[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 4 is included in this post.]
Critique 4: IS THE GLORY OF THE CROSS JESUS DYING FOR SINS OR THE PREDETERMINATIONS OF THE FATHER? DOES THE PREDESTINED DEATH OF CHRIST FOR SIN SERVE AS EVIDENCE GOD PREDETERMINED ALL SIN?
I quote Piper at length:
“The most compelling example of God’s willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was a morally evil act inspired immediately by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet in Acts 2:23 Luke says, “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan (boule) and foreknowledge of God.” The betrayal was sin, and it involved the instrumentality of Satan; but it was part of God’s ordained plan. That is, there is a sense in which God willed the delivering up of his Son, even though the act was sin.
Moreover Herod’s contempt for Jesus (Luke 23:11) and Pilate’s spineless expediency (Luke 23:24) and the Jews’ “Crucify! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21) and the Gentile soldiers’ mockery (Luke 23:36) were also sinful attitudes and deeds. Yet in Acts 4:27-28 Luke expresses his understanding of the sovereignty of God in these acts by recording the prayer of the Jerusalem saints:
Truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people’s of Israel to do whatever thy hand and thy plan (boule) had predestined to take place.
Herod, Pilate, the soldiers and Jewish crowds lifted their hand to rebel against the Most High only to find that their rebellion was unwitting (sinful) service in the inscrutable designs of God.”
At the outset Piper fudges on using straightforward, clear language to establish his point that God has two wills (“wills” that are unquestionably split along conflicting moral lines). When Piper couches his view in terms of “God willing sin to come to pass” it is easy to assume Piper means God is permitting sin to come about freely but intends to use it for good. But that is not what Piper means at all. Whenever Piper says, “God wills that sin come to pass” he means that God divinely determined that sin occur and nothing is going to stop his decree from rendering it certain that man sin in exactly the manner God conceived and decreed they ought to sin. This is no minor point and we must always keep this at the forefront of our minds because, as we will see time and again, it makes many of Piper’s scriptural examples ultimately meaningless and absurd.
It is quite odd that Piper’s first salvo to prove God determinatively willed all sin is to point to the atoning death of Christ for all sins. That should be our first red flag that something is amiss and everything that follows is likewise out of alignment with the breadth of Scripture. That being said, Piper is not alone in looking to the predestined death of Christ for all sins as an anchor point to subsequently assert God unconditionally willed all sins. To argue in this manner is right out of the playbook of Calvinism and has a deeply rooted history. But just because something has a long history doesn’t mean it has amassed credibility.
Unless one is already doing theology within a self-enclosed echo chamber, where meticulous, exhaustive determinism is the only voice that can be heard, it is inane to think one can point to the crucifixion and assume they have good grounds to hold that God must have also determinatively predestined child-sex trafficking, murder, rape and spousal abuse—the very evils Christ sought to atone for and overcome in death.
To attempt to highlight the crucifixion of our Lord as a hermeneutical perch to sit upon whereby we can cast God’s determinative ordination net into the world and “catch” every sin and every sordid evil event of world history is an insult to the cross and wide of the mark. Put simply, to view the one-act that removed the sin of the world as the hermeneutical key to justify how God could have ordained all the sordid sin of that world, is an exegetical leap that is unwarranted and misconceived. It is undoubtedly absurd to think the one-act of God to remove all sin in the world is “a most compelling example” of evidence that God determined and decreed all the sin of that world!
It is furthermore ridiculous to assume that every demonic temptation towards sin and scheme of the devil that God seeks to deliver us from has its ultimate origin of conception in the holy mind of God and his eternal decree. Jesus rebuked such foolishness long ago when he rhetorically asked, “Can a kingdom be divided against itself stand?” (Matt 12:25). Lest his theology fall like a house of cards, Piper cannot concede even one sinful act of man or Satan arising independent of God’s prior divine conception and decree. How can we trust in God’s opposition to sin if he previously decreed all our sins? That this very mentality has become a staple diet of thought and an indispensable doctrine of many in the church is not just bizarre, it is concerning. One of the devil’s main schemes, going all the way back to the garden, has always been to bring into question God’s trustworthy character.
That being said it is only fair that we address in greater detail Piper’s underlying confidence in viewing the death of Christ as evidence for just that view. The related texts Piper points to only require us to understand that by God’s “predetermined plan and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23) Christ was “delivered over” to “wicked men” to carry out their own wicked intentions—intentions that are fully known to God. It bears repeating that the event of the crucifixion was predestined—not the evil motives and characters of those involved. That is where most Calvinists get tripped up.
God can use to his own advantage his knowledge of people’s evil character and intention and exploit them to fulfill certain predestined ends— like the betrayal and crucifixion of his Son. That is to say God can override the wicked character of people— not by decreeing that they occur— but by exploiting them for his own purposes.
Piper erroneously thinks God needed to have exhaustively and meticulously predetermined all the means in order to reach a predetermined end. As such Piper wrongfully assumes God had to predetermine certain persons to have a certain evil character to do certain things to arrive at a certain, predetermined end (i.e. Christ’s betrayal and death). But this just doesn’t follow.
When Piper reads that Herod, Pilate and certain Jews “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:28) ” he unpacks his Calvinistic presuppositions in toto and automatically (and mistakenly) assumes that Herod, Pilate and others must have had their individual, wicked character causally determined via God’s irresistible decrees in order to guarantee the crucifixion. His entire case rests on this assumption. Otherwise his view would be no different from the Arminian view that God can exploit the self-chosen, un-decreed character of people to bring about a decreed end.
Jacob Arminius, a brilliant theologian much maligned and hardly read by most Calvinists, astutely recognized early on the principal assumption that was driving the Calvinist’s error of interpretation. He wrote:
“God, indeed, ‘determined before’ that death should be inflicted on Christ by them. But in what character did God consider them when He ‘determined before’ that this should be done by them? In that character, surely, which they had at the time when they inflicted death upon Christ, that is, in the character of sworn enemies of Christ, of obstinate enemies and despisers of God and the truth, who could be led to repentance by no admonitions, prayers, threats or miracles; who wished to inflict every evil on Christ, if they could only obtain the power over him, which they often sought in vain.”
In other words Arminius rightly understood God could have sovereignly arranged Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to occur when it did— knowing it would naturally force the hand of the Jewish ruling authorities who hated and despised him, and the Roman authorities who feared them, to respond in a manner resulting in Christ’s crucifixion.
Piper’s first example not only fails to convince, it is an insult to the glorious saving mission of Christ to die for sins. The glory of the cross is the love and obedience of the Son dying for our sins, not dying for the predeterminations of the Father.
 Works of Arminius—Allegation 3. See: http://www.godrules.net/library/arminius/arminius198.htm
 It is worth nothing that the two, most often repeated examples (Jesus’s death and Joseph being sold into slavery) Calvinists look to in order to bolster their view that God determinatively decreed all the evil choices of all men—have an obvious saving purpose in view. In both the case of Joseph in Egypt and Jesus being crucified, God is acting in a unique fashion to bring about a divine saving purpose for humanity. Why these texts would be used to justify God predetermined all the insidious, God defying, human ensnaring evil in our world is beyond me. But more important it is beyond God.