Thoughts in Response to John Piper
Pastor John Piper’s “Ask Pastor John” podcast this week discussed the question posed by Arminian Professor Roger Olson “Where’s the Arminian John Piper?” Upon listening to John’s response I asked my friend, Pastor Tim Brown, for his reactions. I found them very thought provoking and worth consideration.
Here is Piper’s podcast…
Here is Tim’s response…
I think it is self-serving and borders on intellectual dishonesty to recognize man’s role as opposed to God’s role as being the core of Arminian theology.
- I don’t know of any theologians who actually teach this or would recognize it as such.
- Man can do nothing unless God has done something. What rule of theology makes the responder superior to the initiator? What metric makes the final move the crucial move? One could argue that the move which makes possible the final move is the crucial move.
- If you were to give me $1 million, for me to walk away praising myself for having the presence of mind to extend my hand and take it from you flies in the face of psychology and history.
- Psychology – no one does this, i.e., walks away and focuses on their cleverness rather than the generosity of the giver. Everyone would walk away and say to others, “Wow, did you see what that guy just did? That’s amazing! Who is he!?” The focus would be on the giver and not the receiver and anything he did to position himself to receive.
- History – we don’t see what Piper asserts even in our most recent history. I am sure that Piper would consider Pastor Chuck an Arminian, or at least Arminianism would be a more dominant note than the principles of Calvinism. We see in our own quasi-Arminian movement a God-honoring focus on Jesus Christ. Our non-Calvinistic soteriology doesn’t produce the praise of man, but the praise of Jesus Christ. Our soteriology can bear the weight of worship and wonder.
- Isn’t it interesting that the man-at-the-core theology of Pastor Chuck birthed the Jesus movement and Piper’s God-at-the-center theology birthed the neo-Calvinist movement. The longer I think about it, the more Piper’s little clip strikes me as being self-serving and not well thought out.
In addition, for someone to take up Olson’s challenge to become the darling and champion of Arminian theology would be to betray the very gospel they preach. Pastor Chuck would have no interest in taking up this challenge. He wanted to promote Jesus, not a system. I’m sure that Piper sees Billy Graham as an Arminian. Billy wants to preach Christ and Him crucified – he doesn’t want to promote a system. Greg Laurie would be seen as an Arminian by Piper (no doubt), but Greg wants to preach Jesus and not argue system. It seems like the ones who are accused of being man-focused are more Christ-focused than the ones who say they are the ones who are most God-focused and God-honoring.
Piper’s contentions in his podcast don’t ring true theologically, psychologically, or historically.
[Furthermore] it’s amazing to me in the light of Piper’s contentions, that the Arminian theology of Pastor Chuck got the nation talking about Jesus and the Calvinism of Piper gets people talking about Calvin and Calvinism. You shall know them by their fruits. (struck through per Tim’s comment/retraction below)
Well said Tim!
Thanks for having this addressed, Miles.
I am still mystified, after a few decades of following Jesus, that such pontificating goes on and is accepted. How it helps bring the gospel to the unreached and unengaged, I just can’t see.
Being in the Philippines for the holidays reminds me of the great need in the world for equipping leaders in the Word, rather than in dogma.
I don’t believe Chuck saw himself as an Arminian (I know that’s your view too). I’ve never considered myself in either camp in particular. I’m still just a Jesus-follower after 4+ decades and unashamed of it.
Hi Miles, thank you for posting pastor Tim’s thoughts on this issue. I think he offered a helpful corrective to some unfortunate stereotypes of the Arminian position. However, I was disappointed by the last comment about Chuck promoting Jesus vs Piper promoting Calvin and Calvinism. While it’s true that people can be more excited about Calvinism than Christ, I know many who would say that Piper re-energized their love for and awe in Christ in a way they hadn’t known before, whether in spite of or because of his Calvinist emphases. Moreover, is there not a danger common to us all to emphasise theology that we are excited about over and against our devotion to Christ? (Even if Calvinists may be more prone to it). With all respect to pastor Tim, this last point seemed like a similar stereotyping that Piper was just accused of.
Lindsay, I agree w your final comment. I wish to retract my final statement. It is true that the Arminian leaning Chuck Smith helped to begin a national conversation about Jesus, and John Piper has pointed many to Jesus, too. Thanks for calling me on that.
Hello Tim, thank you for your comments here. It was a blessing to me that you received what I had to say and did so humbly! God bless you, brother!
Encouraged by your humility here. You’re a blessing bro!
Full disclosure. That last comment was a latter email that perhaps shouldn’t have been added to the completed post.
That final comment was in the comments solicited by Miles. I bear full responsibility. If we are above correction, these blog conversations merely deteriorate into a string of serial monologues.
Miles and Tim,
Tim, thank you for taking the time to write a response to Piper’s podcast. As always Tim, you write insightfully and thoughtfully. I appreciate your honesty and directness. Interesting thoughts. I also really appreciated the first part of Piper’s podcast emphasizing that Calvinists and Armenians worship ONE JESUS. The first point to emphasize is our mutual faith in Christ.
This is an interesting issue. Is theology more important than devotion or less important? This can present a false dichotomy. Theology is about knowing God. Devotion is about knowing God, yet we can know God without knowing him. All who desire to know God whilst in our pursuit of that knowledge, will place our understanding into categories. This doesn’t mean that we know the secret things that belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29), but it does mean that we should seek to the best of our ability to understand God’s working in our world, yet holding to the fact that somewhere we must claim ignorance. I also think that sometimes (myself included) we can be afraid of labels. We may hold to a system, but may not want to be labelled as being part of that system of thinking (whether because of stigma connected to it, not wanting to be associatively classified (i.e. if ‘Person A’ is a X, and ‘Person B’ is a X, then ‘Person A’ and ‘Person B’ are the same), uncertainty about how some of those things work out…). I can understand the difficulty of any group or person taking on a label whether it be Augustinian, Semi-Augustinian, Semi-Pelagian, Pelagian, Open Theist, Calvinist, or Arminian. By nature we classify things. God gave us this nature (Genesis 1, we see God ordering things and then man is called to order/name animals). One of my biggest frustrations with Rob Bell was his ability to deflect all labels. A friend of mine who worked for a book publisher interviewed Bell trying to nail down his views on certain things. He said getting Bell to explain his theology was like trying to nail Jello to the wall. In no way am I suggesting that the abhorrence of labels is equivocal to being like Rob Bell. But maybe for us there is a healthy corrective not to fear soteriological labels? I throw that out as a question, not that I have the answer to it.
1. ) Both systems of theology recognize there are roles/responsibilities for both man and God. But I think Piper’s point (and also most Calvinist theologians) would say that Arminian theology is a juxtaposing of God’s will vs. Man’s will. I think Piper would fully agree on this point with Calvinist theologians Louis Berkof and J.H. Bavinck who Berkof references in his Systematic Theology, “Dr. Bavinck calls attention to a difﬁculty that arises here, since the Bible seems to teach on the one hand that the whole work of redemption is ﬁnished in Christ, so that nothing remains for man to do; and on the other hand, that the really decisive thing must still be accomplished in and through man. Its teaching respecting the way of redemption seems to be both autosoteric and heterosoteric. Therefore it is necessary to guard against all one-sidedness, and to avoid both the Scylla of Nomism, as it appears in Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Neonomism, and the Charybdis of Antinomianism, as it reared its head, sometimes as a speciﬁc doctrine and sometimes as a mere doctrinal tendency…” (page 467, Systematic Thology, http://books.biblicaltraining.org/Systematic%20Theology%20by%20Louis%20Berkhof.pdf). Thus, I don’t think Piper is implying man has no role whatsoever.
