Monday, February 23, 2015

Highlighting an Arminian response to John Piper: Did God decree every sin you commit?

One of the "last straws" which finally turned me away from TULIP was when I seriously considered how I could consistently uphold the integrity of God's character within the determinist world of Calvinism.  How could I hold that God is absolutely good and perfect and holy--a God who hates sin and injustice (and says so)--on the one hand, and yet on the other, hold that He has decreed all things that come to pass, which must include every sin and all evil [1].  

When I would ask my Calvinist friends about this, they would point to teachers like RC Sproul or John Piper who, while holding that God decrees all things, seemed to switch their arguments and use language of permission or non-prevention as soon as consistent Calvinism meant that God is the author of sin.  These answers didn’t sit right with me. If all events were decreed by God from eternity, meaning that God has ensured every sinful action's "actual occurrence is rendered absolutely certain" (as Charles Hodge put it, Link), then permission language only seemed to distract from the issue rather than providing any sort of answer to it.  Permission only made sense under a more Arminian worldview like that held by AW Tozer, where rather than decreeing each act:
God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice... When [man] chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfils it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice that man should make but that he should be free to make it [2].

After I finally gave up Calvinism, I came across the post, John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”, from Arminian Perspectives.  Not only does the author do an excellent job of showing exactly the inconsistency and switch that I noticed, but this post also responds to some of the key texts which are used to draw support for Calvinistic determinism; passages like Acts 4:23-28, or examples like Joseph in Genesis 50:20.

Here is an excerpt:
Since Piper relies on Edwards to explain how God can decree and necessitate sin and yet not be properly called the author of it, we shall here rely on early Methodist theologian Daniel Whedon to refute both Piper and Edwards:

In regard to Edwards, we may here note the very remarkable fact that, although his whole work aggressively maintains necessitation, yet when he comes to this point he defends only the theory of non-prevention!  He seems to forget to which side he belongs, and quietly exculpates his opponents, the non-preventionists, from charging God with the authorship of sin.  He makes two suppositions as follows:

1. “If”, says he, “by author of sin be meant the sinner, the agent, the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing;” (356) then- no matter what “then.” For that is an imaginary “if.”  The real question is: Suppose by “author” is meant necessitator of sin, the necessitator of all sin, the necessitator of the sinner to be the “sinner,” “the actor,” “the doer”; what then is the answer of Edwards?  Nothing.

2.  “But if,” says he, “by the author of sin is meant the permitter, or not hinderer of sin, and at the same time a disposer of the state of events in such a manner…that sin, if it is permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow:” (356) then God is no author of sin.  That is, the non-prevention theory- the theory of his opponents- does not make God the author of sin.  This is a generous exculpation of us Arminians!  But what does Edwards say in defense of his own theory, namely, of Necessitation?  Nothing.  He simply defends the position of his opponents, and leaves his own system defenseless and naked to its enemies.  He has demonstrated Calvinism; he now defends only Arminianism [4]. (The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pp. 343, 344)

Exactly.  For all of Piper’s arguments that God decrees and necessitates sin, he is only able to avoid making God the author of sin by following Edwards in arguing like an Arminian.  Just like Edwards, Piper has extensively argued for decretal necessitation of sin (even to the point of suggesting that all sin and evil actually originates by God’s “fatherly hand”), but now defends only the Arminian position of permission and non-prevention.  Not only does this contradict his own arguments to this point (which actually do imply that God is the necessitating author of sin), but it also vindicates the Arminian perspective on God’s sovereignty in relation to sin as well as the Arminian interpretation of the same passages that Piper previously used to show that God ordains all sin and evil.  Again, Whedon drives this point home in his response to Edwards’ use of the same sorts of passages,

Edwards next proceeds to the Scripture argument.  He adduces the cases of Pharaoh, of Joseph’s brethren, of the king of Assyria, of Nebuchadnezzar, and of the crucifiers of Christ to prove- it is not very clear what.  These passages, it is at present sufficient to say, have terms of causation that seem to ascribe authorship of sin to God.  These passages either prove God’s necessitation of sin, or his mere permission or non-prevention.  By Edwards own argument they cannot mean the former; for he asserts there is nothing but mere permission.  If there is nothing but mere permission, then they make nothing against Arminianism.  He quotes but does not analyze them on this point, very much as if he meant, non-committally, to have a causation and necessitation of sin, by the reader inferred, which he thought best not explicitly himself to express. (ibid. 346)

So, for all of Piper’s arguments we are left with the Arminian theory of non-prevention to account for God’s ordaining sin in such a way as to avoid making God the author of sin. How does Piper avoid the implications of his theology?  He avoids them by adopting the Arminian perspective, the very perspective he has worked so hard to argue against in his sermon.  

Further Reading:




[1] John Piper, one of the most influential teachers in New Calvinist circles, teaches this explicitly.  For example, he has said: “Therefore I conclude with Jonathan Edwards, 'God decrees all things, even all sins.' Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, 'He works all things after the counsel of His will.'" (Link)

In the book Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, a collection of essays edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (another influential Calvinist), Mark R Talbot makes the following abhorrent and unbiblical statement (page 42, Link):
God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child . . .
Also see RC Sproul Jr’s statements: Paul Copan, Taking Calvinism Too Far: R.C. Sproul Jr.’s Evil-Creating Deity. For more quotes from Calvinists generally, see: A Theology in Tension, Calvinist Quotes on God Determining All Evil.

[2] AW Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, chapter 22.  While Tozer did not call this an "Arminian" view, it is consistent with the view held by most Arminians today.

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