John Piper, God’s Sovereignty, and Sin

A friend forwarded this to me: http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-on-mans-sin-and-gods-sovereignty-80617/ (Sorry, patheos’s format has changed again and I can’t find the key to make this a live link. Do it yourself.)

John Piper has been at it again. But there’s nothing new in the sermon reported on there. He has been saying this and writing it for decades. According to him, God foreordains sin. He “ordains and governs” it. He stops short of saying Godcauses is. But the effect is the same: sin is God’s will, even if it grieves him. And he’s talking about about every specific sin, not just “sin in general.”

Most Calvinists blush at such statements. And there’s the line for me between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” Calvinism. I cannot accept, even with chagrin, Calvinism that says God foreordains and renders certain specific sins. That inexorably, ineluctably, inescapably makes God the author of sin and evil. That sullies God’s character OR makes sin not really sin. You have to choose. There’s no way around it.

Arminius was absolutely right when he addressed this Calvinist idea (which he associated especially with supralapsarianism but which is not held only by supras). He said that in that view, then, sin is not sin, or God sins and is really the only sinner.

Again, as I have said so many times before, whatever Scripture passages used to support this view mean, they cannot mean that. (Wesley said that about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9.) Why? Because if that’s what Scripture means, then the God of the Bible is not good in any meaningful sense. Then, if that’s what the Bible means (which it cannot mean), then the God of Jesus Christ is the ultimate sinner or sin is not really sin. The logic is inescapable.

I will not say Piper is not a Christian; I will only say that his view is worse, far, far worse, than open theism. At least open theism preserves the character of God. And I will say I could not in good Christian conscience attend a church pastored by Piper or any of his disciples (“Piper cubs,” we called them at Bethel).

I wish that more moderate Calvinists would take a stand against Piper when he says these things (and against his surrogates when the repeat them). That they don’t really worries me. What are they thinking?

Most Calvinists I know (and I have known many over the years as friends and colleagues) will leave more in the realm of mystery.

I remember well when the leader of a Calvinist Baptist organization spoke to my class some years ago. He seemed to agree with Piper about God’s sovereignty and sin and he promoted TULIP Calvinism if not supralapsarianism. My dear, late friend and colleague Chip Conyers, a Calvinist himself, cornered the speaker and berated him (I’ve never seen Chip that angry) about his presentation of Calvinism. His main point was that it robbed God’s sovereignty of the element of mystery Calvin preserved. I stood off to the side watching and listening. The speaker had obviously expected ME to attack him (which I never do with my guest speakers); he was totally taken aback when Chip did it–not in my defense but because HE (Chip, the Calvinist) was offended and was defending God’s transcendence and the mysteriousness of God’s sovereignty.

In my opinion, Piper is just over the top with these statements. But thousands are following him into a total obliteration of the good character of God. I can only shake my head in amazement and sadness and wonder what they are thinking. Is an all-powerful, all-determining God who isn’t good worshipful? I don’t see how.

  • John C. Gardner

    Does Michael Horton have the same position on sin and God’s sovereignty as Piper? If not, what would Dr. Horton use as an argument?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know, but I’m guessing he’s at least more circumspect in his declarations about God and sin. Most Calvinists have been and are–leaving that more in the realm of mystery. I could be wrong. I haven’t read him on the subject.

  • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

    As you said, Piper has been saying this same type of thing for years. Here is a devastating critique of his view as expressed in another sermon of his. It takes on his logic as well as his specific use of biblical texts: “John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin and Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First ‘Question’” http://evangelicalarminians.org/?q=node/1359.

  • John Inglis

    “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Isaiah 5:20

  • JoeyS

    OK, Dr. Olson I am in no way a Calvinist so bear with me in this question. Where, then, does sin come from? Is it something that exists beyond God’s creation? Did God only create material reality or is all that exists, heuristic, physical and otherwise all stemmed from the Unmoved Mover?

    Please don’t see this question as dissent, rather I am interested in understanding how sin can exists apart from God. I’m not saying that it can’t, I just can’t come up with a quick justification for why it can’t.

    • rogereolson

      First, most basic, sin is not something. Sin is a form of evil; evil is the privation of the good. Evil is to good as darkness is to light. Even God could not create creatures with genuine free will without the possibility of them misusing it to bring about evil (a condition, not a substance).

      • JoeyS

        Gotcha. I suspected you’d have a good answer. So is Sin under God’s reign or does that it is a condition render that question moot?

        • rogereolson

          These are separate questions. Sin is a form of evil and therefore a condition, not a substance. All Christians, so far as I know, have always agreed that evil is not a “thing,” a substance, like a germ. All Christians also agree that even evil is under God’s reign in the sense that he permits it and limits it. (Well, that is, unless you count process theologians as Christians.)

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Roger, Joey,

      I agree that evil is not a substance, but I’m not sure it is a condition either. Someone who gives money to another may be doing something good (giving a gift) or something evil (trying to corrupt). It is related to intent and seems to be related to the relationship that one has with another or God. No human is intrinsically evil in the same way that no human is intrinsically good. Rather, one is considered evil (or good) by what they do and the intent that they do those things. As one continues to do evil things, then they might get a reputation/judgement as an evil person, but I don’t think it is ontological because they may turn from their wicked ways.

      The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him. But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Ez 18:20b-22

      As to where this originated, I think that evil became possible (then actual) as humans turned away from good behavior (towards others) to bad behavior. As Roger said, it was made possible by the creation of creatures with a free will.

  • Francesco C.

    It’s really crazy that Piper uses Deut. 28:63 without reading the true REASON: vv. 47, 58, 62, etc.

  • CarolJean

    How would you address Piper if he used these scriptures to prove his point?

    “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. Acts 2:22-23

    Did not God foreordain the sin of the crucifixion of his own Son?

    • rogereolson

      I’ve dealt with this many times here and in my books. That God foreordained Jesus’ crucifixion does not require that he foreordained any specific person’s sin. The triumphal entry guaranteed the crucifixion. It was time. God did not have to “ordain and govern” any specific person’s sin. God allowed them to do what they wanted to do to his Son. BUT (this is crucial), according to Paul (2 Cor. 2) it was the “rulers of this world” who crucified Jesus, not God or the Jews or the Roman soldiers. Of course God allowed it, but he did not have to cause any specific person to sin.

      • Matt Svoboda

        How is it logical that God foreordains sin as overarching, but not sin as specific?

        If you think Him ordaining specific sin damages his character, how does ordaining sin as an overarching theme get him off the hook? Seems inconsistent to me.

        In my humble opinion, to not hold the calvinist view on this topic logically (if consistent) leads someone down the path of Open Theism. What am I missing?

        • rogereolson

          And in my view, to hold the Calvinist view on this topic logically (if consistent) leads someone down the path to making God the author of sin and evil. What am I missing?

      • http://andrewtlocke.wordpress.com andrewtlocke

        Dr. Olson, the text does not say that God allowed anything. Why would you stretch it to say something it categorically does not say? There are texts which insinuate that God allowed or permitted sin to occur, but this is not one of them. It says that he definitely planned and foreknew. I don’t have to do the Greek work here with you, I know you know the Greek, but let me just state that there is no sense in which the expression, “definite plan and foreknowledge”, can in any way suggest “allowance”. There is no semantic range for Paul’s purposes here which “allow” for that. Allowance is a passive state, these statements are active. This is definite, purposeful behavior, as fixed in the mind of God as the Day of our Lord’s return.

        Of course the text is meant to show the mystery of the interaction of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, hence the next statement, “you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

        The first question is: Was Jesus’ crucifixion ordained, planned, predestined by God in any sense? If you say no, then you deny the plain meaning of the text and the plain meaning of every prophecy given in the OT concerning the suffering of our Lord.
        The second question is: Was Jesus’ crucifixion a sinful act? If you say no, then you deny what the Scriptures call a sinful act.
        The conclusion is inescapable.

        • rogereolson

          The conclusion is inescapable: If you say that God foreordained and controlled the specific sins of specific men, then you make God the author of sin which makes him, not them, responsible for their sins.

          • Peter

            I know I am late to the party, but that sort of response is one I find so frustrating from Arminians. For Scripture to be authoritative, we HAVE to form our understanding of God from Scripture, we cannot start with presuppositions and twist Scripture to fit them. “andrewtlocke” made a Biblical argument, and you completely ignored it to respond with your presupposition — essentially, “I would not like the implication, therefore the passage cannot mean what it says.” I think that is a backwards and dangerous way to approach the Bible.

          • rogereolson

            There is no such thing as presuppositionless interpretation of the Bible. Go back and read my post about Charles Hodge (a hero to most Calvinists) and his presuppositions (with which I agree). And please tell me how you believe the Bible without presupposing God to be trustworthy and faithful.

        • Giles Beynno

          Hi Brother,

          Top class response.

          Blessings from a Messanic Jew or in other words a Christian Brother.

          Giles

  • Just Sayin’

    It’s as if God hits himself on the thumb with a hammer again and again, for his ultimate glory.

  • J.E. Edwards

    …and the circle continues:) Roger, it’s hard not to be critical of you here. I don’t mean satiric, sarcastic, hateful criticism either. I mean serious criticism. Your statement, “Again, as I have said so many times before, whatever Scripture passages used to support this view mean, they cannot mean that.” That statement is so full of your own presuppositions that it is really over the top. Really, this ends up being a battle of presuppositions. However, in defense of the article you referenced (it doesn’t matter who wrote it), if all YOU have is, “Those passages can’t mean what you are saying they say”…that isn’t a very serious answer. Let me put it this way, if all I had were philosophical presuppositions, I would land exactly where you land. Just because one cannot make things line up philosophically nice, neat and tidy in this area of the Bible, doesn’t mean those passages do not mean what they clearly say. I’ve said it here before, philosophy finds its meaning in the Scripture. The Bible tells US what good philosophy is. It’s not a matter of whether we like it or not. Nowhere in the Bible is God called the author of sin. That accusation is only made by those who cannot make what the Bible says come together philosophically, and simply throwing that accusation on Calvinistic believers doesn’t change things…it’s only an accusation. You (and other accusers) are the only one saying God is the author of sin if that is believed. That philosophy is the heart of many of the other theories of the atonement that aren’t the theory of penal substitution (as you so wonderfully discussed recently). Clearly the writers of the Westminster Confession saw it that way. That it is possible for God to govern over all things and NOT be the author of sin.

    • rogereolson

      Well, you’re right. We’ve been around this so many times before. We just see it so differently that it’s like we’re living on different planets. My presuppositions are NOT (now I’m shouting), NOT!, philosophical. They are drawn from the heart of Scripture itself–Jesus Christ, the perfect revelation of the character of God. So please stop this nonsensical accusation about bringing philosophical presuppositions to Scripture.

      • J.E. Edwards

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you shout. Maybe my assertions are non-sensical. I think if you were as specific with your Scriptural references as Piper was in that article, you might get accused of it less. It would make me more willing to listen, that’s for sure. Here’s something I read last evening in my O.T. reading (as the Lord would have it). It’s from I Kings 22:19-23:
        “And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left;and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’
        Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you.”
        I don’t mean this as an “Aha! Now I’ve got you!” (evil laugh implied) kind of moment. I wasn’t hunting this down. It was just there. God did control lying for his purposes and the death of a king. I say this in relation to your statement, “I cannot accept, even with chagrin, Calvinism that says God foreordains and renders certain specific sins.” If I am reading this properly, God did exactly that. Shouldn’t I read this plainly here? Also, Piper did leave this whole thing in the realm of mystery in the article. I hope others went and actually read the article you linked here.

