Calvinism And Deuteronomy 29:29

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Calvinists often appeal to Deut. 29:29 when caught in a theological dilemma.  Ask a Calvinist how God can exhaustively determine all things and yet not be the author of sin and you might get an appeal to mystery and a quick reference to Deut. 29:29.  Ask a Calvinist how God’s unconditional election doesn’t make His choice of some over others for salvation arbitrary and you will likely get more of the same.  Yes, Calvinists love Deut 29:29 as it provides such a convenient theological escape hatch when they are called on to explain aspects of their doctrinal system which appear to be hopelessly contradictory.  But have they carefully thought about the teaching of Deut. 29:29 and the problem it poses for their peculiar hermeneutic?

Doesn’t the passage teach us that the “secret things” belong to the Lord?  Doesn’t this suggest that the secret things do not belong to us?  If they do not belong to us then doesn’t that suggest that we should certainly not attempt to build our entire theology on those things which are “secret?”  But isn’t that exactly what Calvinism does?  Isn’t their entire theological system built on the foundation of eternal “secret decrees” which are nowhere to be found in the pages of Scripture?

It seems to me that Calvinists have put the “secret things” that do not belong to them before the “things revealed.”  This is exactly the opposite of the message of Deut. 29:29.  For this reason the things revealed (God’s love for the world and desire to save all, the warnings against apostasy, and God’s plain declaration that he does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, etc.) are discarded, rendered essentially meaningless, and made to undergo tortured exegesis for the sake of the “secret things” that Calvinists claim to know so much about.

Walls and Dongell highlight this reality well in Why I Am Not A Calvinist,

Pressing this understanding [of God’s secret decree of unconditional election] through the whole of Scripture seems a prohibitively costly project, since at every turn, the words of Scripture must then be read in ways most readers would never imagine. Take, for example, the word of God through Jeremiah to Judah:

‘Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the Lord has spoken.  Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings the darkness…But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride, my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive. (Jer. 13:15-17)’

Knowing that Judah did not turn and listen, the Calvinist concludes that God had already chosen to withhold his transforming grace from them, though he could easily have granted it.  So while the text appears to identify Judah’s pride as the root cause of punishment, the Calvinist instead concludes that Judah’s ability to repent depends on God’s eternally fixed plan.  Again, although the text seems to identify salvation as God’s deepest desire, the Calvinist must conclude that at a deeper level God never intended to bestow transforming grace on Jeremiah’s hearers.  In other words, the true intentions of God cannot be discerned from his words.

Somewhere along the way, the burden of reading myriad passages throughout the Bible in such a counterintuitive fashion should anxiously bring us to this sort of question: since the Calvinist view of divine sovereignty routinely requires such an awkward ‘decoding’ of biblical texts, should not we re-examine the Calvinist view of divine sovereignty itself? (pp. 56, 57, emphasis theirs)

The teaching of Deut. 29:29 has primary reference to the commands of God but it also establishes an important principle.  The one who wants to know and obey God need look no further than what He has revealed of His character, intentions and desires in the pages of Scripture.  Likewise, in the New Testament, we are admonished not to go “beyond what is written.” (1 Cor. 4:6)

Calvinists, of course, believe that they have gained insight into these secret eternal decrees by what the Bible reveals in passages which discuss depravity, election, and predestination.  The obvious problem is that their understanding of these passages leads them to embrace a theology that makes “secret decrees” and “hidden” contrary intentions lurk behind so much that God has revealed (as in Jer. 13:15-17 above).  Wouldn’t it be wise for them to carefully re-evaluate whether the secret should determine the revealed or whether the revealed should determine and control their theology? If we take the Lord’s words in Deut. 29:29 seriously the answer should be obvious.  But perhaps there is some “secret” meaning hidden behind that passage as well.  If that is the case we will need to wait until Calvinists reveal the secret to us, for it would seem that the “secret things” belong not only to “the LORD our God”, but to Calvinists as well.

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19 Responses

  1. Like many Calvinist arguments/verses, they stop short in their analysis, only to miss what would overthrow their presuppositions!

    Add a little logic and more thorough exegesis, and Calvinism collapses. Nice post.

  2. The Cardinal Rule: only Calvinists are allowed to appeal to Deut 29:29. 🙂

    Great post

  3. Hello Ben,

    “Doesn’t the passage teach us that the “secret things” belong to the Lord? Doesn’t this suggest that the secret things do not belong to us? If they do not belong to us then doesn’t that suggest that we should certainly not attempt to build our entire theology on those things which are “secret?” But isn’t that exactly what Calvinism does? Isn’t their entire theological system built on the foundation of eternal “secret decrees” which are nowhere to be found in the pages of Scripture?”

