Part 5 of Response to The Gospel as Center, Chapter 5: “Sin and the Fall” by Reddit Andrews III
Reddit Andrews is a Presbyterian pastor (PCA). This is a brief chapter—only ten pages—and covers the basics of a doctrine of sin from a Calvinist perspective. Andrews quotes Jonathan Edwards, Blaise Pascal, Herman Bavinck, John Murray and R. L. Dabney (among others). Also, of course, The Westminster Confession of Faith.
For me this chapter raises to an intense pitch the question I have been asking about The Gospel Coalition all along. To what extent is Calvinism part and parcel of “the gospel?” Put another way, to what extent can a non-Calvinist be considered (by them) authentically “evangelical?”
The reason this question becomes especially crucial, and unanswered except perhaps implicitly, in this chapter is its treatment of “Evil and the Will of God.” (pp. 80-81) Many non-Calvinists will agree with most of the rest of the chapter. With the exception of these two pages it is a fairly standard treatment of conservative evangelical theology of sin and evil.
Before I get into discussing “Evil and the Will of God,” I must mention, by way of background, the author’s treatment of “Sin is Universal.” (pp. 82-83) There Andrews mentions that “Christians disagree on the manner in which Adam’s guilt and corruption were transmitted to humans.” He mentions two options: an organic connection and a legal one (Adam as “federal representative”).
What’s interesting there is that, insofar as this chapter represents the thinking of The Gospel Coalition, the “gospel” does not require a particular view of the link between Adam and his posterity. Why not? Apparently the gospel requires very specific beliefs about so much else.
My point is that there seems to be intentionality in some of the chapters as they point out areas of freedom to disagree about the implications of the gospel. So, The Gospel Coalition IS intending to speak for a relatively diverse group. These chapters are not just their authors’ opinions. Andrews, for example, identifies his opinion that Adam’s sin was imputed to all his physical posterity. (p. 83) But he doesn’t think everyone must believe that to be gospel-centered.
Notice the phrase “Christians disagree.” (p. 83) That is NOT said about anything else in the chapter. And it does not say “Calvinists disagree” (about the means of transmission of Adam’s sin to his posterity). It says “Christians disagree.” This language indicates that The Gospel Coalition thinks “Christians” DO NOT DISAGREE about the rest. Otherwise such would be indicated. But, then, that means ONLY THOSE WHO AGREE are truly, authentically Christian. At least that is a reasonable inference.
Back to “Evil and the Will of God.” Andrews says “God sovereignly decreed that sin would enter the world, and Adam was responsible for freely sinning.” (p. 80) And “God, who is holy and not the author of evil, did not merely ‘permit’ evil. It is not as though God did not ordain evil but allowed it to occur.” (p. 81) Is this what “all Christians” believe? If not, why not say so—as Andrews says two pages later with regard to transmission of Adam’s sin? Surely Andrews knows this view, that God sovereignly decreed sin and evil, is not shared by all evangelical Christians (to say nothing of non-evangelical Christians such as Catholics). The clear implication is that, for him and The Gospel Coalition, Calvinism is part and parcel of the gospel so that anyone who denies this (viz., that God sovereignly decreed sin and did not merely permit it) is not authentically Christians. What else is a reader to think?
Also, of course, this view, that God sovereignly decreed sin and did not merely permit it cannot escape making God the author of sin and evil. God could not have “sovereignly decreed” sin without rendering it certain. Why does Andrews not address HOW God rendered sin (i.e., the fall) certain? Virtually every Calvinist theologian I have read explains that God withdrew or withheld the grace he knew Adam and Eve would have needed not to sin. How else could God have guaranteed what he decreed would come to pass without actually forcing them to sin? And yet, non-Calvinists ask, how is that not tantamount to causing them to sin? And if sinning is what they naturally would do apart from a supernatural gift of grace, how was their nature “good?”
Then, of course, the biggest problem with Andrews’ (and most Calvinists’ view) of God’s sovereign ordaining of sin and evil is that sin and evil are no longer really bad. Andrews quotes Bavinck that God “willed it [i.e., sin and evil] so that in it and against it He might bring to light His divine attributes.” (p. 81) Really. Please. If that’s the case, then there is no getting around it that sin and evil are good because without them God’s glory could not be fully revealed. It’s only a baby step from there to “Those suffering in the flames of hell for eternity can at least take comfort in the fact they are there for the greater glory of God.” But it’s not even a baby step to belief that sin and evil are really good.
Of course, one traditional Calvinist way of getting around that is to say that the evil of a sinful act lies in the intention with which it is done. But, within a Calvinist doctrine of meticulous providence, even the “evil” intention had to be ordained and rendered certain by God. Then it, too, is not really evil but good.
I truly do not see how Calvinists like Andrews can cope with this conundrum. If this is true, then why not celebrate sin and evil and hell? They are God’s will and bring him glory. Why don’t Calvinists smile over them as God does (referring to Cowper’s hymn “God Moves In A Mysterious Way”—“behind a frowning providence he [God] hides a smiling face”).