Total Control - God’s Sovereignty Misdefined
Part 1 of 4
Since God is all-powerful and knows everything, are we nothing more than marionettes in a cosmic puppet play? Is the universe entirely determined, not by an impersonal, purposeless fatalism, but by a personal, theistic fatalism? Are humans and angels, fallen and unfallen, simply robots, some of whom will be in heaven, and others tortured forever, because of God’s wrath at what He Himself decreed to happen? If this is false, then why?
Non-Calvinist Christians, and even most Calvinist Christians, agree that the above description is far from true. Yet, this is seen as the logical consequences of Calvinism. Many have a hard time explaining this. I believe two reasons are not taking into all that scripture says, and see scripture through the cloudy lens of a wrong view of sovereignty. This paper will see what Calvinists incorrectly say about God’s sovereignty, what scripture says, some analogies and a succinct solution from a surprising source.
Calvinist’s Two Reasons
Calvinists of all opinions agree that reprobate (non-elect) people have no free will, choice, or option to do good or to respond to God. Even the elect have no ability to respond to God apart from God’s special grace to them. Why? — Two reasons:
Œ Man lost free will and become totally depraved since the Fall
� There never was free will in the first place, because God is Sovereign. Down to the last atom, nothing happens except what God has purposed and decreed. Reason 1 bears further study. Reason 2 is false; it is a misdefinition of the sovereignty of God.
What the Bible Says About Sovereignty
What Calvinists Say
"...not only had God a perfect foreknowledge of the outcome of Adam’s trial, not only did His omniscient eye see Adam eating of the forbidden fruit, but He decreed beforehand that he should do so. This is evident not only from the general fact that nothing happens save that which the Creator and governor of the universe has eternally purposed, but also from the express declaration of Scripture that Christ as a Lamb ‘verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world’ (1 Pet 1:20)." (A.W. Pink The Sovereignty of God p.249.italics in original) (Reason 2 is used)
"To put it now in its strongest form, we insist that God does as He Pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; that whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed in eternity." (Pink The Sovereignty of God p.194).
"God is seen as the great and mighty King who has appointed the course of nature and who directs the course of history even down to its minutest details." Boettner Ref. Doctrine of Predest. p.13.
All things whatever arise from and depend on, the divine appointment;" John Calvin Commentary on Romans
Abraham Kuyper, "The determination of the existence of all things to be created, ... is the most tremendous predestination conceivable in heaven or on earth;... our entire existence, being entirely dependent on it.
B. B. Warfield wrote, "...nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its peculiar fitness for its place in the working out of His purposes...
"And since [God] knew perfectly every event of every kind which would be involved in this particular world-order, He very obviously predetermined every event which would happen when He chose this plan. His choice of the plan, or His making certain that the creation should be on this order, we call His foreordina-tion or His predestination. Even the sinful acts of men are included in this plan.
Curt Daniel writes "Thus, it is absolutely essential to see that God foreordained everything that will come to pass. He predestined everything that will ever happen, down to the smallest detail." (Biblical Calvinism p.2)
"It would destroy the confidence of God’s people could they be persuaded that God does not foreordain whatever comes to pass. It is because the Lord reigns, and doeth His pleasure in heaven and on earth, that they repose in perfect security under His guidance and protection." (Dr. Charles Hodge Systematic Theology I p.545). God did not directly decree Jer 19:5; 32:35; Lk 19:41-44; Mt 23:37-39, etc.
Calvinists in general say that God ordains everything, down to the last atom. When they define ordain to be total, complete control, we have a problem. When those who disagree are accused of denying God is sovereign, in the Biblical sense, we have a problem that needs a response.
Knowledge Does Not Prove Total Control
Boettner and others believe that since God knows with certainty everything that will happen, before the beginning of time, there can be no choice, options, or freedom about what is going to happen. There are a number of problems with this view.
If foreknowledge mean total control, and choices are eliminated, does God foresee His own working? If so, then once He foresaw His own working, He has no choice either. If foreknowledge precludes free will, then not only do we not have free will, but Adam and Eve before the fall, Satan, and even angels have no free will. If the Father’s foreknowledge precludes future free choices, then even Jesus on earth had no freedom (i.e. an option to choose an alternative) about anything. This sounds like we are intricate clocks, made by a clockmaker.
Knowledge does not logically preclude freedom, as the following examples show. I can read with certainty about World War II, but my (future) certain knowledge did not force it to occur. Isaiah had (prior) certain knowledge that the Messiah would not open his mouth to defend himself; Isaiah did not force Jesus to do something though.
