The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s “Two-Wills” View (Part 28)

, 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 35 is included in this post.]


Critique 35: THE NONSENSE OF PIPER’S APPEAL TO GEORGE WASHINGTON AND GOD’S “COMPLEX EMOTIONS” TO EXTRICATE GOD FROM DIVINE POLARITY

As he nears his final conclusion, Piper refuses to own up to the contradictory nature of his Two-Wills view and tries in vain to qualify the unintelligible confusion (God’s moral nature decreed the very evils that oppose his moral nature) as being nothing more than God’s “complex emotions.” If only it was that easy. Alas, complexity is no substitute for nonsense. Piper is right to note God is complex but that has nothing to do with the conflicting, disputatious nature of his own view, as his following remarks will show.

“God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend. For example, who can comprehend that the Lord hears in one moment of time the prayers of ten million Christians around the world, and sympathizes with each one personally and individually like a caring Father (as Hebrews 4:15 says he will), even though among those ten million prayers some are broken-hearted and some are bursting with joy? How can God weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice when they are both coming to him at the same time—in fact are always coming to him with no break at all?

Or who can comprehend that God is angry at the sin of the world every day (Psalm 7:11), and yet every day, every moment, he is rejoicing with tremendous joy because somewhere in the world a sinner is repenting (Luke 15:7,10,23)? Who can comprehend that God continually burns with hot anger at the rebellion of the wicked, grieves over the unholy speech of his people (Ephesians 4:29-30), yet takes pleasure in them daily (Psalm 149:4), and ceaselessly makes merry over penitent prodigals who come home?”

Did you notice all the soft balls Piper throws up in the air for his view to catch? Did you notice how Piper says absolutely nothing in terms of the real conundrum his view faces? Did you notice how nothing Piper said conflicts with any theological viewpoint inherent to Arminianism? Did you notice how Piper is hiding his view of universal, divine determinism behind irrelevant biblical truths that have zero applicability in reconciling the fractious sense of his view?

Piper says his view is supported by the fact that God can hear the prayers of brokenhearted people and those bursting with joy and simultaneously weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Fine. But what does that have to do with his view that God authored and decreed every evil that causes people to be brokenhearted in the first place, and that he weeps over the very things his alleged pleasure determined beforehand should occur? Nothing. Piper is again hiding in neutral territory.

Piper says his view is supported by the fact that God can simultaneously be angry at the sin of the world yet rejoice when lost sinners repent. Fine. But what does that have to do with his view that God unconditionally decreed all the sin of the world he is angry with and unconditionally selected who repents of sin and who will remain in the very sins he determined they commit? Nothing. Piper is again burying his theology when he most needs to bring it into the light.

Piper says his view is supported by the fact that God burns with hot anger at the rebellion of the wicked and grieves over the unholy speech of his people, yet can also be said to take pleasure in his people and make merry over penitent prodigals who come home. Fine. But what does that have to do with the inane premise that God decided in eternity past that he ought to burn with hot anger over the very sins he decided ought to occur? Nothing. And how does anything Piper has said about God making merriment over prodigals repenting have anything to do with a disjointed, incoherent theology that says God predestined certain persons to be repentant prodigals, via irresistible grace, and other persons to remain in the very reprobate state he decreed for them before they were born; all the while still calling out for them to repent based on an alleged sincere desire that they escape the very predestined fate he refuses to release them from? You guessed it— nothing.

Piper wants us to think the muddled confusion that arises out of his view is nothing more than God possessing complex emotions; but as is obvious Piper is just putting on a distracting sideshow that has nothing to do with the main act of his discordant theology. Since nothing less than a right appropriation of God’s character and glory is at stake, Piper’s antics are not just embarrassing; they are appalling.

