A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: Calvinism’s Cognitive Dissonance. Part 4

John Piper, a passionate preachercognitive dissonance much to be admired in many ways, expends no small amount of effort zealously seeking to discredit Arminianism or any belief he feels threatens divine truth–or at least his version of it. Curiously no matter what argument a Calvinist, like John Piper, can come up with to refute Arminianism—he or she must believe that the very thing they are attacking as wrong was conceived by God and determined by God. Thus they are fighting against what God himself decided ought to be believed! The question begs to be asked: How is it logically coherent for Piper to theologically or morally condemn what he assumes God has divinely determined ought to be?

This essential problem spills over into how a Calvinist can relate to any moral wrong and judge it as objectively evil (i.e. against God’s good nature). Of all my reasons to distance myself from Calvinism, the foremost reason is that I think there truly are evils in this world that God has not devised and willed to occur in any sense. As such these evils are against all aspects of God’s character and by definition all aspects of his holy will—specifically because his righteous character cannot conceive them or decree them.

But a Calvinist who adopts the Piper Theodicy can’t say that—so they must somehow ignore the logical implications of their belief in order to muster up the motivation and incentive to redress certain evils (i.e. greed, rape, child pornography, infanticide, racism, slavery, adultery, homosexual marriage) as if they were never God’s intended, sovereign plan for the world. But to do this is to enter a state of cognitive dissonance.

Here are two examples:

The first example concerns Piper’s denunciation of abortion. He declares:

It is a sin of presumption to justify abortion by taking comfort in the fact that all these little children will go to heaven… it is evil to justify killing by the happy outcome of eternity for the one killed. This same justification could be used to justify killing one-year olds, or any heaven-bound believer for that matter. [1]  

Never mind the fact (at this juncture) that Piper thinks God has decreed every single abortion and act of murder for the “happy outcome” of his glory shining more brightly. The point I want to immediately zero in on is Piper’s reasoning as to why a “do evil so that good can come” rationale is contrary to a divinely inspired moral paradigm as revealed in Scripture. For he goes on to state:

“The Bible asks the question: “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) And: “Shall we do evil that good may come?” (Romans 3:8). In both cases the answer is a resounding NO. It is presumption to step into God’s place and try to make the assignments to heaven or to hell. Our duty is to obey God, not to play God.  [2]  

Is Piper right that we can’t step into God’s place and make assignments to heaven or hell by killing babies?  Yes of course, but that is not the real question! Who determined that people would “step into God’s place” and think they are justified in “playing God” by aborting millions of babies so they can go to heaven? God did! Why? As always the answer is the same. God decided it ought to occur for the sake of some twisted notion of his glorious goodness and grace being revealed. The point is that in Piper’s theodicy God has decreed that mothers murder their children in the womb so “that good may come” and his glory and “grace may abound”. [3]

But wait! Aren’t these moral justifications representative of the exact scriptural denunciations Piper enlists to denounce such moral thinking as contrary to a divine moral paradigm? How then can Piper continue to insist that God decreed and purposed sin and evil to occur so that good can come and the glory of his grace shine more brightly? This is cognitive dissonance par excellence.

Unbeknownst to him Piper is unconsciously seeking consonance between his conflicting ideas of reality by engaging in “dissonance reduction.” This is achieved by temporarily ignoring, suspending or lowering the significance of one of the discordant factors inherent to his theology in order to affirm a contradictory one. I think it was Roger Olson who was the first to astutely attribute this common behavior among Calvinists as being little more than “an act of sheer will.” The more I engage with Calvinists and their attempts to reconcile discordant, contradictory factors within their theology, the more I believe I am not just dealing with committed faith or belief. I am dealing with a very strong and stubborn will!

All that to say, in rightly arguing against any justification that would purpose the committal of an evil on that grounds that it brings about a redeeming good, Piper has unwittingly undermined his own moral footing in assuming that God is morally justified in decreeing all evil for the sake of pursuing the good of his own glory (which again is itself an unfounded, absurd claim).

Is God glorified in triumphing over the purposes of evil and rescuing us from sin? Yes! But it is another thing entirely to then suggest that God decreed all insidious evil so that he could triumph over it as some sort of divine hero. Is God a moral arsonist? Piper’s view is akin to an arsonist purposely setting fire to a nursery, just so he can rush in and scoop up some kids and be praised as a rescuing hero.

The second example is Piper’s denunciation of the prosperity gospel. In an interview Piper made his disdain quite clear, saying, “I abominate the prosperity gospel because it is a false gospel.” [4]

Similarly in writing he again denounces it as something he despises by making the following appeal to preachers:

“Luring people to Christ to get rich is both deceitful and deadly. It’s deceitful because when Jesus himself called us, he said things like: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). And it’s deadly because the desire to be rich plunges “people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). So here is my plea to preachers of the gospel: Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes it harder for people to get into heaven.” [5]

Wait! Did Piper just say the false prosperity gospel “makes it harder for people to get into heaven?” I thought Piper believed in unconditional election whereby God chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell irrespective of anything else—including our response to the gospel or the prosperity gospel for that matter? Does Piper really think the prosperity gospel “makes it harder” for God to choose whom he will save and whom he will eternally damn? If not, then why even say it?

