death for were the very same sins God unconditionally decreed.

And that is where Piper’s view collapses into wholesale nonsense!

As is clear from the text we have on hand an example of divine judgment not being delayed or denied. In fact there are a number of examples we could point to that reveal more or less the same thing. For example Israel had a bad habit of temporarily repenting simply to forestall God’s judgment, only to return again to their sins when the danger had passed. However there are times when not even God’s generous longsuffering could stomach Israel’s repeated hardness of heart, so he chooses to confirm them in their own sins by withdrawing his presence and surrendering them up to the intentions of wicked nations God will exploit for judgment.

Evidently the wickedness of Eli’s sons was so great, and their rejection of prior opportunities to repent had reached a point of no return, that God commits them to divine judgment as a confirmation of their willful disregard of him.

Piper tellingly leaves out verse 12 which serves as a critical backdrop to the story: “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” Like the Canaanites before them, their time for judgment became ripe and irrevocable because their sins “reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16).

God choice to not sovereignly restrain or intrusively handcuff Eli’s wicked sons from continuing to commit sexual immorality was not because God was secretly decreeing further sins for them to commit, as Piper would have us think, but because God’s will was to judge them for their past wickedness by putting them to death (1 Sam. 2:22). Which is exactly what the text says and nothing more! In other words it was God’s will that they not be granted further opportunities to repent and forestall God’s judgment. God’s refusal to step in and restrain Eli’s wicked sons from committing sin is no evidence that God predetermined their sins before the foundation of the world, which make no mistake about it, is the full assumption lying cloaked behind Piper’s innocuous phrase, in one sense God willed…”

That God does indeed judge the wicked, and has many means at his disposal to do so, hardly proves that God determinatively decreed the very sins he later judges people for! Does God choose to allow humans to carry out their sinful choices? Yes. Does this prove that God determinately ordained the sins of every person throughout human history? Not in the least. Keep in mind that God has granted us a genuine, indeterminate freedom to make choices, even sinful choices, and as a norm God chooses not to prohibit us from such a free exercise of our wills. For God to act coercively upon our wills at all times, prohibiting us from even thinking of evil, would be to abort the very reason God sovereignly chose to create men and women as responsible moral agents.

Are there exceptions in Scripture? Yes—such as Piper’s example when God restrains Abimelech from sinning against Sarah in ignorance. So let’s look at that now. Firstly, notice the amazing compliment God gives Abimelech, saying “I know in the integrity of your heart you have done this, so I also kept you from sinning against me…” (Gen. 20:6). The text says God sought to restrain Abimelech from sinning—not because he was evil like Eli’s sons, but because Abimelech had a “heart of integrity” and was lied to by Abraham. Piper leaves that part out.

Moreover how did God keep Abimelech from sinning? By warning him in a dream (vs. 3). We cannot overlook the fact that Abimelech was a victim of Abraham’s lack of faith and was unaware Sarah was already married due to Abraham’s lie. Far from proving God’s decretive control over all Abimelech’s thoughts and actions, we discover God is actually upholding the agency of Abimelech’s free-will and responsibility and doesn’t wish to see Abimelech sin in ignorance. Though God “restrains” him by warning him through a dream, this exception proves the norm– God typically honors the free agency of men and permits people the free exercise of their wills as a moral condition for responsibility.

In no way does Abimelech prove Piper’s confused theology that God determined all things in eternity past, and then flicks through time deciding whether or not to intervene in his own predeterminations. We will explore more of this below.

Critique 11: PIPER’S REPEATED MISSTEPS INTO MEANINGLESSNESS: DOES GOD DELIBERATE OVER RESTRAINING OR PERMITTING HIS OWN PREDETERMINATIONS?

The key point to be raised is does anything Piper has said in terms of God restraining or permitting sins make sense in the context of his own theodicy? Indeed it does not. It is manifestly meaningless. Firstly as alluded to already, Piper must concede that the very sins Eli’s wicked son’s were judged for (not to mention the sins of all Israelites) were in fact the very sins that God willed they commit and rendered certain through his decrees.

Secondly in the case of Abimelech, we are forced to assume that God decreed Abraham would lie about his wife, just so he could subsequently decree for Abimelech to desire Sarah as his wife, only to subsequently decree to intervene at the last minute to keep all his decrees from unraveling into some un-decreed outcome.

Make sense?

In Piper’s “God entranced world view” all life is nothing more than God’s cosmic screenplay and we are all his marionettes having our “strings” pulled and spitting out our lines blissfully unaware that every word and every action was predetermined by God.

Thirdly if all acts of sin and evil originate in the decretive mind and will of God, then what does Piper truly have in mind when he speaks of God restraining sin and evil in some instances, but in other instances willing or permitting evil “because he intends for evil to run it’s course?” What is God restraining or not restraining? What exactly is God allowing to run it’s course?

We have already touched on this but it bears repeating because Piper continues to repeat the same incoherency and fall prey to the same self-defeating, mental vertigo. If God determinatively decreed everything we do, then God must be deliberating over whether or not to restrain his own decree or permit his decree to “run its course!”

And therein is why the Piper Theodicy is utterly absurd and inane. It is utter meaningless to speak of God deciding what evils to permit or restrain if God already determined all that will or will not occur in the first place. Yet time and again Piper goes to great lengths to shield this fact by importing words and concepts that blurs this simple breakdown. Given the full scope of what he truly believes, Piper should be more forthright, honest and consistent and say, “God has the right and the power to restrain what he has decreed in some instances, and in other instances he retains the right to not restrain what he decreed because he intends that his decree run its course.”

But of course Piper knows to put it this way indeed sounds quite silly and allows the reader to come perilously close to questioning, if not apprehending, the moral and logical bankruptcy of the Calvinist position he espouses. Whether intentional or not Piper and his mentor Jonathan Edwards, are both a masters at shielding the utter horror of what he believe by obscuring meaning with words, redirecting one’s attention away from logical deduction, and substituting in a spiritual fear of departing from their special and private interpretation of divine sovereignty.

Critique 12: IF GOD SAYS HE TAKES NO DELIGHT IN THE DEATH OF THE WICKED, HOW CAN GOD BE SAID TO DELIGHT IN PUTTING ELI’S WICKED SONS TO DEATH?

 

 

We have already demonstrated Piper’s lapse into meaninglessness by appealing to Eli’s son’s as evidence for God willing (decreeing) sin. But he has one more follow-up point to make. Piper’s zeal to hold tenaciously to his absurdly confusing view of God willing what he has not willed becomes all the more strained and telling when he tries to make the argument that God’s stated desire to put to death Eli’s sons for their blasphemous debauchery is also evidence for his view, saying,

“God “desired” to put the sons of Eli to death, and that the word for desire is the same one used in Ezekiel 18:23 when God says he does not “delight” in the death of the wicked…This is a strong warning to us not to take one assertion, like Ezekiel 18:23 and assume we know the precise meaning without letting other scripture like 1 Samuel 2:25 have a say. The upshot of putting the two together is that in one sense God may desire the death of the wicked and in another sense he may not.

In other words Piper assumes that since the scriptures declare on the one hand that “God takes no delight in the death of the wicked but that the wicked should turn from his way and live” (Ezekial 18:23), yet on the hand 1 Samuel 2:25 states that “God desired to put to death” Eli’s sons as a just consequence for their past sins, then it must therefore serve as evidence that God really does possess two wills in the exact manner as Piper envisions them.

Piper is greatly overstating his case. The real “upshot” is that God truly is longsuffering, genuinely not desiring any to eternally perish, but that “the wicked should turn from their wicked way and live.” However not even Arminians interpret that to mean God’s patience towards sinners is infinite and without end. The scriptures are replete with examples, from the Flood to the Canaanites, to Eli’s sons, and onward into the Israelites’ exile into Babylon, that there comes a point where not even God can stomach the impenitent disregard people have of him, and so he judiciously enacts consequences that may end their lives.

For instance God desired to give his people a special land for their inheritance, but when Israel rebelled and repeatedly spurned opportunities to repent God consequently willed to judge them by dispossessing them from the land through exile. Does that mean God never really meant for them to live in the land in the first place? Does it mean God possesses two wills as Piper envisions those wills– i.e that God both willed and did not will that Israel should obey him and live in the land he chose for them?

Not in the least. It means God sovereignly chooses to accommodate his will to a paradigm of human freedom that he alone chose to bestow upon his world. That God can be said to possess one desire in one state of affairs, and then be said to no longer possess that stated desire in a different stare of affairs is no evidence of Piper’s “two divine wills” anymore than my saying “I desire to eat as much chocolate as I can, until I get sick, then I don’t desire to eat any chocolate” is evidence that I possess two conflicting wills concerning my desire or love for chocolate.

There is no reason why we cant say God initially desired that Eli’s sons repent and “turn from their wicked way and live,” but the time came when God could no longer “stomach” their willful disregard of all that is holy and sacred in the priesthood, and so God consequently confirmed them in their disobedience and justly desired to put them to death.

Piper cannot affirm any of this because the most problematic, logical fallout of his view is not that God delighted in putting to death Eli’s sons for their unspeakable acts of evil; rather God delighted in his decree that Eli’s sons commit those unspeakable acts of evil! Make no mistake about it: God delighting in decreeing sin is the final conclusion of Piper’s view when all the lofty, cosmetic terminology is stripped away.

The reason is simple. Eli’s sons only chose to do evil in the exact manner Piper thinks God predetermined they would for his glory. Piper’s sad view of God is akin to a judge saying he justly desires to sentence a serial rapist and murderer to death row, only to reveal later that he (the judge) was the mastermind who determined who would be the victims and perpetrators of those very crimes. It’s hard to believe, but this is a fair depiction of his Calvinist view given that he holds before the dawn of time God gloried in decreeing, not just the vile acts of Eli’s sons, but all acts of evil so that he could later delight in judging them for those very vile acts.

Once again another example by Piper fails to serve as critical evidence in demonstrating what he needs to prove: that Scripture demands and obligates us to the view that God, for the sake of manifesting his glory, has unconditionally and determinatively decreed every act of rebellion, sin and evil since the foundation of the world.

Critique 13: DOES GODS HARDENING OF PHARAOH PROVE THAT GOD HAS DETERMINATIVELY WILLED ALL EVIL? DOES GOD RESPOND TO WHAT GOD DOESNT LIKE ABOUT WHAT GOD DECIDED GOD SHOULD DECREE?

Piper then moves on to Calvinism’s favorite “sugar stick”— Pharaoh. He states,

Another evidence to demonstrate God’s willing a state of affairs in one sense that he disapproves in another sense is the testimony of Scripture that God wills to harden some men’s hearts so that they become obstinate in sinful behavior which God disapproves. The most well known example is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart…what we see is that God commands that Pharaoh do a thing which God himself wills not to allow. The good thing that God commands he prevents. And the thing he brings about involves sin.

What can be said of this? The text certainly does state that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the Hebrews go. And there is no denying that God’s command to Pharaoh was, “Let my people go!” So is Piper right? Does this prove that God determinatively willed Pharaoh’s sin? And does that in turn serve as evidence that God sovereignly decreed every act of human and demonic evil since the dawn of time?

Fortunately, for the sake of God’s character, we can again declare– No.

Piper’s argument would only work under the mistaken assumption that the phrase “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” must mean God willed that Pharaoh commit sin that he otherwise would not have been inclined to desire or commit of his own will. That is to say his view requires the assumption Pharaoh would have desired to obey God’s command from his heart if only God had not interfered and hardened his heart. If this were true it would indeed serve as evidence that God strangely usurps his own moral will and coercively manipulates and causes men to commit evil they would otherwise not have been inclined to morally commit.

This is understandably alarming, for if God can act this way towards Pharaoh what is to stop him from acting in such a coercive manner towards any of us? Certainly not his moral character! For within Piper’s theology there are no safeguards to be found in God’s character. Rather Piper thinks God’s character and nature is morally perfect insofar as we understand morally perfect means God can will anything he wants– even if it means the vilest of evils.

As it specifically concerns Pharaoh and the key phrase “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”, Piper’s view appears to rest upon the faulty assumption that Pharaoh’s own will was passively stuck in the gear of neutral until God shifted it into motion by hardening his heart. Nothing could be further from the truth. It would be more analogous to say God helped Pharaoh remain unnerved as he recklessly careened towards self-destruction and a course of action that Pharaoh had already committed himself to.

The fact that Pharaoh hated the Hebrews and had already been brutally enslaving them under a regime that systemically committed genocide on Hebrew boys under the age of two tells us we are dealing with a tenacious will to follow through with evil that few possess—but Pharaoh did. Secondly as it concerns the first five plagues the scriptures do not say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Rather Pharaoh obstinately hardened his own heart. It is only from the sixth plague onwards that we are told that Pharaoh consequently came under a judicial hardening from God. Yet even here many misinterpret the phrase as meaning God changed Pharaoh’s heart from repentance to rebellion. Not in the least is that accurate. Rather God encouraged Pharaoh’s resolve. It is helpful to quote Kevin Jackson’s response at length,

“To better understand the “hardening” of Pharaoh , it is important to note that the Hebrew word chazaq (translated as “harden” in English) does not carry the same connotation in Hebrew that it does in English. Chazaq is usually translated as “encourage”, “strengthen”, “repair”, “fortify” and “assist”. In Gods Strategy in Human History, Forster and Marston…. provide a chart that documents occurrences of the word chazaq. It is a term that is frequently used in the Old Testament (They document 55 examples outside of Exodus). The only time chazaq is translated as “harden” is in reference to Pharaoh in Exodus. In all other occurrences, chazaq is translated as “strengthen”, “encourage”, “repair”, “fortify”, etc.

Here are a few examples:

Joshua is encouraged (Deut 1:38).

Jonathan helps David find strength in God (1 Samuel 23:16).

The neighbors assisted Judah (Ezra 1:6).

The Levites helped the priests complete a task (2 Chron 29:34).

In the passages above, chazaq describes assisting or encouraging someone with a course that they have decided on. It means helping someone to do what they already want to do.

The same is true of God in his dealings with Pharaoh. God did not change Pharaoh’s heart to make him want to kill the Hebrews. Pharaoh already wanted to kill them. What God did was give Pharaoh the courage to follow through with what he already desired to do. Pharaoh was an evil man, but he was also timid and fearful of the Hebrews and their God. God simply gave Pharaoh the tenacity to follow through with the desires of his evil heart.

Understood in this sense, we can see that God’s dealings with Pharaoh were above reproach. As a result, we can be confident that God’s dealings with us will also be good and trustworthy.”[16]

Now Piper attempts to anticipate this response and deflect it by arguing that even if Pharaoh’s wickedness caused him to harden his own heart during the first five plagues, and even if God’s hardening is best interpreted as God strengthening Pharaoh to follow through with the desires of his own heart,“this observation does not succeed in avoiding the evidence of two wills in God” [since there remains] “a sense in which God does will that Pharaoh go on refusing to let the people go, and there is a sense in which he does will that Pharaoh release the people. For he commands, “Let my people go.” This illustrates why theologians talk about the “will of command” (“Let my people go!”) and the “will of decree” (“God hardened Pharaoh’s heart”).

No doubt Piper is sincerely trying to make sense of scripture and the occasional complex intersection recorded between the divine and human will. But good intentions can be sincerely misguided. And here Piper reveals just how far he is willing to go to stretch out the skin of scripture over the drum of his theology to beat out whatever sound he deems necessary.

He tries to argue that even if God’s hardening of Pharaoh was in response to Pharaoh’s prior hardening of his own heart it wouldn’t change anything. Actually it changes everything! Yet Piper is unwilling to see this. Instead he demands that it would still serve as evidence God possesses two wills that desire and determine two vastly different, if not contradictory, outcomes (i.e. the will of command vs. the will of decree). This is a gross extrapolation of the facts given in the text and Piper ought to know better.

Time and again Piper completely hides the fact that his Two-Wills View rests upon the absurdly confusing premise that in eternity past God decreed what men will do and then what he subsequently wills to do in response to what men do— which remember is exactly what he decided men must do in the first place! Another way to put it would be God responds to what God doesn’t like about what God decided God should decree. The proverbial dog chasing its own tail would be an apt analogy. Piper’s view is logically and morally self-defeating.

Six short points summarize why Piper’s usage of Pharaoh to support his two-wills view is misguided from the start:

1) Piper completely fails to appreciate the fact that God’s hardening is always a consequential act of judicial judgment upon someone who has already committed themselves to open rebellion against God and resisted all previous overtures to repent and respond to truth. We have already seen how Romans 1 speaks of “people who suppress the truth in their unrighteousness,” and “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” and are consequently “delivered over to the cravings of their heart” (1:18-25).

2) As it concerns Pharaoh, Pharaoh hardened his heart to a point of complete forfeiture, but God, in virtue of being God, knew that Pharaoh’s pride and character would cause him to act in a manner resistant with the divine command to let his people go. In response God determined to confirm him in his willful disobedience and deliver him over to the desires of his own heart by strengthening his disposition further, such that he would not wilt under the pressure of the coming judgments that Egypt must experience.

3) Egypt had enslaved God’s people for over 400 years and the time for Egypt’s judgment had arrived. God’s plan is to exploit both Egypt and specifically Pharaoh (the most powerful ruler on the earth at that time) as a means to demonstrate and showcase a level of personal power and authority that the Israelites will need as a reference point during their exodus. He would do this in part by encouraging the heart of Pharaoh to stay committed to a course of action he knew Pharaoh had already set himself upon– i.e. not letting the Hebrews go under any circumstances.

4) We can confidently say God’s perfect or ideal will was that Pharaoh not perish as he did. But when men freely reject God’s will for their lives (Lk. 7:30), and spurn his offerings of light and truth (Rom. 1:18,19), they forfeit God’s perfect will and are consequently handed over to judgment that can come in many forms. Though God did not irresistibly and unconditionally decree Pharaoh’s wicked character that is not to say God can’t responsively use Pharaoh’s character in a way that convenes with his own aims. Given the rebellious state of Pharaoh character, God’s consequent or accommodating will is to exploit Pharaoh’s known character as a means to achieve his own sovereign purposes that will entail both judgment and a demonstration of divine power over earthly powers.

5) That Pharaoh’s heart became judicially hardened while he was still under the command “let my people go” is no evidence that God irresistibly and determinatively decreed Pharaoh’s wicked character before he was born. And make no mistake about, that is the underlying premise behind Piper “two wills” theology that he is trying to smuggle in to offset the moral ruin and wreckage of Calvinism’s grand metanarrative. For Piper, divine determination of every word and deed is the end game he must always be driving towards, and anything less would fall short of the cardinal virtue of Calvinistic sovereignty. So in a Piper worldview we are all little Pharaoh’s being causally determined to play out our part in God’s cosmic play scripted before time began. This is not loose rhetoric being thrown around. I would challenge any Calvinist who affirms exhaustive, divine determinism to provide one example of human decision that lies outside God’s prior act of unilateral, decretive decision.

6) In concluding our remarks on Pharaoh, let me add the point that in all God’s dealings with Pharaoh God never compromises or re-negotiates himself morally. Why? Because we can be assured that God dealings with all people are just and right. He is perfect goodness. That is his essential nature and therefore that must always be our starting place when it comes to biblical interpretation. We should never feel the need to trade in God’s unambiguous separation from evil in order to extol God’s displays of power and glory. Indeed his glory is his goodness (Exodus 33:19). Piper’s view cannot say the same for he holds that both good and moral evil ultimately stem from the same source– God’s all encompassing, decretive will.

In contrast it is no moral contradiction to state that it lies within God’s just prerogative to confirm people, like Pharaoh, in their own self-chosen disobedience when such disobedience convenes with God’s own purposes— such as judgment. Similarly just like Eli’s wicked sons, such people can reach a point where their obstinacy disqualifies them of a life and future that could have been theirs in accordance with God’s will. Sadly repeated refusals to repent can set people up to become vessels of dishonor that consequently forfeit a life that could have been different. In such a state they are judiciously judged to be used as little more than tools as God sees fit, just as the scriptures allude to in Romans 9:17 and forthrightly declare of Pharaoh in Exodus 9:15-16, “By now I could have stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with a plague, and you would have been obliterated from the earth. However, I have let you live for this purpose: to show you My power and to make My name known in all the earth.”

Critique 14: PIPER’S STACKING OF THE DECK: SIHON KING OF HESHBON AND THE CANAANITE KINGS

Seeking to build upon what he perceives to be a successful case in point with Pharaoh, Piper throws his net wider, saying,

The Exodus is not a unique instance of God’s acting in this way. When the people of Israel reached the land of Sihon king of Heshbon, Moses sent messengers “with words of peace saying, Let me pass through your land; I will travel only on the highway” (Deuteronomy 2:26-27). Even though this request should have lead Sihon to treat the people of God with respect, as God willed for his people to be blessed rather than attacked, nevertheless “Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him; for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as at this day” (Deuteronomy 2:30). In other words it was God’s will (in one sense) that Sihon act in a way that was contrary to God’s will (in another sense) that Israel be blessed and not cursed.

Similarly the conquest of the cities of Canaan is owing to God’s willing that the kings of the land resist Joshua rather than make peace with him. “Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings. There was not a city which made peace with the sons of Israel except the Hivites living in Gibeon; they took them all in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Joshua 11:19-20)… What seems more plain is that when the time has come for judgment God wills that the guilty do things that are against his revealed will, like cursing Israel rather than blessing her.

The chief problem with Piper’s view, especially in regards to Pharaoh and his enlistment of seedy characters like Sihon of Heshbon and the Canaanite kings to support his view, is he wholly ignores the fact that these individuals were already evil!

By now the discerning reader will no doubt see a common theme that runs throughout Piper’s examples. Everyone is already evil!

-The ten wicked kings who align with the beast

-Herod, Pilate, Judas, self-righteous Pharisees and Sadducees

-The wicked sons of Eli

-Pharaoh

-Sihon of Hesbon and Canaanite rulers

-The Assyrians (Piper uses them as an example in other writings)

– Joseph’s jealous, vindictive brothers (Piper uses them as an example in other writings)

All of these examples are of persons already in a self-chosen state of open rebellion against God, having no doubt spurned his previous offers of light and correction (Rom. 1) prior to God’s decision to exploit their evil and obstinate characters towards his own ends. At times those ends involve judgment falling upon his own chosen people just as it fell upon Pharaoh. For instance God’s utilization of wicked Assyria as a tool to judge his own people, demonstrates that sometimes the wickedness of others can converge with God’s own will for judgment. This does not posit any moral contradiction as does Piper’s view. God’s exploitation of the wickedness of others towards his own ends is simply another example of our initial thesis— namely God’s consequent, accommodating will. God’s morally perfect will is that sin never transpire, but given that God’s knowledge is not ignorant of man’s fallen ways, God sees fit to accommodate himself to less than ideal situations while all the while seeking to usurp the intentions of evil in a manner that accords with his own wise counsel in light of such rebellion.