If I flip a fair coin, what is the chance it will be heads? Fifty percent you say? Wrong. I flipped the coin yesterday, and it was tails. So when you flip a coin is the chance 50%, or 0%. The "correct" probability depends on the observer. The sciences of statistics and probability give just as real and valid answers of events we do not have certain knowledge of, as absolute answers are for events an observer that has certain knowledge.
For us, there is a paradoxical time where past certainty and future changeability meet: the present. Calvinists generally agree that God is timeless. If God dwells in the "eternal now", where all times are the present to him, then there can be both possibility and yet certainty in everything God desires.
Sovereignty Does Not Prove Total Control
Look at the balance of scripture. Nothing resists God’s decreed will, yet many successfully resist God’s commanded will. Nothing happens beyond what God allows; yet many things occur that greatly displease Him. God is all-powerful, yet there is one limit on God’s power: God Himself. God is able to control His power and restrain Himself. God is able to create all kinds of things; it is not beyond God to create beings made in His image. It is not beyond God to create beings with varying degrees of freedom. Our freedom does not go beyond God’s bounds, but things happen that "do not enter God’s mind". This does not mean that God is unaware of these things, as God had to be aware of these things to say that in Jeremiah. Rather, it means that the direct action was not decreed by God.
Calvinists vehemently deny that God is the author of sin; non-Calvinists do not have to. Calvinists mean that God is not the immediate cause of any evil, and He does not tempt. The reason there is no end to the need for Calvinists to deny that God is the author of sin is that they teach that God is ultimate cause of sin. God not only gives permission to sin, but decrees each individual sin (Pink p.235). God foreordains everything which comes to pass (Pink p.240). God is the decreer, governor, willer, determiner, and master of sin, but not the infuser, tempter, compeller, or author of sin (Pink p.101,251-252, Boettner p.240). The Holy Spirit does compel sinners to come to Him (Pink p.79).
Calvinists distinguish between the "revealed will" that God desires and commands, and His "secret will" which is unknown to us, based on Dt 29:29. While God desires all not to murder, God decrees all specific murders, and God ensures that all His decrees are carried out. Yet God does not cause sin, because God is Holy and hates sin. This is a contradictory position for most Calvinists. As Pink (p.245) puts it, "Thus the secret and revealed will of God respect entirely different objects. God’s will of decree is not His will in the same sense as His will of command is. Therefore, there is no difficulty in supposing that one may be contrary to the other." No difficulty in God’s contrary purposes accomplished against each other???
It is no wonder that explaining God is not the cause of sin is the most difficult challenge to Calvinism. One can do better than the previous attempt to reconcile "God causes everything", with "God is not the cause of evil". Some good answers are from what are perhaps surprising sources: well-known Calvinists!
A Mystery: Boettner explains: we have free agency (but not free will) like goldfish can swim freely in a bowl. "Predestination and free agency are the twin pillars of a great temple, and they meet above the clouds where the human gaze cannot penetrate. Or again, we may say that Predestination and free agency are parallel lines; and while the Calvinist may not be able to make them unite, the Arminian cannot make them cross each other." (ibid p.222) R.C. Sproul dislikes the parallel lines analogy (Chosen by God p.40).
Permissive Decrees: Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary, said, "God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden." (Curt Daniel’s Dissert. p.230). In Chosen by God p.97 R.C. Sproul writes "[God] ordained the Fall in the sense that he chose to allow it, but not in the sense that he chose to coerce it."
Concurrence: Louis Berkhof says, "Concurrence may be defined as the cooperation of the divine power with all subordinate powers, according to the pre-established laws of operation, causing them to act and to act precisely as they do." Curt Daniel (p.201) adds "He acts in, with and under the things of Nature."
Dependent Decrees: God did not expressly decree everything independently. As W. D. Smith and Charles Hodge mention, while the working of good can produce evil reactions by evil men, the evil reactions are not chargeable to God, though God accounts for those too, in His plan. Like a cosmic movie-maker, God expressly decreed a number of specific events and let the film roll. After previewing a number of "takes", He decreed the take that pleased Him the most. If we are able to erase and edit videotapes as we please, cannot God do the same?
