A Calvinist sent me a note on Facebook stating in part, “Why are you standing in opposition to God and His ways? You should not disapprove of His sovereign plan and purposes.” Ironically, I believe it is the Calvinist who so often express disapproval of God and His plans. Allow me to demonstrate.
This same Calvinistic friend recently twitted this message in response to yet another atrocious event in the news:
“Horrified over the senseless acts of violence and evil…”
I “liked” his message because I too am horrified by the heinously evil behavior of some people in our world. And I have no doubt that this Calvinistic friend genuinely feels the same way. I have purposefully not mentioned the actual event because I do not wish to “theologize” the personal pain of those touched by such grief. However, if our theology is to be practical, we must be able to consistently speak into the issues from our theological worldview, which brings me to the question of this article:
Should Christians ever express disapproval or disgust for God’s self-glorifying will and plan?
Expressions of disapproval about things that have come to pass do cause me pause when brought by Calvinistic believers. I cannot help but question the logical consistency of Calvinists who express feelings of indignation and disapproval over such atrocities given the ACTUAL CLAIMS of their doctrinal worldview.
Calvinism teaches that God has sovereignly planned and brought about every meticulous detail, including the evil intentions of His creatures, in order to glorify Himself. In other words, if Calvinism is true, the shooting which horrified my Calvinistic friend was planned and brought about by God so as to bring Himself glory. So, in actuality, it is the Calvinist who is expressing disapproval of God’s plans, not me. I am expressing disapproval of man’s autonomously evil choices which stand diametrically opposed to God and His plan. My Calvinistic friend is expressing horrified disapproval of that which God planned for His own self-glorification. How can he do so consistently?
Here is where I am often met with the accusation of misrepresentation — or what is known as the fallacy of “strawmanning.” I suspect, however, that those bringing that accusation either (1) do not rightly understand Calvinism and Calvinistic scholar’s ACTUAL CLAIMS or they (2) do not really affirm the ACTUAL CLAIMS of John Calvin and most of the Calvinistic scholars, but have adopted a much milder, more palatable, and arguably inconsistent form of the systematic. (If it is the second, however, I cannot help but wonder why would they not stand with me in opposition to the ACTUAL CLAIMS of Calvinism rather than accusing me of not understanding it rightly?)
For instance, let’s consider this quote from John Piper’s ministry website, Desiring God:
“God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…” (Link)— Mark R. Talbot, “’All the Good That Is Ours in Christ’: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us,” in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77 (quote from p. 42).
On the one hand we know that Piper has at times expressed disappointment and disgust for the Holocaust and the sexual abuse of children, while on the other hand claiming these same events have been brought about by a God seeking His own glory. Therefore, Piper has expressed disapproval and disgust of what God has planned and brought about for His own glorification. As I said, Calvinists are the ones expressing disapproval of God’s plans, not me.
John Calvin himself taught:
“Creatures are so governed by the secret counsel of God, that nothing happens but what he has knowingly and willingly decreed.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Paragraph 3)
“thieves and murderers, and other evildoers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute judgments which he has resolved to inflict.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, Paragraph 5)
“We hold that God is the disposer and ruler of all things, –that from the remotest eternity, according to his own wisdom, He decreed what he was to do, and now by his power executes what he decreed. Hence we maintain, that by His providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined.” (John Calvin,Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Paragraph 8)
“The devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how muchsoever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay unless in so far as he commands, that they are not only bound by his fetters but are even forced to do him service” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, Paragraph 11)
“…it is very wicked merely to investigate the causes of God’s will. For his will is, and rightly ought to be, the cause of all things that are.”…”For God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God’s will, which cannot be found.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an individual charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated. This they do ignorantly and childishly, since there could be no election without its opposite, reprobation.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“…it is utterly inconsistent to transfer the preparation for destruction to anything but God’s secret plan… God’s secret plan is the cause of hardening.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, all of Adam’s children have fallen by God’s will.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 4)
“With Augustine I say: the Lord has created those whom he unquestionably foreknew would go to destruction. This has happened because he has willed.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 5)
“…individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.” (John Calvin,Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“…it is vain to debate about prescience, which it is clear that all events take place by his sovereign appointment.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“But since he foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place, they vainly raise a quarrel over foreknowledge, when it is clear that all things take place rather by his determination and bidding.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“Again I ask: whence does it happen that Adam’s fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God? The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess. Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree. And it ought not to seem absurd for me to say that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his descendants, but also meted it out in accordance with his own decision.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 7)
“The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 8)
“Even though by God’s eternal providence man has been created to undergo that calamity to which he is subject, it still takes its occasion from man himself, not from God, since the only reason for his ruin is that he has degenerated from God’s pure creation into vicious and impure perversity.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 9)
Now, before moving on, I hope all those who proudly wear the label “Calvinist” can rightly understand what I am opposing here. I have not misrepresented or “strawmanned” Calvinism. John Piper is arguably the most influential modern day proponent of Calvinism and he is representing exactly what John Calvin himself taught on this subject in the quotes above (all of which are properly cited for contextual examination). Both of these Calvinistic scholars are abundantly clear about what they believe.
I am not suggesting a “Calvinist” must agree with John Piper or even John Calvin on every theological point in order to be considered a “Calvinist.” But if you are going to proudly promote this label shouldn’t you at least affirm the basic theological claims over the issues that make Calvinism so controversial in the church? The major reason we even know of John Calvin and “Calvinism” is because of his controversial views over predestination, election, free will, sovereignty, etc. If you cannot affirm his statements on at least those issues, then may I suggest you stop promoting the label “Calvinist?” Or, if nothing else, at least stop accusing people like myself of not really understanding Calvinism? <READ THIS for more>
Now that we have established the ACTUAL CLAIMS of Calvinism in regard to the horrible atrocities of mankind as taking “place by his determination and bidding” and unchangeably “brought about for his glory” let us now turn our attention back to the question of this article.
