I’m subscribed to the Desiring God mailing list and I often read John Piper answering questions about Christian doctrine from curious believers. While I don’t think that peddling the term ‘Christian Hedonism’ is necessarily helpful, I appreciate Piper’s lengthy ministry, his biblical knowledge, and the insights he gives on theological subjects.
This week I read an interesting post on Piper’s website entitled Does God Control All Things All The Time? Aha! I thought. This is right up my street. I was genuinely interested to read what Piper had to say about this question which cuts into the heart of Christian theology.
As I read through the article I found myself in almost total agreement. I do agree with a lot of what Calvinists like Piper have to say about God’s sovereignty. But just as Piper was concluding, he made a statement that I think highlights why I could not ultimately describe myself as a Calvinist:
God’s sovereignty does not diminish our accountability.
Alarm bells immediately started ringing in my mind and my heart sank as I read these words, which represent a confusion that is at the heart of Calvinist thinking. Earlier in the article, Piper had made another statement along the same lines:
Even in situations where God is permitting, He is permitting by design.
Are you able to see the contradiction that exists in both of these quoted statements? You see, Calvinists want to strongly state God’s sovereignty and insist that salvation is solely a work of God. But the trouble is, we only need to be ‘saved’ because of rebellion against God, and this rebellion implies freedom of the human will.
Without God’s sovereignty, Calvinism doesn’t make sense, but with God’s sovereignty, Christianity doesn’t make sense.
It’s simple. If we are free to sin, then God is not in control of our lives, and so we cannot call Him sovereign. If we are not free to sin, and our lives are under God’s control, then the need for salvation, and therefore the whole Christian gospel, evaporates.
Calvinists would have to deny what I affirm, which is that we are merely puppets in the hands of God. I believe all of creation is part of God – He is omnipresent – and this is what true sovereignty means. We have to be able to affirm this truth about God and then deal with the implications for our theology, which are far-reaching.
For a deep-dive into the divine sovereignty vs human free will problem, I recommend checking out my book God’s Grand Game, which is currently available for free as an eBook. For full details, visit the Books page.