A Dialogue on John Piper's Concept of the Glory of God

John Piper writes: "So when I say that everything that exists -- including evil -- is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly, I mean that, one way or the other, God sees to it that all things serve to glorify His Son."1 (emphasis added) The italicized words are paramount for this dialogue: evil, in a deterministically Calvinistic paradigm, is determinately purposed to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly. In other words, in the Calvinistic theology of John Piper, without God-purposed evil the glory of Christ would shine less brightly.

The conclusion in Calvinistic theology is obvious: God needed evil in order make His own glory shine brighter. In the eschaton, then, when all evil has been judged, and all sin has been eradicated, the glory of God will shine in a lesser hue. Is this not so? C.S. Lewis frames the matter thusly: "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." (link) How can we know this to be true? Because God's glory is not dependent upon any conception, action, or inaction of man: no created being, no circumstance of reality, can in any sense imaginable diminish the glory of God.

THE GLORY OF GOD

There is, then, no such reality, like that of Piper, of the glory of God, or the glory of Christ, shining brighter due to any actuality other than the eternal and manifest reality of the existence of God. What is meant by the glory of God, from the Greek perspective of the word δόξα, is God's honor, renown, the divine quality or an unspoken manifestation of God. (link) This Greek word corresponds with the Hebrew concept of God's glory being heavy, weighty, referring to intrinsic worth. (link) The glory of God, therefore, is the innate worthiness, eternally beyond the worthiness of any other possession or person, that belongs to God and God alone.

We do not yet fully appreciate the glory -- the worthiness -- of God that is due to God by virtue of the mere existence of God. But, because we believers "have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 5:1-2 LEB) All our hope as believers in Christ rests upon the future full realization of the glory of God -- the honor and praise of God, the renown of God, the divine quality or unspoken manifestation of God, the weighty worthiness of the triune God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Psalmist insists: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Ps. 19:1 NIV) Even though the heavens themselves, creation, was "subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it" (Rom. 8:20 NRSV), in this state of being they still declare and keep on declaring the glory of God. Does the glory of God shine brighter because of the fallen state in which the heavens exist? No. Because the glory of God is not manifest in degrees.

God is constant. God, in eternal attributes, does not change God's nature. The eternal and intrinsic and weighty nature and glory of God remains undiminished by virtue of God's own existence. In other words, God does not need sin and evil in order to make the glory of Christ to shine brighter, since the glory of God cannot shine brighter than God's own existence already permits. Even Piper's errant theology can in no viable sense diminish God's glory because God's glory is intrinsic to God's own existence.

GOD AND UNNECESSARY EVIL

Piper also suggests that God allowing the expression of free will to potentially-rebellious creatures, whether angelic or human, is "not the way the Bible deals with the situation."2 Of course, the manner in which he frames free will is errant, as well. "This idea that God was unable to prevent the rebellion because of his respect for the innate self-determining wills of sinless angels is not a solution to the problem."3 His solution requires God to decree and render certain the rebellion of sinless angels. This he imagines is "the way the Bible deals with the situation." Yet nowhere in Scripture does any author state "the situation" in such a manner.

First, Piper is in error to think that Arminian or non-Calvinistic biblical theology insists God was unable to prevent potential rebellion, for the matter does not address ability or power. God freely and sovereignly chose to allow angels and humans to render their own choices. Second, his abuse of the phrase "self-determining wills" is rife in his writings, and the contributing factor to his misunderstanding and misrepresentation of libertarian free will. The biblical truth of divine concurrence renders Piper's "self-determining" critique entirely false. (Acts 17:28)



Third, and most significantly, Piper's alleged biblical solution to the problem of evil renders God the Author of sin and evil, though he denies this conclusion, and attempts to deliver himself and his theology from the same. But he cannot escape this unfortunate and dishonorable conclusion when he insists that God eternally decreed, rendered certain, and brought to pass that angels and human beings sin and rebel and commit evil. Piper even misuses Scripture to support his thesis:
The authority that they [the devils] have is not the same kind of authority that Jesus wields in Mark 1:27: "He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." This is an absolute, effective authority. When God exerts this authority, it produces what it demands. When he wills, he can make the demons do what he commands.4 (emphasis original)
Understand what Piper is teaching about the sovereignty and the glory of God: whatever demons do, and, by implication, whatever human beings do, they all do what God commands them to do. "Christ holds sway over Satan's will whenever he pleases. This means that anytime demons are doing horrible things, Jesus is not commanding them to do otherwise."5 (emphasis added) Please re-read that statement. The Calvinistic theology of John Piper is, while tragic and utterly deplorable, quite consistent on this count. God is the Author of all sin and evil and rebellion because God commands all sin and evil and rebellion. God is the great mystic and cosmic Puppet Master of God's puppet demons and angels and human beings.