        • rogereolson

          As I recall, what Piper leaves in the realm of mystery is how sinners can be responsible for their sins (even condemnable to hell for them) and yet God foreordained them (i.e., their sins). Look, we are definitely talking at cross purposes here. IF Piper’s Calvinism is true, then GOD actually plans, ordains, and renders certain every individual sin including the very first one that led to all the others. Sinners are controlled by God in their sinning. It’s entirely different to say that God permits Satan to entice sinners to commit a particular sin. The people in question are already sinners by their free will; they want to sin more. All God does is permit Satan (or an evil, lying spirit or whatever) to tempt them to commit a particular sin which they, being the corrupt sinners they already are by their choice, will commit. If you take your and (I assume) Piper’s interpretation of 1 Kings 22 as paradigmatic for all sins, then there is no escaping that God is the author of sin and evil. Why don’t you answer that? Do you believe God is the author of all sin and evil? How can you (or Piper) escape it? As I see it, Piper takes passages such as you have quoted here and makes them paradigmatic to even control the interpretation of New Testament passages that clearly say God does not tempt, God wants everyone to be saved, God loves the whole world, etc., etc., etc. These passages are so well known there’s no reason to regurgitate them as you seem to expect. Everyone knows them. The issue in debate is how best to interpret them? I think Piper interprets them through the lens of his Old Testament God who is nominalistically above all standards of right and wrong except what he makes up at the moment. Then he goes to those well known New Testament passages and eisegetically makes them say what they have to say to fit his Old Testament, nominalistic idea of God as all determining. When it comes right down to it, I say that the difference between Piper and me is he reads the Bible forwards, laying the Old Testament over the New, while I (with the vast majority of baptists throughout the centuries) interpret the Old in light of the New and especially in light of Jesus Christ. Does that mean there are passages in the Old Testament that trouble me and that I cannot accept at face value as revelation of God’s character. Absolutely. I don’t hesitate to say it. People who won’t say it are simply not being honest. Every Christian does it. It’s why we needed a New Testament (progressive revelation). Calvin even struggled with some Old Testament passages and interpreted them as God’s “lisping” to us like a nurse in a baby’s nursery. Now you and I have gone over every inch of the Calvinist-Arminian difference here several times. Frankly, I’m getting tired of your baiting (whether that’s what you intend or not). I can’t keep wasting time saying the same things every time you drag up a particular passage. I have other things to do. Our hermeneutics are different. If Piper’s is right, then God is not good and if God is not good, the Bible is not trustworthy. That’s simply all there is to it.

          • J.E. Edwards

            I have no problem saying or thinking that God has permitted/allowed a lot of things, even sin. I’m saying the same thing you have said here “Does that mean there are passages in the Old Testament that trouble me”… My simply bringing these out is in no way saying I understand them, nor does it mean God acts in that manner every time. I was simply showing that there are times when God does intend to do things…not permit or allow. That is the mystery I see. I have no intentions of baiting you. I have no argument up my sleeve waiting to pounce. As a matter of fact, I have exhausted much of what I see in Scripture here. You are correct in your assertion, our hermeneutics are different. I will say that someone simply accusing another that if they believe certain things in the Bible a certain way that God is necessarily a monster isn’t true. That God loves the world is evident. That God isn’t the author of sin is obvious. That God ordains/permits evil is in the Scripture, too. I will not choose a side. I will not use one part of the Bible to negate another. That I can’t humanly or philosophically make everything mesh is evident. If John Piper goes too far in what he says, I’ll write him (I’ve done it a couple of times).
            Will I use up your time regarding this issue anymore? No. Will I keep reading here? Yes. Thanks for your time, you are an engaging writer and I love your passion.

    • John Inglis

      The passages only seem to say “clearly” what you think they say because you are interpreting them from a 21st century standpoint based upon a particular western way of reading and a from within a particular interpretive tradition.

      The passages don’t say to me the same things.

      Are the different landing points merely presuppositions? No. There is a hermeneutical spiral, an interative process.

      You are correct that nowhere in the Bible is God called the author of sin; that’s because he’s not. Consequently, if a theology leads to that conclusion, then it is that theology that needs to be reexamined. It’s not an “accusation” to point out what a Calvinist view entails, and merely denying that Calvinism entails making God the author of sin does not make it so.

      That the authors of the Westminster Confession could be illogical and inconsistent is not beyond the realm of possibility. The genius of the protestant movement is the continual reexamining of doctrine and beliefs in light of our growing understanding of Scripture. Growth in understanding of scripture is required because we have a fixed book, but are now asking questions that the text was not written to answer directly.

      The fact that the TULIP system and determinist salvation was unknown in early Christianity means that such beliefs should be held lightly and not made an issue of fellowship.

      • J.E. Edwards

        John, come on. Seriously? Your statement, “The passages only seem to say “clearly” what you think they say because you are interpreting them from a 21st century standpoint…” Do you really believe that? If you believe that, then no one in the 21st century will be able to read the Scriptures correctly. Who will then interpret it for us? Would you have us go back to the Dark Ages where only the priests could tell us what it meant? I’m sorry to jump at you like that, but I think that is an overstatement….as is mine. You don’t have to be ANY sort of a Calvinist or even know what the word means to believe God controls all things for His glory and our good. I believed that early on as a Christian.

        • rogereolson

          So you are saying there is no need for hermeneutics? I can’t believe that’s what you mean, but it sounds like it. If that’s so, then you have to accept that when the Bible says God changed his mind, it must be taken literally. But I know you don’t believe that. The problem here is that some people seem to want to defend their own interpretations of certain biblical texts by saying “This is what it says” and deny that it requires interpretation, but when it comes to other texts that they can’t accept that it means what it clearly says they turn to “interpretation.”

          • J.E. Edwards

            No, no that isn’t what I was getting at. I said hermeneutics, but I meant presuppositions. However, I do tend to take a more fundamental hermeneutics (if you will) approach than you do at times. I’m just trying to go as far as I see it (as you are) in Scripture and eventually we will come to a place that God has chosen to leave unknown to us (as you would agree). He leaves it unknown to BE mysterious, not for us to find a way to fill in what is missing or to logically/philosophically try to bring together. And, I totally know that statement is based upon my presuppositions. It isn’t that we don’t wrestle with mysteries, either, that’s part of our Christian life. The issue is that we are wrestling with these issues from different presuppositions. I don’t know if your planning to write at some future time on prevenient grace but that is something I’m trying to get inside of to make sure I’m not misunderstanding. Anyways, God Bless.

    • Joshua Wooden

      The problem with the implications of the Calvinist answers to CERTAIN passages of scripture is that those answers render OTHER passages of scripture SENSELESS. The issue is not philosophical presuppositions at all, but INTERNAL CONSISTENCY.

      • Joe Kwiatkowski

        Joshua I think you nailed it right on the head with your statement. That is my biggest “issue” with the way Calvinists back up their reformed view based off of select passages. There is no consistency. They do a great job making their theological and doctrinal points by staying anchored in the interpretation or literal translation of select passages yet they ignore the entire theme and consistency in the Scriptures. Thank you for putting into words how I’ve felt.

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  • jesse

    Roger, any chance you could deal with some of the verses Piper quotes and give the Arminian perspective?

    • rogereolson

      You missed it, so I’ll say it again: No need to, as IF those scriptures mean what Piper says they mean, then Jesus Christ was not the perfect revelation of God and the Bible itself is not worthy of our trust because God is not good and thus not to be trusted.

      • Matt Svoboda

        Dr. Olson,

        Doesnt it kind of close the conversation and shut the door on humility when we toss each other off to the side by simply saying, “If their view is correct, God is no longer God and the Bible cant be trusted.”?

        That seems like an easy way out to me. Of course we have to deal with each others exegesis.

        • rogereolson

          Well, let’s see. Who said something like that first? Oh, I could tell you. But I think you know. I’m a johnny-come-lately to this game. Talk about humility or lack of it! Look to your own tribe!

    • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

      Jesse,

      Did you miss my comment above? Let me basically repeat it here in case you did: Here is a devastating critique of Piper’s view as expressed in another sermon of his. It takes on his logic as well as his specific use of biblical texts: “John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin and Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First ‘Question’” http://evangelicalarminians.org/?q=node/1359. I would really encourage you to read it. I think it will answer your questions.

  • Steve Rogers

    In matters pertaining to God, we employ mystery as the device we use to extract ourselves from the corners we have painted ourselves into with our theologies. Invariably proof-texting ventures such as Piper’s corner us. Piper seems to “paint” deeper into the corner than most. You have demonstrated his folly quite well. Although it must be said that the counter theologies are equally capable of getting one cornered. Personally, I’ve all but quit painting.

  • Jeff Kimble

    In my opinion, this reflects Calvinism at its utter worst. But I see no clear way for Calvinists to consistently sidestep Piper’s conclusion if they categorically believe that God in his sovereignty determines everything that occurs. Piper’s logic is valid, but his conclusion is (in my view) reprehensible . . . and the premise (God determines everything) suspect at the very least. My moral intuitions react so strongly against this view that I find it almost impossible to believe that some theologians embrace it. And I could never bring myself to accept it. One the one hand, they claim that God is holy. On the other hand, they claim God ordains sin . . . and this causes them no cognitive dissonance? Bewildering, if not staggering!

  • James Rednour

    So God foreordained the Holocaust and ordained and governed (even controlled) the action of every Nazi who tortured and killed a Jew, and He predestine those Jews from the formation of the world for eternal damnation? And He did all of this for His glory somehow because an all-loving God needs to heap such misery on lowly humans to glorify Himself?

    Why the heck would anyone WANT to follow a God like that? And how could one do so LOVINGLY? The only answer I can give is that they are in mass denial about what it means to be good. The logical and ethical hoops that one must jump through to be a Calvinist astounds me.

    • Robert

      Hello James,

      I believe that you were speaking in exassperation when you wrote:

      “Why the heck would anyone WANT to follow a God like that? And how could one do so LOVINGLY? The only answer I can give is that they are in mass denial about what it means to be good. The logical and ethical hoops that one must jump through to be a Calvinist astounds me.”

      Your comments bring out some interesting points.

      Start with your final line. I used to do a lot of counter cult ministry, so I have seen some of the most incredible “logical and ethical hoops” that people can jump through. At first it bothered me, didn’t make any sense at all. Until I realized that they are simply thinking and acting according to their guiding presuppositions. I mean if you assume that only 144,000 people are going to make it, then you better work hard to be one of those 144,000. The assumption/presupposition is wrong, but the logic makes sense, once you hold the presupposition. Calvinists are some of the smartest people you will meet, but their presuppositons are wrong and they sometimes become ideologues who must defend the “system” at all costs.

      You also asked why would someone WANT to follow a God like that?

      Spefically a God who predestines every single detail so everything happens precisely according to plan. So everything is God’s will.

      While there are various explanations one that came to mind recently may be something that you may consider. I was reading some theological determinists discussiong a tragedy that involved a shooting where some died and one seemingly miraculously survived. Of course the determinists were attributing this all to their belief in an all-determining God.

      But one of them said something and I thought to myself: Wow that really explains why some of them want to believe in this exhaustive determinsm and all determining God so strongly!
      Basically he said that He finds it comforting to know that no matter what happens it only happens because God wills it. That it is all for his good and God’s glory. And that if he thought the bullets were not being controlled by God he couldn’t handle that!

      What this amounts to is that this belief in an all-determining God becomes his way of handling any problem that he may experience in life. It comforts him to believe that no matter how bad things go, it is for his good and God is being glorified by it. And he admits that if the converse were true, if God was not directly controlling things including bullets, he could not handle it. So his belief in the all-determining God is a coping mechanism for him. Seen in this way, you can fully understand why someone would want to believe in this.