The most clear evidence that Piper just doesn’t “get it” is how he tries use an analogy from the life of George Washington to harmonize God’s alleged sincerity that all be saved with God’s unconditional decree to create multitudes of people outside the orbit of his redemptive intentions. (Which is to say God created them for the purpose of damning them). Borrowing from fellow Calvinist, Robert L. Dabney, he writes at length,

“The way I would give an account of this is explained by Robert L. Dabney in an essay written over a hundred years ago. His treatment is very detailed and answers many objections that go beyond the limits of this chapter. I will simply give the essence of his solution which seems to me to be on the right track, though he, as well as I, would admit we do not “furnish an exhaustive explanation of this mystery of the divine will.”

Dabney uses an analogy from the life of George Washington taken from Chief-Justice Marshall’s Life of Washington. A certain Major André had jeopardized the safety of the young nation through “rash and unfortunate” treasonous acts. Marshall says of the death warrant, signed by Washington, “Perhaps on no occasion of his life did the commander-in-chief obey with more reluctance the stern mandates of duty and of policy.” Dabney observes that Washington’s compassion for André was “real and profound”. He also had “plenary power to kill or to save alive.” Why then did he sign the death warrant? Dabney explains, “Washington’s volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation [the wide-angle lens].”

Dabney imagines a defender of André, hearing Washington say, “I do this with the deepest reluctance and pity.” Then the defender says, “Since you are supreme in this matter, and have full bodily ability to throw down that pen, we shall know by your signing this warrant that your pity is hypocritical.” Dabney responds to this by saying, “The petulance of this charge would have been equal to its folly. The pity was real, but was restrained by superior elements of motive. Washington had official and bodily power to discharge the criminal, but he had not the sanctions of his own wisdom and justice.” The corresponding point in the case of divine election is that “the absence of volition in God to save does not necessarily imply the absence of compassion.” God has “a true compassion, which is yet restrained, in the case of the . . . non-elect, by consistent and holy reasons, from taking the form of a volition to regenerate.” God’s infinite wisdom regulates his whole will and guides and harmonizes (not suppresses) all its active principles.” In other words, God has a real and deep compassion for perishing sinners.”

If Piper really thinks Dabney’s analogy of Washington bears any essential relevancy to a God who has determined everything people do, and then punishes them for doing the very acts he unconditionally engineered for them, then Piper is hopelessly mired in self-delusion. Ether that or he is again shamefully ignoring, if not intentionally concealing, the most controversial elements of his perspective from public view. In seeking to harmonize the biblical witness of God’s sincere desire that “all come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved” (1 Tim 2:4) with his Calvinist views, Piper shamefully leaves out the most central pillar of his theology— total, unmitigated divine determinism.

If the analogy were to really reflect the central issue that makes Piper’s Two-Wills view so controversial, we would need to import the central caveat that General Washington decreed and ordered Major Andre’s to commit the same treasonous acts for which he is put to death. In fact, we would need to stipulate that Washington made it impossible for Major Andre to do anything other than follow through with an official edict to act in a manner treasonous to his nation. Whereupon Major Andre acts in a manner exactly consistent with Washington’s orders, he is subsequently condemned to death by Washington for acting contrary to the interests of his nation, though consistent with Washington’s prior decree. Now imagine how utterly absurd it would be to suggest Washington signed Major Andre’s death warrant with a sincere sense of wishing Major Andre had done otherwise than what Washington determined he do. Consider how morally absurd it would be to suggest Washington had “a real and deep compassion” for Major Andre’s welfare, and could have released him, but chose not to because the “sanctions of his own wisdom and justice” acted as “superior elements of motive” and dictated that Major Andre be condemned to death for committing the very acts masterminded and prearranged by none other than Washington himself.

Given that Washington did not preordain and determine Major Andre treasonous acts, we can rightly say Washington possessed a sincere desire to extend compassion even though higher motives of justice trumped that desire and ultimate led to Washington’s decision to reluctantly condemn Major Andre to death. Washington’s emotional state was truly complex because he was not the author and determiner of Major Andre’s treasonous acts.