Therefore while it may be said that God’s purposes (i.e. judgment for sin) may convene at times with acts of evil that stem from wicked, obstinate characters like Herod and Pilot, that is a far cry from besmirching God’s character and insisting that he privately and unconditionally determined the wicked acts of all people at all times via sovereign, irresistible decrees.

In point of fact, let’s just assume for the briefest moment it is true that God unconditionally determined the sins of people like Pharoah, Eli’s wicked sons, Herod and Pilot. Does that therefore mean that God equally determined the sins of Mary and Martha? Does it mean God predestined the sins of Lazarus, John and Phillip? Does it mean when Jesus told us to pray, “Father…do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil…” Jesus really meant, “Father… do not lead us into the temptations of sin and evil that you decreed we commit?” To even ask the question is to reveal the utter nonsense of the Calvinist all-or-nothing view of God’s sovereign determinations. A belief in universal, divine determinism is a morally inane theology to be wholly repented from rather than defended.

Critique 15: WHY DID GOD HARDEN AND BLIND THE NATION OF ISRAEL? DEALING WITH PIPER’S UN-CONTEXTUALIZED ASSERTIONS

The issue of God’s hardening and blinding of Israel requires a thorough analysis far beyond Piper’s quick treatment and conclusions. It is important we take note of how the Bible treats this very critical issue and the context that surrounds divine, judicial hardening. God’s word of warning cries out to us in Hebrews 3:12-13,

“Watch out, brothers, so that there wont be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sins deception.”

Why should we encourage people to strive for repentance and belief “while it is still called today?” According to the Bible tomorrow may be too late! The proverbial door of the ark becomes closed. The “day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12, Lk 1:68) and “The longsuffering of God who waited in the days of Noah” runs out (1 Pet. 3:20) and we are delivered up for judgment “because [we] did not recognize the day of [our] visitation” (Luke 19:44).

And again we read in Hebrews 3:15-18,

“As it is said: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’ For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses? And who was He provoked with for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And who did He swear to that they would not enter His rest, if not those who disobeyed?”

Astonishingly the above scriptures tell us that the very Hebrews who were led out of Egypt and who witnessed Pharaoh’s downfall and judgment are themselves judiciously judged by God just like their former foe Pharaoh! Moreover none of them were allowed to enter Promised Land.

Why? Because God is “no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). The Hebrews persistent un-repentance and habitual hardening of their own hearts against God ultimately disqualified them from life and further opportunities to repent just like Pharaoh. They too became judiciously hardened as a result. Once again all this becomes total nonsense within a Piper Calvinist paradigm given that God is thought to be the controlling and determinative power deeply sequestered and hidden behind every act of sin and un-repentance that subsequently leads to God’s response of confirming people in their hardness as an act of judgment. As we saw in the earlier critique, such reasoning inevitable collapses back in on itself since it would mean God isn’t actually responding to what humans choose to do or not do. Rather God is responding to what God doesn’t like about what God decided he ought to decree. This schizophrenic, split-personality view of God will be explored more in the next critique.

Suffice it to say now that the lapses in Piper’s reasoning cause him to utterly fail to connect N.T. references of judicial hardening and blinding as something Israel had to experience because of her prior persistent unbelief and self-induced blindness and self-righteousness. Once again a full reading of scripture reveals God only punitively hardens and blinds people when his ideal will is repeatedly spurned. This in turn consequently sets the stage for his accommodating will confirming people in their self-chosen hardness of heart as an act of judgment.

Piper astonishingly conceals this critical interchange between God and man from his readers (if not himself!) and myopically zeroes in on verses and phrases that fit the un-contextualized narrative he is dogmatically pushing. Piper’s reading of the Bible is often approached with a hermeneutic that can best defined as opening a novel mid way and then making critical judgments irrespective of what came before.

For example right after discussing God’s hardening of King Heshbon and evil Canaanite kings, Piper states,

The hardening work of God was not limited to non-Israelites. In fact it plays a central role in the life of Israel in this period of history. In Romans 11:7-9 Paul speaks of Israel’s failure to obtain the righteousness and salvation it desired: “Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day.” Even though it is the command of God that his people see and hear and respond in faith (Isaiah 42:18), nevertheless God also has his reasons for sending a spirit of stupor at times so that some will not obey his command.

Yes, God does “have his reasons” to harden people— and chief among them is God’s divine judgment against those who repeatedly spurned his grace, light and purpose. Though Piper ignores this antecedent context, the Bible does not. This is why the scriptures speak of key Jewish leaders of Christ’s day as being those who “always resist the Holy Spirit” and who “rejected God’s purpose for themselves (Lk 7:30).” As a result God’s patient longsuffering has reached an end and they will be judiciously hardened and blinded. Yet through it all God remains sovereign as one who will exploit their earlier unbelief and use it as means to fulfill his long desired purpose and plan to bring light and salvation to the Gentiles. He will use their disobedience to bring about what he had originally intended their obedience would achieve.

It is helpful to quote Greg Boyd’s thoughts on the matter:

“The passage fits perfectly with the point Paul is making in Romans 9. While some individual Jews had accepted Jesus as the Messiah, the nation as a whole had rejected Jesus, and thus rejected God’s purpose for themselves (cf. Lk 7:30). Hence, though God had previously blessed Israel, he was now changing his mind about them and was hardening them. Ironically, and shockingly, the Jews were finding themselves in the same position as their old nemesis Pharaoh. He had hardened his heart toward God, so God responded by hardening him further in order to raise him up to further his own sovereign purposes (Rom 9: 17). So too, Paul was arguing, God was now hardening the Jews in their self-chosen unbelief to further his sovereign purposes. He was going to use their rebellion to do what he had always hoped their obedience would do: namely, bring the non-Jewish world into a relationship with him (Rom 11:11-12).”[17]

Not too surprisingly Piper appears to strategically downplay and tactically overlook the historical reasons and critical backstories that contextually lie behind the examples he puts forward. But this is par for the course for Piper. In the end it is quite unfortunate if not highly suspicious. His habitual omission of the larger context that surrounds God’s acts of judicial hardening is troubling. For it is only when we realize that God’s judicial actions of hardening, blinding and delivering people up to their own sin, occur within a context wherein people have freely and repeatedly spurned his earlier offerings of light and grace, that we can confidently rest in the truth that God is not acting unconditionally and therefore capriciously or arbitrarily with people.[18] Remember for Piper God’s two-wills are what God allegedly wants to happens and what he unconditionally determines should and must happen—which of course renders the first divine will a schizophrenic figment of God’s confused imagination that God’s second will ensures will never see the light of day.

Critique 16: MORE EVIDENCE OF DOING THEOLOGY IN AN ECHO CHAMBER: DID GOD DETERMINE ISRAELS DISOBEDIENCE AND DEFIANCE JUST SO HE COULD HARDEN THEM FOR COMMITTING THE VERY ACTS OF DEFIANCE HE DETERMINED FOR THEM?

There is no doubt that the general disposition and consciousness of the Jewish people in Christ’s day was to stay entrenched in their own self-righteousness and stubbornly defy God’s terms for true righteous standing—which was humble faith in the Messiah. In response Israel defiance will be judicially judged. Therefore the question that presents itself is, did God extend Israel unwarranted grace and patience prior to his judicial hardening of her?

Well if we want to take Scripture seriously, yes he did. As Paul makes clear by quoting Isaiah,

“But to Israel he says: All day long I have spread out My hands to a disobedient and defiant people (Rom. 10:21).”

As such we must categorically reject any theology that would suggest God determined Israel’s disobedience or hardened Israel prior to his judicial hardening of her. Yet Piper’s Calvinism posits just this scenario given its commitment to theological determinism that every choice, for or against God, was determinatively rendered certain by God in the past. Consequently Piper must concede God determined that Israel disobey and defy him, so that he in turn could determinatively harden them in response for Israel taking on the very posture of disobedience he determined. This makes any need to explain anything meaningless and irrelevant. In virtue of Romans being an epistle of deep and thorough explanatory scope and intention, we can confidently state Paul’s starting place was not one of theological determinism.

Piper next zeroes in on the words of Jesus, but almost immediately his determinism ensnares him again in meaningless exposition, his very words becoming the victims and casualties of his own theology.

He writes, “[Jesus] explained that one of the purposes of speaking in parables to the Jews of his day was to bring about this judicial blinding or stupor. In Mark 4:11-12 he said to his disciples, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven.” Here again God wills that a condition prevail which he regards as blameworthy. His will is that they turn and be forgiven (Mark 1:15), but he acts in a way to restrict the fulfillment of that will.”

Firstly if judicial blinding and hardening means anything, it means people are blinded and hardened as a just consequence for freely rejecting God’s previous offerings of grace, light and truth. But remember Piper cannot say any of this without the logic of his own position boomeranging back upon him and invalidating his reasoning as nonsense. For in order to remain consistent with the very nature of exhaustive determinism and maintain internal, theological cohesion, Piper is forced to believe God judicially hardens persons— not in response to them freely hardening their own hearts— but for being determined by God to harden their hearts. In other words God hardens them in response to hardening them. He judges people for doing the very thing he determined they do. In Piper’s theology no one is truly in control of what they do. This is a problem that plagues Calvinism on many fronts. The inescapable conclusion is that Piper’s judicial hardening turns into determinative hardening and judicial judgment gets traded in for arbitrary judgment.

Furthermore as we have already noted, Israel was being judicially blinded as an act of judgment due to having hearts that were callous and unwilling to draw close to God despite his past graceful initiatives. As Jesus declares,

“These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Mk. 6:7-8).

It is once again imperative we interpret difficult scriptures concerning judicial blinding in the light of proper, historical setting. Only in doing can we rightly discern why such divine action was taken. Repeatedly the scriptures make the case that God’s blinding and hardening is a consequence of not seeing, not hearing and not responding to God’s previous revelations. It’s an action that justly confirms people in their unwillingness to not see, not hear and not believe– it is not a cause of such unwillingness.

In point of fact it is not at all clear Jesus purposed to speak in parables in order to cause or “bring about judicial blinding” as Piper tries to argue above. It is much more likely Jesus’s choice to speak in parables and his quoting of Isaiah to that effect refers to the just consequence of the Israelites’ entrenched unwillingness to hear, rather than the cause of such unwillingness. Scholars have made note of how the Greek can lend itself to consequential result and not cause. For example:

“(Gk hina) can indicate purpose or result. Thus Jesus’ quotation of Is 6:9-10 either offers the reason for His teaching in parables or describes the result. Matthew 13:13 reads ‘because’ (Gk hoti), and thus states the result of the hearers’ unwillingness, not its cause…Jesus’ parables had two distinct purposes: (1) to reveal truth to those who were willing to hear and believe, and (2) to conceal truth from those who willingly rejected truth because of their calloused hearts (v. 15). The hiddenness component of Jesus’ teaching may seem harsh, but since greater exposure to truth increases one’s accountability to God in judgment (11:20-24), the concealment may represent God’s graciousness toward those whom He knew would be unresponsive.”[19]

Little caveats like that above may seem insignificant but they are “game changers” in assessing the merits of Piper’s view. Far from being evidence that God possesses two conflicting wills wherein he intentionally seeks to thwart (or as Piper says, “restrict the fulfillment”) of his moral will by “sovereignly” decreeing every violation against it, the above passages demonstrate that God has a morally perfect will and a consequent will that accommodates itself to an un-decreed reality of human freedom and stubborn rebellion.

Critique 17: PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF ROMANS 11:31-32

In his zeal to press his argument further Piper goes on to make another critical exegetical error that I can only assume is a result of reading Scripture with a rigid presupposition that tends to see Calvinism hiding behind every rock and bush. Piper attempts to argue that God purposed and determined to make Israel disobedient so that he could have mercy on Gentiles. He severely manhandles Romans 11:31-32 in order to make his case, stating,

“This is the point of Romans 11:31-32. Paul speaks to his Gentile readers again about the disobedience of Israel in rejecting their Messiah: “So they [Israel] have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they also may receive mercy.”

When Paul says that Israel was disobedient “in order that” Gentiles might get the benefits of the gospel, whose purpose does he have in mind? It can only be God’s.” For Israel did not conceive of their own disobedience as a way of blessing the Gentiles or winning mercy for themselves in such a round about fashion. The point of Romans 11:31 therefore is that God’s hardening of Israel is not an end in itself, but is part of a saving purpose that will embrace all the nations. But in the short run we have to say that he wills a condition (hardness of heart) which he commands people to strive against (“Do not harden your heart” (Hebrews 3:8, 15; 4:7).

Did you catch Piper’s mistake? Piper thinks Paul’s connecting phrase “in order that” principally links God’s declaration of Israel’s disobedience with God’s purpose to have mercy on Gentiles. But this is to overlook Paul’s point. He has Jews principally in view! It is true that through Israel’s disobedience God’s mercy came to Gentiles, but that is a demonstration of God’s sovereign ability to bring good out of evil, and not a marker of some indomitable, secondary will that unconditionally predestined all things. In other words God’s mercy being extended to Gentiles is a resultant factor of Israel’s disobedience, not a purpose for Israel’s disobedience.

Piper mistakenly thinks Paul is stating God purposed Israel to be disobedient “in order that” Gentiles can become beneficiaries of God’s mercy. However Paul is arguing that God has judiciously declared Israel to be in disobedience so that he may have mercy on them Israel! Paul bears this out in the next verse. The qualifier “in order that” in vs 31 refers to the object of Israel receiving the benefit of mercy through being consigned in disobedience and witnessing the breadth of God’s mercy shown to Gentiles. Paul is not saying, “God sovereignly willed or made Israel disobedient in order that you Gentiles may receive mercy” as Piper must wrongly assume to make his point stick. Both “they’s” in vs. 31 refer to Jews! He is saying in essence, “So they [Israel] have been declared to be disobedient so that they [Israel] also may receive mercy.” Paul’s principle aim is to lead us to the understanding that God has consigned or imprisoned all in disobedience— Jew and Gentile alike— so that one’s only escape into freedom and a right standing before God (i.e. salvation) is found in God’s gift of mercy through the Messiah. Paul unequivocally makes this point immediately after in vs 32, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all.”

Piper appears to catch himself at the end and realize Paul does have Jews in mind too, but it is too little too late. He is simply incorrect to assume God secretly decreed or intentionally purposed Israel to be disobedient via a second, divine will “in order that” mercy can principally come to the Gentiles. Neither did God purpose or will Israel’s disobedience so that he could harden her. It cannot be stated enough: Divine mercy being extended to Gentiles has always been the plan of God ever since his covenant with Abraham and promise to use Israel as a “light unto the Gentiles.” But where Israel failed the faithful Israelite and Messiah— Jesus— succeeded. Through the Messiah God has ushered in a new covenant and plan for the world. As such God’s purpose to use Israel’s disobedience and hardening as a means to accomplish what he first envisioned her obedience would accomplish is a resultant factor of Israel’s disobedience, not a decreed purpose for Israel’s disobedience!

This seriously undermines the foundational basis for Piper’s Two-Wills View— that being his commitment to exhaustive, theological determinism. But again, it gets even worse for him.

Critique 18: PIPER’S GRIEVOUS CONFLATION OF TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES OF “HARDENING”

Piper wrongly assumes God’s judicial, divine hardening is of the same “hardening” nature that comes by way of willful disobedience mentioned in Hebrews 3:8 and 4:7, wherein God warns, “Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

It is quite astonishing that Piper conflates (1) self-chosen hardness due to willful disobedience with (2) judicial hardening for unrepentant disobedience, saying, “But in the short run we have to say that he wills a condition (hardness of heart) which he commands people to strive against (“Do not harden your heart” (Hebrews 3:8, 15; 4:7).”

It is vitally important that we note there exists two distinct categories of “hardening” in the scriptures, and each is brought about by two separate causes for two very different reasons. The first category is a self-chosen hardness of heart due to a willful refusal to listen to the Spirit of God. As Zachariah 7:12 sets forth, “They made their hearts as hard as flint and did not listen…to the words that the Lord Almighty sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets.” So as to be doubly clear, self-chosen hardness of heart stems from repeated disobedience and an unwillingness to hear God’s voice and prior overtures of truth and grace. To “hear” God’s voice is to heed or obey God’s voice. And heeding God’s voice is largely a matter of choice. That is why there exists the conditional “if you will hear” in Hebrews 3:8 and 4:7. Moreover the writer of Hebrews is quoting from Psalm 95:7-8 wherein the Psalmist ties in hearing God’s voice with our will to heed God’s voice, saying, “Today, if you will hear His voice: ‘Do not harden your hearts…’” The Scriptures are clear that repeatedly resisting the truth will eventually “seer the conscience” (1 Tim. 2:4) and render the heart callous and “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19).

The second category of hardening is God’s just prerogative to judicial harden persons within the first category (those unrelenting in their self-chosen disobedience and self-chosen hard-heartedness). In other words persons in the second category are those judicially confirmed in their self-chosen hardness of heart as an act of divine judgment.

If Piper’s theological analysis did not exist in a reverberating, self-enclosed echo chamber much of his interpretive confusion would disappear, and he would better understand how scriptural examples of judicial hardening are not a record God’s unconditional, decretive will being brought to fruition, but rather are a record of God’s accommodating, consequent will coming into play when his ideal, moral will is repeatedly spurned.

Critique 19: EXPLORING GOD’S ACCOMMODATING WILL FURTHER IN ROMANS 8-11. GOD WILLS MERCY AND WILLS HARDENING NEITHER CAPRICIOUSLY NOR ARBITRARILY, BUT IN ACCORDANCE WITH HOW HIS SOVEREIGN TERMS ARE MET

God’s flexibility and ability to accommodate his purposes within a context of genuine, indeterminate freedom, is a mark of his sovereignty, not a strike against it. Concerning God’s purpose for Israel, we mustn’t forget God’s intention from the beginning was to always use the nation of Israel to extend mercy on Gentiles. Using a race analogy, Paul explicitly states Israel “stumbled” and “failed” (Rom. 11:11-12) implying she did not succeed in the calling God intended for her. But all is not lost. God will sovereignly use her disobedience to do what her obedience failed to do. And that is exactly how we ought to principally view divine sovereignty: using and exploiting human failure rather than determinatively causing it in every case. God’s original desire was that Israel, through her faithful obedience, would act as a light unto the nations. But when Israel chose to assimilate with the nations rather than stand in contrast to the nations, God sovereignly accommodated his plan and chose to use her failure and disobedience to accomplish what he had originally desired her obedience would accomplish— that being divine revelation and mercy extended to all.[20]

Piper misses all of this because he insists on reading Romans through a 16th century Reformed lens. As a result he simply fails to keep up with Paul’s 1st century Jew vs. Gentile train of thought in Romans. Paul’s overarching argument throughout Romans 8-11 is that no one has rights to God’s mercy through lineage or human works. God gives mercy to those he wills on his own terms, and he hardens who wills on his own terms. But God does not arbitrarily lay down such terms. Rather God has sovereignly chosen that his terms to receive mercy will be on the basis of a faith response. And it is on that very point Paul notes Israel failed in her earlier opportunities to pursue righteousness that comes by faith because she tried to establish her own righteousness apart from God’s terms. Consequently she has willfully placed herself under God’s terms for judgment and hardening.

So yes, God does will Israel to be hardened, but it is neither capricious nor arbitrary, for God wills mercy and wills hardening in accordance with how we respond to his sovereign terms. In the case of Israel, God will use her temporary hardening as a means to perpetuate his long-desired purpose to extend mercy to Gentiles on the basis of faith. Even so they [Gentiles] must be wary, for they too can become cut off from God’s mercy and grace if they drift into unbelief. Moreover it is crucial that we note that God’s unique and specific hardening of Israel is not irrevocably determinative or inflexible, for Paul declares that Jews can once again become recipients of God’s merciful salvation and be grafted back in if they do not persist in unbelief. For their partial hardening that brought life to Gentiles will mysteriously serve as a means for their own salvation. Just listen to the logical flow of Paul’s thoughts in Romans 8-11:

“Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus… Who can bring an accusation against Gods elect? God is the One who justifies… So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden… Gentiles… have obtained righteousness namely the righteousness that comes from faith. But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the righteousness of the law. Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works… [and] Because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to Gods righteousness… For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes…One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness… True enough; they were broken off by unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either… severity toward those who have fallen but Gods kindness toward you if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not remain in unbelief, will be grafted in…again… So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 8:1, 33; 9:18-19, 30-32; 10:3-4,10-11; 11:20-26)

Paul’s argument is that God’s sovereign terms, his sovereign choice to extend mercy and grace, is in accordance with faith and not ritualistic works of the law or lineage. Moreover those who come to God through faith become the elect of God. The commitment to pursue God over all other competing idols, no matter what form those idols take, (i.e. traditions, ritual law-keeping, self-works) is faith. God qualifies such people in turn as being his elect people chosen by grace. To make this point stick Paul reminds us of a time in Israel’s history when even Elisha thought all Israel was lost and would have to be judged because of faithlessness. But such was not the case as Paul explains,

“But what was Gods reply to him? I have left 7,000 men for Myself who have not bowed down to Baal. In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace. What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened” (Rom 11:4-7).

It is interesting and helpful to see Paul tie in God’s grace and election with the faithfulness of people, and judicial hardening with those who are found to be faithless. I am not accusing Piper of it, but many Calvinist commentators will argue that Paul is saying God used his sovereign grace to preemptively and irresistibly prohibit 7000 people from bowing down to Baal. But that is not Paul’s point at all. Rather Paul is declaring that God has graciously kept alive 7000 people and spared them from judgment because of their faithful refusal to bow the knee to Baal. Put simply it is not that God sovereignly kept them from worshiping Baal through grace, it is that God graciously kept them alive by grace because they did not worship Baal. It is helpful to read the original account in 1 Kings 19:17-18,

“Then Jehu will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Jehu. But I will leave 7,000 in Israel every knee that has not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

We can affirm God sovereignly preserved and reserved a remnant of Israel for himself according to his will and good pleasure, but God’s will is not arbitrary, some roll of divine dice. God’s willed to reserve, by grace, a remnant of 7000. Yet that very remnant comprised individuals who were qualified to be among the remnant in virtue of their humble obedience to God and faithfulness to him. We see this theme repeated throughout scripture. For example Joshua and Caleb were the only ones from an older generation who qualified themselves to be among those privileged by grace to enter the Promised Land.

Critique 20: WHY DID GOD GIVE ISRAEL A “SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES THAT SHOULD NOT SEE AND EARS THAT SHOULD NOT HEAR” IF ISAIAH 42:18 SAYS GOD COMMANDS PEOPLE TO SEE AND HEAR?

