Arminius vs. Piper

Arminius rightly infers that the Calvinist is obsessed with the sovereignty and wrath of God.1 But why, exactly, would God be angry from all eternity? Meaning, Piper and other Calvinists argue that God decrees even the most seemingly insignificant detail of all reality and has done so from eternity past, prior even to His creating the universe and human beings in His own image. God wants to display His wrath. What wrath? At what would God be angry prior to creating the universe and human beings? Arminius rightly states: "For He is not angry with them [sinners: vessels of wrath, cf. Rom. 9:22] except when they have already become vessels of wrath"2 through sin. John Piper's angry God seems to have eternal emotional and psychological problems that can only be appeased through wrath.



In a recent sermon and post, "How to Know the Will of God," John Piper, expounding upon Acts 4:27-28, insists: "That is all sin. And planned by God." Thus Herod, Pilate, the crowds shouting "Crucify Him" and the soldiers obeying that command all acted as they did because God decreed for them to act as they did. These are vessels of wrath (Rom. 9:22) and they were vessels of wrath in the mind of God from eternity past because God decreed that they be vessels of wrath. Arminius disagrees with this interpretation and answers:
So far is it from the fact that God is not able to be angry with the [spiritually] hardened [vessels of wrath] that on the contrary He does not harden any except those who have already become vessels of the most just Divine wrath by their own fault [and not God's decree]. Indeed, the whole Scripture teaches that the hardening is the effect and sign of the Divine wrath. Wherefore the question is foolish whether God can be angry with the hardened when it should have been asked whether God can harden those with whom He is angry [and for what reason is He angry].3 (emphases added)
But the Calvinist, obsessed with the wrath of God against sinners, deflects and highlights other passages of Scripture by way of answer (Ps. 115:3; Rom. 9:20); which is, properly, no answer at all. Piper states: "You are saying that God's sovereign will that always comes to pass includes sin? Yes. If God could not plan the murder of his Son we could not be saved." But there is a vast difference between planning the atoning death of His Son for the sin of the world, and His subsequent victorious resurrection, and decreeing the rape of a two year old -- which, by logical necessity, God's "sovereign will" rendered certain. In essence, then, sin and wickedness are necessary in order for God to be sovereign, in order for God to rule over us in "sovereign" fashion, and we are thus merely pawns in the theater of life which God not merely watches with enjoyment but is exhaustively and most intricately active in every detail. That Calvinism gains any converts is a universal marvel.

How does Piper respond to the little girl, or anyone else, when she is raped by the decree of God and for His glory? He uses Scripture: "For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil." (1 Pet. 3:17) Mind you, this context has absolutely nothing to do with suffering wickedness merely at the bidding of God's eternal decree against the individual. The suffering, if context actually means anything to Piper in interpreting the Bible, refers to not repaying evil for evil or abuse but repaying evil with blessing (1 Pet. 3:9) -- a suffering for doing good, and for the sake of righteousness. (cf. Matt. 5:10)

Never mind context: proof-texting his way through his theology seems to pass muster; Piper then uses Ephesians 1:11 for further evidence that all that happens in the universe and in each of our lives is at the sovereign behest of God's will: "All things. He works all things according to the counsel of his will. This extends to the details of all existence." Arminius argues against this novel theory: "That God ordains the causes ... and yet is not to blame" for the evil that ensues as a result of His decreeing evil and the most heinous wickedness is irrational.4 Try as they may, Calvinists cannot deliver their God from being the Author of sin and evil -- the one who decrees, renders certain, and brings about the most horrifying, reprehensible, and scandalous wicked acts of history.

What Piper and other Calvinists are suggesting, then, is that a holy God can also possess a wicked mind. Think seriously on this matter with a logical Calvinistic perspective: Sin, evil and wickedness, in all of the deplorable, disgusting, and demeaning aspects such requires, was God's idea before we were ever created. What kind of God dreams up and decrees by necessity the rape or destruction of a two year old girl? Evidently, if we are to believe Calvinists like Piper, God Himself was wrong when He declared to His prophet Jeremiah that He "did not command or decree [dabarti, to speak, command, counsel], nor did it enter into my mind" for the Jewish people to sacrifice their little ones to a false god. (Jer. 7:31, emphases added; cf. Jer. 19:5) Yet they did it! How? By the predetermined decree of John Piper's God or by their own wickedness? Arminius and Arminians affirm the latter, biblical response, while Piper and other Calvinists espouse the former error.

