An Insightful Review of Austin Fischer’s New Book on Leaving Calvinism

Check out this reflective and insightful review of Austin Fischer’s book, Young, Restless And No Longer Reformed.  John Frye (also a former Calvinist) presents a short and thought provoking summary of the problems inherent in Calvinism that Austin highlights in his book.

John Frye, Review of *Young Restless and No Longer Reformed*

Related Posts:

Glen Shellrude, Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts, Or Why I Am Not A Calvinist

Calvinist Prayer (And Many Other Things) Explained

How Can God’s Glory Be “Diminished” in Calvinism?

Category: Salvation Assurance

Is God Like A Black Hole in Calvinism?

X-Calvinist Corner

 

Great Follow-up Comments by David Martinez on the Recent Conversation Between James White and Austin Fischer

You can read the post at SEA here.

David does a fine job exposing White’s spurious debate tactics.  James White has truly made an art out of poisoning the well as Martinez well points out (See post below for more evidence).  And again, we see the tired old assumption that one cannot possibly disagree with Calvinism on Biblical grounds.  Why?  Because Calvinism is so obviously Biblical, of course.  So any disagreement with Calvinism must be driven by some sort of ulterior motive or disrespect for Scripture.

David also does a great job easily dispatching the horrible Calvinist prooftexting of John 17:9.  I will borrow one of White’s favorite superlative phrases and agree with Martinez in my “utter amazement” that Calvinists still try to use this passage to support Calvinism.  I’m amazed, truly and utterly amazed!

Related:

Those in Glass ivory Towers Shouldn’t Throw Stones

Five Part Series Responding to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” (Highlights Several Problems With Calvinist Argumentative Techniques and Fallacious Debate Tactics).

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics (14 Part Series on Apologetic Fallacies Typically Employed by Calvinists Like James White)

Is God Like a Black Hole in Calvinism? Ex-Calvinist Austin Fischer Responds to John Piper

Austin Fischer Responds to John Piper About Leaving Calvinism

I think Mr. Fischer makes a valid point about how Piper’s claims do seem to plainly paint God in a way that seems at odds with Scripture and seems to threaten His aseity.

Here are a few other posts that make similar observations:

Dr. Thomas McCall Takes on John Piper And The Calvinistic View of God’s Sovereignty

Big Trouble in Little Geneva

John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”

The F.A.C.T.S. of Salvation vs. The T.U.L.I.P. of Calvinism

While Calvinists like to play with flowers (or MUPPETS?), Arminians prefer to deal with the FACTS.  For an excellent and detailed summary of what Arminians believe and why, be sure to check out The FACTS of Salvation: A summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace!!

I just wanted to share some brief notes about my article, “The FACTS of Salvation: A Summary of Arminian Theology/the Biblical Doctrines of Grace,” recently published here at the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. It comes to about 25 pages and is a summary of Arminian theology with substantial scriptural support using the acronym FACTS. It is meant to be a positive presentation of the Arminian position and so does not typically get into debate over the various Scriptures appealed to, but mostly assumes a particular interpretation of them.

We occasionally get requests for Scripture citations to support our statement of faith. We have never felt it necessary to add Scripture references to our statement of faith since the website is largely dedicated to giving scriptural support for the distinctive elements of Arminian theology. But this FACTS article now provides that in a substantial way in one article. May the Lord use it to bless his church and advance his truth. [link]

The Calvinist Non-Answer Highlighted: What if my Children are Not Elect?

(See Updated material at bottom)

Someone named Tim Kimberley wrote a post at Credo House asking, “What if my Children are not Elect?”   The post is a response to an inquirer who is struggling with the horrific implications of Calvinist determinism with regards to the predetermined destiny of his or her children.  Kimberley offers an answer, but it evades the heart of the problem.  In the comments we see the same thing: Calvinist after Calvinist evading the heart of the problem and side stepping numerous straightforward questions being asked by those who are not convinced by the claims of Calvinism.  Just reading the comments and the responses by Calvinists is really instructive and highlights what an impossible problem this creates for them in counseling parents who are struggling with such questions.  The following comment  highlights this problem well:

An honest question deserves a straightforward answer.

First, Kimberly’s “step back” is not only irrelevant but also deflects from the real issue, which the question evokes, and is misleading.

Although it is true that both Calvinist and Arminians agree that “each individual must come to Jesus on their own”, Kimberly fails to mention the Calvinist view portrays the individual as responding due solely to the divine predetermination regarding how this or that particular person will respond to the Gospel; that is, in reality, no response – positive or negative – is ultimately an act of one’s own free will but God’s predetermined act to effect the desired response from each individual based on nothing but God’s unrevealed will. This view is in stark contrast to Arminian soteriology and renders the similarity as Kimberly suggests as merely superficial.

Second, when “getting back to the issue at hand”, there remains an (unconscious? conscious?) attempt to evade the real answer which the inquirer seeks.

The question is not, “What if my kids do not love Jesus?” but “What if my kids aren’t elect?” There is a big difference between the two questions and, as such, his answer does not at all deal directly to the query.

The more accurate answer, logically following Calvinist teaching, is simply: if your child is not elect, there is nothing at all you can do about it. The only comfort that one may afford is that at present you do not know whether or not your child is elect. Praying will not change God’s mind if your child is not elect. As a Calvinist, all that seems left to do is cross your fingers and hope for the best; and, yes, the idea that one’s child is not of the elect should cause a parent to be sick and have “a hard time” – a very hard time – seeing it as conducive to God’s glory.

For more on this thorny problem for Calvinism, see my post: Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents? 

Update: 

I got into a little back and forth with some Calvinists in the comments thread of Kimberley’s post. I posted as “arminianperspectives” rather than “kangaroodort”. Unfortunately, it looks like they decided to shut down comments before I could respond further to these Calvinists or answer their questions. So I will leave my responses here (click on the comments section of this post to see my responses). If you want to follow that discussion, it starts here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect/#comment-107855

It isn’t directly related to the content of the post, but my responses were for the purpose of clearing up confusion and misrepresentations of what Arminians believe (though I did try to get clarification on an “answer” that one of them gave here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect/#comment-107860). It progressed from there.

However, the writer of the comment I highlighted here responded further, keeping the focus on the topic at hand.  He wrote:

I’m disappointed that this conversation continues wide of the mark of the specific point that the question addresses. Here’s a blog that addresses the specific issue with, from my perspective, greater relevancy than either Kimerly’s reponse or everyone’s comments thus far. I would ask the Calvinist to please take time (it is not long at all) to read it:

http://classicalarminian.blogspot.com/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect-love.html

Unfortunately, his comment was essentially met with snide remarks from these two Calvinists and another disturbing non-answer at the bottom of  the thread,

Truth isn’t always comforting and, in this case, it definitely is not. Again unbelievers are without hope, without God. Parents can only surrender their children to the sovereignty of God and accept that whatever He has chosen to do with those children is right and glorifies Him – to do anything less is idolatry because it is putting those children ahead of God. (http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect/#comment-108016)

Big Trouble in Little Geneva: Good Series Exposing the Major Theological Problems Inherent in John Piper’s Calvinist Theodicy

Be sure to check out Matt’s concise and devastating critique of Calvinist Theodicy as expressed by John Piper.  Make sure you have a look at the comments after the posts as well.

A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: Purposing Evil for the Purpose of Good?  Part 1

A Critique of John Piper’s Theodicy: Is God Morally Color Blind? Part 2

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

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

Related Posts and articles: 

Thomas McCall’s “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper (A truly devastating critique of numerous aspects of Piper’s Theology and his attempts to rescue his Theology from inevitable logical contradictions)

John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin and Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”

Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism And Why You Should be an Arminian

Who Authored the Crime?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacy #8: “Calvinism Doesn’t Charge God With the Authorship of Sin”

More on the Authorship of Sin

More on the Authorship of Sin (Part 2)

More on the Authorship of Sin (Part 3)

 

John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”

[Updated on 9/24/12]

John Piper preached a sermon on God’s sovereign control over all things.  In this sermon, Piper highly praises the works of Jonathan Edwards and relies heavily on his accounting of sovereignty to explain how God can decree and ordain all evil in this world, and yet not be rightly called the author of all sin and evil.  Thankfully, Piper is uncomfortable with calling God the author of sin, while still maintaining that God ordained and decreed all sin for His glory.  How does Piper do this?  The answer will likely surprise you.

First, Piper makes it clear that he believes that those who hold to God’s sovereignty in the context of Calvinistic exhaustive determinism have a far superior world view (a “God-entranced world view”) to those who define God’s sovereignty in a non-deterministic sense.  He writes,

But when a person settles it Biblically, intellectually and emotionally, that God has ultimate control of all things, including evil, and that this is gracious and precious beyond words, then a marvelous stability and depth come into that person’s life and they develop a “God-entranced world view.” When a person believes, with the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27), that “The almighty and everywhere present power of God . . . upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand” – when a person believes and cherishes that truth, they have the key to a God-entranced world view.

So my aim in this second message is to commend to you this absolute sovereign control of God over all things, including evil, because it is Biblical, and because it will help you become stable and deep and God-entranced and God-glorifying in all you think and feel and do.

First, we must point out that Arminians do not have a problem with God being in control of all things, including evil.  Arminians define this within the bounds of God’s permission.  God permits evil.  Evil does not take God by surprise.  But God does not control things in such a way that His creatures sin irresistibly (i.e. of necessity).  Piper may not claim this either, but the logic of his position demands it.  Even his quote of the Heidelberg confession leaves little room for any other conclusion, especially when it says, “yea, all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.”  Apparently, Piper includes sin and evil in the “all things” since he uses this definition of sovereignty as a spring board to his following point that,  “…my  aim in this second message is to commend to you this absolute sovereign control of God over all things, including evil, because it is Biblical…”  So it seems clear that according to his use of the confession that Piper believes that all sin and evil comes by “[God’s] fatherly hand.” 

If not for the way Piper uses the confession, the Arminian could hardly disagree that God is in control over all things including the evil that takes place in the world.  Again, this would be in the context of God’s permissive will and His setting limitations on evil and the extent to which evil can impact His creation and His ultimate plan, with a view towards God’s ultimate just judgment of all sin and evil at the end of time.  In this sense, God would “govern” evil, without necessitating it.  But that is quite a different thing than saying that sin and evil comes by God’s “fatherly hand”, for if sin and evil comes by the hand of God, how can anyone resist what God’s fatherly hand sets out to do? [1]

It seems from this that God must then be the “cause” of all sin and evil in a sense that goes beyond mere permission (and in a sense that should trace not only sin but responsibility for sin back to God’s “fatherly hand” from which it necessarily proceeds; indeed, sin would have its very origin from God).  That Piper sees sin as absolutely necessitated by God’s decree is made clear in his eventual quote of Charles Spurgeon,

When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,

‘What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man.’

So Piper approvingly quotes Spurgeon, who clearly argues that all that God ordains “must be”.  This includes sin.  Therefore, all sin and evil in this world is the unavoidable and necessary result of God’s eternal decree.  Obviously, no man has any power to resist God’s eternal necessitating decree.  Therefore, when a man sins, he sins irresistibly in accordance with an eternal decree that he is powerless to resist.

Piper quotes numerous passages of Scripture that he believes support his contention that God controls all evil (natural, animal, and moral).  It seems to me that all of these passages could just as well fit with the Arminian view of God’s sovereignty over evil as I described it above (See Daniel Whedon’s response to such passages below).  I will only focus on a few passages that I think Piper severely misuses.  Concerning Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt, Piper writes,

For example, all the choices of Joseph’s brothers in getting rid of him and selling him into slavery are seen as sin and yet also as the outworking of God’s good purpose. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers when they fear his vengeance, ‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.’

It seems to me that Piper is quickly softening his language here.  To say that the sinful actions that led to Joseph coming to power in Egypt was also the “outworking of God’s purpose” is quite a different thing than saying that those sins were necessitated by God in accordance with an irresistible eternal decree.  Piper makes reference to the insufficient response that an open theist might give to the way Piper sees God’s sovereignty at work in these passages, but does not really interact with the Arminian view as I described it above.  However, it seems that in his response to the open theist, Piper intends to undo any Arminian interpretation of this passage that would see it in the context of permission and using sinful actions to accomplish His will, while in no way causing those sinful actions,

But this will not fit what the text says or what Psalm 105:17 says. The text says, “You meant evil against me.” Evil is a feminine singular noun. Then it says, “God meant it for good.” The word “it” is a feminine singular suffix that can only agree with the antecedent feminine singular noun, “evil.” And the verb “meant” is the same past tense in both cases. You meant evil against me in the past, as you were doing it. And God meant that very evil, not as evil, but as good in the past as you were doing it. And to make this perfectly clear, Psalm 105:17 says about Joseph’s coming to Egypt, “[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” God sent him. God did not find him there owing to evil choices, and then try to make something good come of it. Therefore this text stands as a kind of paradigm for how to understand the evil will of man within the sovereign will of God.

Piper’s points concerning this passage hardly undermine the Arminian understanding of God’s sovereignty with respect to sin.  It doesn’t really support Piper’s case that God meant their sinful actions for “good” while they “were doing it.”

Why would it?  This only means that throughout the whole process, God was working ultimate good out of their actions that they intended for evil.  But this doesn’t mean that God caused them to sin so that He could bring good out of it.  Rather, at every step of the way, God was working out His plan to get Joseph to Egypt, even through the sinful free choices of his brothers.  In this way, God was “sending” Joseph to Egypt by ensuring that Joseph got to Egypt even through the sinful free will choices that God in no way caused Joseph’s brothers to commit.

God is so wise that even the free will choices of His creatures cannot thwart His ultimate purposes, and God can use those choices, even sinful ones, to accomplish those purposes.

Furthermore, it is doubtful that Piper’s appeal to Joseph being “sent” in Psalm 105:17 lends any support to his contention, since this Psalm is speaking in generalities (as Psalm’s often do), without concerning itself with philosophical specifics like the exact inner workings of what was involved in Joseph being “sent”. 

So we conclude that while Joseph’s brothers’ intentions in their actions were to get rid of Joseph forever, God’s intentions in (or through) their actions were to get Joseph to Egypt.  This in no way means that God caused those actions.  But this will not do for Piper.  He seems to want this passage to say something more, though appears hesitant to come right out and say it.  He makes specific reference to the language in a seeming attempt to more directly involve God in the actions of the brothers,

The text says, ‘You meant evil against me.’ Evil is a feminine singular noun. Then it says, ‘God meant it for good.’ The word “it” is a feminine singular suffix that can only agree with the antecedent feminine singular noun, “evil.” And the verb “meant” is the same past tense in both cases. You meant evil against me in the past, as you were doing it. And God meant that very evil, not as evil, but as good in the past as you were doing it. (emphasis mine)

Surely, Piper does not mean to say that God means evil for good as evil.  But this is what we would have to conclude from Piper’s language when he writes, “And God meant that very evil, not as evil, but as good in the past as you were doing it.”  Again, I would suspect that Piper would shy away from the claim that God means evil as good in the sense that God actually considers evil actions as good.  But if that is not what Piper is expressing, his point cannot stand.  Rather, God means evil for good in that the evil will still accomplish God’s purpose in getting Joseph to Egypt, which will ultimately result in the “good” of Joseph saving his family and the Egyptians from starvation.  There is no reason to believe that Joseph did not mean that God had the end result in mind, in saying that God meant their evil actions for good (the good of how God would use Joseph in Egypt), even while they were doing them

Biblical scholar Brian Abasciano gives a helpful illustration as to how God might intend for something other than what Joseph’s brother’s intended by their actions without in anyway needing to cause those specific actions or even approve of the motive behind them,

Normally, when one person does an action and means something for it and another person who does not do the action also means something for the action, there is no suggestion that the person who did not do the action somehow really did do it or irresistibly caused the other person to do it. If my son chooses to sign up for baseball, and means to have fun by it, and I mean for him to learn discipline by it, it does not mean that I made him sign up or that I irresistibly caused him to sign up or somehow irresistibly caused him to desire to sign up. He means it in the way appropriate for the person actually doing the action, and I mean it in a way appropriate to someone who has authority over the situation and power to stop the action. Any number of examples could be thought of for this, including ones with an evil purpose in the perpetrator of the action vs. a good one in someone who has power to stop or allow the action. (quoted from a  discussion thread)

Piper is placing a burden on the language of the passage that the language alone cannot be made to bear.  Strangely, Piper seems to plainly undercut his point here at the end of his sermon when he tries to prove that God ordaining sin does not make Him the author of sin.  He quotes Edwards approvingly,

God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . 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. (emphasis mine)

Later he writes,

“It is evident from what has been said that it is not because he delights in evil as evil. Rather he ‘wills that evil come to pass . . . that good may come of it.’” (emphasis mine)

Here, Piper, following Edwards, seems to be plainly focusing on the end result of evil being good, rather than viewing the actual evil acts as being “good” as they are being done (and notice the subtle language of permission here; more on that later).  If that is the case, all of Piper’s comments about specific language use (i.e., the word “it” referring back to their evil actions) fall to the ground (and it should be pointed out again that the view I am advocating is the traditional Arminian view which affirms God’s exhaustive foreknowledge in contrast to the “openness” view which denies God’s foreknowledge; the latter being the view that Piper is most directly attacking).  But it may be that Piper is saying that the word “evil” in the passage has reference to their intentions and that God willed or “meant” their evil intentions for “good”.  This can hardly be determined from the language.

It may be that both their intentions and their actions are meant by the word “evil”, with the focus from God’s perspective being on His meaning for their actions, resulting from their intentions, to bring about the good result of getting Joseph to Egypt.  But even if we say it has reference only to the specific evil intentions of Joseph’s brothers, it still does not create any problems for the Arminian view as shown above.  God can mean for their evil intentions to bring about the good that God intends (getting Joseph to Egypt and saving many from famine and ultimately reconciling Joseph to his family, etc.) without in any way causing those actions or decreeing them from all eternity.  Piper’s focus on the language meaning that God’s intention for their evil as being for good “while they were doing it” simply cannot demonstrate that God had some part in their evil actions while they were doing it.

Another passage Piper makes use of to demonstrate that God decrees sin is Acts 4:27, 28.  He quotes Edwards to make his point,

The death of Jesus offers another example of how God’s sovereign will ordains that a sinful act come to pass. Edwards says, ‘The crucifying of Christ was a great sin; and as man committed it, it was exceedingly hateful and highly provoking to God. Yet upon many great considerations it was the will of God that it should be done.’ Then he refers to Acts 4:27-28, ‘Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur’ (see also Isaiah 53:10). In other words, all the sinful acts of Herod, Pilate, of Gentiles and Jews were predestined to occur.

But this is not what the passage says at all.  The passage seems to be specifically referring to Christ’s death.  That is what was foreordained by God.  Just as with Joseph, God used the sinful actions of evil men to accomplish Christ’s sacrificial death, but this does not mean that God caused or necessitated their sinful actions (or evil intentions).  To say that the foreordination spoken of here has specific reference to every sinful choice leading to Christ’s death in the sense of God causing every one of those choices is to read far more into the text than the text is actually claiming.  Really, all God had to do was give Christ over to their power, knowing that, given the opportunity, they would, of their own free will, put Him to death (or hand Him over to be put to death, see footnote #2 below).  But God handing Christ over to them and giving them power over Him to the point of putting Him to death is not the same as God causing them to hate Christ and kill Him.  Piper seems to anticipate this basic response and relies on Edwards again to provide the answer,

Edwards ponders that someone might say that only the sufferings of Christ were planned by God, not the sins against him, to which he responds, ‘I answer, [the sufferings] could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer. [Therefore] even the free actions of men are subject to God’s disposal.’

But this is also easily answered by simply understanding this passage as God handing Christ over to the power of those who already hated Him.  This would obviously accomplish Christ’s suffering of contempt and disgrace without in anyway forcing us to assume that God caused those who killed Christ to treat Him with contempt.  The verses preceding those quoted by Edwards support the contention that God’s foreordination encompassed no more than God handing His Son over to those who were already bent on killing Him,

You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

 ‘Why do the nations rage

 and the peoples plot in vain?

 The kings of the earth take their

 stand

 and the rulers gather together

 against the Lord

 And against his anointed One’

This fits perfectly with the interpretation I am suggesting.  The “rulers” and “kings” were already “gathered together against” the Lord and His Messiah.  All God had to do was hand Christ over to them so they could deal with Him as they wished.  Piper’s interpretation would have us answer the question, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” with “because God caused them to, irresistibly controlling their intentions and actions in accordance with His eternal decree.”  This would hardly seem to be the intended answer to this rhetorical question.

We find further support for our interpretation, against Piper’s, in the parallel account found in Acts 2:23,

“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Emphasis mine) [2]

Piper quotes a few more passages [3] and then writes,

“Therefore I conclude with Jonathan Edwards, ‘God decrees all things, even all sins.’ Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, “He works all things after the counsel of His will.’”

It is important to review Piper’s view before proceeding.  According to Piper, all evil and sin “comes…by [God’s] fatherly hand,” falling under God’s providence in such a way that these sins “must be” (i.e. these sins happen of divine necessity), and that God “decrees all things, even all sins” (shockingly, even going so far as to claim that this divine decree of all sin and evil is “gracious and precious beyond words” and alone can produce Piper’s coveted  “God-entranced world view” producing “marvelous stability and depth” in our lives).  With this in mind, it is puzzling to read how Piper and Edwards proceed to vindicate God of the charge that such a view would seem to plainly imply as a logical necessity: that God is the author/originator of sin.

With this in mind, we proceed to the first of Piper’s “Two Questions”, which asks: “Is God the author of sin?”