      James your explanation was “that they are in mass denial about what it means to be good.”

      I don’t think so. Instead it is a commonly held belief that if God wills everything, predestines everything, then **everything** that **happens to them** is **good**. They believe that God is good and I believe they have similar views about the nature of goodness as non-determinists do.
      But they want to believe that **everything that happens to them is good**.

      I heard a popular apologist who is a calvinist say that if God did not predestine every evil, then some events might involve evils that occur with no purpose. And he thought that was absolutely unacceptable. So the only thing acceptable to him is that God predestines every evil for a good purpose. Seems to me this kind of thinking is very common among theological determinists.

      I also believe that some fail to distinguish between God bringing good out of evil situations (e.g. the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph in Genesis being mistreated by his brothers) from evil events becoming “good.” It is true that God can bring good out of evil and that for believers he works all things for good (cf. Romans 8:28). But this does not mean that all evil events are good or become good. Some want to be able to see all evil events as really good since God predestined them and supposedly glorifies himself through them.

      Robert

      • rogereolson

        Very insightful. I have long thought the same–that many Calvinists are attracted to divine determinism for personal, psychological reasons. I heard C. Everett Koop preach a chapel sermon entitled “God killed my son.” It was clear to me that he could not handle the idea that his son’s death was an accident; only if God killed his son could he find any comfort because then his son’s death had meaning and purpose. But one thing he stressed in the very long sermon (almost an hour!) was that his son’s death was instantaneous and painless. So, “isn’t God good?” Well, I wanted to stand up and ask him (but didn’t have opportunity) “What if your son’s death was like many–long, agonizing, horrible, torturous? I am always amazed at how Calvinists who choose “case studies” of God’s goodness in suffering fail to select case studies of things like a little girl being kidnapped, tortured and raped before being murdered.

  • Bev Mitchell

    J.E. Edwards makes an astute observation. “Really, this ends up being a battle of presuppositions.” But, as you point out Roger, he is not correct in assuming the free-will presupposition has no support from Scripture.

    The starting point, the presupposition, has to be the key. As with a long journey to a specific destination, if one is off by one second on the compass heading at the start, the destination will be missed, even if the journey is carried out with utmost precision. Put another way, perfect logic beginning from the wrong premise generates great error.

    Starting position one: A God who by application of his almighty power controls everything.

    Starting position two: A God who by application of his perfect love grants libertarian freedom – the real ability to say no, to rebel.

    From these two starting points the journeys immediately diverge and can never meet up. All differences between these positions that arise along the way cannot be resolved. The initial positions, like the initial compass headings, determine the outcome. Assuming, of course, both journeys are conducted rationally and logically.

    Bible believers who take either if these positions should resolve to show how their starting point, their basic presupposition is supported by Scripture. I know there are volumes on this, but we tend to wander off and contend other points along the journey as if they were the real problem. It’s the presuppositions. We should admit it clearly, make our best case and, if necessary, just agree to disagree. This way, those trying to figure this all out for themselves will have the primary issue to deal with, up front. They can assess the Scriptural support for the presuppositions and chose as they see fit. 

    Of course, both sides can claim to be beginning from good exegesis of Scripture and, therefore, not from a presupposition. I suggest that in both cases there is at least a psychological predilection in the house if not an outright presupposition. Psychologists, as far back as 1988, showed that such deep personality issues influenced their predilections for reductionistic vs. systems level thinking. I doubt that we are any different when thinking theologically. 

    Reference: Johnson, J. A., Germer, C. K., Efran, J. S., & Overton, W. F. (1988). Personality as a basis for theoretical predilections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 824-835.

    • rogereolson

      I completely agree. My problem is with Calvinists who keep accusing all others of beginning with “philosophical presuppositions” while they ignore their own presuppositions which, in my opinion, are even more philosophical in nature. All one has to do is read Zwingli to see it. He begins (in On Providence) with philosophy and bases his view of God as the (nominalistic) all determining reality on it. It is telling to me that no Christian before Augustine, steeped as he was in neo-Platonism, ever dared to think of God as the all determining reality in his sense–monergism and meticulous providence.

    • Robert

      Hello Bev,

      I enjoyed your post as you brought up a critical point: the issue of presuppositions.
      You wrote:

      “The starting point, the presupposition, has to be the key. As with a long journey to a specific destination, if one is off by one second on the compass heading at the start, the destination will be missed, even if the journey is carried out with utmost precision. Put another way, perfect logic beginning from the wrong premise generates great error.”

      Very true, and you will note that a sharp and intelligent person can rationalize anything, if you grant their initial assumptions/presuppositions.

      As Christians we seek as best we can to build or develop our presuppositions based upon what the bible properly interpreted gives us. Unfortunately, many have it backwards. They start with their presuppositions, the things they want to believe and then go looking for biblical texts to support or prove their position (Cults are notorious for doing this, but bible believing Christians can do this same thing, witness calvinists whose controlling presupposition is that God predestines everything).

      Bev you then shared two contrasting presuppositions to illustrat your point:

      “Starting position one: A God who by application of his almighty power controls everything.
      Starting position two: A God who by application of his perfect love grants libertarian freedom – the real ability to say no, to rebel.”

      I think we can go a fit further then these two starting points.

      We could first consider: Could the God of the bible control everything directly, continuously and completely? The answer for most would be Yes. So one of our presuppositions could be that he COULD have total control over everything at all times. But a deeper question lurks here as well: while we know that God could create the world and then be in total control over it, exercising puppet master like control over everyone: the deeper question is whether or not God would want to exercise this kind of control over everything? We know that he could, but we need to ask would he do so? Or put another way, could he also create a world in which he can take control of any situation any time that he wants, but in which he actually allows other beings to exercise limited control?

      So I think our starting point is going to be what kind of world did God choose to create? One in which he exercises puppet master like control at all times, or one in which there are personal agents who also exercise some level of control?

      “From these two starting points the journeys immediately diverge and can never meet up. All differences between these positions that arise along the way cannot be resolved. The initial positions, like the initial compass headings, determine the outcome. Assuming, of course, both journeys are conducted rationally and logically.”

      This is very true. An analogy I have used is that different people have different trains on different tracks. Your train will go down the tracks that your presuppositions lead you to go down. That is why a perfectly rational and intelligent person can be completely mistaken about something: he/she is on the wrong tracks. They are smart people, educated people, informed people, but if their presuppositions are off, they will be as well.

      “Bible believers who take either if these positions should resolve to show how their starting point, their basic presupposition is supported by Scripture. I know there are volumes on this, but we tend to wander off and contend other points along the journey as if they were the real problem. It’s the presuppositions.”

      Sounds like you are advocating an abductive approach (i.e. we have the data and we attempt to come up with the best explanation for it). Deduction takes you from your initial presuppositions to your logical end points. Induction goes from observed instances to general conclusions. But in attemptinig to see which theory or model is best supported by the evidence (scripture in this case) we are judging between competing theories/models, engaging in abduction. This is a very rational approach and is the approach often used in science (and in every day life when we are trying to figure out the best explanation for something). The problem in theology is that you’ve got some folks who are more committed to defending and upholding their position, than advocating what is true (though of course they believe that in advocating and defending their position they believe they are advocating and defending the truth). So you end up with various traditions that have been spending a lot of time trying to persuade others (and themselves) that their tradition is biblical while others are mistaken.

      “We should admit it clearly, make our best case and, if necessary, just agree to disagree.”

      Sounds reasonable unfortunately you will also sometimes run into ideologues whose ideology is more important to them than anything else (and you cannot persuade an idealogue). The trick is to discern when you are dealing with such an idealogue and when you are dealing with someone genuinely wanting an open and free discussion. Ideologues are really not interested in open discussions, they want to convert all others to their views. It is hard discerning their presence at times as they will often enter a discussion pretending to want to discuss something.

      “This way, those trying to figure this all out for themselves will have the primary issue to deal with, up front. They can assess the Scriptural support for the presuppositions and chose as they see fit.”

      Again very reasonable except that some are not about figuring things out for themselves but about defending their own status quo/tradition/theology/position.

      “Of course, both sides can claim to be beginning from good exegesis of Scripture and, therefore, not from a presupposition.”

      The problem with this is that when interpreting **anything** your interpretation will itself involve presuppositions! :- )

      The idea of purely objective completely unbiased and neutral investigation is a nice myth. But a myth nonetheless. What I would add here is that not only should individuals check things out for themselves, they should surround themselves with others who are also doing so. In this way, you both learn and are kept accountable by others. You can learn a lot from valid criticism or more bluntly from mistakes and how they are made. It is for these reasons that science generally speaking advances more successfully and more often than theology (science practiced properly involves all the things we are talking about here, awareness of assumptions/presuppositions, theory testing, peer review and criticism, etc. etc.). If only theologians were more like scientists! :-)

      “I suggest that in both cases there is at least a psychological predilection in the house if not an outright presupposition. Psychologists, as far back as 1988, showed that such deep personality issues influenced their predilections for reductionistic vs. systems level thinking. I doubt that we are any different when thinking theologically.”

      Right that is an empirical finding that confirms that everybody has presuppositions that influence their thinking. And I think the key is to be self aware, to know you are fallible, know when you are pursuing the truth or merely pursuing defense of your position.

      Robert

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    QUESTION? Who created and planted the tree of…”evil” smack-dab in the Garden of Evil?

    • Ivan A. Rogers

      I meant the Garden of “Eden”

    • rogereolson

      Excuse me, but the tree you refer to was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There was nothing wrong with it; in and of itself it was good. Let me illustrate. My wife is reading a new crime book about a crime that affected some people very close to her. Her friend urged her granddaughter not to read the book for good reasons. It cannot but harm her to read it. (It’s about a terrible crime that happened in their family.) It’s up to the granddaughter, of course, whether she will or will not read it. She’s old enough (or soon will be) to go find a copy and read it. The book is not evil; it serves a good purpose–to warn about the insidious circumstances and decisions that helped lead to the crime. (Some people are accused of covering up circumstances and actions that might have led to awareness that it was going to happen.) It’s a good book, but not for the granddaughter. IF she disobeys her grandmother and reads it, she will almost certainly suffer by that. But, of course, as she matures, nobody can stop her. I hope you see the analogy.

  • Stan Fowler

    What Piper affirms is exactly what is affirmed in the Westminster Confession definition of the divine decree, but the Confession goes on to say that this in no way destroys the reality of secondary causes. In other words, an affirmation of mystery is present in this historic document of mainstream Calvinism. Piper is not on the fringe of Calvinism, and I’m confident that he affirms mystery in all this. I understand that you can’t accept the compatibilist idea that God can ordain that evil events will occur without being guilty of sin, but others of us just keep seeing that idea in Scripture. Right or wrong, John Piper is not an extreme Calvinist.

    • rogereolson

      Right. He’s a consistent Calvinist. Therein lies the problem.

  • Bill Broonzy

    Piper at his absolute worst.
    I honestly don’t know what he’s trying to do – raise up a little army of bibliolaters who are constantly terrified that everything they ever do or say is pre-known by God? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the assumption that 21st-century Christians are ‘required’ to view the nature of the world in the same way as pre-scientific, iron-age prophets is entirely asinine.
    Perhaps Piper could learn a thing or two from Jacobus Arminius – a man who was unafraid of the faith not being able to handle the very real issues of logic and intelligibility that the concept of an ‘utterly sovereign’ God poses.

