A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: Are We God’s Evil Contract Assassins? Part 3

Calvin And Hobbes Ethics

In my last post I ended saying that the key error of the Piper Theodicy is assuming that all acts—including all acts of moral evil are intended acts by the divine will via God’s exhaustive decrees. Rather than stop at the biblical notion that God can exploit evils or use un-intended evil to bring about good, Piper goes one step further and says God intended and purposed all evil for the purpose of intending good—thus divesting evil of evil and rendering all acts morally unintelligible at best and morally equivalent at worst.

I also made the point that while Piper may agree in theory that God is by nature divine goodness and therefore serves as the ultimate paradigm of good, Piper’s own view inadvertently renders morality unintelligible and meaningless. For if all evil is decreed by divine goodness for the sake of divine goodness, what then is left for Piper to point to as a contrast to divine goodness?

I want to explore this line of thought further in this post. Of all the critical mistakes that the Piper Theodicy makes, the most profound is the unflinching, dogmatic insistence that God’s sovereignty must mean he conceived, planned and determined every evil act without exception for the purpose of something good. It is this dogmatic, universal, exhaustive scope of God’s determinative sovereignty that undermines moral categories and makes the very category of evil meaningless, illusory and indistinguishable from good.

For example consider a scenario wherein a teacher one day decides to overlook a student’s multiple incorrect answers and grant the student an “A” instead of the “F” he deserved.  In the teacher’s estimation she feels she has a morally sufficient reason to do so—such as knowing the child’s parents were going through a tumultuous divorce and the child was in desperate need for a confidence boost. However now consider a scenario wherein the teacher determines to give out A’s instead of F’s all the time and to every child without exception because she thinks boosting confidence is a morally sufficient reason to withhold failure from every child on every occasion without exception. Perhaps she may even decide that “F” stands for fantastic instead of fail in order to boost confidence. Obviously such an action would consequently render the teacher’s grade book pointless because the very category of “F” for “failure” would be rendered meaningless. It would also make A’s and F’s valueless and indistinguishable from each other since there no longer would exist an actual contrast to the score of “A.”

So also in Piper’s Theodicy the category of evil is rendered meaningless and incoherent since it is said that all evils without exception are determined by divine goodness for the purpose of boosting divine goodness. Consequently there no longer exists an actual contrast to divine goodness. Not even the most insidious and vile of evils can be offered up as an example because the recalcitrant, guiding premise of Piper’s Theodicy is all evil without exception.

In the last post I offered an illustration of a scenario wherein all people are colorblind to the color red. What they perceive to be red is actually mistakenly misinterpreted as a shade of green. However if everyone in the world without exception is colorblind to the true hue of red, then who remains in the world with a perception or observation that transcends our color spectrum to tell us our observation of red is mistaken and wrong? If no such person exists—and they can’t because the premise is “all people without exception”— then the color red, as far as humans are concerned, is rendered meaningless and illusory.

To avoid this conclusion all we would have to do is posit just one person who is not color-blind or just one example or exception where humans can actually observe a red object and in turn perceive its correct red color. That one exception would in turn serve as a necessary contrast to inform us of true red in contrast to all other colors, including what we falsely perceive as red in all other cases.

Once again in the case of Piper’s Theodicy there is no exception! Therefore there is no contrast. Not even from God’s perspective is their a definitive contrast to good because because every act of evil has been divested of evil in virtue of being conceived, planned and willed by divine goodness for the purpose of divine goodness!

Given this fact the next issue to be raised against Piper’s Theodicy is why God repeatedly condemns in scripture certain events as wrong, evil and wicked? A Calvinist who holds to Piper’s Theodicy can only reply that such statements of God refer only to his revealed will—not his secret, decretive will. They try to argue that in his revealed will God can condemn that man not sin and also state his displeasure when man does sin. But “behind the curtain” there is the grand, sovereign “wizard of Oz” manipulating everything in virtue of decreeing everything—including the very acts of evil his revealed will commands men not do. The theological waters Piper’s Theodicy swims in becomes increasingly murky the deeper we travel.

Both experience and the Scriptures inform us that mankind exits in a world of objective moral values. Some things are objectively good and some things are objectively evil—independent of human assent or opinion. The ontological foundation that grounds objective moral values is God’s good nature. But what if Calvinism as seen in Piper’s Theodicy is true?

It has already been stated but bears repeating. If every act of moral evil has been conceived by divine goodness and decreed by divine goodness for the purpose of divine goodness—then what act remains to be qualified as objectively evil from God’s perspective?  What is left to decry as objectively evil and thus contrary to God’s good nature if God’s moral nature is the origin of conception for every evil?

Nothing!

God’s good nature consequently becomes the ultimate origin and cause for every alleged “evil” that occurs. God may not be the direct cause but he is still morally bound to its committal in virtue of conceiving, planning it and rendering it certain via irresistible decrees. A husband who hires an assassin to murder his wife is understood to be morally responsible for her death despite the fact that he is not the direct or proximate cause of her death in terms of pulling the trigger.

Just because he chose to use an intermediary agent or cause to bring about his wife’s death does not thereby acquit him of moral responsibility. He is morally culpable because the evil of her murder originated with him. He conceived, planned and determined through secondary, intermediate causes to murder his wife—making him guilty of causation no less than if he had directly pulled the trigger himself.