2.) This is a good question and one I’ve struggled with. The Calvinist view on this is that if man’s choice is ultimately the choice that ‘seals the deal’, then man is exercising sovereignty. I’m open to persuasion, but I think the Calvinist view on this is still stronger.
3.) I have to disagree with this point though. I do not think Piper front’s Calvinism. He speaks openly about his Calvinism to be sure. But what I see Piper magnifying time and time again is Jesus. Piper’s commitment to Calvinism is because of his magnifying of Christ. When I’ve heard Piper speak, even when I had the opportunity to speak with the man face to face, it was Jesus and the surpassing glory of God that he emphasized. On this point, I would not want to compare and contrast Chuck Smith and John Piper. I would have to disagree (using a personal ad hominem response which isn’t the best way to argue a case, but so be it) that Chuck got people talking about Jesus whilst Piper got people talking about Calvinism. Chuck got people talking about Jesus, but so does Piper. Something that I have gleaned from our Reformed brothers that I rarely heard emphasized within our own camp is Christ-centered preaching. I’m in no way implying that our camp doesn’t preach Christ at the center. But I am saying that I have been taught by men such as Chapell, Keller, Carson, Piper, etc. how to better magnify Jesus in my preaching. When I have listened to these men, I haven’t walked away with a taste of Calvinism, but a taste of the surpassing worth of Jesus. I have tasted of the fruit of these men’s labors and have been greatly enriched by them. I am a better Christian, Husband, Father, and Pastor because of these Calvinists.
I wholly agree, after listening to a lot of Piper’s sermons and and reading several of his books that he does preach Christ. That said, knowing that you also have considered Piper’s works, would you not agree that his most recent (i.e. the last 5 or so years) works have presented a much stronger, impassioned and emphatic presentation of and for Calvinism?
Certainly a few of his works (i.e. Finally Free, Future of Justification and his brand new book Five Points) emphasize his Calvinism. There is a degree that while many books don’t centre-stage Calvinism, it comes out of that framework. But one of the things that Piper does so well is maximizing the glory of God’s sovereignty, particularly in regards to suffering. I haven’t heard a satisfactory argument (not saying there isn’t one) from the Arminian camp that marries God’s sovereignty and man’s suffering. I think this is something that is particular to Calvinism, that God is actively (not passively) sovereign over evil and suffering. Because of this, I think his Calvinism is the seedbed for his analysis, and so a lot of his Calvinism comes out, I think this is because it serves the greater purpose (i.e. why we suffer). My two cents anyway.
Matt, great thoughts and questions too. I appreciated what you said and resonated with much of it too.
I have asked the same questions as you about labels and our tendency to avoid them in Calvary. Sometimes we look down on labels as ‘constructions of men’ but of course a label is simply a way of identifying a view, and every view has a label! But I’ve found quite often that labels are only helpful if we all agree on their definition, and at times using labels works against clarity, not for it, if two people mean different things by the word. Just a few thoughts to add.
So true. Labels are only as good commonly held definitions. If we hold different understandings of Label ‘X’ then we will speak past each other instead of to each other. This is why we need to be clear on what we mean when we use a term/phrase.
Miles, dear friend, arguments from psychology, history, credit, praise, etc….none of that matters. Only one thing matters: what does the Bible say? Study that. Preach that. Defend that.
I do agree… but while agreeing I wish it were that easy in the current context of (predominantly American) evangelicalism.
If it is true that Roger Olson and John Piper are studying the same Bible—which as far as I can tell they are—then is it truly as simplified as “What does the Bible say? Study that. Preach that. Defend that”? Has our recent evangelicalism become to divisive on issues such as soteriology, eschatology, etc.?
don’t get me started on eschatology! 😉
Listening to the recording before reading any of Tim’s post or Matt’s comment I felt as if John was giving a fair, polite, well-thought-out answer to the questions asked by the program host ACCORDING TO HIS PERSPECTIVE.
I then read Tim’s post about the recording, and Matt’s thoughts about the recording and Tim’s post.
1. From a purely theological standpoint it seems to me that one of the key points of debate between classical Arminianism and Calvinism is, indeed, the role that man’s will plays in soteriology. So for Piper to choose that point and expound upon it as he did seems fair FROM HIS PERSPECTIVE. Of course, there’s A LOT more to Arminian theology than the simplified stereotypes that are often thrown around in conversations like these, just as there is a lot more to Calvinist soteriology that a lot of the stereotypes propagated by these conversations. I think Piper’s response was fair. But it remains to be noted that his response is based on a simplified version of Arminian soteriology. Even as he, himself, stated. When Arminians are worshiping “at there best” it is, according to Piper, because of what they hold in common with Calvinist theology. That statement itself demonstrates that there is actually a lot more in common between the two systems than the casual conversation ever allows for. My point is that I think it’s fair to summarise that Arminian theology “in general” is more focused on man’s role than God’s role. Not ALL ARMINIANS or those who may be classified as such, but Arminian Theology as an academic system.
2. Tim, I think you’re agreeing with Piper here. I wasn’t sure if I was reading it wrong or not. But in any case, I agree with the statement that “Man can do nothing unless God has done something.” In fact, I believe that classical Arminian theology would agree with that as well. Which may have been your point.
3. I don’t agree here. I think your statement may be based on personal perspective just as much as you believe Piper’s statement is doing. I wouldn’t credit Piper with birthing the neo-Calvinist movement for one thing. He is certainly A voice, but not THE voice. Secondly, it’s those OUTSIDE of the Calvinist or Neo-Calvinist camp that would define a focus on being Christ-centered as “neo-Calvinist” instead of something more cool and personal sounding like “the Jesus movement”. If people, preachers, pastors, and students of the Bible are truly focusing on the glory of Christ in Scripture and life as a result of what you call “neo-Calvinist” then maybe it deserves a cooler name like “the Christ-centred movement”. Of course all of this is just my own perspective based on my own studies of Scripture, history, and theology where I truly believe both sides are severely misrepresented and therefore the good doctrine that can be gleaned from each is lost in the battle of sound bites and stereotypes.
I’m fairly certain you and I have had some good conversations on this topic before.
Yes, you are correct, John Piper is not the after of the neo-Calvinist camp, but wouldn’t you agree that he is the preeminent voice.
Watch out… they might preempt “The Christ-centered movement.” You should TM that. 😉
Yes, we had some good conversations about soteriology for sure. I specifically chose to argue one side when you were here because it worked out better for the sake of debate. But for me the bigger picture is just that… much bigger. Just as many non-Calvinist believers only hear stereotypes and soundbites about Calvinist theology, likewise many (even those who may be considered “Arminian” or even consider themselves Arminian) only know the soundbites and broad-brush oversimplifications of Arminian theology. When you study the Arminian view from it’s inception to the modern day theological discussions going on there is a lot to consider, and just as much variation and discussion within as there is within the Calvinist camp. In the end, I’ve learned that there are two key things to be gleaned from both systems:
(1) Some of the truths and doctrinal understandings that I appreciate the most about both systems is where they agree!
(2) Where they are said to disagree I often find myself in agreement with both of them!
Divine antinomy… a mystery that I enjoy and choose to live with.
Regarding Piper: Agreed. He is definitely a pre-eminent voice, along with Keller, Carson, and even that guy from Seattle whose name I just can’t seem to think of at the moment.