GOD AND EVIL

God is sovereign over evil. What does that mean, exactly? This statement indicates that no evil freely committed by any relatively-free creature can thwart the plans and the purposes of a sovereign God. What is meant by sovereignty? The word sovereign refers to God being the ultimate Ruler of the universe. How does God rule? God rules and governs His universe by sustaining and maintaining whatever exists. God influences toward that which is good, and not evil, because God is good and not evil. God's innate holiness and justice and righteousness govern God's intent and purposes. If the glory of God is diminished in any sense then God's glory is diminished by the perspective of the creature and not the intrinsic nature of God.

Regarding sin and the human being, we acknowledge that God actually can prevent sin, but God chooses when this is appropriate. An apt example derives from Abimelech. Abraham tells a king that his wife Sarah is his sister in order to save his own life. So the king takes beautiful Sarah into his keeping but he does not have sex with her. God approaches Abimelech in a dream, warning him about taking Sarah into his keeping, since she is the wife of another man. (Gen. 20:1-4) But Abimelech did not know this bit of information and he, thus, pleads to God on his behalf. Abimelech responds: "I did this in the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands." (Gen. 20:5) God responds: "Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart; furthermore it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her." (Gen. 20:6) Consider this event from the perspective of Calvinism.

In a Calvinistic worldview, God decreed for Abraham to tell Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, instead of his wife. God decreed that Sarah should perpetuate the lie. God decreed that Abimelech would take Sarah into his keeping. God also decreed that Abimelech would not touch Sarah sexually. God then manifests Himself in a dream to Abimelech, warning him that he is in danger of his very life for taking the wife of another man, which was all decreed by God to occur. Abimelech then informs God that he is innocent, which God already knows, because God decreed for Abimelech not to touch Sarah and be innocent. God then responds to Abimelech, informing him that He was the One who did not allow him to touch Sarah, adding some gratuitous notion about the alleged integrity of Abimelech's heart, which makes absolutely no sense, given that God allegedly commanded that so-called (mistitled) integrity.

This is Calvinistic ideology posing as biblical exegesis; John Piper would have us believe this scenario. But the matter is much more severe. God, according to Piper and Calvinism, also works exhaustively and meticulously in this fashion among demons and anyone who perpetuates sin, wickedness, and evil. God commands all sin, wickedness, and evil; and, more importantly, God allegedly commands all such sin, wickedness, and evil so that the glory -- the worthiness -- of Jesus Christ can shine the more brightly. This is supposedly manifest in every rape, act of incest, fornication, drug-use, murder, bestiality, cruelty, oppression, injustice, abortion, worship of Satan and false gods -- all are decreed, rendered certain, and brought to pass determinately by God in order to make the glory of Christ shine brighter. This ghastly view, again, cannot escape rendering God the Author and Creator of sin.

If the concept of Piper is that the glory of Christ shines brighter due to the darkness, then he has rendered sin and evil absolutely necessary, and must conclude that the glory of Christ will dim once sin and evil have finally been eradicated. The glory (worthiness) of God in Christ by means of the Holy Spirit will shine in eternity future just as brightly as it always has from eternity past. The glory of God in Christ cannot be diminished. God does not need sin and evil in order to make His own glory shine all the more brightly. God knows how to conduct His own sovereignty in light of sin, hates sin, and maintains no vested interest in decreeing, rendering certain, and commanding or bringing about sin. If the glory of God could be diminished, I suggest that Calvinism and the theology of John Piper necessarily brings about the diminishing of the glory of God in Christ, by constructing a concept of God in which He needs sin, for the display of His glory, and thus authors sin.

In closing, Piper philosophizes and speculates that free will cannot account for why "perfectly holy beings [angels] would use their wills to despise what they were adoring [God] when created."6 But this fails to take into account the effect(s) of change, as well as the appalling and disgraceful notion of the alternate option, that God commanded "perfectly holy beings" to despise Him whom they were adoring when created. The environment among the angels and among Adam and Eve changed once temptation toward disobedience was introduced. Even with Satan himself there was a change that introduced potential disobedience -- a disobedience not commanded and brought about by his Creator. But are we to believe, according to the philosophy of Piper, that the glory of God shone brighter to Adam and Eve once sin and disobedience was committed? Where is this theory taught in Scripture?

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1 John Piper, Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 44.

2 Ibid., 43.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 45.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.