In Piper’s Theodicy we are all God’s little “contract assassins,” bound to his sovereign will to carry out every one of his decrees to commit evil. To hold that God “contracts out” his alleged sovereign will for rape, child abuse and murder to occur via intermediate wills such as ours does nothing to absolve God of moral responsibility, causation and authorship of all evil.

But it gets worse.

To add to the glaring moral problems of his position, Piper, snubs the logical implications inherent to his own position (i.e. evil is rendered ontologically impossible and therefore becomes a meaningless category of moral language) and strangely puts forth the notion that God decreed that evils occur so as to provide a necessary backdrop to segregate evil from good and thus magnify the differentiating other-ness of God’s holy, righteous and good nature in punishing sin and sinners.

In quoting his mentor Jonathan Edwards, Piper seeks to explain as follows:

“Unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.”

Piper then sums up his theodicy saying:

“So the answer to the question… “Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be?” is no, just the opposite. God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil.” [1]

The careful reader will discern that Piper’s Theodicy collapses into wholesale absurdity. If God only decrees events that serve to magnify his righteousness and goodness, and God can do no evil in any of his decrees—then from God’s vantage point all that he decrees and all that occurs in the world is good, righteous and holy.

As such the question Piper must answer is how do God’s universal, exhaustive decrees of evil—which are really good, righteous and holy from God’s perspective—contrastingly magnify God’s goodness, righteousness and holiness from God’s perspective?

Once again we see another example where the Piper Theodicy creates a scenario wherein the moral category of evil completely evaporates as it concerns the divine mind.

The sole role left for evil to play is to serve as a grand illusion for our sake, to give us the appearance of an objective contrast to God’s moral nature so as to enhance and magnify God’s glory and goodness.

But upon further reflection we discover that the very contrast to God’s moral goodness and glory was itself conceived and determined by God’s moral goodness and glory! In the end it all just becomes cosmic theatre!

The entire theodicy of Piper is rendered unintelligible because of an inflexible, stubborn insistence that sovereignty must equal divine determinism of every evil thought, desire and choice of man throughout human history.

God is sovereign—yes. But that doesn’t therefore translate into Piper’s myopic assumptions of sovereignty. All one needs to do is take truth to extreme and it becomes error. This Piper has done—and done so exceedingly well.

If Piper wasn’t so influential we could simply dismiss his myopic propensity to only view God in terms of sheer will and raw power as just that—myopic to a fault and subsequently forget about him. However the fact that the flute of “Pied Piper” continues to carry a tune many fall under the sway of— is both alarming and saddening. Nothing less than a true apprehension of God’s glory and character is at stake in Christianity today!

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

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About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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30 Responses to A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: Are We God’s Evil Contract Assassins? Part 3

  1. drwayman says:

    “Wholesale absurdity” is a correct term. Unfortunately, it seems that Piper is setting himself into the category of irrelevance. He tweets after natural disasters that God ordained the deaths of those individuals… as if that offers comfort. This 3-part series is masterful. I also appreciate how well documented you have made them so people can look for themselves.

    • StriderMTB says:

      Thanks. Yes I’ve noticed that Piper is a quick to be like one of Job’s awful comforters whenever tragedy strikes. The big problem I have with the Piper Theodicy (and hope to address more later) is that he tends to only slap down the ordination card for tragedies that are non-moral. For example:
      1) “Your son died of leukemia. But God ordained it so take comfort in that.”

      2) “A tornado killed your child. But God ordained it so take comfort in that.”

      However we NEVER see Piper says something like this:

      3) “You committed adultery and now your wife has left you. But God ordained that you commit adultery so that your family would be shattered, so take comfort in that.”

      Why doesn’t Piper say this? Is it not true given his own theology? The fact that there is a glaring absence of consistency when it comes to ALL evils that shatter human lives is ultimately what renders Calvinism irrelevant and pointless.

  2. theoparadox says:

    Matt,

    As you continue your series, if time permits, I would appreciate your addressing and interacting with the following comments from Piper regarding Edwards:

    “He uses the analogy of the way the sun brings about light and warmth by its essential nature, but brings about dark and cold by dropping below the horizon. “If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness,” he says, “it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness of nature in the sun.” In other words, “sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence.” Thus in one sense God wills that what he hates come to pass, as well as what he loves.”

    This would seem to undermine your charge that Piper’s theodicy results in “divesting evil of evil and rendering all acts morally unintelligible at best and morally equivalent at worst.” Does the action of the sun make light and dark equivalent, unintelligible or otherwise ambiguous? Both Piper and Edwards appear to argue that God, while decreeing evil, maintains a strict separation between good and evil in the way they relate to His own good nature. In other words, the difference between good and evil is not that one is decreed and the other is not; it is that one is decreed as a thing God actively initiates, loves and morally approves, while the other is a thing God hates and only permits in order to bring about more of what he loves and morally approves. Thus good and evil are never seen by Piper or Edwards as morally equivalent in any sense. For them, both can be “decreed” and yet remain opposite in their on ontology.

    PS – I just watched your ministry video on YouTube. I can’t say much besides [tears]. And thanks be to God for using you there! Very inspiring to see His work!

    Many blessings,
    Derek

  3. kangaroodort says:

    Derek,

    That’s just more double talk and trying to have you cake and eat it too, in my opinion. Daniel Whedon addresses that argument along with just about every other significant argument Edwards makes in his response to Edwards. Here is a section from my post on Piper’s view of God ordaining all sin and evil (from footnote# 5)

    [5] Piper tries to further explain this so called necessitated “permission” by drawing on Edwards’ illustration of the sun “causing” darkness by simply falling beyond the horizon,
    “‘If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness,’ he says, ‘it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness of nature in the sun.’ In other words, ‘sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence.’”