Interaction: Combining the above explanations, the following is a non-Calvinist solution of sovereignty and freedom. We cannot hope to know everything about God’s work (like Boettner’s mystery), but we can learn what is revealed in the balance of the general thrusts of scripture without denying the details of any verses. God had a decreed will (like Pink’s decrees), permissive will (like Hodge’s decrees), and a commanded will (i.e. all are to obey God). God’s will in many matters is interactive with our will (like Berkhof’s concurrence) to the extent that God desires. Perhaps the most marvelous of God’s decrees is a measure of freedom, with its corresponding accountability. While God does not desire, decree, or will evil directly, He permits evil (like dependent decrees) as an "existential parasite," a part of his plan to accomplish His purposes, which include people who freely choose to love Him.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Mt 23:37) God can be saddened by our will.
Total Control - God’s Sovereignty Misdefined
Part 2 of 4
"The question which faces us then, is, Has God from all eternity foreordained all things which come to pass?" Loraine Boettner asks in The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination p.9. The vast majority of Calvinists do say that God decreed not some, but all things that come to pass. Part 1 showed contradictions and false assumptions about total control. Part 2 defines fatalism, gives a brief (but hopefully fair) summary of the arguments, and shows why Calvinists do teach Christian fatalism, despite their denials.
Does Calvinism = Christian Fatalism?
The aim of this paper is to give a brief (but hopefully fair) summary of the arguments on both sides. At the very least, it is desired that non-Calvinists can learn why Calvinists deny they are fatalists, and that Calvinists can learn why, despite the denials, non-Calvinists continue to affirm that consistent Calvinism is fatalism. The point here is not to tell Calvinists "get consistent and become fatalists", but rather "remove from your doctrine Total Control, which is unbiblical and causes the inconsistency."
As an aid to understanding fatalism and Christianity, let’s look briefly at fatalism from the perspective on a false religion: Islam.
Sins Decreed By Allah
"Allah has written for the son of Adam his inevitable share of adultery whether he is aware of it or not:" Bukhari Hadith vol.8 no.609 p.397-398.
Allah Ordains All Events
"Say: ‘Nothing will happen to us Except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our Protector’..." Qur’an Sura 9:41. Note that contrary to what a few Calvinists say, the idea, that God decrees all, is not foreign to the carnal mind.
Our [Lack of] Responsibility to Pray
"‘Won’t you pray?’ ‘Ali replied, ‘O Allah’s Apostle [Mohammed]! Our souls are in the Hands of Allah, and when he wants us to get up, He makes us get up.’ When ‘Ali said that to him, Allah’s Apostle left without saying anything to him. While the Prophet was leaving, ‘Ali heard him striking his thigh (with his hand) and saying, ‘But man is quarrelsome more than anything else.’ Bukhari Hadith vol.9 no.446 p.326.
In contrasting Islam to Reformed doctrine, Boettner [p.320] says, "The idea that man is in any way the cause of his own acts has nearly ceased to exist, and Fatalism, the normal belief of the Arabs ... is the controlling force ... for the Moslem world."
Boettner (p.321-322), in describing Moslem Predestination, says "Islam reduces God to a category of the will and makes Him a despot, an oriental despot, who stands at the abysmal heights above humanity. He cares nothing for the character, but only for submission. The only affair of men is to obey His decrees, so that, as Zanchius says, Predestination becomes ‘a sort of blind, rapid, overbearing impetus, which, right or wrong, with means or without, carries all things violently before it, with little or no attention to the peculiar and respective nature of second causes.’"
Now nobody can say that Muslims are Calvinists, because Muslims do not preach about grace, the cross, or other essential Christian doctrines. The point here is that most would agree that fatalism is definitely taught within Islam.
Zwemer, a Calvinist and a famous Christian missionary to Muslims, says of Islamic traditions, "this kind of Predestination should be called Fatalism and nothing else. For Fatalism is the doctrine of an inevitable necessity and implies an omnipotent and arbitrary sovereign power." Moslem Doctrine of God p.97.,
Of course, Zwemer’s description of Islam does not cover all fatalism, because Muslims are not the only fatalists. For a general, rigorous definition of fatalism, Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary © 1989 defines fatalism as "a doctrine that events are fixed in advance for all time in such a manner that human beings are powerless to change them; also : a belief or attitude determined by this doctrine."
The point here is that the definition of fatalism does not specify who, how, or why the events were fixed.
The Early Church: No Fatalism
The early church knew of fatalism from Platonic philosophy, and consistently taught against it. A very clear statement is from an ex-Neoplatonist, Justin Martyr (wrote 135-165 A.D.) in his First Apology ch. XLIII p.177 "But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g. be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate."