Let’s return again to Piper’s earlier contention that Romans 11:7 supports his particular Two-Wills view. What does Paul mean when he distinguishes between “Israel not finding what it was looking for… [and being] hardened” and “the elect [who] did find it”? Does it mean God never truly desired or intended certain Jews to obtain salvation? Does it mean God pre-programed Israel’s sins? Does it mean God was behind the scenes; actively engineering a plot to ensure the nation of Israel disobeyed him and failed in her call to be a light to the nations? If not why does Paul quote O.T. passages in Romans 11:8 that speak of God giving people a “spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear”? Moreover to quote the main thrust of Piper’s contention in the form of a question, why does God do this “even though it is the command of God that his people see and hear and respond in faith (Isaiah 42:18)?” Is it, as Piper assumes, evidence that God wills one thing and then “acts in a way to restrict the fulfillment of that will.”

We have been over this material already, but because Piper continues to repeat the same charges in various, nuanced forms it is necessary to deal with them thoroughly. Five points are in order:

Firstly, the mere fact that Paul is quoting the O.T. in this way tells us Paul understood Israel to be under God’s judgment just like she was at earlier times when she spurned God’s patience and rejected God’s outstretched arms (Is. 65:2). Once again God is judicially blinding Israel as a consequence for her own self-chosen blindness and intransigent un-teachableness. However God can still call out for repentance and for ears to hear in Isaiah just like Jesus will later do in the N.T.

Why?

Because he knows not all have succumbed to the spirit of implacable unbelief that defines their age. Some will respond— in fact many did (Mark 1:5). But generally speaking the time for extended patience and mercy on the nation has ended. The time for judgment has come. A similar passage in Isaiah almost perfectly parallels the dire, spiritual condition of Israel in Paul’s day. In fact Jesus even quotes from it in Mark 6:7-8 to describe the general heart condition of the nation that required God’s judicial blinding as a response (not a cause):

“For the Lord has poured out on you

an overwhelming urge to sleep; [i.e. spirit of stupor]

He has shut your eyes the prophets,

and covered your heads the seers…

Because these people approach Me with their mouths

to honor Me with lip- service

yet their hearts are far from Me,

and their worship consists of man- made rules

learned by rote

therefore I will again confound these people…

and the understanding of the perceptive will be hidden” (Isaiah 29:10-14).

Secondly, self-righteousness and confidence in outward law keeping has always been the root cause of Israel’s outward religiosity at the cost of inward confession. According to Paul the “attempt to establish their own righteousness” is the principle reason Israel “disregarded God’s righteousness” (Rom 10:3), failed to obtain “the righteousness that comes by faith” (Rom. 10:6) and was judicially judged. We should never call into question the sincerity of God’s desire to mercifully seek and save the lost, the blind and the sick. But when blind sinners consider themselves already well, already holy, already righteous and already seeing, there is little they can receive from God except discipline. The historical record on Israel is generally uniform on this point as it spans the two testament ages:

“I spread out my hand all day to a rebellious people…

These people continually provoke Me

to My face…They say, Keep to yourself,

don’t come near me, for I am too holy for you!…

I will not keep silent, but I will repay…” (Isaiah 65:3-6)

It is astonishing that people could ever think they were “too holy” for God, but Jesus charges Israel with the same self-righteous attitude, saying,

I came into this world for judgment, in order that those who do not see will see and those who do see will become blind. Some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and asked Him, We aren’t blind too, are we?

If you were blind, Jesus told them, you wouldn’t have sin. But now that you say, We see’ your sin remains. (John 9:39-41).

Jesus makes it clear he came to seek and save the lost, bind up the broken hearted, set the oppressed free and restore sight to the blind. But like slaves refusing freedom because they proudly think they are masters, and terminally ill patients refusing treatment because they confidently think they are in perfect health, Jesus has no recourse except to confirm such people in their own stubbornness and seek out others more responsive, teachable and humble.

Thirdly, concerning Paul’s distinguishing of Israel and the elect, it is to our advantage to keep in mind that often (but not always) in Paul’s perspective “Israel” = God’s chosen people by Hebraic ancestry and outward law keeping and the “Elect” = God’s chosen people by faith and internal confession. Paul is not alone in his assessment of two distinct groups. It shows up repeatedly in the words of Christ. The former group is awash in self-righteousness and pride and can receive nothing from the Lord. The other group is marked by humility and will therefore be saved by grace as promised: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Jm 4:6; Mt. 23:12; Pr. 3:34). We see these two categories best pitted against each other in Christ’s parable of the Pharisee who went to the temple to testify of his outward works of the Law and the sinful publican who went to the temple to confess his inward poverty and need of divine mercy. We will recall only one went home justified (Lk. 18:9-14).

Fourthly, to a large extent the nation of Israel forfeited divine mercy that came by way of her Messiah, and consequently became judiciously blinded and hardened because she belonged to the aforementioned former group. But as stated before, not all did. Not all had unbelieving hearts, calloused over by years of outward piety at the cost of inward confession and faith. Some did heed the words of God in the past, recognized the voice of their God in the voice of Jesus, and thus were drawn to Christ as naturally as sheep being drawn to the voice of their true shepherd. As Jesus declares, “Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to Me… But you don’t believe because you are not My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn 6:45; 10:26-27). Those who were already in a right relationship with the Father at the inauguration of Christ were known to Christ and followed Christ because they recognized that the Son and the Father spoke in one voice. Such persons are saved by grace and called the “elect,” and exist in contrast to the general term “Israel” in Romans 11:7. That is why Paul can say “Israel did not obtain” what it was searching for (i.e. righteousness) but the “elect did obtain it.”

Fifthly, as already noted, Piper is far too cursory and prone to bias in his treatment of these verses and therefore gives off the mistaken impression these passages describe some eternal determination in the Godhead that Israel was never meant to obey, never meant to believe and never meant to obtain righteousness through faith— and in order to fulfill that prior determination God unilaterally and unconditionally decreed her hardness of heart. But that turns out not to be the case at all as we have explored above. God’s judicial acts of divine blinding (i.e. “a spirit of stupor”) are just that— judicial! They are in response to self-chosen, stiff-necked obstinacy and self-righteousness— not the cause of it. Since Piper believes all things have been unconditionally decreed before the world began, his view inescapably collapses into causal determinism and renders any sense of self-determination and accountability an illusion.

One final note bears mentioning again. In his treatment of Israel’s judicial blinding and hardening, Piper’s writing style appears to be an attempt to drive his readers to one of two conclusions:

  • 1) There exists a real contrariety between God’s perfect, moral will that people believe, and God’s decretive will that people never believe.
  • 2) There exists a seeming contrariety shrouded in inexplicable mystery between God’s perfect, moral will that people believe, and God’s unconditional, decretive will that people never believe.

Piper of course believes the second conclusion, and he thinks he has good reasons. After all if God calls people to repentance on the one hand, but God is then seen to unconditionally blind those same persons to the truth on the other hand, Piper wonders what other possible explanation could there be except to declare God intentionally “acts in a way to restrict the fulfillment of that will.”

However neither conclusion is the case. We don’t need to embrace a genuine contradiction or punt to mystery to escape a seeming contradiction. God can both call out for repentance to some and judicially blind others because there are two principle groups of people God has in view:

  • Group 1: Those who missed the day of their visitation due to a prior, obstinate unwillingness to “submit themselves to God’s righteousness” (Rom 10:3) and will consequently be judicially confirmed in their obstinacy.
  • Group 2: Those who have not yet succumbed to the spirit of their age and still have “ears to hear.”

Recognizing that both groups are in play in the N.T. can help us see why Jesus can declare on the one hand that the consequence of disbelief is further disbelief, further lack of understanding and further slumbering, and then on the other hand emphatically call out for belief and understanding. Jesus was always searching out hearts still willing to hear and listen. Such people are always in view in the common phrase “he who has ears to hear let him hear.” As we read in Mark 7:14-16, “Summoning the crowd again, He told them, Listen to Me, all of you, and understand…If anyone [still] has ears to hear, he should listen!”

Moreover Jesus told his disciples that those who persecuted him will likewise persecute them because they “don’t know the One who sent Me” (John 15:21). That is to say they never knew God, never knew his Father— ever! Yet they arrogantly thought they did. Time and again Jesus warns that if we arrogantly say we see, but walk as if we are blind, our sin, which is the ultimate cause of our blindness, remains. However it is promised that if we humbly admit and confess our blindness and “turn to the Lord the veil is removed” as we see noted in 2 Cor. 3:16. The veil is not removed so that we can turn to Christ; it is removed when we turn to Christ. God’s judicial act of judgment against the nation of Israel was to deliver the nation up to its own blindness due to their rejection of the only One who could take away the veil. But we certainly shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this judicial blinding is an irrevocable act, as Paul himself rhetorically asks, “If they repent will God not graft them in again?” (Rom. 11:23)

There is an implicit warning in all of this. If we persist in rebellion and hard heartedness there comes a point where we are judiciously given over to our rebellion wherein God has no recourse except to withdraw his light and mercy. We find this theme throughout scripture and it ought to serve as a somber warning to us all. God is not to be mocked. What we sow we will reap and if we persist in sin and un-repentance God will give us up to experience the full measure of our self-chosen sin. We become the salt that loses its flavor and is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. We become the branches that didn’t bear fruit, whither away and are subsequently cut off and thrown into the fire.

Critique 21: DOES CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION REQUIRE GOD TO DECREE SIN AND EVIL?

Piper next devotes a good portion of his article attempting to ground God’s decree of sin in Christian persecution. He writes,

The apostle Peter wrote concerning God’s involvement in the sufferings of his people at the hands of their antagonists. In his first letter he spoke of the “will of God” in two senses. It was something to be pursued and lived up to on the one hand. “Such is the will of God, that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). “Live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God” (4:2). On the other hand the will of God was not his moral instruction, but the state of affairs that he sovereignly brought about. “For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong” (3:17). “Let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (4:19). And in this context, the suffering which Peter has in mind is the suffering which comes from hostile people and therefore cannot come without sin.

Apparently Piper assumes if there exist scriptural passages that speak of believers suffering persecution in accordance with God’s will, it must mean God decreed the sin of the persecutors and thus must be evidence of his Two-Wills view. For example he points to the Apostle Peter’s encouragement to fellow believers suffering for the sake of the gospel. For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be Gods will, than for doing wrong. (3:17). Let those who suffer according to Gods will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator (4:19).”

Piper then concludes, In this context, the suffering which Peter has in mind is the suffering which comes from hostile people and therefore cannot come without sin.

Once again Piper lapses back into assuming his theology in order to prove his theology. To start with when Piper says, cant come without sin he really means, “can’t come without God decreeing sin.” He wrongly assumes that if it is God’s will that followers of Christ endure hardship and persecution at the hands of wicked persons, then it must serve as evidence that God’s will has predetermined everything—which would necessarily include the sinful characters, sinful motives and sinful dispositions of all who would persecute Christians. But this is to commit a categorical error. As we saw in the case of Jesus, God does not need to meticulously or exhaustively predetermine the means in order to reach a predetermined end. Rather it can be God’s will that a person suffer and even die for the sake of the gospel, and yet God can will such martyrdom without having determinatively willed the sinful, evil motives of the persecutors. This is critical to note.

In point of fact some might object that if persecution is God plan for his faithful, and since persecution is carried out by the wicked, wouldn’t that therefore mean God’s plan for the persecutors was that they should have wicked characters, just as equally as it being God’s plan that believers suffer persecution? Again, we can reject this conclusion on the basis that God, in virtue of being God, does not need to exhaustively predetermine the means to bring about a purposed end in the life of any believer. Rather God can exploit the freely chosen acts of the wicked to serve his own purpose for any believer. In point of fact in Acts 7:51-52 Stephen states that the very persecutors of God’s faithful prophets were themselves those who “always resisted Holy Spirit!” And in Luke 7:30 we are told these very religious authorities rejected Gods will for themselves. This means that it was not God’s plan from the beginning of time that such persons have such characters. Rather those that persecuted God’s faithful became such persons only after they resisted the Holy Spirit and thus rejected God’s plan for their lives.

Moreover it is not a “decree of sin” for God to will that I be persecuted or even killed for the sake of the gospel. God is not morally obligated to extend my life one second further. He can choose that my life be cut short silently from a brain aneurism or violently at the hands of evil persecutors— and in neither case does it require God to decree sin or determine that certain individuals should have certain, depraved characters to bring about such ends.

Instead God, via his infinite wisdom in knowing how any number of possible circumstances will play out, can know that if Christian X is placed in circumstances Y that it will result in Christian X being persecuted for the sake of the gospel. This should come as no surprise to us given that we have already noted how the Father knew that if Jesus rode into Jerusalem in the manner that he did, and cleansed the temple as he did, it would arouse the jealous hatred of the authorities and lead to his determined suffering and death. God is fully able to “work out” (Eph 1:11) or exploit the events of an indeterminate world and in the end bring about certain determined ends in line with the overarching counsel of his will without the prerequisite of having all things be causally determined by his will. The former makes God wise and omni-competent, the latter makes God omni-causal and the ultimate origin and source of all evil.[21]

Piper fails to consider this and it is his chief interpretive error.

When reading Piper we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into a situation wherein we lapse for even a nanosecond in forgetting his underlying thesis. He is at all times wanting to put forth the motion that a biblical understanding of sovereignty means God willed to predetermined all things— and left nothing out! Therefore every word and deed, including every sinful decision, has been meticulously pre-programmed and predetermined by God’s “will of decree.” However if Piper’s view is correct that suffering for doing good in accordance with God’s will serves as evidence that God’s will determines everything then so is suffering for doing evil!

In other words if Piper’s interpretation has a true pulse on God’s sovereignty then it would mean suffering for doing good is just as equally God’s will as suffering for doing evil. It would be a distinction without a difference. But if all things are equal then it means there is no longer any sense of “better.” Yet the Apostle Peter expressly declares “it is better to suffer for doing good… than for doing evil.” Peter is clearly contrasting suffering for doing good from suffering for doing evil. He sees a distinction with difference. The former is better because its God’s will, meaning the latter is not! If Peter were writing from a Calvinist perspective, where all that occurs—both good and evil—is equally God’s expressed will being realized on earth, then his point is rendered utterly meaningless.

At minimum, the Apostle Peter is arguing, “As far as the lives of Christ’s followers are in view, doing evil and suffering for it is never a result of God’s will.” The fact that even Christians fall into temptation, do evil and suffer for it tells us there are determinative wills other than just God’s operating in the universe.

It is additionally informative to note that in 4:15-19 Peter contrasts God’s will with sin, telling believers they should never “suffer…as an evildoer” but instead should “suffer according to God’s will” with the subsequent reaction to such persecution being to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” Yet if all that we think and do has been divinely decreed for us, it would necessarily include our reactions to persecution! So if Piper’s theological determinism is true, how I react to persecution is not really under my control. All my reactions are merely the intermediary effects in time of what God decreed in eternity past. Therefore if I do wrong and choose not to entrust my soul to God in the face of persecution, it would just as equally be God’s sovereign will as if I had chosen to do otherwise. In a world governed by exhaustive, divine determinism, whatever we choose to do is all the evidence we need to conclude it was not God’s sovereign will that we do otherwise!

Critique 22: PIPER’S ARMINIAN DOPPELGANGER RUNS THE CALVINIST GAUNTLET AND GETS SKEWERED: DOES GOD NEED TO GET PERMISSION FROM HIMSELF?

Repeatedly we see the logical incoherence of the Calvinist position espoused by Piper and how the Scriptures are rendered unintelligible and meaningless in a context of exhaustive, theological determinism. Time and again Piper either conveniently ignores or inexcusably dismisses the “boomerang effect” his Calvinist theology has in coming back around and knocking down whatever proposition he just erected. There is no denying the fact that Calvinism–despite its best intentions to accurately reflect the biblical data– is terminally plagued by cognitive dissonance. Calvinist theologians like Piper consistently (and I believe intentionally) refuse to fully pursue the ramifications of their beliefs and even go so far as to shamefully shield others from grasping the most troubling logical implications of Calvinist theology by cloaking it in the garb of Arminianism when convenient.

For example, Piper often tries to dial back the moral dilemma that arises out of Calvinism by re-couching God’s relationship to evil and sin in Arminian terms as divine permission for evil to come about. This will be dealt with more fully below. Suffice it for now to say this revisionism is grossly misleading in light of his private view that sovereignty means God unconditionally decrees and wills every evil choice and event in human history— and does so irresistibly. In a Calvinist worldview there is no other way to interpret divine ordination of all evil. A few quotes will suffice to demonstrate this central Calvinist tenant:

JOHN CALVIN:

“Hence we maintain that, by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined.” [22]

“The hand of God rules the interior affections no less than it superintends external actions; nor would God have effected by the hand of man what he decreed, unless he worked in their hearts to make them will before they acted.”[23]

“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]

VINCENT CHEUNG:

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.”[25]

“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.[26]

EDWIN PALMER: He has foreordained everything ‘after the counsel of his will’ (Eph. 1:11): the moving of a finger, the beating of a heart, the laughter of a girl, the mistake of a typist – even sinAlthough sin and unbelief are contrary to what God commands…God has included them in his sovereign decree (ordained them, caused them to certainly come to pass).”[27]

JOHN FRAME: “The Reformed [Calvinists] agree that God knows what would happen under all conditions, but they reject the notion that this knowledge is ever ultimately based on man’s autonomous decisions. Human decisions, they argue, are themselves the effects of God’s eternal decrees.[28]

GORDAN CLARKE: “I wish very frankly and pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do it… Let it be unequivocally said that this view certainly makes God the cause of sin. God is the sole ultimate cause of everything. There is absolutely nothing independent of him. He alone is the eternal being. He alone is omnipotent. He alone is sovereign… [29] The Bible therefore explicitly teaches that God creates sin.[30]

A.W. PINK:Plainly it was God’s will that sin should enter this world, otherwise it would not have entered, for nothing happens except what God has eternally decreed.”[31]

JOHN PIPER: “Everything that exists–including evil–is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly… He wills that evil come to pass that good may come of it.[32]

Many more examples could be cited but they would only be redundant in making the point that Calvinism teaches man’s desires, affections and subsequent actions are irresistibly determined and rendered certain by God’s will, and he can no more avoid doing what God has decreed than he can create a universe or sprout wings and fly to the moon. For any Calvinist to say otherwise would be to put in jeopardy their understanding of divine sovereignty. There is no question that Piper unreservedly holds to divine determination in all matters of human choice and decision to commit evil. But later when Piper attempts to explain such a scenario for the mass consumption of his followers, he obscures the most controversial element of his argument by inexcusably dropping the language of decree and conveniently picking up Arminian language of permission, saying “God has established a world in which sin will indeed come to pass by God’s permission.” [33]

Permission! Given the fact that Piper believes: A) God’s foreordaining mind is the conceptual origin of everything that occurs, and B) God has decreed every thought, desire and choice of man, it is quite silly and disingenuous for Piper to then say “God permits” what he has decreed, as if God had to act as a middleman between His decree and the outworking of His decree. Does Piper think God needs to get permission from himself? To even need to ask such a question is to reveal the inconsistency and ineptitude of Piper’s Two-Wills View. We will deal more with this later, specifically addressing how Piper looks to Jonathan Edwards, presumably thinking Edwards can extricate him from the logical dilemma. But Edwards only ties the noose tighter.

Critique 23: SOVEREIGNTY MISCONCEIVED: DOES GOD SOVEREIGNLY INTERRUPT HIS OWN SOVEREIGNTY?

Throughout his article Piper is seeking to steer our attention towards passages of scripture that may well prove God’s sovereign involvement in our life— but what kind of sovereignty and what kind of involvement? Arminians do not deny God’s sovereignty. We just deny the horrid, morally inept view of Calvinism. So the choice is not between a God who is sovereign, and a God that is not. The real question is how do we rightly understand God’s exercise of sovereignty. That is the larger issue that sometimes gets blurred given Piper’s propensity to assume there exists only one viable description of sovereignty in town— the Calvinist one. Piper’s key error is always assuming as true what he is trying to prove and then pointing at scriptures that speak of God’s will and involvement in our lives as if they prove his underlying, guiding assumptions— namely exhaustive, meticulous, divine determinism.

So lets proceed to look at the next batch of passages in question and ask ourselves whether they commit us to Piper’s theological determinism, or speak of a different sort of sovereignty wherein we can rest assured that as our hearts remain faithful to God, his guiding presence and providence will establish our steps for the sake of our eternal good and his eternal glory. Furthermore it is to our benefit to consider whether Piper upholds a view of sovereignty that recognizes and affirms our moral choices and moral responsibility as image bearers of God, or instead, posits a raw power that strips us of genuine possibilities of choice and renders our wills as nothing less than intermediate automatons of a divine will we cannot resist. The later of course would make warnings against sin meaningless.

For example Piper reflects on James 4:15 in the following way:

James warns against the pride of presumption in speaking of the simplest plans in life without a due submission to the overarching sovereignty of God in whether the day’s agenda might be interrupted by God’s decision to take the life he gave. Instead of saying, “Tomorrow we will do such and such . . . you ought to say, `If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that'” (James 4:15).

Two comments are in order. Firstly if Piper’s underlying assumptions on God’s sovereignty are correct then every aspect of every day’s agenda was meticulously planned out and decreed before the world began. As such it is meaningless for Piper to speak of any part of any current “day’s agenda” being possibly “interrupted by God’s decision. Every day’s agenda is God’s agenda! It is incredible that Piper, a man whose intellectual and theological prowess is so highly esteemed in the Young, Restless and Reformed community, could be so neglectful and thoughtless in his reasoning. Given his own view, if God were to interrupt the normal agenda of any day, for any reason (regardless if it’s to give life or take life), God would in actuality be sovereignly interrupting his own sovereignty! And that is patently absurd.

Secondly, given Piper’s view on divine sovereignty, it would mean every sin of pride we commit is a sin of pride we were divinely determined to commit. Therefore it is again absurdly meaningless and irrelevant for Piper to say, James warns against the pride of presumption in speaking of the simplest plans in life without a due submission to the overarching sovereignty of God…” Obviously, assuming Piper’s thesis is true, if someone were to be pridefully presumptuous by not submitting to God’s “overarching sovereignty” it would only be so because they were determined to be pridefully presumptuous by God’s “overarching sovereignty.” Therefore what would be the point of James warning?

Piper is again recklessly speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

Critique 24: SOVEREIGNTY RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD: HOW WE CAN AFFIRM GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY WHILE DENYING GOD’S DETERMINATIVE CONTROL OVER ALL THE DETAILS OF OUR LIVES

Piper then moves on to discuss how New Testaments saints lived in the calm light of an overarching sovereignty of God concerning all the details of their lives and ministry.”