Piper again relies entirely on Edwards to make his argument,

Edwards answers, “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.” But, he 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.

God is, Edwards says, “the permitter . . . of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state 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.

Since Piper relies on Edwards to explain how God can decree and necessitate sin and yet not be properly called the author of it, we shall here rely on early Methodist theologian Daniel Whedon to refute both Piper and Edwards:

In regard to Edwards, we may here note the very remarkable fact that, although his whole work aggressively maintains necessitation, yet when he comes to this point he defends only the theory of non-prevention!  He seems to forget to which side he belongs, and quietly exculpates his opponents, the non-preventionists, from charging God with the authorship of sin.  He makes two suppositions as follows:

1. “If”, says he, “by author of sin be meant the sinner, the agent, the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing;” (356) then- no matter what “then.” For that is an imaginary “if.”  The real question is: Suppose by “author” is meant necessitator of sin, the necessitator of all sin, the necessitator of the sinner to be the “sinner,” “the actor,” “the doer”; what then is the answer of Edwards?  Nothing.

2.  “But if,” says he, “by the author of sin is meant the permitter, or not hinderer of sin, and at the same time a disposer of the state of events in such a manner…that sin, if it is permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow:” (356) then God is no author of sin.  That is, the non-prevention theory- the theory of his opponents- does not make God the author of sin.  This is a generous exculpation of us Arminians!  But what does Edwards say in defense of his own theory, namely, of Necessitation?  Nothing.  He simply defends the position of his opponents, and leaves his own system defenseless and naked to its enemies.  He has demonstrated Calvinism; he now defends only Arminianism [4]. (The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pp. 343, 344)

Exactly.  For all of Piper’s arguments that God decrees and necessitates sin, he is only able to avoid making God the author of sin by following Edwards in arguing like an Arminian.  Just like Edwards, Piper has extensively argued for decretal necessitation of sin (even to the point of suggesting that all sin and evil actually originates by God’s “fatherly hand”), but now defends only the Arminian position of permission and non-prevention.  Not only does this contradict his own arguments to this point (which actually do imply that God is the necessitating author of sin), but it also vindicates the Arminian perspective on God’s sovereignty in relation to sin as well as the Arminian interpretation of the same passages that Piper previously used to show that God ordains all sin and evil.  Again, Whedon drives this point home in his response to Edwards’ use of the same sorts of passages,

Edwards next proceeds to the Scripture argument.  He adduces the cases of Pharaoh, of Joseph’s brethren, of the king of Assyria, of Nebuchadnezzar, and of the crucifiers of Christ to prove- it is not very clear what.  These passages, it is at present sufficient to say, have terms of causation that seem to ascribe authorship of sin to God.  These passages either prove God’s necessitation of sin, or his mere permission or non-prevention.  By Edwards own argument they cannot mean the former; for he asserts there is nothing but mere permission.  If there is nothing but mere permission, then they make nothing against Arminianism.  He quotes but does not analyze them on this point, very much as if he meant, non-committally, to have a causation and necessitation of sin, by the reader inferred, which he thought best not explicitly himself to express. (ibid. 346)

So, for all of Piper’s arguments we are left with the Arminian theory of non-prevention to account for God’s ordaining sin in such a way as to avoid making God the author of sin. How does Piper avoid the implications of his theology?  He avoids them by adopting the Arminian perspective, the very perspective he has worked so hard to argue against in his sermon.  But as Whedon points out concerning Edwards, Piper’s permission and non-prevention solution likewise cannot comport with Piper’s overall theology,

It is not merely permission, not-hindering, non-annihilation, non-prevention, privative non-interference, nor the sole arranging that sin, if not prevented, will take place, that Necessitarianism teaches.  It teaches that God is the necessitative first cause, through a straight inevitable line of necessitating second causes, of man’s existence, and of his very acts, and of his final damnation for the being and act.  Necessitated to be what he is, to do what he does, of that necessitation God is the original necessitator who not only negatively precludes any different results from any possible existence, but positively necessitates that sole result to come into existence.  That is, God necessitates his existence, his nature and sin.  Man has no adequate ability for different existence, choice, act, or destiny. (ibid., pp. 343, 344)

We are left with only two possibilities.  Either Piper is truly relying on the Arminian non-prevention position to escape the force of his own Calvinist logic in making God the author of sin, thereby defeating his previous arguments to the contrary, or he is using “permission” in a manner that is contrary to normal usage and understanding.  This second possibility is hinted at when Piper says, “God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission.” (Emphasis mine)  But what does this mean?  Can Piper’s attempt to mix permission and non-prevention with necessity succeed? 

To say that God “permits” sin to come about “necessarily” is nothing more than saying that God “established a world” in which sin happens of necessity.  In the Edwards/Piper/Calvinist scheme, man is powerless to control his nature.  Man is powerless to choose or act contrary to “strongest motive force.”  Man, likewise, has no control over which motive will indeed be the “strongest” and so irresistibly move his will in a certain direction.  All these things are necessitated by the eternal all-encompassing decree of God.  Adam’s sin, mankind’s consequent fallen nature, and every subsequent thought, motive, desire, and act are necessitated by eternal divine decree. A person can no more resist or act contrary to the eternal divine decree than he or she could create a universe.  How then can we speak of God merely “permitting” these “necessitated” sinful acts? [5]

Even if we speak of God “permitting” the person to sin in accordance with his nature without, perhaps, actually causing the nature to produce the sin, the point is undone when we remember that man’s nature was necessitated as well as the cause and effect relationship between the “nature” and “act” that “infallibly” produces not only the sin, but the specific sin that was decreed to be performed by the person from all eternity.  This must include the sinful intentions as well, since all things come by God’s “fatherly hand.” [6]  To say that God “permits” sin to “necessarily” come about sounds much nicer and far less offensive than saying that God simply necessitates or causes sin, but it amounts to the exact same thing; whether we soften the language or not, it still reduces to necessitation or exhaustive determinism.  Daniel Whedon puts his finger on the problem well when he writes,

In the question of responsibility for an intended effect, be it here noted, it makes no difference through how many intermediate necessary causes the causation has to pass from the first cause to the last effect.  No matter how long the series of mediate necessitative causes, or how many the terms in the series, the first intentional causer is the responsible author of the final intended effect.  If the necessary mediate causes are billions and billions, the intentional causer is as truly the responsible author of the effect at the far end as if it were an immediate voluntary act or a simple volition.  The whole series is responsibly one act; the final effect is the one act.  The line of causation shoots through the whole series, and binds the first cause to a responsibility for the last effect.

Suppose a boy upon a high scaffold intentionally so arranges a number of standing bricks in a row, that when he pushes down the first, that shall push down the second, and the second the third and so on, so that the last brick, according to his purpose, shall fall upon the head of a sleeping man, and fulfill his intention of murdering him.  Would the act be less guilty or the boy less responsible than if he had crushed the man with a single brick, or assassinated him with a dagger, or willed him to an actual death by a volition?  Or if the bricks were a small number, would the increase of them be a score, a hundred, or a thousand, diminish the responsibility?

It would be no moral exculpation of this boy to say that he merely “so disposed” the bricks that the murder, “if permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow.”  The statement would be false, for he did more than this.  He necessitated and non-alternatively caused the brick to fall; and so was the author of the murder- the murderer.  The causative force from his finger ran in a right line through all the bricks and murdered the man.  The intention of the act ran through all the bricks and achieved the crime.  He had excluded from each and every brick the adequate power or possibility for any other effect.  Mere permission and necessitation are thus very different things in the question of responsible authorship…The first cause is the responsible cause of the last effect.  If the first cause is a living being, he is not only the cause. But he is the causer.  And if he intended that the last effect should exist, then he is the intentional causer that the last effect should exist.  And if this first supposed causer is a supposed God, and the last effect is sin, the supposed God is the intentional causer of that sin.  But surely the intentional causer of a thing is author of that thing.  God then, according to necessitarianism, we charge, is the responsible author of sin.

And by the same doctrine it is further true that God is as truly the author of sin as if the sin were his own immediate intentional act.  God is hereby the responsible author of the final effect as truly as it were his own act, or his own simple volition.  From the Will of God to the act of the sinner the line of causation through all intermediates is a straight line.  And to all the purposes of just responsibility it is a short line- a point. (ibid., pp. 344-346- emphasis mine)

Considering Piper’s prior arguments that sin is decreed by God in such a way that it “must” happen even to the point of all sin and evil originating by the “fatherly hand” of God,  it is truly difficult to grasp what Piper is trying to teach us.  It truly seems like his use of “permission” language serves only to obfuscate the very dogmas he has labored so hard to defend for the sake of avoiding the unavoidable implication of his teaching. This may be an example of what Whedon calls, “the use of words to conceal thought.”

Piper quotes Edwards further,

God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . 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. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn’t hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such.

As we have already demonstrated, Edwards’ scheme has no real room for mere permission, but only necessitation.  Therefore, it is odd to see Edwards argue that God ordering (i.e. necessitating) “things so that sin should (i.e. must) come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good” is no argument against God hating and somehow “forbid[ing]” that very evil that He necessitated, and then punishing his creatures for doing that very evil that God decreed for them to do.

Again, we will rely on Whedon to counter the argument,

But by Edwards’s argument, God does will and necessitate ‘sin as sin.’  God necessitates sin as being what it is.  Its sinfulness, its malignity, its blackness, its depravity of source in the dispositions, its atrocity of external act, all are necessitated by him.  As the sinner wills it, so the necessitarian deity wills it.  As the finite sins it so this infinite sins it.  God necessitates, wills, decrees, foreordains whatsoever comes to pass; the sinfulness of sin, sin as sin, come to pass.  God, therefore, necessitates, wills, decrees, foreordains the sinfulness of sin, sin as sin…But God ‘was willing to order things so evil should come to pass,’ Edwards adds, and necessitates in the sinner, not for its own sake, ‘but for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence.” (370)  To this Edwards very justly anticipates the reply that, ‘All that these things amount to is that God may do evil that good may come.’ (372)  If God may truly necessitate sin in the sinner, necessitate the sinfulness and guilt of that sin, and then necessitate an endless hell for the necessitated sin, all for some good and glorious end, then the maxim of the sons of Loyola, that the end sanctifies the means, is a fundamental maxim of divine administration.

God is then admitted to be the Author of Sin, and he is justified in being the Author of Sin.  The fact is granted and excused.  In order to make a beneficial crime holy, the method is (as is well quoted by Professor Bledsoe from Pascal) ‘simply taking off their intention from the sin itself and fixing it on the advantage to be gained.’  Edwards makes the supposed divine necessitation of sin, guilt, and damnation all right and holy, by simply taking the divine intention from them and placing it on the good result to be obtained.  If this is the divine morality, why not the human?