    The two wills concept of calvinism is a theological travesty and monstrosity.

    According to the determinists there are two wills. The secret will is God’s exhaustive plan to predetermine every event and ensure that everything that happens is God’s will. The expressed will is what God tells us in the bible. The problem is that the secret will swallows up the expressed will making it meaningless. For example, God says that he loves the world and gives Jesus for the world, and that he desires the salvation of all. Those sentiments are clearly expressed in the bible, so they are merely the expressed or revealed will of God. In contrast to this expressed will is the secret will. In the secret will God predetermines who will be saved and who will not be saved. And regarding those he does not want to save, their eternal destiny is decided and determined before they are ever born. So while the expressed will may say that God desires the salvation of all and sent Jesus to die for the sins of the world, you cannot believe that, because it is not really true, what is really true is the secret will in which most people are predetermined to go to hell.

    Or take another example, the expressed will is full of commandments about what we should or should not do. We should not mistreat children or animals according to the expressed will. And yet the secret will predetermines that animals will be mistreated and children abused. These examples could be multiplied, but the point is simple, you really cannot take the expressed will seriously, (**if* these two wills exist) because the secret will, the sovereign will, the will that always gets done often ***contradicts*** the expressed will.

    “It seems to me that Calvinists have put the “secret things” that do not belong to them before the “things revealed.” This is exactly the opposite of the message of Deut. 29:29. For this reason the things revealed (God’s love for the world and desire to save all, the warnings against apostasy, and God’s plain declaration that he does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, etc.) are discarded, rendered essentially meaningless, and made to undergo tortured exegesis for the sake of the “secret things” that Calvinists claim to know so much about.”

    I would correct that last line: they do not claim to know much about the secret will. Rather, the secret will is their place to appeal to, stop the conversation, to stop the attacks upon their false system, to defend and maintain the false system. When things get rough for their theological system it is easy to say “well that is just part of the secret will, something God has not told us.” It’s like a giant escape valve to relieve pressure in their false system.

    You made reference to some of the things in the expressed will, such as “God’s love for the world.” Again, that expressed will, gets swallowed up and eliminated by the secret will. God says he loves the world in John 3:16. But in the secret will He has no desire to save the world, He does not love the world nor desire for many to be saved. And in regards to the secret will, it is only secret in that he did not tell us what it was **in the bible**. If you want to **see** the secret will in action, in operation, simply look at all the events that happen in history. For example, millions of abortions have occurred and continue to occur in the United States. As they did in fact happen, they are all part of the secret will, all things that God predetermined and wanted to happen and ensured to happen. Look at any event and whatever it is, **if it in fact happens**, then it is the secret will being carried out in history. And if you look at these actual events closely you will see that often they are things God says the opposite about in the bible, these actual events are opposite the expressed will. So he says one thing in the bible but if you want to know what his will really is, if you want to see the sovereign will, the will that is always done, just look at what actually happens.

    Robert

  4. Kevin,

    I do remember reading that somewhere. Great point!

  5. That post is one of my favorites, and so true.

  6. Excellent post Ben! You’ve verbalized very well what I’ve thought to myself quite a few times.

    Other observations I’ve made are that Calvinists tend to write off things that God says that contradict their beliefs as ‘anthropomorphisms’ or ‘God speaking in outward, human terms;’ but then get in a huff when people speak in the same terms. I’ve even heard some of them complain about the term ‘free will’ even existing in human language, despite scripture employing it several times.

    So of course they have to come up with stuff like the multiple wills Robert mentioned. BTW, it’s now official: God has apparently managed to acquire a third will — His ‘will of disposition’ — that’s the will that’s chock-full of stuff that God really, honestly (albeit superficially) desires to do, but doesn’t because the sovereign will all but totally ignores it when making decrees. While this may seem harsh, the sovereign will is decent enough to pass the message on that the will of disposition does indeed care.

    Of course such bizarre theology raises more questions than it answers, like when Calvinists employ God’s will that none of His perish (Matthew 18:14) as the basis for eternal security, how do they know this isn’t just the will of disposition talking? What basis do we have really for judging which of God’s words to take seriously and which ones to just smile and nod at while wishing they were of some actual pertinence?