Now when Piper asserts the N.T. writers viewed God’s sovereignty in a manner that concerned “all the details of their lives” does he mean to suggest the writers of the N.T. believed God determined every detail of their lives— from their sinful lusts and food tastes down to the timing of their daily bowel movements? Piper doesn’t explicitly state such details, but we would have to say, “yes” since he holds divine sovereignty entails that nothing can occur that God isn’t determinatively controlling— from every besetting sin down to the movement of every dust mote seen suspended in a sun beam when one pulls back their curtains.[34] But what is the evidence Piper presents that the writers of scripture shared his all or nothing, deterministic view of God’s sovereignty? He writes,

Paul expressed himself like this with regard to his travel plans. On taking leave of the saints in Ephesus he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” (Acts 18:21). To the Corinthians he wrote, “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills” (1 Corinthians 4:19).

And again, “I do not want to see you now just in passing; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Corinthians 16:7).

As is obvious Piper is again assuming his theology in toto everywhere he looks—which is a polite way of saying he is obsessed with reading the entirety of his theology into the most innocuous passages of Scripture. Arminians believe wholeheartedly that God has plans and purposes for our lives, and when we obediently submit to God and surrender our lives to him, we believe God is faithful to lead, guide and direct our steps by the Holy Spirit and providentially open and close doors of travel and opportunity in accordance with his overarching purposes— even if that involves us suffering persecution. Apparently so did the writers of scripture like Paul! To even suggest that these passages can be extrapolated to fit into the underlying narrative of Calvinism and serve as evidence that our Heavenly Father sovereignly decreed all human decision— from fathers reading bedtime stories to their children, to fathers raping their children— is an extrapolation of the most extreme kind, and it deserves to be called out for what it is: blind obsession and deception. If that sounds too mean-spirited or unpalatable for some to swallow, than perhaps one’s sensitivities are misplaced. Nothing less than the holy character of God is at stake.

Critique 25: PIPER’S CARELESS TREATMENT OF HEBREWS 6:3

Perhaps not satisfied that 1 Peter sufficiently makes a case for God’s all consuming determinative control of our life, Piper proceeds to target Hebrews 6:3, adding, The writer to the Hebrews says that his intention is to leave the elementary things behind and press on to maturity. But then he pauses and adds, “And this we will do if God permits” (6:3). This is remarkable since it is hard to imagine one even thinking that God might not permit such a thing unless one had a remarkably high view of the sovereign prerogatives of God.”

It is necessary at this juncture to note the distinction between the underbelly of what Piper believes and how he often expresses those beliefs. For the former does not always reflect the latter. Whether he is forthcoming with it or not, it has been noted repeatedly that Piper holds to a confused view of divine sovereignty, wherein every decision of men, no matter how perverse and evil, was predetermined by God, but when he tries to thresh this out in scripture he is far less straightforward and chooses lofty, euphemistic phrases like “God’s involvement,” “a high view of God’s sovereign prerogatives,“the calm light of God’s overarching sovereignty,“living in the hands of God” and “God’s sovereignty over the details if life.

There is no reason why an Arminian could not affirm God’s “overarching sovereignty” and a “life lived in God’s hands”, while simultaneously denying Piper’s contention that every abomination the Scriptures declare God hates, God also conceived of and decreed.

Far from demonstrating Piper’s universal, theological determinism, the above passages in Hebrews merely highlight that God retains the right to reveal deeper spiritual truths in accordance with his own conditions. And what are those conditions? The writer of Hebrews just finished charging his readers of being “too lazy to understand” (5:11) difficult doctrines and scolding them for still “needing someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again” (5:12). It should not surprise us to then read further disclosure of deeper revelation or “solid food for the mature”(5:14) would be conditioned on God’s evaluation of their maturity and hence his permission.

Piper is simply wrong to suggest, This is remarkable since it is hard to imagine God might not permit such a thing…” Given the passages that precede 6:3 it is not at all “hard to imagine” that God might not permit further revelation if their spiritual maturity was still stuck in an “elementary message about the Messiah” (6:1). Furthermore when one considers the fact that theological determinism must necessarily entail that our levels of maturity and dispositions of laziness are themselves determined by God— which is part of Piper’s “all details of ones life and ministry— then his view collapses further into a downward spiral of mental vertigo and irrelevancy.

Another note of caution is in order. Given the scriptures Piper is highlighting in Acts, 1 Corinthians and Hebrews, and considering his follow-up comments, one can easily assume Piper is simply trying to defend the view that God is obligated to nothing greater than his own divine will operating in concert with his moral nature, and that God retains the prerogative to sovereignly guide and open and close doors in the lives of his people in accordance with his own purposes for them. But that is the Arminian position! We ought not be fooled by Piper’s obscuring language and propensity to pull up short when he most needs to speak forthrightly.

So, for example, when Piper tries to swing the writers of scripture to his side by saying things like “[they] had a high view of the sovereign prerogatives of God, he is trying to push upon his readers an extreme view of sovereignty wherein we are meant to believe the writers of scripture assumed that every occurrence in life, from their food choices and daily bowel movements to their personal lapses into sin, were equally ordained by God before the world began. In such a context of comprehensive determination, it is difficult to envision how we are little more than God’s cosmic SIM game. It hardly invokes the sense of dignity God ascribes to those made in his image, as witnessed in Psalm 8:5-6, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.”[35]

Far from teaching that “all things” are under the unilateral, determinative control of God, we discover that God sovereignly chose to crown men with glory and honor and impart a measure of responsibility and dominion over many affairs in the world. That God is still ultimately in charge of our world, despite the misuse and abuse of our dominion, is not in question. What is in question is Piper’s contention that every detail in life was preordained unconditionally by divine fiat. Psalm 8:5-6, as well as many other Scriptures, run counter to that assertion and present a portrait of God sovereignly bestowing upon mankind a ruling authority and a free agency of moral responsibility (see Gen. 1:26, Ps. 115:16, Jer. 27:5, Joshua 24:15, Judges 6:10).

Critique 26: ANOTHER PIPER MISFIRE: THE FOLLY OF LOOKING TO PROVERBS TO UNVEIL A UNIVERSAL THEME OF EXHAUSTIVE, DIVINE DETERMINATION

We now move on to some selections of scripture where Piper’s obsessive bias is most glaring and troubling– his interpretive approach to Proverbs. But note again how he will shrewdly attempt to couch his Two-Wills View in the most positive light possible as “living in the hands of God” while completely omitting the fact that his view of God’s sovereign control over “all the details of life” also entails the morally bankrupt and theologically repugnant proposition that God determinatively willed all the sin and evil of the world. He writes,

This sense of living in the hands of God, right down to the details of life was not new for the early Christians. They knew it already from the whole history of Israel, but especially from their wisdom literature. “The plans of the mind belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). “A man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established” (Proverbs 19:21). “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

Lets just pause for a minute and truly ponder the underlying claim Piper is trying to make. He believes Proverbs, a book wholly devoted to living wisely and rightly and warning against living wrongly and unwisely, is simultaneously teaching that every decision a person makes, whether wise or unwise, worthy or wicked, was a decision God sovereignly determined they make. The glaring silliness of such a theological proposition should be sufficient reason in and of itself to dismiss Piper’s hermeneutical approach to Proverbs outright. But let’s explore it anyway because Calvinist literature is rife with the same inane claims.

Lets start with Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.”

Does this verse dictate that God meticulously determines and controls everything humans do—such as prostituting children for sex? Since Jesus stated it would be better for a man to have a millstone tied around his neck and be cast into the see then cause a child stumble, we can rest assured that God’s morally perfect nature did not desire or causally determine child human trafficking. Therefore let us look at other possible interpretations of which I can readily think of two:

(1) Far from saying man’s plans originated in God’s decretive mind and that man is merely the intermediate instrument to bring about God’s eternal decree, the verse actually grounds man’s plans in the mind of man—not God. We have already noted earlier that God’s sovereignty is best seen in overruling man’s ingenuity and evil to bring about his own sovereign purposes. There is no violation of God’s moral nature in saying God can use man’s own sinful intentions (known to God because he knows our characters) to ultimately fulfill his purposes. That is to say God can exploit man’s plans to fulfill his own purposes. His purposes can trump ours! Again his sovereignty is best seen in overruling evil by exploiting evil wherever possible for his own good purposes. But it quite another thing to say God decrees evil for those purposes.

For example lets look at the story of Joseph and how God meant for good what the brothers meant for evil. The “it” referenced in the text is Joseph being sold as a slave in Egypt—not the wicked characters of the brothers. And God does no wrong in planning or purposing that Joseph be a slave in Egypt. We owe our very lives to him and if God wishes that I become vulnerable and subject to the evil whims of men such that I serve his overarching purpose as a slave so that good can come, that is God’s prerogative. God can do this through any number of means. It is simply fallacious to say God must predetermine the means to bring about a predetermined end. His sovereign wisdom is not so rigid and limited as that. As it pertains to the story of Joseph it is important to note that the hatred and jealousy of the older brothers arose out of their own wicked hearts and minds (i.e. many are the plans in man’s mind” Pr. 21:9). God did not have to create it within them or decree their evil characters before the foundation of the world in order to later exploit their jealousy and sin to achieve his own good intention (“meant it for good”). Such is the nature of true, God-glorifying sovereignty: overruling evil for good, not causing all evil to bring about good. Vastly different.

(2) All of the above entails one possible interpretation of Prov. 21:9 that avoids violating God’s moral character as does Piper’s Calvinism. But even then I am cautious in thinking the writer wants us to think of this verse as denoting a universal truth applicable without exception. Another possible interpretation is to rightly assume Proverbs is intended to generally instruct—not the wicked, but the one seeking wisdom! Therefore when a person submits their plans to God—as the scriptures advise us (“commit your way to the Lord”), the Lord is faithful to ensure “his purpose will stand” in our lives. This is all the more credible when we realize Prov. 21:19 parallels Proverbs 16:9 which states “a man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Yet 16:9 is prefaced earlier in 16:3 “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and he will establish your plans.” Obviously then we can surmise that Proverbs 21:19 is making the point that while a man’s plans may be many, if he commits those plans to the Lord, the Lord will establish the way forward.

Similarly Proverbs 20:24 “A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” need not mean that God determined the steps of a rapist to his victim. If it were intended to mean that every person’s steps and path is ultimately controlled by God’s irresistible decrees, then what do we do with the multitudinous verses that advise persons to depart from the path of evil, wickedness and foolishness and adopt the path of wisdom? It is much more likely to assume that the writer of Proverbs is saying that the person who has committed his path to the wisdom and guidance of God will more often than not find himself to be on a journey of faith where full disclosure and understanding is often beyond our grasp. Proverbs 3:5-6 puts it this way:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding, but in all of your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight (i.e. direct your steps).”

Does that sound Calvinistic? Not at all–because the onus is on us to trust the Lord and submit to him in order for our paths to be directed! Yet it is speaking to the same issue as Calvinist proof-texts like Proverbs 20:24. This leads to my basic contention that any attempt to ground a universal, deterministic sovereignty in Proverbs is ill-conceived from the start.

It is wholly irresponsible for us to read Proverbs in a manner divorced and isolated from the overall emphasis of its genre—which is to instruct one in the way of the Lord. Calvinists invite contradictions all down the line when they seek to universalize these passages into doctrines and principles that deterministically and exhaustively apply to all matters of life.

Proverbs is thoroughly understood by scholars to be within the genre of “wisdom literature” which was not all that uncommon in the ANE culture. It was a form of literature that sought to articulate general wisdom for society to follow. It is the height of folly to approach Proverbs with a hermeneutic that tries to mine out absolute doctrines of universal, binding truths. If we attempt to do so we will find ourselves awash in dozens of contradictions and falsehoods.

For example there are highly skilled people in this world who have remained unknown and unrecognized by kings and rulers despite Proverb 22:29 saying otherwise. A soft answer does not always turn away wrath (15:1). Humility and the fear of the Lord do not always bring riches as Prov. 22:6 asserts. Nor do we find that the wise always inherit honor and that fools on this earth are always shamed and brought to disgrace (3:35). Rulers are not always friends with the kind and pure of heart (22:11). Training up a child in the way of the Lord does not guarantee that he won’t depart from it as 22:6 states. Proverbs asserts that the Lord will ensure that the righteous never go hungry and that the desires of the wicked are never realized (10:3), but this is also not universally true. We live in a corrupt world where the wicked do prosper and even Paul said he suffered great hunger.

One can go on and on. Should we assume that since Proverbs is so untrue to many instances of life on a universal scale, that it is contradictory, errant and fallible? Not at all— the genre is general wisdom, not a final verdict on every aspect of life. Ergo since Proverbs contains many passages that are clearly unfulfilled and tenuous in their universal binding nature, why are so many Calvinists, including Piper, so confident in believing that Proverbs 16:1, 16:9 and 21:19 are announcing universal truths that God predetermined every occurrence of life? Clearly something is amiss.

Lastly lets deal with Piper’s enlistment of Proverbs 16:33 (one of his favorites). Any Arminian would concede that God in his power is more than capable of determining the outcome of any casted lot— we just feel the Calvinist is overstepping his case in teaching that God determines every throw of the dice in every monopoly game based on this verse.

Moreover this verse is not without its historical context. It was not uncommon in the history of Israel to attempt to discern God’s will in a particular matter by casting lots. For instance when the faithful of Israel gathered together before the Lord to seek his council they would ask that the decision of the lots come from the Lord, such as in Joshua 18:8 where we find that Joshua cast lots for his men “before the Lord” or in 1 Samuel 14:41 where lots are cast to determine guilt between Saul and Jonathan. Many scholars think the Ephod, Urim and Thummim were inanimate objects of divination like flat coins or dice in which the priest or king prayed for God to uniquely manipulate the objects to reveal his will. The writers of the O.T. would not have believed every roll of the dice or every lot cast in every gambling foray was equally manipulated and determined by God. For it is quite obvious they would not have bothered to cast lots to discover God’s will in such a unique way if they already assumed every event and all human decision was equally manipulated and determined by God as a divine rule of the universe. Yet Calvinists would have us believe Prov. 16:33 is asserting such a universal rule.

In the N.T. we also find a situation in which the disciples uniquely gathered before the Lord to seek his decision by casting lots to fill Judas’s spot as the 12th disciple. These are specific cases where men are seeking the will of the divine, and God in turn honors their faith and manipulates the dice to reveal his specific will. God is more than capable of manipulating any object; that is obvious enough. After all the disciples knew he created the universe. But for them it was not a question of raw power. It was about God honoring their faith. That is the key— it was done in faith. There just isn’t good warrant for a Calvinist, like Piper, to universalize this passage deterministically over every bounce of the gambling dice in Vegas! Common sense tells us Prov.16:33 is extolling God’s ability to intervene (at will) into random lots cast, but that such intervention is contextually appropriate to situations where God has a specific course in mind and controls the lots in accordance with his guidance in a certain matter.

Shocking as it may be to some, the writers of Scripture had an inherent, fundamental expectation that certain passages of Scripture would be read with at least a modicum of basic common sense so as to not to slip into moral and logical absurdity. But when a theology of meticulous, universal determinism is forced upon the scriptures there can be no allowance for exceptions, and common sense is tossed aside and replaced with narrow-minded dogmatism that fears any departure from the safety of its fundamentalism.

So in sum, if we cannot universalize a host of passages in Proverbs without undermining the very nature of the book, we ought not to assume that the passages Piper cites are intended to unveil a universal theme of exhaustive, divine determinism.

Critique 27: IS GOD’S JUSTICE A COSMIC UNINTELLIGBLE CHARADE? MORE SCRIPTURE PLUCKING AT THE EXPENSE OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT: PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF JEREMIAH 10:23.

Piper also includes Jeremiah 10:23, an oft repeated verse within Calvinism to keep the young and restless ranks in line with theological determinism. So lets deal thoroughly with it too.

“I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).

Like we saw in Proverbs, Piper lapses back into his unfortunate habit of cherry-picking phrases out of the Scriptures and sprinkling them like salt around his theology of universal determinism to give it added flavor. Given his propensity for scripture plucking, it is no wonder Piper looks to Jeremiah 10:23 and thinks he has good evidence to assume every decision and every physical step men take is merely the effect in time of what God eternally decreed or willed. However such an interpretation wholly misses the mark and completely fails to appreciate the historical context surrounding the passage.

For starters Jeremiah is in the throes of despair, recognizing that judgment is about to visit the house of Judah for her many sins. He writes,

“Woe to me because of my brokenness

I am severely wounded!

I exclaimed, This is my intense suffering,

but I must bear it” (Jer. 10:19).

Jeremiah wishes the impending disaster and destruction on Judah’s cities could be averted through repentance, but he also knows that time has passed. Judgment, the curse for breaking God’s covenant, must now come to Judah. Jeremiah recognizes that men do not normally intend or determine to walk towards known destruction, but nonetheless the destruction Judah is about to experience cannot be walked away from. Because of Judah’s willful (un-decreed!) disregard of God’s prophetic warnings, Jeremiah rightly recognizes that something much bigger is in play than merely peoples basic desire to go one way and not another. Judah is about to come under severe discipline from God. Jeremiah personally identifies himself with the house of Judah and recognizes that he too cannot avert for himself what is about to come. As a prophet to his people, the call of God upon his life is to bear the nations suffering, even though he is not to blame. His way of life is truly not his own. It is in this context that he specifically proclaims concerning himself,

“I know, Lord,

that a mans way of life is not his own;

no one who walks determines his own steps.

Discipline me, Lord, but with justice

not in Your anger,

or You will reduce me to nothing.” (Jer. 10:23-24).

Though this is specifically a personal prayer of Jeremiah, there are overtones that apply to the nation itself. For instance God promised blessing if His people obeyed and God promised cursing if His people disobeyed– nothing can alter those destinies, yet they are destinies conditional on the obedience, or lack thereof, of his people. In other words had God’s people obeyed they would have stepped into a determined realm of unavoidable blessing. Yet the opposite is also true. If God’s people rebel and do not repent in the time allotted to them, they will step into a determined realm of cursed judgment they cannot walk away from or avoid. In that sense their “way is not their own.” Jeremiah rightly understands that the people of Judah have not heeded God’s many warnings and “didn’t seek The Lord” (v. 21). Instead they committed themselves to a stubborn and willful disregard of God’s every attempt to get their attention. As such Jeremiah knows Judah has stepped into a unique, sovereign realm where what is about to occur cannot be thwarted or averted. As briefly noted above Jeremiah recognizes that he too cannot escape the coming judgment and that “his life is not his own.” His path is irreconcilably linked to Judah’s, and the path Judah is about to walk on is a determined destiny of consequence due to Judah’s own sin, not God’s decree. God warned them long ago, but they did not heed God’s warnings.

In fact God tells Jeremiah to give his people this exact history lesson:

Jeremiah 11:4-8

“I declared: Obey Me, and do everything that I command you, and you will be My people, and I will be your God, in order to establish the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is today… I strongly warned your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt until today, warning them time and time again, Obey My voice. Yet they would not obey or pay attention; each one followed the stubbornness of his evil heart. So I brought on them all the curses of this covenant, because they had not done what I commanded them to do.”

Once again prudent wisdom and common sense tells us Piper’s universal–all–is–determined reading is grossly out of place. Imagine how utterly inane the entire narrative becomes when we assume, as Piper must, that God meticulously determined their every step (literally!) into idol worship and stubborn disobedience which consequently resulted in judgment. In Piper’s two-wills view God condemns them for having the very moral character he conceived and willed they ought to have, and then judges them for behaving in a manner exactly consistent with such predestined character. Given Piper’s premise that God sovereignly directs every step men take, Judah is punished for doing nothing more than “stepping” into the preordained footprints God marked out for her in eternity past. Is that justice? Lets not forget Jeremiah’s one request in the follow up verse was that God judge his people according to his justice and not his anger (v. 24). There is no getting around the fact that in Piper’s Two-Wills View divine justice becomes a cosmic, unintelligible charade.

Critique 28: CAN THE WICKED REST ASSURED THEIR EVIL ACTS AND LIVES ARE “LIVED OUT IN THE HANDS OF GOD” JUST AS EQUALLY AS THE RIGHTEOUS SAINTS THEY PERSECUTE? ANOTHER INNANE QUESTION THAT ARISES OUT OF A PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF MATTHEW 10:29

Piper appeals to Matthew 10:29 to strengthen his earlier contention that God sovereignly willed (i.e. unilaterally conceived and determinatively willed) with one will everything he hates by another will. But notice again the sanitized, sterilized language Piper adopts to buffer his view that God unconditionally determined all things—including all sin. He writes,

Jesus had no quarrel with this sense of living in the hand of God. If anything, he intensified the idea with words like Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”

What “sense of living” does Piper have in mind that Jesus has no quarrel with? Piper is not forthright in saying. That is no surprise. But obviously if exhaustive determinism is true he means Jesus had no quarrel affirming that people do only what God determined—whether good or evil. So why not just say that? We can only assume that speaking candidly is too unnerving for Piper. Therefore it should be no surprise to again see him intentionally obscure meaning and present the most troubling and dark implications of his theology in the most inoffensive euphemisms and lofty language possible. Rather than directly declare that he thinks Jesus taught that all lives lived—whether good or evil—were equally decreed by God’s hidden will, Piper chooses to neuter theological determinism as being nothing more than people “living in the hand of God.” To put it in such neutered, spiritual terms makes it more difficult to disagree with him doesn’t it? Piper is no dummy–he knows this. His choice to cloister the nefarious elements of Calvinistic determinism behind such language is intentional and wrong.

In re-couching his view in this way he is attempting to redefine the nature of the debate, such that anyone who disagrees with him must by consequence reject the view that our lives are “in the hand of God.” And what Christian would want to reject that? Indeed believing that our lives, and the whole universe for that matter, exist in the palm of God’s hand is a poetic, anthropomorphic description of our foundational trust in God. But that belief does not then entail that everything that occurs in the universe was or is determinatively moved by God’s hand.

The scriptures speak of other wills, both human and demonic, that exert a considerable amount of influence in the world. Yet we can take heart in knowing that God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, “has overcome the world”(Jn. 16:33). God ultimately reigns over the world as one in charge as opposed to one determinatively controlling all the strings like a puppeteer. God is omni-competant and sovereignly chooses not to be omni-causitive.

Lastly Piper’s mentioning of Matthew 10:29 is no aid to Piper’s theological determinism. Jesus point is not to suggest that God has predetermined every decision of men. Rather it is that his disciples “not be afraid” that they might suffer bodily harm through persecution (v. 26, 28.) Because they are children of their Heavenly Father, Jesus point is to communicate that no persecution can come to them without their Father’s consent. To make this point all the more poignant Jesus points to sparrows, which are of considerable lesser value than his disciples, to demonstrate the comforting truth that if God must consent to the fall of sparrows, how much more must he consent to the persecution of his faithful children.

