The “Chief End of Man”…God’s Glory…Yes and Amen (But…)

The “Chief End of Man”…God’s Glory…Yes and Amen (But…) April 4, 2014

Recently I re-read Jonathan Edwards “Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World.” And I watched and listened to John Piper’s address about why the evangelical church needs Edwards’ “God-entranced vision” today. (It’s on Youtube.)

Some people would be surprised to hear that I agree ALMOST entirely with Edwards and Piper about this subject. First, yes, I agree, whole heartedly, that everything, without exception, is created for God’s glory and that everything’s chief end (purpose) is God’s glory. Edwards’ and Piper’s “God-entranced vision” is needed by evangelicals (and others) today…with a few important qualifications. (The devil is always in the details.)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” I say “amen” to that. We do not exist for ourselves; nothing exists for itself. Everything was created for God’s glory and exists to glorify him. As Edwards acknowledges, there are subordinate “ends” (purposes) for things, but the chief end, purpose, of whatever exists, has being, is God’s glory.

I sympathize with Piper’s (and others’) concerns about contemporary evangelical Christianity in America. We have fallen into various forms of human-centeredness. “Moralistic, therapeutic deism” is one of them. Another is worship and preaching that focuses on creation and human “success in life” (happiness, fulfillment, prosperity, etc.). I do not recognize much that is called “evangelical” as that.

So what is my problem with Edwards’ and Piper’s vision (they are basically the same) of this “God entranced vision?” They and I part ways over some very important details.

First, INSOFAR as they imply that sin and evil and hell are “designed, foreordained and governed” by God for his glory I demur. These are PERMITTED reluctantly by God and he uses them to glorify himself. How so? Because God’s glory is his love. Even Edwards seemed to acknowledge this in The Nature of True Virtue by defining “true virtue” as “benevolence toward being.” Love does not coerce others into loving oneself. Sin, evil and hell are permitted by God as part of his consequent will, not “designed, foreordained and governed” by God as part of his antecedent will. But they still exist to glorify God–not because God planned them for his self-glory but because their existence is the result of his love for creatures which glorifies him. A God who permits creatures to resist him is more glorious than one who meticulously controls every thought and intention and decision and action of every creature.

How does hell glorify God? Not by being NECESSARY for the display of God’s justice in wrath (Edwards) but by being God’s painful refuge for those who reject him.

(For you Edwards experts out there…yes, I know Edwards also said that God “permitted” sin and evil to enter his creation, but he clearly MEANT “efficacious permission.” He clearly meant that the fall and all its consequences were planned by God and rendered certain by God according to a great plan and scheme to glorify himself by displaying his justice through wrath.)

Second, INSOFAR as they (Edwards, Piper and their ilk) imply that POWER takes precedence over LOVE in God’s glory, I demur. God’s glory IS his love–first his innertrinitarian love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and second his love flowing out from the Trinity toward creatures. God is glorious BECAUSE he is perfectly loving as well as perfectly powerful. BUT, since love is his essence, he can restrict his power (but not his love).

To be sure, Edwards believed in God’s love, but he MEANT God’s self-love and then, secondarily, his love for the elect. Piper tries to rescue God’s love even for the non-elect by saying he gives them “temporal blessings” on their way to hell. That’s absurd, of course. It is the same as saying he give them a little bit heaven to go to hell in. Wesley said that is such as “love” as makes the blood run cold. I agree.

My point is that, in my view, anyway, while Edwards and Piper are correct to emphasize God’s glory as the chief end, purpose, of everything, they are wrong to empty God’s glory of meaningful love and focus it on power. Power without love is not glorious.

Church father Irenaeus is famous for saying that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” So, yes, everything in creation exists for God’s glory, but God’s glory is not narcissistic. It is his perfect benevolence and ability to display it and give it to creatures.

As my friend Austin Fischer says in his wonderful book Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed (Wipf & Stock) “Love is not a cog in the glory machine.” But in our opinion, Edwards and Piper make it just that. Rather, as Scripture itself testifies, “God is love.” God IS love. That is God’s glory.

So, let me say again, loudly this time: TRUE ARMINIANS ALSO BELIEVE GOD’S GLORY IS THE CHIEF END OF EVERYTHING. But we disagree with Edwards and Piper about the NATURE of God’s glory. Yes, it is his beauty and perfection, but his beauty and perfection are his perfect love, his benevolence toward being–his own and creatures’.

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