The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s “Two-Wills” View (Part 24)

, posted by stridermtb

[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 31 is included in this post.]


Critique 31: PIPERS APPEAL TO JONATHAN EDWARDS: EXPLORING WHY BOTH MEN SUCCUMB TO APPALLING DOUBLESPEAK

I quote Piper at length:

“Similarly Jonathan Edwards, writing about 80 years later comes to similar conclusions with somewhat different terminology.

‘When a distinction is made between God’s revealed will and his secret will, or his will of command and decree, “will” is certainly in that distinction taken in two senses. His will of decree, is not his will in the same sense as his will of command is. Therefore, it is no difficulty at all to suppose, that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue, or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended, that virtue, or the creature’s happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature.

His will of decree is, his inclination to a thing, not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with respect to the universality of things, that have been, are or shall be. So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things. Though he hates sin in itself, yet he may will to permit it, for the greater promotion of holiness in this universality, including all things, and at all times. So, though he has no inclination to a creature’s misery, considered absolutely, yet he may will it, for the greater promotion of happiness in this universality.”

Here Piper thinks Edwards has offered a solution to the quandary that arises out of a theology that insists God was unconditionally inclined to decree every violation against his moral inclinations—every violation. But Edwards offers no solution. What he offers is borderline sophistry. What he offers is word games. What he offers is doublespeak. What he offers is a fragmented God, cleaved in two, who wills sin in a manner sequestered and divorced from his moral nature. For example, Edwards says,

“When we say he wills virtue… that virtue… absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature….[But] His will of decree is, his inclination to a thing, not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with respect to the universality of things…So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things.”

To put it in simple vernacular, Edwards has said nothing more than, “When God wills something virtuous, he wills it in line with his morally good nature. But when he wills sin and evil, he does not will it in line with his moral nature, as he does when he wills virtue, rather he wills it against his moral nature and inclination and in line with the bigger picture (i.e. ‘universality of all things’).”

There is no getting around the fact that Edwards creates a disparity in God— polarizing his inclinations in such a way that all of God’s decrees do not equally flow out of his morally good nature. Instead God chiefly consults something outside his moral nature when he decrees sin and evil that is disagreeable to his nature. He consults what Edwards calls God’s “referencing of the universality of all things.” And what is the “universality of all things” in Edward’s thinking? What is the “big picture” God consults before he wills the very acts of sin and evil that stand in opposition to his morally good nature?

It is none other than what God universally predetermined. Edwards is talking in circles. He wants to protect God’s nature from moral ruin by arguing God does not determine evil with respect to his approval of that evil “but with respect to universality of all things.” However in Edwards thinking the “universality of all things” is none other than God’s master plan to unconditionally predetermine all things—both good and evil—as individual brush strokes or puzzle pieces that instrumentally fit together to form the cosmic, universal portrait God envisioned before time began. In other words, all tragedies of life, from every act of adultery to every abortion, was predetermined by God’s will of decree to create a mural of human history wherein he alone is seen holding the brush at the end of time.

Piper more or less agrees, but again assuages the language and conceals the true nature of divine determinism, saying,

“But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through his wide-angle lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic, with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in (Psalm 115:3).”

Notice the following key missteps. He says, “When God looks at a painful or wicked event…[and] sees the tragedy of sin…He sees in it all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic…” Such deceptive, misleading language is inexcusable. Piper downplays deterministic language and picks up the language of observation. Piper gives off the impression God is doing nothing more than witnessing wickedness and sin and permitting their sinful effects because he knows it cannot mar the ultimate mosaic of his divine glory being revealed. There would be no argument if that is all Piper believed. But alas that is far from what he really believes. It is frustrating to see Piper habitually lapse into doublespeak when he most needs to speak in a straightforward manner. If Piper wanted to speak openly about his beliefs he would have boldly said: When God unilaterally decreed all pain and wickedness and determined the tragedy of the fall of man and all sin, he did so without considering any consequential effect except his own delight.

Time and again we are left wondering why Piper is so reticent to speak plainly, transparently and consistently about the logical implications of an all-or-nothing deterministic sovereignty. Could it be that Piper has an intuitive sense that adopting such candid language would be to invite discomforting criticism and awkward questioning— the length of which goes far beyond the moral horizon of mystery that even Calvinists typically punt to?

The point is an Arminian theodicy stands in stark contrast to a Calvinist theodicy in that we reject the Calvinist axis upon which all evil revolves around— Gods deterministic sovereignty. Arminians have no issue with the basic assertion that God is able to take the tragedies and evils of life and ultimately overrule their intended effects, such that they do not thwart his sovereign purpose (“big picture”) to set the world aright and glorify himself and a people unto himself. In other words, I have no doubt we will be able to one day look back and see how all the tragedies and evils of life were ultimately overruled through the death and resurrection of Christ, such that God’s ultimate purposes were established in spite of them and through them, but not owing to them or prescribed by them. (In the Appendix I will deal with the question of whether or not the Arminian position of God permitting sin is the same as the Calvinist view of God conceiving of and decreeing sin.)

Notwithstanding the obvious truth that God has the biggest “brush” and wields the greatest influence in our world, we will one day also discover that we too held brushes in our hands and we too possessed a certain degree of causal influence in our world— not because we took it from God, but because God gave it to us and it pleased God to do so. Piper would do well to hear the words of A.W. Tozer on this matter:

“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”[36]

Piper references Psalm 115:3 at the end, presumably with the idea it supports the notion that God delighted in unconditionally decreeing all things, and therefore found pleasure in being the conceptual origin for all earthly wickedness. Such an appeal Psalm 115:13 is another wild, invalid extrapolation arising out of doing theology in an enclosed echo chamber. The verse simply says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Piper has lapsed back into the same mistaken assumption we noted before. Yes, God does do whatever pleases him, but that doesn’t therefore mean it pleased God to decree every porn rental, act of child abuse, and act of idol worship. This is rather self-evident in light of the fact that the very context of Psalm 115 is specifically addressing God’s displeasure of idol worship.