No doubt this passage has comforted a great number of suffering believers throughout world history. But notice the verse immediately preceding verse 29. Implicitly implied is the teaching that the wicked and rebellious (who would be the persecutors) have great reason to be worried and fearful. Instead of feeling comforted, they ought to be afraid because a future destruction of “both body and soul” awaits them (Mt. 10:28). The scriptures tell us why in other passages: “They rejected the plan of God for their lives” (Lk. 7:30) being “stiff-necked…and always resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).” Even denying their Master who bought them” (1 Peter 2:1). Therefore their “sin remains” (Jn. 9:41).

Once again if Pipers’s view is correct, and Jesus’s statement is further evidence that God deterministically controls all things by his hand, then it would mean all people– including the wicked and unbelieving can rest assured in the comforting knowledge that all their vile, evil acts of rebellion were decreed by God and therefore they too are just as equally “living in the hand of God.” And that is quite ridiculous. Nonetheless it is the logical fallout of believing God has deterministically and irresistibly rendered certain all things.

In conclusion Matthew 10:29 is not teaching that everything that occurs in the world was predetermined by divine fiat. In its context it is a teaching that God’s sovereign relationship with evil, specifically persecution, should be seen in terms of consent and allowance (the Arminian position) and not exhaustive, irresistible decrees (the Calvinist position). The former retains God’s moral character whereas the latter does not. If God is the conceptual origin, source and author of all evil then God’s character becomes morally indistinguishable from the very evils he unconditionally decrees.

Critique 29: THE PIPER SWITCHEROO: THE SUBLTE MOVE FROM “ALL THE DETAILS OF LIFE” TO “GOD’S SOVEREIGN PURPOSES.”

Moving on Piper digs in his heals even further, refusing to back away from his extreme presuppositional bias and groundless hermeneutic to extrapolate a universal rule from a handful of scriptures plucked out of their wider historical context. He starts off with the following assertion,

This confidence that the details of life were in the control of God every day was rooted in numerous prophetic expressions of God’s unstoppable, unthwartable sovereign purpose.

Now remember, for Piper, the rather innocuous phrase “details of life are in the control if God” means God has irresistibly and determinatively rendered certain every good and sinful desire, choice and action of all men before time began.

He then proceeds to buffer this claim with “numerous prophetic expressions of God’s unstoppable, unthwartable sovereign purpose.” Did you catch that? Notice how he subtly switches out the words “the details of life were in the control of God every day” and quickly substitutes in the words “God’s sovereign purpose.”

This is no accident.

Piper is astute enough to know the verses he is about to cite say nothing of his claim that all the details of life are determined by God. Rather they only extol God’s power to achieve his ultimate purposes and act according to his pleasure— something all Arminians firmly believe. Observe:

“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'” (Isaiah 46:9-10; cf. 43:13). “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing; and he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What doest thou?'” (Daniel 4:35). “I know that thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Psalm 115:3

Not one verse cited above says what Piper is arguing for throughout his article– meticulous, divine determination of all good and evil via God’s cloistered will of decree. Again it is no mere happenstance that Piper switches out meticulous, divine control and deftly substitutes in divine purpose immediately prior to taking us on a quick perusal through scripture verses that affirm the later and say nothing of the former.

Piper knows the scriptures do not lay out a convincing case that all the meticulous details of life, from whether to wear boxers or briefs, to our temptations with sin, have all been determinatively willed by God. Therefore he firstly and cleverly argues that such a world must be what God has purposed and— “TADA”— must be what sovereignty means! Only then can he proceed to highlight passages that generally speak of God’s purposes and the fulfillment of his sovereign pleasure— hoping that we won’t see the “switcheroo.”

The truth is all Christians, especially Arminians, believe God has certain, ultimate plans and purposes (the death of Christ, the return of Christ, the justification of his people being just three examples) and no man can subvert what God has determined to accomplish. Indeed we wholeheartedly believe God has sovereign purposes and can achieve those purposes, but that doesn’t therefore require the belief that God sovereignly purposed everything. Likewise we fully acknowledge that God can do whatever pleases him, but it doesn’t therefore follow that it pleased God to be the conceptual and determinative origin for every evil act of rebellion—against himself! Both wild extrapolations are based on Piper’s hidden and unproven assumptions.

Critique 30: DOES GOD ASSURE US HIS PURPOSES WONT SHIPWRECK ON THE WEAKNESS OF HIS OWN WILL? WHY PIPERS EXAMPLES RESULT IN UNINTELLIGIBLE GOBBLEDYGOOK WHEN MARRIED TO HIS OWN THEOLOGY

We are now nearing a close. But I want the reader to take notice of one more example where Piper’s theology of two divine wills (the latter determining everything the former abhors) results in unintelligible gobbledygook when plugged into his own expositions of scripture.

He states,

One of the most precious implications of this confidence in God’s inviolable sovereign will is that it provides the foundation of the “new covenant” hope for the holiness without which we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). In the old covenant the law was written on stone and brought death when it met with the resistance of unrenewed hearts. But the new covenant promise is that God will not let his purposes for a holy people shipwreck on the weakness of human will.

Put aside for now Piper’s glaringly, outlandish claim that his two-wills view is the critical foundation for every Christian’ new covenant hope. That’s simply more grandstanding by Piper and fits an increasingly typical Calvinist profile in arrogantly assuming that Calvinists have cornered the market on N.T. grace. Instead I want to focus on the incoherence of his own assertion in light of his own theological assumptions. Lets read it again but this time bracket in Piper’s own view that “every detail of life” has been sovereignly decreed by God and see what sense is left:

In the old covenant the law was written on stone and brought death when it met with the resistance of unrenewed hearts.  [True– but Piper’s theology dictates that even resistance to God must fall into the category of “every detail of life” and therefore resistance cannot arise independent of God’s meticulous determinations. Rather God determinatively decreed who, what, where and how persons would resist the old covenant.] But the new covenant promise is that God will not let his purposes for a holy people shipwreck on the weakness of human will.  [Doesn’t he mean the weakness of God’s will? After all Piper’s theology again dictates that God determines every detail of our lives– therefore God determined the weakness or strength of every will! If this is so Piper is saying nothing more than “God will not let his purposes for a holy people shipwreck on what God has determined.”]

Critique 31: PIPERS APPEAL TO JONATHAN EDWARDS: EXPLORING WHY BOTH MEN SUCCUMB TO APPALLING DOUBLESPEAK

I quote Piper at length:

Similarly Jonathan Edwards, writing about 80 years later comes to similar conclusions with somewhat different terminology.

“When a distinction is made between God’s revealed will and his secret will, or his will of command and decree, “will” is certainly in that distinction taken in two senses. His will of decree, is not his will in the same sense as his will of command is. Therefore, it is no difficulty at all to suppose, that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue, or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended, that virtue, or the creature’s happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature.

His will of decree is, his inclination to a thing, not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with respect to the universality of things, that have been, are or shall be. So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things. Though he hates sin in itself, yet he may will to permit it, for the greater promotion of holiness in this universality, including all things, and at all times. So, though he has no inclination to a creature’s misery, considered absolutely, yet he may will it, for the greater promotion of happiness in this universality.”

Here Piper thinks Edwards has offered a solution to the quandary that arises out of a theology that insists God was unconditionally inclined to decree every violation against his moral inclinations—every violation! But Edwards offers no solution. What he offers is borderline sophistry. What he offers is word games. What he offers is doublespeak. What he offers is a fragmented God, cleaved in two, who wills sin in a manner sequestered and divorced from his moral nature. For example, Edwards says,

“When we say he wills virtue… that virtue… absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature….[But] His will of decree is, his inclination to a thing, not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with respect to the universality of things…So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things.

To put it in simple vernacular, Edwards has said nothing more than, “When God wills something virtuous, he wills it in line with his morally good nature. But when he wills sin and evil, he does not will it in line with his moral nature, as he does when he wills virtue, rather he wills it against his moral nature and inclination and in line with the bigger picture (i.e. universality of all things).”

There is no getting around the fact that Edwards creates a disparity in God— polarizing his inclinations in such a way that all of God’s decrees do not equally flow out of his morally good nature. Instead God chiefly consults something outside his moral nature when he decrees sin and evil that is disagreeable to his nature. He consults what Edwards calls God’s “referencing of the universality of all things.” And what is the universality of all things in Edward’s thinking? What is the “big picture” God consults before he wills the very acts of sin and evil that stand in opposition to his morally good nature?

It is none other than what God universally predetermined! Edwards is talking in circles. He wants to protect God’s nature from moral ruin by arguing God does not determine evil with respect to his approval of that evil but with respect to universality of all things. However in Edwards thinking the universality of all things is none other than God’s master plan to unconditionally predetermine all things—both good and evil—as individual brush strokes or puzzle pieces that instrumentally fit together to form the cosmic, universal portrait God envisioned before time began. In other words, all tragedies of life, from every act of adultery to every abortion, was predetermined by God’s will of decree to create a mural of human history wherein he alone is seen holding the brush at the end of time.

Piper more or less agrees, but again assuages the language and conceals the true nature of divine determinism, saying, “But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through his wide-angle lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic, with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in (Psalm 115:3).

Notice the following key missteps. He says, “When God looks at a painful or wicked event…[and] sees the tragedy of sin…He sees in it all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic…” Such deceptive, misleading language is inexcusable. Piper downplays deterministic language and picks up the language of observation. Piper gives off the impression God is doing nothing more than witnessing wickedness and sin and permitting their sinful effects because he knows it cannot mar the ultimate mosaic of his divine glory being revealed. There would be no argument if that is all Piper believed. But alas that is far from what he really believes. It is frustrating to see Piper habitually lapse into doublespeak when he most needs to speak in a straightforward manner. If Piper wanted to speak openly about his beliefs he would have boldly said: When God unilaterally decreed all pain and wickedness and determined the tragedy of the fall of man and all sin, he did so without considering any consequential effect except his own delight.

Time and again we left wondering why Piper is so reticent to speak plainly, transparently and consistently about the logical implications of an all-or-nothing deterministic sovereignty. Could it be that Piper has an intuitive sense that adopting such candid language would be to invite discomforting criticism and awkward questioning— the length of which goes far beyond the moral horizon of mystery that even Calvinists typically punt to?

The point is an Arminian theodicy stands in stark contrast to a Calvinist theodicy in that we reject the Calvinist axis upon which all evil revolves around— Gods deterministic sovereignty. Arminians have no issue with the basic assertion that God is able to take the tragedies and evils of life and ultimately overrule their intended effects, such that they do not thwart his sovereign purpose (“big picture”) to set the world aright and glorify himself and a people unto himself. In other words I have no doubt we will be able to one day look back and see how all the tragedies and evils of life were ultimately overruled through the death and resurrection of Christ, such that God’s ultimate purposes were established in spite of them and through them, but not owing to them or prescribed by them. (In the Appendix I will deal with the question of whether or not the Arminian position of God permitting sin is the same as the Calvinist view of God conceiving of and decreeing sin.)

Notwithstanding the obvious truth that God has the biggest “brush” and wields the greatest influence in our world, we will one day also discover that we too held brushes in our hands and we too possessed a certain degree of causal influence in our world— not because we took it from God, but because God gave it to us and it pleased God that it be so. Piper would do well to hear the words of A.W. Tozer on this matter:

“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.”[36]

Piper references Psalm 115:3 at the end, presumably with the idea it supports the notion that God delighted in unconditionally decreeing all things, and therefore found pleasure in being the conceptual origin for all earthly wickedness. Such an appeal Psalm 115:13 is another wild, invalid extrapolation arising out of doing theology in an enclosed echo chamber. The verse simply says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Piper has lapsed back into the same mistaken assumption we noted before. Yes, God does do whatever pleases him, but that doesn’t therefore mean it pleased God to decree every porn rental, act of child abuse, and act of idol worship. This is rather self-evident in light of the fact that the very context of Psalm 115 is specifically addressing God’s displeasure of idol worship!

It is astounding that Piper overlooks such explicit, common sense truths and fails to see that to even reference the Psalm 115 is to undermine his own position. Piper would do well to keep reading and note the Psalmist concludes with an affirmation of human self-determination and God’s sovereign pleasure to grant mankind a certain degree of dominion in earthly matters. “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind” (Psalm 115:16).

Oddly enough, in light of the multitude of verses that speak of God’s sovereign displeasure in regards to human wickedness, it can only be a result of sheer will and stubborn self-determination to continue to believe that every wicked inclination and action of our wills was unconditionally decreed by God’s prior pleasure. Even worse to masquerade the true nature of universal, meticulous, divine determination of all sin as being nothing more than “God willing to permit sin” is indefensible and strikingly deceitful. For example Edwards tries to absolve God of moral culpability for sin occurring by declaring, Though he [God] hates sin in itself, yet he may will to permit it, for the greater promotion of holiness in this universality, including all things, and at all times.”

Does Edwards think we are dumb? Does he really expect us to believe God’s “will to permit” sin is the ultimate reason why sin occurs in his Calvinistic view? Once again the recurrent reason why both Piper and Edwards indeed succumb to doublespeak is because both routinely trade in the deterministic nature of decretive language for the un-deterministic nature of permissive language whenever the need arises to explain the great evils of our world.

For example in another article titled, “Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?”[37] Piper quotes Jonathan Edward’s answer to the question as to how God can be the ultimate disposer and determiner of sin and yet not be its author.  Notice how Edwards relies on the Arminian language of “permission” to extricate himself from the dilemma. He states,

“If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing… It would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin… [God is the] permitter… of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the states of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted… will most certainly and infallibly follow.”

Piper follows up with his own summation,

“But, he [Edwards] argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin. God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his ‘positive agency.’” [38]

As is clear both Edwards and Piper are being wholly inconsistent with the logic of their own position. The Calvinist position is that all men must sin (i.e. necessarily) in virtue of God irrevocably decreeing that they sin irresistibly and infallibly. Moreover it is not enough just to say, God is “willing that there be sin.” God has selected and decreed all our individual sins and since Calvinists would say God’s decrees are by nature infallible, it is impossible for men to choose against God’s decree. Hence it is pointless to say God permits what he necessitates through an irresistible decree. Both Edwards and Piper are intentionally obscuring the true horror of Calvinism by softening their language and borrowing Arminian terms to escape the logical implications of their own theology.

And there is no use reformulating or qualifying human choice and freedom as “the freedom to act in accordance with one’s strongest desires” (as Calvinists are prone to say) because in a Calvinist scenario man is powerless to control even his own motives and desires. Even our strongest motives and desires are ultimately outside our control, having been determined by God’s eternal, all-encompassing decree. Since Piper assumes such deterministic sovereignty is God’s “wide-angle lens” that inspires him to decree all our perverse sins, it is again ridiculous to speak of God “allowing” or “permitting” anyone to sin.

Piper speaks of the tragedies and sins that God has decreed as the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity… [that] he does delight in…”

I often find myself in awe of Piper’s ability to articulate the most sadistic and hellish beliefs in words that are anything but a description of the nightmarish hell he is actually describing. What Piper is subtly designating as “connections and effects” that God delights in, is nothing less than God’s raw power to manipulate us as his instruments of evil to bring about every vile act his moral nature opposes.

We earlier saw how Piper attempted to argue that sometimes, God wills not to restrain [the] evil men choose to commit. Of course if God willed all evil there is no sense of sometimes. It would mean every act of evil throughout world history is equally an example of God “willing not to restrain evil.” In the end both Edwards and Piper speak empty rhetoric because they both refuse to interact with the logical ramifications of their own view. In Calvinism (whether it be hard determinism or compatibilism) God is not just choosing not to restrain human sin, rather God determined what their wills would do irresistibly and therefore causally! That is nothing less than positive causation and authorship of evil. So much for Piper’s contention that God’s deterministic relationship to sin is without moral culpability because sin doesn’t come about by his “positive agency.” Of course it does! It certainly isn’t his passive agency or neutral agency! If Piper is so desperate to avoid unpalatable, Calvinistic conclusions, he should just admit to being a closet Arminian and stop denying what Calvinism already affirms. We have already noted that Calvin, amongst many others, declared unequivocally that all actions, including our sinful desires, do not come about by God’s bare permission but are superintended by God’s will. “Hence we maintain that, by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined…”[39] [because] “the hand of God rules the interior affections no less than it superintends external action…he worked in their hearts to make them will before they acted. [40]

Critique 32: AUTHORSHIP OF EVIL AND THE INCOMPATABILITY OF PIPER’S COMPATIBILISM

It the previous section we noted how John Calvin provides the critical baseline for theological determinism asserting, “the hand of God rules the interior affections no less than it superintends external action.” That is to say God is the primary agent that rules and causes all things—including the very desires and “interior affections” that give rise to sinful actions. This makes the typical, standard defense of the Calvinist compatibilistic model a moot point. In other published writings Piper tries to preserve human responsibility for sin by re-couching human freedom in compatibilistic terms as the freedom to act in accordance with one’s strongest desire.[41] The move is then made to assert that we are slaves of sin and can do no other than act in accordance with our sinful desires. But to argue that human beings are free to act according to their sinful desires is to only go half-way in a deterministic paradigm. It wrongly gives the impression our sinful desires and subsequent choices exist within a wide range of other possible (sinful) desires—each as equally possible to choose as another. But this would be inconsistent with meticulous, divine determinism. Can a Calvinist hold that he or she can desire to do something other than that which God decreed he or she would desire to do?

No—they cannot. For to believe such a thing would put in jeopardy the very foundation of divine sovereignty John Calvin first established and every subsequent (logically consistent) Calvinist must affirm. In Calvinism God decrees our very desires (“interior affections”) to secure his prior decree. That is to say every person’s desires and subsequent choices must fall within the scope of God’s prior predeterminations. Thus man is not really acting freely in accordance with his desires, for (as Calvin was honest enough to admit) “the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined having “worked in their hearts to make them will before they acted.” Hence freedom is illusory and moral accountability is undermined no matter how Piper or Edwards might try to spin determinism with lofty verbiage.[42] In a Calvinist paradigm there are only predetermined effects that co-op the instrumentality of human wills to bring about predetermined ends. William Lane Craig astutely recognizes the pervasive problems inherent to Calvinistic determinism, saying,

“Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency. Since our choices are not up to us but are caused by God, human beings cannot be said to be real agents. They are mere instruments by means of which God acts to produce some effect, much like a man using a stick to move a stone… these intermediate causes are not agents themselves but mere instrumental causes, for they have no power to initiate action. Hence, it’s dubious that on divine determinism there really is more than one agent in the world, namely, God. This conclusion not only flies in the face of our knowledge of ourselves as agents but makes it inexplicable why God then treats us as agents, holding us responsible for what He caused us and used us to do.”[43]

The implications are staggering! We strive for sanctification because the Word tells us to be holy as He is holy. The Bible commands us to put to death the deeds of the flesh; to let no unclean word pass through our lips; to cast out every imagination that sets itself up against the will of God; to run the race with endurance by casting aside the sins that entangle us— and yet Piper’s theological determinism demands that we simultaneously believe God determined every time we give in to the flesh, every vile word that proceeds from our mouth, every lustful imagination that leads to sin, and every sin that entangles us. The view is so morally repugnant, un-glorifying and dishonoring to God, words utterly fail to capture its horror. Anyone that denies this is either being intentionally duplicitous or suffering from a self-imposed, intellectual delusion that trades in moral reasoning for baseless assertions and twisted theological loyalty.

Just because Piper has a unique (unnerving) skill set to redefine the most contemptible and vile aspects of his view in lofty, lyrical display doesn’t mean the implications are any less loathsome and un-glorifying to the majesty of our Heavenly Father. For example Piper attempts to tip-toe around God’s moral nature being the anchor point for all sin (in his view) by parroting a phrase out of the Heidelberg Catechism which states, “all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” Not only does Piper flirt again with the fallacy of a false dilemma (because acts that God does not predetermine are not thereby accidental acts of equal, random unpredictability and void of volitional intent) but his view inescapably makes God the ultimate author of all that occurs—including sin.

This leads to our next area of critique— Piper’s attempt to shield God from the very acts of evil he determinatively initiated and caused by shrewdly redefining authorship along instrumental lines rather than initiating lines of origin. We return to the quote before where Piper quotes Edwards as stating, “If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing… It would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin.

I am glad to see Edwards (and Piper) affirm in principle that if God were said to be the author of sin, it would be a reproach against God and blasphemous. We have already dealt with the discordant logic of Edwards move to absolve God of authorship by appealing to God’s alleged “permission” of sins to come about. Now Edwards subtly tries to redefine “authorship” as the agent, actor or doer of sin. Edwards is saying nothing more than: “God doesn’t commit the act of adultery, he only deterministically authors who will commit adultery and renders it infallibly certain that they do. Undoubtedly Edwards would also reason God doesn’t rape girls, God only deterministically authors who will rape girls, how girls will be raped, which girls will be raped and when they will be raped— and all by God’s alleged “fatherly hand” and unto his glorious “mosaic.” In the Edwards and Piper theological landscape God contracts out his evil to other parties and we are somehow supposed to believe that absolves God of agency, authorship, causation and responsibility.

For Edwards to admit that God eternally conceived of sins and instigates all sins via sovereign decrees, but that God isn’t the author of those very sins because he is not the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing is merely a product of Edwards imagination run amuck and nothing more. Edwards and Piper’s view is equal to saying a husband who conceived of, planned for and hired an assassin to kill his wife can’t be indicted for murder because he was not the “agent” or “doer” who directly pulled the trigger. In the Calvinist paradigm how are we anything more than God’s instrumental “hired help” operating under a binding, irrevocable contract to bring about all the evil of the world?

Critique 33: THE ALLEGED BALANCED VIEW OF STEPHEN CHARNOCK: ANOTHER DEAD END FOR PIPER

Given his apparent fascination with Edward’s vacuous and discordant explanations to absolve God of moral wrongdoing, it seems rather obvious to me that Piper has already pulled the wool over his own eyes, and it doesn’t appear to be coming off anytime soon. But we still need to examine further how he tries to pull the wool over the eyes of others. In addition to Edwards, Piper calls on the musings of Stephen Charnock to deliver some closing remarks. Regrettably the level of intellectual word-play and empty rhetoric is just as breathtaking in its eloquence as is Edwards musings. Piper begins with the following endorsement of Charnock:

I find the effort of Stephen Charnock (1628-1680), a chaplain to Henry Cromwell and non-conformist pastor in London, to be balanced and helpful in holding the diverse scriptures on God’s will together.

“God doth not will [sin] directly, and by an efficacious will. He doth not directly will it, because he hath prohibited it by his law, which is a discovery of his will; so that if he should directly will sin, and directly prohibit it, he would will good and evil in the same manner, and there would be contradictions in God’s will: to will sin absolutely, is to work it (Psalm 115:3): “God hath done whatsoever he pleased.” God cannot absolutely will it, because he cannot work it. God wills good by a positive decree, because he hath decreed to effect it. He wills evil by a private decree, because he hath decreed not to give that grace which would certainly prevent it. God doth not will sin simply, for that were to approve it, but he wills it, in order to that good his wisdom will bring forth from it. He wills not sin for itself, but for the event.”