  • Pingback: “Dog bites man,” or “Methodist pastor opposes John Piper’s theology” « Rev. Brent L. White

  • http://www.radicallynormal.com Josh Kelley

    It seems to me that many of Piper’s camp have a compulsive need to connect all the theological dots, even if Scripture purposefully leaves some unconnected AND doing so violates other Scripture.

  • Rob

    Will there be genuine free will in heaven for those who die in Christ, Dr. Olson? Just curious. If so, can a person in heaven who has genuine free will apart from God be cast out of heaven for hardening their heart?

    • rogereolson

      I believe the only answer to this is in the doctrine of deification.

      • Fr. Barnabas Powell

        What if heaven and hell are the same place?

        • rogereolson

          You mean experienced differently by “saints” and “sinners?” That’s an intriguing idea, but what biblical basis would it have?

    • Robert

      Rob asked:

      “Will there be genuine free will in heaven for those who die in Christ, Dr. Olson? Just curious. If so, can a person in heaven who has genuine free will apart from God be cast out of heaven for hardening their heart?”

      Roger answered with appeal to the fact that in the eternal state believers will be perfected:

      “I believe the only answer to this is in the doctrine of deification.”

      Allow me to add another point which I believe is both significant and helpful to this question asked by Rob.

      In my experience those who ask Rob’s question are calvinists trying to attack the ordinary view of free will (techinically called “libertarian free will”). Rob says he is just curious but it appears to me to be a typical calvinist set up (free will was not being discussed in this thread at all, and all believers believer that we will not sin in heaven). I hope I am wrong, but I have seen this set up too often from calvinists.

      The attack goes something like this: Calvinist- “If a person has free will does it mean that they can choose to do the right thing and also choose to do the wrong thing?” Non-calvinist: “Yes.” Non-calvinist- “Can believers sin in heaven?” Non-calvinist – “No”. Calvinist – “So if they cannot sin in heaven they must not have free will. Because if you had free will you would be able to both choose to do the right thing and choose to do the wrong thing/sin. Since this ability to do either right or wrong will not be present in heaven, therefore, we don’t need it here either.”

      I believe that Roger is correct, in heaven/the eternal state, the believer will be perfected and will be incapable of sin. But I would add that additionally we will be both perfected and also have free will as ordinarily understood.

      The claim that free will **must** involve both the ability to do the right thing and the ability to do the wrong thing is not accurate or true. Look at God himself as THE example of a person having free will. God has free will as ordinarily understood, and yet he is incapable of sin. This is not compatibilist freedom where one’s actions are both determined and one has free will at the same time. No, God’s actions are not necessitated by antecedent factors. He genuinely has free will and yet cannot sin. So how is this possible? If we can answer this, we then have a big clue as to how humans could be perfected in heaven, have free will, and yet never be able to sin.

      I believe the critical distinction is to make a distinction between the **capacity for free will** and an individual person’s range of choices. The capacity for free will means that a person has the capacity to have and make their own choices in which the choice they end up making is up to them. This is certainly true with God who had the choice of whether or not to create the universe. He had a real choice (not create or create) and he made a choice (to create) and this choice was up to him. At the same time, the scripture presents examples of things that God cannot do (He cannot lie, He cannot deny Himself). These are choices that are not within His **range of choice**. So God has both free will as ordinarily understood and a range of choices that does not include lying or denying Himself.

      Consider the believer in the eternal state. What if we were perfected (the bible calls this glorification) and we God had eliminated the devil, the world and the flesh? And what if God created an environement in which our range of choices does not include sinful choices? In such an environment we would still have free will, having choices, but sinful choices would be outside of our range of choices. Seems to me that the answer to Rob’s question is both that we will be perfected and that in the eternal state our range of choices will not include sinful choices.

      I came upon this concept of range of choices because I work with inmates and am constantly trying to get them to see there are other better and more productive choices. They operate with a rather limited set of choices which usually gets them into trouble (e.g. if your choice is join the gang to survive or get beat up and possibly killed, you don’t have much of a range of choices). On the other hand, if we can increase a person’s range of choices (through things like education, information, job training, and conversion to Christianity) they have a better chance to become productive rather than destructive citizens. If you understand the range of choices that a person has you can better understand their resulting actions.

      Anyway, I digress, the point is that if one is aware of this concept of range of choices and combines it with being perfected, I see no problem to answering the quesiton of whether or not we will have free will in heaven. We will, but due to factors such as being perfected, having the devil, the world and the flesh eliminated, our range of choices there will not include any sinful choices.

      Robert

      • rogereolson

        I agree. Thanks for this. I don’t think Rob is a Calvinist, though.

    • Robert

      Rob asked:

      “Will there be genuine free will in heaven for those who die in Christ, Dr. Olson? Just curious. If so, can a person in heaven who has genuine free will apart from God be cast out of heaven for hardening their heart?”

      Roger answered with appeal to the fact that in the eternal state believers will be perfected:

      “I believe the only answer to this is in the doctrine of deification.”

      Allow me to add another point which I believe is both significant and helpful to this question asked by Rob.

      In my experience those who ask Rob’s question are calvinists trying to attack the ordinary view of free will (techinically called “libertarian free will”). Rob says he is just curious but it appears to me to be a typical calvinist set up (free will was not being discussed in this thread at all, and all believers believer that we will not sin in heaven). I hope I am wrong, but I have seen this set up too often from calvinists.

      The attack goes something like this: Calvinist- “If a person has free will does it mean that they can choose to do the right thing and also choose to do the wrong thing?” Non-calvinist: “Yes.” Non-calvinist- “Can believers sin in heaven?” Non-calvinist – “No”. Calvinist – “So if they cannot sin in heaven they must not have free will. Because if you had free will you would be able to both choose to do the right thing and choose to do the wrong thing/sin. Since this ability to do either right or wrong will not be present in heaven, therefore, we don’t need it here either.”

      I believe that Roger is correct, in heaven/the eternal state, the believer will be perfected and will be incapable of sin. But I would add that additionally we will be both perfected and also have free will as ordinarily understood.

      The claim that free will **must** involve both the ability to do the right thing and the ability to do the wrong thing is not accurate or true. Look at God himself as THE example of a person having free will. God has free will as ordinarily understood, and yet he is incapable of sin. This is not compatibilist freedom where one’s actions are both determined and one has free will at the same time. No, God’s actions are not necessitated by antecedent factors. He genuinely has free will and yet cannot sin. So how is this possible? If we can answer this, we then have a big clue as to how humans could be perfected in heaven, have free will, and yet never be able to sin.

      I believe the critical distinction is to make a distinction between the **capacity for free will** and an individual person’s range of choices. The capacity for free will means that a person has the capacity to have and make their own choices in which the choice they end up making is up to them. This is certainly true with God who had the choice of whether or not to create the universe. He had a real choice (not create or create) and he made a choice (to create) and this choice was up to him. At the same time, the scripture presents examples of things that God cannot do (He cannot lie, He cannot deny Himself). These are choices that are not within His **range of choice**. So God has both free will as ordinarily understood and a range of choices that does not include lying or denying Himself.

      Consider the believer in the eternal state. What if we were perfected (the bible calls this glorification) and we God had eliminated the devil, the world and the flesh? And what if God created an environement in which our range of choices does not include sinful choices? In such an environment we would still have free will, having choices, but sinful choices would be outside of our range of choices. Seems to me that the answer to Rob’s question is both that we will be perfected and that in the eternal state our range of choices will not include sinful choices.

      I came upon this concept of range of choices because I work with inmates and am constantly trying to get them to see there are other better and more productive choices. They operate with a rather limited set of choices which usually gets them into trouble (e.g. if your choice is join the gang to survive or get beat up and possibly killed, you don’t have much of a range of choices). On the other hand, if we can increase a person’s range of choices (through things like education, information, job training, and conversion to Christianity) they have a better chance to become productive rather than destructive citizens. If you understand the range of choices that a person has you can better understand their resulting actions.

      Anyway, I digress, the point is that if one is aware of this concept of range of choices and combines it with being perfected, I see no problem to answering the quesiton of whether or not we will have free will in heaven. We will, but due to factors such as being perfected, having the devil, the world and the flesh eliminated, our range of choices there will not include any sinful choices.

      Robert

      • http://yuriyandinna.com Yuriy

        Robert,

        That is a good answer though I find it a bit inconsistent. When it comes to discussing free will on the earth, it is defined by our having a subset of good and bad choices. When it comes to discussing free will in a glorified state, it now becomes allowable to discuss free will as having a subset of only good choices.

        Coming from my obvious Calvinistic (but not hostile) position, it seems a bit… unfair to quickly make that switch. Being that I am reformed, I find no conflict between “free will” and “only having good options.” Yet in most discussions with those who deem Calvinism atrocious beyond satanism, I am always confronted with a majority consensus that all people ‘must’ have the real option for good and bad to be considered free. The general idea is that it would be horrendous for God to not give people the option of choosing good and bad. And, most say, this must be a continuous choice, that love must be “freely given” consistently on a daily basis, otherwise it is not love, it is something wicked obtained by coercion. This is a common argument to demonize the idea that God changes a persons will.

        So what I think I am seeing is that some Arminians, and more so, Semi-Pelagians are quite fond of criticizing Calvinism by saying “you guys believe that people are ‘unable’ to choose good vs evil, therefore you automatically believe God is forceful and coerces people. (Often pleasantly put as “God is then not a gentleman he is a rapist”). It is common to say any affirmation of a state wherein persons cannot switch from evil to good, or good to evil, is a form of divine compulsion. Yet when the state of glorified believers is brought up, and showcases humans in the exact state, albeit in Heaven and after already making a free will choice, it is considered quite loving of God to permit humans to never choose good or evil again. This is “explained away” or permitted because of deification. My main point here is that it is unfair to consider anyone who is pre-deification and cannot choose sin/good to be a “brainless robot” and then post-deification to consider it acceptable and good.

        The point here is not that God has the “free’est will” and yet is limited to choices that are not sinful, I completely agree, and Calvinists often point to that. The point is Arminians pounce on Calvinists who would use such a statement about God to state that having the ability of choosing good and bad are not necessary in order to be free.

        To again clarify it one more time, in the simplest of possible ways. It appears to me Calvinists have no problem with this. Calvinists agree that people have limited choices BOTH on earth and in heaven. Arminians and others, it seems, get very upset about the idea of limited choices on earth, but switch sides and consider it very normal if the person is in Heaven. They only add a word glorification or deification, and assume it explains everything away. It is their ‘inconsistency’ that I am pointing out, not the fact that I genuinely think “Heaven is not free if we only have the option of good.” Indeed my Calvinistic view is perfectly compatible with deification removing my choice to sin, after all that is Calvinism, that God removes my ability to reject Him on the earth. Deification is literally the same thing, however, it only happens in Heaven, and it is the completion of that which began on the earth. That is, after all, what my idea of Irresistible Grace is, that God does a process within me which is the start to removing my choices to sin.

        My suggestion in all this is that you take the logic of deification, which I agree with, and apply it to Calvinism. If the act of God’s power eternally limits glorified humans from ever choosing to stop loving God, and this is NOT the removal of a will, nor making one “a robot.” Then why should the act of election, which is the same process cause you to be so angry and consider that God one who makes “robots?”

