A Long Faithfulness: Preface

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.

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  • Bob B.

    Get ready for the bricks to fly….

  • Bob B.

    P.S. – I love this post! Free will – what a concept!

  • Ward Fenley

    Free will cannot exist if God knows everything. What Scot is saying is that God has chosen to limit His knowledge. However, this is not only unbiblical, it is also philosophically impossible.

  • Phil Miller

    Free will cannot exist if God knows everything.

    This argument has never made sense to me. Knowledge of what a person will do based on their character isn’t the same thing as determining that action. Many parents can pretty know what their child will do in a given situation because they know what their child is like. That knowledge has nothing to do with the child’s free will, though. That analogy is a bit flawed because no parent has perfect knowledge, but even if it were possible, the child is determining his actions, not the parent.

  • Karl

    I’ve always wondered about this analogy (and other variations of it) it works great, except the parent (et al) did not make the child or whoever else is the other part of the analogy.

  • Phil Miller

    Well, what does it mean to create? The idea of God’s self-limitation in the act of creation, as Scot mentions in the post, isn’t really anything new. It’s something that you can find even in rabbinical commentaries of the Torah.

    Also, as Scot mentioned, it’s hard to see how one can deny double predestination without admitting to some form of self-limitation when it comes to sovereignty.

  • Rory Tyer

    “philosophically impossible” – according to whom? Philosophers you agree with? The philosophies behind Scripture? This is a silly claim.

  • Ward Fenley

    Scot writes: “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.”

    To counter this statement, please read:

    http://www.eschatology.com/sovereignty.html and http://www.eschatology.com/supralapsarianism.html

  • Tom F.

    Ward: your links do not directly address the argument at hand. In addition, the site directly links God to evil. Tell me, how does the site’s suggestion that God is directly responsible for evil not make God an evil God?

  • Eric Weiss

    Well, the MSG (the Meticulous Sovereign God) must have decided, desired, and carried out the writing of this book by you, including determining precisely which words you would use and not use in your penning of your piece – a piece which, according to the will and under the direction and by the action of the MSG, raises questions about the biblical basis for the MSG.

  • Phil Miller

    I’ve always wondered how some Calvinists could legitimately call anyone a heretic or anything a heresy.

    R.C. Sproul said, “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that on maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plans that God has made and promised to us.”

    If that’s the case, then God truly is to blame for all evil, all heresy, all, well, everything that isn’t the way it should be.

  • Wolf Paul

    Please note that Amazon.com still tells me that (a) there is no price known for this book, and (b) it is not currently available for purchase (see attached screenshot for both) …

  • RJS4DQ

    Wolf Paul,

    In the US there is a link and price. My guess is that there is some kind of delay on international publication.

  • scotmcknight

    This is not a technical discussion about “free will”, and as you can see it is the commenters who have inserted this expression into the discussion. There is quite the discussion, philosophically speaking, about free will and I didn’t entertain that. Instead, I focused on choice, which is not the same.

  • Larry_Shallenberger

    Will there be a version for the Nook?

  • Rachel

    Hi Larry, Rachel from Bondfire Books (the publisher) here. We’ve submitted the book to Barnes and Noble. It should be available soon. They take a little longer to get titles posted. Keep checking back though!

  • AHH

    Is “meticulous sovereignty” identical to what I remember being called “hyper-Calvinism”? It sounds the same, but I’m digging back in my mind to discussions 25 years ago.
    It does seem like another necessary corollary of this position is that God is the “author of evil” (if it is possible to classify anything as “evil” in such a system).

  • scotmcknight

    AHH, in part but only in part. Meticulous sovereignty would be one theme among some hyper Calvinists.

  • MatthewS

    Scot, a while back I read an analogy to a child playing chess against a chess master. The child has free reign of choosing which moves to play, and therefore a significant say in the intermediate states and flow of the game. The chess master will respond to the moves and is able to shape the intermediate states into the ultimate desire effect. Do you think that could be a roughly workable metaphor for a sovereign God that gives choice to his subjects?

  • scotmcknight

    Hard to find analogies. At times I think the Molinist theory makes best sense of this sort of factors.

  • Craig Beard

    Interesting to see this on the same day I was listening to a lecture by Ian Paul in which he said something like “God is sovereign but he is not coercive.” I’m looking forward to the book, Scot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-McAlpine/726502236 Stephen McAlpine

    I will be interested to see what treatment Scot gives to passages like Romans 1-3 and Ephesians 2 in this regard. Isn’t this just Luther versus Erasmus all over again?

  • Beakerj

    I’ll be really interested to read this Scott, even though this topic
    scares me. The picture of the God of meticulous sovereignty has eroded
    my confidence in the goodness of God, to the point where I don’t really
    know what that means…and so am tempted to just have to drop all of it
    to gain peace of mind. I definitely suffer internally from what Smith
    calls pervasive interpretive pluralism, & find it hard to see what
    the final factor is which sends people in one direction or another with
    many biblical ‘doctrines’. It would be hilarious if a book about the
    potential loss of salvation started me back to believing God is good,
    & back towards him.

    Here’s hoping.

  • steve

    Dr. McKnight said:

    “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.”

    i) Jesus said God sends sunshine and rain (Mt 5:45). Doesn’t that mean God controls the weather?

    ii) God answered Elijah’s prayer to end the drought by sending rain (1 Kgs 18:42-45). Doesn’t that assume God controls the weather? Indeed, doesn’t v.1 explicitly attribute the rain to God?

    iii) According to Scripture, some natural disasters are divine judgments. Noah’s
    flood, as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, are paradigm-cases.
    Confining ourselves to the subset of natural disasters which are divine judgments,
    does Dr. McKnight deny that God was behind these particular events? Presumably he doesn’t think the natural disaster which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was just accidentally punitive. Doesn’t its function as a divine judgment mean God was responsible for when and where that happened? That God directed the outcome?

  • steve

    Dr. McKnight said:

    “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.”

    How does Dr. McKnight distinguish between the morality of God permitting child and God determining child abuse?

    God knows that if he intervened to stop a child abuser, the child would not have been abused. Absent divine intervention, the child will be abused. Therefore, divine inaction ensures the abuse.

    How, then, is ensuring the outcome morally distinct from determining the outcome?

  • steve

    Dr. McKnight said:

    “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.”

    Doesn’t traditional Arminian theology take the same position? For instance:

    http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-129-the-cause-and-cure-of-earthquakes/