…But Edwards has his reply: ‘For God to dispose and permit evil, [he should say cause, necessitate, predestinate, and will sin,] in the manner that has been spoken of, is not to do evil that good may come, for it is not to do evil at all.’ (372)  Certainly it is ‘to do evil’ unless the goodness of the result changes the ‘do evil’ and makes it good.  But the doctrine that the ‘do evil’ is made good by what ‘good may come,’ is the very pith and infamy of the Jesuit maxim.  The maxim stands in opposition to the true doctrine that intrinsic evil cannot by any result be transmuted into good. (ibid. pp. 348, 349)

Conclusion

We have so far examined most of John Piper’s sermon on God ordaining all sin and evil.  We will examine the rest, along with Piper’s second “Question” in a future post.  Piper has argued strongly for the view that God necessitates all things, even all that is sinful and evil, by an irrevocable eternal decree.  He tells us that all things, including all that is evil and sinful come by God’s “fatherly hand” leading us to the inevitable conclusion that all such things have their origin in God Himself. 

Piper informs us at the onset that this realization is something that is very important for our Christian maturity.  Indeed, it is “gracious and precious beyond words” and will produce in our lives “a marvelous stability and depth” and is, in fact, the “key to a God-entranced world view.”  It would seem that this assertion carries with it the suggestion that those who reject Piper’s view of providence that has God causing all sin and evil are stuck with a view of God inferior to that of Piper and his followers.  The only way, according to Piper, for us to “become stable and deep and God-entranced and God-glorifying in all [we] think and feel and do” is to embrace “this absolute sovereign control of God over all things, including evil, because it is Biblical.”  This is a ridiculous assertion, to say the least [7].

Piper then proceeded to the Scripture argument to prove his view of providence that every sinful act proceeds from God’s “fatherly hand” and seemingly eschewed any view of providence that would have God merely permitting those sins while still working through or around them to accomplish His ultimate purposes.  But when it comes to the thorny issue of vindicating God of the logical implication of his view of providence that would make God the responsible author and originator of all sin and evil, Piper can only rely on the Arminian non-prevention view to relieve the difficulty.

Stranger still is Piper’s further attempt to seemingly meld necessity and permission in such a way as to have his cake and eat it too.  He argues for necessity against permission only to eventually argue for permission and later affirm both necessity and permission, or something like that. But as we have seen in this examination, both Edwards’ and Piper’s view, when wholly unfolded, cannot avoid the logical implications that have troubled Calvinist determinism since its inception.  In a view that makes God the necessitating first cause of all things, even sin and evil (so that all these things happen as they “must” in accordance with an irresistible eternal decree), no amount of clever verbiage (i.e. “the use of words to conceal thought”) can evade the fact that this peculiar view of sovereignty makes God the responsible author of all sin and evil.

If Piper wants to properly rely on the Arminian non-prevention/permission view to escape the implication, then we welcome him to the Arminian camp; if he wants to cling to the supposed “God-entranced view” of absolute sovereignty that makes even sin and evil originate by God’s “fatherly hand”, then he will be stuck with the unavoidable conclusion he wishes to avoid.  Thankfully, despite Piper’s inconsistencies, he is ultimately not willing to accept the logical implications of his claims and call God the responsible author of sin. [8]

__________________________________________________________________

[1] It is possible for an Arminian to claim that sin comes from God’s fatherly hand, but only in the loose sense of permitting that sin while in no way originating it (i.e., it could perhaps be thought to pass through His hands in the sense that it could not happen if God did not permit or allow it- see note #4 below).  Clearly, Piper’s and Edwards’ view of God’s ordaining all sin and evil would necessarily imply that God not only permits sin, but decrees it in a sense that prior to creation God Himself thought up every sin that would be committed, with no influence outside of Himself, and decreed for each of those sins to be carried out along with the sinful intentions and the sinfulness of those intentions in such a way that they “must” take place in an unavoidable and irresistible manner.  As noted in the post, this is clearly what is implied in Piper’s use of the idea that such things come from “God’s fatherly hand.”  If Piper should mean it in a way that an Arminian could be comfortable with the phrase (though I can’t imagine any Arminian purposely framing God’s permissive will in such an awkward way), he would simply be using it in a manner that is inconsistent with everything else he says about God’s ordination of all sin and evil as the post points out in numerous places.

[2] It should be noted that “to you” is not in the original, but seems to be plainly implied and is for that reason supplied by the NIV.  This is especially so given the context and the last part of the verse, “…and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  For this reason it does seem to plainly imply that God handed over Christ by allowing those who wanted to kill Him opportunity to do so.  However, it could be argued that the “handing over” does not refer specifically to God handing Christ over, but to the human action of the Jews handing Jesus over to the Romans or even Judas handing over Jesus to the Jewish authorities. But regardless of who did the handing over, the point would still stand that the sinful intentions of those who handed Christ over did not need to be formed by God in order for God to have planned and ensured that the handing over and the subsequent results (the crucifixion) took place.  Instead, God would only need to provide for them the opportunity to carry out their sinful intentions.

[3] In bolstering his case with a few more passages of Scripture, Piper continues,

“These specific examples (which could be multiplied by many more instances) where God purposefully governs the sinful choices of people are generalized in several passages. For example, Romans 9:16: ‘So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.’ Man’s will is not the ultimately decisive agent in the world, God is. Proverbs 20:24: ‘Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?’ Proverbs 19:21: ‘Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand.’ Proverbs 21:1: ‘The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.’ Jeremiah 10:23: ‘I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.’”

I will briefly comment on these passages: 

Romans 9:16 is actually a reference to man’s will in relation to salvation and not to sin.  It is certainly not a general statement intended to convey the idea that every desire and act of man is necessitated by divine decree, nor would any Arminian claim that “Man’s will is…the ultimately decisive agent in the world.”  Indeed, the passage is not addressing man’s role in receiving salvation by faith (an act of “will”), but God’s ultimate prerogative in deciding who will be saved and through whom His salvation will be mediated.  This does not conflict with Arminianism at all, for Arminians hold that God has the sovereign right to decide the terms of salvation.  It is the terms of salvation that man has no say in for God can save anyway He wants, as the Scriptures say, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” This in no way negates God’s right to save conditionally (through faith in His Son, rather than by works or heritage), nor does it teach that God controls man’s every thought, desire and action.

Proverbs 20:24 is a general statement of God’s providence over the affairs of a man’s life.  No Arminian would disagree.  Joseph Benson’s comments on the passage are excellent, 

“Man’s goings are of the Lord — All men’s purposes and actions are so entirely subject to the control of God’s overruling providence, and so liable to be frustrated or changed, as he shall see good, and to be directed to ends so far distant from those they thought of and intended, that it is impossible for any man to know what shall be the event of any of his undertakings. The intention of this proverb is, to show that the events of human life are neither ordered nor foreseen by man’s, but only by God’s providence; and therefore that men should only mind to do their duty, and then quietly depend upon God for a good issue to their endeavours.”

Another way to look at this passage is as a simple acknowledgement that this world is God’s and as the Creator He alone should be looked to for understanding, guidance and direction.  Since God is the Creator, governor and the author of life, we cannot understand the right way on our own, but should look to Him for wisdom.

This principle can be seen in Christ’s parable of the man who stored up great wealth for his future and died despite his plans (Luke 12:13-21).  The following passages give us further insight,

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

This verse makes it clear that man does make his own plans.  The point is that God can overrule our plans, either for good (in protecting us from the wrong course) or for ill (in bringing discipline or judgment on us for not relying on God to guide us, as in Christ’s parable).  The word “directs” can also mean establish, which can further mean that while we are the ones who plan, it is God who grants success. 

Likewise, we see the same basic principle in Psalm 37:23,

“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he will make his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”

So while Proverbs 20:24 teaches us an important lesson concerning God’s providence, it does not support Piper’s view of exhaustive meticulous divine control.  Proverbs 19:21 lays down the same basic principle, but again contradicts Piper’s assertions by acknowledging that man does indeed make his own plans; the point again being that the plans of man cannot finally frustrate God’s ultimate plan, nor can they succeed unless God permits.  Passages like these teach us that God is in no way threatened by the free will decisions of His creatures, but they do not teach us that God meticulously controls our wills so that all that we think and do is in accordance with an irresistible eternal decree.  Indeed, they contradict such a notion in acknowledging that people do come up with their own plans, though it is up to God as to whether or not He will let those plans succeed.

Proverbs 21:1 can be understood as a statement of the king’s personal submission to God’s sovereignty and rule in His life, relying on God to guide and direct him to rule wisely.  To use this verse as support for God irresistibly controlling man’s every decision like a water course runs aground on the following verse, “All of man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.” (vs. 2)  For more on this passage see my post, Does Proverbs 21:1 Teach Calvinistic Determinism?

Jeremiah 10:23 is little different than the passages we have already examined.  We will again rely on Joseph Benson’s commentary for further insight,

“That the way of man is not in himself — The prophet must here be considered as acknowledging the superintendence and dominion of the divine providence; that by it, and not by their own will and wisdom, the affairs both of nations and particular persons are directed and governed. His words in this verse, taken in connection with the following, may be thus paraphrased: Thy providence, O Lord, superintends all events; all that happens comes to pass through thy permission or appointment. It is not in man to hinder that which has been once resolved on in thy decrees. We know, therefore, that it is not in our power to divert those judgments which are coming upon us, but thou canst moderate and limit them as thou pleasest. If, then, it be thy will that we should feel the awful effects of thy justice, chastise us, but spare our weakness; correct us, but with judgment, not in thine anger, &c. Theodoret applies this to Nebuchadnezzar, and explains the passage thus: ‘We know, O Lord, that the prince whom thou sendest against us comes not without thy orders; that the success of his arms, and the good fortune of his enterprise, proceed only from thee: but deliver us, O Lord, from this terrible enemy; and if we have merited chastisement, may we receive it at thy hand. Punish us as a father, and not as a judge.’ The words, however, are applicable to us all, as well as to Nebuchadnezzar and the Jews. We are not at our own disposal, nor able to direct our own way by our own wisdom, either in matters temporal or spiritual. Nor are we at liberty to choose what line of life we please, or to ensure to ourselves the success and prosperity we may desire. We are under God’s government, and at his disposal, and have continual need of his direction, and of the influence of his grace, without which we shall certainly err from the right way, and shall neither choose nor perform what is truly and lastingly good, and for our happiness.”

Note especially that in none of these passages is any such principle “generalized” that “God purposefully governs the sinful choices of people” as Piper claims (in the strict sense of God irresistibly causing those choices; unless, of course, Piper means only that God governs sinful choices in the Arminian sense by allowing them while working through them or around them to accomplish His ultimate plans).