  7. Hello JC,

    “So of course they have to come up with stuff like the multiple wills Robert mentioned. BTW, it’s now official: God has apparently managed to acquire a third will — His ‘will of disposition’ — that’s the will that’s chock-full of stuff that God really, honestly (albeit superficially) desires to do, but doesn’t because the sovereign will all but totally ignores it when making decrees. While this may seem harsh, the sovereign will is decent enough to pass the message on that the will of disposition does indeed care.”

    The “will of disposition” is another example of calvinist slight of mouth. In this way they can talk about great things that God seemingly wants, that He desires in “his will of disposition” (I heard Piper saying the verses about God loving the world and wanting all to be saved are the “will of disposition”). Yet things that will not happen because that is not what He willed in the all encompassing all determining sovereign secret will.

    “Of course such bizarre theology raises more questions than it answers, like when Calvinists employ God’s will that none of His perish (Matthew 18:14) as the basis for eternal security, how do they know this isn’t just the will of disposition talking?

    That’s a good point. Another example would be when he promises us that with the temptation he will always provide a way of escape. That must be “will of disposition” because according to the secret sovereign will, every time we give into temptation, that is exactly what God wanted to happen. By speaking of the “will of disposition” the calvinist can make things sound good, sound nice, but ya gotta read the fine print of this contract (in big letters in the bible is the will of disposition, but in tiny, tiny letters, letters so small that no human can see them, is written the secret sovereign will of what God really wants to happen in each and every instance).

    “What basis do we have really for judging which of God’s words to take seriously and which ones to just smile and nod at while wishing they were of some actual pertinence?”

    Well you know their answer to that: the expressed will of God is hypothetical kinda like the warnings in Hebrews, just a means of grace God uses to get what he wants to occur. Naw, if you really want to see God’s will just look around you, everything that occurs is part of the secret will. So don’t go by what the bible says, and don’t be fooled by the “will of disposition” go by what actually happens in the real world. 🙂

    Robert

  8. Well I don’t know about that but I do know that God is still God and I am still a pea brain whose brain is getting smaller and smaller the more I learn! How’s that for sizing up the “big” picture?

    Here is a thought about it. Once God Our Heavenly Father reveals His Son to us, it’s no longer a mystery or secret thing to us?

    How about when Christ, according to His Own Will reveals the Father to us it no longer is a mystery or secret thing to us also?

    Here is one though that I wish you would unravel for me at least that this secret thing will disappear?

    Deu 32:8 When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.

    As for now, that Christ has come, born of that Virgin prophesied about long before she came into being, put to death just as it was prophesied He would be and by a cross execution also prophesied before that occurred, buried in a grave prophesied about too before it happened and then rose again just as He Himself foretold, apparently no one was listening because you don’t go fishing or buy one hundred pounds of perfumes to sprinkle on the body the first chance you get, the Apostle does admonish this and to it I graciously comply:::>

    Act 20:31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.
    Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    I am not Jewish by birth, or at least, if I am, they kept that a secret, but according to the “Hope” I have within my soul these days, I too am a Son of God, now and forevermore!!! To which knowledge of these things I say YEAH!

    Can I say yeah? :_)

  9. Michael,

    God is indeed beyond our comprehension. There are things about God that we will never be able to fully grasp; otherwise, he wouldn’t be much of a God. All theology must grapple with mystery and that is true for Arminians as well as Calvinists. And truly, God has revealed much of what was formerly mystery (like the divine intention to include Gentiles in the chosen people of God through faith in Christ), but those mysteries comport with what God had previously revealed even though the full revelation had been hidden up to that point.

    The point of the post, however, is that contradiction should never come under the umbrella of “mystery” and we should look to the things “revealed” to gain our understanding about God and his desires and intentions. The problem is that Calvinists see a secret and often completely contradictory desire and intention of God lurking behind what God has revealed about Himself, and then change the meaning of what is revealed (often rendering it complete nonsense) for the sake of a secret eternal decree (what Walls and Dongell described as “awkward decoding”). That should give them pause and challenge them to re-evaluate the legitimacy of their hermeneutic.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  10. Thanks for the great article. It helps cement my contention that Calvinism makes God out to be schizophrenic.

  11. Hello SLW,

    SLW wrote:

    “It helps cement my contention that Calvinism makes God out to be schizophrenic.”