After thinking about the “Christ-centred movement” phrase (and beginning the paperwork on the trademark) I want to say this…
MANY godly Christian pastors, leaders, teachers, and evangelists ARE Christ-centred in their study, theology, and teaching. I would hate for my characterisation of the “neo-Calvinist” as “Christ-centred” to imply the inverse: that non-neo-Calvinists are not Christ-centred. That is by no means what I believe.
I just agree with Matt’s comments that there is a purposeful focus on getting that specific message across… that Christ is the centre of every Scripture and should be the centre of our studying and teaching. It’s not that this message and idea is new or unheard of: I’ve heard Chuck Smith and others in CC say the same thing many times. It’s just that while CC’s focus may be summarised as “Scriptures, Servanthood, and being lead by the Spirit”, the “neo-Clavinist” focus may be summarised by “Christ-centredness”.
Hey Jon, I didn’t realize there was a Calvary Bible College in Ireland! Awesome. I’m glad I found this site since I didn’t know of anything like this. I’d love to meet if you’re ever in York.
Lindsay – that would be great. And if you’re ever in Ireland be sure to let me know and we’ll meet up. http://www.csmireland.com
I much appreciate the well thought out comments. I’d love to interject two further questions for comment/discussion…
Is the current climate in Evangelicalism, which holds as a major conversation the division between Calvinistic and Arminianistic Soteriology, helpful or hurtful to the Church?
Furthermore… Is it (in the much esteemed opinions of the commenters) truly possible to be completely “in the middle,” being “non-Reformed, non-Calvinist” and “non-Arminian?”
Hey Miles, here are my thoughts for what it’s worth.
1. I don’t really know much of US Evangelicalism, being an Aussie living in the UK, but judging from what I’ve seen online and over here I think the division is both a pity but somewhat necessary in practice. By a pity, I mean that people often seem to barricade themselves into two camps that oppose each other and don’t really talk to each other. Or sometimes one will have to be ‘careful’ who they read, listen to, appreciate, etc. because they’re in the other camp. This is a pity. Though in practice, I can see why some of these walls are in place. A church with elders on both sides of the issue could produce a big mess of conflicting theology from the pulpit and in counseling. That goes for any doctrine that affects many areas. I pray for more charity amongst believers on this issue (like what I’ve seen in this post and the comments). This is an in-house issue, and we have better enemies to fight, though these things are important and free discussion is good.
2. I personally think there is no ‘fence’ to sit on, so there is no absolute middle, but one can be nearer to the fence. If asked an admittedly simplistic question, “do we choose God because He chose us, or does He choose us because He foresaw that we would choose Him?” I see no middle answer. But of course one can hold to some of the 5 points of A or C without holding all of them, thereby being nearer to the fence. Or one could be a heretic of course, I guess that’s the third option! :). But taking a side doesn’t necessarily mean one needs to (nor should) use that label to identify themselves as it might be unhelpful.
I’d love any feedback on my thoughts!
Is it actually possible to hold a partial, 2, 3 or 4 point position with A or C. As it relates to Calvinism I would see each of the 5 points logically progressing from one another. If T is true then it follows that U would come on it’s heels, then L, I and P would follow.
Hi Miles, I’m no authority on the issue but here are some thoughts bouncing around my head.
I agree the 5 points of Calvinism logically relate, thought some call themselves 4 pointers because they deny Limited Atonement. But even still, some Calvinist seem farther away from Arminians depending on their take on related issues like double predestination, God’s desire to save, God’s love for the world, etc. Even Piper’s articulation of Limited Atonement is less abrasive to Arminians as someone like John Owen. As it seems to me one 5 pointer might have less in common with an Arminian as another, depending on their emphases. I’d love feedback on this!
With Arminianism, someone like Wesley sounded at times more like a Calvinist than others I’ve heard! And the issue of loss of salvation may differ.. but on the whole, I agree they are both units, but I was trying to say there may be room for an Arminian to be closer to the fence than another, but neither is ON the fence. One cannot hold unconditional and conditional election at the same time, for example.
I remember hearing a debate/discussion between Mike Horton and Roger Olson on this and they were asked if there is a middle position and both emphatically said ‘no’.
I’d love to see others’ thoughts on this.
Lindsay – you said “I remember hearing a debate/discussion between Mike Horton and Roger Olson on this and they were asked if there is a middle position and both emphatically said ‘no’.”
I’m sure that in Horton’s understanding of Calvinist theology and Olson’s understanding of Arminian theology they truly meant what they said and it makes perfect sense. I can’t argue with either one of them as they are arguably two of the most prominent experts in those systems alive today.
My issue with the statement is that it leads one to believe what you have communicated already: that you must make a choice between the two. I don’t agree.
I will likely be branded and labeled and mentally shelved on the “blacklist” for saying this, but I feel Biblically comfortable with the five points of Calvinism (AS I UNDERSTAND THEM). That being said, the more I study classical Arminian theology (that of Arminius and later Wesley), I find myself being Biblically comfortable with what I know of it so far.
How is that possible? Because I constantly remind myself of what God said to Job in 38:1-40:2. He ALONE understands how I am free to choose and culpable for both my sin and choice and yet elect and chosen. I’ve heard great explanations FROM BOTH SIDES on how these seemingly mutually exclusive Scriptures can be harmonised. In the end, though… “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me”. I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t study and question and learn and do our best to understand. But in the end I was not there when He laid the foundations of the Earth…
If He says that I’m elect from the foundations of the world and that I belong to Him because He chose me and yet holds me accountable to make a free choice to follow him while still in a depraved state… then that’s how it works. We can try to explain it until every last man, woman, and child has freely chosen to become the elect that they always were and it won’t change the fact that it’s a divine mystery.
So… while it may be technically correct that the two SYSTEMS have no middle ground, what the two systems are trying to understand and explain have EVERYTHING in common.
Lindsay, you wrote ” If asked an admittedly simplistic question, “do we choose God because He chose us, or does He choose us because He foresaw that we would choose Him?” I see no middle answer.”
My response to that is there never was a time when God didn’t know we’d choose Him; nor was there ever a time when he hadn’t chosen us. Both are as far back as eternity past, so the question seems to put the issue into a sequence of events placed on a timeline when it really is not a sequence of events but two eternal and parallel truths.
Hi Randy. It’s fine to say that both events are chronologically eternal, but logically one had to precede the other. One choice was based upon the other. Or am I misunderstanding you here?
In any case, my question was an attempt to simplify the C vs A debate into one question, but a proper discussion of it would bring out these differences all the more.
Good effort! I wish it could be simplified to one question. For me its like 20 questions.
Seriously though, I do wonder if there is any true middle ground, however, I know that there are degrees of emphasis. A person may believe in reprobation (better known by the label given by Arminians ‘double predestination’), but how one holds that doctrine determines their practice. Equally how one holds man’s responsibility (i.e. the onus is all on man for faith, or faith as a gift). How one holds his doctrinal position I think is a more critical point. I think of a Calvinist like Alistair Begg whose teaching both Calvinists and Arminians can listen to and be radically built up in their faith.
Lindsay — I would argue that the answer to your question is “NO”. One DID NOT have to precede the other because God is the Eternal uncreated One who is not hemmed in by the restrictions of physical properties like time. God IS. This includes His will and His knowledge. If it weren’t so then He would change.
Please understand this is a completely LOGICAL argument, but one I feel can also be backed up Scripturally.
Randy – well put. I normally use a play on words in the English language to make the same exact point that you’ve made. If you imagine the Triune God in Heaven having a conversation with Himself and making the following statement:
Randy will be my child.