In saying, God doth not will [sin] directly Charnock doesn’t deny God willingly determined all sin. He simply denies that means there exists a direct link between sin and God. Does he succeed? As with Edwards, let’s strip out the oratory and see what is left:

(1) Charnock concedes that if God were to will the sin of X directly, it would be to invite a contradiction in the will of God. For if the sin of X were to be prohibited by God’s moral law and nature, and yet God directly wills it anyway, Charnock holds God would be an approver of the sin he prohibits and therefore be self-contradictory.

(2) As such Charnock attempts to get God “off the hook” of approving of what he decrees by suggesting God wills good things by positive decree and wills sin and evil by private decree. Charnock doesn’t bother elucidating the “guilt acquitting” distinctive differences between God’s private decree and his positive decree accept to say that God’s private decree is simply a withholding of grace so that sin will come about. How ingenious of Charnock. But what sin? That is the question. Positively speaking it is obviously the sin God directly conceived of and determined! Charnock’s explanation is only another smokescreen to cloister God behind inventive words. Calvinists insist all of God’s decrees are unconditional and none of God’s decrees can be resisted by human will. Consequently, in the end, all our decisions are directly linked to God’s decree. Therefore for Charnock to say God doesnt will sin directly because he only wills it by private decree is, just like Edwards, a product of an imagination running wild and free— totally unharnessed from deductive reasoning. And just like Edwards, Charnock’s view is also equal to saying a husband who conceived of, planned for and determined that an assassin ought to kill his wife can avoid culpability of causation because he wasn’t the one who directly pulled the trigger. Even Piper would have to concede such an earthly scheme to avoid culpability is rubbish, yet he wants us to think that it makes sense when it comes to God— who the scriptures refer to as the locus of all good and who can “tempt no man to evil” (James 1:13).

(3) Moreover like Edwards, Charnock tries to limit God’s interaction with sin as God doing nothing more than willing to not offer grace to prevent sin from occurring. But that is decidedly not the issue! Charnock completely leaves out the fact that God has conceptually and deterministically authored every choice we make. The Calvinist view is not one in which there exists a range of possible choices, both good and evil, and every time God withdraws his grace we are consequently are left with only a multitude of sinful choices. Not in the least is that the full view of Calvinist thought! Shame on Piper for again leaving his readers with half-truths. In a Calvinist world there is exists only one determined choice and one determined outcome that will and must occur— the one God determinatively decreed. In other words God’s decree constrains all possible, sinful choices down to one choice— the one decreed— and thus God’s decretive will renders null and void all other alleged possibilities. In a Calvinistic world we are not even free as to what sins we will commit. All our sins have been specifically and directly chosen for us via the agency and authorship of sovereign determination. There is no getting around the fact that in Piper’s Two-Wills View God: 1) we have no ultimate control over what we think, and 2) God is the decisive author and initial causal agent behind every one of our acts of sin.

If God’s righteous character and glory is to be rescued from the nefarious implications of Calvinist theology we must be more vigilant in calling Calvinists out on their inexcusable attempts to conceal God’s decree of all debauchery behind half truths and lofty verbiage. Unfortunate as it may be, it is obvious that Charnock, just like Edwards, is unable or unwilling to unfurl and disclose the full banner of Calvinistic logic. And as with Edwards, Piper seems strangely enamored by Charnock’s ability to articulate utter nonsense. If accused persons could vindicate themselves in court simply by refashioning words, assigning special definitions to their actions and construing meaning to suit their private interpretations, the world would be a much different place. Justice would be lost, truth would be victimized and the world would collapse into moral absurdity. Charnock’s and Piper’s attempts to exonerate God of moral culpability for unconditionally determining all sin and evil doesn’t even pass the smell test.

Critique 34: THE ERADICATION OF OBJECTIVE MORALITY: IF EVERY CONTRAST TO GODS MORAL GOODNESS IS ITSELF CONCEIVED AND DECREED BY GODS MORALLY GOOD NATURE, WHAT THEN IS LEFT TO BE DEFINED AS OBJECTIVELY EVIL?

There is one more issue we must deal with before we bring this examination to a closing conclusion. That is, does evil or sin even exist from Gods standpoint and perspective? Or is evil just an illusion of our minds because we lack the wide-angle lens that Piper says God’s possesses to justify his prerogative in decreeing all good and evil.

Let us breakdown the Piper’s Theodicy in the form of a deductive syllogism for greater clarity.[44]

  • Every decision of every person and every act throughout world history is the effect in time of what God specifically and determinatively decreed in eternity past in order to manifest his glorious goodness.
  • God can never do wrong or commit evil against anyone through any of his decrees because He is good.
  • Therefore, everything that God decrees must, of necessity, be right and be good from God’s perspective.

If this is true it would mean from our limited, fallible vantage point some occurrences may be perceived as being morally wrong and evil, but from God’s vantage point it is not wrong or evil, nor is it unfortunate or tragic— because it’s all been conceived by God and purposed by God! Thus in the grand scheme of things all things are fortunate. All things are intended. All things are good. All things are right. All things are purposeful. All things are decreed to serve the good of God’s glory. All hail God’s sovereignty!

In Piper’s worldview we are slaves of God’s glory— our value consists in nothing else. We exist only as objects to be manipulated and used as pieces fitted together to gloriously display the cosmic, divine will and nothing else really matters. We will recall Piper refers to this as, a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic, with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in (Psalm 115:3).”

Now perhaps you are a “Piper pupil” and you can’t possibly imagine that Piper’s Theodicy requires the above conclusion; but it’s really not all that difficult to see.  For:

  • If every desire, choice and action of men and women have their ultimate, conceptual origin and intentionality in the decretive will of God (as Piper must concede),
  • And if God never does evil or commits wrong in decreeing anything, and therefore can only decree that which serves the good of his glory,
  • Then, it logically follows that evil itself is simply an illusionary perception in our minds from not “having all the facts” as to how God purposed everything for the good of his glory.

Accordingly evil, as an objective moral category in the universe, simply disappears! It literally does not exist. If it did what would be an example? Did divine goodness conceive of it, intend it and decree it? If so, then how is it evil in any ontological sense from God’s perspective?

Piper essentially admits this when he astonishingly parrots Edwards who first explained:

“God doesn’t will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence.” [45]

So there you have it! The proverbial cat has been let out the bag. God’s universal decrees of sin are divested of their sinfulness because God doesn’t “will sin as sin.” Apparently these divinely decreed actions and events for sin and evil to “come to pass for the sake of the great good” only take on an aura of sinfulness and evil when their predetermined emergence along the stream of human history arrives and they suddenly “pop” into being via the wills of individuals determined to commit them. The key point not to be missed is that when God decreed each and every sin, it was not sin as sin” but rather a neutered and neutral means to an end. The end of course being God’s glory— or at least Piper’s bizarre and twisted notion of God’s glory.

As alluded to earlier, Piper’s theology results in evil becoming just a construct in our minds we have created to protest against what we perceive to be undesirable events. Little do we know that all events— including rape, murder, child abuse, adultery, gossip, greed and homoerotic pornography— are actually “good things” anchored in God’s good decrees because (according to Piper’s theology) the same God who decreed who will be the perpetrating rapist and who will be the victim to be violated, is the same God that cannot “will sin as sin” and can do no wrong against anyone through any of his decrees.[46]

So given Piper’s theo-logic it follows inescapably that from God’s perspective all alleged evils of this world are ontologically grounded in the good of God’s decrees—thus ultimately rendering them good and absolving them of evil. In Piper’s construct not only does evil not exist— it can’t exist!

It has already been stated, but it bears repeating. If Piper were to disagree with the aforementioned conclusion, then it must be asked of him, what is an example of an act of pure evil? Piper would undoubtedly agree with Arminians that God is the very locus and paradigm of good, for God is divine goodness. But if all evil is conceived by divine goodness and decreed by divine goodness for the sake of manifesting further divine goodness, what then is left for Piper to point to as a contrast to divine goodness?

Piper’s alleged superior “God-entranced worldview” turns out to be nothing less than a Satan-entranced worldview. If Piper wants to deny this, let him answer the following question: Has Satan ever had a thought or committed an act that God did not unconditionally predetermine? The silence of a straightforward answer will most likely be deafening.

Critique 35: THE NONSENSE OF PIPER’S APPEAL TO GEORGE WASHINGTON AND GOD’S “COMPLEX EMOTIONS” TO EXTRICATE GOD FROM DIVINE POLAIRTY

As he nears his final conclusion, Piper refuses to own up to the contradictory nature of his Two-Wills View and tries in vain to qualify the unintelligible confusion (God’s moral nature decreed the very evils that oppose his moral nature) as being nothing more than God’s “complex emotions.” If only it was that easy. Alas, complexity is no substitute for nonsense. Piper is right to note God is complex but that has nothing to do with the conflicting, disputatious nature of his own view, as his following remarks will show.

God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend. For example, who can comprehend that the Lord hears in one moment of time the prayers of ten million Christians around the world, and sympathizes with each one personally and individually like a caring Father (as Hebrews 4:15 says he will), even though among those ten million prayers some are broken-hearted and some are bursting with joy? How can God weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice when they are both coming to him at the same time—in fact are always coming to him with no break at all?

Or who can comprehend that God is angry at the sin of the world every day (Psalm 7:11), and yet every day, every moment, he is rejoicing with tremendous joy because somewhere in the world a sinner is repenting (Luke 15:7,10,23)? Who can comprehend that God continually burns with hot anger at the rebellion of the wicked, grieves over the unholy speech of his people (Ephesians 4:29-30), yet takes pleasure in them daily (Psalm 149:4), and ceaselessly makes merry over penitent prodigals who come home?

Did you notice all the soft balls Piper throws up in the air for his view to catch? Did you notice how Piper says absolutely nothing in terms of the real conundrum his view faces? Did you notice how nothing Piper said conflicts with any theological viewpoint inherent to Arminianism? Did you notice how Piper is hiding his view of universal, divine determinism behind irrelevant biblical truths that have zero applicability in reconciling the fractious sense of his view?

Piper says his view is supported by the fact that God can hear the prayers of brokenhearted people and those bursting with joy and simultaneously weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Fine. But what does that have to do with his view that God authored and decreed every evil that causes people to be brokenhearted in the first place, and that he weeps over the very things his alleged pleasure determined beforehand should occur? Nothing. Piper is again hiding in neutral territory.

Piper says his view is supported by the fact that God can simultaneously be angry at the sin of the world yet rejoice when lost sinners repent. Fine. But what does that have to do with his view that God unconditionally decreed all the sin of the world he is angry with and unconditionally selected who repents of sin and who will remain in the very sins he determined they commit? Nothing. Piper is again burying his theology when he most needs to bring it into the light.

Piper says his view is supported by the fact that God burns with hot anger at the rebellion of the wicked and grieves over the unholy speech of his people, yet can also be said to take pleasure in his people and make merry over penitent prodigals who come home. Fine. But what does that have to do with the inane premise that God decided in eternity past that he ought to burn with hot anger over the very sins he decided ought to occur? Nothing. And how does anything Piper has said about God making merriment over prodigals repenting have anything to do with a disjointed, incoherent theology that says God predestined certain persons to be repentant prodigals, via irresistible grace, and other persons to remain in the very reprobate state he decreed for them before they were born; all the while still calling out for them to repent based on an alleged sincere desire that they escape the very predestined fate he refuses to release them from? You guessed it— nothing.

Piper wants us to think the muddled confusion that arises out of his view is nothing more than God possessing complex emotions; but as is obvious Piper is just putting on a distracting sideshow that has nothing to do with the main act of his discordant theology. Since nothing less than a right appropriation of God’s character and glory is at stake, Piper’s antics are not just embarrassing; they are appalling.

The most clear evidence that Piper just doesn’t “get it” is how he tries use an analogy from the life of George Washington to harmonize God’s alleged sincerity that all be saved with God’s unconditional decree to create multitudes of people outside the orbit of his redemptive intentions. (Which is to say God created them for the purpose of damning them). Borrowing from fellow Calvinist, Robert L. Dabney, he writes at length,

The way I would give an account of this is explained by Robert L. Dabney in an essay written over a hundred years ago. His treatment is very detailed and answers many objections that go beyond the limits of this chapter. I will simply give the essence of his solution which seems to me to be on the right track, though he, as well as I, would admit we do not “furnish an exhaustive explanation of this mystery of the divine will.”

Dabney uses an analogy from the life of George Washington taken from Chief-Justice Marshall’s Life of Washington. A certain Major André had jeopardized the safety of the young nation through “rash and unfortunate” treasonous acts. Marshall says of the death warrant, signed by Washington, “Perhaps on no occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy.” Dabney observes that Washington’s compassion for André was “real and profound”. He also had “plenary power to kill or to save alive.” Why then did he sign the death warrant? Dabney explains, “Washington’s volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation [the wide-angle lens].”

Dabney imagines a defender of André, hearing Washington say, “I do this with the deepest reluctance and pity.” Then the defender says, “Since you are supreme in this matter, and have full bodily ability to throw down that pen, we shall know by your signing this warrant that your pity is hypocritical.” Dabney responds to this by saying, “The petulance of this charge would have been equal to its folly. The pity was real, but was restrained by superior elements of motive. Washington had official and bodily power to discharge the criminal, but he had not the sanctions of his own wisdom and justice.” The corresponding point in the case of divine election is that “the absence of volition in God to save does not necessarily imply the absence of compassion.” God has “a true compassion, which is yet restrained, in the case of the . . . non-elect, by consistent and holy reasons, from taking the form of a volition to regenerate.” God’s infinite wisdom regulates his whole will and guides and harmonizes (not suppresses) all its active principles.” In other words, God has a real and deep compassion for perishing sinners. 

If Piper really thinks Dabney’s analogy of Washington bears any essential relevancy to a God who has determined everything people do, and then punishes them for doing the very acts he unconditionally engineered for them, then Piper is hopelessly mired in self-delusion. Ether that or he is again shamefully ignoring, if not intentionally concealing, the most controversial elements of his view from public view. In seeking to harmonize the biblical witness of God’s sincere desire that “all come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved” (1 Tim 2:4) with his Calvinist views, Piper shamefully leaves out the most central pillar of his theology— total, unmitigated divine determinism!

If the analogy were to really reflect the central issue that makes Piper’s Two-Wills view so controversial, we would need to import the central caveat that General Washington decreed and ordered Major Andre’s to commit the same treasonous acts for which he is put to death. In fact we would need to stipulate that Washington made it impossible for Major Andre’ to do anything other than follow through with an official edict to act in a manner treasonous to his nation. Whereupon Major Andre’ acts in a manner exactly consistent with Washington’s orders, he is subsequently condemned to death by Washington for acting contrary to the interests of his nation, though consistent with Washington’s prior decree. Now imagine how utterly absurd it would be to suggest Washington signed Major Andre’s death warrant with a sincere sense of wishing Major Andre’ had done otherwise than what Washington determined he do. Consider how morally absurd it would be to suggest Washington had “a real and deep compassion” for Major Andre’ welfare, and could have released him, but chose not to because the “sanctions of his own wisdom and justice” acted as “superior elements of motive” and dictated that Major Andre’ be condemned to death for committing the very acts masterminded and prearranged by none other than Washington himself.

Given that Washington did not preordain and determine Major Andre’ treasonous acts, we can rightly say Washington possessed a sincere desire to extend compassion even though higher motives of justice trumped that desire and ultimate led to Washington’s decision to reluctantly condemn Major Andre’ to death. Washington’s emotional state was truly complex because he was not the author and determiner of Major Andre’s treasonous acts.

It is not simply a matter of the analogy falling short; it is a matter of the analogy having no analogous reference point whatsoever! Though Piper appears to recognize some inherent problems with the analogy he flippantly pushes them aside saying,

Dabney is aware that several kinds of objections can be raised against the analogy of George Washington as it is applied to God. He admits that “no analogy can be perfect between the actions of a finite and the infinite intelligence and will.” Yet I think he is right to say that the objections do not overthrow the essential truth that there can be, in a noble and great heart (even a divine heart), sincere compassion for a criminal that is nevertheless not set free.

Did you see again how Piper refuses to own up to the true nature of his own theology? When have Arminians ever argued against Calvinism on the basis that God doesn’t possess a noble heart and can’t feel sincere compassion on criminals, rebels and sinners that are nonetheless judged and condemned for their sins? Never! Piper is again playing hide and seek. The argument from Arminianism is that it is inconsistent and morally absurd to state God has sincere compassion on sinners, genuinely desiring their salvation, while simultaneously insisting that God (behind the scenes) unconditionally determined every one of their sins and intentionally withholds from them the very salvation he allegedly desires they receive.

Not only does the analogy lack relevancy over the fact that Washington was not acting deterministically upon Major Andre’, (as Piper’s God acts on us) it creates more questions than answers. For example of Washington’s complex situation, Piper quotes Dabney as saying,

“Washington’s volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation [the wide-angle lens].”

Piper is broadly arguing that God’s desire for all to be saved and his desire to have compassion on those he has unconditionally predetermined for hell is nonetheless a sincere desire in the same way Washington’s compassion was not a feigned compassion because it was counterbalanced by higher considerations or “superior judgments”, such as duty, patriotism and moral indignation. Fine, all well and good. But when it comes to God, what “superior judgments” does God have that Piper has in mind? For if God’s highest consideration is his own glory, and Piper thinks God predetermined all things according to his “wide-angle lens” to maximize his glory, then in what sense can God have any sincere desire for something to occur that runs counter to maximizing his glory? In Piper’s view if God chooses not to save people, it can only be because to save them would have put in jeopardy his highest aim to maximize his own glory! So does Piper think God sincerely desires what is counterproductive to his own glory? Piper additionally notes that Washington’s decision to condemn Major Andre’ to death was born out of serious “reluctance.”

But once again there is absolutely no reference point for divine “reluctance” of any kind to exist in Piper’s Two-Wills view. Piper can’t say God reluctantly wills anything, because he holds that all good and evil was predetermined by God to further his own glory and “form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity… [that] he does delight in…” Does Piper think God reluctantly glorifies himself or reluctantly delights in his own glory? That we even need to ask the question is to once again discover the hollow reasoning of Piper’s Two- Wills view. Piper concludes his remarks with another fallacious, inexcusable false dilemma:

Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; Romans 9:22-23).

Piper’s attempt to define the chief difference between Arminianism and Calvinism as a choice between free-will and God’s glory is a product of theological arrogance rooted in the deformed axiom that God’s glory is synonymous with God’s decree of all sin and evil. Moreover it only goes to show how far removed Piper’s concept of divine glory is from divine goodness. Make no mistake about, there is a choice, but it is a choice between a God who sincerely loves sinners both in word and deed and a God who feigns love and does everything in his power to cut men off from his redemptive affection and intention.

Piper says he believes in the universal premise of John 3:16 and 1 Tim. 2:4 that God loves all people and wants all people to be saved, yet he holds God refuses to act on that love. Therein is why the Calvinist God is foreign to a biblical portrait of God. The Bible says we “should not love in word only, but also in deed” (1 John 3:18). It is unconscionable that God “who is love” (1 John 4:8) would be content to love countless people in word only—without deed. Actually, in Calvinism, God was quite busy and active with many deeds to ensure that he would never love them. He intentionally created them in order to fulfill his own prior desire to damn a certain set number of people to hell for his glory. He intentionally reprobated them, cut them off from saving grace and determined every one of their sins before they were born. He intentionally placed them outside the orbit of his redemptive love, refused to die for their sins and purposely deprived them the hope of Calvary. When you think about it, he did not just “pass over them” he was quite busy engineering and ensuring their damnation.

The chief distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism that Piper is trying to highlight would be better put as follows: Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) God’s will to save all people is restrained by his own sovereign decision to create man with self-determination and moral responsibility or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God’s will to save is constrained by his own sovereign decree to thwart himself and work against his sincere will to save all.

However to put it in those terms would be to flirt too close to close to the truth and reveal the utter nonsense of a view that collapses into a divine contrariety rather than merely divine complexity. Hence Piper falls back on the old Calvinist playbook strategy of ignoring rational implications and recasting the debate in category terms that make one feel to question the merits Calvinism is to put God’s glory in jeopardy and opt for a man-centered theology.

If there is any lingering doubt that Piper thinks God has unconditionally and irresistibly determined all sin and evil, it is done away with in his following closing remark,

I do not find in the Bible that human beings have the ultimate power of self-determination. As far as I can tell it is a philosophical inference based on metaphysical presuppositions. 

Think about what he has just said. For Piper to say he sees no evidence in scripture that God has granted man the power of self-determination, is to say that man ultimately does nothing except what God causally determined he do. It means every God-dishonoring sin recorded in scripture, every act of humanity that provoked God’s anger and every perverse temptation of the devil are all acts that God previously conceived in his sovereign holiness and causally brings about via the engineered instrumentality of passive objects called humans. The writers of scripture never felt pressed to insert a robust, philosophical defense of human self-determination into the Bible because they assume it everywhere! Unlike Piper they were fully aware that humanity and God collapse into moral absurdity if men and women, as Calvin argued, 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.”

William Lane Craig again rightly dissects the farcical nonsense of Calvinism’s commitment to theological determinism as follows:

“Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. On the deterministic view, the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle. There are no free agents in rebellion against God, whom God seeks to win through His love, and no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a charade whose only real actor is God Himself. Far from glorifying God, the deterministic view, I’m convinced, denigrates God for engaging in a such a farcical charade. It is deeply insulting to God to think that He would create beings which are in every respect causally determined by Him and then treat them as though they were free agents, punishing them for the wrong actions He made them do or loving them as though they were freely responding agents. God would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers and moves them about his play world, pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and pretending that they merit praise or blame.”[47]

Piper would like us to think that the murky inconsistencies that arise out of his Two-Wills View are merely reflections of a God whose nature is complex and mysterious. But when we strip out all the oratory and eloquent speechmaking we are left with little that invites consideration. For if God has unilaterally determined everything that occurs then nothing is complex! Divine simplification would be the rule of the cosmos because there would only be one decisive will operating in the universe for evil and against evil; for God and against God; for good and against good— God’s will! Moreover all alleged mystery is removed if all the decisions and judgments of life are traced back to an all-encompassing, irresistible decree. The true mystery then becomes: Is God good? For if God’s nature decreed all acts of evil for the sake of manifesting divine glory, then how can we be sure God’s nature and glory is good? Moreover, as has already been argued, if God’s nature truly is good and can do no evil, and yet God’s nature decreed all evil, then it would mean the very contrast to good (i.e. evil) was itself conceived and determined by God’s good nature. What then can Piper point to as an objective evil from God’s decretive perspective?