    I have a friend, very intelligent guy, been teaching the bible for over 60 years now, who says something very similar to what you suggest here. He says that the “two wills doctrine” of the calvinists makes God appear to be schizophrenic because he constantly says to do or not do one thing and yet according to his secret will he constantly brings about something contrary to his revealed will. He also sees this Calvinistic **conception** of God making God into a “sadist.” This is seen especially in his treatment of what the determinists call the “reprobates.” Only a sadist would treat the “reprobates” as the calvinistic god treats them. And of course that is another example of how he says one thing in the revealed will (in the bible He says that He loves the world, that He desires the salvation of all, that Jesus was given for and died for the world, etc. etc.) and yet the actual treatment of “reprobates” (which is the secret will) is contradictory to what He says in the bible.

    Robert

  12. Quite often, it seems the revealed will is whatever the Bible says. The secret will is whatever doctrine the Calvinist wants to defend.

  13. Hello TrueHope,

    “Quite often, it seems the revealed will is whatever the Bible says. The secret will is whatever doctrine the Calvinist wants to defend.”

    Yep, this is one of the major problems with the “two wills” nonsense.

    If you think about it though, the calvinist being a determinist, someone who espouses exhaustive determinism and ASSUMES IT TO BE TRUE, has to come up with the “two wills” concept. This is true because the revealed will, the bible does not teach exhaustive determinism (ED). And yet if God has exhaustively predetermined every event, then the beliefs of Calvinists would logically follow including (1) that God decided before anyone was on the earth, what their eternal destinies would be; (2) that God decided who would believe and not believe and is carrying out a meticulous and exhaustive plan that fixes these destinies for individuals before they were born (so the elect are the elect and the reprobates are the reprobates and it is all completely fixed no choices involved at all); (3) that since everything is predetermined choices and free will as ordinarily understood cannot and never have existed (except for God of course); (4) that God only has a salvific love for the elect (he really does not love the reprobates in a salvific sense and has no desire and had no desire to ever save them); (5) since the exhaustive determinism is true, any bible verses that seem to contradict ED or the “secret will” must be reinterpreted to line up properly with ED.

    It all makes sense ***if*** ED is true, in that case the bible since it does not reveal ED or endorse ED, that explains how the revealed will, the bible, can contradict or seem to contradict ED/the “secret will”. Since Calvinists are merely theological determinists, they prioritize ED first and the revealed will second in their system (though outwardly they may claim that the revealed will has the higher priority or that the revealed will reveals ED/the “secret will’s” existence; though this is false as ED/the “secret will” contradicts the revealed will).

    Or put another way, if there is an apparent or seeming contradiction between ED/the “secret will” and the bible/the revealed will, it is **always** the bible, not ED that must be reinterpreted to line up with ED (not vice versa). Their guiding and controlling presupposition is that ED is true. What is the “secret will” but ED dressed up with theological language to make the nasty medicine more palatable so that it goes down more easily.

    Robert

  14. […] Calvinist is again forced to interpret “the things revealed” according to the “secret things” which do not belong to them, even if it means rendering senseless the things […]

  15. Excellent post. It also occurs to me that the passages of scripture generally cited to support the idea of this “secret will” of God (Romans 9, Ephesians 1, John 6) were all written relatively late in comparison with the canon as a whole. What this means is that God, according to the deterministic view, placed deliberately misleading things in scripture and didn’t provide the necessary hermeneutical key to understanding them until many centuries later. If generations of His people were misled by them, well, I guess that was just a part of His glorious hidden secret mysterious unknowable unfathomable all-encompassing plan.

  16. If generations of His people were misled by them, well, I guess that was just a part of His glorious hidden secret mysterious unknowable unfathomable all-encompassing plan.

    I think the same could be said for Calvin’s doctrine of preseverance which was virtually unheard of prior to him.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  17. thank you for answering many questions i have had. even though you haven’t answered them directly from me, they have been so.
    my mother-in-law’s boyfriend of ten years, an ordained minister, notice i didn’t say husband, go figure, is the hardest calvinist for me to talk to. he is a very intelligent man who has the strangest answers to explain scripture, deut 29:29 is a great example of that. the questions i have for him are rarely answered and if they are they are usually in the form of a question. with many conversations with him under my belt many times i find myself confused. so, i just wanted to thank you for writing your thoughts down for others to read.
    how would a calvinist answer:
    how can we say God is loving if he condemns people to hell?

    How can we say Jesus died for our sins when God made us committ them?

  18. Brandon,

    Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the encouragement. It is nice to know that the time put into writing these posts isn’t a total waste 🙂 May God bless you as you continue to seek Him and His truth.

    Ben

  19. A joke you can do when a Calvinist asks a tought question about Arminianism is to say, “Well, you know… [then quote Deu 29:29],” and then see what they say!

    Of course the proper answer for fruitful discussion then follows 😉

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