The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s “Two-Wills” View (Part 30, Appendix)

, 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. The appendix is included in this post, which is the last installment.]


APPENDIX: IS GOD’S ALLOWANCE OF SIN THE SAME AS GOD’S DECREE OF SIN? IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN ARMINIANISM AND CALVINISM JUST SEMANTICS?

Calvinists have traditionally gotten a lot of mileage out of trying to divest Arminianism of its moral high ground by suggesting there is no difference between God allowing evil to occur and God decreeing evil to occur. To assume that such a summation is correct can only be proposed by a Calvinist who is shut in and closed off to any sense of meaning outside his or her own theological echo chamber. There is no greater example of such an individual (on this point) than Jonathan Edwards, and no greater pupil more enamored with Edwards’ theological echo chamber then Piper. He commences his argument as follows:

“In ordering all things, including sinful acts, God is not sinning. For as Jonathan Edwards says, “It implies no contradiction to suppose that an act may be an evil act, and yet that it is a good thing that such an act should come to pass. . . As for instance, it might be an evil thing to crucify Christ, but yet it was a good thing that the crucifying of Christ came to pass.” In other words the Scriptures lead us to the insight that God can will that a sinful act come to pass without willing it as an act of sin in himself. Edwards points out that Arminians, it seems, must come to a similar conclusion.”

Not surprisingly Piper fudges on unfurling the true nature of universal, divine determinism. He is shrewd enough to appreciate how full disclosure would render his example of Christ’s predestined death for sin meaningless. For in Piper’s view all the sins Christ died for are the very sins God determined humans must do. As such Piper is forced to hold the inane idea that Christ was crucified for the unconditional predeterminations of God’s will, not really sins contrary to God’s will. It was indeed “a good thing that the crucifixion of Christ come to pass” but that is because humans needed forgiveness for acting in ways contrary to God’s will—not in concert with God’s will. We have already noted the theological nonsense of thinking the one act of God to remove all sin in the world is evidence that God determined and decreed all the sin of that world.

Although we have previously dealt at length with the predestined death of Christ and the overreach of Calvinism to exploit it as an example of God decreeing sin, it necessary that we briefly return to it since Piper repeats an underlying misunderstanding of how the Scriptures speak of the crucifixion. Piper argues to crucify Christ “might be an evil thing…but yet it was a good thing” and that God can “will that a sinful act come to pass without willing it as an act of sin in himself.” He then wrongly writes that Arminians must hold the same, stating, “Edwards points out that Arminians, it seems, must come to a similar conclusion.”

What can be said of this? For starters Arminians do not believe that God can “will that a sinful act come to pass”—at least not any sense that a Calvinist would define “will” (i.e. God’s irresistible decree). Rather Arminians hold that God can will to allow a sinful act to come to pass and exploit such sin for his purposes.

Secondly, the Calvinist position Piper holds to can hardly be accurately defined as simply God’s will for acts of sin to “come to pass.” That is another attempt on the part of Piper to neuter the language of divine determinism. Piper really holds all acts of sin must occur necessarily since all acts of sin were divinely determined to occur irresistibly. To say acts of necessity anchored in God’s decree merely “come to pass” is to a gross, misleading understatement of Piper’s true beliefs.

Thirdly, that Christ was predestined to suffer and die to redeem mankind from sin is in no way, shape or form “an evil thing…yet a good thing” as Piper tries to argue. It was only a good thing. Piper is confusing (1) the predestination of Christ’s suffering for sin and the laying down his life in love, with (2) the wicked characters and acts of persons whose sinful characters God exploited to bring about the good of Christ’s redemption.

It has been argued in a previous section that God does no wrong in exploiting the characters and actions of wicked persons to carry out his purpose that His son be crucified. Notice he didn’t use Joseph of Aramithea or Nathaniel or Mary. God was sufficiently sovereign enough and wise enough to accomplish the predestined death of his Son by arranging certain conditions and exploiting the free choices of wicked persons, such that he didn’t need to pre-program them via divine fiat. [50] For example, Christ’s triumphal entrance in Jerusalem astride a donkey and Christ’s radical act of cleansing the temple were two critical events that God undoubtedly knew would arouse the jealousy and hatred of the religious establishment and lead to Christ’s arrest and subsequent crucifixion.

Fourthly, when Piper’s true opinions on divine determinism are fully exhibited we discover all acts of sin do not simply “come to pass,” as if they are divorced from God’s nature. Instead they are specifically conceived by God’s mind and decreed by God’s nature to occur—for it is impossible that we can split God’s decrees from God’s nature. As such Piper has zero grounds to define his view as God decreeing sin “without willing it as an act of sin in himself.” Just because Piper has a myopic propensity to not own up to the logical implications of his view doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Since every act of sin originates in God’s mind, then “willing it as an act of sin in himself” is exactly what Piper’s view dictates. God’s mind is the ultimate source for all sin and evil according to Piper.

Not realizing his previous argument is riddled with problems that do not confront the Arminian, Piper proceeds to give the honors to Edwards to put Arminianism in its proper place—which for both men is the charge that God’s will to permit sin (Arminianism) is no different that God’s will to unconditionally decree sin (Calvinism). He quotes Edwards to this effect as follows,

“All must own that God sometimes wills not to hinder the breach of his own commands, because he does not in fact hinder it . . . But you will say, God wills to permit sin, as he wills the creature should be left to his freedom; and if he should hinder it, he would offer violence to the nature of his own creature. I answer, this comes nevertheless to the very same thing that I say. You say, God does not will sin absolutely; but rather than alter the law of nature and the nature of free agents, he wills it. He wills what is contrary to excellency in some particulars, for the sake of a more general excellency and order. So that the scheme of the Arminians does not help the matter.”

This is Piper’s most serious contention (via Edwards), and it deserves a thoughtful reply. But before we do that let us be even more generous to Edwards and allow him further space to expound on his wild claim that God’s will to permit men and women the liberty to misuse their God-given freedom (i.e. to sin) amounts “to the same thing” as saying God causally determines (via irresistible decrees) the sin of every person. Edwards explicates his view further,

“Whether God has decreed all things that ever came to pass or not, all that own the being of a God own that he knows all things beforehand. Now it is self-evident that if he knows all things beforehand, he either does approve of them, or he does not approve of them: that is, he either is willing they should be, or he is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be, is to decree them…. Their [Arminians] other objection is that God’s decrees make God the author of sin. I answer that there is no more necessity of supposing God the author of sin, on this scheme, than on the other…. they hold the same thing, for they hold that God does determine beforehand to permit all the sin that does come to pass, and that he certainly knows that if he does permit it, it will come to pass… they make him so in the very same way that they charge us with doing it.” [51]

There is no doubt that Edwards was a man of towering intelligence. So it is all the more surprising to see him unable to parse the difference between God allowing free acts, for the sake of retaining a world of meaningful human decision, and God unilaterally engineering and determining all acts. Rather than blithely assuming Arminianism and Calvinism is a distinction without a difference, let us more carefully and responsibly explore the great difference between them.

To begin we need to recall that Calvinism sees God’s decrees as unconditional expressions of God’s sovereign pleasure, owing themselves to nothing beyond God’s sovereign delight. Therefore, it is safe to say that in Calvinism God’s decrees are what God wants to see happen. As such when any Calvinist speaks of God “decreeing” something, it is to say God “wanted it to be that way” and not another way. So when Edwards speaks of God “willing things to be” he is interpreting God’s willing in terms of God’s approval of how God “wants things to be” and not any another way. This presupposition of Calvinist thought, and Edwards thinking in particular, is the key error that disqualifies Edward’s remarks as being an accurate analysis of the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism. His error is evident in how he tries to describe why certain things occur, saying God “either does approve of them, or he does not approve of them.” Edwards is setting up a false dichotomy. He wants to define and restrict the distinction as a choice between God “approving of” or “not approving of” a particular action, or better put, “wanting all sin to occur” or “not wanting all sin to occur.” Setting it up in this (false) way allows him to argue that if God knows all things beforehand, and yet wills to permit the sin of X to occur, than it must always mean God eternally “approved of” or “wanted the sin” of X to occur.

Edwards completely fails to comprehend there is a middle alternative between God “willing things to be” and “not willing things to be,” and that is God can “reluctantly will to permit things to be.” That is to say God can reluctantly allow sin and disobedience to occur, even though he hates it; not because he secretly wanted it, conceived it and willed to determine it before the world began, but because he wills not to abort his own sovereign intention to create men and women free and therefore capable of genuine love, worship and obedience. For in his sovereign wisdom God knew there had to exist a genuine freedom for persons to choose against love, against obedience and against worship, if the choice to love, to obey and to worship were to be maximally meaningful. Moreover, though God could coercively manipulate our every thought, desire and choice and thereby forestall and prevent all evil, he has sovereignly chosen not to act in such a manner in order to achieve the higher purpose of creating creatures capable of a significant decree of moral good. Alvin Plantinga accurately sums it up as follows:

“Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”[52]

The choice before us is far more than semantics, as Edwards would have us believe. The choice before us is to either believe the Arminian position:

  • God sovereignly determined beforehand to endow human beings with significant moral freedom, thereby decreeing to permit the foreknown possibility (not divine decree) that evils will occur.

Or to believe the Calvinist position:

  • God unconditionally decreed every choice human beings make, thereby rendering every evil choice certain, if not necessary, in accordance with his eternal pleasure.

Let’s break down this critical distinction pragmatically to see why it is unreasonable for the Calvinist to try and amalgamate Arminian language of “allowance” with Calvinist language of “decree.” It is self-evident that there exists a difference between allowing someone to do X and decisively controlling or constraining their wills to do X through an irresistible decree. Certainly a Calvinist would not say a father allowing his son to disobey him is the same as determining or manipulating his son to irresistibly disobey him.

It is not difficult to envision a scenario where a father is able to anticipate with a high decree of accuracy when and how his son will disobey him. And even though it is obviously not the father’s will that his son disobey him, the father wisely knows that part of his son’s healthy, moral development requires that his son have the freedom to disobey his will. That doesn’t mean that the son has the freedom to avoid the father’s consequences afterwards, but it does mean that his development would be stunted and stultified if the father had placed electrodes on his brain to re-orient his behavior every time he anticipated his son’s disobedience. Certainly a Calvinist would also agree that allowing one’s son to disobey a command to not touch a hot stove, in order to learn the painful consequences of disobedience, is functionally different than grabbing his hand and forcing it upon the hot stove. Right?

And I certainly hope a Calvinist would concede that parental discipline is cruel, brutal and unjust if a father were to somehow (mysteriously) determine every one of his children’s acts of disobedience just so he can punish them later for doing the very things he wanted them to do. Yet Calvinism posits such a cosmic Father. Within a Calvinist worldview God punishes people for thinking and doing the very evil acts he unconditionally conceived for them and determined they commit before he even conceived of them as fallen sinners. In such a theological paradigm God’s morality is rendered unintelligible, and at minimum takes on the moral equivalence of an abusive, abominable father—if not the devil himself.

I readily admit God could have chosen to create a world where everything we think, desire, say and do flows out of God’s exhaustive decrees before the world began (including who is a Calvinist and who isn’t). But God also knew that in such a world we would be reduced to nothing more than pre-programmed pets merely responding to divine stimuli and possessing the illusion of freedom.

As we noted above, God understood that if true worship and genuine love were to be maximally meaningful and significant, it meant the choice to not worship and to not love must also be genuinely available. This is not some metaphysical mystery. Ask almost any woman who is married and she will tell you that the love her husband has for her is especially meaningful to her, given that his choice of her was itself a conscious rejection of all other available women. If his choice to marry her was causally determined and forced on him by a will other than his own, and every second thereafter he is also being forced irresistibly to remain in the marriage, then his choice to marry her and remain married to her would no doubt be far less meaningful to her. Therein is the key to understanding God’s relational, creative intentions. In granting mankind a genuine, indeterminate freedom God was in pursuit of a meaningful world not a controlled laboratory. Calvinism ultimately reduces love and hate to nothing more than God loving himself and hating himself in virtue of the fact that God decreed who will love him and who will not—and did so irresistibly.

So yes, in an Arminian view God can allow evils to occur, and yet not be the conceptual origin and author of those evils, as Calvinism logically implies. For we will recall no Calvinist to date has been able to parse the difference between God’s mind being the conceptual origin of decreed evil and God’s mind being the conceptual author of those decreed evils. Moreover in an Arminian view, God can also prevent anything if he so wills. Arminians have always said the argument is never about “CAN God?” but “WOULD God?” There is a vast difference between the two that gets muddled in the Calvinist view due to construing sovereignty only in terms of sheer power. This results in other sovereign considerations getting lost. Though Arminians believe God possesses the sheer power to act coercively upon every will to ensure total obedience, we have always said the larger question is would God desire to act in this coercive manner and thereby undermine his own sovereign pleasure that men and women be endowed with limited, yet genuine powers of self-determination?

Since it is self-evident that we are free creatures and that evil exists, we can reasonably and Scripturally conclude that the counsel of God was to not constrain our wills coercively and thereby limit our movements as one does a marionette on a string. It cannot be stated enough that in allowing evil and sin, God is actually allowing his own sovereign creational intention to be realized—which is a world permeated with beings morally capable of both good and evil.

Though God wars against evil and seeks to influentially persuade his people from committing evil, God refuses to abort one sovereign intention to fulfill another. God will not override his own sovereign intention that human beings be free in order to prohibit humans from misusing the very freedom He sovereignly chose to bestow upon them. God could only prevent all evil by countermanding his sovereign decision to create man free.

For Calvinists, like Edwards and Piper, to insist the Arminian position (God allows the foreknown possibility of moral evil) is the same as the Calvinist position (God determinatively decrees moral evil) evinces a stubborn refusal to concede there exists a critical distinction between the making of X possible and the making of X actual. In creating a world populated with free creatures God creates the possibility for evils to occur, but it is through our free wills that human beings actualize those possibilities. Hence God’s foreknowledge does not act deterministically upon our wills because our choice to actualize one possibility over another is what informs God’s foreknowledge–not the other way around. Calvinism inverts this and says God’s foreknowledge of human decision is informed by his exhaustive determinative decrees that render our decisions not just possible, but actual. It is that critical error that makes God responsible for moral evil in a Calvinistic paradigm. In an Arminian paradigm, God is only responsible for creating a world where moral evil is rendered possible, but not actual. Once again the sovereign wisdom of God understood that he could only remove all possibilities for evil to occur by removing our freedom and countermanding his own sovereign decision to endow us with free moral agency.

That is not to say God is helpless in the face of evil. At every turn God is willing and prepared to exploit and usurp the evil intentions of men and Satan and bring good out of them. But we must be careful here. Though God has purposes that can override the purposes of evil, that does not mean God purposed every sin and scheme of Satan in order to reach those redemptive purposes. It simply means God can conditionally “cause all things to work for good, to those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

One more point bears mentioning. On many occasions and in various forms I have been asked the following question by Calvinists: “But if God has an overarching purpose that can exploit and override the purposes of evil— even the Devil’s schemes— so that ‘everything works out for the good for those that love God and are called according to his purpose,’ why is the Calvinist position to be so disdained simply because it says God foreordained all sin and evil, including the Devil’s schemes, in order that he might glorify himself over them? Isn’t there greater comfort as a Calvinist knowing that the very evils that come his way and the very sins he commits in life were purposed and decreed by God, rather than sinful events God must respond to as the Arminian holds?”

Once again there is a great difference that must be highlighted. I find most Calvinists are actually Arminians in mind and heart on the basis that many have simply not thought through the true ramifications and implications of Calvinist theology. When evil or some affliction does occur, the comfort the Arminian has is that while God may not have desired or decreed that the evil of X come our way, God has the power to usurp that evil and overrule it’s intended affects (whether it stems from Satan, others or ourself) and bring good out of it.

For example, let’s say an individual commits adultery against his wife and she then divorces him and marries another man. The husband might find himself to later be repentant and broken over his sin, but sadly it is too late to be restored in marriage to his wife. She has gone on to marry another man. Does that mean his life is over? Should he hang himself? No—as a repentant Christian he can find comfort in knowing that while God might not have determinatively willed (privately decreed) that he commit the sin of adultery, God can still use it to bring good into his life. Perhaps he will find himself in a ministry that helps other men recover from divorce, or perhaps he will find contentment and joy in singleness by serving the “least of these” in ways that were never afforded to him before as a married person. There are countless ways God can overrule the affects of our own sin for good, but of course it requires our humility and repentance. That is why the Bible mentions a significant condition for God to bring good out of evil: “…to those that love God…” That is to say it requires that we have a right response ourselves. If we become embittered and hateful towards God in the face of disappointment, evil or affliction, we are not “those that love God” and therefore we rob ourselves of his sovereign power to redeem and “cause all things to work for good.”

