Okay, I never wanted to write about this on my blog. You know, controversial topics like Calvinism vs. Arminianism and so on. Topics that tend to be unnecessarily divisive, but difficult to grasp. However, I couldn’t resist when it came to this one. My motivation to finally write about this subject was spurred on by an article authored by John Piper on the Christian Post website.
The crux of the article is that John Piper believes, not only that God has predestined all events in history (even down to the position of every particle of dust in space at any moment), but also He predestined sin. Here’s the article:
This is not the first time that this topic has appeared on the Christian Post. The first time it was covered by another writer, summarizing the topic taught by Piper at a conference in 2012. You can read that article here.
Please read them both before continuing.
Even though I believe Calvinism to be Severely flawed (sometimes borderline blasphemous), I was still shocked at the content of the articles and my heart was saddened. I was saddened by it’s theological depiction of the nature of God. Although, I was also saddened, because of my familiarity with this growing, popular, and trending version of evangelicalism in America. Especially amongst the younger generations. What may be most frustrating in these times is the fact that the Neo-Reformed movement has center stage in the pop-Christian world (books, conferences, internet videos). As a result, most young Christians aren’t seeing the intellectual side of the Arminan persuasion. SO many are being indoctrinated without their knowing by one group of thought. And they are particularly crafty at making themselves appear to be the “most refined, educated, and intellectual” of Evangelicals. I’ll have to refrain myself from writing more about it for the sake of staying on point for this blog. Maybe, I’ll blog about that issue later.
Regardless of how I feel about predestination, I don’t like the idea of Christians arguing over it. Notice I said arguing. Discussion, I believe is healthy and necessary. Because, I’m certainly willing to acknowledge that I don’t have all of the answers, but I don’t believe others do either. Ha!
I was well aware of the idea of predestination as it related to the doctrine of election for salvation, yet I was not quiet aware of how much real estate predestination in general occupied within Reformed Theology. The idea that God foreordained all events before time, and the next logical extension of that belief. That even sin and rebellion against the will of God were predetermined and decreed by him, according to what Calvinists often refer to as HIS secret counsel.
My limited understanding of most modern neo-Reformed Calvinists is that of the MANY questions that Calvinism leaves to be desired they should be left that way. Most will tell you that when the logic of Calvinism dead-ends then we must leave the mystery and loftiness of those issues to the sovereignty of God. On the contrary, I found Piper attempting to answer these mysteries. For those who may not be following me here, let me make it more plain.
Calvinism is built on five principles often broken down into a simple acronym T.U.L.I.P. I ‘m not out to explain all of Calvinism nor am I qualified to do it. But, consider the last letter in the TULIP acronym, P. Perseverance of the saints – meaning that God’s elect (for salvation) are guaranteed to make it all the way through life and receive salvation in the end. The idea is that God’s sovereignty in electing individuals can never fail – the foundation that forms the doctrine known as “Once Saved Always Saved”. So, the logical question arises that asks, “Well how can God ensure that his elect will maintain their faith in him, and be saved, when they have free will?” You guessed it, he foreordains every life event, decision, and adherence to his will before they’re born. And it’s here that we enter into some incredibly challenging questions, relative to the many verses from the bible that contradict this idea. How can a God who foreordains all events, including sin, justly punish men who rebel against his will? And this is only the beginning of a VERY DEEP rabbit hole. How far you want to go depends on how brave you are, and apparently Piper is intrepid enough to spelunker all the way to the bottom of it.
I was caught off-guard to have witnessed just how far Piper went down the rabbit hole, although I was even more shocked by what I found through a little research. This belief was not at all new or radical. In fact, many of the people that he quotes so often, “heroes” of the Reformation (John Edwards, John Calvin), believed the exact same. Note: The following quotes are obviously snippets of what they said, so the case could easily be made that they are taken out of context. I think the statements can stand on their own and are very clear, but judge for yourself, and use discernment:
John Calvin -
1) “Moreover, though their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed. When you hear the glory of God mentioned, understand that his justice is included. For that which deserves praise must be just. Man therefore falls, divine providence so ordaining, but he falls by his own fault. The Lord had a little before declared that all the things which he had made were very good (Gen. 1:31).”
2) “I freely acknowledge my doctrine to be this: that Adam fell, not only by the permission of God, but by his very secret counsil and decree.”
3)”God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.” (Institutes of Christian Religion)
John Edwards -
1) “He might have hindered the fall, but he would not. The reason was he had decreed their fall, as we may gather from God’s creating the tree of good and evil before their creation.”
2) “God did from all eternity will or decree the commission of all sins of the world, because his permissive will is his true real will.”
The Christian Reformation movement of the (1501-1600) born out of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five theses was the beginning of Protestantism. However, I do believe it’s important to understand that the theology and doctrinal teaching birthed during the Reformation can’t be wholly equated with Christian thought and theology throughout it’s history or the early church (i.e. Acts and later). As a matter of fact, a study of earlier church fathers prior to the Reformation movement, and even before the Council of Nicea reveals that on the specific issue of predestination they were more free-will Arminian in their persuasion than Calvinist.
Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness,who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
Evidence that early church fathers (Ante Nicene – Mathetes, Clement, Ignatius, etc..) did not believe in the predestination of sin:
This section mainly consists of quotations taken from early church fathers on the issue of predestination, free will, and the general relationship between God and man:
Ignatius - As in “St. Ignatius” was a student of John the Apostle (one of twelve of Christ). He said the following about human choice in light of sin:
“Seeing, then, all things have an end, these two things are simultaneously set before us—death and life; and every one shall go unto his own place. For as there are two kinds of coins, the one of God, the other of the world, and each of these has its special character stamped upon it, [so is it also here.] 664 The unbelieving are of this world; but the believing have, in love, the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ, by whom, if we are not in readiness to die into His passion, 665 His life is not in us.
Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life. For I remark, that two different characters are found among men—the one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice.”
Mathetes - A self proclaimed disciple of the Apostles. He states this about his background.. “I do not speak of things strange to me, nor do I aim at anything inconsistent with right reason; but having been a disciple of the Apostles, I am become a teacher of the Gentiles” – Epistle of Mathetes to Diogenes chap 11
In regards to free will and the choice of all men to reconcile with God he stated the following…. “And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing.”
Polycarp - Known as a disciple of John the Apostle, Polycarp died as a martyr for the faith. He said the following about free will:
“Men are Possessed of Free Will, and Endowed with the Faculty of Making a Choice. It is Not True, Therefore, that Some are by Nature Good, and Others Bad.”
Justyn Martyr - Known as an early Christian apologist, he was born into a pagan family and defined himself as a Gentile. Here is what he had to say about free will:
“We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power. For if it be predestined that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions-whatever they may be…. For neither would a man be worthy of reward or praise if he did not of himself choose the good, but was merely created for that end. Likewise, if a man were evil, he would not deserve punishment, since he was not evil of himself, being unable to do anything else than what he was made for.”
Irenaeus - A disciple of John the Evangelist (author of the Gospel of John – New Test.), was primarily an apologist who fought against Gnostic heresies. He said this about free will:
“Men are Possessed of Free Will, and Endowed with the Faculty of Making a Choice. It is Not True, Therefore, that Some are by Nature Good, and Others Bad.”
Clemente of Rome - Perhaps the strongest of all cases can be made for Clemente of Rome. Who by tradition is believed to have been a co-laborer in Christ with Paul, and is believed to have known Paul and Peter personally. In the book of Philippians, Paul, mentions his name (Philippians 4:3).
Many scholars question whether or not the writings associated with Clemente were written by him. Although, I still find the “Clemente Homilies below to be very consistent with the writings of early church fathers:
“But, you say, God ought to have made us at first so that we should not have thought at all of such things. You who say this do not know what is free-will, and how it is possible to be really good; that he who is good by his own choice is really good; but he who is made good by another under necessity is not really good, because he is not what he is by his own choice. Since therefore every one’s freedom constitutes the true good, and shows the true evil, God has contrived that friendship or hostility should be in each man by occasions. But no, it is said: everything that we think He makes us to think. Stop! Why do you blaspheme more and more, in saying this? For if we are under His influence in all that we think, you say that He is the cause of fornications, lusts, avarice, and all blasphemy. Cease your evil-speaking, ye who ought to speak well of Him, and to bestow all honour upon Him. And do not say that God does not claim any honour; for if He Himself claims nothing, you ought to look to what is right, and to answer with thankful voice Him who does you good in all things.”
James 1:13-17 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Historical background for Reformed theology and predestination:
It’s understandable how Reformed theologians out of reaction to the corruption of the Catholic Church felt the need to form a model of God’s sovereignty that took control from the hands of men and place it squarely and solely into the hands of God. Calvin, for instance, was not happy with the way the Catholic church had abused things like indulgences, but was also unhappy with the way he felt the Catholic Church used it’s power to preach to it’s members who could be saved and who could not be saved. Out of the latter dissatisfaction, the theological concepts of salvation by grace through faith alone, and predestination were born Reformed Protestantism.
Martin Luther’s message of “Saved by Faith alone” (Sola Gratia) through “Faith alone” (Sola Fide) formed the backbone of Reformed Protestantism. It served as a cotradistinction to Catholicism which taught a doctrine of faith and works as necessary for salvation. Later, Calvin, with the doctrine of predestination would push the distance between Catholicism and Protestantism even further.
Calvin’s doctrine of predestination formed the cornerstone of his famous writings – “The Institutes of Christian Religion”. Borrowed from the beliefs St. Augustine, predestination removed the control of salvation and all life events completely from the hands of men, and placed it’s control solely in the hands of God. Calvin’s predestination taught that an advocacy for the free will of man robbed God of his absolute sovereignty over all things in creation*. Martin Luther rejected the idea of predestination as it was taught by John Calvin. Martin Luther, believed in something known as single predestination as it relates to salvation, but not in the idea of predestination held by Calvin where God foreordained all events including the sin of mankind.
* As a side note, Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and the sovereingty of God over all things forms the backbone of much of American Evangelical political thought. Calvin’s beliefs extended beyond the theological and doctrinal and into the fabric and makeup of civil and social life. As a result, he famously transformed the future city of Geneva, Switzerland into a Theocracratic government. During that time period in Geneva the practice of Catholicism was made illegal, committing of certain sins resulted in either fines or possible expulsion, and the worst sin (according to Calvin), adultery, ended in execution. His system of beliefs and the micro-society that he engineered birthed other theologies and schools of thought, like Christian Reconstructionism and Dominion Theology. The current socio-political Christan worldviews that prefers the wedding of moral law (biblical law of God) with civil and social law has firm foundations in Calvinism.
On the contrary, Martin Luther – founder of Lutheranism, was a strong proponent of the separation of church and state. He believed that religious organizations should govern themselves, while the state should govern civil policies, like marriage.
God (YHWH) as the Greek God, Zeus:
The idea of predestination was borrowed by Calvin from St Augustine, and St Augustine is believed to have been influenced earlier in life by Gnostocism and ancient Greek philosophy. Just as in Greek mythology, Greek philosophers believed in a fatalistic view of humanity and their relationship with god or the gods.
Here are a few quotes from Greek philosophers and poets:
Sermonides of Amorgos - Poet from 700 B.C.
“Zeus controls the fulfillment of all that is, and disposes as he will.. we live like beasts always at the mercy of what the day bring, knowing nothing of the outcome that God will impose upon our acts.”
Vettius Valens - A second century astrologer
“For it is impossible for any man by prayers or sacrifices to overcome what was fixed from the beginning and alter it to his taste; what has been assigned to us wil happen without our praying for it, what is not fated will not happen for our prayers.”
Theognis – A Greek lyric poet, 6th century B.C.
“No man, Cyrnus, is responsible for his own success: of both these things the gods are the givers… the gods will bring all to the fulfillment that they have planned.”
And herein lies my problem with the Reformed idea of God predestining all things, including sin. It makes the God of the Bible (Yaweh) to be more similar in nature to the gods of Greek mythology. Where god(s) play both side of the proverbial chess board. It changes our view of King David, who had a heart after God, to someone who’s stumble was predestined from the foundations of the world. It stages David on the roof, peering down at Bathsheba at just the right preordained moment. Little did he know his predestined temptation was a soon to be inescapable sin. A predestined temptation that would make him the eventual murderer of a soldier in his army and his own child, birthed after his affair. Yes, he fell as result of his own lusting, yet the temptation itself was planned beforehand. It was bound to happen regardless of his own strength. The game was indeed rigged from the beginning.
This is where Calvin/ Augustine and modern Neo-Reformed Theology gets incredibly strange and difficult to explain. It’s not that the logical assumptions and presumptions aren’t reasonable and understandable. It’s that they become incredibly difficult to explain using the Bible. As you can probably imagine, almost any bible character or modern day person who sins must reflect on this same conundrum. Was this sin my destiny? Was God truly grieved, and his heart filled with pain (Genesis 6) when he saw mankind in Noah’s day turning so readily toward evil, even though he predestined them that way from the outset along with their annihilation?
Naboth refused to give King Ahab his vineyard (1 Kings 21). When he did not relent Ahab and his wife conspired to have Naboth killed. When the Word of the Lord came to Elijah that He would wipe out all of Ahab’s descendents, because of of the evil plot to murder Naboth for his Vineyard. The bible says that God was angry, because Ahab had caused Israel to sin. When the gravity of Ahab’s sin hit him he was humbled, he fasted, and tore his clothes. When God saw this he relented and passed on bringing destruction during Ahab’s time. Here we feature a complex mix of sin and emotion by God and men. Ahab commits premeditated murder, and God seems angered by it. Why? Why, would God be angered by his sin, when it was predestined to happen? Why did God relent in his punishment on Ahab, except his relenting was predetermined? Here we have quite a theological problem on our hands. From a Calvinists predestinationist view, we have God who foreordained the premeditated murder of Naboth. Yet, Ahab’s sin he predestined. Ahab commits the crime, and God threatens to punish him, but relents due to Ahab’s humility. Yet God predestined Ahab to commit the crime and to act in humility. Now Ahab’s sons will see the destruction that God had promised to Ahab, yet it was predestined for them to be destroyed due to Ahab’s sin.
Their are countless bible stories where these same strange and mangled theological questions could be explored, but it frankly bothers me to even put this stuff in writing. Because, it unjustly makes God the author of sin, and man always has an out for his endless depravity. Because, “God made me do it”.
I will end this blog with multiple scripture that I think point out the case for borderline blasphemy that I made in the first paragraph. Particularly, verses that relay what happens when we accuse God of sinning, or call righteousness iniquity. As well as verses that show where God changes his will toward mankind.
“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.” – Leviticus 10:1 (men do things contrary to God’s command)
“If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you.” – Jeremiah 42:10
“And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.” –Romans 3:8
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” – Galatians 6:7
“and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky,” – Deut. 17:3
“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” – Jeremiah 19:5 (God, speaking through prophet Jeremiah to Israel. God is saying that children sacrifice was not of him)
“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded–nor did it enter my mind–that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” – Jeremiah 32:35 (Same explanation as scripture above)