    To this Whedon replies,

    “Edwards next defends a necessitating God from responsibility for sin by the distinction between positive and privative causations. The sun by his direct ray is the positive cause, and, so to speak, the responsible author of day. But he is the author of night with her darkness, damps and monsters by privation, that is, simply by the withdrawal of his light, and so not the responsible author. So God is not the direct and positive, but only the privative and so the irresponsible cause of sin.

    But, we reply, necessity makes God the positive and not merely the negative cause of sin. God according to necessity positively sets all first causes and materials in existence and action, just as the boy arranges the bricks and throws down the first, which throws down all to the last (see the story of the boy and the bricks above). The first start given secures the whole, excluding all but the given result. The line of causation from God’s finger streaks through all second causes and secures the result. Sin is an act directly necessitated, and so not by privative but positive causation.” (Whedon, 346, 347)

    In another place in a discussion on the meaning of “cause”, Whedon writes,

    “Edwards says of cause: ‘The word is often used in so restrained a sense as to signify that only which has a positive efficiency or influence to produce a thing or bring it to pass. But there are many things which have no such positive productive influences, which are yet causes.’ (68) He instances as real causes the absences of preventatives. The absence of the sun is the cause of the failing dew in summer, and of the freezing streams in winter. Mr. Mill maintains the same doctrine, including the absences of preventatives under the term cause. He further adds: ‘The state of the whole universe at any instant we believe to be consequent of its state in the previous instant; insomuch that if we knew all the agents which exist at the present moment, their collection in space and their properties, in other words, the laws of their agency, we could predict the whole subsequent history of the universe.’ From which it would seem to result. That every previous thing is the cause of every subsequent thing, and everything that does not exist is the cause of everything that does exist!” (ibid. pg. 49)

    http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/john-piper-on-god-ordaining-all-sin-and-evil-part-1-an-arminian-response-to-pipers-first-question/

    You can buy an edited version of Whedon’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Will-Wesleyan-Response-Jonathan/dp/1556359810/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1259851091&sr=8-1

    Or, you can read it in its original form free online, here: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=HwtVAAAAMAAJ&rdid=book-HwtVAAAAMAAJ&rdot=1

    God Bless,
    Ben

  4. StriderMTB says:

    It’s funny because last night when I read your comment, Derek, I went to bed thinking: “Hmmmm…I’m pretty sure I read an excerpt by Daniel Whedon on Ben’s site that highlights the very flaw in Edwards logic via his sun analogy.” Then I woke up and saw that Ben saved me the trouble, so thanks Ben.

    If I may let me add a few more thoughts. First off I want to say thank you Derek for your kind comments related to the area of ministry I am privileged to take part in. Secondly I owe you an apology in our marathon debate when I accused you of dishonesty in my closing comments. It was pointed out to me that we can have honest dialogue with opponents and our opponents can be honestly wrong. I did not mean to imply moral dishonesty on your part, but rather a failure to maintain integrity (unity) of theological consistency in remaining true to the parts as you argue for the sum of the parts. I can’t fault you too much because in a sense you are parroting the very same fundamental inconsistency reflected in Calvinism’s great thinkers—like Edwards and Piper.

    As Whedon aptly demonstrates (not just asserts) Edwards analogy of the sun to argue for privation causation utterly fails because the analogy only works if one simultaneously ignores the logical obligations placed upon the Calvinist whole that clearly necessitate positive causation.

    If God’s decree of ordination is for person Y to commit the evil of X, then X is necessitated by God’s divine determination. Person Y is not free to not commit the evil of X. He MUST commit X.

    You are seeking to defend Piper’s Theodicy therefore you can’t argue against what I have just asserted since Piper himself affirms it by quoting Spurgeon in support of his view: “Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose.” [1]

    Given that God’s sovereign decree is underpinned by the Calvinist insistence that God’s decrees DETERMINE what MUST occur, it is simply disingenuous and silly to then say, “God permits person Y to commit the evil of X” as if God is drawing his presence away like the setting sun and letting some natural occurrence take place.

    In Calvinism, God is doing much more than merely “drawing away” or “withholding influence” and permitting the evil of X to naturally arise out of a free will. In Calvinism, God conceived of the evil of X, planned for the evil of X, decreed that the evil of X must occur and determined who must commit it. It doesn’t matter if it occurs through secondary causes because such secondary causes are like instrumental causes in a Calvinist context—no different than my using a stick to move a stone. The critical point Edwards, Piper and you want to disregard and downplay is the fact that God’s good nature is the conceptual origin for the evil of X to occur. In fact you must concede that God’s good nature and holy mind is the initiating, planning origin for all evils from A to Z! You believe God’s divine goodness purposes evil for the purpose of divine goodness–which is exactly what we cannot say since it is contrary to Scripture as I point out in my 1st post.

    Remember also in Calvinism we aren’t even free to decide which evils we will commit given our depravity. The range of possible evils has been reduced to one evil—the evil we were determined to commit. God doesn’t just will evil to occur generally but specifically.

    If Edwards wanted to use an analogy from the cosmos to illustrate the nature of God’s decree he would have been better served by pointing to a black hole sucking in everything!