It is not simply a matter of the analogy falling short; it is a matter of the analogy having no analogous reference point whatsoever. Though Piper appears to recognize some inherent problems with the analogy he flippantly pushes them aside saying,

“Dabney is aware that several kinds of objections can be raised against the analogy of George Washington as it is applied to God. He admits that “no analogy can be perfect between the actions of a finite and the infinite intelligence and will.” Yet I think he is right to say that the objections do not overthrow the essential truth that there can be, in a noble and great heart (even a divine heart), sincere compassion for a criminal that is nevertheless not set free.”

Did you see again how Piper refuses to own up to the true nature of his own theology? When have Arminians ever argued against Calvinism on the basis that God doesn’t possess a noble heart and can’t feel sincere compassion on criminals, rebels and sinners that are nonetheless judged and condemned for their sins? Never. Piper is again playing hide and seek. The argument from Arminianism is that it is inconsistent and morally absurd to state God has sincere compassion on sinners, genuinely desiring their salvation, while simultaneously insisting that God (behind the scenes) unconditionally determined every one of their sins and intentionally withholds from them the very salvation he allegedly desires they receive.

Not only does the analogy lack relevancy over the fact that Washington was not acting deterministically upon Major Andre, (as Piper’s God acts on us) it creates more questions than answers. For example of Washington’s complex situation, Piper quotes Dabney as saying,

“Washington’s volition to sign the death-warrant of André did not arise from the fact that his compassion was slight or feigned, but from the fact that it was rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation [the wide-angle lens].”

Piper is broadly arguing that God’s desire for all to be saved and his desire to have compassion on those he has unconditionally predetermined for hell is nonetheless a sincere desire in the same way Washington’s compassion was not a feigned compassion because it was counterbalanced by higher considerations or “superior judgments,” such as duty, patriotism and moral indignation. Fine, all well and good. But when it comes to God, what “superior judgments” does God have that Piper has in mind? For if God’s highest consideration is his own glory, and Piper thinks God predetermined all things according to his “wide-angle lens” to maximize his glory, then in what sense can God have any sincere desire for something to occur that runs counter to maximizing his glory? In Piper’s view, if God chooses not to save people, it can only be because to save them would have put in jeopardy his highest aim to maximize his own glory. So does Piper think God sincerely desires what is counterproductive to his own glory? Piper additionally notes that Washington’s decision to condemn Major Andre to death was born out of serious “reluctance.”

But once again there is absolutely no reference point for divine “reluctance” of any kind to exist in Piper’s Two-Wills view. Piper can’t say God reluctantly wills anything, because he holds that all good and evil was predetermined by God to further his own glory and “form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity… [that] he does delight in…” Does Piper think God reluctantly glorifies himself or reluctantly delights in his own glory? That we even need to ask the question is to once again discover the hollow reasoning of Piper’s Two- Wills view. Piper concludes his remarks with another fallacious, inexcusable false dilemma:

“Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; Romans 9:22-23).”

Piper’s attempt to define the chief difference between Arminianism and Calvinism as a choice between free-will and God’s glory is a product of theological arrogance rooted in the deformed axiom that God’s glory is synonymous with God’s decree of all sin and evil. Moreover, it only goes to show how far removed Piper’s concept of divine glory is from divine goodness. Make no mistake, there is a choice, but it is a choice between a God who sincerely loves sinners both in word and deed and a God who feigns love and does everything in his power to cut men off from his redemptive affection and intention.