[4] Whedon is clearly referring to the fact that all Edwards’ can come up with to make his view of God authoring all sin and evil seem acceptable is to use the language of Arminians and in a sense vindicate the Arminian view in the process.  However, it would be a mistake to think that Whedon sees Edwards’ argument here as being the same as the Arminian argument based on the rest of his language that makes permission as an Arminian would use it (and in the normal sense of the word) incompatible with the consequences of His view of determinism.  He makes this clear in the next cited quote in the post as well as with the example of the boy and the bricks.  The point being that both Piper and Edwards try to ward off the charge of making God the responsible author of sin by appealing to permission, but in such a way that it cannot really succeed in avoiding that exact conclusion.  In other words, as Robert Shank put it in “Elect in the Son” regarding the way Calvin often spoke of permission, “…what the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away.”  This is exactly why Whedon says that Edwards’ system, despite his appeals to permission, is still “defenseless and naked to its enemies.”  Such a view of permission as Edwards and Piper describe would be like saying that someone who controlled the mind and actions of another to sin in such a way that the person being controlled had no power to avoid sinning “permitted the sin” because he “allowed” the person to think and act just as he was irresistibly controlling the person to think and act.  Again, that is hardly how anyone would understand “permission” and it is not how the word is normally used.

[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)

[6] Recall Piper’s previous quote of Edward’s on the crucifixion,

“Edwards ponders that someone might say that only the sufferings of Christ were planned by God, not the sins against him, to which he responds, ‘I answer, [the sufferings] could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer. [Therefore] even the free actions of men are subject to God’s disposal.’”

Here it seems that Piper wants to exclude nothing from the decreed sin of putting Christ to death, including the sinful intentions behind the act itself (i.e. the “contempt” and desire to shame and “disgrace” Christ).

[7] Such a claim would naturally lead us to believe that only Calvinist Christians throughout history have properly experienced and understood God’s grace and love.  This means that Calvinists like John Piper have had an experience of God far superior to that of great men of faith like John Wesley and so many other non-Calvinists who dedicated their lives to Christ and His gospel.  This would also include all of the ante-Nicene church father’s, the earliest Christian writers (some of whom were taught by the apostles themselves, or those who were directly discipled by them), who rejected every feature of what would later come to be called Calvinism; men like Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and others, many of whom faced horrible torture and death for their faith. 

According to Piper’s grand assertions, these men lacked the “key to a God-entranced world view” along with the “marvelous stability and depth” that Piper and those who hold to strict exhaustive determinism apparently possess (To see a similarly bizzare claim see here).  Perhaps we are being too hard on John Piper and he just got carried away with his rhetoric, but influential Pastors need to be very mindful of the implications of their words.  The fact that so many Calvinists today who look up to Piper as a great expounder of Biblical truth seem to tend towards a similar spiritually elitist attitude may well illustrate the point.

[8] However, he does not seem to shy away from the idea that God is the author of sin in this excellent exchange with Thomas McCall, though he does make it clear that he does not want anyone to feel they need to view God as the author of sin if they are not yet ready to accept that supposed Biblical truth.

Preach Reprobation and Preach it Hard!

As I noted in my previous post, according to Jesus, far more will be lost than saved (Matt. 7:13, 14).  In Calvinism this can only mean that God has reprobated from eternity far more than He has elected to save.  According to Calvinism, God’s reprobation of most of humanity is “for His glory”.  From this it seems safe to conclude that God’s action in reprobation brings Him far more glory than His action in electing to salvation.  The fact that far more will end up in hell than in heaven in accordance with God’s irresistible eternal decree brings God ultimate glory [1].  If that is the case, it seems to me that Calvinists should focus much more on reprobation and God’s act of reprobation the majority of mankind, consigning them to an eternity of unimaginable suffering for the sins and unbelief that God irresistibly decreed for them from eternity, than on God’s electing the few to salvation [2].

But when Arminians focus on the “horrible decree”, Calvinists typically want to quickly divert our attention to the few who get saved instead of dwelling on the many who have been reprobated to eternal suffering by way of God’s irresistible eternal decree.  Why not glory in the reprobation of many, especially since it seems that reprobation must bring God far more glory than election unto salvation?

For all their talk about Arminians supposedly robbing God of His glory, it seems that Arminians are the ones who are trying to give God more glory by focusing on God’s irresistible decree of reprobation in discussing Calvinism. 

______________________________________________________

[1] This note is an update after receiving feedback on the post from a fellow Arminian.  He pointed out that this post could be seen as misrepresenting the Calvinist position since in Calvinism reprobation can be seen to give God more glory “in conjunction” with election so that “the misery of the reprobate serves to highlight and exalt the blessedness of the elect”.  I agree that this is the Calvinist view, but I would argue that my post doesn’t misrepresent this position (though I could have made my point clearer), since in Calvinism this really doesn’t explain why God needs to reprobate the vast majority of humanity.  If the argument is that the more that are reprobated, the more election looks good, then God would have ultimately glorified Himself by reprobating all but one person, or something like that.  So the question remains: Why would God need to reprobate so many?  If it is to enhance His glory in election then reprobation of more than are elected gives God more glory, and Calvinists should at least focus on reprobation more, especially on the fact that God gets more glory in election by reprobating far more than he elects.  That is something that Calvinists typically want to downplay, even denying the obvious (as some, like James White, seem to almost deny the charge, immediately focusing on the Revelation text of a multitude in heaven to draw attention away from the fact that there are far, far more that are reprobated) in order to take attention away from the disproportion between election and reprobation.  If the disproportion brings God greater glory, then it should be a focus of Calvinist preaching, rather than largely ignored, downplayed, or swept under the rug altogether. 

[2] As I mentioned in my last post, I agree with Wesley that whether we view reprobation as passive or active, it amounts to the same thing (see his two sermons, Predestination Calmly Considered and On Predestination).  It is also unclear how reprobation can be considered passive in any way that would relieve the difficulty that Calvinists seem to hope to relieve when considered against the backdrop of God’s exhaustive deterministic control (what Calvinists wrongly term “Sovereignty”).

Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents?

I hope to do a few posts on Erwin Lutzer’s[1] book, The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians.  One might expect that such a book would look to lessen division and ease tension between Christians, but it seems that Lutzer’s purpose is more to present certain divisive doctrines and explain why his views of the doctrines are correct.  Many of the issues center on the major doctrinal disagreements between Catholics and non-Catholics and as a non-Catholic I agree with Lutzer’s general assessment against Catholic dogma.  However, Lutzer’s book is not limited to the divisions between Catholics and non-Catholics.  Lutzer also examines doctrinal controversies within protestant Christianity and one of these main controversies centers on the debate concerning Calvinism and Arminianism.  Unfortunately, Lutzer does not set himself apart from the many Calvinist authors who misrepresent Arminianism and the history of the controversy in an apparent attempt to paint Calvinism as orthodoxy and Arminianism as a sort of unfortunate heresy left over from the protestant break with Catholicism.  I hope to take a closer look at many of Lutzer’s claims and arguments in a series of posts.  This post, however, will simply examine an important difficulty with Calvinism that Lutzer rightly identifies along with his proposed solution.

In dealing with the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election Lutzer ponders the problem of evangelism in Calvinism.  He concludes that Arminians are really no better off than Calvinists with regards to the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of evangelism in their theological system (more on that in a future post), as well as why one can supposedly have confidence in his or her elect status in Calvinism even though the decree of election is secret (for serious problems regarding salvation assurance in Calvinism see this post).  He then shifts to an interesting question and takes only a paragraph to dispatch the concern with what he seems to think is a sufficient solution.  He writes,

God’s choice of those who will be saved appears to be neither random nor arbitrary.  He planned the context in which they would be converted.  That is why I have never wondered whether my children are among the elect.  Since they were born into a Christian home, we can believe that the means of their salvation will be the faithful teaching of God’s Word.  God’s decision to save us involved planning where we would be born and the circumstances that would lead us to Christ.  Election is part of a total picture. (The Doctrines that Divide, pg. 217, italics his)

The person I borrowed Lutzer’s book from wrote “very comforting” in the margin next to this paragraph.  But does Lutzer’s solution really offer enough certainty to provide a Calvinist with any real comfort concerning the eternal destiny of their children?  I don’t see that it possibly can given fundamental Calvinist assumptions and the way that they have traditionally handled certain passages of Scripture to support unconditional election.

Lutzer seems to be suggesting that if one is born in a Christian home, that person will grow up to hear the gospel and be converted.  Is that really what he thinks?  Surely he is aware of cases where children have grown up in Christian homes under godly Biblical teaching and yet rejected God and lived and died as unbelievers.  It seems to me that there have been many Atheists who grew up as children of ministers[2].  Indeed, in Calvinism the “means” or “context” is never enough.  The reprobate can hear the gospel a thousand times and will never believe it.  In fact, God has made it impossible for him or her to believe.  While the proper means and context may be a necessary ingredient in Calvinism, without an irresistible regenerating act of God no amount of means or context can ever avail.  How can Lutzer assume that because his children are being placed in a context where they can receive the means of conversion that conversion will necessarily follow?  He can’t if Calvinism is true.  Sadly, if one of his children is among the reprobate no amount of context or means can help that child.  Context and means cannot change a decree that was made by God from eternity.  Context and means cannot help a reprobate who will forever be denied the regenerating grace of God in accordance with an unchangeable eternal decree.

To be perfectly frank, what right does Lutzer have to even hope that his children are elect when reprobation supposedly magnifies God’s glory?  What if God wants to magnify His glory by reprobating one of Lutzer’s children?  In such a case Lutzer’s hopes would be in stark contrast to God’s desire to magnify Himself and His glory through the reprobation of one of Lutzer’s children.  Perhaps God wants to display His “mercy” and “love” in one child by contrasting His electing love of the one child with His reprobating hatred of the other child.  Perhaps this reprobation will help the elect child to better recognize and revel in God’s mercy and grace and thus magnify God’s grace and mercy in that elect child in such a way that would not have been possible had the other child been elected as well (or perhaps this reprobation will serve to help Lutzer better appreciate His own election as well).  Such thoughts are hard to even write, yet these are the unavoidable implications of what Calvinists regularly teach concerning God’s grace and supposed reasons for reprobating most of humanity.[3]  But even beyond that we have a traditional Calvinist proof text that flatly contradicts Lutzer’s claims,

Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac.  Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad- in order that God’s purpose in election would stand: not by works but by him who calls- she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)

This is the primary Calvinist proof text for unconditional election and this passage completely undermines Lutzer’s claims.  Esau and Jacob were born to quite possibly the godliest family on the planet at that time.  They grew up under godly teaching and instruction.  Yet, despite all of that, according to Calvinism, Esau was hated by God from the womb and this hatred is supposedly to be equated with the eternal decree of reprobation.  If the first born son of Isaac can be a hopeless reprobate (despite his father’s love for him over his supposedly unconditionally “elect” son), then why can’t one of Erwin Lutzer’s children likewise be a hopeless reprobate despite the context and means of being brought up in a godly environment?  In fact, if we can learn anything from this, God might very well reprobate the favorite child of the parent for His good pleasure and for the sake of somehow magnifying His grace and mercy in the elect.  Again, such things are hard to even contemplate, yet these are the fundamental underlying assumptions of Calvinism’s doctrine of unconditional election.

