Calvinism: God's Glory Diminished

On John Piper's site, Desiring God, Jonathan Parnell wrote a post titled "God's Glory Wins," in which he begins by asking a question: "Not everyone will believe the gospel. Why?" Parnell quotes Scripture affirming God's desire that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), underscoring the fact that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32). Parnell then advances the highly philosophical meandering, so often connected with John Piper, of God's alleged "two wills." God, allegedly, has a decree of the will and also a decree of command. "God's 'two ways of willing,'" writes Piper, "implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that another state of affairs should come to pass" (Does God Desire All to Be Saved? 16). (link) He writes, further, "This means that though God desires all people to be saved (his 'will of command'), only those [unconditionally] chosen in Christ will believe the gospel and be saved (his 'will of decree')." Let us examine this novel philosophy.  

The word "will," in normal English usage, refers to the "mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action; diligent purposefulness; desire, or determination, especially of one in authority." (link) The word "command," in normal English usage, refers to "direct with authority; give orders to; have control or authority over; rule; deserve and receive as due; exact." (link) In Piper's philosophy, God, in some benign yet mysterious manner, wills that all people repent and trust in Christ for salvation, but He has not commanded all people to repent and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation (contra Acts 17:30-31) because He has only, allegedly, unconditionally elected to save some by an eternal and mere decree. 

Thus this "decree of the will" is supposed to image a genuine "will," i.e., a deliberate choice, course of action, purpose, or determination in God, but it fails miserably. Since, in Calvinism, God is sovereign, in control of all events, including the will, desire, and actions of all His creatures, even decreeing the end of all events, which also includes the means thereof, rendering all events necesseary; then when God "wills" for someone to repent and trust in Christ, He is not expressing a deliberate choice, a course of action, a purpose, or a determination that all people repent and trust in Christ. In essence, then, God is not "willing," contrary to Scripture, that all people repent and trust in Christ. This Calvinistic logic is its own Achilles heel -- its own self-defeating theology.

So that no other force in the known universe can be admitted to frustrating God's "will," Calvinists must philosophize that He has also predetermined a "decree of command." This is the "will," allegedly, that establishes what "state of affairs should come to pass." Which "will" takes superiority, the alleged "decree of the will," or the "decree of command"? Obviously, the "decree of command" that governs what "state of affairs should come to pass" is the "will" of action; it is the reality in which all mortals exist. In that case, then, to what purpose or, even, of what reality is the alleged "decree of the will"? What does this "decree of the will" actually accomplish? What is its purpose, if indeed it has a purpose, since Calvinists admit that God finds purpose in every aspect of His reality?  

Parnell ponders: "But true as it is, this explanation still falls short of getting to the why. Why is this the case? Why does God not decree all that he prescribes?" Odd, I think, how Arminians are often charged with being too philosophical, ignoring Scripture and proper exegesis, while Calvinists think of themselves as pure, biblical exegetes. The irony, as clearly observed here, is almost unbearable. Because of their theory of unconditional election, which is predicated upon another highly philosophical notion -- that total depravity and total inability requires regeneration to precede faith -- Calvinists are obliged to further philosophize their way into answering deeper questions, questions which their own theology necessarily creates.

In other words, an Arminian biblical theology could never lead its adherents to ask such questions: "Why is this the case? Why does God not decree all that he prescribes?" But Calvinists detect these problems that their own philosophical theology inherently creates and offer answers that, we think, diminish the glory of God and render Calvinism as an insufficient and erroneous theology.



The most noble goal of Calvinism is also its most miserable failure: rightly glorifying God. Quoting Piper, again, Parnell writes: "God wills not to save all, even though he 'desires' that all be saved, because there is something else that he wills or desires more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all" (39, emphasis added)." (link) Fallen human beings, so desperately in need of the salvation procured by Jesus Christ, else they inhabit a burning and agonizing fire for all eternity, what matter in the entire universe could be more pressing than salvation? Is there any other context in all of our existence which demands more attention than the salvation of souls that are ever plummeting toward separation from God forever in a place not even originally created for their habitation (Matt. 25:41)? Evidently, for Calvinists, the answer is yes! 