The point here is that, Justin says that fatalism is wrong because God did not set everything up to happen from fatal necessity, but rather gave us free choice.
In answering the question of Christian fatalism, it seems proper to examine what Calvinists themselves have said.
"Fate is a term given by the Stoics to their doctrine of necessity, which they had formed out of a labyrinth of contradictory reasonings; a doctrine calculated to call God Himself to order, and to set Him laws whereby to work. Predestination I define to be, according to the Holy Scriptures, that free and unfettered counsel of God by which He rules all mankind, and all men and things, and also all parts and particles of the world by His infinite wisdom and incomprehensible justice... Had you but been willing to look into my books, you would have been convinced at once how offensive to me is the profane term fate." (Calvin’s Calvinism p.261-262.) Other Calvinists all agree. The point here is that Calvinists strongly (and correctly) deny they believe in godless, immoral fate.
Loraine Boettner, in his book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, on pages 205-207 makes a valiant effort to "prove" that Calvinism is not fatalism. Boettner arguments on the Reformed Predestination not being fatalism fall into three categories.
* Boettner says that while Predestination and Fatalism both assume the absolute certainty of future events, Fatalism lacks:
A personal God with infinite wisdom,
Final causes and purpose
Incentives to religion, love, mercy, holiness, etc.
Instead, fatalism is a blind, unintelligent, non-moral force, that leads to skepticism and despair. Boettner holds that Fatalism is the absolute opposite of Predestination.
* Another argument is that fatalism is unlivable: no one can be consistent fatalist, and still do things like eat and take care of themselves.
* A final type argument on is that Predestination differs from Fatalism in that God "has also provided that we shall be free within the limits of our natures." Thus somehow, like parallel lines meeting in infinity (p.222) Predestination and free agency coexist. R. C. Sproul greatly dislikes this analogy though (Chosen by God p.40).
Boettner concludes on p.207 that "Hence, only a person who has not examined this doctrine of Predestination, or one who is maliciously inclined, will rashly charge it is Fatalism. There is no excuse for anyone making this mistake who knows what Predestination is and what Fatalism is."
The "Fatal" Flaw
There are two types of fatalism: non-theistic fatalism of the atheists and stoics, and theistic fatalism of Muslims and Calvinists. The dictionary definition covers both types. Calvinists on one hand recognize the theistic fatalism of Muslims as fatalism, yet on the other hand say Calvinism cannot be fatalism because a theistic view cannot be fatalism.
Refutation of Boettner’s Arguments
Having carefully read Boettner’s book and examined the reformed doctrine with prayer, and without rashness and malicious intent, here are my observations on his arguments.
À The dictionary definition of fatalism does not require being impersonal, denying final causes and purpose, moral ideas, or other things. He proved that Calvinist Predestination is not non-theistic fatalism, but that does not prove it is not theistic fatalism. This is especially true since Boettner agrees that the Mohammedan doctrine of Predestination (his term) is fatalism
Á Boettner’s point is that it is difficult to be consistent and enthusiastic in taking care of yourself, prayer, evangelism, and life in general if nothing you do can change a single thing. Of course, our actions can be the predetermined means for a predetermined end, but even a non-theistic fatalist can believe that the means as well as the ends are determined. For Muslim fatalism, Mohammed simply said that people would find it easy to do what they were ordained to do. If Boettner’s argument is true for "cold, immutable determinism" of non-theistic fatalism, and true for Muslim Predestination, Boettner has not established why it is not equally true for the warmer, immutable determinism of Calvinism.
Â Boettner’s final type of argument cannot be dismissed as quickly as the other two. If, in fact, free agency and Predestination can coexist, then Boettner’s point is valid. However, if total decreed control, as Calvinists taught in Part I is fundamentally contradictory with free agency, then either Boettner’s final type of argument is incorrect, or else for Boettner to be correct, one has to believe that people are predestined while letting go of the total control that Boettner and others also teach.
The point here is that if we all agree that Biblical Predestination should not be distorted to appear as fatalism, even theistic fatalist, then stop making God the author of fatalism. I think it makes God sad that His children try to require Him to expressly decree everything, when the Bible only says that God works out all things to His plan.
Inconsistency With Error is a Virtue
It is refreshing to note that even Calvinists are often not consistent in their Calvinism when they study scripture. The previous synopsis of Boettner’s discussion on Fatalism would not be complete without this quote on p.205 "According to the doctrine of Predestination the freedom and responsibility of man are fully preserved. In the midst of certainty God has allowed human liberty. But Fatalism allows no power of choice, no self-determination." I think we can agree Boettner makes a good point, that the [Biblical] doctrine of predestination allows human liberty and power of choice and self-determination.
As Francis Schaeffer said in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century: "We can glorify God, and both the Old and New Testament say that we can even make God sad. That is tremendous." (Hymns for the People of God no.364.)
Total Control - God’s Sovereignty Misdefined
Part 3 of 4
My four year old son sometimes gets mad at his coloring book. when he colors, sometimes he does not stay completely within the lines, and getting mad at his book is a way avoiding being angry at his own inability to produce what pleases him. Is God the same way towards what He created? Christians would say of course not. But, we need to be able to say why.
Part 2 showed that belief in Total Sovereignty is Christian Fatalism. The first half of Part 3 shows some of the ramifications of Christian fatalism. The last half gives the scriptures Christian fatalist use to support their position, and (I trust) a more correct understanding of those scriptures.
Biblical Predestination Does Not Limit God
Many Calvinists say in effect that we do not have free will, not because God did not give it to us, but because God could not. Boettner (p.222) says, "Furthermore, if we admit free will in the sense that the absolute determination of events is placed in the hands of man, we might as well spell it with a capital F and a capital W; for then man has become like God, - first cause, an original spring of actions -- and we have as many semi-God has we have free wills. Unless the sovereignty of God be given up, we cannot allow this independence to man."
Free will is incompatible with the Reformed view of the sovereignty of God. But we are not asking anyone to give up the sovereignty of God, only the Reformed view of the sovereignty of God, and use the Biblical view instead. If God is incapable of giving even Adam free will, then doesn’t the Reformed view of predestination actually limit God?
Many Reformed Christians say man does not have free will, but free agency. They believe this for two reasons: 1) Man’s will fell during the fall, and we are bound in sin. 2) they believe that the non-elect never had and never will have an option or possibility of responding to God. The first reason is valid, the second is not.
I believe almost no Calvinist is really consistent in saying God chooses to exercise total, absolute control over everything, because almost every Calvinist has to admit to saying and believing two words "God permits".
"Hence, God actively ordains good, but passively permits sin. Active foreordination reflects His being. But passive only shows His being in reverse." Curt Daniel p.230. [There must be passive foreordination, then.]
E. W. Smith "He [God] hath joined to this bare permission a ‘most wise and powerful bounding’ of all sin, so that it can never overleap the lines which He has prescribed for its imprisonment," (p.177) Boettner p.241) [So can sin leap within the lines?]
Floyd E. Hamilton writes, "Even though He [God] has no purpose to work out in the permission of the act [or sin], the very permission of the act when He has the power to interfere, places the ultimate responsibility for the act squarely upon God." (Boettner p.241)" [So there is no divine purpose (in themselves) for permitted sinful acts.]
"The reason for the permission of sin was the manifestation of certain Divine attributes." William G. T. Shedd. [That’s one key reason why non-Calvinists say God permitted free will.]
"God wills to permit sin is evident, for He does permit it. Surely none will say that God Himself does what He does not will to do. (Pink p.246) [There is little difference between God willing to permit, and God permitting what He does not expressly will.]
The point of this section is that if all agree that some things are "passively permitted by God", then God does not actively decree all things, and God chooses not to exercise total control.
God Even Created Chance (Prov 16:33)
In my opinion, one of the strongest arguments Calvinists use to prove fatalistic control is Pr 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." There are two points, based on the two clauses of the verse. First, chance on earth does really exist. The science of probability and statistics are genuine, useful, and worthwhile. As Ecclesiastes 9:11 says "...but time and chance happen to them all." Now the context of Ecclesiastes is "under the sun", but under the sun, chance does really exist.
Now we are not saying anything happens totally randomly, with no cause whatsoever. Rather, chaos does exist, in weather, nature, and people. For the mathematically inclined, our "will" may be described as a broad collection of dynamic, self-tuning feedback loops exhibiting self-emergent behavior.
The second point is that even chance under the sun is from God. Like other events, what we call chance events are such that whatever result God decrees happens, and no results occur except what God allows. God is control not only of what He actively decrees, but of what He permits. Nothing happens except what He permits, and He can override any outcome at any time.
All Things After the Counsel of His Will
Another of the strongest argument Christian fatalists use is Eph 1:11 "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of him who worketh (energeo) all things after the counsel (boulen) of his own will. (thelematos)" (KJV)
Energeo is better translated energize than accomplish. Energeo is what the Holy spirit does in us (Eph 3:20) and what Satan does in those who are disobedient (Eph 2:2).
