John Piper Implicitly Denies Aseity

, posted by Ron C. Fay

I figured the title would grab your attention for a few different reasons. First, what the heck is aseity and second, assuming you know what aseity is, what do you mean by saying Piper rejects it?

Aseity is the orthodox belief that the Triune God is self-contained and needs nothing else. Essentially it is the theological equivalent of the philosophical notion of the only non-contingent necessary entity. God does not need angels, the earth, or people. God derives only from Himself (a meaning from and se meaning self) and not from anything else.

Before I delve into the issue I have with Piper, I want to begin with a short apologetic: I do not think Piper intends to deny aseity nor do I think he understands his system necessarily entails such a denial. At the same time, I have e-mailed this problem to Piper and heard nothing in return, and I e-mailed him only after checking to see if my logic was correct by running it past Dr. Steven Roy of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, someone who pastored under Piper for about seven years. Dr. Roy agreed with my assessment. I am not trying to slander John Piper, I am trying to warn those who read his works uncritically and accept his version of Calvinism without realizing the problems it contains.

Piper argues that the ultimate aim for any Christian is to be a Christian hedonist in that one should look to enjoy God forever and to live in that enjoyment now. God’s own joy, Piper contends, is based upon being glorified, for the greatest good is that God be glorified. Therefore, God created mankind to glorify Him. In order for God to be happy, Piper reasons, God must be sovereign. It is in God’s control over the universe, in God’s ability to glorify Himself through creation, in God’s ability to glorify Himself through the salvation of some and the damnation of others that God finds happiness. Therefore, God’s happiness is bound in God’s sovereignty.

Do you see the problem yet?

Was God unhappy before Creation? I would assume the answer is no.

Yet, according to Piper’s logic, if God can only be happy when He is sovereign, how can God be happy if nothing else exists since sovereignty demands an object, namely something or someone to be sovereign over? If God existed alone, then God was not yet sovereign because there was nothing to be sovereign over! Sovereign signifies being the greatest in degree or rank, or being the ruler over others. Thus, if God needs sovereignty to be happy, and sovereignty demands someone to be sovereign over, then creation is necessary for God’s happiness since without creation there is nothing for Him to be sovereign over.

If creation is necessary for God, God cannot be self-contained and therefore by definition God cannot have the property of aseity.

Some of you might read this and think it is not that big of a deal if God does not have aseity as a property, but the implications of a lack of aseity are crucial. If God does not have aseity, then something other than God is necessary in the universe (or, one could argue, that the universe itself is necessary in addition to God). That would mean that God is no longer the only necessary entity, something is coequal to God (at least in terms of longevity or philosophical import). If creation is necessary, God is not free to not create, and therefore God as the ultimate authority no longer exists, and Calvinism (and Arminianism and all of Classical Theism for that matter) falls apart and we are left with something like Process Theology or Pantheism.

Now some might want to answer that Piper can get around this by saying that the Triune God before creation was sovereign over Himself, such that the father ruled over the Son and the Spirit. However, Piper cannot claim this defense since He speaks specifically of God’s happiness, and thus if the Father rules over the Son and Spirit, then the Son and Spirit would not be happy since they would have nobody to be sovereign over (or, if one holds to the rule of the Son over the Spirit, the Spirit alone has no happiness). One cannot get around this by saying that by God Piper just means the Father, for that in turn would be denying the deity of the Son and Spirit since sovereignty, according to Piper’s brand of Calvinism, is a necessary part of God.

Again, I do not think Piper or his followers intentionally adhere to such a position. I do think it is not just a logical consequence of his set of beliefs but is a necessary outgrowth of them. Rather than this being an argument of a slippery slope (if you believe A it will lead to B) I think that this is part and parcel of the system (if you hold to A then you necessarily hold to B also), even if unacknowledged or unintended.

In conclusion, Piper’s brand of Calvinism is flawed because of his definition of God as necessarily having sovereignty. Even if sovereignty were not necessary for God’s happiness but only necessarily part of being God Piper’s version still denies aseity, because as long as sovereignty is necessary for God, then so is creation necessary. Therefore, sovereignty cannot be considered a necessary attribute of God if one wishes to hold to aseity, and so Piper’s version of God necessarily falls short of who God is.

Addendum:

Does this mean sovereignty is not a property of God or that Arminians deny God’s sovereignty? No, but sovereignty is not a necessary property of God, rather sovereignty is a necessary property of the Creator. Once God creates then and only then is sovereignty necessarily an attribute of God. You see the Creator/creation distinction (and necessary difference in power since created beings are by nature less powerful since they are created) entails sovereignty such that God has the right to rule over what He has created (for lack of a better analogy, like a parent over a young child). So sovereignty is not a necessary attribute of God, but it is a necessary attribute of God as Creator.