John Piper himself responds: "The answer the Reformed [he means Calvinists] give is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God's glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29). (39)" (link) In the theology of the Calvinist, the alleged "glory of God's wrath" is of greater significance than the salvation of the soul. God has anger, and He must display that anger. In order for God to guarantee that His anger will be displayed, He has decreed not to monergistically save all people. God is far more concerned about His alleged wrath-glory than the salvation of a lost sinner, a lost sinner whom He created in His image, a lost sinner whom He decreed to be lost. Welcome to the glory of God utterly diminished by Calvinistic philosophy. 

I ask: Did Jesus Christ fully receive the wrath of God while on the cross of Calvary? If so, then why does God still feel a need to display further wrath, from a Calvinistic perspective, while ensuring such by decreeing that the majority of fallen mortals not repent and believe in Christ for salvation? His lack of demonstrating grace serves His own glory? In Calvinism, God could, theoretically at least, monergistically save all people, because His full wrath was poured out upon Christ. Universalism and Calvinism have this end result in common. Saving all people irresistibly would not cost God the slightest loss of glory, not in a Calvinistic theology, since God's wrath has already been poured out in full measure upon Christ. "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain." (Isa. 53:10) Was this "will" the alleged decree of the will or the decree of command? Who gets to decide? John Piper? 

This "will" of God to crush His own Son for the sin for the world (John 1:29; Col. 1:20; 1 John 2:2) was capable of saving every person who should ever live. According to Calvinism, all glory would have still been given to God, and would have, quantitatively at least, brought Him more glory. But He was not willing, contrary to Jesus' own statement, that we be willing (cf. Luke 13:34). That Calvinistic doctrine twists the words of Jesus Himself, which should now be interpreted as, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that was decreed by God to kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to it! How often I kinda, sort of, in some small sense, desired to gather her brood under her wings, but God, My Father, was not willing." (Luke 13:34 Calvinism's Consistently-Interpreted Version) 

The wrath of God that remains is intended, first, for the devil and his angels, for whom hell was originally created (Matt. 25:41); and second, for stubborn sinners and apostates who refuse to repent, trust in Christ, thus refusing to honor God's ultimate sacrifice of His Son for our eternal benefit (John 3:36; Heb. 10:29, 35, 38). The notion of anyone "frustrating God's will," as Calvinists charge Arminians as holding, merely assumes that God has "willed" or decreed every minutiae of our existence, including who will and who will not believe in Jesus Christ, a faulty man-constructed theory that is contradicted by Scripture (cf. Deut. 30:15, 19; Ps. 26:5; 97:10; 119:104, 128; Prov. 6:16; Jeremiah 2:5-9; 2:13-17; 2:20, 29, 30; 3:21-22; 4:3-4; 4:14; 5:19, 23, 28, 29; 6:16; 7:3-7; 7:23, 30, 31; 13:11; 19:5; Isa. 5:4; John 1:12, 13; 3:16; 12:32; Rom. 1:16, 17; 2:4; 3:21-22; 3:23, 24, 25, 26; 10:13; 1 Cor. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; Col. 1:20; 1 Tim. 2:4, 6; 4:10; 1 John 3:8). God freely and willingly, not begrudgingly, saves sinners.

God is mighty to save, in Arminian theology, and has elected to save anyone who will by grace believe in Christ Jesus His Son our Lord (1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22 Heb. 7:25; 11:6). Calvinism diminishes the glory of God, but His glory still shines, in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord (2 Cor. 4:6) in Arminianism! Why not Calvinism? Because Calvinism diminishes the glory of God, abuses the word of God in doing so, and maintains a distorted gospel. Calvinism is a gospel that speaks out of both sides of its mouth, suggesting we embrace not antinomy or mystery but contradictions. Calvinism proffers that God loves all "in some sense," and desires the salvation of all "in some sense," but can in no sense logical define exactly what sense that might be. In essence, Calvinism corners the Calvinist and instrumentally causes him to utter incoherent statements that in no sense reflect what we find in Scripture.

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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.