    You are simply mistaken when you say, “The difference between good and evil is not that one is decreed and the other is not; it is that one is decreed as a thing God actively initiates, loves and morally approves, while the other is a thing God hates and only permits in order to bring about more of what he loves and morally approves.”

    “Only permits?” Oh so wrong my friend. First of all in Piper’s Theodicy God does indeed “actively initiate” evil given the fact that his will is the origin of conception and his will actively and (not passively) and purposely determined that it must occur and who would bring it about.

    Secondly you imply the extent of God’s dealings with evil as follows: “while the other is a thing [evil] God hates and only permits…”

    Sorry Derek. You are once again conveniently and suspiciously lapsing into habitual inconsistency. What you should have said is, “while the other [evil] is a thing God hates but still decreed and determined must occur…”

    Why don’t you just say it Derek??? Why do you pull up short at the most critical distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism? In fact you already concede that good and evil are BOTH decreed when you said, “the difference between good and evil is not that one is decreed and the other is not.” But then when you try to extricate God from the moral dilemma that logically follows you suddenly and inexplicably drop the language of decree and conveniently pick up the Arminian language of permission and say, “God only permits evils to occur.”

    If God’s will conceived it, planned it, determined it and decreed it—what is he permitting? If all evils MUST occur via God’s decree, then is God giving permission to himself to fulfill his own decrees? Permissive language collapses into nonsense in a Calvinist context, Derek. If you really feel so loyal to the term I would advise you to come over to our side and become a Jedi 🙂

    All the best bro!

    P.S. I do have a couple more posts coming and may add a third on this particular issue if time permits…but I think this pretty much covers it. If God’s foreordaining decrees necessitate that evils X,Y and Z must occur (as Spurgeon believed and Piper quotes), then it is…disingenuous (I’m holding my tongue) for Piper to later soften his language and re-couch his belief in terms of God permitting or allowing X,Y and Z to occur. In a sense it would be like me deciding to move a stone with a stick and then saying either I am permitting the stick to move the stone or I am permitting the stone to move. Either way it’s all a bit meaningless…as are our opposing views if Calvinism is true. Your theology would say the ultimate causal reason I am an Arminian and you are a Calvinist is we were determined to be so by divine factors outside our control…even down to the key strokes I am making write now. It really has nothing to do with evidence or persuasion…or blog writing. Now that sounds boring 🙂

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

    • drwayman says:

      StriderMTB – I appreciate the tenor with which you respond to those who question what you are saying.

      I agree, a Calvinist cannot use “permit” or “allow” without betraying God’s Word. They try to monkey with it by then saying that God has a “permissive will” and a “decretive will.” To follow the Calvinist system, one has to make up and/or define terms idiosyncratically. If God has a “decretive will” or “secret will” that seemingly opposes what the Bible teaches, it makes it very difficult to trust God and His Word.

      BTW – Would you mind if we reprinted this trilogy on the SEA blog? We will give you full credit of course and direct the reader to your site: http://evangelicalarminians.org

      • StriderMTB says:

        Hi DrWayman, that would be fine. Thank you for the recommendation. It may end up being a 5 or 6 part series 🙂 I hope to post the 4th tomorrow. On SEA you can just credit it to my blog name or just “Matt.” I like to keep some anonymity because of the circles I run in… I think we all know how divisive these issues can be.

        P.S. As to God’s trustworthiness within a Calvinist scheme, I concur with your sentiments completely. In my opinion I would think “trust” would be the first thing to go if I felt God was working against my sanctification by sovereignly decreeing the very sins that keep me in a state of un-sanctification.

      • THEOparadox says:

        Dale,

        To follow the Calvinist system, one has to make up and/or define terms idiosyncratically.

        Kind of like “Antecedent Will” and “Consequent Will,” or perhaps the special use of “Prevenient Grace” to mean Libertarian Free Will?

        If God has a “decretive will” or “secret will” that seemingly opposes what the Bible teaches, it makes it very difficult to trust God and His Word.

        You just need a bigger God who is capable of a more complex and nuanced power of willing and desiring than human beings are. Also, a more complex and nuanced ability to love, to cause, to permit, and to rule. A God who is not trapped in the rationalistic conundrums and constraints of a human mind. He is AWESOME and you can trust Him completely! (even if He has ten trillion wills that you can’t reconcile).

        Blessings,
        Derek

      • jcfreak737 says:

        TheOParadox – Hi, I’ve never commented here before. Anyway, I thought that I might respond to your comments:

        Kind of like “Antecedent Will” and “Consequent Will,” or perhaps the special use of “Prevenient Grace” to mean Libertarian Free Will?

        Well, antecedent will and consequent will aren’t as commonly used terms in Arminianism as much as a lot of Calvinist distinctions. That said, it is also much older than Arminianism itself, and is a reasonable distinction. There is what you want in general, and modifications to what you want given specific circumstances. But the decretal will verses submissive will of God is a very different concept, where God’s decretal will is that which is in Bible, and the secret will is what works according to Calvinism. There isn’t any clue which differentiates the two other than Calvinism itself.

        Also, prevenient grace doesn’t simply mean libertarian free will. LFW is on part of God’s prevening grace, but that grace includes all acts of God which prepare us for the reception of the gospel, including meetings with Christians, trials to get our attention, and the internal wooing of the Spirit. Is it a much richer doctrine than what you suggest.