Here is what John Piper believes on this issue: "It's right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die." (link) John Piper's God is a sinner. The God of Scripture commands human beings not to commit murder because we are created in the image of God. (Gen. 9:6) But John Piper's sinful God (God forbid!) is above His own standards. Why is Piper's God sinful?

Piper states: "God has a sovereign will -- I ordain that my Son be killed; I ordain what I forbid." (emphasis added) Not only does God forbid murder, but He also decrees murder, thus not only rendering Piper's God sinful but also debilitatingly schizophrenic: this God hates sin but He needs sin in order to "sovereignly" govern His universe and bring Himself glory. Revisiting the rape of a young one, and whether we can suggest that such is the will of God, Piper pleads that he has "tried to give you a structure of biblical thought to know how to answer that question in a way that not only corresponds with the reality of biblical truth, but with [the] deep needs of your soul." He continues:
One need is to believe God hates what happened there. And when he was looking at the abuser he was saying, "Don't do that! That is contrary to my will. I command you not to do that!" He hates what he sees and will approve of judgment. You need to believe that God is right there disapproving.
I find admiring Piper's blatant inconsistencies impossible. Piper's own Calvinistic a priori has backed him into a corner, by means of which he is not only obliged to maintain these inconsistencies, but also to charge God as the Author of Sin and Evil, a schizophrenic patient in need of healing of cognitive distortions, and the ultimate sinner in the known universe. He has also taught us that God strictly and necessarily ordains what He forbids. This is not hyper-Calvinism, for Calvin and Beza taught the exact same notion, and others like Jonathan Edwards down the line to John Piper perpetuate the same character assassination of God's very being and nature.

So, Piper's God claims to be telling the abuser, via His "revealed will," not to rape the young one. But the Calvinist God, via His alleged "will of command," rendered certain the rape of the young one; and the abuse victim is supposed to trust this God? love this God? believe this God when He claims to hate the sin of the abuser? Piper then commits the unpardonable: a manipulative tack that blames the victim: "And if you try to solve the problem of God's sovereignty at the moment of crisis [do not forget, by God's decree and rendering "the moment of crisis" necessary and certain] and push him so far out of that moment of causality [Piper explicitly confesses here that God causes the rape!], so far to the edges, you know what is going to happen? You will now be left with no God to help you deal with this and turn it good." (emphases added) In the field of psychiatry, this is called emotional and psychological abuse, as well as spiritual manipulation.

Do you see how Piper backs the victim into the corner? If the person attempts to understand why or how God can render certain the sexual abuse he or she endured, and even if doubt creeps in and that individual pushes God away as a result, then God will not help the individual deal or cope with the trauma that God caused! Again, that Piper and/or Calvinism gains converts is absolutely a marvel; and, to think, Piper's sinful God decreed that Piper would believe these doctrines of demons.

Men like Beza, Edwards, and Piper think that even the reprobate -- those whom God, from eternity past, (arbitrarily) elected to be reprobate unbelievers -- can take comfort in the fact that they serve a greater purpose in the scheme of God. Arminius answers:
How can eternal damnation [an eternal decree of God to damn the majority of people] be called an "end" [or a goal or purpose], when an end has some ratio of good implied in it? ... Unless perchance anyone will say [as do Beza and other Calvinists] that even this is a good thing for the [non-elect, reprobate] creature, that he [or she] should serve God for the illustration of His wrath; contrary to the clear word of Christ, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born."5
For the Calvinist, whatever happens is manifested to the glory of God, since God decreed such, has purpose in such, and rendered such certain by His own sustaining providence. Yet they shrink from being consistent in naming God the Author of sin and evil, which He quite inescapably is in their theology, though most of them will deny it. In a theologically proverbial sense, they want their cake and eat it, too. They want to insist that God renders certain and even brings to pass every act of sin imaginable, as such was decreed from eternity past and was God's own idea, and also that God is not culpable and responsible for all that happens. With a God like that of John Piper, who needs a devil?

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1 Jacob Arminius, "Analysis of Romans IX," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 3:517-18.

2 Ibid., 3:518.

3 Ibid., 3:516-17.

4 Ibid., 3:530.

5 Ibid., 3:539.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.