Another example would be the sons of Eli the priest.  Not only had these children been brought up by a godly father (probably one of the most godly men in Israel at the time), but they had also been brought up in the ministry.  Despite this, both of Eli’s sons became so wicked that God put them to death[4].  What better context and means could they hope for than to be the children of a father who was devoted to serving God daily?  One might argue that the fault lied with Eli’s failures as a father, but who among Christian fathers has not fallen short?  If the “means” and “context” includes perfect parenting skills, we are all in trouble, including Erwin Lutzer.

The simple fact is that Calvinism can provide no such comfort to Lutzer or any other Christian parent.  Nor can Lutzer really explain how God’s choice of one over the other is not ultimately “arbitrary” or “random”.  Simply talking about means and context doesn’t explain how God’s choice to elect and save some from the mass of equally depraved humanity is not arbitrary.

Calvinists typically claim that God’s choice is not arbitrary even though there is nothing to differentiate the one who is chosen and the one who is reprobated.  After all, both were depraved God haters prior to God’s choice (according to traditional infralapsarian Calvinism).  That is why the choice is considered unconditional.  Nothing in the person or about the person (like faith) conditions God’s choice.  Calvinists might try to solve this problem by claiming that the reason is hidden in God and we cannot know it.  It seems random and arbitrary to us but we can supposedly be sure that God has a good reason for choosing one and reprobating the other, even if there is absolutely nothing in or about either person to condition the choice[5].  Perhaps this provides the key to the only possible comfort Calvinist parents can have.  While Calvinist parents cannot have comfort that all (or any) of their children will be elect, those parents can at least take comfort in the fact that if God did reprobate any (or all) of their children, He had a very good secret reason for doing so.[6]


[1] Erwin Lutzer is the senior pastor of the historic Moody Church in Chicago

[2] One need only check out a few atheist websites to find several who came from Christian homes.

[3] It has become increasingly popular for Calvinists to claim that God can only be ultimately glorified and His attributes fully displayed by reprobating the greater part of humanity in order to help the elect fully appreciate and understand God’s mercy and grace towards them.  In such a scheme the eternal torment of the reprobate is to a large degree for the sake of the elect that they might somehow see God in a greater light and love Him more.  This concept was popularized by Calvinists like Jonathan Edwards and has been reintroduced with great support by contemporary Calvinists like John Piper.  Such a scheme also seems to make sin and reprobation necessary for Gods’ attributes to be fully displayed, threatening His holiness and quite possibly His aseity as well.

[4] 1 Samuel 2:12-34

[5] Likewise, Peterson and Williams assert that unconditional election should not be considered arbitrary while failing to explain why this should be so, preferring instead to punt to mystery: “But why must God’s sovereign decision to love some be considered arbitrary?  All deserve wrath; none deserve his grace [which is precisely why it seems arbitrary].  He freely chooses to bestow saving grace on billions of undeserving sinners.  That is not arbitrary; the Bible itself teaches that election is the result of God’s love and will [but this only begs the question that God’s love and will is not arbitrary in election, the very issue in dispute].  His gracious choosing ultimately transcends our reason, but it is not arbitrary.” (Why I am Not an Arminian, pp. 65, 66- bold emphasis and brackets mine)

[6] The typical Calvinist retort to such things is to claim that the Arminian system creates the same difficulties.  Even if this were the case it wouldn’t change the fact that Calvinists like Erwin Lutzer are offering hope and certainty that the fundamental tenets of Calvinism cannot provide (and flatly contradict).  Still, Arminianism does fare better as parents can be assured that God indeed loves all of their children and truly desires their salvation, hearing prayers and continually revealing Himself in accordance with those prayers and His desire for them to be saved.  While Arminians do not believe that God does such things in a way that guarantees results (i.e., God works resistibly and not irresistibly), Arminians are in a far better position to reveal God’s love to their children since there is no doubt that God truly desires their salvation and Christ certainly died as a provision of atonement for them.  In contrast, consistent Calvinists cannot even truthfully tell their children that Jesus loves them in any meaningful way or that Christ showed His great love by dying for them.  Indeed, God may hate them just as He hated Esau and have no desire to save them.  Likewise, Christ may not have died for them at all.

Paul Washer’s – “Doctrine” of Election: An Arminian Critique

I have been frequently referred to Paul Washer’s video discussion, “Doctrine” of Election.  I found the video transcript and decided it would be beneficial to interact with this apparently influential accounting of Calvinist election.  The sections of the transcript are marked by block quotes with my comments in between.  A copy of the transcript can be found at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/21411721/Paul-Washer-Video-Transcript 

Student:  I got a question, I don’t understand.  I’ve been raised Southern Baptist my whole life and I’m searching for the Truth really hard in my life right now.  I’m in seminary and I want to understand the doctrine of election and things like that.  And my roommate’s a Calvinist and he’s been kind of trying to teach me a little bit but I just want to know the Truth and they tell me that you’re the guy, you know.  Is there any way that you can, you know…anything that you can…[say to help me understand this more clearly?]

Paul Washer:  If you will go to my pastor’s website, Anchored in Truth, he has a series of sermons called “Election: Plain and Simple.”  Some of the best you’ll ever hear.

Student:  Anchored in Truth.org?

Paul Washer:  Anchored in Truth.org.

Student:  .org?

Paul Washer:  “Election: Plain and Simple.”  What it all comes down to is this.  You only have to answer one question:  Is man radically depraved? That’s the only question you have to ask.  Because if he is, if he’s truly dead in his sin, if he truly hates God, if all men are equally evil (and they are), then the question is, how are you standing here right now believing God while some of your friends who are more moral than you still hate Him?  What happened?  If you say you opened up your heart, I’ll say no you didn’t because the Bible says God [unintelligible] opened any man’s heart.  If you say you repent, well repentance is an evangelical grace [unintelligible] confession, it means it comes from God as a gift.  You say, well I believe (pause) Ephesians 2 – that also is a gift.

So rather than look to what the Bible actually says about election, Paul Washer wants to take the student on a philosophical journey of the Calvinist conception of inability in order to “teach” this student why he should hold to the Calvinist unconditional election view.

Student:  I know that the Bible says that no man come to God unless [unintelligible].  I know that, but my question is, is the grace, the offer of salvation for all men or did God say back in eternity, say it’s for you, you, you, you, and you, you, you,

The student asks a great question here.  The student is not questioning election, but whether or not that election needs to be unconditional.  The student is not even questioning whether or not inability is a reality; rather, the student wants to know if God only overcomes the inability of some rather than all.  The student seems to rightly recognize that inability alone cannot really decide the matter in favor of unconditional election since God could draw all to Himself (John 12:32), enabling all to believe and become the elect if that were how God sovereignly chose to do things (John 16:7-11; Titus 2:11; 1 Timothy 2:1-6;).  The student has actually just cut the legs out from under the framework on which Calvinist Paul Washer wants to build unconditional election.  This is evident in Washer’s laborious attempt to draw a logical connection between inability and the necessity of unconditional election as if God could not enable all who hear the gospel to respond favorably to it (in faith).

Paul Washer:  See, first of all your problem is this.  Let’s say there’s no election.  None at all.  Alright?  Let’s just start fresh.  No election.  Alright.  Now.  Let’s say that men really are radically depraved and no man can come to God unless God draws him.  So God comes down to every man and says, “Anyone who will bow their knee to me, anyone who will accept My Son as their Saviour will be saved.”  Since every man is radically depraved, they all hate God, they all blaspheme Him, turn around and walk away and go to hell. The whole world goes to hell.  Is that God’s fault?

It is if Calvinism is true.  If Calvinism is true then God irresistibly caused these people to hate Him.  Now, Calvinists may not want to own such blunt language, but the above statement is in perfect harmony with traditional Calvinist thought [1].  In Calvinism, everything is controlled by God.  This includes the thoughts, emotions, desires, wills and actions of His creatures.  Furthermore, God’s foreknowledge is entirely based on His decree.  God can only foreknow what He decrees.  God has prior knowledge of an event only because God will make that event happen in time in accordance with His unchangeable and irresistible decree.  God’s foreknowledge is therefore based on the fact that all that will ever happen will happen only because God will cause it to happen in accordance with His eternal decree.  This again includes every thought, desire, and action of every person who will ever live.  This included the first sin (and every subsequent sin).  How did God foreknow that Adam would sin?  He foreknew it because He decreed it and irresistibly brought it about in accordance with that decree.  Adam could no more resist the eternal decree to rebel against God than he could create a universe. [2]

So God caused Adam to sin and then punished Adam for perfectly fulfilling the decree of God in such a way that Adam had absolutely no power to resist.  God controlled Adam’s desires and will to sin (it is useless to retort that Adam sinned “willingly” since his will was controlled by God in accordance with His unchangeable eternal decree).  With this backdrop in mind we can see how Washer’s comments do not fit with the theology he is trying to defend.  When the exhaustive decretal determinism of Calvinism is in view, questions like, “Is that God’s fault?” should be answered with “Yes”.  How can it not be God’s fault when He controlled and orchestrated the fall and the hatred and rebellion of every one of His “depraved” creatures?  Washer actually has to temporarily forget or ignore his fundamental theological assumptions in order to make such appeals. He basically has to temporarily work from Arminian assumptions in order to argue for Calvinism, since only on Arminian assumptions is it reasonable to say that God is not at fault.

Notice also how Washer doesn’t even deal with the main issue the student rightly pointed to, whether or not inability can be overcome in such a way as to enable all to respond.  Rather, he just assumes throughout his discourse that God cannot enable all depraved God haters to turn to Christ without needing to do so in an irresistible manner.  Therefore, his whole argument is an exercise in question begging.

OK.  Let’s say that really is the reality.  Let’s say that the Bible’s true and that men hate God that much. So who’s going to get saved?  Absolutely no one.  And if God saves no one because everyone is evil and rejects Him, is God wrong in doing that?  No.

Again, if fundamental Calvinist assumptions are in view (i.e. exhaustive determinism), the answer has to be “Yes.”

So that’s what you’ve got without election—you’ve got the whole world hating God and going to hell.  That’s it.  And the other option is this:  among these evil men, for His own glory and to demonstrate His own kindness before the foundation of the world, He chooses a group of men out of there to demonstrate His glory in them.  Is that wrong?

It would certainly seem to be wrong if Calvinist assumptions are granted.  It would certainly seem to be wrong according to the concepts of justice described in Scripture for God to irresistibly cause all of His creatures to hate Him and rebel against Him just so He could select some to save from the sin and rebellion that He caused in them while eternally punishing the rest for sinning and rebelling in perfect conformity with God’s irresistible eternal decree.  It is also unclear how God making some that He caused to hate Him suddenly love Him would demonstrate His glory.  What kind of glory would that be exactly?  Those who hate God do so only because God caused them to, and those who love God do so only because God caused them to.  God punishes those He causes to hate Him with unimaginable eternal punishment while blessing those He causes to love Him with unimaginable eternal joy.  In what way can we possibly say this is “glorious” or praiseworthy?  Nor could we call such an election gracious if God caused them all to be hateful sinners in the first place.