        You just need a bigger God who is capable of a more complex and nuanced power of willing and desiring than human beings are. Also, a more complex and nuanced ability to love, to cause, to permit, and to rule. A God who is not trapped in the rationalistic conundrums and constraints of a human mind. He is AWESOME and you can trust Him completely! (even if He has ten trillion wills that you can’t reconcile).

        The Arminian view of God’s power, love, etc is significantly nuanced. But it is also logical. God created our minds, and the idea that God defies reason is a really unwise thing to be proud of. Can God create a square circle? Can God create a rock so big He can’t life it? Of course not, because the statements themselves are nonsensical. To say He can just so that you can say He can do anything in a non-qualified sense isn’t faithfulness, but denial of God’s gifts and very nature.

    • THEOparadox says:

      Matt,

      Thank you for your note. I appreciate and accept your apology, although I took it as a very tiny and easily overlooked offense at the time, and had forgotten about it since our marathon debate ended. I too have engaged in the occasional ad hominem attack of one kind or another, and I have learned that they are generally unproductive, but also understandable and usually not worth getting upset about. After all, wisdom is proved right by all her children. Your willingness to bring this up now says a great deal about your character and brotherly love.

      Thank you, also, for answering my inquiry regarding Edwards’ sun analogy. I did not know about Whedon’s work and was genuinely curious about how you would deal with that particular analogy offered by Edwards. You have now made your response to this quite clear. My intent is not to actually argue the point (since I have already presented you with about as many arguments as I probably can on this and related topics!), but to hear your approach to what could be perceived as a hole in your argument against the Piper/Edwards theodicy.

      You have great rhetorical skills, and I hope you will use them far beyond these intramural Calvinism/Arminianism subjects. In today’s world, there is a need for thoughtful Christian reasoning in fighting off the heresies that sometimes appear in Christian-like clothing, and laying out sound, Biblical doctrine as a clear alternative. These things transcend Calvinism/Arminianism. I would be your comrade-at-arms in defending the Trinity, Christ’s Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, Justification by Faith Alone, the Inerrancy of Scripture, and other critical topics on which I assume we would agree.

      Blessings,
      Derek

      • StriderMTB says:

        Thanks for the follow-up Derek and the encouragement to look for other foes 🙂 I’ve been wanting to write-up a response to Mormonism and other forms of “Christianity” that piggy-back off similar Mormon interpretations of scripture that deny the Trinity. Sadly some of my friends have unfortunately become ensnared in its propensity to pick-out certain scriptures and isolate them from the larger context of the Bible (i.e. “Why do call me good? No one is good but God alone?” etc).

        I did not know of Daniel Whedon either until I came across his work that Ben posted up on his site. The more I learn of him, the more I think Whedon was just as much of a towering intellectual force all to himself as was Edwards. Both men were brilliant. As Ben also points out, Whedon’s reply to Edwards in “Freedom of the Will” is quite crippling. It is a bit embarrassing that Calvinists are unfamiliar with him, but perhaps it is even more embarrassing that so many Arminian-minded thinkers are unfamiliar with him!

  5. cantfoolmenow says:

    Dr Wayman, and they do it with such pious and worshipful tones, that I find myself drawn in for brief moments.

    Really enjoyed the article, Strider.

  6. kangaroodort says:

    It doesn’t matter if it occurs through secondary causes because such secondary causes are like instrumental causes in a Calvinist context—no different than my using a stick to move a stone.

    Exactly. Even secondary causes are meticulously decreed and manipulated by God in traditional Calvinism, so appeal to secondary causes is a red herring and explains nothing. It would be like saying that a puppeteer does not control the movements of the marionette, because he pulls on the marionettes strings (secondary cause) rather than just tugging on the limbs directly.

    • StriderMTB says:

      Ben, I must confess I borrowed the stick-stone analogy from William Lane Craig. Your puppeteer analogy is going into my arsenal now too 🙂 I still have yet to see any recognized Calvinist theologian reply to WLC’s devastating critique of Calvinism’s hard and soft determinism. This seems odd to me given the fact that WLC is so well known and very little that he remains unnoticed. If I were a Calvinist I honestly wouldn’t know where to begin in a reply to his 5 points. All I would be able to do is absorb his critique and then punt to mystery… or offer the classic-yet-overused line: “He just doesn’t understand Calvinism. He is attacking straw-men.”

  7. drwayman says:

    THEO – Thanks for the comments. I am a bit confused though about your comment regarding prevenient grace. All Christians believe in prevenient (an olde English word meaning preceding) grace. Calvinists believe that it is irresistible. Arminians teach that it resistible. I don’t see an idiosyncrasy there.

    Lastly, I’m a little troubled by your concern that I need a bigger God. You know, theology doesn’t make God bigger or smaller. He does not change. Nothing that mankind can do can make God bigger or smaller. I’ll bet we serve the same God.

    You are stating that I am trapped in a rationalistic mindset. That seems to be an ill-leveled statement. God is orderly. God is consistent. The idea that if God seemingly acts contrary to what He has stated in His Word, then God must have some kinds of dual will going on is being trapped in a “constraint of a human mind.” The reason why I say so, is that this harkens back to the garden of Eden, when Satan proposed the idea that God doesn’t mean what He says. Their human mind chose to constrain God and say the problem must be with God. When, the much better answer, one that honors God’s impeccable character, is that the conundrum is with mankind not God.