The Arminian finds this to be a statement of God’s foreknowledge.
The Calvinist finds this to be a statement of God’s will.
Both are true “in accordance” with one another. Not “because of” one another.
Hi Jon and Randy, forgive me for being belligerent! I’d like to understand the two of you better, because I’m having trouble grasping what you are both saying. So please allow me one more comment!
What I’m trying to say is that much of this issue hangs on which ‘choosing’ causes the other. It’s fine to say that they’re both eternal, and there was never a time where one preceded the other. But it seems to me that either position ultimately says that one choosing ’caused’ the other.
For the Arminian, both can be eternal, but the believer’s foreknown choice is the cause, basis, reason, etc. for God’s choice. So while they may both be eternal, they’re related in a certain way.
For the Calvinist it’s the same, but that the believer’s choice of God is caused by God’s choice.
When the questions of Total Depravity, Irresistible/Prevenient Grace come into the picture, I just don’t see how there can be a middle ground when both positions are saying the complete opposite as regards election. We can say ‘they’re both true’ but that’s illogical by its very definition, and I don’t see how one can teach the election Scriptures that way either.
Last question, are you both drawing on Norm Geisler here? I’m pretty sure he holds a similar position?
Lindsay – I was unable to reply directly to your comment (I think the thread got too deep – no pun intended). But hopefully you’ll find this comment just below yours…
I am saying exactly what you think it’s not possible that I could be saying. That ultimately neither causes the other. I can try to come up with clever examples to demonstrate but they all fall short just like clever examples of the trinity never quite do it justice.
Last night I chose to eat spaghetti for dinner. It was my free choice and I enjoyed it’s benefits thoroughly. It so happens that my wife had planned for me to eat spaghetti last night for the past few days and I didn’t even know it. Whose will was done? That’s admittedly a more Calvinist-leaning example, and doesn’t do justice to the ginormity of the divine antinomy of soteriology, but hopefully my point is clear: both are true at the same time and that doesn’t make it illogical if we concede that our logic can’t quite grasp the mystery of it.
And no, for me it’s not a Geisler influence because from what I’ve read of him he’s strongly opposed to limiting the atonement to those to whom it actually atones for. I did read “Chosen but Free” about 15 years ago but found some of his arguments in this topic to be much weaker than most of his other work.
Hi Jon! With Christmas coming up I’m going to have to stop checking this post :). I’m still not completely sold on what you’re saying but I do think I understand you now. Rather than just throwing the ball back in your court again, it’s probably wiser for me to leave it at that and think/pray more on this, let this rattle in my head a little longer, and see if I don’t just change my mind!
Thanks again for taking the time to reply.
It is of utmost importance to not demonize the other camp. It is easy to do so (blush, blush). It is not difficult to isolate a component of a system you disagree with and inflate it w a weight that it does not carry in its system. This is what got me going about the Piper video – the assertion that the core of Arminian theology is the man who decides. But, please note, if God did not love man, if God did not send His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin condemned sin in the flesh, there would be nothing to respond to. So, what component is the key, the linchpin? The God who loves, sends, bears, dies, rises, ascends, forgives – or the man who responds?
I don’t know what I am, but I am not a Calvinist. Yet my non-Calvinistic soteriology is as much doxological as is Piper’s. I remember the “I Found It” campaign sponsored by Campus Crusade in 1976. I went to a Christian Church/Churches of Christ Bible College. This (these) denominations were founded by former Presbyterians leaving their Reformed roots. They taught free will and the ability of man to respond to the promise of the gospel and its call to repent. Also, at this time, I was attending Assemblies of God – very Arminian leaning in their soteriology. From many Arminian leaning pulpits I heard criticisms of Crusade’s “I Found It” slogan. The common response was something like – “I didn’t find Him, He found me. He’s not lost – I was the one who was lost. God came to me, a sinner, and showed Himself in all His love and glory. He found Me and saved me and I praise Him for it.”
The way that Calvnists so often demonize those of us not holding to their system is to contend that any kind of human cooperation robs God of all His glory. This is not a Biblical notion nor does it bear the scrutiny of observing Arminian leaning churches. There is a robust and fierce worship of the God who saved us and sustains us. My non-Calvinistic soteriology does not lead me to the existentialism of human autonomy – mere decisionism. It leads me to bow down before the God who found me and saved me. Thank you, Jesus!
Christ, not man, is glorified and magnified in my non-Calvinistic theology, doxology, and testimony.
Tim — well spoken. I get both your passion and your point much better from this comment than from your OP. Thanks for clarifying.
If I heard right, Piper’s point was not that an Arminiast could not have a Christ glorified / magnified doxology. I think Piper’s point was that when an Arminiast engages in a type of worship that says “God found me and saved me”, he in some ways betrays the core of his Arminian theology. His point is that that type of worship is at the core consistent with a Calvinist viewpoint of salvation. So to Piper, you have an Arminiast worshipping as a Calvinist (sorry for the silly use of labels here).
I think the point in question would be: What does an Arminiast mean by “God found me and saved me” and how does that emanate from his views on soteriology.
I would love to hear people’s thoughts on that. Maybe it doesn’t mean the same thing as what a Calvinist would mean. Maybe it does and it easily flows out of an Arminian theology.
Thanks in advance.
Hi, Tony – you wrote: I think Piper’s point was that when an Arminian engages in a type of worship that says “God found me and saved me”, he in some ways betrays the core of his Arminian theology.
I think an Arminian would be very comfortable and happy with the statement that Jesus Christ the Redeemer is at the core of his Arminian theology. Without the work of Jesus Christ there would be nothing to respond to. The decisive element of the gospel is the work of Jesus Christ. And the decisive element of the gospel preached is the work of Jesus Christ presented to sinful man.
That man responds to the gospel is true, but again, as stated above, who made that the core of the Arminian system? If man doesn’t respond, the gospel is still the gospel – it hasn’t been de-cored. Yes, both C and A assign different roles to man, but in the assigning of differing roles, how does that shift the core of a system if the gospel is what both A and C are preaching?
I have not heard him say this or read where he wrote this, but I would assume that Piper would consider the CC Movement to be Arminian in its soteriology. You shall know them by their fruits – CC lifts up and worships Jesus Christ unashamedly and w great vigor; CC helped launch and was/is at the center of the Jesus Movement; we praise Jesus, pray to Jesus, and preach Jesus. Evangelism, where Christ is preached as the only Savior of the world and the name above all names takes place in CC churches and crusades and outreaches all over the world every week. It staggers the imagination that somehow our doxology is out of step w our theology when it is the direct overflow of it.
You ask: What does an Arminian mean by “God found me and saved me”. I don’t know that I am an Arminian to the fullest extent of it historical usage. But I would respond to your question this way 1) He awakened within me a need for salvation 2) He drew me to Himself 3) He forgave and washed me and regenerated me.
Tony, in the first sentence of your post you wrote: I think Piper’s point was that when an Arminiast engages in a type of worship that says “God found me and saved me”, he in some ways betrays the core of his Arminian theology.
How is saying “God found me and saved me” a betrayal of the core of Arminian theology? Thanks.
I should retract and clarify. I took your statement of “God found me and saved me” and assumed that you meant it in the way a Calvinistic soteriology view would take it. That was not correct. What I wanted to point out was simply Piper’s comment at 8:36:
“I don’t mean that Roger Olsen or any other Arminian is not a worshipper of God. I just mean that when that genuine spirit of worship grips any of us, we are not focused on the fact that we have final say in our salvation.”