        • rogereolson

          You forget that Arminians believe those glorified in heaven (deified) will have freely chosen to be transformed by God. In Calvinists’ view, from the very beginning of their relationship with God, persons were denied the opportunity to accept or reject God’s grace. They were taken over and changed without their consent. Let’s think of an analogy. Suppose I’ve been married for ten years and love my spouse deeply. My love for him or her was free from the beginning in that it was not a condition imposed but a relationship embraced (when I could have done otherwise). Then someone comes to me and says “You know, many people waver in their love for their spouse. If you want it, I can give you a pill that will cause you never to waver in that love. It will solidify it forever.” There is a huge difference between my accepting that pill AFTER having entered freely into love with my spouse and being given that pill by someone without my consent BEFORE I even met my spouse (i.e., a pill that would cause me to fall in love with him or her and stay in love forever). The latter pill would make me a robot and my love for my spouse a farce. The former would not.

          • http://www.yuriyandinna.com Yuriy

            Dr. Olson, thank you for the response, I appreciate you engaging a regular Joe.

            That is a valid point and did anticipate it. However, I don’t think it is an adequate answer to all of the questions I posed, let me explain. Primarily it would redefine the definition of choice and love commonly used within the discourse of Arminianism. That definition being, love must always be freely chosen between two separate options, “to love or not to love,” otherwise it’s not love but a condition imposed. Once we have established that it is acceptable to take a person, remove their “power of contrary choice” and still allow them to have a real relationship with actual “love,” the only difference we deal with is who imposed such a state upon the person on whom it was imposed.

            You make the explanation that it is indeed you who freely chose to impose such a condition on yourself. However, humans often make conflicting choices or change their choices. Such is the nature of having freedom, no? Tattoos are a great example of this. What someone chooses, freely, during their twenties is often very expensive to get rid of later. Why even with marriages, at least fifty percent end up in divorce. People often freely make different choices at different times. Indeed, if an organization existed that offered married woman a potion to give to their newly married husbands that obliterated the husbands will, many people would cry afoul. It would be said that such a potion demolished the mans free will to love the woman. To truly love a person, according to the common definition, often used in the Arminianism/Calvinism discussions, love must be daily chosen, not imposed by any means.

            It brings up some intriguing questions. If you chose to love your wife today, and in forty years would have rejected her, but the potion prevented you from doing that and kept your love, is it real love? As a Calvinist, I would say absolutely, the potion saved you from stupid choices that your fallen nature would have made. As an Arminian, who elevates mans choice in his destiny over Gods choice (God being an external agenct) for that man, what would your answer be? It feels as if the potion (also an external agent, freely introduced) has altered your free will choice. You really would have chosen something else, but that potion forced you otherwise.

            My point here being, not that such an explanation, as you provided, only further brings us together. We can both agree that it is indeed possible to have a real love, and a real relationship, without the power of contrary choice. In the Arminian case, the human does make the first free choice giving away all his/her choices. Whether its potion or deification, it removes our current state of free will, but keeps love and relationship intact. So someone in this choice-less state is still capable of living in an eternal relationship, not as a robot, but having real agency. From the Calvinist standpoint (which I’m sure you are familiar with) this would only change in the fact God makes this choice for us, but, very importantly, we believe He does this with our best intention at hand. We freely chose to rebel against God to such a degree we would not want to make this choice to love God. And instead of a prevenient Grace that offers the human some number of choices, our prevenient Grace so illuminates the human mind, that we abruptly fall in love with God, not under compulsion, but because we are finally able to see His beauty, it is a natural response. I fell in love with my wife but don’t consider it a free will choice, for the moment I saw her I had no choice but to love her. I couldn’t think of anything but her and didn’t, to my knowledge, have a tangible power of contrary choice, it was merely a theoretical idea. To clarify some semantics, for many Calvinists, this act was not a condition imposed, but a magnificent beauty unveiled.

            Again, I would submit to you, we both believe it is indeed possible to truly love and have a true relationship without having the power of contrary choice. There may be an asterisk differentiating the two views, but only on the origin of this state.

            The other, and even bigger issue often glossed over is the state of those in hell. I personally believe that those in such a state would be hardened to the point of falling into a downward spiral” of hate and rebellion that Lewis mentions. That the “doors of hell are locked from the inside.” That is because in Adam all freely chose sin and became rebels. In hell they continue hating God, because they have rejected him since earth and are dead in sin, it would take an act of God to resurrect them.

            From the Arminian perspective, however, there are unanswered questions. If the power of contrary choice plays the such a dominant role in Arminian theology and it is taken away in hell we have… Calvinism:
            1. Has prevenient Grace been taken away in hell? If yes then men are totally depraved again and those being given over to judgement have no desire to choose an alternative exactly like in Calvinism. (You would reply “aha but they freely chose sin at one time, to which most Calvinists would say “All sinners are not under compulsion and freely choose, why we all state that Adam and Eve also had libertarian free will as everyone’s representatives, doing exactly what we would do. The first sin was a free will choice.”)
            2. How is it fair that people are eternally punished without being able to unchoose it? Would hell not quicken someone to believe in God? Yet while on the earth we insist that fairness dictates an alternative, in hell there is no alternative. It seems as if this exposes a double standard.
            3. Arminians often (rightly) seek to create some level of fairness, but what about situations where one lived until he was 18, rejected Grace and is now eternally damned, while another had 80 years, and only choose to accept Grace at 79. Perhaps the first would have chosen it later as well, and now in hell would definitely choose it, yet he has no option? He could say “God I would have gotten to heaven if I had more time to wise up.”

            Sorry for the long ramble.

          • rogereolson

            I apologize for not being able to respond in detail–that is, to each point. Time constrains. But one thing disturbs me. Repeatedly my Calvinist critics bring up the issue of “fairness” as if I brought it up first. I avoid it. When and where have I ever claimed that God must be “fair” I always raise the issue of God’s love because Scripture does. You (and others) put words in my mouth when you claim that “fairness” is the issue. It is not. It is God’s love. I have said this so often and so loudly here and elsewhere that I am dismayed that Calvinists keep raising it as if I raised it. I haven’t. Also, about heaven, you overlook the fact that in heaven there will be no temptation. Even if we do have power of contrary choice there, there will be no opportunity to exercise it for evil. Now, you raise interesting questions. But can you answer mine? In what sense is God good, loving, if he predestines people to hell. (And here I mean predestination in the Calvinist sense of unconditional selection–even if only by “passing over them.”) Election is unconditional. Why doesn’t God elect everyone? The only answers I ever get are 1) “for his pleasure” (which only deepens the problem of God’s goodness and love), and 2) because hell is necessary for the demonstration of his justice (which undermines the power of the cross).

  • http://authenticmission.blogspot.co.uk/ Andrew Kenny

    ‘God is sovereign. He is the sole and supreme ruler of the universe and nothing whatever is outside of his control. The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth. (Psalm 135:6) With God there are no accidents or surprises. He writes all the world’s history and works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:11) God needs no advice or consent for anything he chooses to do. Nor can anyone prevent him doing what he pleases: No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ (Daniel 4:35)

    I remember reading this passage as a young Christian ( some thirty years ago) from John Blanchard’s ‘Ultimate Questions’ which was supposed to be an evangelistic book. Being evangelistic myself I imagined myself talking to a man who had a handicapped child who who had a child who had been raped by some sick man and then quoting from it ‘God needs no advice or consent for anything he chooses to do. Nor can anyone prevent him doing what he pleases: No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ with the implication that it was God’s sovereign choice what had happened to them.’

    In the light of this I wrote to the author hoping he would clarify his comments and even amend them. He didn’t, even though I tried to help him by suggesting that perhaps Satan’s work was something to do with it. He didn’t take it but rather kept to his cold description of the sovereignty of God which makes God seem worse than any father I know. It puzzles me that many Calvinists seem to worship a different God from the God who was described by John as being love. No wonder Wesley said that some Calvinists make God out to be worse than the devil himself!

  • Tanya

    I can’t help but think Piper and his hyper-Calvinist friends are stuck in some sort of adolescent reasoning psychosis. Whatever they start with they take to its furthest and most ridiculous conclusions. And they’re afraid if they back away they will be found “illogical,” — which is only frightening if you want to be the Mr. Spock of the theological world. They aren’t tempered by compassion, or sympathy or plain old horse-sense. Different issues, but its the same psychology as that of the Pharisees, I believe.

    Why does anybody pay attention to them anymore?

  • http://authenticmission.blogspot.co.uk/ Andrew Kenny

    Amended version
    ‘God is sovereign. He is the sole and supreme ruler of the universe and nothing whatever is outside of his control. The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth. (Psalm 135:6) With God there are no accidents or surprises. He writes all the world’s history and works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:11) God needs no advice or consent for anything he chooses to do. Nor can anyone prevent him doing what he pleases: No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ (Daniel 4:35)

    I remember reading this passage as a young Christian ( some thirty years ago) from John Blanchard’s ‘Ultimate Questions’ which was supposed to be an evangelistic book. Being evangelistic myself I imagined myself talking to a man who had a handicapped child or who had a child who had been raped by some sick man and then quoting from it ‘God needs no advice or consent for anything he chooses to do. Nor can anyone prevent him doing what he pleases: No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ with the implication that it was God’s sovereign choice what had happened to them.’

    In the light of this I wrote to the author hoping he would clarify his comments and even amend them. He didn’t, even though I tried to help him by suggesting that perhaps Satan’s work was something to do with it. He didn’t take it but rather kept to his cold description of the sovereignty of God which makes God seem worse than any father I know. It puzzles me that many Calvinists seem to worship a different God from the God who was described by John as being love. No wonder Wesley said that some Calvinists make God out to be worse than the devil himself!

  • http://www.ironstrikes.com drwayman

    Dr. Olson – I am continually amazed at the people who throw reason out when looking at certain scriptures. For example, an interlocutor above criticizes you, “”Those passages can’t mean what you are saying they say”…that isn’t a very serious answer.” I don’t see why that can’t be a very serious answer. Wesley in his sermon “On Free Grace” says something so very similar. Evidently, critics of your reasoning need to read your newest book Against Calvinism where you quote Wesley on page 128 regarding this. You also bring in other learned scholars opinions on that as well. These conversations on your blog here would go much better if people were acquainted with some of your writings. Unfortunately, it appears that many don’t read what you have written on these subjects nor do they seem to have read anything that Arminius has written.

    It appears to me that many of your interlocutors just read what Calvinists say about Arminianism. As a professor who grades TONS of papers, I require my students to quote primary sources. Secondary sources are not acceptable. Which has more “oomph” in a quote, “Bubba says that Arminius says….” or “Arminius says….”?

    A theology that centers around the character of God (such as Arminianism) is so very important. This lens, guided thru the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, keeps one from error. As John above, accurately applies Isaiah 5:20 and Just Sayin’ has a perfect illustration regarding a hammer and God’s thumb, attributing evil to God is slandering His impeccable character.

    The book of James tells us that teachers are going to have a harsher judgment. I fear for those teachers who lead others astray and then worse, do it in the name of God. Surely, our LORD is not pleased.

  • Doug Sangster

    Roger, I believe one of the most devastating arguments to be used against Piper is the appeal to history. What have God’s people believed at all times and in all places? Anyone can appeal to Scripture to support their views. The Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons do this. Ultimately, appeals to Scripture without an appeals to history result in endless debate such as this. However, it is possible to read the Scriptures and say, “This is what the undivided Church believed for for 1000 years and it is what the Eastern and Western Churches still believe; they acknowledge the presence of evil in the world, but they do not believe God is in any way responsible for it.”

    • rogereolson

      That is a powerful argument, in my opinion. Years ago Piper and I had our one and only face-to-face confrontation, just the two of us, alone in a downtown restaurant (at his bidding). He was telling me what a horrid idea open theism is, how far it was from what the Bible teaches and Christians have always believed. So I asked him if he realized how far from what most Christians always believed limited atonement is. He said yes, he understood that, but that would not sway him from believing it. I couldn’t believe his inconsistency. It seems to me highly inconsistent for a believer in limited atonement (for example) to accuse an open theist of innovating and “worshiping the goddess of novelty” (as another Calvinist accused open theism of doing).

