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Against [neo-]Calvinism: Deconstructing Theology and Praxis

Against [neo-]Calvinism

Deconstructing Theology and Praxis

 

 

 

Rick Dale

 

 

Published by Rick Dale at Shakespir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright: © 2015 Rick Dale

http://logosdreamer.wordpress.com/

Cover: http://www.freeimages.com/

[Cropped]

 

Dedicated to Deborah, an inconvenient woman.

 

“Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.” Judges 5:7 NIV

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

I am a Kiwi, born in New Zealand, but I have lived more that half my life in Australia. I undertook post-secondary study as a mature age student, and my qualifications include a degree in communication studies, and a masters degree, both majoring in sociology.

 

I also hold a professional library science qualification. I have worked as a retail assistant, clerk, driver, welfare officer, information and communications technology manager, librarian, and library manager.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

 

Intellectually sociology is about understanding “the big picture”, and I believe that this may have been achieved in part with this book, a deconstruction of part of the greater Calvinist community. A part that may be perceived as contra–indicated.

 

This is the theology of John Piper, and the following he has attracted among the “Young, Restless, Reformed”. A community I call the “neo-Calvinists”, because it is a contemporized grouping with the wider Reformed Church in particular, and the universal Church in general.

 

I deconstruct some of the theology involved, particularly the “Tulip” mnemonic, the sovereignty of God, “original sin”, total depravity, and predestination, and juxtapose it against praxis. If theology misses the target there will be leakage into praxis, and visa-versa. After all, we are known by our fruits.

 

Overall, I suggest the neo-Calvinists do not fulfill the New Testament obligation to build up the saints, particularly the women of the Church, our sisters. This safe harbor fails too for the same-sex and LGBT[Q] community.

 

In this the neo-Calvinists support a much wider network within the Church who cling to heterosexism, and Old Testament patriarchal standards, the submission of women in the Church, which produces fertile ground for abuse. On the other hand the same-sex and LGBT[Q] community are simply too difficult to deal with at best, or vilified at worst.

 

I also attempt to show that Piper’s theology is unreasonably judgmental, and the basis of this may be found in the areas of predestination, and Theonomy.

 

Further, I propose that Piper’s theology and praxis fails to fulfill the Church’s New Testament obligation to spread the good news gospel of Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. That is, Christ is the Savior of whosoever believes.

 

QUOTES

 

“But, perhaps, you will say, “Who hath required this performance at your hands? Are there not already better books written upon the subject than yours?” He answers, Yes; there are books much better written: They are really written too well for the generality of readers. He wanted to adapt something to the genius and pockets of the people. The generality of such as profess religion are poor, and have little time, little capacity, little money. If they read and understand this, perhaps they may be capable of relishing something better. However, the writer throws in his mite, and hopes it will be acceptable. In the meantime may you, who have much to cast into the divine treasury, go on and abound until you finish your course with joy.” Thomas Taylor.

 

“6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: ““Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”” Isaiah 6:6-7 (ESV)

 

 

CONTENTS

 

INTRODUCTION

Concerning Calvinism – The “young, restless, and Reformed”, and Tulip

The Transcript – An analysis and critique of a John Piper transcript.

The Gnosis – Augustinian and gnostic influences on John Calvin’s theology.

Genesis 2-3 – The search for “original sin”.

The Christ – Are we like the sinless Christ? What of our “sin nature”?

Satan – the devil as a protagonist in the “theater of God”.

Judgment – God’s perfectly divine justice denies predestination.

The Atonement – Penal Substitution and its fit with Calvinist theology.

The Age of Grace – For whosoever believes.

Theater of God – The mise-en-scène and all the protagonists.

Deliver Us From Evil – A “cold, rigid approach to Christianity.”

The Love of God – Redeeming God.

Against Predestination – Christ Jesus, the man with two energies.

Against Total Depravity – The penitent thief speaks from the past.

Salvation – The sovereign God, or the God of love? Can we serve two masters?

Another Doctrine? – Is the “magnificent Christ” the eternal Author of Tulip?

Legalism Prevails – The overzealous adherence to the Bible, as law, in all things.

Women – The many abuses of complementarianism.

Same-Sex – The moral attack on the same-sex (LGBT) community.

Judgments – Speaking for God: assumptions about His hand in “history”.

The Matrix – Neo-Calvinism as “thin” religion, a “symbolic gesture”.

God’s Sovereignty – The “two pillars”: total depravity and God’s sovereignty.

Molinism – The possible fork in the road.

Wider Implications – Neo-Calvinist praxis: abuses and the “age of angst”.

Heresy? – How deeply do the Tulip roots go?

Finding an Ending – The patriarchal sap of Genesis 2-3.

CONCLUSION

REFERENCES

INTRODUCTION

 

Calvinism, also called the Reformed tradition, Reformed Christianity or the Reformed faith, is, according to the Wikipedia, “…a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice of John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians.”

 

The Encyclopedia.com notes, however, that “Calvinism’s distinctive cultural contributions to the modern world seem more problematic than they did fifty years ago, when historians confidently assumed that Reformed churches had consistently opposed tyranny and fostered individualism. They seem vastly more problematic than they did a century ago, when the German sociologist Max Weber asserted a causal connection between Calvinist self-discipline, which he called “other-worldly asceticism,” and economic success.” As the writer asserts, “Few readers today will swallow the assertion that New England’s Calvinist Puritanism “produced a type of human being that no just and informed mind can think of without admiration” (McNeill, pp. 340–341).”

 

My intent in this text is to raise concern about a particular section of the Calvinist community. I do this as citizen of the broader Church, perhaps as Paul asserted his citizenship in Acts 22-23, to express disquiet about things that, I believe, reflects negatively on the body of Christ. After all, whether the Calvinist community like it or not, Christ’s Church is more than the Reformed movement. In reality, if many people in the world think about the Church at all they may think of it as being the Roman Catholic Church.

 

The Wikipedia List of Christian denominations by number of members puts things into perspective. Nevertheless, perhaps in North America in particular the Calvinists have a significant impact on the lives of many, inside and outside the Church. This notion, of course, is only an option to those who generally acknowledge that the Church does extend beyond the borders of Calvinism. Perhaps Calvinists of good will say it does, just as I am prepared, in general, to equally embrace Calvinists of good-will. Some, however, will not.

 

Nevertheless, my specific concern is for the theology and Praxis (the realization of theology) of John Piper, and the segment of the Church that he is associated with, those tagged as the “Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR).” Not that I have anything against any person, except theologically when they give explicit, or implicit foundational support to something I believe may discredit the Church, and its witness to the world.

 

There will be a focus on the TULIP (Tulip) iconography, and its impact on the theology and praxis of Piper and the YRR. While I am more than prepared to allow any person the pursuit of the religion of their choosing, it is in the praxis of the theology that problems arise. I argue that Piper and the YRR embrace a theology that leads to poor praxis, and in turn that their poor praxis is an indicator of poor theology.

 

Not just poor praxis, but damaging and hurtful praxis reaching deeply at the personal level for many within the Church, as a result of scripture that tends to be under the surface, legalistic, censorious, cold and rigid. Overall I may do some disservice to the theology of Calvinism generally, for which I apologize, but I have tried to be even handed.

 

Generally speaking Calvinists (Wikipedia, Calvinism; Theopedia, Calvinism) identify themselves as, more or less, “five-pointers”, as reflected by the “Doctrines of Grace”, which are defined in the acronym Tulip (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints).

 

I am taking the position that Piper and his follows can be viewed collectively as “neo-Calvinists”. While new- or neo-Calvinist is a used frequently term with a number of connotations, perhaps an overused term, I am appropriating it in the sociological sense that there is a identifiable new Calvinism. Piper and his followers are in this regard something of a vanguard within Calvinism.

 

Calvinism, in its various iterations, is a well institutionalized theology, with a distinct codified body of doctrine, which has evolved and been established over a long period time. However, I suggest that the neo-Calvinists have contemporized theology and doctrine in such a way as to create new and ongoing meaning for its adherents. Of course, the foundations and building blocks of the edifice of Calvinist doctrine are probably being constantly “reformed”, which helps create its own legitimacy. A constant, however, is the Tulip iconography.

 

For example, Matt Perman points out that Piper identifies as not merely as a five-point Calvinist, but as a seven-pointer. This is stated ‘half jokingly and half seriously’, for seemingly Piper is not attempting to add two more points, but just bringing Calvinism’s five-point Tulip acronym into sharper relief. He could be seen as being honest in this regard as the five-points make certain statements explicit, but by default corresponding statements implicit.

 

The two additional points Piper half-jokingly adds are “double predestination”, and “the best-of-all-possible worlds.” However, half-joking, or half-serious, the words are said, and establish in the mind of many the very notion of reinforcing, and further shoring up a neo-Calvinist body of doctrine, and subsequent meaning-making for the faithful.

 

Starting with double predestination, this is, according to Perman, simply the “flip side” of “Unconditional election”, which the Wikipedia defines as: “…a doctrine relating to Predestination within the reformed theology framework that in eternity past, before God created the world, he predestinated some people for salvation, the elect, and the others he left to continue in their sins and receive the just punishment, eternal damnation, for their transgressions of God’s law as outlined in the old and new Testaments of the Bible. God made these choices according to his own purposes apart from any conditions or qualities related to those persons.”

 

Perman cites John 10:26, 12:37-40, Romans 9:11-18, and 1 Peter 2:7-8 in support of this notion: It follows that, “some will be rescued from his [God’s] judgment, but that others will undergo that judgment.” Some may be rejected therefore, “because they are on the wrong list.” Perman hastens to add however, “Rather, we are all dead in sin and unwilling to seek God on our own. A true, genuine desire for salvation in Christ is in fact a mark of election, and therefore none who truly come to Christ for salvation will be turned away (John 6:37-40).”

 

However, the end result is that, “God chooses to redeem some and leave others.” The seventh-point, “the best-of-all-possible worlds”, points to God’s sovereignty, so that taken holistically, God’s overall plan, from creation into eternity, is the “best-of-all-possible-worlds.”

 

It is here, in the space of the deliberate extension of the ‘typical’ Tulip religious principles, that a very particular and peculiar, supposedly God breathed, act of damnation spoken out loud. It reveals the supposed damnation of so many that are helpless to speak to of their own volition. Anyone, in times past, present, or future, are condemned, awaiting God’s judgment, simply because they are, “on the wrong list.” According to the neo-Calvinists that is.

 

With such presumption to declare the eternal outcome of so many, in such a manner, one wonders exactly which part of all this is a joke, albeit only a half joke, and which part has the very serious intent of stating that the lost are so lost, because it is in God’s overall plan, that there is no hope. That God is a God of hope, notwithstanding (Romans 15:13). Even worse, in the stating of such things by a neo-Calvinist Church ‘leader’, the words are spoken, rendered a narrative out in the ‘wild’, and therefore promulgated as [pseudo-]doctrine. Further, the claim would be made that this all fits into the span of God’s sovereignty, therefore I wonder that if I question Piper (and Perman) on these matters, is that to question God? That certainly is no joke.

 

However, I do question Piper, and those who obviously underpin his “half-joke”, because of this supposed levity attached to God’s sovereign decisions about who He chooses as the elect, and who He chooses to damn. And I question those who give him the oxygen to espouse such notions. It seems a love-less form of theology that makes light of eternal torment, and makes it a God-breathed issue, a half joke, and thereby somehow washing their hands of the sheer horror of what is being said.

 

This is an either-or understanding of God. Therefore, this paper will make a track through a number of landscapes. There are four issues I will explore: Firstly, the matter of the place of women in the Church; secondly, judgments made against same-sex people, or more generally, LGBT people; thirdly, the pronouncements of disasters, whether natural or ‘man’ inspired, such as terrorist attacks, as judgments; and lastly, the very notion of the millions consigned to eternal separation as a “half joke.”

 

I will canvas scripture to establish a position and then address these issues. To reiterate, my approach here is not to engage with Calvinists as such, for while the possibility of singing from the same songbook seems very unlikely for all the above reasons, I am more concerned with the specifics of a deconstruction of Piper’s theology and praxis for general consideration.

 

Therefore what follows is not a questioning of Calvinism in general, although some may perceive it as such, but a very pointed questioning, and refutation of Piper and his adherents, the neo-Calvinists. Those who diminish God’s overwhelming love and mercy.

 

Concerning Calvinism

 

A defining quality of the Calvinism is its holistic and defined nature. Gene Veith, for example, points to its overall impact, particularly in the West: “There are lots more Lutherans than Calvinists. And Calvinism has all of those scary doctrines like double predestination and the limited atonement, whereas Lutheranism is, well, happier, with its emphasis on the certainty of grace, Christian freedom, and its affirmation of the secular realm as God’s hidden kingdom. And yet it’s Calvinism that has been so influential in English and American Christianity and the culture as a whole.”

 

Veith comments are in response to D.G. Hart, part of which follows:

But by the time English Protestants had appropriated Calvinism, they had concocted an idea that could not only be severed from Calvin’s own views on the sacraments but also potentially from much having to do with Christianity. Indeed, a common occurrence among pundits in the United States and the United Kingdom is to associate Calvinism with aspects of modern life well beyond the church – politics, economics, education, science, art. In other words, quite apart from the merits or defects of Calvinism’s ideas – human sinfulness to the point of total depravity, the scope of the benefits of Christ’s death, and divine sovereignty in relation to human freedom – Calvinism has become for English-speakers a familiar term, even a brand, that makes it as easy to talk about the effects and influence of Calvin and Geneva as it does to talk about Thomas Jefferson and Jeffersonianism. Calvinism, no matter what it actually means, is a word with which most English-speakers are comfortable.

 

In all probability Calvinism is summed up quite adequately by Hart. Indeed, other doctrinal bodies within the Church, like Lutheranism, seem quite amorphous, perhaps even relatively invisible, compared to Calvinism. It is clearly engaging, with an energy that captures the hearts and minds of many. More specifically, the ‘political’ push outside of the Church sphere to influence, or attempt to influence, secular society carries the “brand” into the greater consciousness. Part of the brand is the reductionist Tulip acronym, which is itself symbolic, adding to the simple “logic” and therefore comfort many obviously find, and have with the Calvinist tradition.

 

There is a holistic nature to Calvinism, which lies in the metaphor of Perman’s support for Piper. Calvinism is in many ways very organic, with an internal dialog that engages followers, and appeals to many who may be seeking a particular structure, and meaning within Christianity, which may be missing elsewhere. Therefore, generally, any perceived external ‘attack’ on the Calvinist body, its persons or traditions, generally speaking, often sees an overwhelming self healing process take place as many rush in with support for the body.

 

These factors in concert, the spilling of Calvinism beyond the Church walls, and the often ‘vociferous’ nature of narratives from certain parts of Calvinism, and the sustained support of them, is all well and good, but it can descend into polemic. This I suggest, negates the saving intent of the gospel, because when neo-Calvinism inserts itself externally may tend to be exclusionary instead of inclusive, of building walls instead of bridges.

 

In contrast to Calvinism Roger Olson presents something of a contemporary Remonstrance. This was delivered in the form a talk given to a Russian Church whose leaders were concerned about the, “infiltration of aggressive Calvinism into their, and other Russian evangelical churches whose tradition is Arminianism.” [emphasis added.] Olsen fairly makes the point, of course, that there are differences of opinion within Calvinism, it not homogeneous.

 

For example, Calvinism may run along a continuum, with many, but not all, being five-pointers. “Nevertheless”, says Olson, “…we can safely say that, for the most part, the “five points of TULIP” summarize the Calvinism of John Piper and the “young, restless, Reformed” movement that is making inroads into churches where Calvinism has never before existed (such as Pentecostalism).”

 

Tulip is very significant overall, and it is determinist. For example, if I were to discuss predestination relative to free-will it has little true meaning on its own, because it becomes a matter of these verses as opposed to those verses. Probably like many believers, regardless of doctrine, I readily acknowledge some predestination. For each of us, the place, time and circumstances of our birth and upbringing very much establishes the discourses that will construct our lives and worldview. However, confessing to a predestination where some are saved, and others sent into eternal torment, because they are on the wrong list, is something else again entirely.

 

For someone born in the West obviously means a quite different life journey than someone born in any number of other countries of the world, some more so than others. When you consider race, color, ethnicity, sex, gender, and the degree of wealth or freedom one has, then the potential for how we might be socially constructed, become the person we are, is enormous. There is then, I believe, a general acknowledgment that God can and does predestinate, or predetermine some things. Again, however, that does in no way lead to an assumption that some are saved, while others are unfortunate enough to make the wrong list, and are therefore damned.

 

At this point I should make it plain that in religious circles, like any other area of life, many words will mean different things to different people. How words are perceived constructs and then presupposes different worldviews. Generally, Calvinist terms, such as grace, sovereignty, providence, atonement, salvation, predestination and free will, are loaded with differences in meaning between and others of the Christian faith. This is difference, not of denotation, but of connotation, and it is an important factor in their dialog with others.

 

The semiotics of the words, and the Tulip iconography, provides the Calvinist ‘consumer’ a shortcut to intra-faith relationships, and a ready interpretation of meaning, an internal code that is not immediately apparent to the outsider. Indeed, those who are not Calvinists are made outsiders because of the systematic theology of Calvinism itself.

 

Of course, the cults codify similarly. For example, if I were to say to a Jehovah’s Witness person that I believe in the Trinity, they would typically reflectively state, or understand in their mind that I believe in three Gods. This is only to point out that codings, and subsequent understandings, are not limited to Calvinism, it is endemic. What I do propose is that for some, like the neo-Calvinists, it is a symbol of adherence to something based on assumptions that seem fixed and safe, but are in fact fluid.

 

Calvinism has contributed much to contemporary society. The Western world, with its capitalist system and freedoms owes much to Calvin and Calvinism. However, Calvin was notable for being, at times, harsh, censorious, and rigorous, although in mitigation perhaps such attitudes should be taken in the context of his own life and times. Today, Tulip identifies classical Calvinism. As Piper says, “These five points are still at the heart of biblical theology. They are not unimportant. Where we stand on these things deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship, and missions.”

 

Loraine Boettner, an American theologian in the Reformed tradition, says, “The Calvinistic system especially emphasizes five distinct doctrines, technically known as “The Five Points of Calvinism,” more easily remembered if associated with the word T-U-L-I-P. These five distinct doctrines are the main pillars upon which the superstructure [of Calvinism] rests.” Boettner points out that they are not isolated and independent doctrines, but are so “inter-related that they form a simple, harmonious, self-consistent system.”

 

This fit as component parts of a well-ordered whole has, suggested Boettner, won the admiration of thinking men of all creeds: “Prove any one of them true and all the others will follow as logical and necessary parts of the system. Prove any one of them false and the whole system must be abandoned.” As Boettner puts it, “Unless this be kept in mind much of the real strength and beauty of generic Calvinism will be lost and the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism,”—which historically and in reality are the obverse of what might be called the “Five Points of Arminianism,”—will assume undue prominence in the system.”

 

Boettner makes clear the claim that Tulip provides the very pillars upon which Calvinism rests, and then proceeds to take an axe to them, stating that the Calvinist should, “...guard against a too close identification of the Five Points and the Calvinistic system.” He points out there is more to Calvinism than Tulip. However, as Boettner himself so states, for even one point to fall brings everything undone. To be a true adherent to Calvinism simply demands acceptance of all five points, otherwise the algorithm fails, and you are an Arminian. Whether that point is conceded, or not, three- or four-point Calvinists must be redefined as Arminian by Boettner’s own standard.

 

It is noteworthy therefore, as an aside, that Boettner entitles his book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. Despite protestations that there is more to Calvinism than Tulip, predestination is integral, and it is on this very point that Piper makes his half-joke. Not only does God choose the elect, but He assigns all other to eternal hell. In a real sense I feel sorry for the neo-Calvinists. Piper should know better, but no doubt many neo-Calvinists have, in following their leader into the matrix, as good ‘neos’ might, means there really is no escape. They are, it might be said, between a rock and a hard place.

 

On the one hand they uphold Tulip, and thereby support the entire theological construct of God as the author and creator of good and evil. On the other hand there few other options, except become moderate, which means a separation of sorts from the surety of the body of YRR doctrine. Or, perhaps renounce all such notions and accept the Olsonian alternative of Arminianism. And just to make the point, Arminianism is not pelagianism.

 

Piper, of course, all too readily takes the Five-Points to heart, but adds two more points to make it perfectly clear he is a Calvinist, and more. What follows then, is a gaze turned more directly to the Piper and the neo-Calvinists.

 

The Transcript

 

In a 2010 video and accompanying transcript Piper deals with the question, “Has God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe, such as dust particles in the air and all of our besetting sins?” His answer is a straightforward, “Yes.” Piper then proceeds to quote Spurgeon, and alludes to the dust motes we see flying around in the air as might be seen in a beam of light. This is the very “stuff” we breath, and he references Spurgeon’s point that all such particles are there, and move, “through the air by God’s appointment.” Piper also cites Proverbs 16:33 (NIV) in support of the point being made: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

 

The notion of God’s control is not an unreasonable one. However, regarding the dust motes, and the entirety of predestination with all its connotations, it might be said, and not in any way facetiously: “Really?” Predestination, or predetermination perhaps, is in some ways a seemingly self-evident proposition, and most certainly it is fundamental to Calvinist theology.

 

However, I am not convinced this analogy, or metaphor of God’s sovereignty in the dust motes is necessarily how God sees such things. I suggest it is an assumption of, and about God’s creation, and part of a Calvinist theological meta-narrative. God’s “sovereignty” matters very much in Calvinist thinking. For example, the Theopedia says, “The Sovereignty of God is the biblical teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control, and that nothing happens without His direction or permission. [emphasis in the original.]

 

Of salvation it is added that, “God’s sovereignty in salvation means that He saves whom He will, and those whom He saves owe nothing to anything in or of themselves. They are saved because God graciously chose them in eternity and regenerated and called them in history.” God’s sovereignty may be greater than predestination, but predestination is all about God’s sovereignty. The Theopedia also notes that, “The NT [New Testament] in no way differs from the OT [Old Testament] teaching of predestination.”

 

However, John 1:1-5 (ESV) says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Generally speaking, all things were made by Him. Creation is set, and the “theater of God” established. Psalm 104:1-9 (NIV) affirms the establishment of His creation:

1. Praise the Lord, my soul.

Lord my God, you are very great;

you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

2 The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;

he stretches out the heavens like a tent

3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.

He makes the clouds his chariot

and rides on the wings of the wind.

4 He makes winds his messengers,[a]

flames of fire his servants.

5 He set the earth on its foundations;

it can never be moved.

6 You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;

the waters stood above the mountains.

7 But at your rebuke the waters fled,

at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;

8 they flowed over the mountains,

they went down into the valleys,

to the place you assigned for them.

9 You set a boundary they cannot cross;

never again will they cover the earth.

 

Perhaps God, being sovereign, and having set the earth on its foundations so that it can never be moved, now lets things run in a certain accord of their own, which could be seen as God’s administration. For example, Megan Fellman reported in 2010 that, “Northwestern University physicist Adilson Motter conjectured that the expansion of the universe at the time of the big bang was highly chaotic. Now he and a colleague have proven it using rigorous mathematical arguments… Certain things are absolute. The speed of light, for example, is the same with respect to any observer in the empty space. Others are relative.” Perhaps God is very capable of dealing with chaos as He is with order.

 

Revelation 7:1, for example, explains that angels administer the realities of the world around us. Further, Job 38:1-4 (ESV) is God’s challenge regarding His creation when we assume too much:

1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you,

and you make it known to me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

 

Scot McKnight, in a 2010 review of William P. Brown’s book, The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder, noted: “According to Brown we need both an empirical appreciation for the world God created, a sense of wonder, and an appreciation for the revelation of God’s story in scripture.” Brown (McKnight) says, “To talk comprehensively about the story of God’s creative and redemptive work is to overturn the woefully narrow view that treats the world as merely a stage for humanities salvation. The world that God so loved in John 3:16 is nothing less than cosmic.”

 

In 2012 McKnight again revisited Brown’s book, and identified the various Biblical creation narratives, reveals the challenges presented in making any assumptions made about God’s creative acts and intentions. For example, the Leviathan in Job 41:1-4 (ESV):

1 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook

or press down his tongue with a cord?

2 Can you put a rope in his nose

or pierce his jaw with a hook?

3 Will he make many pleas to you?

Will he speak to you soft words?

4 Will he make a covenant with you

to take him for your servant forever?

 

McKnight makes the point that such things do not necessarily arise from the sinfulness of mankind in any way. However he also points out that, “Brown notes that Job 38-41 depicts creation as a mighty wilderness, Job is given glimpses of the world at its wildest and there is nothing wilder than the Leviathan.” McKnight quotes Brown as saying: “The world is neither a cosmic temple nor a lush garden nor a playhouse for child Wisdom. No, the world is a wilderness, uncultivated, and untrammeled, and it is valued as such. (p. 137)”

 

There appears to be no adequate description of leviathan in the literature anywhere, but it is simply inadequate to think it is any creature we know, or even a prehistoric dinosaur. It simply defies description. Emil Hirsch’s et.al. entry from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia reveals some of the varying perspectives about leviathan, but all seem somehow inadequate, which is probably the whole point. To suggest the “sovereign” God controls all the particles in the air by His own appointment, which is really a rhetorical device to establish the notion of predestination, suddenly makes God, paradoxically, limited by our notions of what He can and cannot do. It is simply an inadequate worldview.

 

The other point that can be clearly made is that in God speaking to Job we see Him as more than willing to speak to mankind, to reason with His most beloved creation. Therefore, while creation may be “set”, it cannot easily be described. I do propose though, that every birth in nature is a new creation, and God is very involved and cares about that.

 

Matthew 10:29 (NIV) says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” However, we need not be concerned here either, for Luke 12:7 assures us that even the hairs on our head are numbered, that we are worth more than many sparrows, yet not even one sparrow is outside our Father’s care. Creation may be set, for now, but life is God’s greatest care, particularly ours. Even more particularly, the great salvation of Christ revealed in scripture.

 

What Piper does, is paint a word picture. For many of us it is quite easy to imagine dust motes moving slowly in the midst of a ray of sunshine. Perhaps when something moves, the subsequent air movement makes the them dance. It is poetic, and it draws us into a sense of empathy with his description of the majesty of God’s “creation.”

 

However, Piper then makes an enormously significant conceptual leap saying, “So the macro-world and micro-world are all managed by God. Which means, Yes, every horrible thing and every sinful thing is ultimately governed by God.” Piper goes on to establish his premise, “When you go to Acts 4:27-28 and you read that Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles and the Jews were all gathered together to do what God’s hand and God’s plan had predestined to take place in the killing of Jesus, you have God’s plan and hand predestining the most horrible sins ever committed.” [emphasis added.]

 

Having drawn the reader of the transcript or the viewer of the video into his space, Piper then transports that person along with him to this other view of God altogether. Piper uses a neo-Platonist, and humanist tactic, of making an explicit association or relationship between two propositions. Not that such a thing is bad in and of itself, everyone probably does it. But in presenting a view that could be extremely jarring and alienating, we are buffered by the motetic poetry, and dare I say providence, of the Proverbs 16:33 quotation.

 

What Piper does is mislead. Ever so slightly that the listener or reader may not take it in. Piper says of God that He had a plan that predestined the “killing of Jesus.” This is extremely provocative rhetoric. What Acts 4:27-28 (NIV) actually says is, “27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” [emphasis added.]

 

It was what “they” did that God’s power and will decided beforehand. It is not about any notion of Jesus’ “killing”, but the arrangements “they” set in place by God’s power whereby Christ went to the cross. If this seems like an exercise in semantics it is because later I will explore the nature of Christ, and that He laid down His own life, and He took it up again (John 10:18). He had the authority to do so from His Father. This denies that Jesus was “killed.”

 

The proverbial word from God is reassuring, from Piper’s usage, that in the good, the bad, and the very ugly, God is in control. Piper takes his audience from poetry to the very notion that, “…every horrible thing and every sinful thing is ultimately governed by God.” It must be carefully noted that Piper is indeed supporting in an elegant, totally fulsome, and premeditated way that, “God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe, such as dust particles in the air and all of our besetting sins.” [emphasis added.] The implications are that Christ was “killed.” Every “five-point” neo-Calvinist must own such understandings, and make a full personal accounting of the implications.

 

For example, Olson says that Piper published a sermon following the Twin Towers terrorist Events of September 11, 2001. Piper said, “God did not merely permit them but caused them.” He has, says Olson, “since published other statements similarly attributing natural disasters and horrific calamities to God. Piper is not alone; many of the new Calvinists and their mentors are aggressively asserting that this view of God is the only biblical and reasonable one.”

 

Accordingly, every single action is held by, and depends on, the very sovereignty of a God who demands that not one mote of dust, or indeed, a single molecule, nanoparticle, quark, or lepton be random. Yet it seems to me that a leap from God managing motes, to suggesting responsibility for terrorist acts is making a frighteningly great assumptive leap. Piper effectively takes God from being author and creator of the world, to also being the author and creator of evil, or more specifically perhaps, good and evil.

 

This “theater of God”, within which we are actors, is viewed in stark black and white, mono-dimensional terms. I suggest there is instead a full color, multi-dimensional theater drawn by a far greater God than Piper imagines. Some Calvinists may be silent on such issues, but this is predestination in full (Tulip) flower, or bloom, as promulgated by Calvinist leaders such as Piper. Even if some Calvinists shrink from such extreme notions, if they truly believe in predestination, then it must be truly owned.

 

To get to the heart of this notion, the center of the “solution” to everything, suggests Piper, we must return to the cross. In the midst of all the human agency in Christ’s passion was God’s hand, and here Piper says: “God’s plan had predestined to take place in the killing of Jesus, you have God’s plan and hand predestining the most horrible sins ever committed.”

 

Well may the Lord have cried out in a loud voice (Mark 15:34 ESV), ““Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””

 

Every humiliating act was enacted in the “worst wickedness” ever perpetrated was planned by God to save us from our sins. Horrible indeed, although it must be remembered that Jesus laid down His own life. At the cross, suggests Piper, the work of the devil in unleashing all of that, was in effect his own “suicide”. Interestingly he admits, such doctrine can be used “to club people”, but to stay with the cross, and being centered there means you will not fall into the trap of doing that. Piper, quoting Isaiah 53:10, ascribes the very worst sin that was ever committed being “ordained” by God.