Critique 36: THE FINAL VERDICT: A PIPER-BUILT HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF. ARE GODS COMMANDS REALLY COMMANDS AGAINST EVIL OR ARE THEY SUBSEQUENT COMMANDS ISSUED AGAINST HIS OWN PRIOR DECREES?

As he nears his closing remarks Piper tries to pull the threads of his points together by summarizing his thoughts as follows:

[The] Scriptures lead us again and again to affirm that God’s will is sometimes spoken of as an expression of his moral standards for human behavior and sometimes as an expression of his sovereign control even over acts which are contrary to that standard.

This means that the distinction between terms like “will of decree” and “will of command” or “sovereign will” and “moral will” is not an artificial distinction demanded by Calvinistic theology. The terms are an effort to describe the whole of biblical revelation.

It is now time to bring this discussion to a close by summarizing why Piper’s attempted exposition is anything but an on-target “effort to describe the whole of biblical revelation.”

Firstly notice again how Piper shrewdly and subtly obscures the controversial determinism of his theology by recasting it as God’s sovereign control even over acts which are contrary to that standard.” Since even Arminians believe God remains sovereignly in control[48] or better put in charge of his universe, despite acts of evil that are contrary to his holy standard, it is beyond question that Piper is again pulling up short when he most needs to follow through. There is no question the Scriptures reveal a God who is sovereign over evil (in terms of sovereignly allowing free moral agency) and possesses the capability to overrule the intentions of evil and exploit evil for our good and therefore his own purpose. But that is not what Piper means. He sees God’s sovereign control over evil in terms of God unconditionally and irresistibly willing every instance of evil that is simultaneously contrary to his good and holy nature.

But that is not what Piper said, was it?

Of course not, for that would be to speak too plainly and truthfully. If it was merely Piper’s first or even second lapse into unspecific, general terms to define the most controversial aspects of theology, we could assume it was unintentional and dismiss it out of hand. However Piper repeatedly seeks to find shelter for his theology, when it is most naked and exposed to controversy and critique, by hiding it behind safe, general terms that all Christians can appreciate. It is beyond question in my mind that Piper’s proclivity to obscure meaning when he most needs to be forthcoming and own up to the full ramifications of his theology is intentional and deliberate. Piper is a Calvinist until the moral repugnancy and logical absurdity becomes even too indigestible for him to absorb— and then he converts to Arminianism in the name of Calvinism. He conveniently chooses to swap jerseys when he most needs to pick up his soiled, filthy one out of the laundry and air it for all to see. This is called theological integrity and fairness.

I am not accusing Piper of being morally dishonest, but I am charging him with having a deliberate strategy to soften Calvinism and re-work it linguistically in order to make its abhorrent elements more palatable and easier to swallow. It is what makes Piper’s theological approach dangerous. Bad theology always has a longer shelf life when it is cloaked behind unspecified, innocuous theological terms.

Despite his every protest to the contrary, Piper’s classy Calvinist attempt to distinguish between God’s will of decree” and “will of command” does indeed collapse into an artificial distinction. There is room in town for only one “sheriff” in Piper’s theology: God’s will of decree. It would be more accurate to define Calvinism’s attempt to distinguish between God’s two wills as being God’s effective, sincere will vs. his flaccid, insincere will.

As noted throughout this critique, the incontestable problem that arises with Piper’s view is it presents a world in which all of God’s commands are actually commands issued against what he has already decided should occur. Already decided — that is critical to see. In Piper’s Calvinism it is understood that nothing arises apart from God’s initial sovereign decree. God’s will is the initiating, divine origin for every part and parcel of our world.

Therefore God first conceived of every evil and then issued commands against them. This is a critical point not many understand. In Piper’s Two-Wills view God first conceived of and decreed all the evils that must occur, and then issued moral commands against those decreed evils. Thus from the very beginning God’s commands are not really commands against evil and rebellion—they are commands issued against his decrees, decrees that determinately render certain, if not necessary, every act of evil.

Thus God has created a dualistic universe in which he is friend and foe, hero and villain. Everything that stands in rebellion and opposition to God in the Scriptures is actually God standing in opposition to himself! There is no other way to look at it if we are going to insist that divine sovereignty means God has decreed the very acts of rebellion and evil that stand in opposition to his commands and moral nature. In Piper’s Two-Wills View God doesn’t really oppose sin and evil anymore than an author can be said to oppose actions taken by characters in a script that flows out of his authorial intent. In the end evil itself owes it creative origin and allegiance to God’s decretive intent and mind.

In that sense Piper’s theology is much more ambitious, troubling and shrouded in darkness then he wants to let on. Like a lawyer writing a brief, Piper has flicked through the Bible driven by a strange, unwavering obsession to persuasively “prosecute” God as the determinative, sovereign instigator behind every foul evil on the earth— allegedly for God’s glory. Thankfully his case crumbles under the cross- examination of Scripture, and there is no need to pull God’s bloodied and battered glory out from under the rubble of a fallen, wicked world of rebellion— a rebellion the Bible anchors in wills other than God’s.

The “young and the restless” of the Reformed Calvinist movement are in desperate need for a true apprehension of God’s glory. Indeed the well-known Piper adage, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” doesn’t even compute in Piper’s view, since according to the dictates of his own theology, he must concede God is ultimately the one, not us, who determines who is satisfied in him and to what extent that satisfaction will be.

Moreover Piper’s famous adage ultimately falls short because Piper utterly fails to understand that God is most glorified when he looks like Christ! And Christ long ago put to rest the notion that any will— whether divine or demonic— could simultaneously be both the source for moral evil and the deliverance from moral evil. “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). No matter how it is sliced, diced and re-packaged, Calvinism cannot escape, what William Lane Craig defines as its “self-defeating nature.”[49]

Thank God Piper is wrong about God. Thank God the Scriptures do not present a fractured portrait of God who is both: hero and villain, redeemer and enslaver, savior and moral arsonist. Thank God we can retain a divine warfare view against evil rather than a divine blueprint for all evil. Thank God the scriptures inform us that God is omni-competent, not omni-causal; that in his sovereignty he can macro-manage his ultimate purposes without micro-managing all things. Thank God we don’t need to believe God’s mind is the origin of conception for every act of Satan and then punt to inexplicable mystery in order to extricate God’s glory from the rubble of moral ruin. Thank God we can look at Jesus and be left with no “mystery” as to his moral nature and sovereign opposition against evil. Indeed Jesus is the definitive revelation of God! When we behold Jesus, we are beholding nothing less than unsullied, undiluted, perfect theology. To propose a theology that unavoidably presents a God who marinated every vile evil in the ancient, primordial stew of his own decree is a God unrecognized in the life and ministry of Jesus and therefore is a caricature of God that is unworthy of holy worship and Christian affirmation. It is Calvinism egregious view of God’s sovereignty that is its foremost error and gives us little reason not to toss it in the rubbish heap of theology gone to seed.

APPENDIX

APPENDIX: IS GOD’S ALLOWANCE OF SIN THE SAME AS GOD’S DECREE OF SIN? IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN ARMINIANISM AND CALVINISM JUST SEMANTICS?

Calvinists have traditionally gotten a lot of mileage out of trying to divest Arminianism of its moral high ground by suggesting there is no difference between God allowing evil to occur and God decreeing evil to occur. To assume that such a summation is correct can only be proposed by a Calvinist who is shut in and closed off to any sense of meaning outside his or her own theological echo chamber. There is no greater example of such an individual (on this point) than Jonathan Edwards, and no greater pupil more enamored with Edwards’ theological echo chamber then Piper. He commences his argument as follows:

In ordering all things, including sinful acts, God is not sinning. For as Jonathan Edwards says, “It implies no contradiction to suppose that an act may be an evil act, and yet that it is a good thing that such an act should come to pass. . . As for instance, it might be an evil thing to crucify Christ, but yet it was a good thing that the crucifying of Christ came to pass.” In other words the Scriptures lead us to the insight that God can will that a sinful act come to pass without willing it as an act of sin in himself. Edwards points out that Arminians, it seems, must come to a similar conclusion.

Not surprisingly Piper fudges on unfurling the true nature of universal, divine determinism. He is shrewd enough to appreciate how full disclosure would render his example of Christ’s predestined death for sin meaningless. For in Piper’s view all the sins Christ died for are the very sins God determined humans must do. As such Piper is forced to hold the inane idea that Christ was crucified for the unconditional predeterminations of God’s will, not really sins contrary to God’s will. It was indeed “a good thing that the crucifixion of Christ come to pass” but that is because humans needed forgiveness for acting in ways contrary to God’s will— not in concert with God’s will. We have already noted the theological nonsense of thinking the one act of God to remove all sin in the world is evidence that God determined and decreed all the sin of that world!

Although we have previously dealt at length with the predestined death of Christ and the overreach of Calvinism to exploit it as an example of God decreeing sin, it necessary that we briefly return to it since Piper repeats an underlying misunderstanding of how the Scriptures speak of it. Piper argues to crucify Christ “might be an evil thing…but yet it was a good thing” and that God can “will that a sinful act come to pass without willing it as an act of sin in himself.” He then wrongly writes that Arminians must hold the same, stating, Edwards points out that Arminians, it seems, must come to a similar conclusion.

What can be said of this? For starters Arminians do not believe that God can “will that a sinful act come to pass”—at least not any sense that a Calvinist would define “will” (i.e. God’s irresistible decree). Rather Arminians hold that God can will to allow a sinful act to come to pass and exploit such sin for his purposes.

Secondly the Calvinist position Piper holds to can hardly be accurately defined as simply God’s will for acts of sin to “come to pass.” That is another attempt on the part of Piper to neuter the language of divine determinism. Piper really holds all acts of sin must occur necessarily since all acts of sin were divinely determined to occur irresistibly. To say acts of necessity anchored in God’s decree merely “come to pass” is to a gross, misleading understatement of Piper’s true beliefs.

Thirdly that Christ was predestined to suffer and die to redeem mankind from sin is in no way, shape or form “an evil thing…yet a good thing” as Piper tries to argue. It was only a good thing! Piper is confusing (1) the predestination of Christ’s suffering for sin and the laying down his life in love, with (2) the wicked characters and acts of persons whose sinful characters God exploited to bring about the good of Christ’s redemption.

It has been argued in a previous section that God does no wrong in exploiting the characters and actions of wicked persons to carry out his purpose that His son be crucified. Notice he didn’t use Joseph of Aramithea or Nathaniel or Mary. God was sufficiently sovereign enough and wise enough to accomplish the predestined death of his Son by arranging certain conditions and exploiting the free choices of wicked persons, such that he didn’t need to pre-program them via divine fiat. [50] For example Christ’s triumphal entrance in Jerusalem astride a donkey and Christ’s radical act of cleansing the temple were two critical events that God undoubtedly knew would arouse the jealousy and hatred of the religious establishment and lead to Christ’s arrest and subsequent crucifixion.

Fourthly when Piper’s true opinions on divine determinism are fully exhibited we discover all acts of sin do not simply “come to pass,” as if they are divorced from God’s nature. Instead they are specifically conceived by God’s mind and decreed by God’s nature to occur— for it is impossible that we can split God’s decrees from God’s nature. As such Piper has zero grounds to define his view as God decreeing sin “without willing it as an act of sin in himself.” Just because Piper has a myopic propensity to not own up to the logical implications of his view doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Since every act of sin originates in God’s mind, then “willing it as an act of sin in himself” is exactly what Piper’s view dictates! In Piper’s view God’s mind is the ultimate source for all sin and evil.

Not realizing his previous argument is riddled with problems that do not confront the Arminian, Piper proceeds to give the honors to Edwards to put Arminianism in its proper place— which for both men is the charge that God’s will to permit sin (Arminianism) is no different that God’s will to unconditionally decree sin (Calvinism). He quotes Edwards to this effect as follows,

All must own that God sometimes wills not to hinder the breach of his own commands, because he does not in fact hinder it . . . But you will say, God wills to permit sin, as he wills the creature should be left to his freedom; and if he should hinder it, he would offer violence to the nature of his own creature. I answer, this comes nevertheless to the very same thing that I say. You say, God does not will sin absolutely; but rather than alter the law of nature and the nature of free agents, he wills it. He wills what is contrary to excellency in some particulars, for the sake of a more general excellency and order. So that the scheme of the Arminians does not help the matter.

This is Piper’s most serious contention (via Edwards), and it deserves a thoughtful reply. But before we do that let us be even more generous to Edwards and allow him further space to expound on his wild claim that God’s will to permit men and women the liberty to misuse their God-given freedom (i.e. to sin) amounts “to the same thing” as saying God causally determines (via irresistible decrees) the sin of every person. Edwards explicates his view further,

“Whether God has decreed all things that ever came to pass or not, all that own the being of a God own that he knows all things beforehand. Now it is self-evident that if he knows all things beforehand, he either does approve of them, or he does not approve of them: that is, he either is willing they should be, or he is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be, is to decree them…. Their [Arminians] other objection is that God’s decrees make God the author of sin. I answer that there is no more necessity of supposing God the author of sin, on this scheme, than on the other…. they hold the same thing, for they hold that God does determine beforehand to permit all the sin that does come to pass, and that he certainly knows that if he does permit it, it will come to pass… they make him so in the very same way that they charge us with doing it.” [51]

There is no doubt that Edwards was a man of towering intelligence. So it is all the more surprising to see him unable to parse the difference between God allowing free acts, for the sake of retaining a world of meaningful human decision, and God unilaterally engineering and determining all acts. Rather than blithely assuming Arminianism and Calvinism is a distinction without a difference, let us more carefully and responsibly explore the great difference between them.

To begin we need to recall that Calvinism sees God’s decrees as unconditional expressions of God’s sovereign pleasure, owing themselves to nothing beyond God’s sovereign delight. Therefore it is safe to say that in Calvinism God’s decrees are what God wants to see happen. As such when any Calvinist speaks of God “decreeing” something it is to say God “wanted it to be that way” and not another way. So when Edwards speaks of God “willing things to be” he is interpreting God’s willing in terms of God’s approval of how God “wants things to be” and not any another way. This presupposition of Calvinist thought, and Edwards thinking in particular, is the key error that disqualifies Edward’s remarks as being an accurate analysis of the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism. His error is evident in how he tries to describe why certain things occur, saying God either does approve of them, or he does not approve of them. Edwards is setting up a false dichotomy. He wants to define and restrict the distinction as a choice between God “approving of” or “not approving of” a particular action, or better put, “wanting all sin to occur” or “not wanting all sin to occur.” Setting it up in this (false) way allows him to argue that if God knows all things beforehand, and yet wills to permit the sin of X to occur, than it must always mean God eternally “approved of” or “wanted the sin” of X to occur.

Edwards completely fails to comprehend there is a middle alternative between God “willing things to be” and “not willing things to be,” and that is God can “reluctantly will to permit things to be.” That is to say God can reluctantly allow sin and disobedience to occur, even though he hates it; not because he secretly wanted it, conceived it and willed to determine it before the world began, but because he wills not to abort his own sovereign intention to create men and women free and therefore capable of genuine love, worship and obedience. For in his sovereign wisdom God knew there had to exist a genuine freedom for persons to choose against love, against obedience and against worship, if the choice to love, to obey and to worship were to be maximally meaningful. Moreover though God could coercively manipulate our every thought, desire and choice and thereby forestall and prevent all evil, he has sovereignly chosen not to act in such a manner in order to achieve the higher purpose of creating creatures capable of a significant decree of moral good. Alvin Plantinga accurately sums it up as follows:

“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.”[52]

The choice before us is far more than semantics, as Edwards would have us believe. The choice before us is to either believe the Arminian position:

  • God sovereignly determined beforehand to endow human beings with significant moral freedom, thereby decreeing to permit the foreknown possibility (not divine decree) that evils will occur.

Or to believe the Calvinist position:

  • God unconditionally decreed every choice human beings make, thereby rendering every evil choice certain, if not necessary, in accordance with his eternal pleasure.

Let’s break down this critical distinction pragmatically to see why it is unreasonable for the Calvinist to try and amalgamate Arminian language of “allowance” with Calvinist language of “decree.” It is self-evident that there exists a difference between allowing someone to do X and decisively controlling or constraining their wills to do X through an irresistible decree. Certainly a Calvinist would not say a father allowing his son to disobey him is the same as determining or manipulating his son to irresistibly disobey him.

It is not difficult to envision a scenario where a father is able to anticipate with a high decree of accuracy when and how his son will disobey him. And even though it is obviously not the father’s will that his son disobey him, the father wisely knows that part of his son’s healthy, moral development requires that his son have the freedom to disobey dad’s will. That doesn’t mean that he has the freedom to avoid the father’s consequences afterwards, but it does mean that the son’s development would be stunted and stultified if the father had placed electrodes on his brain to re-orient his behavior every time he anticipated his son’s disobedience. Certainly a Calvinist would also agree that allowing one’s son to disobey a command to not touch a hot stove, in order to learn the painful consequences of disobedience, is functionally different than grabbing his hand and forcing it upon the hot stove. Right?

And I certainly hope a Calvinist would concede that parental discipline is cruel, brutal and unjust if a father were to somehow (mysteriously) determine every one of his children’s acts of disobedience just so he can punish them later for doing the very things he wanted them to do. Yet Calvinism posits such a cosmic Father. Within a Calvinist worldview God punishes people for thinking and doing the very evil acts he unconditionally conceived for them and determined they commit before he even conceived of them as fallen sinners. In such a theological paradigm God’s morality is rendered unintelligible, and at minimum takes on the moral equivalence of an abusive, abominable father— if not the devil himself.

I readily admit God could have chosen to create a world where everything we think, desire, say and do flows out of God’s exhaustive decrees before the world began (including who is a Calvinist and who isn’t). But God also knew that in such a world we would be reduced to nothing more than pre-programmed pets merely responding to divine stimuli and possessing the illusion of freedom.

As we noted above, God understood that if true worship and genuine love were to be maximally meaningful and significant, it meant the choice to not worship and to not love must also be genuinely available. This is not some metaphysical mystery. Ask almost any woman who is married and she will tell you that the love her husband has for her is especially meaningful to her, given that his choice of her was itself a conscious rejection of all other available women. If his choice to marry her was causally determined and forced on him by a will other than his own, and every second thereafter he is also being forced irresistibly to remain in the marriage, then his choice to marry her and remain married to her would no doubt be far less meaningful to her. Therein is the key to understanding God’s relational, creative intentions. In granting mankind a genuine, indeterminate freedom God was in pursuit of a meaningful world not a controlled laboratory. Calvinism ultimately reduces love and hate to nothing more than God loving himself and hating himself in virtue of the fact that God decreed who will love him and who will not— and did so irresistibly.

So yes, in an Arminian view God can allow evils to occur, and yet not be the conceptual origin and author of those evils, as Calvinism logically implies. For we will recall no Calvinist to date has been able to parse the difference between God’s mind being the conceptual origin of decreed evil and God’s mind being the conceptual author of those decreed evils. Moreover in an Arminian view God can also prevent anything if he so wills. Arminians have always said the argument is never about “CAN God?” but “WOULD God?” There is a vast difference between the two that gets muddled in the Calvinist view due to construing sovereignty only in terms of sheer power. This results in other sovereign considerations getting lost. Though Arminians believe God possesses the sheer power to act coercively upon every will to ensure total obedience, we have always said the larger question is would God desire to act in this coercive manner and thereby undermine his own sovereign pleasure that men and women be endowed with limited, yet genuine powers of self-determination?

Since it is self-evident that we are free creatures and that evil exists, we can reasonably and Scripturally conclude that the counsel of God was to not constrain our wills coercively and thereby limit our movements as one does a marionette on a string. It cannot be stated enough that in allowing evil and sin, God is actually allowing his own sovereign creational intention to be realized— which is a world permeated with beings morally capable of both good and evil.

Though God wars against evil and seeks to influentially persuade his people from committing evil, God refuses to abort one sovereign intention to fulfill another. God will not override his own sovereign intention that human beings be free in order to prohibit humans from misusing the very freedom He sovereignly chose to bestow upon them. God could only prevent all evil by countermanding his sovereign decision to create man free.

For Calvinists, like Edwards and Piper, 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. 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.

That is not to say God is helpless in the face of evil. At every turn God is willing and prepared to exploit and usurp the evil intentions of men and Satan and bring good out of them. But we must be careful here. Though God has purposes that can override the purposes of evil that does not mean God purposed every sin and scheme of Satan in order to reach those redemptive purposes. It simply means God can conditionally “cause all things to work for good, to those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

One more point bears mentioning. On many occasions and in various forms I have been asked the following question by Calvinists: “But if God has an overarching purpose that can exploit and override the purposes of evil— even the Devil’s schemes— so that ‘everything works out for the good for those that love God and are called according to his purpose,’ why is the Calvinist position to be so disdained simply because it says God foreordained all sin and evil, including the Devil’s schemes, in order that he might glorify himself over them? Isn’t there greater comfort as a Calvinist knowing that the very evils that come his way and the very sins he commits in life were purposed and decreed by God, rather than sinful events God must respond to as the Arminian holds?”

Once again there is a great difference that must be highlighted. I find most Calvinists are actually Arminians in mind and heart on the basis that many have simply not thought through the true ramifications and implications of Calvinist theology. When evil or some affliction does occur, the comfort the Arminian has is that while God may not have desired or decreed that the evil of X come our way, God has the power to usurp that evil and overrule it’s intended affects (whether it stems from Satan, others or ourself) and bring good out of it.

For example let’s say an individual commits adultery against his wife and she then divorces him and marries another man. The husband might find himself to later be repentant and broken over his sin, but sadly it is too late to be restored in marriage to his wife. She has gone on to marry another man. Does that mean his life is over? Should he hang himself? No—as a repentant Christian he can find comfort in knowing that while God might not have determinatively willed (privately decreed) that he commit the sin of adultery, God can still use it to bring good into his life. Perhaps he will find himself in a ministry that helps other men recover from divorce, or perhaps he will find contentment and joy in singleness by serving the “least of these” in ways that were never afforded to him before as a married person. There are countless ways God can overrule the affects of our own sin for good, but of course it requires our humility and repentance. That is why the Bible mentions a significant condition for God to bring good out of evil: “…to those that love God…” That is to say it requires that we have a right response ourselves. If we become embittered and hateful towards God in the face of disappointment, evil or affliction, we are not “those that love God” and therefore we rob ourselves of his sovereign power to redeem and “cause all things to work for good.”

