Double-Talk From a Double Predestinarian

Dr. John Piper recently responded to the question, “What did the death of Jesus on the cross accomplish for the non-elect? Anything?” His reply, oddly, raises more questions than it answers. Despite his views on unconditional election and reprobation, Piper frames his answer in terms of God giving those who aren’t chosen a “chance” at salvation. Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, was identified partially by his unusual, but correct use of an oft-misquoted proverb that’s very applicable here: “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.”

To understand the issue, the reader should understand that Piper is a 5-point Calvinist, and believes that whether one is saved or not is strictly up to the choice of God, with no input from man or conditions fulfilled by man whatsoever, and that God unchangeably chose or rejected each individual before the world was ever made. He also believes that Christ didn’t die for the ones that weren’t chosen in any sort of way by which they could be saved (this is commonly called “limited atonement”), and that whether one accepts the gospel or not is entirely dependent upon whether he has been “regenerated” by God beforehand (per Calvinism, one who is regenerated inevitably will believe the gospel, one who isn’t regenerated never can). With that said, let’s examine Piper’s response.

In one sense, as soon as we sin we should be punished eternally. We shouldn’t get another breath. There should be no reprieve. There should be no time given to us. So clearly then, in some sense, the time given to us is grace. And grace for a sinner requires some kind of payment or purchase or warrant from a holy God. And Christ would be the one who provides that.

So I’m inclined to say, “Yes, the fact that the non-elect, the unbelievers all over the world are still breathing and have another chance to believe is a gift, just like the offer of the gospel is a gift. And that offer is provided by the cross.”

I’m not sure I agree with that logic. I do believe God, in His just nature, punishes sin; and that atonement is required to escape one’s being punished. But now there has to be some sort of payment for delaying that punishment? I also did a double-take when I read this. The guy who regularly stresses double-predestination just used the phrase “chance to believe?” Read on, it gets weirder.

Now here’s the catch. Romans 2:4 says, “Don’t you know that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance? But you, by your hard and unrepentant heart, are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God is revealed.”

So if a non-elect person spurns-which they do-they spurn this grace, the grace itself becomes added judgment. Which makes me wonder, “In what sense was it grace?” In some sense it is. It’s a real offer, it’s a real opportunity. But if you spurn it, if you reject it, it backfires and mounts up with greater judgment.

I would agree with Piper’s sentiment that one who spurns God’s grace opens himself up to harsher condemnation. What’s confusing about his answer is his use of terms like “real offer” and “real opportunity.” Per Piper’s own views, whether you will believe and be saved or not has already been unconditionally and immutably settled before you were ever born.

Previously, Piper insinuated that the non-elect are given a “chance to believe” (“chance” apparently not implying randomness, but being used in the idiomatic sense to convey opportunity). But the only “chance” involved is the [to us] unknown factor of whether you are already one of the chosen ones: If you are one of the elect, there’s no chance that you won’t believe; if you’re one of those who have been unconditionally rejected with no possible appeal or recourse, there’s absolutely no chance that you will. And whatever you are, your position as elect or non-elect can’t and won’t change. It’s not a matter of there being a “chance” of backfire for the unchosen in the Calvinistic view, such “grace” cannot do anything but backfire.

It’s like the more kindness is shown to a person that they resist, then the more wicked they show themselves to be. And the more wicked they show themselves to be, the more judgment falls upon them.

I think the answer is yes. I think real grace, real common grace, real offer of salvation-right now, just watching this-is grace. And if you’re a non-Christian, grace is being offered you at this very moment in my warning you that, if you spurn this, judgment will be greater.

Again, I’d largely agree with the sentiment. The question is how can this kind of statement square with Piper’s divinely fatalistic views? It’s also notable that Piper isn’t just talking about how people perceive things, but about things that God intentionally does.

And that’s a gift to you right now that God may be pleased to then use to awaken you to say, “Whoa. I don’t want to multiply my judgment. I want to respond to this moment of grace.”

That’s what I think the upshot of this conversation should be: respond to the grace. You’re alive! There’s still a chance to believe and be saved.

Again, per 5-point Calvinism, if you’re not among those elected to salvation, tough beans. God hasn’t chosen you, Christ didn’t die for you, and the Holy Spirit most certainly won’t regenerate you. You are lost without remedy, condemned already beyond repair, there isn’t a single ray of hope, and you never had a prayer. The accessibility of salvation to you is absolute zero. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. So how can a person to whom salvation isn’t even remotely applicable have any sort of “opportunity” to be saved?

Put even more simply, if Christ didn’t die for the forgiveness of one’s sins in any sense, then there can never be an “opportunity to be saved” for him, because there is no way to be saved unless Christ died to forgive his sins.