Eph 1:11 says that God works out not some things, but all things in conformance with his will. One quick answer would be that God works out all kinds of things. However, if you use that answer, your argument is no different than Calvinists’ arguments on 1 Tim 2:6 and 4:10. Each side would agree the "kinds" argument can be used to evade the intent of a verse.
A "real" answer is that God does work out all things, even the things He did not explicitly decree, to ultimately conform to the ends He has decreed. This includes the things He hates and finds detestable, things that did not enter His mind, and things He did not explicitly decree and control.
Other Comebacks of Christian Fatalists
Besides Proverbs 16:33 and Ephesians 1:11, other verses Calvinists use to show that God controls all things are Prov 16:4; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6; and Revelation 4:11.
Prov 16:4 "The LORD works out everything for his own ends - even the wicked for a day of disaster."
Note that it says works out, not decrees. This sounds similar to Romans 8:28, in all things God works together for good for those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose." All things are not good, but God can work all things, even evil things, together for good. Likewise in Proverbs 16:4; all things are not what God desires, however, God works out even the undesirable things for His own ends.
Romans 11:36, 1 Corinthians 8:6, and Revelation 4:11 say that all things come from, are through God, and exist through God. We are for God.
Thus all things, even Satan, came from God. Understand though, that while good can exist apart from evil, evil does not have an independent existence from good. Evil is a twisting and turning of God. Satan was originally good before He fell, God did not create Satan initially evil, but permitted Him to choose evil.
Freedom does not Require God’s Ignorance
Some non-Calvinists also teach that knowledge proves total control, and since God does not have total control, therefore He must not know everything. If you have to believe an error, total control is a "much better error" to believe than process theology, finite Godism, or that God gets smarter through time.
If Not Total Control, Then Why Allow Sin?
Non-Calvinists and a few Calvinists teach that while a good God could have total control of everything, He chose not to. Why? If God choose what was best, how could this be the best? Answers fall into two categories. First, that God values our freedom to choose to love Him above the cost of sin and Hell. We are made in God’s image, and free will is a part of that image. A second category of answer is that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds. Rather, God is in the process of making the best of all possible worlds, called heaven, where all freely choose to love God, yet will not ever fall.
One of the five key differences between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is this: Either God expressly decrees every action, word, and intent, down to the last atom, or He does not. If He does, then He decrees every evil deed for His express purpose. He may do so for reasons ranging from decreeing sins so the reprobate will be go to Hell (supralapsarian, to which Sproul makes strenuous objection), displaying His punishment of sin (Pink p.251), showing everyone how angry He can begat the deeds He decrees, showing His holiness and intolerance of some of the things He decrees, showing His grace in pardoning sin (Pink p.251), or other reasons.
One could either say that God does not decree all things, or alternately said, that God also decrees freedom. If so, it does not follow that if God is not a puppet-master then He is totally passive. Rather, God can decree and control as He sees fit. God gives freedom, but with it comes His judgment of our freedom. The non-Calvinist theologian Norm Geisler said, "Hell is the most glorious of all Christian doctrines, for it proves that man is really free." We are free, but God’s rights as Creator, continued permission, intervention, and interaction, and ultimate judgment show that God, in many ways, is our all in all.
Not all agree. F. E. Hamilton, in an article in The Reformed Faith in the Modern World writes hypothetically, "God has the power to prevent the evil act, has no purpose to work out in permitting it, but nevertheless, in order to protect man’s freedom, allows man to bring eternal punishment upon himself! Assuredly that would be a poor kind of a god!" (Boettner p. 241) We should be careful not to slander God’s ways.
"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes. ... They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you" (Luke 19:4-42,44)
The Limits of this These Papers
One could read the three parts on total control and make some unwarranted conclusions.
So if total control is false, does that mean that all of Calvinism falls? No, we have not proved that; there are four other key differences between Calvinism and non-Calvinism that could conceivably still stand, even if the requirement of total control falls.
If total, fatalistic control were not true, then is mankind be totally free and autonomous? Showing that one extreme is not required does not prove the opposite extreme is true. There is another paper showing that total autonomy is wrong, too.