But still, there is yet a third “option” that Washer refuses to consider, the option that the student brought up concerning the possibility that God could enable all God haters who hear the gospel to respond positively to it.  That option would simply say that God makes it possible, by His Spirit and His word, for every depraved God hater to respond positively to the gospel message, yet without irresistibly causing a positive faith response.

That “option” would also make sense of the fact that God holds sinners who reject the grace God offers rightly accountable for their sin and rejection, rather than just punishing them for doing exactly what God irresistibly decreed for them to do.  That “option” would also ruin Washer’s desperate attempt to make unconditional election a necessary result of inability, and is therefore ignored.

Did He rip the other men off? What did He do?  You’ve got two choices.  God saves a group of people by His own sovereignty or everybody goes to hell—everybody.  Because men are that evil.  See your problem – see what you need to realize is this, if God right now would throw open the door of hell and say, “Everyone who wants out of hell, the only thing you have to do is bow your knee to me and recognize my Lordship,” they’ll slam the door and stay in hell.

This may be true, but given fundamental Calvinist assumptions such a hopeless despising of God is the unavoidable result of an irresistible eternal decree.  And again, the student never denied inability or depravity.  The student only questioned the logic that God’s enabling grace needs to be irresistible or restricted to only some.

See what you don’t realize, because of the humanistic Christianity inAmerica, you don’t realize men are really evil—they really are evil.  I’ll give you an example.  Any of you seen the Lord of the Rings?  Saurus…Sauron makes these Orcs, they come out of the ground—evil.  Evil.  Alright.  Aragorn, all the heroes in the movie, slaughter them like they were – you know—insects.  Slaughter them.  And every time an Orc gets killed, what do you do?  Yeah (cheering movement).  Why? Cause those Orcs really are evil.  They are evil.  There’s your problem.  You don’t think men are.  Men really are evil.  Men really deserve hell.  They really do. [3]

Student:  And I believe that.  I know that.

The student tries again to help Washer see that the issue is not whether or not men are evil or whether or not men need God to overcome their depravity to make faith possible.  The student doesn’t deny that man is evil.  The student doesn’t deny that depravity must be overcome.  The student only questions the Calvinist claim that God’s gracious enabling need be irresistible or given only to some.  Unfortunately, Washer is too worried about telling the student what his  “problem is” and what the student supposedly “doesn’t realize” to actually listen to the student and grapple with the actual question.  Instead, the student only gets the usual cookie cutter Calvinist brain washing techniques (no pun intended).

Paul Washer:  Alright.  So… it says – you know we talk about the doctrine of inability – that men cannot come to God – Jesus said that.  Alright?  Men cannot come to God.  Now.  If you say men can’t come to God, how can God judge them?  That’s like judging a blind man because he can’t read.  If men can’t come to God, then man’s not a culprit, he’s a victim.  Here’s what you have to understand, men cannot come to God because they will not come to God and they will not come to God because they hate Him and, therefore, they’re responsible.

Again, Paul Washer can’t help talking like an Arminian in order to defend his Calvinism.  He seems to quickly forget that at the heart of Calvinism is the fundamental assumption that God sovereignly controls everything, creating serious problems for his claims of personal accountability for hating God.

This includes His creature’s desires, wills, and therefore “hatred” of God.  When we keep this in mind we immediately see that the “…therefore, they’re responsible” doesn’t follow as Paul Washer seemingly wants us to believe.  Washer’s statement, “That’s like judging a blind man because he can’t read.  If men can’t come to God, then man’s not a culprit, he’s a victim”, is completely accurate in light of Washer’s theology and Washer seems to plainly recognize the problem this would create for his position.  However, he can offer no real solution because in Calvinism those who “willingly” hate God do so because God irresistibly controls their wills to hate Him.

Men are evil.  God is good.  So, men hate God, they hate His law, they hate everything about Him.  OK?

OK, but how did they get evil?  According to Calvinism they got evil because God irresistibly decreed for them to get evil.  If the Calvinist wants to say they chose to be evil, this solves nothing since God decreed for them to “choose” to be evil as well.  And again, Washer can’t stop long enough to realize that the student never denied that man was evil in the first place.

It says of Joseph’s brothers, they could not speak to him peaceably.

And why not?  Because God decreed this for them (according to Calvinism).

Now they spoke [unintelligible].  Why couldn’t they speak to him?  They could not speak to him peaceably because they hated him.  Alright?

Again, why did they hate him?  Because God decreed this for them from all eternity. 

That’s why no man will ever come to God.  If God comes down and says, “Alright everybody make their choice.” No one’s coming to God.  Why?  They hate Him.  And that’s why they’re judged for their inability because their inability’s moral.  They really hate God.

But notice how Washer keeps skirting the issue and keeps talking like an Arminian.  He wants to establish moral accountability but can’t do this without ignoring fundamental Calvinist assumptions. “Choice” doesn’t even make sense in Calvinism.  Aren’t our desires, thoughts, wills, and actions all under the meticulous sovereign control of God?  If God decreed from all eternity that they would reject and hate Him, then in what sense can we possibly say they had a “choice” in the matter? [4]  Again, Paul Washer has to temporarily shelve his fundamental Calvinist assumptions and adopt Arminian assumptions in order to morally defend his Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.

So you’ve got a whole human race – everyone of them’s fallen, everyone of them hates God, God comes down and says, “Who wants to be saved?” Everybody blasphemes the name of God and walks into hell and slams the door.

…in perfect conformity to the irresistible and unchangeable eternal decree of God of which they have no more power to resist than to create a universe.  Washer just keeps saying the same thing over and over.  Man is evil.  Men hate God.  Men are depraved.  None of which the student has denied and all of which the student gladly agreed with.  So why is Washer working so hard to convince the student of something the student already accepts?

That’s what you’ve got – because men really are evil.

Just as God irresistibly decreed for them to be, with no power to be anything other than “really evil”.

And out of that, God says, “But for My own glory, I am going to redeem a people and give them to My Son.  By My own choice, by My own sovereign election.”  He’s done wrong to no one.

See comments above about how this could hardly be considered gracious or glorious given Calvinist assumptions.  It is also hard to imagine how it could be said that God has “done wrong to no one” in electing some of those He caused to hate Him for redemption while holding the rest He caused to hate Him accountable for the hate God decreed for them to have from all eternity.  One would really need to redefine “right” and “wrong” to make such a claim given such Calvinist assumptions.

And now, how does He save a man?  Here’s a question?  Are you spiritually dead prior to conversion?  Well then how do you come to Christ?  If you’re spiritually blind, how do you see?

Student:  He draws men unto Him. 

Again, the student nails it.  God must draw us, but there is no reason to assume that this drawing cannot be resistible, rather than irresistible.  There is likewise no reason to assume it cannot enable all who hear to believe.  But Washer must make a logical connection between inability and unconditional election.  He now resorts to the usual Calvinist tactic, the misunderstanding and misapplication of the Biblical concept of being “dead in sin”

Paul Washer:  But you’re a dead man.  If some of it has to do with you, you’re a dead man.  If God calls your name, you hate Him.  You’re not going to come.

Unless God enables you to come.

You’re going to run farther away from Him.  That is why in all of the – listen very carefully – in all of the Christian confessions, the old Christian confessions, in the Reformation, early Baptist confessions – you have been raised on this, if you believe in Jesus, you can be born again.  All the early Baptist confessions say you must be born again in order to believe in Jesus. That’s the difference!

That’s the unbiblical difference.  And is Washer truly saying that “all of the Christian confessions” put regeneration before faith?  That is certainly inaccurate.  It is true that many “Reformed” confessions do this, as well as many “Reformed” Baptist confessions, but that is a far cry from saying that all Baptist confessions and every Christian confession puts regeneration before faith (unless Washer is actually claiming that only “Reformed” Baptists are true Baptists and only “Reformed” Christians are true Christians, which is also grossly inaccurate).

Because if I tell a dead man, “Look, you’re dead. There’s a hospital over here.  We can put some electrodes on you so get up and follow me on over to the hospital.”  It’s not sensible.  He’s dead.  If he can get up, he doesn’t need to go to the hospital.

And there it is, the unbiblical attempt to make “dead in sin” mean “the inability of a physical corpse.”  The Bible nowhere defines “dead in sin” in such a way.  Rather, “dead in sin” is a description of the spiritual separation of the sinner from the spiritual life found only in Christ.  Below is an excerpt from a post I wrote on the subject long ago:

Calvinists are fond of comparing spiritual death to physical death.  This gives them the framework with which to press their theological conviction that regeneration precedes faith.  If being dead in sin means that we are as helpless as physical corpses then we are told that we certainly can no more ”hear” the gospel or “see” our need for Christ than a physical corpse can hear or see.  But is there any justification for such a strict parallel between the spiritual and the physical? 

Nowhere in Scripture is such a strict parallel drawn.  To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life.  Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.  This is both actual and potential.  The sinner is presently “dead” because, in the absence of faith,  he is not enjoying life giving union with Christ.   The sinner is potentially dead because if he continues in this state he will be forever cut off from the presence of the Lord in Hell (2 Thess. 1:9).

Calvinists will often mock Arminians by saying that it is as useless to expect the dead in sin to respond to the gospel as it is to expect a bunch of corpses in the morgue to respond to the gospel.  The only way that corpses could hear such preaching is for them to first be given life.  In like manner, we are told, the only way that someone who is “dead” in sin could respond to the gospel would be if they are first raised to spiritual life.  This supposedly proves the need for regeneration before faith.

But this leads to absurdities and demonstrates that pressing this parallel between those who are spiritually dead and physically dead is unwise and without Scriptural support.  If the analogy is accurate then spiritually dead people should not be able to do anything more than corpses can do, which is plainly absurd.  A single example will suffice.

The Bible plainly teaches that those who are dead in sin resist the Holy Spirit.  Now have you ever seen a corpse resist something?  Of course not.  So if we adopt the implications of the Calvinistic definition of “dead in sin” then we must deny that anyone who is dead in sin can resist the Holy Spirit or reject the gospel (Acts 7:51; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 10:21).  Corpses can’t resist or reject anything any more than they can see or hear anything.  This, of course, should tell us something about the Cavinistic understanding of dead in sin.  It is not Biblical. (from What Can The Dead In Sin Do?)

Much more could be said, but for now I would only add that the very passages that speak of being “dead in sin” make it clear that the solution is to be joined to Christ, the source of spiritual life (John 5:26, Cf., Col. 2:11-13; Eph. 2:4-9).  This confirms that the phrase makes reference not to the inability of a physical corpse (to see, hear, believe, etc.), but to the absence of spiritual life that naturally results from being separated from God.  The solution is to be joined to Christ and one is joined to Christ by faith (Eph. 1:13; Gal. 3:26-29).  If one can only cease to be dead in sin by coming to be joined to Christ, and one can only be joined to Christ by faith, then it is Biblically inaccurate to suggest that “dead in sin” means the inability to believe without regeneration.