My point was simply to clarify that I don’t think Piper is saying an Arminian cannot worship God, but that when an Arminian worships with a focus solely on the work of God in salvation and leaves out the celebration of the “yes” of his own decisive decision (which in Arminian view the “yes” is decisive in who is saved and who is not) … Piper views that as worshipping not from the core of Arminian theology.
I was trying to clarify what he was saying. Is that how you understand Piper’s statement to mean?
I think we should be emphasizing the five solas (faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone and to God alone be the glory). Those are five points we can rally around.
Will we all agree on our interpretations of every detail? Of course not, but brethren studying the Word even when differing is far to be preferred over speculative arguments about people’s motives, or their lack of incentives, or their passivity and the rest. People often hold views that contradict their other views and behave and act and speak in a manner that seems contradictory to their stated theologies. I have on many occasion seen professed Arminians praying like Calvinists and Calvinists tied up in knots for lack of assurance of their salvation. And a lack of prayer or lack of witnessing is not the sole domain of either camp.
A significant reason for modern Evangelicals to divide on this topic is they quite often fail to really listen to and understand what the other side is saying and believing, but they prefer to argue against viewpoints not actually held by the other side. No, Mr. Calvinist, Arminians don’t seek to glorify man. An No, Mr. Arminian, Calvinists do believe in prayer and in sharing the gospel with the lost. And both Mr. Arminian and Mr. Calvinist need to admit that not one soul migrates between eternity in Heaven or Hell based on how one understands TULIP. Mr. Calvinist, our exercise of faith is required for us to be saved, but, Mr. Arminian, we must acknowledge that faith is a gift of God. And both of them need to be reminded that all God’s decrees are just.
Well said Randy.
I like that mindset Randy. The five SOLAs are truly points I will rally around at any time.
I think the writer of this article misunderstood what Piper said. He didn’t say that at the core of Arminian theology is mans role. What he said was that at its core, what distinguishes Arminian theology from Calvinism is mans role. As far as I know this is a fair statement. Also, this writer, seems to know next to nothing about John Piper and his ministry! Making comparisons with ‘Chuck’ and comparing how one is drawing attention to Jesus whilst the other is promoting a system is SO way off the mark.
Thanks for weighing in, Kumar. If all Piper had asserted was that Calvinism and Arminianism assigned different roles to man this video would not have been posted here. There is nothing new or controversial in this. It was Piper’s ‘therefore’ that has generated the responses. Piper’s assertion is that the role Arminianism assigns to man robs God of glory, that it diminishes his doxology. This is what I take issue with.
Additionally, at the very beginning of this thread I apologized for the comparison between Smith and Piper.
I appreciate the great thoughts and questions running in this post. To the original post, my honest questions and thoughts:
(1) 3.1 Psychology – While I see where this argument is going, I wonder if two people needed to be rescued off a sinking ship and one accepted and the other did not accept, if the focus would not in fact be on the receiver and not the giver? If asked “Why are you here alive and not dead with the sunken ship like that one guy”, would not the answer be focused on the receiver and not the giver? I guess if this analogy works for salvation (and perhaps it does not), then wouldn’t the truly differentiating factor between a person in hell and a person in heaven in fact be that one chose and the other did not? “I made it to heaven because while we all had an equal opportunity to receive Christ, I in fact said yes and they said no”. So if the generosity of the giver is equal to all, is it not the peaks and valleys of people’s choice that stands out and is focused on?
(2) 3.3 In speaking of terms like “Jesus movement” and “neo-Calvinist movement” and pitting them against or for each other, is this a worst mistake than pitting Arminianism vs Calvinism? The latter seems to me to try to resolve / work through theological systems and understandings of scripture. The former seems highly legacy and man / church movement driven.
(3) I’m not sure the basis of this strong statement:
“It seems like the ones who are accused of being man-focused are more Christ-focused than the ones who say they are the ones who are most God-focused and God-honoring.”
Hi, Tony – please don’t read this as being in your face because it certainly isn’t. I try to be clear, but sometimes it comes off as blunt. As to the psychology reference above, so what? If God designed the gospel to be responded to at the level of man’s will, your question seems somewhat inevitable. So someone says, “I am here because I responded to the invitation of the gospel and so-and-so didn’t.” How does this diminish one iota the substitutionary work of Jesus. How does this divert glory from Jesus? There is nothing meritorious is responding to the gospel. By saying YES to Jesus how does this earn favor or gain merit?
The person saying YES is not the person who determines whether or not he is in heaven. Without the work of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel, there’s nothing to say YES to. Jesus gets all the glory. In reference to another response to you above, to contend that giving any place to the will of man robs Jesus of glory flies in the face of reality on the ground.
Thanks for the clarity. No problems with bluntness Tim, as longs as love is maintained and we avoid straw-man character blows (which you are in no way doing). Thanks.
(1) You said – “As to the psychology reference above, so what? If God designed the gospel to be responded to at the level of man’s will, your question seems somewhat inevitable. So someone says, “I am here because I responded to the invitation of the gospel and so-and-so didn’t.” How does this diminish one iota the substitutionary work of Jesus. How does this divert glory from Jesus?”
>> Well, if someone held to limited atonement it has everything to do with the diminishing of His substitutionary work. It means that somehow he took my very sins and bore the very real wrath of God for them and died in my very real place, but if I say NO, then I nullify his suffering and death in the sense that he died for my sins needlessly, as God will pour out his wrath for my sins a second time. It means everything to the understanding of what “substitution” means.
>> Maybe my example is seen best in the negative sense. When we think about someone suffering in hell, we might say something like this: “It’s their own fault they are there. They sinned and all sin deserve judgment.” And I mean that not derogatory or haughtily. WE all sin. We all deserve it. But for an Arminian, its theology would have to lead a person to say “Well, even though we all deserve it, you had your chance like everyone else. You are there because you did not take what was offered to you…” and in saying that, is not the decisive banner over our salvation (since Jesus died for those in heaven and hell) us? Would an Arminian frame it as I’ve described it? Maybe I don’t have an accurate viewpoint. I’m would love to learn.
>> If the answer to the above question is yes, then I find it hard to see how that does not (in the years of eternity for those in heaven and hell) not put some focus on the receiver or non-receiver and therefore have at least one iota of diverting the glory from Jesus.
(2) You said – “The person saying YES is not the person who determines whether or not he is in heaven. Without the work of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel, there’s nothing to say YES to. Jesus gets all the glory. In reference to another response to you above, to contend that giving any place to the will of man robs Jesus of glory flies in the face of reality on the ground.”
>> I would agree with you in theory, but not in reality. That Jesus did die on the cross and lay down his life as a substitutionary atonement for our sins, in an Arminian view, is not the person that says YES the person that determines whether or not he is heaven? While an Arminian may not believe the YES is the power for the salvation or the merit for salvation, doesn’t an Arminian believe that their YES is what activates and determines their salvation? “Free will” (loaded term, I know) – “Say YES and you will be in heaven and NO and you will not. You decide.” ..?
Hi, Tony – I’ve read it and I’ve heard it preached that if man has a say in his salvation it diminishes the glory of God – that somehow, somewhere, at sometime down the line man is going to have a self-congratulatory spirit. I’ve read it repeatedly and have heard it passionately preached that if man’s will has any part in the appropriation of salvation that it breeds a spirit of pride and self-wonder. In 40 years of being among Arminian leaning circles I have never come close to tasting this. This theory falls flat in the face of the reality on the ground. So, I would do a reverse on what you wrote above – I might agree in theory, but hard reality demonstrates otherwise.
Blessings and Merry Christmas!
Great point… it does seem—from anecdotal evidence—that the “self-congratulatory arminian” view is something of a straw-man argument.
Thanks for the ongoing discussion. My thoughts:
(1) Straw-man – Absolutely agree with you. In no way am I saying that Arminian theology produces worshipers that are “self-congratulatory”. I too have never met one that because of there Arminian theology led them to that. 100% agree that’s a straw-man argument. I hope my comment did not convey that.
(2) My point in engaging here – I really am trying to stay on point to the original post that was a critique of Piper’s post. I’m trying not to deviate from that because I’m under no illusions that the massive difference in Calvinism and Arminianism, which have volumes and volumes of scholarly work behind both sides, are going to be resolved in the threads of comments. So my point is really to hear, learn, engage, but ultimately it’s for me and not to convince you.
(3) To the point – I don’t believe Piper’s post was saying any of the following:
– that an Arminian cannot have God-centered, Jesus exalting, self-humbling worship
– that an Arminian walks around “self-congratulatory” because of his view on human will
– that a movement like the Jesus movement is not honoring to God or does not have real authentic worship
I think he affirms all of those things. But specifically his point was about how those things can happen – not because of Arminian’s view on human will, but in spite of. So what I wanted to hear was a counter to that. I wanted to hear from those that do not hold to a Calvinistic viewpoint, but does indeed live a God- centered life, experience Jesus exalting worship … how do those things flow out of the core of Arminian theology. Is it because of Arminian theology? is it inspite of Arminian theology. Is it indifference to either Calvinistic or Arminian theology.
(4) Decisive Factor – Related to above, which I think is on point specifically to this post and not just broad to the Calvinistic vs Arminian debate … is (a) does an Arminian view the will “decisive”, why or why not? and (b) if it does, why in the celebration of salvation would one not celebrate it. Again, this is not saying that anyone does, but the question is if it is indeed decisive, why would you not, and if you do not, what does that say? This is Piper’s specific point so I was hoping to hear how people deal with that.
I know this post is getting long and maybe it’s belabored. I understand if there’s no engagement here. As I’m sure you can tell, I land on the Calvinistic soteriology side of things. But I’m still working things through and I think every system (and every one has a system) has weak points. I find books present their sides very well, but rarely wrestle honestly with the weak points of their side. For a Calvinist, issues of how to present the gospel and why to pray for people’s salvation are hard issues and sometimes are weak points to work through. For an Arminian, this issue of “if my decision is decisive in salvation, what do I do with that” … at least for me is a weak point.
I’d love to hear seasoned, pastoral thoughts that have worked through that.
Thanks and if this thread has ended, Merry Christmas!!!
Hi, Tony – is a man’s will decisive in the appropriation of the gospel for himself? Yes, he can repent and believe the gospel or he can harden his heart to the gospel. The further question to ask is, is this decision meritorious? It is not. It brings no merit and earns no favor.
If Bill Gates were to graciously offer you $1 million dollars, the extension of your hand does not earn that gift, it merely appropriates it. Not one penny is earned. Bill Gates deserves all the applause. What has not been answered to my satisfaction is to what extent or why or in what manner is a yes to Jesus an act of merit or somehow earns salvation and diminishes the glory that solely belongs to Jesus.
You ask, “Why in the celebration of salvation would one not celebrate that?” When you give your wife a gift she desires, does she congratulate and celebrate herself for being so clever as to take and open it? When your children open their gifts on Christmas morning will they take some time out to pat themselves on the back for being so smart as to open the gifts? Could your wife or children refuse to open the gifts, thus making their decision to open them decisive in their subsequent blessing? When your wife’s diamond ring is praised and attention is drawn to the love and generosity of her husband, does your wife say, “Yes, he is generous and does love me, but don’t forget, I opened the box. I get some credit for opening the box.” That would be downright creepy if she said something like that. And I’m just here to tell you that I have never encountered anything creepy like that after being in Arminian circles for over 40 years. And if me or my Arminian friends heard someone talk like that, we would say something to the effect of – you’re way off the path.
I wonder if those examples are the best representation of salvation though? In the examples you gave, they are all from the perspective of a person that is neutral and they receive something that betters their lives: wife gets a gift, children gets a present on Christmas. Clearly nothing is worth focusing on in those cases.
But if the world came to the North Korean dictator and some other highly repressive wicked regime leader, and said to both “Your countries are dying. Your people are suffering. The world will eventually take you off the throne. If you repent: are willing to lay down your weapons, willing to open your borders, willing to have authority over you, we’ll freely feed your people, secure your land, and bless you.” If one said yes and the other said no, would it be so far off the path to think that in an interview or biography the decision itself would be very central? If the UN then decided to invade and decimate this unrepentant rogue nation and during the media of it they brought up this once highly wicked leader that did repent and asked for his commentary as they watched this other nation destroyed – would they not spend time focusing on the decision? Would they not ask “So you both had an offer and you both were secure in your evil and rebellion. Why did you give it all up? What was it about you and not this other dictator?” If they interviewed the people of his country and they watched the devastation in the decimated unrepentant place, would not the people laud the decision of the leader? It seems improbable to me that if the decision of the leader was decisive in saving his own life and the life of his country, that no focus, no celebration, no applause or glory would be given to the repentant leader and that only focus (in this scenario) would be given to the free gracious offer.
I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not sure your examples are extreme enough to depict the situation of salvation. It seems to me that when we push the scenario of not just victims receiving a gift, but rebellious God-haters turning over to God-lovers, then it’s not so off the path to ask the question. When a man like Paul goes from killing Christians to laying down his life for Christians, and that at the expense of losing all he had ever worked for, and even more so, at the height of his success when there was no apparent reason to do a 180 in life – then it seems to not fit the scenario of innocent children waking up and receiving a Christmas gift.
In that line of seeing salvation, it doesn’t seem to me to be far off the path to ask the question, it seems reasonable: if the human will is the decisive factor in that final transformation, why would you not celebrate it? And if an Arminian does not celebrate that decisive factor, why not?
Again, I want to reiterate that I am not claiming there are Arminians out there that worship their decision. But to Piper’s point, is that because of or inspite of their core theology?
The illustrations that you and Tim provide are good. Even compelling. I find however—and perhaps it is due to my non-calvinistic leanings—that I connect better (maybe even at an emotional level only) with Tim’s than yours; heres why.
Tim assumes a scenario in which a loving, benevolent, Fatherly figure (God) offers a gift to one whom He loves. Your scenario seems to assume (although please correct me if I am wrong) an authoritative power, who, although kind (in that He will ultimately feed, and bless the subjects who submit to His rule) is basically still a dictator.
Calvinists seem to hold God (primarily) as a sovereign authoritative ruler and King, which He certainly is. Arminians on the other hand (again, primarily) look at God as a loving, Fatherly gift giver, (again) which He is. Both presentations of God have merit.
Although this may be off of the core topic of our current conversation, I have an additional question, if you don’t mind. Among all of God’s innumerable attributes/qualities, is there one that stands above the others? Is there one that is default or prime? God is chiefly _______.
Hi, Tony: you ask – if the human will is the decisive factor in that final transformation, why would you not celebrate it? And if an Arminian does not celebrate that decisive factor, why not?
Man’s will does appropriate the grace of God, and though decisive, it is not meritorious – thus it is not celebrated. I don’t know how to be any clearer than that.
Tony, can you point me to Arminian leaning sermons, blogs, literature, commentaries, CDs that indicate man is to celebrate his decision and that he deserves some of the praise and glory for his salvation? From all I have read and experienced, what Calvinists say should happen, doesn’t happen. It seems to me that a Calvinist’s passion for God’s glory skews his construct of Arminianism on this point or, on the other hand, a whole generation of Arminian leaning Christians are not walking in step with the logic of their position.
This point is the very point at which some Calvinists I’ve spoken with—and it seems Piper is alluding to this too—will say that Arminians don’t fully grasp the core of Arminianism and that they are actually thinking, worshiping and praying like Calvinists.
Miles, – right. So it comes down to:
1. Those Calvinists misunderstand Arminianism on this point, or
2. Arminians are not consistent w the principles of Arminiainism.
Of course, I would claim #1.
If not, I would expect some Arminian leaning folks somewhere to give place to self-congratulation as part of their formal theology as it is allegedly implicit w/in the tenants of Arminianism. As mentioned to Tony, I don’t see this, read this, hear of this, or experience this. Implications are powerful things, they’re bound to show up somewhere at some time among some group. If there is not an outbreak of implications somewhere at sometime, maybe, just maybe those implications are chimeral – the straw man you mentioned previously.
Thanks for the clarity. Sorry for the block-headedness of taking so long to get to the core of your answer.
I think what you are saying (and please correct me) is that: (a) Receiving the offer of salvation is in fact the final decisive factor that differentiates where a person will spend eternity. (b) but the human decision to receiving the offer of salvation is not meritorious (c) therefore, it is perfectly consistent to not celebrate that (d) and hence, it does not detract from the glory of God.
If I got that right – thanks for the clarity and patience Tim. I think I’ll ponder that for a bit:
– is such a decisive factor rightly considered non “meritorious”?
– even if it is not, does it make sense that since all eternity hangs on that decision, that it is truly “ignorable”?
I don’t have an answer to those questions, but I do no have an answer to how an Arminian might rethink Piper’s post.
Wow, the threading on these comments are getting complicated to follow 🙂
Miles – I think to answer your question (without deep thought mind you), I might finish the sentence “God is chiefly gracious”, and I say that because I think it both affirms that God is amazingly loving and amazingly holy. I’m not sure how to pick on or the other of those and the cross seems to merge both together perfectly. I think grace affirms absolute justice,judgement, wrath for the offense towards God and it affirms His initiation of love and compassion and mercy and kindness. Perhaps thats why John said Jesus came to show us “grace upon grace” and the gospel is referred to the “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
That said, in the example I gave, I don’t think I was demonstrating that God was a dictator (at least that was not my intention). I only wanted to demonstrate that God does not view us as neutral. It’s fair, I think, to say that salvation is not rightly viewed as us being innocent beings in God’s eyes and He is simply coming to offer us something extra good for us to receive. I don’t think we are neutral either. Nor do I even believe that it’s a true universal statement that everyone is at the bottom of their life and therefore, to receive Christ (on a human plane) is such a no brainer. I think there are many lives like Paul that, again, from a human plane, is sitting on top of the world, have much to lose in their eyes, and when they hear the gospel, are asked abandon all they have loved, lived for, and are associated with.
However we work through the issue of the human will and talk about it’s “decisiveness”, and whatever stories or examples we use to demonstrate that (which as Jon Langley said – is not perfect), I just wanted to align it more with the biblical view of salvation. And I could be off, but I just don’t see how we can biblical make a case that a sinner hearing and receiving the gospel is likened to a wife receiving a gift, children getting Christmas presents, or a stranger receiving a $1 million offer. Those examples do not seem to capture the cost of losing ones life, repentance, or the very real emotional conflict of coming to faith. If we don’t think of it in all these terms, it seems like the gospel is not very effective for the CEO’s of the world, the homosexual that is truly happy in their life, the rich man that has a great family, a great job, and views himself as having a great life already.
Sorry for the long answer. The short is, when I think of God, I mainly thing “God is chiefly gracious”
Thanks for the answer Tony… I think it is a very good one.
I had this discussion a number of times with others. Several of which have been with brothers that held more reformed positions. On more than one occasion the response I’ve received from (especially) reformed believers is that God is chiefly holy or God is chiefly sovereign. While I agree that God is both holy and sovereign I would say that God is chiefly merciful which I defend scripturally from Exodus 34 where God proclaims His name (nature) to Moses on Sinai.
Exd 34:5 Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
6 And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,
7 “keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing [the guilty], visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
I think it of import that God leads with mercy, grace, long-suffering (i.e. patience), goodness and truth when He describes Himself.
All that to say, I believe that how we classify God’s chief attributes effects how we view the Scriptures and form our theology.
Hi, Tony – I think it’s important to point out that my examples weren’t designed to show the desperate plight of man in his sin nor what you term the emotional conflict in coming to faith. My examples were designed to show two things 1) the free will decision of the respondent 2) the non-meritorious nature of this decision. I think it is fair to say that regardless of what elements I used to design an illustration or analogy it would not be received by you. Here’s what I mean.
Instead of a wife receiving a diamond ring from her husband, let’s suppose a man is in shark-infested waters w a cut on his leg that is oozing blood and a dozen great whites are circling him licking their chops. He is terrified knowing not only that this is the end of him, but that this is a very painful end of him. Suddenly, a boat arrives and a man offers a hand to deliverance, but w this offer of deliverance comes an ultimatum. “If I save you, you will hand over your bank account, keys to car and house, and you will spend your money the way I tell you, relate to your wife they way i tell you, and raise your children as I direct. You will have to change the way you’ve been living your life.” The man agrees and is delivered into the boat.
So, here is extreme angst, here is change of mind and life, and deliverance. But this illustration falls short for a Calvinist because it grants the one thing a Calvinist cannot grant – a free will response on the part of the one needing saving. Thus ultimately, the difficulty isn’t w an illustration of a point, but the point itself. Calvinists believe in regeneration before faith, non-Calvinists do not. Any illustrations or anaologies, however concocted sidestepping a Calvinistic soteriology cannot be affirmed by a Calvinist. But the narrow point I have been making is that this free will decision is not meritorious – it is not celebrated in Arminian leaning circles nor does it detract glory from Jesus.
Yes, I agree. For a Calvinist, your scenario might look more like this: the man bled out, died, and Jesus came and called him from the dead like Lazarus and then, recognizing the greatness of God in the newness of life, he in his free will chooses to repent of sin and submit his life to Jesus as His Lord and Savior.
Probably as much as an Arminian takes odds with a Calvinist saying they worship free will, a Calvinist would take odds with the statement that they do not grant free will for the person needing to be saved. In my understanding, the free will choice of Christ is absolutely needed before forgiveness, justification, adoption, sonship, salvation. Whether free will choice is needed before blindness is removed, bondages removed, death is removed (John 3:3, 8:47, 10:26; Luke 8:15) – we probably differ on that. But I think we both agree on the need for free will choice. I know there is a difference here and its a big topic.
That said, I do think your new scenario is a better story to think through this issue and I do identify with it more.
Again, in the end, my hope was not to argue the systems or try to resolve or convince anyone really. That’s better done over a fire and coffee and some cookies in real person, so our fellowship could taper our offenses. I simply wanted to hear a pastoral response to Piper’s post and how one that holds an Arminian viewpoint works through the issue he identified, or explained why it’s not an issue. And you have done that very patiently. It give me something to mule over and work through.