If neither total control not total passivity is correct, what is? In these three parts we have not discovered anything that happens beyond what God allows in His permissive will, and we have not discovered anything God is unable to directly control. We have discovered that God does (and controls) as He pleases, and God choose to allow some things that did not enter His mind, disappoint Him, and displease Him. As Mt 23:37 and Jonah show, God can be disappointed and His will can be thwarted. However, as Ephesians 1:11 and Romans 8:28 show, God is awesome enough to use everything as a part of His ultimate plan.
Total Control - God’s Sovereignty Misdefined
Part 4 of 4
"Every Christian has to have some doctrine of Predestination. The question is, is it a sound one or not a sound one. But it is not an option; we have to have it if we are going to take the scriptures seriously." (R.C. Sproul in an Austin talk 3/9/91)
Amen to that. In the previous three parts, we established that Christian fatalism is not Biblical, and that while God’s Sovereignty means every event that occurs must be permitted by Him, it does not mean every event must be does not mean . We established that God’s Sovereignty is:
Œ God can do as He pleases. He is Sovereign over every detail, in that nothing happens beyond what God permits. Jb1:12; Jms 4:15
� God can do as He pleases. He directly controls every event He desires. (Isa 14:24,27; 43:13; 55:11; Jn 10:26; Heb 6:17)
Ž God can do as He pleases. He has not chosen to directly and expressly control some events. (Jer 5:29; 8:19: 12:8; Ezek 8:6)
� God can do as He pleases. Every event, even those permitted and not controlled, is woven into His ultimate purpose. (Eph1:11; Pr16:4,33; Rm11:36; 1Cor 8:6; Rev 4:11)
For the purpose of pointing out error, the previous three parts emphasized the errors Reformed theologians have said about God’s Sovereignty. This section emphasizes some the correct and nearly correct things Reformed theologians teach about the Sovereignty of God.
Any Chance That Chance Exists?
I have heard Calvinists say "there is no such thing as chance." R.C. Sproul has a better view. This material is from Sproul’s talk in Austin on March 9, 1991. R.C. gives a good definition of one way the word chance is meant: "Chance is merely a word that describes mathematical possibility. It does not describe an entity that has the power to do anything." According to R.C., a second definition is a synonym for coincidence: "No observable, knowable cause [at least by finite man]. A third definition, which is wrong, is that what we call "chance events" have no cause whatsoever.
An interesting comment on this third definition of chance comes from secular scientists. They say, that with the possible exception of atomic particle decay (which we no little about) they do not know of a single chance event that occurs.
Sproul said in his talk, "The very existence of God and the possibility of a chance event are mutually exclusive categories." He made the point with the Philistines and the ark that the Philistines were theoretical theists, but practical atheists. If they thought chance, in the last definition could be in control, their theistic belief did not run very deep.
However, towards the end of the talk, R.C. said that even if what the Philistines really meant was coincidence, Sproul says they are still practical atheists: "...they are practical atheists because they are considering the very possibility of a chance event." While Sproul affirms secondary causes, he says that if there is any event for which the primary causality is not God, if hand of the Lord has not been the root cause, then God is not God. It sounds as though Sproul is saying that if anything happens that was not expressly desired and purposed by God, then God would not be God. If anyone thinks such un-purposed events occur, they are "practical" atheists, though they may be theoretical theists.
John Wesley, the early church fathers, Roger Williams, and scores of other believers would disagree that they even approach practical atheism. Perhaps the reason why can be seen in an illustration I saw during a quiet time. As a teenager I was on vacation with my parents, and I went for a walk to find a place to pray. I found a beautiful sunlit hill with rocks strewn apparently randomly on the hill in a pleasing way. God is sure some artist, but can an artist use randomness. I recalled that my mother had finished fainting a cabinet in our house. The way she did it is that she painted it a solid color. After it dried, she took a toothbrush and flicked black paint spots over the cabinet. If in some place the density of the dots was to high or too low, she wiped off the black paint with a sponge and did it again. In a similar fashion, God can throw the rocks on the hill, somewhat a someone rolls dice. If He does not like the roll, He can roll the rocks again to the pattern He desires.
R.C. Sproul - An "Ordained" Minister
This material is from Sproul’s talk in Austin on March 9, 1991. R.C. Sproul talks of the invisible hand of Providence, and God’s hand at the tiller of history. He emphasizes the Westminster Confession: "God is Sovereign, He ordains whatsoever comes to pass; but not in such a way as to do violence to secondary causes or to human freedom."
"I don’t believe as Christians we have to abandon the very important concept of human freedom and responsibility - not for a second. And it would be very painful for me to have to give up the idea of human freedom. But beloved, I could live with that. If I had to give up the idea that God is Sovereign, I have abandoned Christianity. I’ve abandoned hope, because I recognize now I live in a universe that is not under the authority of divine providence.