  • Bev Mitchell

    Reading the comments on this thread sent me rummaging through my note book. Hope these not quite random thoughts are helpful. 

    Augustine said “it’s all about God”; Pelagius said “it’s all about me”; but God says, “it’s all about you and me.”

    It is truly amazing the lengths the intellect will go to justify the intuition. Imagine intuiting that God created reprobate humans in order to send them to hell, for his glory – and then pressing the intellect into service to defend such a horrid thought.

    Some full-grown men seem to remain male children who dream of unlimited power and go about repeating phrases such as “iron sharpens iron” or “no gurls allowed”.  May the Lady of Perpetual Care protect them and guide them to a better place.

    The canons of Dort rumble still while the Prince of Peace waits.

    Calvinism seems to find love too fuzzy and squishy, to be unable to understand freedom and to be strangely bothered by the possibility that hell may end up with an inadequate tax base. 

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Bev said, “Starting position one: A God who by application of his almighty power controls everything.

    Starting position two: A God who by application of his perfect love grants libertarian freedom – the real ability to say no, to rebel.

    From these two starting points the journeys immediately diverge and can never meet up. All differences between these positions that arise along the way cannot be resolved. The initial positions, like the initial compass headings, determine the outcome…”

    May I suggest a reconsideration of Bev’s above premise and especially her conclusion that “From these two starting points the journeys immediately diverge and can never meet up.” Case in point: Adam was created sin-free. Then came the BIG divergence (the Fall) which has only widened in its trajectory as human history unfolds. But in the end, Adam and his posterity “meet up” at a happy destination (on target) due to a divine midcourse correction (see 1 Cor 15:22). CONCLUSION: Evil and its by-product (sin) did not originate with Adam. It was God himself who created and planted the ‘tree of….evil’ in Eden. Therefore it was God who took full responsibility for the fall, saying of disobedient humanity, “I have made them” (Gen 6:7). And because man could not atone for himself, God determined from BEFORE the beginning of creation to do what man couldn’t do. Thus the Cross. Human so-called freewill has no place in either the fall or the restoration of humankind. It was all according to the predetermined plan of God, e.g., “But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him” (Acts 2:23 NLT). See also Romans 11:32.

    • rogereolson

      “Bev” is a he, not a she. What you say would be all well and good except you have to erase hell to make it work. As I’ve often said, if I could be a universalist, I could be a Calvinist (well, there might be other problems, but the biggest one would be removed).

      • Ivan A. Rogers

        Dr. Olson: Please convey my sincere apology to Bev for assuming that he is a she. My bad. Now concerning your response to my previous post, you said, “What you say would be all well and good except you have to erase hell to make it work. As I’ve often said, If I could be a universalist, I could be a Calvinist…”

        How right you are to suggest that the doctrine of eternal conscious torture (hell) is an obstacle to my teaching that (according to your words) is otherwise “all well and good.” It is also true, as you suggest, that in order for my premise to work, the teaching of hell must first be “erased.” This is exactly what I have sought to do in my newly published book, Dropping Hell and Embracing Grace, which may be sampled on my website: http://goodreportministries.com/

        On your other statement, I don’t believe it’s possible for a universalist to be a Calvinist. Universalists believe that Christ’s atonement is efficacious for the whole of humanity. They, thus, do not believe in the doctrine of eternal conscious torture (hell). On the other hand, Calvinists believe that Christ’s atonement is partial, i.e., only meant for a certain select of the elect. They, thus, believe in the teachings of the traditional hell for the so-called non-elect. The chasm between a universalist and a Calvinist is too wide for ever the twain to meet.

        • rogereolson

          Many modern Calvinists have dropped limited atonement and some have moved toward or into universalism (e.g., Karl Barth).

    • Bev Mitchell

      Ivan,
      See my August 31 comment to Robert below.
      B

    • John Inglis

      The two divergences are of different kinds, and so not comparable. Bev points to a logical divergence, you point to a divergence in history and in relational separation.

  • LexCro

    Love the post, Dr. Olson! I’m writing to address J.E. Edwards’ use of I Kings 22:19-23. The broader context of 1 Kings 22 finds King Ahab of Israel forging an alliance with King Jehoshapat of Judah to re-take Ramoth Gilead for Israel. At Jehoshapat’s insistence, Ahab calls for prophets to inquire of the Lord as to whether or not He desires for them to go up against Aram. Ahab’s prophets prophesy victory against Aram. But Jehoshapat figures out that these are prophets of Baal. He asks for a prophet of Yahweh. Reluctantly, Ahab brings Micaiah in, though Ahab has had run-ins with the God-fearing Micaiah in the past that have resulted in Micaiah prophesying against Ahab because of Ahab’s gross idolatry and apostasy. When Micaiah arrives, he prophesies that Ahab has left Israel like sheep without a shepherd. Micaiah then recounts the heavenly-court vision in which God calls on a volunteer from His heavenly council to deceive Ahab (and his false prophets) with respect to Ahab’s bid to go against Aram. On the testimony of these false prophets, Ahab goes up against Aram and is defeated and killed.

    In this passage, God actually does allow a spirit to deceive Ahab and his court of false prophets. But Calvinists are wrong to draw from this the notion that God ordains evil in general. Note that Ahab was not some average, God-fearing Semite who God smote with desire to sin! Ahab was already an entrenched Baal-worshipper to whom God had repeatedly reached out via prophets like Elijah. In fact, God had already shown Ahab much mercy by preserving his life and undoing a nationwide drought–and this despite the fact that Ahab had killed numerous prophets of God! All God is doing in this passage is turning Ahab and his court of false prophets over to their own depraved minds in light of their hatred for the revealed knowledge they had already had of God (a la Romans 1:28). This God-ordained deception is conditioned upon Ahab’s ALREADY-ENTRENCHED APOSTASY. This is not merely visited upon some average Joe unconditionally from before the foundation of the world. The overall context for God’s action here demonstrates that this passage can IN NO WAY BE USED AS A PARADIGM FOR IF OR HOW GOD ORDAINS SIN. Moreover, such a point cannot be derived from Scripture to begin with because it is entirely unbiblical. If more “Bible-believing evangelicals” can more integrity and courage, they would call for Piper to repent of this nonsense. But, alas and alack, celebrity sainthood wins the day in contemporary evangelical-land.

    • J.E. Edwards

      @LexCro
      ” This God-ordained deception is conditioned upon Ahab’s ALREADY-ENTRENCHED APOSTASY.”
      And there’s the phrase I’ve been looking for but couldn’t put it into words. This, in my opinion of Scripture, is exactly the plight of EVERY living person not just Ahab. Romans 5 states this condition clearly. We are all sinners, ungodly and enemies of God. You have just stated, in my opinion of Scripture, how God can somehow allow/permit/ordain (pick the one you like) specific sin and evil in the life of any person, people group or nation. That is all God has to work with….people like Ahab. Somehow we don’t smell the stench of our own depravity in the air (although we tip our hats to it with words of acknowledgment). In this discussion things seem to get too divided up and don’t bleed into each other. We simply MUST smell the stench as we discuss this. We must hold it in our minds as we think on it. Our depravity somehow tends to get put on the shelf unless we’re discussing it explicitly.

      • rogereolson

        How many times must I say this? The problem with Calvinism is that this “stench” of our “depravity,” this “apostasy” is (according to Calvinism) God’s will. He foreordained it and rendered it certain. It is what he wants us to be. That’s the problem with Calvinism–not just an individual sin of an already depraved, apostate person who stinks, but the depravity, apostasy and “stench” of the person (and of humanity as a whole) is God-ordained from the beginning and could never have been otherwise because it is God’s will. And saying God merely “permitted” or “allowed” it does not fit with Calvinism’s deterministic view of divine sovereignty and providence where every twist and turn of every thought is under the control of God (Paul Helm) and where God “compels the reprobate to obey” (Calvin).

      • LexCro

        @ J.E. Edwards,

        But the Calvinist schema still falls very short here. As per Arminian’s comments below, please note that in 1 Kings 22 God, via Micaiah’s divine-council vision, SHOWS AHAB WHAT HE’S UP TO IN THE HEAVENLY PLACES. God is showing Ahab (and Jehoshapat and Ahab’s court) that if he continues to consult the prophets of Baal he is doomed to failure in his bid go up against Aram. Moreover, God is still trying to convict and persuade Ahab so that he (and Israel) will turn from idolatry and apostasty. He is giving Ahab a bird’s-eye-view of the source of the positive prophecies he is receiving from the Baal prophets. God’s sending of a spirit to deceive them is conditioned upon their idolatry. However, the warning is predicated upon the fact that Ahab CAN DO OTHERWISE! God doesn’t behave as if He ordained Ahab’s sinfulness from before the foundation of the world (or just after the Fall, for the supralapsarians). God acts as if Ahab can do otherwise. This is even true of the Baal prophets, for that matter. God gives them a spirit of deception because of their sin. But Micaiah’s prophecy is for their benefit as much as it is for Ahab’s. Why would God speak to them via Micaiah if this were not true? This (among other reasons) is why your use of this passage as a universal paradigm for God’s foreordination of sin is fatally flawed. The behind-the-scenes view of God’s work is given SO THAT SINNERS (here, Ahab and his court) WILL REPENT, not because God wants them to sin.

  • Steve

    I think it is sad to see people who know something about the Bible backed into silly theological corners and then starting to attempt to nuance their way out of them. ‘He ordains and governs it”. What nonsense. If we are not responsible somewhere along the way at least, then God is in no position to exercise moral judgement because as you say it would be God in fact judging himself and the universe is mad. Read James1:13. Some actions that are evil have nothing whatsoever to do with God. It is you choosing to do them. This also goes to the heart of Pipers and others misconceptions regarding what constitutes sovereignty. And on it goes.

    • Ivan A. Rogers

      Steve said: ” If we are not responsible somewhere along the way at least, then God is in no position to exercise moral judgement because as you say it would be God in fact judging himself and the universe is mad.”

      May I suggest that it is not the subjective (individual) sins we commit that are the ultimate source of God’s displeasure. The real problem is much deeper than that. It’s the fact that each of us is totally corrupted at birth; before we ever have a chance to do anything wrong. David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 (NIV). We call it the result of the Fall. The atonement of the Cross has effectively rendered death to our fallen state; while at the same time granting new birth by the resurrection of Christ. Here’s the way it happened: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14 (NIV). This means that no charges will EVER be brought against us; either resulting from the Fall, or from our individual sins — past, present, and future. The written code that enumerated all those condemnatory laws has been CANCELLED!

      But, you say, surely our fallenness with its resultant individual sins must stand judgment. True. And this is exactly what happened on the Cross 2000 years ago. “He who knew no sin became sin,” i.e., a sin offering. He died not for his own sin(s), but for the sin of all humanity. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Thus it can truly be said that “God, in fact, judged himself.” — for us.

      • rogereolson

        But Ivan, Colossians 2:13-14 is clearly referring to Christians with “you” and “us.” You’re universalizing passages of the New Testament that are about believers only.

        • Ivan A. Rogers

          Dr. Olson said, “But Ivan, Colossians 2:13-14 is clearly referring to Christians with “you” and “us.” You’re universalizing passages of the New Testament that are about believers only.”

