[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 9 and 10 are included in this post.]
Critique 9: REBUTTING ANOTHER PIPER ASSUMPTION: IF GOD CHOOSES TO JUDICIALLY “HAND PEOPLE OVER” TO THEIR OWN SINS, DOES THAT SERVE AS EVIDENCE GOD DECREED TO DETERMINE THOSE VERY SINS?
Interestingly enough, Piper calls to his aid the three references in Romans 1:24-29 of God delivering people up or handing people over to their own self-chosen sins to buffer his view that God determinately decreed every person’s sins. He assumes these texts shed light on his view, and that they do, but not in the way he envisions. Unfortunately his Calvinist echo chamber causes him to miss another opportunity in seeing how the scriptures complement each other in addressing different contexts of human sinfulness and God’s subsequent responses.
Piper expounds as follows,
Another line of Biblical evidence that God sometimes wills to bring about what he disapproves is his choosing to use or not to use his right to restrain evil in the human heart… [An] illustration of God’s choosing not to use his right to restrain evil is found in Romans 1:24-28. Three times Paul says that God hands people over (paredoken) to sink further into corruption. Verse 24: “God handed them over to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” Verse 26: “God handed them over to dishonorable passions.” Verse 28: “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to a base mind and to improper conduct”… Part of God’s punishment on evil is sometimes willing that evil increase. But this means that God chooses for behavior to come about which he commands not to happen. The fact that God’s willing is punitive does not change that.
Right away we see another glaring problem with Piper’s analysis. Since, according to Piper, nothing can occur that God hasn’t already determined to occur, including evils that come from human hearts, it would only follow that if something does indeed occur it can only be because God chose not to restrain himself.
Oddly enough this simple logical deduction concerning exhaustive divine determinism escapes Piper. He thinks references to God judicially handing people over to their sins must serve as critical evidence God wills for evil to occur, otherwise God would have restrained them from committing the sins they do– which we must always remember, for Piper, is what God determined they do! But he conveniently (and in my opinion) shamefully leaves that part out.
It bears repeating, in arguing that God sometimes chooses not to restrain the evils men do, Piper is saying nothing more than God sometimes chooses not to restrain himself. Therefore in Piper’s view if something could have occurred but doesn’t, it is only because God did choose to restrain himself.
Piper’s argument is rendered unintelligible and meaningless, but his penchant and flair for words often masks this. For example, what should we say in response to Piper’s conclusion that God’s choice to judicially deliver people up to their own sin must serve as evidence for his underlying thesis that God possesses a second will that unconditionally wills moral evil over and against his own moral will of command? For as he concludes, “part of God’s punishment on evil is sometimes willing that evil increase. But this means that God chooses for behavior to come about which he commands not to happen.”
Of course when Piper says, “God chooses for behavior to come about” he really means God decreed specific acts of wickedness to occur unconditionally and infallibly before the world began. We can only assume such language is too straightforward and therefore too risky for Piper, hence his adoption of more assuaging terms. That being said, we still need to deal with Piper’s underlying contention that God wills for certain evils to occur that his moral will of command opposes.
There does indeed exist two senses of God’s will, but not in the sense that Piper thinks. Here we must return to our own opening thesis concerning God’s perfect will (what God wills ideally) and God’s consequent or accommodating will (what God wills in light of human rebellion). In Romans 1:24-28 God is reluctantly surrendering people over to their own obstinate ways to experience the due measure of their own sin. This has nothing to do with an irresistible, eternal decree for sin to occur.
In the light of this, we can confidently say what Piper points to as alleged evidence that God wills evil (via an eternal, divine decree) is nothing of the sort. Rather it is evidence of God reluctantly accommodating his will to a fallen world, which in turn allows him to judge people for their evil ways. In saying God hands wicked persons over to their own sin, Paul is simply making the point that God is judicially handing people over to the evil of their ways and the subsequent deleterious consequences of those ways. He is not willing sin as positive agency, as Piper’s view logically assumes (though he may dismissively ignore) given his commitment to theological determinism and the nature of an unconditional decree.
It is essential we see God’s actions in Romans as being judicially punitive. Piper appears to dismiss this as irrelevant saying, “God chooses for behavior to come about which he commands not to happen. The fact that God’s willing is punitive does not change that.”
Oh contraire! It changes everything! It is unfortunate Piper throws away as irrelevant the one thing that helps us interpret the text rightly and infer God is reluctantly handing people over to their own sins in order that they might punitively experience the full measure of their own iniquity and consequences thereafter. This is why Paul makes a point in saying, “…God delivered them over to degrading passions… and [they] received in their own persons the appropriate penalty of their error” (vs. 26,27).
In Romans 1 Paul is making the argument that the world has exchanged God’s truth (his ideal, perfect will) for a lie. Consequently God accommodates his will to take into account human rebellion and sin. He reluctantly wills to surrender people over to their own evil dispositions as an act of punitive judgment, but in so doing his intention is ultimately redemptive. In point of fact God will attempt to lead people to repentance through his kindness, patience and restraint, as Paul states in the next chapter:
“We know that Gods judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth. Do you really think — anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same — that you will escape Gods judgment? Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that Gods kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:3-4)
Piper’s view is denied the full majesty of God’s accommodating love and kindness towards unworthy sinners (ultimately seen in God’s incarnation and crucifixion) because in Piper’s two-wills view God sovereignly determined every individual’s sins through an irresistible decree. Moreover Piper is denied the critical language of divine reluctance. In Piper’s two-wills view God cannot be said to will or allow anything reluctantly because he insists divine sovereignty means God unilaterally and unconditionally determined every evil for the sake of his own glory— and Piper would no doubt think it absurd to say God reluctantly wills to glorify himself!
