The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s “Two-Wills” View (Part 4)

, 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. Critiques 5 and 6 are included in this post.]


Critique 5: IS HATRED TOWARDS THE HARLOT OF REVELATION ANOTHER PROOF GOD SOVEREIGNLY DECREED ALL SIN?

Pipers’s second example is to bring up Revelation 17:16-17 where it states:

“And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the harlot; they will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and giving over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” To this Piper asserts:

“Without going into all the details of this passage, the relevant matter is clear. The beast “comes out of the abyss” (Revelation 17:18). He is the personification of evil and rebellion against God. The ten horns are ten kings (v. 12) and they “wage war against the Lamb” (v. 14). Waging war against the Lamb is sin and sin is contrary to the will of God… Therefore God willed (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they would do what is against his will (in another sense).”

Is Piper’s interpretation correct? Does this example in Revelation serve as critical evidence that God has unilaterally determined through decretive agency each and every evil throughout world history? Remember— that is what Piper must prove, for he rightly knows if he were to concede that just one act of wickedness did not originate in the divine decree of God, it would mean his understanding of God’s sovereignty is incorrect. And if his understanding of God’s sovereignty is incorrect then Calvinism’s entire house of cards collapses in a heap.

Fortunately for us Piper’s interpretation once again falls woefully short in proving his underlying assumption. There is no need to surrender to his dogmatic insistence that for the sake of glory, God’s righteous and holy character sovereignly conceived and decreed every act of moral filth and evil that occurs in our world. Firstly we need to recognize that Revelation is thoroughly allegorical and figurative in nature. It is not even clear individual people are in view. For example, the immoral harlot who is brought to desolation is not a woman, but is most likely a reference to a thoroughly corrupt world system elsewhere called Babylon. Secondly, verse 16 and its accompanying violence and disturbing imagery is specifically in relation to the ten kings and the beast hating, desolating, devouring and burning the wicked “harlot”—not the Lamb!

Piper’s quotation is somewhat confusing and seems to give the impression that when the text speaks of the ten kings being purposed by God to be of “one mind” to “make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire,” it is talking about the Lamb being the object of their scorn. But that is incorrect. It is the harlot. Piper appears to confuse these two when he subsequently states “waging war against the Lamb is sin…” But it is not hatred or destruction of the Lamb that is specifically in view in verse 16 but rather the harlot who is evil herself. As Ben Henshaw astutely explains:

“And what was that purpose? This is the key to understanding this passage. Verse 16 tells us what God was trying to accomplish: ‘And the ten horns [kings] which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.’ God put it into the hearts of the kings to be of one purpose with the beast to destroy the whore of Babylon. God was using the beast and the kings to exercise divine judgment on her (who probably represents the corrupt world system). So God put it in their hearts to do His will, which was to destroy Babylon (the great harlot). Was the destruction of Babylon a bad thing? No. It was a good thing for Babylon to be destroyed, an act of divine judgment, and it was that alone which God put into their hearts to accomplish. So God actually put it in their hearts to do a good thing, even if their intentions were not good!”[10]

It is the nature of evil to not only war against what is good, but to eventually turn inwardly against itself and reap the fruit of its own insidious, self-destructive morality (Ps. 7:14-16). God does not need to actively work such self-destructive hatred into the “ten kings” or the “beast” in line with some irresistible, eternal decree because the context makes it clear the “kings” had previously chosen of their own wills to align themselves against God and throw in their lot with the harlot by “committing sexual immorality with her” (vs. 3).

Consequently God purposes to coalesce their focus and attention towards the harlot and use them as his divine tool of judgment against immoral, obstinate wickedness much like he used wicked nations as a means to bring divine judgment on his own wicked people. If Piper is assuming God eternally and unconditionally decreed to irresistibly work sin and evil into the hearts of people, he is reading far too much of his theological spin into the phrase “God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose” (vs. 17).

Piper may contest that his view does not assume God unconditionally engineers or irresistibly works sin into people’s hearts, but only permits sin to occur for his own ends. But then why bring up this passage at all? After all Piper is trying to contrast his view with Arminianism, and the Arminian position is that God permits and exploits sin and does not does actively engineer it via irresistible, sovereign decrees.

Critique 6: WHAT DOES PIPER MEAN “GOD WILLS IN ONE SENSE WHAT IS AGAINST HIS WILL IN ANOTHER SENSE?” IS GOD’S MORAL WILL A COSMIC CHARADE SUBSERVIENT AT ALL POINTS TO GOD’S WILL OF DECREE?

We return again to Piper’s example of God allegedly predetermining sin in Revelation 17:16-17. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember again Piper’s primary goal in all of his examples is to eventually lead us to the controversial conclusion that God has purposely fabricated every evil in eternity past and has sovereignly put it in each person’s heart to carry out the evils he divinely determined they must commit. Yet notice again that Piper tries to shield his readers from discerning his underlying belief by intentionally softening his language and saying, “Therefore God willed (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they would do what is against his will (in another sense).”

