Consistent Theology on the Sovereignty of God

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In spite of J. I. Packer’s allegation that John Wesley was a Calvinist,1 albeit an inconsistent one, Packer himself dodges inconsistency by appealing to antinomy regarding the relationship between God’s sovereignty and humanity’s free will. Granted, all Christians aim for a consistent theology. And there are verses in Scripture that, most likely, make all systematic theologians squirm. But, in my opinion, Arminianism comes out on top regarding consistency in theology.

Walls and Dongell comments, “There is one version of Calvinism that can clearly be held without contradiction. This is the view that holds with open-eyed consistency that God not only knows the future completely but also controls it in every detail because he has determined everything that will ever happen. Whether he does this by constant direct management or whether he arranged the world in the beginning in such a way that things would inevitably unfold in a particular way does not matter.

“What is essential, however, is not merely the claim that everything happens just as God intended, but also the assertion that he could have caused things to happen differently if he had wanted. In other words, God’s will for things to occur in a certain way is a sufficient cause for them to occur in precisely that way. Given his will, things could not possibly happen differently than they do in any respect.

“The only kind of freedom that can exist in a world like this is compatibilist freedom. If God has exhaustive foreknowledge of the future precisely because he has determined everything that will ever happen, then he has also obviously determined our choices. Our freedom must consist essentially in that we willingly do what God has determined us to do, even though it is strictly impossible for us to do otherwise. This means that we are responsible for our actions even though we cannot, and never could, do differently than we do.”2

Though this Calvinistic theology is non-contradictory, it is highly inconsistent and, unfortunate for the Calvinist, not what one finds taught in the Bible. Roger Olson writes, “The Calvinist account of sovereignty is simply incongruous with sovereignty as we know it in the world. Even though Calvinists may express it in softer language, Arminians believe ‘absolute and meticulous control’ is the classical Calvinist view. Calvin’s own account of the doctrine of providence in Institutes of the Christian Religion provides concrete examples of events that may seem accidental but are not because, according to Calvin, nothing happens fortuitously or by chance.

“There are no accidents; everything that happens is foreordained by God for a purpose, and God renders everything certain efficaciously even if not by direct, immediate causation. According to Calvin, if a man wanders away from his traveling companions and is set upon by thieves and robbed and murdered, Christians should consider that event, as everything else, planned and directed by God and not a happenstance.”3

We are forced to conclude, then, that God causes evil. Even though the Bible indicates that it is impossible for God to be the instigator of evil (James 1.13), He must cause all things in order for Him to be sovereign.

Thus every rape, incestuous act, homosexuality, murder, lying, stealing, adultery, violence, cursing, and whatever else is against God’s holy standard, is part of God’s plan for humanity and for the ages. There is one problem with this view, however: it is wrong.

The Bible states that it is not God’s pleasure or will that people sin. By stating that it is not His “will” that sin occurs, that should give us a clue that God is not the cause of any evil whatsoever. Would the Calvinist really have us believe that God hates sin and yet ordains it as well? Their theology may not be contradictory, in and of itself, but it is definitely inconsistent with biblical teaching and reality.

1 J. I. Packer, “Predestination in Christian History,” Honoring the People of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer (Carlisle, U.K.: Paternoster, 1999), 4:215.

2 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 160.

3 Roger Olson, Arminian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 118.