[StriderMTB’s lengthy article, “The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s ‘Two-Wills’ View,” has been divided into 30 parts and edited for serial publication on this website. Here is a link to the original post. After the entire series is published, it will be made available as a single article on this site. Critique 25 is included in this post.]
Critique 25: PIPER’S CARELESS TREATMENT OF HEBREWS 6:3
Perhaps not satisfied that 1 Peter sufficiently makes a case for God’s all consuming determinative control of our life, Piper proceeds to target Hebrews 6:3, adding,
“The writer to the Hebrews says that his intention is to leave the elementary things behind and press on to maturity. But then he pauses and adds, “And this we will do if God permits” (6:3). This is remarkable since it is hard to imagine one even thinking that God might not permit such a thing unless one had a remarkably high view of the sovereign prerogatives of God.”
It is necessary at this juncture to note the distinction between the underbelly of what Piper believes and how he often expresses those beliefs. For the former does not always reflect the latter. Whether he is forthcoming with it or not, it has been noted repeatedly that Piper holds to a confused view of divine sovereignty, wherein every decision of men, no matter how perverse and evil, was predetermined by God, but when he tries to thresh this out in Scripture he is far less straightforward and chooses lofty, euphemistic phrases like “God’s involvement,” “a high view of God’s sovereign prerogatives,” “the calm light of God’s overarching sovereignty,” “living in the hands of God” and “God’s sovereignty over the details of life.”
There is no reason why an Arminian could not affirm God’s “overarching sovereignty” and a “life lived in God’s hands,” while simultaneously denying Piper’s contention that every abomination the Scriptures declare God hates, God also conceived of and decreed.
Far from demonstrating Piper’s universal, theological determinism, the above passages in Hebrews merely highlight that God retains the right to reveal deeper spiritual truths in accordance with his own conditions. And what are those conditions? The writer of Hebrews just finished charging his readers of being “too lazy to understand” (5:11) difficult doctrines and scolding them for still “needing someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again” (5:12). It should not surprise us to then read further disclosure of deeper revelation or “solid food for the mature”(5:14) would be conditioned on God’s evaluation of their maturity and hence his permission.
Piper is simply wrong to suggest, “This is remarkable since it is hard to imagine God might not permit such a thing…” Given the passages that precede 6:3 it is not at all “hard to imagine” that God might not permit further revelation if their spiritual maturity was still stuck in an “elementary message about the Messiah” (6:1). Furthermore when one considers the fact that theological determinism must necessarily entail that our levels of maturity and dispositions of laziness are themselves determined by God— which is part of Piper’s “all details of one’s life and ministry”— then his view collapses further into a downward spiral of mental vertigo and irrelevancy.
Another note of caution is in order. Given the Scriptures Piper is highlighting in Acts, 1 Corinthians and Hebrews, and considering his follow-up comments, one can easily assume Piper is simply trying to defend the view that God is obligated to nothing greater than his own divine will operating in concert with his moral nature, and that God retains the prerogative to sovereignly guide and open and close doors in the lives of his people in accordance with his own purposes for them. But that is the Arminian position. We ought not be fooled by Piper’s obscuring language and propensity to pull up short when he most needs to speak forthrightly.
So, for example, when Piper tries to swing the writers of Scripture to his side by saying things like “[they] had a high view of the sovereign prerogatives of God,” he is trying to push upon his readers an extreme view of sovereignty wherein we are meant to believe the writers of Scripture assumed that every occurrence in life, from their food choices and daily bowel movements to their personal lapses into sin, were equally ordained by God before the world began. In such a context of comprehensive determination, it is difficult to envision how we are little more than God’s cosmic SIM game. It hardly invokes the sense of dignity God ascribes to those made in his image, as witnessed in Psalm 8:5-6, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.”
Far from teaching that “all things” are under the unilateral, determinative control of God, we discover that God sovereignly chose to crown men with glory and honor and impart a measure of responsibility and dominion over many affairs in the world. That God is still ultimately in charge of our world, despite the misuse and abuse of our dominion, is not in question. What is in question is Piper’s contention that every detail in life was preordained unconditionally by divine fiat. Psalm 8:5-6, as well as many other Scriptures, run counter to that assertion and present a portrait of God sovereignly bestowing upon mankind a ruling authority and a free agency of moral responsibility (see Gen 1:26, Ps 115:16, Jer 27:5, Joshua 24:15, Judges 6:10).
 Walter Brueggemann notes this Psalm, while having prophetic fulfillment in Christ, is nonetheless a “song of creation” that looks back upon God’s act in creating mankind. The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 28