Why do self-proclaimed Calvinists express disapproval and indignation against that which God has unchangeably brought to pass for His own self-glorification?
It certainly seems reasonable to disapprove of the autonomous behavior of evil men who openly rebel against the will of God and seek to cause destruction. It does not seem reasonable, however, for one to express disapproval and disgust for that which was planned and brought about by God for His own self-glorification.
I recently pressed a Calvinistic friend on this question and he repeatedly appealed to the crucifixion, arguing in part, “Wouldn’t you have been horrified and disappointed by the crucifixion of Jesus, yet wasn’t that brought about by the determination of God?”
I simply pointed to the cross hanging around his neck and asked, “If you are horrified and disappointed by the crucifixion, why are you wearing that cross?”
He is not disappointed by what God did to redeem the world from sin. He wants that event to be known by everyone. Why? Because we know God’s good self-sacrificial purpose and plan in working to bring about redemption for the sins of the world through Calvary. The story of the cross stands out as unique part of God’s good redemptive plan to redeem all sin, not as the proof of God being the cause for all sin.
We can now read scriptures and learn that God temporarily blinded the rebellious Israelites from recognizing their own Messiah so as to ensure the crucifixion would take place, and who are we to question God’s good purposes in doing so? (Rom. 3:1-8; Rom. 9 — READ THIS for more) But proof that God “brought about” the redemption of man’s sinful actions on Calvary certainly does not prove that God “brought about” the very sins that His Son died to redeem.
This is a common error of Calvinists. They take unique examples of God working to bring about a good purpose through the evil intentions of mankind as proof that God (1) “sovereignly brought about” the evil intentions themselves and (2) that He “sovereignly works” in this same way at all times throughout history. In other words, if Calvinism is true then God worked to “sovereignly bring about” the redemption of a child abuser in the same way that He worked to “sovereignly bring about” the abuse of that child. This flies in the face of so much of what we read in scripture about the character and holiness of our God. (CLICK HERE for more on this)
According to my Calvinistic friend’s argument, God seems to be “sovereignly working” so as to redeem “His sovereign workings.”(i.e. God is sovereignly working to bring about redemption so as to redeem the sins that He sovereignly worked to bring about.) Is God merely determining to redeem His own determinations? Of course not!
Appealing to God’s sovereign work to ensure the redemption of sin so as to prove that God sovereignly works to bring about all the sin that was redeemed is an absurd, self-defeating argument. It would be tantamount to arguing that because a police department set up a sting operation to catch a notorious drug dealer, that the police department is responsible for every single intention and action of that drug dealer at all times. Proof that the police department worked in secretive ways to hide their identities, use evil intentions, and work out the circumstances in such a way that the drug dealer would do what they wanted him to do (sell drugs) at that particular moment in time does not suggest that the police are in anyway responsible for all that drug dealer has done or ever will do. We celebrate and reward the actions of this police department because they are working to stop the drug activity, not because they are secretly causing all of it so as to stop some of it. Teaching that God brings about all sin based on how He brought about Calvary is like teaching that the police officer brings about every drug deal based on how he brought about one sting operation.
Yes, at times the scriptures do speak of God “hardening” men’s hearts (Ex. 7; Rm. 9), blinding them with a “spirit of stupor” (Rm. 11:8) and delaying their healing by use of parabolic language (Mk. 4:11-12, 34; Matt. 16:20), and He always does so for a redemptive good. <more on this HERE> But the reason such passages stand out so distinctly from the rest of scripture is because of their uniqueness. If God worked this way in every instance these texts would make no sense. After all, what is there for God to harden, provoke, or restrain if not the autonomous will of creatures?
If everything is under the meticulous control of God’s sovereign work what is left to permit and/or restrain except that which He is already controlling? Is God merely restraining something that He perviously determined? Why blind eyes from seeing something the were “naturally” predetermined not to see? Why put a parabolic blind fold on a corpse-like dead sinner incapable of seeing spiritual truth? These are questions many Calvinists seem unwilling to entertain at any depth. <for more CLICK HERE>
We must understand that God, like the police department in the analogy above, may be hiding His identity at times and working to use the evil intentions of bad men for a greater good, but that in no way impugns His character by suggesting He is “the cause of all things that are.” And it certainly does not suggest that every evil desire and intention is “brought about to glorify God” as explicitly taught by Calvinism’s actual claims reflected in the quotes above.
Please notice I said “Calvinism’s ACTUAL CLAIMS.” I want to draw everyone’s attention to that because what typically follows this line of argumentation is a Calvinist’s appeal to the “you too fallacy” (i.e. “you too” have the same problem because you affirm omniscience.) But be aware, I am opposing an ACTUAL CLAIM of Calvinism and Calvinists are attempting to argue that I have the same problem based NOT ON OUR ACTUAL CLAIMS, but based on their own philosophical speculation about the infinite nature of divine omniscience (i.e. if God knows something and does not prevent it, that somehow proves that He brought it about for His own self-glorification). Notice, however, that none of our scholars ACTUALLY MAKE THIS CLAIM, therefore the Calvinistic argument is fallacious because it assumes true the very position we oppose (see question begging fallacy). If Calvinists are going to oppose our position they have to deal with the ACTUAL CLAIMS of our scholars, not their own philosophical conclusions. In making this “you too” argument, the Calvinist has unwittingly become guilty of the very straw-man fallacy they often attempt to lay on us for opposing “Calvinism’s ACTUAL CLAIMS.”