Calvinist John Piper recently gave the following Tweet:
This is an obvious attack on Arminianism and those that reject Piper’s Calvinistic presuppositions, though it is misplaced. While Arminians do believe that our will plays a part in our continuing to trust God and remain a believer, it is inaccurate to suggest that Arminians believe our wills are the only factor. Our wills must be continually empowered and enabled by God’s grace in order for us to continue to trust, obey and remain in Christ, for without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Thankfully, God has provided us with everything we need in order to continue to trust in Him and strengthen our faith so that we will not “stumble.” (2 Peter 1:2-11). But it is also true that God’s empowering us to believe and continue to believe can be resisted. While we cannot believe or continue to believe unless God empowers us, we are still capable of walking away and resisting the abundant grace He provides.
Piper seems to see this fact as some sort of reason for insecurity. But that is not the case at all. It is similar to the security that would accompany any relationship that involves a level of commitment. Marriage is a prime example. I acknowledge that I need to guard and protect my marriage by the choices that I (freely) make that will either strengthen that relationship or weaken and harm it. I must concede that it is possible for me to neglect that relationship, even to the point of infidelity. It would be presumptuous to assume such a thing were not possible. However, I don’t live in fear and terror and insecurity over my marriage, always thinking about how it might not last, and I certainly don’t go to bed at night fearing that I might wake up and no longer love my wife or want anything at all to do with her.
Does Piper really think that those who fall away go to bed believers and suddenly wake up “in the morning” as hardened unbelievers? It is hard to even imagine such a case. Such a scenario presents a rather silly, simplified and unrealistic way of speaking about someone leaving the faith. Nobody who falls away just wakes up one morning an unbeliever after having gone to bed a believer. The road to unbelief is gradual, at least to some degree, and it typically involves many (free) choices along the way. But of course, since Piper rejects the possibility of apostasy from genuine faith, he can only hold that deluded hypocrites can go to bed thinking they are saved and that their faith is real only to apparently wake up in the morning in a more honest frame of mind, finally embracing their unbelief instead of clinging to their false fleshly hypocritical faith that was never real in the first place. And that leads us to the most problematic difficulty in Piper’s trite little Tweet: As a Calvinist, John Piper can have no assurance that he is saved when he goes to bed or assurance that he will be saved when he wakes up!
Calvinists, like Piper, believe that those who have been truly regenerated will inevitably persevere to the end in saving faith. But how does one know that he is regenerate? The only true test is to persevere to the end in saving faith. If one fails to persevere, that person only reveals that while he may have thought his faith was real, it was only a case of self deception, or even worse, divine deception. John Calvin called this divine deception “evanescent grace”. It was his answer to the problem of so many real life cases of those who lived for many years seemingly loving and trusting in God and producing godly fruit, only to eventually fall away and abandon the faith. According to Calvin, God gave such people a delusion that made them think they were saved, and even feel like they were saved, only to eventually remove this fleeting grace and reveal that they were just deluded hypocrites that God had never regenerated and whose faith, while it seemed very real to them, was not real faith at all. For a more detailed look at Calvin’s evanescent grace and the way that Calvinism undercuts Biblical salvation assurance, see the first link given at the end of this post.
So for Calvin and Piper, confidence of perseverance is tied up in being regenerate, and it is not at all clear how one can be sure she is regenerate unless she perseveres (to the end) in the faith (a problem of circularity that effectively kills assurance). So the bigger problem for Piper is that he cannot be sure that he will wake up every morning as a believer because his faith may, in fact, be spurious. The only way that he can have confidence that his bedtime faith is not spurious and that he will wake up each morning as a [true] believer is if he in fact wakes up each morning as a [true] believer. So he can have no real confidence at all that he will wake up tomorrow morning, or any other morning, as a believer. In short, he is guilty of wishful thinking and nothing more. Again, the main problem for Piper is how he can know that he is even going to bed a true believer and not a deluded hypocrite. There is simply no way to be sure of this if Calvinism is true.
The irony is obvious. While the Arminians that Piper wanted to discount can have significant salvation assurance while going to bed and in day to day life, Piper’s theology effectively undermines and makes such assurance impossible and, in so doing, nullifies the promises of Scripture that we can indeed know that we presently have eternal life (1 John 5:13). While the Arminian could rightly say what Piper says in his tweet, John Piper cannot.
For more on the problems with Calvinist assurance in contrast with the strong basis for assurance that Arminians possess, see the following posts: