by Dr. Leighton Flowers
Why do self-proclaimed Calvinists, like John MacArthur, rebuke others, like Beth Moore, and express disapproval and indignation against that which they believe God has unchangeably brought to pass for His own self-glorification?
- It certainly seems reasonable for us as non-Calvinist to disapprove of the autonomous behavior of errant Christians, false teachers or pagans who misinterpret scripture or openly rebel against the will of God.
- It does not seem reasonable or logically consistent, however, for a Calvinist to express disapproval and disgust for that which he believes was “planned and brought about by God for His own self-glorification.”
*Sidebar: Yes, mainstream Calvinists (including Calvin himself) have clearly and unequivocally taught that God “sovereignly plans and controls every meticulous detail,” including every evil intention of every creature, in order to glorify Himself. If you consider yourself a “Calvinist” but disagree with these claims of leading Calvinistic scholars, great! May I suggest you join me in my rebuke instead of accusing me of not really understanding Calvinism?
When I express my disapproval of a brother or sister with whom I disagree, or worse, some evil atrocity (such as abortion, rape, murder or torture), I am expressing disapproval of what I believe is mankind’s autonomously bad choices, which stand diametrically opposed to our Holy God and His perfect will.
When my Calvinistic friends, however, express similar disapproval, they are projecting indignation of that which they believe God has unchangeably planned, controlled and brought about for His own self-glorification. In short, Calvinists are expressing indignation against God and His self-glorifying plans.
So, John MacArthur’s doctrine teaches that Beth Moore was sovereignly and unchangeably decreed (or determined) by God to be a preacher of the gospel (and by many standards a pretty good one at that). Certainly Dr. MacArthur would concede that at least some of “the elect of God” were brought to faith through Beth Moore’s ministry, wouldn’t he? And according to the actual claims of Calvinistic doctrine, “God ordains the ends (the salvation of His elect) as well as the means (evangelism of His elect.)” Why would MacArthur celebrate the specific ends brought about by God and not the specific means, if they too were also determined by God?
How can Calvinists bring rebuke with any level of rationality or consistency?
I recently pressed a Calvinistic friend on this question and he repeatedly appealed to the crucifixion, arguing in part, “Wouldn’t you have been horrified and disappointed by the crucifixion of Jesus, yet wasn’t that brought about by the determination of God?”
I said, “I would have expressed indignation until the point I realized it was God’s plan and then I would stop bemoaning it and start telling everyone about it, just like the apostles did.” Then, I simply pointed to the cross hanging around his neck and asked, “If you are still horrified and disappointed by the crucifixion, why are you wearing that cross?”
My Calvinistic friend and I are not disappointed by what God did to redeem the world from sin through Calvary. We both want that event to be known by everyone. Why? Because we now know it was God’s fulfillment of His redemptive promise!
The story of the cross stands out as unique part of God’s good plan to redeem all sin, not as the proof of God being the cause of all sin.
A Calvinist would never wear a symbol of heresy, abortion, child rape, the Holocaust or other such evil events around his neck, yet by his own logic these errors in doctrine and horrible atrocities were sovereignly “brought about by God for His own self-exaltation.”
Proof that God worked in some way to “bring about” the redemption of man’s sinful actions on Calvary certainly does not prove that God works to “bring about” the very sins that His Son died to redeem.
Scriptures reveal that God temporarily blinded the rebellious Israelites from recognizing their own Messiah so as to ensure the crucifixion would take place, and who are we to question God’s sinless means in doing so? (Rom. 3:1-8; Rom. 9 — READ THIS for more) But proof that God “brought about” the redemption of man’s sinful actions on Calvary certainly does not prove that God “brought about” the very sins that His Son died to redeem.
This is a common error of Calvinists. They take unique examples of God working to bring about a good purpose through the ALREADY evil intentions of mankind as proof that God (1) “sovereignly brought about” the evil intentions themselves and (2) that He “sovereignly works” in this same way at all times throughout history.
In other words, if Calvinism is true then God worked to “sovereignly bring about” the preaching ministry of Beth Moore in virtually the same way that He worked to “sovereignly bring about” the salvation of the elect through her preaching.
But the implication is far worse, because if Calvinism is true then God worked to “sovereignly bring about” the redemption of a child abuser in virtually the same way that He worked to “sovereignly bring about” the abuse of that child. This flies in the face of so much of what we read in scripture about the character and holiness of our God. (CLICK HERE for more on this)
According to Calvinists, God seems to be “sovereignly working” so as to redeem “His sovereign workings.” (i.e. God is sovereignly working to bring about redemption so as to redeem the sins that He sovereignly worked to bring about.) Is God merely determining to redeem His own determinations? Of course not!
AN ANALOGY TO CONSIDER
Appealing to God’s sovereign work to ensure the redemption of sin so as to prove that God sovereignly works to bring about all the sin that was redeemed is an absurd, self-defeating argument. It would be tantamount to arguing that because a police department set up a sting operation to catch a notorious drug dealer, that the police department is responsible for every single intention and action of that drug dealer at all times. Proof that the police department worked in secretive ways to hide their identities, use evil intentions, and work out the circumstances in such a way that the drug dealer would do what they wanted him to do (sell drugs) at that particular moment in time does not suggest that the police are in anyway responsible for all that drug dealer has done or ever will do. We celebrate and reward the actions of this police department because they are working to stop the drug activity, not because they are secretly causing all of it so as to stop some of it. Teaching that God brings about all sin based on how He brought about Calvary is like teaching that the police officer brings about every drug deal based on how he brought about one sting operation.
Yes, at times the scriptures do speak of God “hardening” men’s hearts (Ex. 7; Rm. 9), blinding them with a “spirit of stupor” (Rm. 11:8) and delaying their healing by use of parabolic language (Mk. 4:11-12, 34; Matt. 16:20), and He always does so for a redemptive good. But, the reason such passages stand out so distinctly from the rest of scripture is because of their uniqueness. If God worked this way in every instance these texts would make no sense. After all, what is there for God to harden, provoke, or restrain if not the autonomous will of creatures?
If everything is under the meticulous control of God’s sovereign work what is left to permit and/or restrain except that which He is already controlling? Is God merely restraining something that He previously determined? Why blind eyes from seeing something the were “naturally” predetermined not to see? Why put a parabolic blind fold on a corpse-like dead sinner incapable of seeing spiritual truth? These are questions many Calvinists seem unwilling to entertain at any depth.
We must understand that God, like the police department in the analogy above, may be hiding His identity at times and working to use the evil intentions of bad men for a greater good, but that in no way impugns His character by suggesting He is “the cause of all things that are.” And it certainly does not suggest that every evil desire and intention is “brought about to glorify God” as explicitly taught by Calvinism’s actual claims reflected in the quotes provided in the footnotes of this article.
ANTICIPATED OBJECTIONS: “YOU TOO!” & FALSE DILEMMA
Please notice I said “Calvinism’s ACTUAL CLAIMS.” I want to draw everyone’s attention to that because what typically follows this line of argumentation is a Calvinist’s appeal to the “you too fallacy” (i.e. “you too” have the same problem because you affirm omniscience.) But be aware, I am opposing an ACTUAL CLAIM of Calvinism and Calvinists are attempting to argue that I have the same problem based NOT ON OUR ACTUAL CLAIMS, but based on their own philosophical speculation about the infinite nature of divine omniscience (i.e. if God knows something and does not prevent it, that somehow proves that He brought it about for His own self-glorification). Notice, however, that none of our scholars ACTUALLY MAKE THIS CLAIM, therefore the Calvinistic argument is fallacious because it assumes true the very position we oppose (see question begging fallacy). If Calvinists are going to oppose our position they have to deal with the ACTUAL CLAIMS of our scholars, not their own philosophical conclusions about our beliefs. In making this “you too” argument, the Calvinist has unwittingly become guilty of the very straw-man fallacy they often attempt to lay on us.
Also, some may try and create a false dilemma by suggesting that (1) either God purposes (determines) everything or (2) things happen purposelessly and God is just left unaware, wringing his hands like a passive observer. But, of course other options are available for those willing to entertain the idea that God may have a purpose in creating libertarianly free creatures. This commonly used fallacy is rebutted <HERE> for those who are interested.
 Here is where I am often met with the accusation of misrepresentation — or what is known as the fallacy of “strawmanning.” I suspect, however, that those bringing that accusation either (1) do not rightly understand Calvinism and Calvinistic scholar’s ACTUAL CLAIMS or they (2) do not really affirm the ACTUAL CLAIMS of John Calvin and most of the Calvinistic scholars, but have adopted a much milder, more palatable, and arguably inconsistent form of the systematic. (If it is the second, however, I cannot help but wonder why would they not stand with me in opposition to the ACTUAL CLAIMS of Calvinism rather than accusing me of not understanding it rightly?)
For instance, let’s consider this quote from John Piper’s ministry website, Desiring God:
“God . . . brings about all things in accordance with his will. In other words, it isn’t just that God manages to turn the evil aspects of our world to good for those who love him; it is rather that he himself brings about these evil aspects for his glory (see Ex. 9:13-16; John 9:3) and his people’s good (see Heb. 12:3-11; James 1:2-4). This includes—as incredible and as unacceptable as it may currently seem—God’s having even brought about the Nazis’ brutality at Birkenau and Auschwitz as well as the terrible killings of Dennis Rader and even the sexual abuse of a young child…” (Link)— Mark R. Talbot, “’All the Good That Is Ours in Christ’: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us,” in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds.), Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 31-77 (quote from p. 42).
On the one hand we know that Piper has at times expressed disappointment and disgust for the Holocaust and the sexual abuse of children, while on the other hand claiming these same events have been brought about by a God seeking His own glory. Therefore, Piper has expressed disapproval and disgust of what God has planned and brought about for His own glorification. As I said, Calvinists are the ones expressing disapproval of God’s plans, not me.
John Calvin himself taught:
“Creatures are so governed by the secret counsel of God, that nothing happens but what he has knowingly and willingly decreed.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Paragraph 3)
“thieves and murderers, and other evildoers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute judgments which he has resolved to inflict.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, Paragraph 5)
“We hold that God is the disposer and ruler of all things, –that from the remotest eternity, according to his own wisdom, He decreed what he was to do, and now by his power executes what he decreed. Hence we maintain, that by His providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined.” (John Calvin,Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Paragraph 8)
“The devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how muchsoever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay unless in so far as he commands, that they are not only bound by his fetters but are even forced to do him service” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 17, Paragraph 11)
“…it is very wicked merely to investigate the causes of God’s will. For his will is, and rightly ought to be, the cause of all things that are.”…”For God’s will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God’s will, which cannot be found.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an individual charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated. This they do ignorantly and childishly, since there could be no election without its opposite, reprobation.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“…it is utterly inconsistent to transfer the preparation for destruction to anything but God’s secret plan… God’s secret plan is the cause of hardening.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 23, Paragraph 1)
“I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, all of Adam’s children have fallen by God’s will.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 4)
“With Augustine I say: the Lord has created those whom he unquestionably foreknew would go to destruction. This has happened because he has willed.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 5)
“…individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction.” (John Calvin,Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“…it is vain to debate about prescience, which it is clear that all events take place by his sovereign appointment.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“But since he foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place, they vainly raise a quarrel over foreknowledge, when it is clear that all things take place rather by his determination and bidding.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)
“Again I ask: whence does it happen that Adam’s fall irremediably involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death unless because it so pleased God? The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess. Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree. And it ought not to seem absurd for me to say that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his descendants, but also meted it out in accordance with his own decision.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 7)
“The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 8)
“Even though by God’s eternal providence man has been created to undergo that calamity to which he is subject, it still takes its occasion from man himself, not from God, since the only reason for his ruin is that he has degenerated from God’s pure creation into vicious and impure perversity.” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 9)
Now, before moving on, I hope all those who proudly wear the label “Calvinist” can rightly understand what I am opposing here. I have not misrepresented or “strawmanned” Calvinism. John Piper is arguably the most influential modern day proponent of Calvinism and he is representing exactly what John Calvin himself taught on this subject in the quotes above (all of which are properly cited for contextual examination). Both of these Calvinistic scholars are abundantly clear about what they believe.
I am not suggesting a “Calvinist” must agree with John Piper or even John Calvin on every theological point in order to be considered a “Calvinist.” But if you are going to proudly promote this label shouldn’t you at least affirm the basic theological claims over the issues that make Calvinism so controversial in the church? The major reason we even know of John Calvin and “Calvinism” is because of his controversial views over predestination, election, free will, sovereignty, etc. If you cannot affirm his statements on at least those issues, then may I suggest you stop promoting the label “Calvinist?” Or, if nothing else, at least stop accusing people like myself of not really understanding Calvinism? <READ THIS for more>
NOTE: My personal beliefs regarding the role of women in the church is not the topic of this article or the purpose of this blog site. I honestly haven’t had the opportunity to listen to Beth Moore and have not formed any opinion about the content of her messages. I do have many friends who speak highly of her and she certainly seems to be a gifted communicator and person of integrity, but this article’s purpose really has nothing to do with her or or my feelings about her work or my views on women in ministry, so you can expect that comments about such things will be deleted and or ignored. Thank you!