This is a wonderful and powerful truth that provides believers with warning and comfort. However, in Calvinism all this is annulled and abolished. Let’s pretend you—the reader—are the husband highlighted above. Once you understand that God wanted, chose and rendered certain your choice to commit adultery against your wife, you realize your sin was nothing less than, to adopt Piper’s euphemistic verbiage, another one of God’s preordained “connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic… with all its (good and evil) parts he does delight in.” Consequently you can absolve yourself of guilt by reckoning your own actions as being one and the same with God’s own decretive will to acquire the portrait of history he is painting. How wonderful and alleviating it must be to logically come to grips with the fact that you ultimately had no choice to do otherwise except “delight” God with your adultery. Now this is where the glaring inconsistency of Calvinism emerges. It is one thing to believe it as a theological brute fact of life, and another thing to apply it practically in ministry. I have no doubt the majority of Calvinist pastors would seek to comfort a father who just lost his job as being “God’s hidden, (decreed) will.” But I am equally sure the majority of Calvinist pastors would never try to comfort a father who just committed adultery as being “God’s hidden will…he does delight in.”

But why not? After all, it would be the same thing, would it not? Ultimately all things are traced back to God’s private will of decree and integrated into his alleged sovereign determinations.

So the distinction is quite obvious. An Arminian can find true comfort in knowing there is a functional difference between a theology that says God can bring good out of our sin, and a theology that says God determined our sin in order to bring about those good purposes. The latter of course being the unadulterated theology of Piper’s Calvinism.

For instance Piper states, “Everything that exists–including evil–is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly.” [53]

And again, “He wills that evil come to pass that good may come of it.” [54]

Not surprisingly Piper’s comments above reflect the echo of his sincere, yet misguided mentor, Jonathan Edwards, who likewise argued that God “willed to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good.” [55]

However, to say God unilaterally purposed evil “for the sake” of bringing about good is exactly what we cannot say about good and evil since Scripture manifestly forbids it. The Scriptures reject as slander any notion of moral virtue that would suggest such a theodicy. For instance Paul argues:

“But if by my lie God’s truth is amplified to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, just as some people slanderously claim we say, ‘Let us do what is evil so that good may come’? Their condemnation is deserved!” (Rom 3:7-8).

As is clear Paul condemns as reprehensible slander any notion of moral virtue that would willfully determine evil happen so that good can come— even if such good is God’s glory being amplified in a context of evil.

Yet Piper would have us believe that the ultimate reason evil exists is directly correspondent with a theodicy that anchors God’s moral perfection into a determinative sovereignty that rendered certain every murder, rape, sexual depravity and God-dishonoring sin so that the good of his glory can be amplified and “shine more brightly.” In such a muddled, theological framework God’s moral nature becomes indistinguishable from evil itself.

If all of this weren’t enough Paul additionally argues in Romans 6:9 that we “should not sin so that grace may abound.” But Piper’s unflinching commitment to his preconceived assumptions and theological echo chamber causes him to irresponsibly disregard all of this and forge ahead with his dogmatic assertion that God determinatively rendered certain each person’s sins so that his grace and glory would abound.

The sum of the matter is as follows: The Bible is replete with accounts of God overruling the intentions of (un-decreed) evil and possessing authority and control over evil—in so far as we understand such control in terms of permitting free agency and exploiting the evils of this fallen world to bring about a possible good (including his judicial acts when the self-serving, wicked intentions of others can convene with his purpose to enact judgment on others). In this sense God, at all times, seeks to use, usurp and triumph over the evils of this world. And God often chooses to accomplish this in concert with our obedience to be co-laborers of his kingdom. Moreover his glory over evil is best understand in reference to his power to redeem the evils done against us—not conceptually author and decree them in the first place.

Piper and Edwards go far beyond the borders of Scripture and argue for a theological hermeneutic that asserts God divinely determined and rendered certain every sordid evil and perverse, God-dishonoring sin so that good and glory come. Their hermeneutic shipwrecks on the shore of Scriptures, and for the sake of all that is good and holy—the very character of God—let the splintered pieces lie where they lay never to be picked up again.


[50] A sovereignty that needed to pre-program every human decision to ensure a predestined end speaks of an insecure sovereignty; no different than a chess player needing to rig a match evinces insecurity in one’s wisdom and ability. Put simply a divine sovereignty that is intimidated by genuine, indeterminate human freedom is no sovereignty at all. Tozer said it best when he stated, “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.” See: Tozer, A.W., The Knowledge of the Holy, ch. 22. http://www.ntcg-aylesbury.org.uk/books/knowledge_of_the_holy.pdf

[51] Edwards, Jonathan,“Concerning The Divine Decrees In General, And Election In Particular” See: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/decrees_edwards.html

[52] Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 30.

[53] Piper, John. www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[54] Piper, John. www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[55] Edwards, Jonathan. Cited in: www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be