Piper’s view again fails to convince.
Critique 10: PIPER’S ABYSMAL MISHANDLING OF ABIMELECH AND ELI’S WICKED SONS.
In addition to Romans 1:24-28, which we have just dealt with, Piper points to God restraining Abimelech from sinning and God’s will to put to death Eli’s sons, as being evidence of his Two-Wills View.
What is apparent here is that God has the right and the power to restrain the sins of secular rulers. When he does, it is his will to do it. And when he does not, it is his will not to. Which is to say that sometimes God wills that their sins be restrained and sometimes he wills that they increase more than if he restrained them.
In reference to God restraining sin Piper is calling our attention to God restraining Abimelech from marrying Abraham’s wife Sarah. In reference to God willing not to restrain sin, and thereby (allegedly) willing sin, Piper has in view Eli’s wicked sons.
Lets deal with Eli’s wicked sons first because it will help us gain needed perspective before looking at Abimelech. In 1 Samuel 2:22-25 we read:
“Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And he said to them, `Why do you do such things, the evil things that I hear from all these people? No, my sons; for the report is not good which I hear the Lord’s people circulating. If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?’ But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death” (1 Samuel 2:22-25).”
Piper wants to make much of the last verse saying, “Why would the sons of Eli not give heed to their father’s good counsel? The answer of the text is “because the Lord desired to put them to death.” This only makes sense if the Lord had the right and the power to restrain their disobedience—a right and power which he willed not to use. Thus we must say that in one sense God willed that the sons of Eli go on doing what he commanded them not to do: dishonoring their father and committing sexual immorality.”
So is this true? Yes and no. Does God sometimes choose to restrain sin and sometimes choose not to restrain sin? Yes, such as in the case of Abimelech, as we we will shortly see. But does it prove the underlying point Piper wants to make, that it was God’s decretive will from eternity past that Eli’s sons commit wickedness?
Not at all!
Keep in mind Piper is trying to use this passage as evidence that God has a hidden, cloistered will that decrees sin, but of course given Piper’s theology in toto, it is not enough to just say God has decreed some sins— God must have decreed all sins! Therefore Piper must concede the very sins God saw fit to put Eli’s sons to death for were the very same sins God unconditionally decreed.
And that is where Piper’s view collapses into wholesale nonsense!
As is clear from the text we have on hand an example of divine judgment not being delayed or denied. In fact there are a number of examples we could point to that reveal more or less the same thing. For example Israel had a bad habit of temporarily repenting simply to forestall God’s judgment, only to return again to their sins when the danger had passed. However there are times when not even God’s generous longsuffering could stomach Israel’s repeated hardness of heart, so he chooses to confirm them in their own sins by withdrawing his presence and surrendering them up to the intentions of wicked nations God will exploit for judgment.
Evidently the wickedness of Eli’s sons was so great, and their rejection of prior opportunities to repent had reached a point of no return, that God commits them to divine judgment as a confirmation of their willful disregard of him.
Piper tellingly leaves out verse 12 which serves as a critical backdrop to the story: “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord.” Like the Canaanites before them, their time for judgment became ripe and irrevocable because their sins “reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16).
God choice to not sovereignly restrain or intrusively handcuff Eli’s wicked sons from continuing to commit sexual immorality was not because God was secretly decreeing further sins for them to commit, as Piper would have us think, but because God’s will was to judge them for their past wickedness by putting them to death (1 Sam. 2:22). Which is exactly what the text says and nothing more! In other words it was God’s will that they not be granted further opportunities to repent and forestall God’s judgment. God’s refusal to step in and restrain Eli’s wicked sons from committing sin is no evidence that God predetermined their sins before the foundation of the world, which make no mistake about it, is the full assumption lying cloaked behind Piper’s innocuous phrase, “in one sense God willed…”
That God does indeed judge the wicked, and has many means at his disposal to do so, hardly proves that God determinatively decreed the very sins he later judges people for! Does God choose to allow humans to carry out their sinful choices? Yes. Does this prove that God determinately ordained the sins of every person throughout human history? Not in the least. Keep in mind that God has granted us a genuine, indeterminate freedom to make choices, even sinful choices, and as a norm God chooses not to prohibit us from such a free exercise of our wills. For God to act coercively upon our wills at all times, prohibiting us from even thinking of evil, would be to abort the very reason God sovereignly chose to create men and women as responsible moral agents.
Are there exceptions in Scripture? Yes—such as Piper’s example when God restrains Abimelech from sinning against Sarah in ignorance. So let’s look at that now. Firstly, notice the amazing compliment God gives Abimelech, saying “I know in the integrity of your heart you have done this, so I also kept you from sinning against me…” (Gen. 20:6). The text says God sought to restrain Abimelech from sinning—not because he was evil like Eli’s sons, but because Abimelech had a “heart of integrity” and was lied to by Abraham. Piper leaves that part out.
Moreover how did God keep Abimelech from sinning? By warning him in a dream (vs. 3). We cannot overlook the fact that Abimelech was a victim of Abraham’s lack of faith and was unaware Sarah was already married due to Abraham’s lie. Far from proving God’s decretive control over all Abimelech’s thoughts and actions, we discover God is actually upholding the agency of Abimelech’s free-will and responsibility and doesn’t wish to see Abimelech sin in ignorance. Though God “restrains” him by warning him through a dream, this exception proves the norm– God typically honors the free agency of men and permits people the free exercise of their wills as a moral condition for responsibility.
In no way does Abimelech prove Piper’s confused theology that God determined all things in eternity past, and then flicks through time deciding whether or not to intervene in his own predeterminations. We will explore more of this below.