What can be said of this?

Firstly, keep in mind that the specific purpose that God “put in their hearts to carry out” (Rev 17:17) is to bring judgment and ruin to the evil of the harlot Babylon. Far from being an evil purpose it is actually a good purpose, even though the manner in which it is carried out may involve self-chosen motives that are neither good nor divinely determined. This point alone makes Piper’s utilization of this passage for exhaustive divine determinism a non-starter.

Secondly, the way Piper pulls up short and re-couches his view of God’s universal decree of sin as nothing more than “God willing in one sensewhat is “against his will in another sense,” even an Arminian could agree with him! For Arminians would argue that the best interpretation “in one sense” would be to say God reluctantly willed[11] to confirm the “ten kings” in their own wickedness and give them over to their own freely chosen desire to throw in their lot with the Antichrist. Yet all the while God’s plan “in another sense” is to exploit their rebellion and use it towards the fulfillment of his own purpose to overthrow the harlot and judge a world of evil that he neither authored nor decreed.

We will see time and again how this intersection between God and evil disarms Piper’s hermeneutic and preserves both God’s character and sovereign decision to create man with a genuine, significant decree of self-determination.

Thirdly, Piper’s two-wills view contains no real distinction between “one sense” and “another sense” in matters that pertain to God’s will because unless God is internally confused and conflicted as to what he really wants, there is only one sense of God’s will— what he divinely determined! Everything else is just artificial posturing on the part of God. For in Piper’s view God decides, not us, when, where and how he wants his moral will to be violated. Hence any other alleged “sense” of God’s will is just insincere sentiments of pretension in light of the fact God has intentionally willed against his will—and did so from the start! To put it bluntly God wills to will what he has willed to not will.

Piper must either admit he is erecting his theology of “two wills” on an equivocation fallacy, adopting two fundamentally different meanings of the word “will,” or he needs to admit to positing an inexplicable, mysterious contrariety within the person of God. Alas the latter charge is exactly what he is seeking to defend himself from by agreeing with Edwards who said, “The Arminians ridicule the distinction between the secret and revealed will of…because we say he may decree one thing, and command another. And so, they argue, we hold a contrariety in God, as if one will of his contradicted another.”

So we are left with an equivocation fallacy that invalidates Piper’s “two wills” argument. When Piper speaks of God’s decretive, secret will he really means God’s sincere, genuine will. And when Piper speaks of God’s moral or revealed will he really means God’s disingenuous, insincere will, because a guiding principle of his theology is that God— not man— has ultimately determined if, when and how his moral will is violated via his decretive will.

Piper fails to offer any compelling reason (beyond mere assertion) as to why we shouldn’t assume that God’s moral will or will of command is nothing more than a cosmic charade to give us the false impression that God is opposed to evil. For if Piper’s Calvinist view is correct, all evil becomes subsumed under the determinative decree of what God really wanted and decided ought to occur.

We simply cannot give Piper a pass on this point. In his Calvinistic view the moral will of God confusingly becomes the self-opposed, unfulfilled longings of God’s own heart. Every moral intuition of God becomes marginalized by God and stampeded under the hooves of his decretive will surging forward— ensuring that his moral will never sees the light of day. Indeed God’s moral will reduces to nothing more than the submissive servant of the decretive will of God that at every turn must capitulate under the suffocating weight of His own, exhaustive determinations. Such is the unadulterated, unfiltered glory of Piper’s warped concept of divine glory. Divine glory and divine morality become collateral damage in Piper’s much extolled “God entranced world view.”

So as to be doubly clear, the Arminian position is that any use of language that speaks of God “willing” for sin to occur is a passive and reluctant willing (not of his ideal) to withdraw and justly confirm people in their own freely chosen disobedience, with the resulting effect being either judgment or an exploitation of their sins for his own ends. It is a reluctant willing because rebellion, sin and evil never were and never are God’s ideal or perfect will for anyone. However God permits sin and rebellion to occur in recognition of his own sovereign will to create man free in the first place, yet all the while he seeks to redeem its existence by bringing about good in spite of it and through it. That is the true nature and glory of his sovereignty. God is not intimidated by human freedom. God can accommodate his will to take into account human rebellion while correspondingly achieving his own ends in spite of human rebellion—especially when his people partner with him in prayer and obedience. As such we can assert God exploits evil for good ends, but unlike Piper we can deny that God decreed evil and/or actively worked evil into the hearts of anyone for the purpose of those good ends.


[10] Henshaw, Ben. See: http://www.examiningcalvinism.com/files/NT/Rev17_17.html

[11] We must be cognizant of the fact that Piper cannot be referring to God willing to reluctantly allow people to misuse and abuse their free will given that he holds all things are determinatively willed by God unconditionally. A paradigm of universal determinism on the part of God assumes intentionality and thus precludes any sense of reluctant willing.