This is a wonderful and powerful truth that provides believers with warning and comfort. However in Calvinism all this is annulled and abolished. Let’s pretend you—the reader—are the husband highlighted above. Once you understand that God wanted, chose and rendered certain your choice to commit adultery against your wife, you realize your sin was nothing less than, to adopt Piper’s euphemistic verbiage, another one of God’s preordained connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic… with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in.” Consequently you can absolve yourself of guilt by reckoning your own actions as being one and the same with God’s own decretive will to acquire the portrait of history he is painting! How wonderful and alleviating it must be to logically come to grips with the fact that you ultimately had no choice to do otherwise except “delight” God with your adultery! Now this is where the glaring inconsistency of Calvinism emerges. It is one thing to believe it as a theological brute fact of life, and another thing to apply it practically in ministry. I have no doubt the majority of Calvinist pastors would seek to comfort a father who just lost his job as being “God’s hidden, (decreed) will”. But I am equally sure the majority of Calvinist pastors would never try to comfort a father who just committed adultery as being “God’s hidden will…he does delight in.”

But why not? After all, it would be the same thing, would it not? Ultimately all things are traced back to God’s private will of decree and integrated into his alleged sovereign determinations.

So the distinction is quite obvious. An Arminian can find true comfort in knowing there is a functional difference between a theology that says God can bring good out of our sin, and a theology that says God determined our sin in order to bring about those good purposes. The latter of course being the unadulterated theology of Piper’s Calvinism.

For instance Piper states, “Everything that exists–including evil–is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly.” [53]

And again, “He wills that evil come to pass that good may come of it.” [54]

Not surprisingly Piper’s comments above reflect the echo of his sincere, yet misguided mentor, Jonathan Edwards, who likewise argued that God “willed to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good.” [55]

However to say God unilaterally purposed evil “for the sake” of bringing about good is exactly what we cannot say about good and evil since scripture manifestly forbids it! The scriptures reject as slander any notion of moral virtue that would suggest such a theodicy. For instance Paul argues:

“But if by my lie God’s truth is amplified to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, just as some people slanderously claim we say, ‘Let us do what is evil so that good may come’? Their condemnation is deserved!” (Romans 3:7-8).

As is clear Paul condemns as reprehensible slander any notion of moral virtue that would willfully determine evil happen so that good can come— even if such good is God’s glory being amplified in a context of evil.

Yet Piper would have us believe that the ultimate reason evil exists is directly correspondent with a theodicy that anchors God’s moral perfection into a determinative sovereignty that rendered certain every murder, rape, sexual depravity and God-dishonoring sin so that the good of his glory can be amplified and “shine more brightly.” In such a muddled, theological framework God’s moral nature becomes indistinguishable from evil itself.

If all of this weren’t enough Paul additionally argues in Romans 6:9 that we “should not sin so that grace may abound.” But Piper’s unflinching commitment to his preconceived assumptions and theological echo chamber causes him to irresponsibly disregard all of this and forge ahead with his dogmatic assertion that God determinatively rendered certain each person’s sins so that his grace and glory would abound.

The sum of the matter is as follows: The Bible is replete with accounts of God overruling the intentions of (un-decreed) evil and possessing authority and control over evil— in so far as we understand such control in terms of permitting free agency and exploiting the evils of this fallen world to bring about a possible good (including his judicial acts when the self-serving, wicked intentions of others can convene with his purpose to enact judgment on others). In this sense God, at all times, seeks to use, usurp and triumph over the evils of this world. And God often chooses to accomplish this in concert with our obedience to be co-laborers of his kingdom. Moreover his glory over evil is best understand in reference to his power to redeem the evils done against us— not conceptually author and decree them in the first place.

Piper and Edwards go far beyond the borders of scripture and argue for a theological hermeneutic that asserts God divinely determined and rendered certain every sordid evil and perverse, God-dishonoring sin so that good and glory come. Their hermeneutic shipwrecks on the scriptures, and for the sake of all that is good and holy—the very character of God— let the splintered pieces lie where they lay never to be picked up again.

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ENDNOTES

[1] See http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/are-there-two-wills-in-god Unless otherwise cited all quotes are taken from this online article. The article is originally from Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace. Thomas Schreiner/Bruce Ware, editors (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000).

[2] This particular quote is pulled from Piper’s accompanying article, “Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be.” See: http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[3] I am indebted to a sermon I once heard by Greg Boyd for these remarks.

[4] For example the Beatitudes as witnessed in Christ’s “Sermon on the Mount” reveal God’s true ideal for moral reflection. However his people were not ready to receive such a comprehensive moral grounding for their lives in ancient times. Notwithstanding that fact God had to start somewhere. The Mosaic Law was a start and in many instances it was an improvement on the cultural norms of the day, as seen in the fact that it was the first code in the ANE culture to give rights to women. God’s conditions that surrounded divorce were light years ahead in their development compared with the surrounding cultures. Many more examples can be called upon to help demonstrate and distinguish God’s perfect will from his accommodating or consequent will in light of sin’s intrusion into the world—such as God’s judgment via the flood and the Canaanite conquest.

[5] Whatever God decrees must flow out of his morally just nature. Therefore whatever God decrees he approves of morally and sees it as justified. If Piper’s Calvinist paradigm is true, then God’s morally perfect nature has unconditionally decreed all evil, rendering all evil approved and justified.

[6] Piper, John. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[7] Piper, John. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[8] Works of Arminius—Allegation 3. See: http://www.godrules.net/library/arminius/arminius198.htm

[9] It is worth nothing that the two, most often repeated examples (Jesus’s death and Joseph being sold into slavery) Calvinists look to in order to bolster their view that God determinatively decreed all the evil choices of all men—have an obvious saving purpose in view. In both the case of Joseph in Egypt and Jesus being crucified, God is acting in a unique fashion to bring about a divine saving purpose for humanity. Why these texts would be used to justify God predetermined all the insidious, God defying, human ensnaring evil in our world is beyond me. But more important it is beyond God.

[10] Henshaw, Ben. See: http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/NT/Rev17_17.html

[11] We must be cognizant of the fact that Piper cannot be referring to God willing to reluctantly allow people to misuse and abuse their free will given that he holds all things are determinatively will by God unconditionally. A paradigm of universal determinism on the part of God assumes intentionality and thus precludes any sense of reluctant willing.

[12] Craig, William Lane: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism#ixzz3D4g5Hq7l

[13] Henshaw, Ben. See: http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/NT/Rev17_17.html

[14] CITE

[15] See: Piper, John. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-does-piper-mean-when-he-says-hes-a-seven-point-calvinist

[16] Jackson, Kevin. See: http://wesleyanarminian.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/the-hardening-of-pharaohs-heart/

[17] Boyd, Greg. See: http://reknew.org/2008/01/how-do-you-respond-to-romans-9/#sthash.fP1Z76wq.dpuf

[18] Piper must admit that all God’s acts of decree are unconditional since he holds to the Westminster Confession of faith which states, “God has ordained whatsoever comes to pass…yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.” See: http://www.the-highway.com/WCFChIII.html   

[19] See HSBC Study Bible Notes on Mark 4:11-12 and Matthew 13:10-13

[20] Boyd, Greg. See: http://reknew.org/2008/01/how-do-you-respond-to-romans-9/#sthash.fP1Z76wq.dpuf

[21] Though there are certainly aspects of the past and future that God determined, it is an extreme and unwarranted extrapolation to take these isolated incidents and assume God has determined everything—including the evils the Scripture envision God warring against. Calvinism replaces Scripture’s warfare view against evil for a blueprint view of divine causality of all evil.

[22] Calvin, John. Inst. I.xvi.8. 1539 edition. Quoted in A.N.S. Lane, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 73

[23] Calvin, John. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (tr. J. K. S. Reid) (London, 1961)175f. (OC 8.358) See A.N.S. Lane, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 73

[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] Cheung, Vincent. “Problem of Evil,” See:

http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/ProblemEvil.htm (March, 2013)

[26] Cheung, Vincent. “Problem of Evil,” See:

http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/ProblemEvil.htm (March, 2013)

[27] Palmer, Edwin. H. The Five Points of Calvinism, 24-25

[28] Frame, John. “Scientia Media,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1075.

[29] Clarke, Gordan. Religion, Reason, and Revelation, (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian & Reformed), 1961, 221

[30] Clarke, Gordan. Predestination. (The Trinity Foundation), 1987. 18

[31] Pink. A.W. The Sovereignty of God, 2009, 162

[32] Piper, John. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[33] Piper, John. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[34] In this linked YouTube video Piper argues that every dust particle and every sin that besets Christians is being determinatively controlled by God. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSSLLpVChng

[35] Walter Brueggemann notes this Psalm, while having prophetic fulfillment in Christ, is nonetheless a “song of creation” that looks back upon God’s act in creating mankind. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 28

[36] Tozer, A.W., The Knowledge of the Holy, ch. 22. See: http://www.ntcg-aylesbury.org.uk/books/knowledge_of_the_holy.pdf

[37] Piper, John. “Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?” http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[38] Piper, John. “Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?” http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[39] Calvin, John. Inst. I.xvi.8. 1539 edition. Quoted in A.N.S. Lane, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 73

[40] Calvin, John. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (tr. J. K. S. Reid) (London, 1961)175f. (OC 8.358) See A.N.S. Lane, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 73

[41] Piper, John. A Response to J.I. Packer on the Called Antinomy Between the Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-response-to-ji-packer-on-the-so-called-antinomy-between-the-sovereignty-of-god-and-human-responsibility

[42] Piggy-backing on Jonathan Edwards, Piper writes, “Moral necessity is the necessity that exists between the strongest motive and the act of volition which it elicits… God so disposes all things (Eph. 1:11) so that in accordance with moral necessity all men make only those choices ordained by God from all eternity.” See: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-response-to-ji-packer-on-the-so-called-antinomy-between-the-sovereignty-of-god-and-human-responsibility When Piper speaks of God “disposing” all things, he of course means God determines all things necessarily via irresistible divine decrees. In essence Piper is stating God necessitates the necessary motives to guarantee a necessary, moral outcome via divine decree. For Piper to still hold that it is both reasonable and just for God to hold us accountable for the desires and actions he necessitated, is without biblical merit and exists in a fanciful world of his own creation. It is morally ruinous to God’s holiness and glory and exists as nothing more than an infectious poison of deception that must be eradicated from the Church at all costs.

[43] Craig, William Lane: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism

[44] The following is a section of 4-part critique of Piper’s Theodicy that I wrote earlier. It can be found here.

[45] Quoted in John Piper’s article “Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?” See: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[46] Piper rightly tries to make the point that God can do no wrong to anyone with any of his decrees, but he wrongly tries to couch this truth into his overall, Calvinist narrative that God has unconditionally decreed all things— including all suicide bombings (that Muslims ironically think is God’s will). His latter point is an extreme extrapolation based on unproven assumptions. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-made-it-ok-for-god-to-kill-women-and-children-in-the-old-testament

[47] Craig, William Lane: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism

[48] Arminians have never argued that God is caught unawares or caught off guard by evil. Historically Arminians have always argued that the full witness of Scripture posits a God who’s ultimate control over all things is best understood within the confines of God’s permission and a sovereign determination to impart a degree of genuine freedom to morally responsible agents.

[49] Craig, William Lane: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism

[50] A sovereignty that needed to pre-program every human decision to ensure a predestined end speaks of an insecure sovereignty; no different than a chess player needing to rig a match evinces insecurity in one’s wisdom and ability. Put simply a divine sovereignty that is intimidated by genuine, indeterminate human freedom is no sovereignty at all. Tozer said it best when he stated, “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.” See: Tozer, A.W., The Knowledge of the Holy, ch. 22. http://www.ntcg-aylesbury.org.uk/books/knowledge_of_the_holy.pdf

[51] Edwards, Jonathan,“Concerning The Divine Decrees In General, And Election In Particular” See: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/decrees_edwards.html

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

[53] Piper, John. www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[54] Piper, John. www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[55] Edwards, Jonathan. Cited in: www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

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Stop Grave Robbing Your Old Nature

*This post was originally titled: “The Anger of God has been Exhausted.” I’m not completely comfortable with the idea that the Father poured out His anger on His Son so that now the Father can forgive and love us (as many understand the Penal Substitutionary View to present). However Graham does articulate some other things I have long believed, but had trouble verbalizing.*

I came across a sermon clip from author and speaker Graham Cooke today and it struck me as worthy of sharing. He states,

Romans 6:11 says, “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God.” God gives us permission to consider ourselves dead. The Enemy wants you to think you have permission to consider your old nature still alive which needs to be worked on and fixed. But God is not trying to improve you or upgrade your old nature. He killed it off… He killed us all in Jesus. Jesus did not just die for you, He died as you. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “You are a new creation in Christ. All the old is past away.” That is a fact and that is also a promise. The verse ends by saying, “behold all things have become new.” That is a fact and that is also a promise…

“In Christ” means we don’t start with a deficit. We don’t start with our behavior. We begin with who God is for us… God poured out every ounce of wrath, anger and indignation upon Jesus for sin. So then He hasn’t got any left. That needs to be our starting point… The Father turned His back on Jesus. Jesus who had always known fellowship with the Father reached a point of desperation where he cried out, “Why have you forsaken Me?” God forsook Jesus so that He would never have to forsake any of us. So God doesn’t get angry at us, because He poured it all out on Jesus. We need to understand that many are schizophrenic about God on this point. If you believe that God poured out every last ounce of wrath and anger on Jesus, but He still gets angry, that means the Father himself is treading underfoot the cross of Jesus Christ. You can’t have it both ways here. Our problem in the West is that we have a schizophrenic gospel. We believe we are not really set free and that God is still angry about things in our life that we can’t seem to control.

I think the whole reason for that is we have grown up in a system that only ever looks at people negatively. We only ever see what’s wrong. We never see who Jesus is for that person. If we are going to be great leaders we need to be delivered from that mindset—not just about ourselves—but everyone we see. We need to have a perspective that comes to people through our hearts from heaven. That when people connect with us they connect with outrageous good news [the gospel!].

Here is another question we need to consider: Were you included in His crucifixion, death and burial? The answer is, yes. So then you are dead. Since that is true please stop grave robbing. It seems every day we doing the same confessions. Can we get past this place? Can we stop digging ourselves up and saying to the Lord, “Help me!” Whenever we focus on the old nature what we are saying is, “God—I’m not really dead, so help me!” But God says, “No, consider yourself dead so you can be alive to me!” Hear me people— you are dead to your old way of life. Please stop digging yourself up.

– Graham Cooke

[The entire clip can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2mEX76AqRg ]

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The Dream: Tombstones and Bowls

Last week I wrote a blog entry about the nature of dreams and how I believe dreaming is an evidence of an immaterial soul that temporarily disengages from our body and allows us to be both the author and audience of our dreams.

Writing that blog entry brought back to my mind an incredible dream I had about six months ago that was so moving I dictated it into a recorder after waking up. It is not unusual for me to have vivid, intense dreams, but the following dream was in a category all its own. Immediately upon waking up I felt impressed in my spirit that my dream had a depth of spiritual meaning that did not originate within my own creative mind. There was a level of clarity and sharpness to specific details in the dream that amazed me. Entire conversations were still very much on the surface of my mind and so I quickly grabbed my I-pad and began to record everything I could remember. Listening to it again has only confirmed that I believe God was seeking to share a message to me. I have not bothered to write it down until today. Except for some grammar restructuring and other minor details the above recounting is almost a word for word transcription of what I recorded into my I-pad in the few, short minutes after waking up. I pray that the Lord would help you discern what is true from what is false and aid you in arriving at a conclusion that reflects His heart and mind. That being said, here we go:

“I have just woken up from a dream and I am now recording it because I believe it was God given. I was surrounded by all the superheroes of the world. Superman was there, Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman— every hero the earth looks to for salvation and help was at one gathering in one place. All of a sudden we were all taken up into the sky and we began to move as one group through the atmosphere into space. We passed the moon in a second and then we quickly flew past Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The sensation of speed was amazing. I remember it was so fast that Superman declared that it was faster than even he could fly, and therefore he knew he was not flying under his own power. Batman stated he couldn’t fly at all so he knew there was a force that was allowing them to fly together.

The rate of our travel was beyond anything possible that any superhero could achieve who was there. We then traveled through what I can only describe as a wormhole. The speed of our travel increased as the most distant stars in the Milky Way zipped past us by the hundreds and then the thousands. We soon arrived at the end of the Milky Way and then shot out the other side. We continued our journey through empty space, surrounded only by darkness. Soon we could see another distant galaxy approaching. It was at that point that we suddenly stopped. We turned around and looked back upon the Milky Way galaxy in the distance.

All of a sudden the earth appeared before us, yet we all seemed to know it was not the actual earth but rather a representation of the earth as some sort of alternate reality. The earth suddenly zoomed right into us and we found ourselves standing in the most beautiful, green valley I have ever seen. In the distance were majestic, snowcapped mountains and tall evergreen trees. In the middle of this green valley were hundreds of beautiful, white tombstones, each with the name of someone carved into them. It was a graveyard but it did not feel like a graveyard. There was no sense of sorrow or grief. One could only feel a sense of beauty, calm and incredible peace and rest.

In front of the white tombstones, in a very small area, was a wooden deck and on the ledge of the deck was about a dozen wooden bowls. Some of the wooden bows were filled with fruit, some with vegetables, some with candles and incense and others with only water. I didn’t know what I was looking at and neither did any of the superheroes. In fact Superman and Spiderman began to talk to each other asking, “Why are we here? We are on the other side of the Milky Way. Who brought us here? We did not come here under our own power…” I too began to wonder aloud, “What are we looking at? What are all these graves doing here?”

At that moment a man approached us. He was clothed in light but it was not a blinding light. Somehow I knew it wasn’t God the Father or Jesus but I intuitively knew it was someone from heaven— possibly an angel— who was sent as a messenger to explain to us what we were seeing. He turned to the group of superheroes and said,

“You are allowed to see this because you are the ones the earth looks for and looks to as they would a savior. You are the ones the earth creates stories about because they are looking for a savior. Deep down inside of them they know they need a savior; they know they need to be saved from themselves by something greater than themselves, and so they create great mythologies based on you that are not real. You have been taken to the other side of the Milky Way to see a picture of what the earth could be like as a parallel world of reality.”

The messenger seemed to be addressing the group, but I began to feel he was specifically talking to me. I stepped forward and asked, “But what are these tombstones? What is this beautiful, peaceful valley? How can this valley feel so peaceful in the midst of so much death?” The messenger or angel then replied,

“You are looking at how calm and peaceful and beautiful the earth can be. You are looking at the answer that the earth needs for true salvation— and it is death to self-life. It is death to self-rule. It is death to self-centeredness.

The messenger then began to quote phrases in scripture, saying:

“I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

“Put to death the deeds of the old man.”

“Put off the old man and pick up the new man.”

“I have been buried with Christ in death and baptism that I might be raised in new life with Christ.”

I had read and heard all these scriptures before, but they took on a new level of weighted authority as they came out of his mouth. I remember the messenger pausing as if he was looking to see if I was taking his words into my heart. He then continued to declare scriptures with a firm voice but not necessarily a loud voice,

“What does the Lord desire? He desires that you would be a living sacrifice.”

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God”

As if he knew I needed more understanding, he explained,

“A sacrifice is about something dying. But that does not mean God wants you to commit suicide. No—God wants you to be a living sacrifice not a dead sacrifice. To be a living sacrifice you must be willing to die to anything inside of you that is not presently under the authority of Jesus.”

His words were piercing right through me and I remember feeling like it was impossible to hide from his words—as if his words were alive and would seek me out in the end. But I still wondered about the tombstones. I was about to ask for more clarification when the messenger suddenly proclaimed,

“The reason the world looks to heroes and saviors, and the reason the world is filled with crime, murder, rape, hatred, lying, cheating, wars, child pornography and every evil known to man, is because men refuse to die to themselves. The answer the Son of God brought was his death on the cross. Jesus then said each person who wants to come and follow after Him, must also be willing to die in order to be set right. That is why He said, ‘No one can follow me unless he picks up his cross and follows after Me.’ The answer to the world’s problems is men and women who belong to Christ being willing to die by presenting their wills and bodies as living sacrifices. That does not always mean physical death or martyrdom. More than anything it means being willing to die to their old man of the flesh and choose wholehearted obedience to the Lord. All of these graves you are looking at, and the names written on each white stone, represent the names of the people heaven will always remember. These are the people who will be honored in the next age when heaven and earth merge together and make a new world. These are the ones who will be honored in front of everyone. These are the ones who humbled themselves on earth and will become exalted in the next age to come. Everyone on earth now—including many in the body of Christ— are so focused on the age they are living in, they give no thought to the next age to come. This age will one day pass away, but it determines how you will spend the next age to come. The age to come will be much longer and lasting and it will trump every other age that came before. It will be the greatest age the universe has ever witnessed. But so few are living in the light and knowledge of the next age to come. The message and power of the cross has been lost to many. But those whose names you see written on these white tombstones are those who were willing to pick up their cross in this present age and heaven will not forget their sacrifice in the age to come.”

His words were powerful and gripping. But I found myself somewhat distracted by the wooden deck and the wooden bowls. I began wondering about them. The wood was old and weathered, not necessarily rotten or ugly but there was nothing special about it. In comparison to the beauty of the valley it seemed to be out of place. Out of curiosity I asked, “What is this wooden deck with the wooden bowls doing in this beautiful valley in front of the white tombstones?”

Without a hint of annoyance at being asked too many questions, the messenger calmly replied, “The wooden deck and bowls are a picture of people trying to present a sacrifice to God that does not include their death to a self-centered life.”

He then picked up the first bowl and said,

“This bowl was carved out by a man who wanted to follow the Lord, but he didn’t want to pick up his cross and die to himself. Instead he wanted to present a different sacrifice to God, hoping that God would accept it. But God rejected his sacrifice just like he rejected the sacrifice of Cain who wanted to confidently present to God the fruit his own hard work and labor— his vegetables. God accepted the sacrifice of Abel because in sacrificing a lamb, Abel showed he accepted God’s terms and understood by faith that true sacrifice is representative of an inner death to our own self-rule and self-governance. By murdering his brother, Cain only showed how little he understood of inner sacrifice at the time his outward sacrifice was offered.”

I remember still being somewhat confused as to the meaning of the wooden bowls. Again as if the messenger was able to hear my thoughts, he began to explain about the wooden bowls further, calling them, “Hindu bowls of sacrifice.” It was then I recalled seeing similar, smaller bowls in Hindu temples and Buddhist temples filled to the brim with offerings of fruit, rice or money and then given to a particular deity or idol in the hopes that their offering can offset their negative (religious) debt and win them favor.

The messenger then declared in a final voice of authority,

“Remember these Hindu bowls of sacrifice represent sacrifices the Lord cannot except. They will not survive His judgment. Those who try to offer them may adorn themselves on the outside and use the same vocabulary as others, but do not be deceived, such sacrifices cannot be accepted. The Lord knows their sacrifice is a different sacrifice. Only those who are willing to present themselves as living sacrifices will be true heroes in the age to come.”

At that time I heard either the messenger or one of those in the group say something along the lines of, “We are done…it is now time to return.”

And then my alarm went off and I woke up.

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