          QUESTIONS: Where does it say that Colossians 2:13-14 refers only to “believers” to the exclusion of all others? If, as verse 13 clearly states, “When you were DEAD…in your sinful nature…God made you alive…forgave us all our sins.” Therefore, Roger, being DEAD and still in your sinful nature when God “forgave us all our sins”, how, then, is it possible for you to claim that the atonement was “about believers only”? It is obvious that one cannot be “dead” and “in one’s “sinful nature” and claim to be a “believer” at the same time.

          As for verse 14, are you suggesting that when Christ “cancelled the written code that was against us,” he was only doing it for “Christians” (i.e., “you” and “us” but not for “them”? That would be partialism a/k/a Calvinism. They, too, believe that Christ’s atonement only applies to a certain select of the elect; that he did not “cancel the written code that was against “them” like he did for “us.” Please read these verses again as printed.

          • rogereolson

            First of all, Colossians, like all of the New Testament writings, was written to Christians, not to everyone. I think it’s amusing that anyone would accuse me of Calvinism! Ask any Calvinist if they want to include me in their tribe. Of course, Colossians, like every other portion of the canon, has to be interpreted canonically. Judgment and hell are so much a part of the canon they cannot be set aside even if a verse here and there seems universalistic. When I read these verses canonically and realize Paul was writing to Christians, they don’t seem universalistic to me. Classical Arminianism, together with early church fathers such as Athanasius, interpret Jesus’ death as reconciling the world to God and God to the world while at the same time recognizing that people are free to reject that divine provision.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Robert,

    Thanks for the good (August 30) elaboration on my points of August 29. I also liked your August 30 response to Rob re freedom and heaven, and the idea of perfection. One might quip, “When you’re perfect, who needs free will? It’s in this life that free will is essential – most importantly, we need to decide to say yes or no to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    And, you are correct re the two starting points – we do need to distinguish what God can do and what God actually does. I also think it helps, when speaking of an ongoing process like creation, to avoid using only the past tense (the real past tense, not simply the imperfect). It’s ongoing. It also helps a lot if we consider the risen Lord as the only revelation of what perfect creation looks like. What we experience before we become truly like him (spiritually and physically) is only, potentially, good. 

    As you can see from the preceding paragraph, I see the fundamental ideas shaping our theology as inseparable from our ideas of creation. This is why the problem that underlies the 500 year-old debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is identical to the problem that underlies current debates surrounding biological evolution and creation. Libertarian free will, and many would say extension of this to some form of open (relational) theology, is(are) essential to any realistic, smooth understanding of biological evolution and our view of creation.

    I’ve expanded a bit on this at Jesus Creed in a comment under “Theistic Evolution-Core Tenets.”

    P.S. Roger, can we have comment numbers?  :)

    • rogereolson

      I’m not sure what comment numbers are. Is that a technical function in WordPress?

      • Bev Mitchell

        Whereby comments are numbered sequentially. I don’t know if WP has the feature, but it is used over at Jesus Creed. It’s mostly good for commenting on comments, or for reference if you want to e-mail someone to point out a specific comment. No big deal, the dates work too, but numbers would just be more precise.

        • rogereolson

          I’ll check with the techs at patheos. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • http://evangelicalarminians.org/ Arminian

    Let me add to what LexCro said about I Kings 22. God does not only acts in judgement upon sin there, but he also essentially lets Ahab know about the deception so that it ends up not being deception. He lets him know about it and allows him to have a choice of whether he will believe the Lord or the lie. This underscores the justice of God’s judgment on Ahab all the more.

  • Marshall

    Thinking of Evil as a category of acts/events in the world, then a God who is active in the world could prevent any specific evil he wished, yes? So God is responsible in the negative sense that he tolerates many specific evils that he has the power to relieve. Likewise, I have the resources to eg fly to whatever part of the world and intervene with any given starving child, which makes me in some (widely shared) sense guilty. I like to suppose that I don’t because this seems like a poor way of attacking the problem of starvation, which makes me inadequate as well as guilty.

    I would like to assume that the Kingdom Road demands this evil-generating free will for some mysterious reason; that is, God is doing his best. Likewise I would like to assume that God has a purpose for my life, and I am doing my best to live up to it despite the havoc I see myself wreaking. Yes?

    • rogereolson

      Qualifiedly yes. Again, I cannot do better than recommend Greg Boyd’s book Is God to Blame? If you haven’t read it, you need to. It explains why our omnipotent God is not intervening to stop every gratuitous evil in this world. Another, more challenging book along the same lines, is E. Frank Tupper, A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God. Please read them.

      • Marshall

        Thank you, I shall.

  • Pingback: Ordaining Sin « Arminian Today

    • Colby

      Some of the items in your list are not sin. Cancer, suffering, hurricanes, etc are not sin. Violence isn’t necessarily a sin either (otherwise how could God instruct the Levites to kill some of the Israelites in Exodus 32:28). It sounds like what you are saying is God doesn’t do anything we don’t like and I absolutely disagree with you unequivocally. It’s the very things we hate (like suffering) God ordains to sanctify His children such that they will learn to depend on him. The Bible refers to this as discipline. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) As Peter says in 1 Peter 1:6-7 “6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Oh that we would be able to say, as Job did, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15a)! Praise God that He is much more interested in our sanctification than our comfort!

      • rogereolson

        I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that (except perhaps a process theology advocate). The issue is things like the sufferings of children–the kidnap, torture and rape of an innocent child. Does God ordain and govern that, too? Why won’t Calvinists who come here answer that question? It’s clearly the question asked.

        • Colby

          You sound like Jesus asking where John’s baptism was from. There is clearly no good answer to that question. If the answer is yes, you’d respond, “Your God is a monster.” If the answer is no, you’d respond, “So you are not a Calvinist.” When diplomats find themselves in a dilemma with no good solutions, they make new solutions. So what I suggest is this (though this is clearly extra-biblical): let’s suppose God does govern such awful suffering and let’s suppose that child when they enter God’s kingdom is rewarded 10,000 times more than you because of the suffering they endured in their life. I imagine that God is fully able to compensate 10,000 times over for any amount of suffering we have to endure. I suggest we are far too quick to judge and measure every situation in light of the temporal instead of the eternal which is how I think we’re supposed to judge things.

          • rogereolson

            So you are prepared, pastorally, to tell parents of a child dying of leukemia “This is from God?” Good luck. I pity you and them.

          • Colby

            You said, “So you are prepared, pastorally, to tell parents of a child dying of leukemia “This is from God?””

            Your words, not mine. Come now, Dr Olson. As a pastor you know there’s a time for everything under the sun, a time to teach theology and a time to stand on it. You don’t tell parents of a child dying of leukemia, you let them tell you.

          • rogereolson

            What if they ask you “Where is God in this?”

          • Colby

            I need to apologize, Dr Olson. My wife read my comment and said I was talking down to you. I did not mean to come across that way so I apologize if my comments came across that way. I certainly don’t want to disrespect you, so I am sorry.

          • rogereolson

            Already forgiven and forgotten.

  • RJJ

    You state that, “whatever Scripture passages used to support this view mean, they cannot mean that…Then, if that’s what the Bible means (which it cannot mean)”, but you fail to state what those passages DO mean. If they do NOT mean what Dr. Piper says they do, what DO they mean, Dr. Olson?

    • rogereolson

      Many possibilities are being discussed here (by the commenters). If I say “Whatever the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution means, it cannot mean that every person in the U.S. has an unqualified right to possess a stockpile of whatever weapons he wants,” I’m not required to say what it does mean. I’m just saying what it cannot mean. If someone comes along and says “Then what does it mean?” a perfectly good answer is “anything but that.”

  • Francesco C.

    I really ask for some deep posts about semipelagianism in the future…. dr. Olson, if you don’t explain virtues and risks of semipelagianism, who will do? calvinist scholars? language experts?

    only an arminian prepared about history of theology and philosophy can give an answer worthy to be read.

    • rogereolson

      I thought I had done that in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.

  • taco

    Did God ordain the need for the atonement?

    • rogereolson

      Much depends on what you mean by “ordain” and “need.” So we’ll start. Once the fall happened, the “need” for atonement IF redemption would take place became real. So, like so much else in theology, it depends on what the words mean and how you look at the situation.

  • Chris

    That you disclose a private conversation between you and Piper in a public forum like this undermines your credibility Roger, on both sides of the doctrinal camp. And, stating, “IF those scriptures mean what Piper says they mean, then Jesus Christ was not the perfect revelation of God and the Bible itself is not worthy of our trust because God is not good and thus not to be trusted” places Piper outside of orthodoxy, and worse, with this assertion you’ve either dangerously placed him on the fringes of the faith, or you’ve cast him outside the camp completely. Being a prolific author and prevalent leader in the Christian community, you should blush at your lack of graciousness. There is doctrinal latitude regarding what we believe about Divine sovereignty in the camp of historical, orthodox, Biblical Christianity, is there not? When one wrangles with words so much, the greatest of gospel fruits is often compromised. You owe it to your brother to leave the altar of public, beautiful oratory and go to him in private with repentance.

    • rogereolson

      Ah, but you are wrong. It wasn’t a private conversation. Piper told me afterwards he was reporting everything I said during it to his group of “concerned pastors” (constituents of the college where I taught). He didn’t tell me that when he invited me to have lunch with him and even said “This is not an inquisition. It’s just to get to know each other.” Only after our two hour conversation did he reveal it was, indeed, an inquisition (by any name). So, back down. Also, I don’t accuse Piper of being consistent; fortunately he doesn’t believe all that his stated beliefs imply. Go listen to what he has said about open theists; it is actually he (and others like him) who have attempted to cast them out of the camp of historical, orthodox, Biblical Christianity. I have done no such thing with Calvinists as anyone who comes here regularly or reads my writings knows.

  • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

    Dr. Olson,

    Interesting discussion. As you have already alluded, much of this has to do with defining terms. Along that line, I’d like to point out that Calvinists seem to have something different in mind when we speak of God “ordaining all things” – including human sin – from eternity.

    I believe (along with most Calvinists, including Piper, I think) that God “ordains” all things that occur, including sin (in general and specific) without:

    –Sinning.
    –Authoring sin.
    –Becoming the direct or proximate cause of sin.
    –Approving of sin.
    –Delighting in sin.
    –Bearing any culpability whatsoever for sin.
    –Violating the will of the creature.

    Whatever “ordain” means, it cannot mean any of those things. The various Reformed confessions are careful to define “ordain” within these limits.

    Some cannot stomach the idea of God ordaining all events because they can’t imagine any way for Him to do so without also doing at least one of the above. I suppose it is good that they want to think of God in the best light they can personally imagine. There is something commendable in that. However, I would have to consider myself to be calling God a liar if I did not affirm the all-encompassing divine ordination that seems to be the plain meaning of multitudes of Scripture passages. Why shouldn’t He, as an incredibly glorious and transcendent Being who is only good and infinitely wise, be trusted to transcendently pre-determine what events shall occur in time?

    Divine “ordaining” certainly involves mystery. And how God accomplishes it without touching evil is beyond my comprehension. However, I believe He says He does this, and I don’t believe He can lie, and I do believe He is capable of ordaining evil without being evil. So I cannot avoid the conclusion that He ordains all things – including evil – for good purposes.

    This divine ordination can never contradict the self-revelation of God in the Person of His Son. Much of Christ’s teaching confirms it.

    John 19:11 – Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

    Blessings,
    Derek Ashton

    • rogereolson

      Welcome back, Derek. I have missed you. :)

      • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

        Thank you, Dr. Olson. Although I don’t comment much, I keep your blog in my reader and continue to follow your posts. Our interactions are always educational and thought-provoking!