I use this illustration: If there is one maverick molecule running loose in this universe outside the scope of God’s Sovereign authority, power, and control, no Christian has any reason whatsoever to put my faith or any trust in any future promise that God has made to His people. For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider the battle was lost, for want of a battle the war was lost. ... One maverick molecule could destroy, the best laid plans, not of mice, or of men, but of God, if God is not Sovereign."
If God in some sense... does not ordain every thing that comes to pass, then God is not really Sovereign ... If God is not Sovereign, then God is not God."
Calvinists’ Two Definitions of Ordain/Decree
One ambiguity in the teaching of many Calvinists is the definition of ordain and decree. Theologians use ordain and decree as synonyms, but they use them in two different senses. In the first sense, Calvinists says God expressly chooses to cause a certain event to happen. Saying God expressly choose or desired every event goes against scripture.
In the second sense, all Christians should agree that God does ordain/decree every single thing in the sense of merely permitting some things to happen, while expressly choosing to cause other events, then there is no problem.
The difficulty, just not with Sproul, but with most Calvinistic theologians, is that they definitely mean ordain in the first sense in many cases. When (and if) they slip into the second sense, it is not at all clear which sense they are using. This is not true of all Calvinist theologians though, for the quote from Charles Hodge in part one is a clear use of the second sense.
"A view which holds that the free acts of men are uncertain, sacrifices the sovereignty of God in order to preserve the freedom of men." (Boettner p.43) Boettner is correct; this is a terrible view. Unfortunately, some Arminians actually have this error.
"Now if future events are foreknown to God, they cannot be any possibility take a turn contrary to His knowledge. If the course of future events is foreknown, history will follow that course as definitely as a locomotive follow the rails from New York to Chicago. X The Arminian doctrine, in rejecting foreordination, rejects the theistic basis for foreknowledge. Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined." (Boettner p.42) Boettner is correct up to the X. Boettner misrepresents the view of the majority of Arminians horribly. In his "common sense", he has forgotten that if God is timeless, then foreordination of events and the occurrence of events, can be interactive.
Lest We Forget...
Lest non-Calvinists forget, scripture is clear that we need to be set free. Jesus said in John 8:31-32 "To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’" Again in John 8:34 says, "Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.’"
Every Christian, Calvinist or non-Calvinist, who believes scripture has to believe that God is sovereign over every single thing. Denying the numerous passages that show God is Sovereign is not the issue. The issue is whether Biblical Sovereignty requires that God be the ultimate causality, the primary, root of every event, including all wickedness, sin, and the things for which God is broken-hearted and full of wrath.
For Further Study
Ante-Nicene Fathers vols. 1-10 Hendrickson Pub. 1994.
Durant, Will The Reformation MJF Books 1957. Durant was a famous historian. This book came from his lectures in a Presbyterian church
Elwell, Walter A. (ed.) The Concise Evangelical Dictionary of Theology Baker Book House 1991.
Simon, Marilyn K., Mountains are Not Triangles: Chaos, Fractals, Dynamical systems and Complexity. Unpublished. 1994.
Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Conference on Chaos in Manufacturing. Santa Fe New Mexico, April 9-12, 1996.
Schaff, Philip and David Schaff The Creeds of Christendom Volume III The Evangelical Protestant Creeds. 1993 (from 1931 ed) Baker Books.
Boettner, Loraine. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company 1932.
Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion translated by Henry Beveridge Wm. B. Eerdmans 1989.
Daniel, Curt. The History and Theology of Calvinism. Ph.D. Dissertation Scholarly Reprints 1993.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology Baker Book House 1985.
Gill, John The Cause of God and Truth Volume II.
Pink, A.W. The Sovereignty of God Baker Book House 1930.
Spencer, Duane Edward TULIP : The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture Baker Book House 1979.
Sproul, R.C. Chosen by God
Forster, R.T. and V. Paul Marston God’s Strategy in Human History Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1973.
Geisler, Norman and T. Howe When Critics Ask Victor 1989.
Lewis, C.S. The Great Divorce. Macmillan Publishing.
In this otherwise excellent book, C.S. Lewis suggests the false doctrine for people to go to hell, and afterwards to have a sincere change of heart and go to heaven. Then, for them Hell will be only purgatory.
Luther, Martin The Bondage of the Will translated by Henry Cole. Baker Book House 1976.
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