It is astounding that Piper overlooks such explicit, common sense truths and fails to see that to even reference the Psalm 115 is to undermine his own position. Piper would do well to keep reading and note the Psalmist concludes with an affirmation of human self-determination and God’s sovereign pleasure to grant mankind a certain degree of dominion in earthly matters. “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind” (Ps 115:16).

Oddly enough, in light of the multitude of verses that speak of God’s sovereign displeasure in regards to human wickedness, it can only be a result of sheer will and stubborn self-determination to continue to believe that every wicked inclination and action of our wills was unconditionally decreed by God’s prior pleasure. Even worse to masquerade the true nature of universal, meticulous, divine determination of all sin as being nothing more than “God willing to permit sin” is indefensible and strikingly deceitful. For example Edwards tries to absolve God of moral culpability for sin occurring by declaring, “Though he [God] hates sin in itself, yet he may will to permit it, for the greater promotion of holiness in this universality, including all things, and at all times.”

Does Edwards really expect us to believe God’s “will to permit” sin is the ultimate reason why sin occurs in his Calvinistic view? Once again the recurrent reason why both Piper and Edwards indeed succumb to doublespeak is because both routinely trade in the deterministic nature of decretive language for the un-deterministic nature of permissive language whenever the need arises to explain the great evils of our world.

For example in another article titled, “Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?”[37] Piper quotes Jonathan Edward’s answer to the question as to how God can be the ultimate disposer and determiner of sin and yet not be its author.  Notice how Edwards relies on the Arminian language of “permission” to extricate himself from the dilemma. He states,

“If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing… It would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin… [God is the] permitter… of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the states of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted… will most certainly and infallibly follow.”

Piper follows up with his own summation,

“But, he [Edwards] argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin. God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his ‘positive agency.’” [38]

As is clear both Edwards and Piper are being wholly inconsistent with the logic of their own position. The Calvinist position is that all men must sin (i.e. necessarily) in virtue of God irrevocably decreeing that they sin irresistibly and infallibly. Moreover it is not enough just to say, God is “willing that there be sin.” God has selected and decreed all our individual sins and since Calvinists would say God’s decrees are by nature infallible, it is impossible for men to choose against God’s decree. Hence it is pointless to say God permits what he necessitates through an irresistible decree. Both Edwards and Piper are intentionally obscuring the true horror of Calvinism by softening their language and borrowing Arminian terms to escape the logical implications of their own theology.

And there is no use reformulating or qualifying human choice and freedom as “the freedom to act in accordance with one’s strongest desires” (as Calvinists are prone to say) because in a Calvinist scenario man is powerless to control even his own motives and desires. Even our strongest motives and desires are ultimately outside our control, having been determined by God’s eternal, all-encompassing decree. Since Piper assumes such deterministic sovereignty is God’s “wide-angle lens” that inspires him to decree all our perverse sins, it is again ridiculous to speak of God “allowing” or “permitting” anyone to sin.

Piper speaks of the tragedies and sins that God has decreed as “the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity… [that] he does delight in…”

I often find myself in awe of Piper’s ability to articulate the most sadistic and hellish beliefs in words that are anything but a description of the nightmarish hell he is actually describing. What Piper is subtly designating as “connections and effects” that God delights in, is nothing less than God’s raw power to manipulate us as his instruments of evil to bring about every vile act his moral nature opposes.

We earlier saw how Piper attempted to argue that sometimes, “God wills not to restrain [the] evil” men choose to commit. Of course if God willed all evil there is no sense of sometimes. It would mean every act of evil throughout world history is equally an example of God “willing not to restrain evil.” In the end both Edwards and Piper speak empty rhetoric because they both refuse to interact with the logical ramifications of their own view. In Calvinism (whether it be hard determinism or compatibilism) God is not just choosing not to restrain human sin, rather God determined what their wills would do irresistibly and therefore causally. That is nothing less than positive causation and authorship of evil. So much for Piper’s contention that God’s deterministic relationship to sin is without moral culpability because sin doesn’t come about “by his “positive agency.” Of course it does. It certainly isn’t his passive agency or neutral agency.

If Piper is so desperate to avoid unpalatable, Calvinistic conclusions, he should just admit to being a closet Arminian and stop denying what Calvinism already affirms. We have already noted that Calvin, amongst many others, declared unequivocally that all actions, including our sinful desires, do not come about by God’s bare permission but are superintended by God’s will. “Hence we maintain that, by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined…”[39] [because] “the hand of God rules the interior affections no less than it superintends external action…he worked in their hearts to make them will before they acted. [40]


[36] Tozer, A.W., The Knowledge of the Holy, ch. 22. See: http://www.ntcg-aylesbury.org.uk/books/knowledge_of_the_holy.pdf

[37] Piper, John. “Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?” http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[38] Piper, John. “Is God less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?” http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[39] Calvin, John. Inst. I.xvi.8. 1539 edition. Quoted in A.N.S. Lane, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 73

[40] Calvin, John. Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (tr. J. K. S. Reid) (London, 1961)175f. (OC 8.358) See A.N.S. Lane, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 73