    • John I.

      The above definition of “ordain” vacates it of most meaning, and essentially just becomes a way of making a claim. That is, the proponents claim that God does not sin even though their belief system otherwise entails God sinning. The whole discussion thus becomes so transcendental and beyond the reach of rational thought that discussion of the issue is pointless.

      The claim re God’s sinlessness is well based in Scripture. The crux is is how to square that obvious fact with other statements in scripture and with what we observe in the world. The Calvinist system clearly leads to untenable conclusions and is at odds with the fact of God’s sinlessness. Hence, it becomes a “basic fact” or “basic grounding” that there is no contradiction between God not sinning and God rendering sin certain. By “basic fact” I mean a fact behind which there is no explanation, or similarly an argument like the “law of noncontradiction”. “Ordain”, and also “sin”, thus become empty concepts and terms, behind which a fideistic belief stands and about which there can be no dialogue.

      I believe that the law of non-contradiction is not only essential, but a part of God’s character–like his inability to lie. Similarly, I believe that morality is based in God’s character and that his morality cannot be essentially different from ours (I reject a Calvinist “command” model of morality, not that that is the only possible Calvinist model). Hence, it cannot be possible for God to do something and not sin where that same thing would be sin for us–and ordaining sin falls into this category. God can, of course, further restrict our morality by adding moral commands (e.g., Leviticus for the Israelites), but he cannot change essential morality. No more than a leopard can change its spots.

      John

      • rogereolson

        I cannot tell you how often, in conversations with Calvinists (it just happened again the other day) they reject the law of noncontradiction in order to defend some of their beliefs. The problem is, such rejection is not a true defense; it’s simply a rejection of defense. It’s the same as sheer fideism (viz., “I don’t have to defend or explain what I’m saying even though it is unintelligible to you because I simply believe it and that’s that”). Many Calvinists agree with me here and reject their fellow Calvinists’ appeals to mystery that are really contradictions. I could mention, for example, Paul Helm.

        • Colby

          Are you arguing against paradox in Christian belief?

          • rogereolson

            I’m arguing against facile appeal to paradox where it’s unnecessary. And I would argue against appeal to contradiction.

  • Rob

    Dear Robert

    You shouldn’t assume things you don’t know. I found your characterization of me as a Calvinist offensive when you don’t even know me. I was asking because after having read some material from David Hunt and Norman Geisler I was confused. By the way your answer was nonsense to me. I appreciated Roger’s answer because he left much of it a mystery that we have to trust God on.

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  • gingoro

    Roger Sorry I am late commenting but things got rather hectic. For many of us Calvinists, John Piper is not really on our radar screens at all. It is only because I read your blog plus the Jesus Creed that I hear much about Piper and RC Sproul… Our former pastor was critical of RC Sproul etc if you asked but otherwise ignored the YRR movement. He did not accept divine determinism.

    Recently two profs at Calvin college were severely disciplined for writing articles on Genesis in the journal of the ASA. One left for a better post elsewhere and the other is essentially silenced. I doubt that many other profs want to stick their necks out on any topic.

    I was talking about this post with a friend who was born and bred in the CRC. My friend is a five point Calvinist but he says that people like Piper have taken something they see in scripture, made it into a philosophical principle and then extrapolated it way beyond scriptural warrant.
    Regards DaveW

    • rogereolson

      So why aren’t more moderate Calvinists seeking to reign him in? he is, after all, the one Calvinist (perhaps besides some of his surrogates and disciples) most young Christians can name. If more moderate Calvinists don’t think he represents true Calvinism, perhaps they should speak up more publicly to say so. I read one article by a theology prof at Western Seminary in Holland, MI who did that without naming Piper. Where are the others?

      • gingoro

        “Why don’t the moderates speak out?”
        Probably for the same reason as I had when I left fundamentalism.
        1. I had more important things to do in God’s kingdom
        2.It is not dissimilar to talking to a brick wall ie hopeless as I found out a few times when I tried talking with fundamentalists. After all many moderate Calvinists are rejected by such people and considered to be either heretics or semi Pelagian. In another private online group of MKs from the boarding school where I was abused as a child there are one or two of these high Calvinists and I am in the process of writing a note to one of these who is also a pastor with a real earned Phd to point out some of the fallacies which his position entails. But he has theology degrees and I’m just an engineer by training so I don’t expect to get far.

        Yes I wish the profs at our denomination’s schools etc would speak out but that does not seem to be happening.
        DaveW

  • Colby

    You said, “Is an all-powerful, all-determining God who isn’t good worshipful? I don’t see how.” I think you are starting at the wrong place. Goodness is not some abstract ethereal undefinable notion–goodness is defined by God. Without Him you would not know what goodness is. He is the absolute against which the goodness of all other things are measured. The lack of good is evil, just like the lack of heat is cold. You don’t measure cold, you measure heat.

    You and Piperwould both say God is the absolute good. You would both say God is worthy of our worship. For both of you God’s goodness is a non-negotiable. State that and stand on it. If you get off that rock you’re sunk and nothing else is worth debating or arguing about.

    From there it is a question of how to make sense of the lack of goodness in the world. I think Piper’s point–and it seems like you miss this in your critique–is God orchestrates everything–sin included–so that His creation can be gloriously restored and He receives all the glory (which I think you would agree He is due).

    • rogereolson

      As I’ve said many times here before, for me “good” is defined by Jesus Christ, the unsurpassable revelation of God’s character. A “god” whose character is not the same as Jesus’ is not worshipful.

  • Colby

    By definition sin is an act that violates God’s will. God can’t violate His own will. If He does it, He wills it. If He did it, He willed it. By definition God cannot sin. God is just in whatever He does because He is God and justice is defined by Him and who He is. I am not sure what all the hubbub is about.

    • rogereolson

      That’s sheer nominalism/voluntarism–the root cause of all trouble in theology. It makes God completely unknowable and untrustworthy, like Luther’s deus absconditus.

  • Greg Jones

    I wasn’t going to post a comment on your blog until I read a separate post you wrote about J.I. Packer (“J. I. Packer and Arminianism”). In it you said “Packer is the kind of Calvinist I am against–the kind who misrepresent Arminianism when they should know better (because they are scholars) and who vilify Arminians as subchristian or sinners just for being Arminian!” and yet even in this post you do the same to Piper by saying, “I will not say Piper is not a Christian” which by even saying you infer it is a possibility (otherwise why say it at all?). “I will only say that his view is worse, far, far worse, than open theism. At least open theism preserves the character of God. And I will say I could not in good Christian conscience attend a church pastored by Piper or any of his disciples (“Piper cubs,” we called them at Bethel).” It certainly appears you intended to be demeaning and as such were more than a tad bit hypocritical given your assessment of Packer.

    I will say though I did appreciate the honesty of this paragraph from your post “And now…kudos to J. I. Packer for this brilliant article”:
    “I hope this clears things up with regard to what I mean when I say the God of classical Calvinism is a monster IF Calvinism is pressed to its logical conclusion following out and embracing its good and necessary consequences, something almost no Calvinist does. I mean the same thing THEY MEAN about me and fellow Arminians when they say our theology, if pressed to its good and necessary consequences (which most of them acknowledge we don’t do), would amount to a man-centered false gospel of self-salvation.”

    Until I read that paragraph I thought you were trapped in the same error you accuse Packer of being in–namely, demonizing Christians who don’t agree with you. I realize now you don’t ALWAYS do that. You should add a disclaimer to each of your blog posts “This isn’t what I really think about ALL Calvinists, just the ones I really hate.” I’m willing to wager if Christ appeared to Piper or Packer in a vision and said, “Be Arminian” they would do it because they love him, but you don’t appear to see their love for Christ, or at least you don’t acknowledge it. Based on your writing, if Christ appeared to you and said “Be Calvinist” you’d reply “You monster!”

    If I may refer to one of your own comments above, I think the root cause of all the problems with theology is theologians who pick the wrong battles. I understand theologians who aren’t Christians not getting it, but you’re a Christian, so I’m not sure why you can’t use your obvious intellect to build up the body of Christ instead of shooting darts at fellow Christians who at the very least believe the Bible is authoritative and love the Lord they know. People are dying! Bill Nye the Science Guy is telling parents not to teach their children about creation and you’re talking about supralapsarianism. Are you kidding me? Why don’t you go get on the front lines and debate Muslims or atheists or something productive? The percentage of Christians who actually care about the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism is probably less than one-tenth of one percent. The rest of us just wish you guys would stop giving Christians a bad name by bad-mouthing each other.

    • rogereolson

      I’m glad you at least think I’m a Christian; I was worried there for a little while….

  • Colby

    Sheer nominalism, voluntarism, or any other isms I’m just saying you might as well ask can a “circle be a square?” I tend to think of sin as not something but as a lack of something. Just as cold is just the absence of heat. You never measure cold you measure heat. And sin is not the same as sinful because sinful is a condition. Keep in mind the bible never says sin was created. It says it “entered the world” through one man (Romans 5:12). As such I am not confident sin requires someone to cause it. It only requires the conditions to be right. For instance a man’s heart looking for love put in an environment with an attractive lady has been known to produce sin (and babies). Looking for love isn’t a sin nor is being around an attractive lady, but combine the two and it’s combustible and that combustion is what man is held responsible for. The condition of our heart will act as either an accelerant or as a retardant. This is why we must not allow temptation to turn into sin. I personally hold that God elected individuals before the foundation of the world for salvation but am fine leaving as ambiguous how much God is involved with in our day to day lives (although I suspect He’s far more involved than I give Him credit for – see Acts 17:25-27). As I see it the more God’s directly involved in my life the better off I am and the more he leaves it up to me the worse off I am. So have at it God. The more the merrier. I am 100% a-okay with God deciding all–He’s no monster to me (never will be) and will always be worthy of my worship.

  • Steven

    “In my opinion, Piper is just over the top with these statements. But thousands are following him into a total obliteration of the good character of God. I can only shake my head in amazement and sadness and wonder what they are thinking. Is an all-powerful, all-determining God who isn’t good worshipful? I don’t see how.”
    There’s a certain irony that you accuse Piper of denigrating the good character of God. Muslims think Christians do that too, which is exactly why to them it is an ignominy that God would stoop to being a man and die on a cross. It’s funny how in our well-intentioned desire to “uphold the good character of God” we can deny whatever we want to.

    • rogereolson

      The fact that Muslims think Christians denigrate the good character of God doesn’t faze me. Nor does the fact that I think Piper’s Calvinism, taken to its logical conclusion, denigrates the good character of God faze him (I’m sure). But the fact that different people have different opinions about God’s character and what denigrates it doesn’t keep me from expressing my opinion. I hope you can see why that’s so.

  • Colby
  • Phil

    Roger, you will probably never read this comment, but I will post it anyway. What I find interesting is that you never use scripture to refute John Piper’s position. The closest you come to using scripture is this, “Again, as I have said so many times before, whatever Scripture passages used to support this view mean, they cannot mean that.”

    This is what I believe John Piper and other Calvinists have over you and the Armenian camp, they seem to use scripture to reach conclusions, while you seem to use your gut (i.e. “what feels right”). The bottom line for Christians should always be, “What does the text say?” not “What does my gut say?”

    • Roger Olson

      Nonsense. The question is what is the character of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. I am well aware that every text I mention will be given a Calvinist interpretation by Calvinists. I disagree with those interpretations, but they are there so simply quoting Bible passages to Piper is, to me, like quoting the Bible to a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s useless. The Achilles Heel of Calvinism is that it inevitably makes God out to be a moral monster, not good or loving in any understandable sense.


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