But lets put that aside for now since we aren’t dealing with soteriology specifically. I only mention it to set up the point that Piper is internally conflicted on multiple levels. He genuinely cares so much for the true gospel that it seems to cleave him in two. Half of him can’t help but bring into question and denounce the very thing the other half thinks God has decreed ought to be part of the fabric of our world—the false prosperity gospel!

In the end Piper must concede that God preordained the prosperity gospel and every sermon, every book and every author who advocates for it. Why? Because God decided that it should be so for the sake of his glorious goodness. Obviously this rationale doesn’t just concern the prosperity gospel. It concerns everything Piper abhors and denounces as a “deceitful and deadly” enemy to the true gospel. Somehow Piper must juggle his concern for the true gospel while knowing full well that God decreed all the deceptive, false gospels that ensnare men and “make it harder for people to get to heaven.” I’ve said it many times and now say it again. To embrace Calvinism is to embrace a state of cognitive dissonance wherein you do not allow yourself to fully pursue the utter horror and discordant absurdity of what you believe.

Whether one can admit it or not, the fact is there is very little Calvinism can offer by way of motivation and incentive to put to right the wrongs of the world. If there were, what would it be? Would it be to test us? Has God decreed all our besetting sins to reveal our need of him? Not only does that fall woefully short as an explanation, it’s also pointless given the fact that God would have also decreed who recognizes their need of him and who doesn’t.

In short nothing can be said to be truly blameworthy in a Piper Theodicy because all things have been decreed by divine goodness for the sake of divine goodness. The world is the way it is at every second because God predestined it to be exactly as it is at every second!

As already noted above, a belief in theological determinism, like that seen in the Piper Theodicy, leaves little room to truly condemn anything or anyone. For to give any evil occurrence in the world your disapproval is to call into question what God has predetermined ought to occur. As such who are you, a mere man, to do that? It would seem much more fitting and proper to acquiesce to all things in view of the fact that God has sovereignly predetermined them.

Calvinism’s perennial problem is what God’s moral nature decrees is by nature so closely aligned to what God condones that a Calvinist must step outside his theology to condemn it and redress it.

Indeed any true Calvinist who wants to distance himself from a particular societal evil and question its moral rightness, must somehow annul himself from all logic that would throw the question back into his face and force him to answer why its logically right to morally question and abhor what God has allegedly divinely determined ought to be part of the fabric of our world.

Would it not be to put one’s self in the position of fighting against Almighty God? For many Calvinists, such as Piper, this question asks far too much of them to reflect upon.

[1]   http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/ten-reasons-why-it-is-wrong-to-take-the-life-of-unborn-children

[2]  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/ten-reasons-why-it-is-wrong-to-take-the-life-of-unborn-children

[3]  There may be the feeble attempt to argue back that in cases of abortion God is morally justified in taking the lives of babies because he is the author and giver of life and is under no moral obligation to extend the life of anyone. Well and good. But that misses the point. Abortion is not some passive act that ends life and occurs in a vacuum. Piper must also concede that God decreed who would grow up to become an abortion doctor and which mothers would abort their children. Moreover in the evils of rape, child abuse, torture, domestic abuse, greed and adultery–which Piper also believes God willed–God is doing much more than “making assignments to heaven or hell.” God is actively seeking to fulfill his decrees for evil to occur by decreeing agents to carry his plan. In such a frame the face of God is lost and the face of Satan emerges.

[4]  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLRue4nwJaA

[5] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/prosperity-preaching-deceitful-and-deadly

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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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4 Responses to A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: Calvinism’s Cognitive Dissonance. Part 4

  1. kangaroodort says:

    In the end Piper must concede that God preordained the prosperity gospel and every sermon, every book and every author who advocates for it. Why? Because God decided that it should be so for the sake of his glorious goodness. Obviously this rationale doesn’t just concern the prosperity gospel. It concerns everything Piper abhors and denounces as a “deceitful and deadly” enemy to the true gospel.

    This is a very good point that is really hard for consistent Calvinists to grapple with (unless they just revert back to crying out, “mystery!” or “paradox!”) I wrote a short post a while back addressing this issue with John Mac Arthur being concerned about fellow Calvinist rejecting his premillenialism:

    http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/how-can-gods-glory-be-diminished-in-calvinism/

  2. StriderMTB says:

    Ben, just checked out your link! You totally KILLED it! And you did it with such humor. However the most humorous aspect is that you really weren’t trying to be funny by enlisting the support of straw men. You were simply letting the logic speak for itself…but oh so good 🙂

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

  4. Pingback: Tim Keller: Private Calvinist, Public Arminian | A Theology in Tension

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