    So, when I am confronted with something that God apparently does that is apparently in contradiction to His Word, I honor my LORD by asking His Holy Spirit, “Am I misattributing something to You, LORD, or am I misunderstanding Your Word?” Then I am not guilty of the Calvinist error which wants to place all the blame at God’s feet. I look to see where I am wrong. God promises that He will show me the error or my ways if I just ask Him. I don’t want to presume that He doesn’t mean what He says.

    BTW – For the life of me, I don’t understand why Calvinists want to blame God for evil…

    Finally, you stated, “He is AWESOME and you can trust Him completely!” On that we agree. I do trust him completely and I am frequently awestruck by God.

    • THEOparadox says:

      Dale,

      I am a bit confused though about your comment regarding prevenient grace. All Christians believe in prevenient (an olde English word meaning preceding) grace. Calvinists believe that it is irresistible. Arminians teach that it resistible. I don’t see an idiosyncrasy there.

      I was referring to the SPECIAL USE of this term in Arminian theology as little more than a synonym for LFW.

      Beyond this, I was responding to your statement that the “two wills” motif would make it difficult for a person to trust in God and His Word. My point is that you can trust a God who reveals Himself in “two wills” when you recognize that He is capable of more complex and nuanced ways of doing, willing and thinking than we are. As I approach God and consider His ways, it would be presumptuous for me to think I can rationally comprehend Him in a manner that would be sufficient to reduce His action, will and thought to complete, singular clarity. I choose to hold to a mysterious “two wills” approach rather than rationalize Him into a describable quantity. This is not a repudiation of logic or reason; it is, I hope, a realistic acknowledgement of the limitations inherent in mere human reason. Like you, I love reason and want to go as far as possible with it.

      “Two wills” is also the best sense I can make out of the fact that God sincerely desires (and would heartily delight in) the salvation of all people (Eze 18:23, 32; I Tim 2:4), and yet also wills to condemn the unrepentant (2 Thess 1:5-9; Book of Revelation) . Both of those wills are undeniably Biblical, and yet they clearly cross one another at points (in human thinking, at least). Similarly, He loves the sinner (Jn 3:16) and also hates the sinner (Ps 5:4-5; 11:5); He gives Christ for all people (Jn 6:32-33) and yet gives Him especially for those whom He gave to Christ (Jn 6:37, 39); Christ is the propitiation for the whole world (I Jn 2:2; Jn 1:29), but the Advocate for believers only (I Jn 2:1; Ro 8:34); God loves all people (Ps 145:9; 33:5), yet He has a special love for His redeemed children (Ps 145:20; 33:18; Jn 14:21, 23); Christ draws all men to Himself (Jn 12:32), but only those drawn by the Father can come to Him (Jn 6:44, 65).

      What are we to do with all of this? Employ creative exegesis to make it all fit into a neat, logical system? Not for me! I have reasonable theories and speculations of how it all works, but I’m not messing with (dishonoring) God’s Word by taking away one jot or tittle through my own reasoning.

      I find it exegetically undeniable that the “two wills” motif is found throughout the Scriptures. And I would agree with you that the fault lies with us if we cannot explain it all perfectly. Fortunately, we don’t have to.

      FWIW, I also believe we worship the same God. We conceive of Him quite differently, but He is big enough for that, too. 🙂

      Blessings,
      Derek

      • drwayman says:

        THEO – Unfortunately, you believe that PREVENIENT GRACE is a “special use” for LFW. Many Calvinists seem to think that the crux of Arminianism is LFW. Prevenient grace is not about free will but rather a “freed will.” Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that we are totally depraved and have no idea that we need a savior. When God moves in on someone, He frees the will. Calvinists believe that when God does this, it results in an automatic regeneration, the person has no choice but to believe.

        Arminians believe that when God does this, He does not force regeneration on anyone. Hence, there can be three responses: 1) rejection of God, 2) acceptance of God, 3) non-resistance but not acceptance.

        Yet, this definition of prevenient grace is not the crux of Arminianism. Why so many Calvinists spin their wheels on LFW in opposing Arminianism is beyond me. It is wasted effort.

        If one wants to thoughtfully oppose Arminianism, then confront the crux of Arminianism. The crux, the defining theme of Arminianism, is the character of God. What does God’s Word say about God’s character? All scripture needs to be seen thru that lens. To have a two-willed God is slanderous to His impeccable character. As I pointed out earlier, that is the lie that got this whole mess started: God doesn’t mean what He says.

        The result is that God cannot be trusted. I believe when God says something, He means it. I can trust Him (and I do trust Him 100% even when my puny mind doesn’t understand) because His Word is trustworthy and God will not do something that opposes His Word.

        I noticed that you pointed out some verses that apparently are at odds with each other to support your belief in this two-wills theory of God. That’s rather unfortunate that you would would rather support a theory than our God. God does not oppose Himself nor is He contradictory. It’s easy to cherry-pick verses that seemingly oppose each other. It’s a dangerous thing to not treat God’s Word with the utmost respect. God’s Word needs to be understood in a plenary fashion. One must look at the entirety of God’s Word to even begin to understand the multi-faceted wisdom of God. Cherry-picking does violence to God’s Word. I find it exegetically plenarily deniable that the “two wills” motif is found throughout the Scriptures.

      • theoparadox says:

        Dale,

        You said: “I noticed that you pointed out some verses that apparently are at odds with each other to support your belief in this two-wills theory of God.”

        Yes, “apparently” being the key word. These Biblical propositions are not truly at odds but in each case are two sides of the coin of what Scripture teaches. Similarly, God’s Two Wills can be viewed as two sides of a coin that is non-contradictory and yet might sometimes seem to be “apparently at odds.”

        “That’s rather unfortunate that you would would rather support a theory than our God.”

        This is a surprising and unusually inflammatory remark that does not represent your usual mode of interacting. Would you be willing to reconsider your comment?

        “God does not oppose Himself nor is He contradictory.”

        I couldn’t agree more. The Calvinistic conception of Two Wills does not teach that God opposes or contradicts Himself. If it did, I could not embrace it and I doubt that Piper would, either.

        “It’s a dangerous thing to not treat God’s Word with the utmost respect.”

        Again, I agree and I’m not sure why you are saying this. Is there evidence of disrespect for God’s Word anywhere in any of my writings? Treating God’s Word with the utmost respect motivated Piper to write the Two Wills essay, and also motivated Edwards to formulate his theology as he did. I rarely find serious Calvinists or Arminians who do not treat God’s Word with the utmost respect. Do you?

        “One must look at the entirety of God’s Word to even begin to understand the multi-faceted wisdom of God.”

        Once again, I couldn’t agree more. Multi-faceted is a translation of the Greek word POLYPOIKILOS in Eph 3:10. This is one of the Biblical concepts that challenged me several years ago to start considering Biblical paradoxes, where two or more facets must be considered simultaneously and examined compositely for a full understanding of the Bible’s teaching on certain complex subjects (for example, God’s love and hatred for sinners, the extent of the atonement, the general and effectual call, God’s will, etc.).

        “I find it exegetically plenarily deniable that the “two wills” motif is found throughout the Scriptures.”

        That’s fair. I find it exegetically plenarily impossible to understand the Bible as non-contradictory apart from this motif. We study, believe and respect the same Bible but disagree about this aspect of its teaching. No big deal. There will be more clarity when we see Him face to face.

        Blessings,
        Derek

  8. StriderMTB says:

    “If one wants to thoughtfully oppose Arminianism, then confront the crux of Arminianism. The crux, the defining theme of Arminianism, is the character of God.”

    Yes–I have long been saying this! I don’t think Calvinists want to concede this because they have expended too much energy in the past creating the false narrative that Arminianism is a merit-making, man-centered, man-glorifying theology that de-thrones God’s sovereignty, etc.

    I just posted my part 4 but in my part 5 I hope to tackle the “two wills motif” wherein Calvinists present a God who is simultaneously both friend and foe.

  9. kangaroodort says:

    Regarding “two wills” it is much better to conceive of God’s will as complex or conditional that to see it as two diametrically opposed wills. These comments sum things up nicely,

    “I think the Calvinist view of two wills is egregious and absurd. Part of the problem is that one can describe the Arminian view in terms of two wills, and some Calvinists like to play that up, but the two views are so far apart as to have almost nothing to do with one another. Everybody knows what it is to have two or more conflicting desires. And everyone knows what it’s like to have power to force someone else to do what one wants, but chooses not to because of respect for that person’s will or to be able to have genuine relationship or what have you. But Calvinism posits God saying and commanding what he wants to happen, and then irresistibly causing people to violate that, and then punishing them for it, assuring us that he’s still good because there was a part of him that didn’t want to do it. If he could have thought of a better way to display his justice and power than commanding people not to do things that he unconditionally and irresistibly decreed that they would do, necessitating them to do it, if he could have come up with a better way, than he would have. That’s just nonsense to me.

    The trick that Calvinists like to do, and Piper is very good at this, is abstracting the two views to the point that they can both be described in the same way, and then alleging that they are hardly different. Calvinists probably tend to do that a lot (abstracting two different views on any number of topics to make them sound the same). But the specifics and the details make all the difference. Just think of the difference between telling your son not to touch the TV with the threat of a spanking for disobeying, and then grabbing his hand and making him touch the TV (or somehow irresistibly controlling your son’s will so that he touches the TV) followed by a spanking for touching the TV vs. telling your son not to touch the TV with the threat of a spanking for disobeying, and being in the room in the position to stop him when he goes to touch the TV, but you don’t stop him and then give him a spanking. Both of those scenarios could be abstracted to the point of describing them in the essentially same way: you had one will that the boy not touch the TV and not be spanked, but you had another will that the boy be able to touch the TV and get spanked because of a higher purpose you had. If you abstract it to a high enough degree, you can make them sound the same. But they are so completely different as to have almost nothing in common.

    I don’t think it is helpful to speak about the Arminian view as two wills. I think it is better to think of it as one complex will, or one conditional will. God desires this if such and such is the case, but this if such and such is the case. This comports with the normal experience of having conflicting desires largely created by differing circumstances in the world. Usually, one’s “will” refers to the desire one chooses to pursue or one’s greatest desire. I ask a woman to marry me, and surely want her to say yes, but only if she wants to and is uncoerced. So do I want to marry her or not? Complex will. I want her to want to marry me, and I want her to say yes, but I only want her to freely want to marry me (so uncoerced, not under the influence of a drug, etc.) and I only want her to say yes if she really wants to. Do I want to marry her? Yes. Do I want to marry her if she doesn’t want to? No. Two different wills? No, not really. One complex will: I want to marry her if she wants to marry me and freely accepts. But do I want her to want to marry me? Yes. But do I want her to want to marry me if she is somehow irresistibly caused to do so, perhaps by a drug or effective magic love potion? No. Two different wills? Not really. One complex will: I want her to freely want to marry me. But Calvinism is completely different. Irresistible cause is not an issue. Everything is unconditionally decided and caused by God. It is all according to whatever he says is to be.”

    http://evangelicalarminians.org/two-wills-in-god/

    • THEOparadox says:

      Ben,

      I would recommend (re-)reading Piper’s essay on the two wills. He never says the two wills are diametrically opposed, but actually demonstrates the opposite. What is stated above simply does not address what Piper wrote.

      Google “John Piper two wills” and you will find it.

      Blessings,
      Derek

      • kangaroodort says:

        Derek,

        Iv’e read it. I own “Still Sovereign” which has a pretty exhaustive treatment of the subject by Piper (pp. 107-131). I am afraid I am just going to have to disagree with your assessment. Now it may be that Piper makes claims that God’s will is not contradictory, but that is at odds with the way he describes things, especially against the backdrop of his fundamental Calvinist presuppositions. It is just like how Calvinists say that God is the origin of all sin and evil in this world (through His irresistible eternal decree), as Piper does, and yet not the responsible author of sin. Double talk, nothing more. The same type of thing that Matt is addressing in these posts.

        Oh, and what is stated above absolutely addresses what Piper wrote.

        God Bless,
        Ben

  10. drwayman says:

    jcfreak – I’m glad that you followed up on prevenient grace. I really liked the way that you put it. Here’s a post regarding the order of salvation that presents a good description of prevenient grace as well: http://evangelicalarminians.org/what-is-the-order-of-salvation/

  11. drwayman says:

    StriderMTB – you said, “In my opinion I would think “trust” would be the first thing to go if I felt God was working against my sanctification by sovereignly decreeing the very sins that keep me in a state of un-sanctification.”

    Agreed 🙂 For example, God’s Word says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…” I Thes 4:3a Hence, we know that God’s word is trustworthy and that His will is my sanctification.

    If God were sovereignly decreeing the very sins that keep me in a state of un-snactification, it would be kinda like God is playing chess against Himself and we are just the pawns in His cosmic game, amusing Himself so that he could gain more glory. In this chess game, I wonder what wins? God’s decretive will or His plain will as stated in I Thes 4:3?

    God is trustworthy. When He says it His will that I be sanctified, I can count on Him. I don’t have to worry about His decretive will working against my sanctification.

  12. kangaroodort says:

    Regarding my comments to Derek regarding Piper’s “Two Wills” defense, see Thomas McCall’s devastating response to Piper which deals with Piper’s theology threatening God’s aseity (below). In this article he also addresses Piper’s “Two Wills” defense exposing its blatantly contradictory nature and also addresses the major problems Piper’s theology creates for sanctification, as Dr. Wayman concisely pointed out above:

    http://evangelicalarminians.org/thomas-mccall-we-believe-in-gods-sovereign-goodness-a-rejoinder-to-john-piper/

  13. B-man says:

    I always find Calvin’s/Piper’s position to be a highly impractical and redundant exaggeration of what most Christians believe, which is that, God’s ways are above man’s. To presume that we know God has willfully intended every act is a matter that is beyond us, and therefore I don’t believe that God has ever required us to submit to, or act in accordance to what we CAN’T know, but rather we are to act upon what He has made tangible to us, even if it may only be faith; “…that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) In my experience, it is more indicative of sinners to believe that their actions and choices have been hopelessly pre-scripted despite what they seem to acknowledge as the power of human will. And it is always the sinner who consoles himself in that what he does, he should suffer no consequences, since he is only acting out of what he thinks is the natural order of his life and the world around him. So how would Piper respond to a sinner who believes he should not change or repent since his sin is “natural”? And if Piper believes that God orders sin for a greater good, then why would the call for men to “depart from iniquity” exist? Would that not thwart the notion of from evil comes good? If we wanted to keep in line with the idea that good comes from evil, shouldn’t we actually want to sin more that grace may abound? Calvinism has always alluded to the idea that obeying God according to His word is somehow tantamount to usurping His sovereignty, and if that idea is not a hypocritical theological oxymoron, I don’t know what is.

    • StriderMTB says:

      Great comments B-man, I couldn’t agree more!

      • B-man says:

        I apologize in advance if you have already written on this, or if this may be off topic,but I have always found a few scriptures in Genesis to be very intriguing in response to Pipers position.
        Gen. 3:22 “…’Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now LEST HE PUT OUT HIS HAND and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever’.”
        Gen.11:6 “…’now nothing they propose to do will be withheld from them’.”
        Gen. 6:6 And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth and He was grieved in His heart.
        In preface, let me say that I believe God is the Alpha and Omega, He is all knowing, fore knowing and in control, but in these verses it seems to me that there are these variables, or possible scenarios that God doesn’t address until AFTER the fact, or after the actions of man. That’s not to say that God was caught off guard or unprepared, but to the contrary. To me at least, I see in these verses, a God who is so sovereign and in control, that He doesn’t need to pre-script or pre-plan events and actions. He is able to wait or act as He pleases ahead of, or in response to man without being subjugated to man. To me God seems so much bigger in these verses as an active participant in the affairs of man and creation, rather than the one Piper presents in which there doesn’t seem to be a real ongoing relationship with man.

  14. Pingback: Big Trouble in Little Geneva: Good Series Exposing the Major Theological Problems Inherent in John Piper’s Calvinist Theodicy | Arminian Perspectives

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