Tony – you’re a good man!
for the article many good things to ponder. I Think Pastor Chuck had a balanced and biblical approach to these questions. I would disagree with both Olsen & Piper where does the Bible teach or command any of us to defend a manmade theological System or be it’s representative? We are to Preach Christ Crucified, Preach the whole counsel of God, preach the word, defend the Faith. Pastor Chuck always said “if a passage teaches God’s Sovereignty I teach that if another teaches Man’s free will and responsibility I teach that”. This is true Biblical exposition and not contorting the Bible to fit a manmade theology as John Piper Does. I also have to strongly disagree with his assertion that Calvinism brings more Glory to God. I personally am repelled by Calvin’s God Who according to John Piper is the Author of every act of Pedophilia,Rape, Murder and all sin and evil as he himself declares in the Y-tube video I’ve posted below.
The God of The Bible is one who desires that ALL might come to repentance and is not WILLING that ANY should perish but in His own Sovereign wisdom and will created beings in his own image who were given the faculty to receive or reject his infinite love. This is a God who is worthy of all praise, Glory and Adoration.
Craig — I appreciate your thoughts on Pastor Chuck and agree with your observations and characterisation of his ministry and teaching.
That said, I ask with humility that you guard your heart and consider carefully your words when you represent another brother’s teachings and beliefs. I’m glad that you provided the link to the Piper Q and A because if anybody listens to it they will hear what he actually said: that everything is “ultimately governed by God,” and that “He controls everything.” I’ve heard Chuck Smith say the same kinds of things and yet you characterised Piper as one who believes and teaches that God is “the Author of every act of Pedophilia, Rape, Murder and all sin and evil.” You even said that Piper, himself, declares this in the YouTube video you linked to: but HE DOES NOT. In fact, Piper has specifically avoided ever declaring God as the author of sin or evil and explained why when asked. Even his biggest “opponents”, including Roger Olson, know that Piper has never said that (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/08/john-piper-gods-sovereignty-and-sin/).
My point has nothing to do with the discussion of Arminianism and Calvinism and everything to do with HOW we discuss topics like this. Please don’t join the crowd of those who purposefully perpetuate half-truths and mischaracterisations for the purpose of ad hominem attacks against our brothers whom Christ died for who have a different perspective. I may not agree with everything Piper says, but that’s no reason to misquote him for the purpose of putting him in a bad light (what the Bible condemns as slander).
I don’t even agree with everything that’s ever come out of my own mouth. When I’ve been wrong, or even just controversial, I’ve appreciated guys like Tim, Miles, Matt, and many other friends and peers who have discussed it with me and either brought correction or balance. It would break my heart to have somebody take something I say, whether ultimately doctrinally right or wrong, and twist it into something I didn’t say in order to make me look evil.
I hope this comment has been communicated with the humility intended. Thanks.
Good word, Jon.
I grew up in the Calvary movement for 21 years. In that time, I heard over and over again that we don’t believe in man made systems. We just believe in the bible. Over the years, that seemed to me to be
(1) a bit unfair – to say that those who hold to a “system” do so without careful study of God’s word seems unfair. If you listen to Piper, and I’m sure Olsen, they don’t say what they say without deep exegete of Gods word. And yes, most of his sermons are verse by verse.
(2) we all have a system – it seems disingenuous to say that Calvary does not hold to a system. Calvary holds to a very strong eschatalogical / dispensation system that the whole bible is viewed through. And while Calvary does not explicitly define a soteriological system, it ultimately does. For example, if you teach limited atonement, its doubtful you will remain a Calvary pastor. So in affirming certain doctrines and rejecting others, isnt a system being held to?
My question is: do we really need to villify systematical theology? How else would we understand the trinity or the nature of Jesus or the deity of the Holy Spirit?
Tony — I agree that systematic theology should not be vilified. Similar to creeds of the Christian faith which exist to give simplified and structured summaries of what we believe, systems of theology exist to give a logical framework and order to better understand the basic tenets of our faith.
That said, we must be VERY careful not to magnify the system above the source. I think that’s how some people come across from all camps at times, whether they/we are aware of it or not. I would not be ashamed, per se, to claim a particular system as the one through which I best understand Scripture. But it would be idolatrous to claim that system as being of the same essence and authority as Scripture.
I think you do bring up some very good points. Calvary’s “Non-System” is just as much as of a system; in much the same way that Calvary’s “Non-Traditions” are held as traditions and Calvary’s Non-Denominaiton” is a denomination. I’m some ways, I think that Calvary’s early roots being firmly planted in the antiestablishment hippy culture helps to foster this. That’s not to excuse it.
Addressing your first point… Many of the theological discussions I’ve had with friends/pastors outside of CC have also held the “we have come to this conclusion via a careful study of the word” view. So it is not unique to Calvary.
The difficulty is that we (both in and outside of Calvary) often fail to recognize our blind-spots and biases. Such presuppositional biases become the lens through which we see the world and Word. They cause us say things like, “how could so and so not see this, it’s so clearly here in the scripture. If they’d just carefully study the Bible they would see it.”
Evaluation of our presuppositions is essential.
To your question… I do not think we need to, nor should we vilify anthers systematic theology. That said, if it is a heretical position we should challenge it and defend orthodoxy. In so doing we must maintain humility.
Jon and Miles –
I totally agree with you both. Systems do create blindspots. And since we all really do hold a blindspot, maybe the truth is we all have blindspots and tend to bend sound exegetical rules to protect, or cover, our blindspots at times.
I personal enjoy discussions like this (in proportion of course), because hearing differing opinions in a lucid way keeps me humble and accepting that though i may disagree with a believer, it’s most likely not because they aren’t thinking or are unreasonable. In addition, it keeps me realizing the difference in certain views, though significant in impact perhaps, can still differ based on the slightest nuance of interpretation.
I just think we need to be fair and believing the best in a brother as we disagree with him. RC Sproul believes in baby baptism. John MacArthur believes in the cessession of gifts, Michael Horton holds to covenant theology, Calvarys strongly hold to Pre-trib, Sam Storms converted to amillenialism … to speak of any on here in a way that implies they don’t love the Lord or believe these things blindly just is not right … but we do this so often.
Thanks for the engagement.
For the record… I view the “did God ‘permit’ sin or ‘ordain’ sin” dilemma very much the same way I view the soteriology dilemma. As the eternal, unchanging One he both decrees and permits all things in accordance with one another. A cause and effect, in my opinion, implies the physical limitation of time. I truly believe that John’s declaration that “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” includes our first person experience of timelessness that allows the mystery of these things to make sense at last.
Jon- I think you need to watch the video again John Piper is asked “Has God predetermined every detail in the universe, such as dust particles in the air and I should include here ALL OUR BESETTING SINS? His answer “YES” so while he doesn’t name specifically sins like pedophilia, murder, rape ect… He does believe that God has predetermined every besetting human sin, If God has predetermined ALL Human Sin does that not make God the author and perpetrator of sin and evil? He later goes on to say “yes every horrible thing and every sinful thing is ultimately governed by God” If God Governs something that means he is controlling it. I don’t think i’ve misrepresented at all what Piper believes and teaches or what I wrote is slanderous in any way towards him.
Tony- I don’t think I ever said that John Piper or anybody else has not studied the scripture and I do agree with you that we all have our own personal systematic theology and that we all probably believe it is most aligned with what the word of God Teaches weather we are calvinists, arminian or somewhere in the middle, so i’m not against have a systemized theology just on some men’s insisted that we are either Calvinists or Arminian.