Piper says he believes in the universal premise of John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4. God loves all people and wants all people to be saved, yet he holds God refuses to act on that love. Therein is why the Calvinist God is foreign to a biblical portrait of God. The Bible says we “should not love in word only, but also in deed” (1 John 3:18). It is unconscionable that God “who is love” (1 John 4:8) would be content to love countless people in word only—without deed. Actually, in Calvinism, God was quite busy and active with many deeds to ensure that he would never love them. He intentionally created them in order to fulfill his own prior desire to damn a certain set number of people to hell for his glory. He intentionally reprobated them, cut them off from saving grace and determined every one of their sins before they were born. He intentionally placed them outside the orbit of his redemptive love, refused to die for their sins and purposely deprived them the hope of Calvary. When you think about it, he did not just “pass over them.” He was quite busy engineering and ensuring their damnation.

The chief distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism that Piper is trying to highlight would be better put as follows: Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) God’s will to save all people is restrained by his own sovereign decision to create man with self-determination and moral responsibility or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God’s will to save is constrained by his own sovereign decree to thwart himself and work against his sincere will to save all.

However, to put it in those terms would be to flirt too close to the truth and reveal the utter nonsense of a view that collapses into a divine contrariety rather than merely divine complexity. Hence Piper falls back on the old Calvinist playbook strategy of ignoring rational implications and recasting the debate in category terms that make one feel to question the merits Calvinism is to put God’s glory in jeopardy and opt for a man-centered theology.

If there is any lingering doubt that Piper thinks God has unconditionally and irresistibly determined all sin and evil, it is done away with in his following closing remark,

“I do not find in the Bible that human beings have the ultimate power of self-determination. As far as I can tell it is a philosophical inference based on metaphysical presuppositions.”

Think about what he has just said. For Piper to say he sees no evidence in Scripture that God has granted man the power of self-determination, is to say that man ultimately does nothing except what God causally determined he do. It means every God-dishonoring sin recorded in Scripture, every act of humanity that provoked God’s anger and every perverse temptation of the devil are all acts that God previously conceived in his sovereign holiness and causally brings about via the engineered instrumentality of passive objects called humans. The writers of Scripture never felt pressed to insert a robust, philosophical defense of human self-determination into the Bible because they assume it everywhere. Unlike Piper, they were fully aware that humanity and God collapse into moral absurdity if men and women, as Calvin argued, “do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what he has previously decreed with himself, and brings to pass by his secret direction.”

William Lane Craig again rightly dissects the farcical nonsense of Calvinism’s commitment to theological determinism as follows:

“Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce. On the deterministic view, the whole world becomes a vain and empty spectacle. There are no free agents in rebellion against God, whom God seeks to win through His love, and no one who freely responds to that love and freely gives his love and praise to God in return. The whole spectacle is a charade whose only real actor is God Himself. Far from glorifying God, the deterministic view, I’m convinced, denigrates God for engaging in a such a farcical charade. It is deeply insulting to God to think that He would create beings which are in every respect causally determined by Him and then treat them as though they were free agents, punishing them for the wrong actions He made them do or loving them as though they were freely responding agents. God would be like a child who sets up his toy soldiers and moves them about his play world, pretending that they are real persons whose every motion is not in fact of his own doing and pretending that they merit praise or blame.”[47]

Piper would like us to think that the murky inconsistencies that arise out of his Two-Wills View are merely reflections of a God whose nature is complex and mysterious. But when we strip out all the oratory and eloquent speechmaking, we are left with little that invites consideration. For if God has unilaterally determined everything that occurs then nothing is complex. Divine simplification would be the rule of the cosmos because there would only be one decisive will operating in the universe for evil and against evil; for God and against God; for good and against good— God’s will.

Moreover all alleged mystery is removed if all the decisions and judgments of life are traced back to an all-encompassing, irresistible decree. The true mystery then becomes: Is God good? For if God’s nature decreed all acts of evil for the sake of manifesting divine glory, then how can we be sure God’s nature and glory is good? Moreover, as has already been argued, if God’s nature truly is good and can do no evil, and yet God’s nature decreed all evil, then it would mean the very contrast to good (i.e. evil) was itself conceived and determined by God’s good nature. What then can Piper point to as an objective evil from God’s decretive perspective?


[47] Craig, William Lane: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism