[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 17 and 18 are included in this post.]
Critique 17: PIPER’S MISHANDLING OF ROMANS 11:31-32
In his zeal to press his argument further Piper goes on to make another critical exegetical error that I can only assume is a result of reading Scripture with a rigid presupposition that tends to see Calvinism hiding behind every rock and bush. Piper attempts to argue that God purposed and determined to make Israel disobedient so that he could have mercy on Gentiles. He severely manhandles Romans 11:31-32 in order to make his case, stating,
“This is the point of Romans 11:31-32. Paul speaks to his Gentile readers again about the disobedience of Israel in rejecting their Messiah: “So they [Israel] have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you [Gentiles] they also may receive mercy.”
When Paul says that Israel was disobedient “in order that” Gentiles might get the benefits of the gospel, whose purpose does he have in mind? It can only be God’s.” For Israel did not conceive of their own disobedience as a way of blessing the Gentiles or winning mercy for themselves in such a round about fashion. The point of Romans 11:31 therefore is that God’s hardening of Israel is not an end in itself, but is part of a saving purpose that will embrace all the nations. But in the short run we have to say that he wills a condition (hardness of heart) which he commands people to strive against (“Do not harden your heart” (Hebrews 3:8, 15; 4:7).
Did you catch Piper’s mistake? Piper thinks Paul’s connecting phrase “in order that” principally links God’s declaration of Israel’s disobedience with God’s purpose to have mercy on Gentiles. But this is to overlook Paul’s point. He has Jews principally in view! It is true that through Israel’s disobedience God’s mercy came to Gentiles, but that is a demonstration of God’s sovereign ability to bring good out of evil, and not a marker of some indomitable, secondary will that unconditionally predestined all things. In other words God’s mercy being extended to Gentiles is a resultant factor of Israel’s disobedience, not a purpose for Israel’s disobedience.
Piper mistakenly thinks Paul is stating God purposed Israel to be disobedient “in order that” Gentiles can become beneficiaries of God’s mercy. However Paul is arguing that God has judiciously declared Israel to be in disobedience so that he may have mercy on them— Israel! Paul bears this out in the next verse. The qualifier “in order that” in vs 31 refers to the object of Israel receiving the benefit of mercy through being consigned in disobedience and witnessing the breadth of God’s mercy shown to Gentiles. Paul is not saying, “God sovereignly willed or made Israel disobedient in order that you Gentiles may receive mercy” as Piper must wrongly assume to make his point stick. Both “they’s” in vs. 31 refer to Jews! He is saying in essence, “So they [Israel] have been declared to be disobedient so that they [Israel] also may receive mercy.” Paul’s principle aim is to lead us to the understanding that God has consigned or imprisoned all in disobedience— Jew and Gentile alike— so that one’s only escape into freedom and a right standing before God (i.e. salvation) is found in God’s gift of mercy through the Messiah. Paul unequivocally makes this point immediately after in vs 32, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all.”
Piper appears to catch himself at the end and realize Paul does have Jews in mind too, but it is too little too late. He is simply incorrect to assume God secretly decreed or intentionally purposed Israel to be disobedient via a second, divine will “in order that” mercy can principally come to the Gentiles. Neither did God purpose or will Israel’s disobedience so that he could harden her. It cannot be stated enough: Divine mercy being extended to Gentiles has always been the plan of God ever since his covenant with Abraham and promise to use Israel as a “light unto the Gentiles.” But where Israel failed the faithful Israelite and Messiah— Jesus— succeeded. Through the Messiah God has ushered in a new covenant and plan for the world. As such God’s purpose to use Israel’s disobedience and hardening as a means to accomplish what he first envisioned her obedience would accomplish is a resultant factor of Israel’s disobedience, not a decreed purpose for Israel’s disobedience!
This seriously undermines the foundational basis for Piper’s Two-Wills View— that being his commitment to exhaustive, theological determinism. But again, it gets even worse for him.
Critique 18: PIPER’S GRIEVOUS CONFLATION OF TWO DISTINCT CATEGORIES OF “HARDENING”
Piper wrongly assumes God’s judicial, divine hardening is of the same “hardening” nature that comes by way of willful disobedience mentioned in Hebrews 3:8 and 4:7, wherein God warns, “Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
It is quite astonishing that Piper conflates (1) self-chosen hardness due to willful disobedience with (2) judicial hardening for unrepentant disobedience, saying, “But in the short run we have to say that he wills a condition (hardness of heart) which he commands people to strive against (“Do not harden your heart” (Hebrews 3:8, 15; 4:7).”
It is vitally important that we note there exists two distinct categories of “hardening” in the scriptures, and each is brought about by two separate causes for two very different reasons. The first category is a self-chosen hardness of heart due to a willful refusal to listen to the Spirit of God. As Zachariah 7:12 sets forth, “They made their hearts as hard as flint and did not listen…to the words that the Lord Almighty sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets.” So as to be doubly clear, self-chosen hardness of heart stems from repeated disobedience and an unwillingness to hear God’s voice and prior overtures of truth and grace. To “hear” God’s voice is to heed or obey God’s voice. And heeding God’s voice is largely a matter of choice. That is why there exists the conditional “if you will hear” in Hebrews 3:8 and 4:7. Moreover the writer of Hebrews is quoting from Psalm 95:7-8 wherein the Psalmist ties in hearing God’s voice with our will to heed God’s voice, saying, “Today, if you will hear His voice: ‘Do not harden your hearts…’” The Scriptures are clear that repeatedly resisting the truth will eventually “seer the conscience” (1 Tim. 2:4) and render the heart callous and “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19).
The second category of hardening is God’s just prerogative to judicially harden persons within the first category (those unrelenting in their self-chosen disobedience and self-chosen hard-heartedness). In other words persons in the second category are those judicially confirmed in their self-chosen hardness of heart as an act of divine judgment.
If Piper’s theological analysis did not exist in a reverberating, self-enclosed echo chamber much of his interpretive confusion would disappear, and he would better understand how scriptural examples of judicial hardening are not a record God’s unconditional, decretive will being brought to fruition, but rather are a record of God’s accommodating, consequent will coming into play when his ideal, moral will is repeatedly spurned.