[Washer continues] When Jesus looked at Lazarus and said, “Lazarus come forth,” Lazarus is dead.  How does he hear the command?  The command not only must be given but the moment the command is given, Lazarus must be resurrected to be able to even hear the command to respond.

Again, there is no Biblical reason to connect “dead in sin” to the inability of a physical corpse to do anything without first being brought back to life.  The story of Lazarus is not a spiritual object lesson on how unbelievers come to faith.  In the same gospel Jesus said “An hour is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25, emphasis mine)  This is the “hearing” of faith (verse 24, cf. Gal. 3:2, 5, the same passages, along with verse 14, which make it clear that the Holy Spirit is also received by faith).  So Jesus says that the spiritually dead will “hear” (with the hearing of faith) unto spiritual “life”.  Paul Washer says that one must be spiritually alive in order to hear, the exact opposite of what Christ said! 

The apostle Paul says that the new covenant “promise” that “imparts life” is given “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:21, 22).  Paul Washer says that God must first impart life for us to be able to have faith in Christ, the exact opposite of what the apostle Paul says!  John says that one must receive Christ by faith in order to “become” a child of God (John 1:12, 13) and the apostle Paul says that we become sons of God “through faith” (Gal. 3:36).  Paul Washer says that one must become a child of God (be born again) before one can put faith in Christ, the exact opposite of what John and the apostle Paul taught!

The apostle Paul says that it is through “faith in the power of God” that we move from spiritual death to spiritual life by being joined to Christ and subsequently “raised” to spiritual life “in Him” (Col. 2:11-13).  Paul Washer says we need to be raised to spiritual life in order to have “faith in the power of God”, the exact opposite of what the apostle Paul said!  Examples like these could be easily multiplied.

Washer has put the weight of his entire argument for unconditional election on the teaching that one must be regenerated in order to believe.  Since the Bible contradicts him and says that regeneration results from faith rather than causes it, his main philosophical basis for unconditional election collapses.  In the end, the student was correct to question the Calvinist commitment to unconditional election based on the doctrine of inability.  There is simply no logical or Biblical reason to believe that God cannot graciously overcome man’s depravity in such a way that all who hear the gospel can either respond in faith or choose to remain in unbelief (which is exactly what Arminianism and the Bible teaches).  Neither is there any Biblical basis for claiming that God can only enable a faith response through regeneration.  In fact, the Bible clearly puts faith before regeneration. But Washer won’t give up so easily.  As a last resort he appeals to personal experience to establish his case:

That’s why when you probably heard the gospel for many, many years and you were sitting there and you didn’t care, no big deal, maybe you made a confession of faith – nothing – and then, one day, the Gospel’s preached and you’re like [WHOOSH] – the blinder’s taken off and not only that, you want Him.

Unfortunately, our present theological convictions can easily color how we interpret a past conversion experience.  I remember desiring to live for God many times before I was willing to finally let go of those things I valued more than God.  I also remember sensing in that moment when I did finally fully surrender to God that I had full power and ability to reject Him once again and remain in my sin instead.  It felt like a real choice to me.  Did I feel God’s conviction very strongly?  Yes.  Did I sense that He was drawing me?  Absolutely.  Would I say that I was powerless to resist?  Not at all.  At the very least then, my experience alone renders Washer’s argument invalid.

Because some people say what God does is He draws us all to a certain point and then gives us a choice.

Rather, God’s drawing is what enables a faith response and thereby makes a “choice” possible.

There’s only a problem.  If God only illuminates the mind of the sinner, then the more the sinner sees God, the more he’s going to hate Him.  So, He not only illuminates the mind, He changes the heart and with the new heart for the first time you love Jesus, you can say, “I love Him, I’m irresistibly drawn to Him, and I want Him more than anything.”

Again, if God enables us to love and trust Him, then we do not have to continue hating Him.  To say that we would just keep hating Him is simply to deny that God has enabled the person to love Him, which is plainly question begging.  Either God has enabled the response of faith and love, making it a possibility, or He has not.  If Washer grants the Arminian concept of divine resistible enabling, then he can’t say that we would just keep hating God anyway.  That is just denying the very thing that was supposed to be granted.  The “new heart” of Ezekiel is a promise given to those who enjoy the blessings of the new covenant, and the new covenant promises (which include the promise of a new heart) are received by faith.  Therefore, a new heart is received by faith and does not cause faith (for more on that see my post Is The New Heart of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?).

Summary

This interaction is very instructive in how Calvinists often come to their conclusions regarding election and how Calvinists primarily go about indoctrinating people into the so called “Doctrines of Grace” (which should be called “Doctrines of Grace for a Lucky Few” or “Doctrines of Limited Grace” or something similar, if we were to be truly honest about what this little self assigned catch phrase for Calvinism represents).

The student has a question about election, but Paul Washer doesn’t look to what Scripture says about election.  Rather, he goes on and on about depravity and tells the student seeker that his “problem” is simply the need to understand that “men are evil” and “hate God.”  There are passages in Scripture that teach on election and there are passages in Scripture that teach on depravity, but the Bible does not say, “Once you understand depravity, then you can understand election.”  That is not to say there is not some connection between these doctrines or any number of various doctrines, but if we really want to understand a doctrine, we should first look to what the Bible specifically teaches on that doctrine.  Paul Washer doesn’t do that here.  The truth is that unconditional election cannot be found in Scripture.  No passages expressly teach that election is unconditional. [5]  That may very well be the reason why Calvinists like Paul Washer typically lead people around in such ways.  First you need to understand depravity (as defined by Calvinism to mean that regeneration alone can enable [that is, “cause”] a faith response), and then you will see how the logic of depravity leads us to unconditional election, etc.

We have also seen how hard it is for a Calvinist to describe unconditional election as being something that should not be seen as capricious or unjust without temporarily abandoning fundamental Calvinist assumptions in favor of Arminian assumptions.  I am convinced that Calvinists so often talk like Arminians when trying to defend unconditional election because Calvinism, with its exhaustive determinism, simply cannot provide a satisfying framework for moral accountability or theodicy in general.  It is too bad that these same Calvinists do not pause long enough to take note of these practical inconsistencies (in the way that they still tend to think and talk about these issues) and re-evaluate their undergirding philosophical assumptions that make it so difficult to meaningfully communicate or explain issues of justice and moral accountability [6].

Lastly, we have seen yet another example of a Calvinist not really understanding or rightly grappling with the Arminian solution to depravity: resistible prevenient grace.   Rather, Paul Washer engages in blatant question begging in claiming that only irresistible grace can make faith possible, even to the point of immediately denying what he seemed to grant for the sake of argument.  Put simply, if God has overcome the sinner’s depravity, enabling the response of faith and love, then the sinner can respond in faith and love; therefore, it is by no means necessary for the sinner to continue hating God as Washer claims.

 _______________________________________________________________________

[1] Appeals to “permission” only make sense when determinism is denied and libertarian free will is affirmed.  Appeals to “secondary causes” likewise fail since God controls even secondary causes.  God controls everything.

[2] On this Arminius astutely observes:

“If any one acknowledges that this is indeed true [that the decree of predestination presupposes the fall and considers men as sinners], but says that God has arranged this, as an occasion for Himself, by decreeing that man should fall, and by carrying forward that decree to its end or limit, we ask the proof of that assertion, which, in my judgment, he will be unable to give. For that sentiment is at variance with the justice of God, as it makes God the author of sin, and introduces an inevitable necessity for sin. This I will prove. For if that decree existed, man could not abstain from sin, otherwise the decree would have been made in vain, which is an impious supposition.  For “the counsel of the Lord standeth forever.” (Psalm 33:11). We remark also that the human will would have been circumscribed and determined by that decree, so that it could not turn itself except in one direction, in which there would be sin; by that act its freedom would be lost, because it would move the will, not according to the mode of freewill, but according to the mode of nature. Such an act it could not resist, nor would there be any volition in that direction, indeed, there would not be the power to put forth that volition on account of the determination of the decree. (“An Examination of the Treatise of William Perkins, Part 1” pp. 264, 265 from The Wesleyan Heritage Collection, CD)

[3] The example of the Orcs is instructive because it actually corresponds with the fundamental assumptions of Calvinist theology that Paul Washer seems to ignore or forget when trying to explain why God is just in passing over so many of His creatures and denying them the salvation He gives only to the ones He unconditionally chooses from the fallen and depraved mass of humanity.

Assuming these Orcs come out of the ground “evil” by nature, having no ability or desire to do anything other than that which we would call evil, then it would be wrong to hold these Orcs morally accountable for their “evil”.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they shouldn’t be destroyed.  We could say that they should be destroyed because they are dangerous and harm others.  We could say they should be destroyed because “evil” should be eradicated.  However, we could not say they “deserve” to be destroyed in a moral sense.  We can’t hold creatures “morally accountable” for just being what they are by nature, anymore than we would hold a Lion morally accountable for attacking its prey (or for just being a Lion).  But this is what is at the heart of Calvinism, the idea that God rightly “punishes” (not just destroys) creatures who can no more help being what they are or doing what they do than an Orc can presumably help coming out of the ground “evil.”  In the end, we are saying that God holds His creatures morally accountable for being just as He intended for them to be, with no power or ability to be otherwise, and then punishes them for being just what He intended them to be.  Therefore, God essentially punishes His creatures just for being His creatures, and this is supposed to bring Him glory?

[4] For more on why Calvinist determinism makes nonsense of the language of “choice”, see my post, The Reality of Choice and The Testimony of Scripture.

[5] The problem for the Calvinist is that no passage of Scripture teaches that election unto salvation is unconditional.  There are passages that do not explicitly state a condition in reference to election, but the lack of a stated condition does not necessarily imply that the election being described is unconditional.  In fact, in most cases (if not all) a condition is either stated or implied in the immediate or surrounding context.  For a concise treatment of the corporate election view (which I hold to be the strongest Arminian view of election) along with some links to some very good articles on corporate election, see here.  Among the articles listed, I highly recommend the two by Dr. Brian Abasciano, Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner and Clearing up Misconceptions About Corporate ElectionFor a strong defense of the traditional Arminian view of election, I recommend F. Leroy Forlines’ excellent book, Classical Arminianism.  You can see my review of the Forlines’ book here.

[6] See this slightly abridged series by Thomas Ralston for a strong critique of Calvinist determinism and the many problems it creates for moral accountability and theodicy, as well as a strong defense of the Arminian accounting of free will.  For a more comprehensive listing of resources that challenge Calvinist determinism, see here.  Daniel Whedon, in his devastating critique of Edwards’ necessitarianism, The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, summarizes the problem well,

“From all this, there results the conclusion that without free volition there can be no justice, no satisfying the moral sense, no retributive system, no moral Government, of which the creature can be the rightful subject, and no God, the righteous Administrator…If there is a true divine government, man is a non-necessitated moral agent.” (352)

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