Such doublespeak is strong cause to question Piper’s personal theology. If his determinist views are so repugnant that he has to “balance” them with concepts that flatly contradict his doctrine, then he’s essentially embraced cognitive dissonance. If you reject universalism, but believe that God still genuinely offers salvation to all men, then which is more consistent and less convoluted to believe?

1. Christ died provisionally for the sins of all, such that any who believe in Him will be forgiven.

2. Or Piper’s view, where if you’re not one of the elect, you’re given an “opportunity” that you can’t possibly take, to accept an “offer” of salvation from God that isn’t really His will that you accept, just so you’ll have a “chance” to obtain faith that isn’t even accessible to you, wrought by a Savior who didn’t die to forgive your sins, but whose death fortunately did provide “grace” that will inevitably backfire and condemn you even more. Makes perfect sense. Where do I sign?

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9 Responses

  1. i think his comments on the atonement in particular are a bit disturbing. The double talk I’m used to, but this notion that Christ’s death buys the delay in punishment is truly bizarre. If Christ’s death bought the delay for the reprobate, then it also bought the delay for me. But if that’s the case, then what bought my actual justification?

    The best I can picture this is lets say that the atonement is a pizza pie bought for a team. The coach slices up the pizza the way he sees fit. He decides to give a slice to some members of the team and the left over bits a pepporoni to other members of the team. So if John is sitting there, watching his other teammate having full slices of pizza while he’s “enjoying” his piece of pepperoni, can it truly be said that John was feed in any real why by the pizza?

  2. I have no clue as to where in scripture Piper might rest his notion that the cross bought God’s patience. For that matter where does he get the notion that God’s patience needed to be bought? To me, this would make God divided within, at odds with himself, a Turkish bazaar of sorts within the Godhead.

  3. Excellent post. That Calvinists routinely need to talk like Arminians and essentially adopt the Arminian perspective to make any sense of basic Biblical concepts plainly exposes how illogical and unBiblical Calvinism really is. It amazes me that they can get through life with such blatant contradictions continually rolling around in their heads. Such bankrupt attempts to harmonize Scripture with their fundamental doctrines should be a blazing red flag that something is horribly awry. But so often they don’t even seem to notice.

  4. “another chance to believe is a gift”

    What does he mean a “chance”. That indicates a level of free will since there is no chance with a Calvinist God, only a predetermined act without any hint of chance. The doctrine of limited atonement is perhaps the most heretical since it directly diminishes the cross and the sufferings of Jesus. Many suggest that Calvin added it in order to present a more coherant systematic theology. Coherant he is, but correct he is not.

  5. Yes but the same is true the other way about: Arminianism also can’t consistently stand up. If God is sovereign and predestines every soul from all eternity to salvation or damnation, as the Bible says, then how can there be genuinely any space for free will?
    But the point is, whether someone – anyone – is actually predestined for salvation or not, is entirely (100%) and solely known to God, not to the person in question nor to any other finite soul. So yes, God knows from all eternity who will come to Him, and He has decided who will and who won’t – but this makes no difference to us since we cannot know and will never know short of Heaven. Therefore we should do as Whitefield did and evangelise indefatigably.

  6. A succinct phrase I was taught in my earliest months and years of being a Christian, was that Jesus’s atoning death was/is “sufficient for all, efficient for some.” His blood suffices for all who come to Him, for all time in history and the future, but it can hardly be EFficient for those who refuse to even come to Him, refuse to accept it. Obvious, really.

  7. William,

    @If God is sovereign and predestines every soul from all eternity to salvation or damnation, as the Bible says, then how can there be genuinely any space for free will?

    The Bible does talk about predestination, but not the necessitarian nonsense that stands opposed to free will. An infinitely wise and all-knowing God can factor for and employ man’s free choices into accomplishing His purposes. So no, Arminianism doesn’t have a conceptual problem on that front.

    @it can hardly be EFficient for those who refuse to even come to Him

    Neither sufficiency nor efficiency is at the heart of the limited atonement debate, but applicability.

  8. William,

    Please explain how blood that was never shed for the reprobates is “sufficient” to save them. What?

  9. Yes, it has been perennially observed that Calvinism cannot possibly be successfully promoted or defended without the use of beguiling double-talk.

    That is why Calvinist’s have an arsenal of equivocal words and terms, with which they can deploy, in ad-hoc fashion, to affirm theological determinism in one argument, and then switch to denying it in another.

    To masquerade predestined-human-choice as un-predestined. To masquerade compatibilistic free-will as libertarian free-will. To masquerade “Particular” divine love as “Universal”. To capture unsuspecting people in a web of words having meanings they can shift at will.

    Like the money-changer who creates a false balance by shifting the weights on his scale in order to take advantage of the unsuspecting, they’ve mastered the skill of shifting semantic weights.

    Let the discerning Christian teach his fellow brothers/sisters how Calvinism’s semantic shell-games work, and the ruse is over.
    Blessings!!! :-]

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