The following is from my new e-book, A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance. The aim of this book is to present how the warning passages in Hebrews teach perseverance and the possibility of genuine apostasy of genuine believers, and this theme is applied to the notion so popular today called “meticulous sovereignty,” that God determines or brings about all things. If humans can resist God’s will, or undo their redemption, a case can be made that meticulous sovereignty over reaches the biblical evidence. As such, the e-book is not a direct challenge to Calvinism but to one kind of Calvinism, and neither is it a challenge to what I call the “architecture” of Calvinism. Now to the preface.
The aim of A Long Faithfulness is to cut the central nerve—the sovereignty of God—that informs a dominant theme in the resurgence of Calvinism in our time. Mind you, I affirm God’s sovereignty as the foundation of our faith, so my aim is to defeat one particular but pervasive conviction about God’s sovereignty in the resurgent Calvinism.
That particular but pervasive understanding of God’s sovereignty is what might be called “meticulous” (or “exhaustive”) sovereignty. In regards to this subject, there are only two real options: either God determines everything (meticulous sovereignty) or God does not determine everything. A well-known example of meticulous sovereignty can be found in various statements made by notable evangelical leaders in the wake of natural disasters, such as hurricanes from Katrina to Sandy. If one affirms meticulous sovereignty, then one must also believe God decided, desired, and carried out the weather conditions, the speed and direction of the winds, the deluges of water, and precisely which homes would be destroyed and which homes would escape.
If God determines everything (as in the meticulous sovereignty approach), then God not only permits but must determine that some young girls and boys will be abused while others will be spared, that some adults will suffer more in this life while others will suffer less. For this essay’s purposes, it is not relevant how tragic situations are explained (e.g., that we are all sinners who deserve these tragedies and even worse; or that God wants to make an example of humans as depraved). What is relevant is that—in this understanding of divine sovereignty—God determines everything, that God can do otherwise but chooses to bring about awful conditions and events.This essay takes direct aim at this belief.
But this essay is not about human tragedies, but about God’s sovereignty when it comes to personal salvation. My theme is whether or not humans can both choose for God and then later choose against God; whether or not saved humans can become unsaved humans; whether or not humans can choose to walk away from the grace they’ve experienced; and whether or not they would have entered into the eternal blessing of God had they remained fast in their faith.
For the meticulous sovereignty view, God determines—for whatever reasons—who gets saved, and that means—whether the resurgent Calvinist will admit it or not—who does not get saved. I’m aware that John Calvin himself did not always teach this theory—called double predestination—but that this was a development later in his theology. I’m also aware that not all Calvinists—perhaps not even the majority—affirm double predestination. No wonder! It’s morally despicable for God to create humans only to send them to hell because he did not choose them, when they could do nothing about it, and that this somehow glorifies him.
It may be the case that many Calvinists do not believe in double predestination, but that will not for one moment undo the necessary logic of election as many Calvinists understand it. If God is the one who both awakens and creates faith in the human, and if the only ones who believe in Christ are the ones whom God has chosen, then anyone not chosen is un-chosen by not being chosen. Double predestination is not an option for those who believe in meticulous sovereignty because it is a necessary corollary—even if it is hidden in the corner or if alternative explanations are offered.
My aim is to defeat this view of meticulous sovereignty among resurgent Calvinists by showing that the biblical view of sovereignty—a robust version if ever there was one—means God has chosen—because he loves those whom he has created and grants them freedom—to limit his sovereignty by giving humans that freedom. My argument is not philosophical; my argument is biblical. I affirm what the Bible says about God’s sovereignty, and biblical sovereignty entails human freedom both to choose God and to un-choose God. If that view of sovereignty can be demonstrated from the Bible, then resurgent Calvinism’s view of sovereignty is unbiblical, pastorally disastrous, and harmful to the church.