 

People, it seems, did not know what they were doing, for in Calvinist thinking they were predestinated, but God very much knew what He was doing. Piper quotes Isaiah 53:10, and the bruising by the Father of the Son. Therefore, declares Piper, the worst sin ever committed, the crucifixion of Christ, was ordained by God. Ipso facto, He controls everything for his glory, and it works out for our good. Quite outstanding logic really. It is, however, theology built on a view of scripture that I suggest is flawed when predicated on notions of predestination.

 

Many issues flow from the theology employed. I wonder, in the great “theater of God”, why the devil is given a free pass, for he is effectively rendered invisible after the cross. I will later elaborate on the seeming animosity that exists between Christ and Satan. However, for Piper to say Satan committed suicide is simply bad theology. Satan’s head was bruised, even crushed, but he is not finished. For example, Ephesians 6:10-18 provides explicit information for the saints to stand against the schemes of the devil. One day he will be bound (Revelation 20:1-3), and in good time be no more (Revelation 20:10).

 

It might be fair to say that the work of Satan as instrumental in the crucifixion was suicidal, but it did not immediately lead to his suicide. Indeed, for now Satan remains as the god of the age, the prince of the world. This is clearly acknowledged by Jesus Himself when He said plainly that His kingdom is not of this world. It may be a bitter thing for Piper, along with the neo-Calvinists, to contemplate, but God has used His sovereignty to allow the devil to control the kingdoms of the world in this “theater of God” for a season more. This is not to say that He does not intervene, He does, but it acknowledges that God, and God alone chooses the method of his administrations.

 

The spirit of lawlessness, or iniquity, which is now abroad, is ignored, or rendered null in such ways by the Neo-Calvinist. This is fateful terrain, and we must tread the stage with care, having put on the full armor or if God, least the devil deceive even the elect. I suggest that we should not divide the house by calling God to answer for the work of Beelzebul, and that those who cling to the notion that God predestinates evil play to the devil. For he is the one who comes among us as an angel of light, yet is the the father of lies. There is always risk of a lying spirit in the mouths of the careless.

 

This then raises the whole concept of the cross itself. There is no doubt that (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV), “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” No doubt whatsoever. Jesus allowed Himself to be led to the cross so that He might say (John 12:32 NIV), ““And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.””

 

Piper’s brief exposition masks the entire notion of the atonement itself. He suggests the killing of Jesus, by God, was a horrible sin of which God Himself was the author, planned from the foundation of the earth. Of course, the Calvinist atonement is one of wrath and punishment. However, this ignores other doctrinal approaches, such as the Ransom theory of the atonement, which was, arguably, the view of the early Church throughout the first thousand years.

 

The Ransom theory proposes Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world as the price to pay in order to redeem His creation. That in being sin for us in His flesh meant death, and that principalities and powers, were stripped off with His earthly flesh in His death, so that we could be ransomed in His extraordinary act of overwhelming love.

 

Piper’s propositions are parts of neo-Calvinist theological construction, an edifice built on the foundation blocks of the earlier traditions of Augustine and John Calvin. But that is all they are, doctrinal propositions, and not the rock solid stone building blocks of unassailable theology delivered by the early Church. To use another Proverb (14:12 NIV), “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” A death of what? I will explore this idea throughout the rest of the deconstruction of Piper’s Calvinist “theater of God.”

 

The great and wonderful thing Calvinism has going for it is the capacity to so define words and their connotative expression, that they can construct an intricate theology. However, it convolutes and obfuscates meaning, or even renders truth invisible relative to the common meaning of the wider Church. The fundamental issue is that the neo-Calvinist may be guilty of eschewing the communion of the wider body of the saints, and therefore the possibility of reasoning together is diminished, along with the surety that we might all sing from the same songbook.

 

We cannot save ourselves, indeed we are only saved by Christ because of His work for and in us, and in contradiction to mankind’s assumptions victory was won for us His humility as a servant (Matthew 20:28). The plan of salvation was amazingly wrought, and done in a way that no angel or man could ever have imagined, and which many still refuse to acknowledge. Christ rules because He became a servant, and in His resurrection Christ draws all to Him, but sadly, not all will be drawn. Why? Galatians 5:17 (NIV) explains: “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”

 

The flesh, although contrary to the spirit, does not imply total depravity in the Calvinist sense, unless a particular viewing of theology demands it be so. Such a viewing is a learned notion based on a worldview one chooses to adhere to. Calvinism carries some very specific learned notions, of which Piper’s theology is an extreme example. Olson, in an interview with Jeff Brumley, answered some questions posed to him about Calvinism:

[Q:] What’s the major problem against Calvinism, as you see it? [A:] Calvinism, as a system of theology, impugns the reputation of God. … When Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and says “how I would have gathered you to myself, but you would not” — that completely contradicts Calvinism that says we have no free will. Calvinism makes God the author of sin and evil.

[Q] What is… [Calvinism] really? It’s just a tautology that doesn’t have any meaning at all except that God is God and God does things and they are automatically good because God does them.

 

The creation we inhabit was not what God intended. Romans 8:19-22 (ESV) says, “19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

 

Yet within this gloom of bondage to corruption believers know the freedom God wrought for us in Christ (James 1:17 NIV): “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

 

The Gnosis

 

Calvinism, says the Theopedia, “…is named after 16th century Reformer, John Calvin whose overall theology is contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Sometimes Calvinism is referred to by other names such as “Augustinianism” because Calvin followed Augustine (A.D. 354–430) in many areas of predestination and the sovereignty of God.”

 

According to Christianitytoday.com the Tulip mnemonic device is a caricature of Calvin’s theology, which arose in the seventeenth century in the context of “great political and theological turmoil.” This was a Calvinism versus Arminius’ issue because he challenged Calvinist doctrine, particularly that of predestination. “The desire of Arminius was to uphold the goodness and mercy of God. He was concerned that Calvinist doctrines made God the author of sin and wanted to stress the importance of faith and holiness in the Christian life.”

 

What followed, says Christianitytoday.com, was the Canons of Dort, which declared that fallen man was totally unable to save himself: “[Total Depravity]; God’s electing purpose was not conditioned by anything in man [Unconditional Election]; Christ’s atoning death was sufficient to save all men, but efficient only for the elect [Limited Atonement]; the gift of faith, sovereignly given by God’s Holy Spirit, cannot be resisted by the elect [Irresistible Grace]; and that those who are regenerated and justified will persevere in the faith [Perseverance of the Saints].”

 

These doctrines effectively reflect Calvin’s viewpoint in the area of soteriology. The doctrines of Dort are most properly viewed: “…in their historical context as a theological response to the challenges of seventeenth-century Arminianism (Christianitytoday.com).” Calvin’s work, and Neo-Calvinism, is deeply rooted in the views of Augustine, who in turn had a distinctly neo-Platonist orientation.

 

This may tend in its continuous application to lead to a distortion of the true viewing of the Bible, and the revelation of God’s word, true grace and extraordinary love to believers, corporately and individually. It is not that neo-Calvinists do not appeal to scripture, it is that this appeal is distorted by the assumptions that underpin it from the very start. Assumptions that are rooted in the birth and fall of mankind, as derived from Augustine, which render all of us so totally enslaved to sin that apart from the “efficacious or prevenient grace of God” we are forever lost.

 

It follows that if we are so enslaved then God must intervene to enable some to be saved. Some must be predestinated to salvation because no human agency is possible. If some are predestinated to salvation then it further follows that all others are predestinated to damnation. From there is a short step to ascribe good and evil to God. Such notions must rest squarely with Calvin, for it was in his research attempts to find material to use against the might of the Roman Catholic Church that such ideas were formulated into something systematic. The Pope had the power to determine the eternal salvation, or otherwise, of all living souls. Calvin finally found what he needed by reaching back to the writings of Augustine to wrest such power from the Pope.

 

Augustine’s writing contained elements of gnosticism, influences of the Manichean, and Valentinian Gnostics. Calvin wrote these out and what was left was the concept of predestination. Therefore, says Ken Johnson, the Pope of Rome could not, on the basis of Calvin’s theology, consign someone to hell, or ensure their salvation. For if the Calvinist God had already predestined an individual for heaven or hell, particularly if that predestination was immutable, or unchangeable and therefore unchallengeable, then the destiny of any person was taken out of the hands of human agency, the Pope, and consigned directly to the good office of God Almighty.

 

By drawing on the Gnostic ideas, which affirmed predestination, and therefore denied free will, Calvin created a theology that actually found a certain veracity in the scriptures. What followed was a system of thought eventually in the early 1900s was encapsulated in the Tulip acronym, as espoused generally by Calvinists today. Within this construct God must use irresistible grace to place those He wants to be saved into a saving relationship with Himself. It is as if in a nano-second of time an individual is transmogrified from one state to another. This is unconditional, without the right of refusal. Seemingly, the individual is saved before she or he even realizes that one must ask to be saved, which of course they were unable to do previously.

 

Predestination, with its original roots in the first century Gnostic doctrines, was not part of the early church. Johnson says, “The ancient church fathers called this Gnostic / Calvinistic concept of being sealed for salvation or damnation before you were even born, “fate.”” Martin Glynn suggests that Calvinism is not a belief in fatalism, explaining instead that none are trapped destiny, but rather are “privileged to it.”

 

Therefore, while fatalism is deemed pessimistic about the nature of determinism, Calvinism supposedly has an optimism about it. Nevertheless, suggests Glynn, “You can kind of see why those who aren’t Calvinist see this as fatalism. A reprobate may say, “Sure you aren’t trapped by your fate, but the rest of us are!” Therefore, Calvinism is only sorta fatalist. It is fatalist in its worldview, but not in its attitude about it. However that is hardly a glowing recommendation.”

 

Glynn also states Calvinists do not necessarily believe that God predestines, or wills, everything. Glynn points out that “most Calvinists” believe in “providential sovereignty.” This is the distinction between God’s permissive will and his sovereign will. “In his permissive will, many things happen that he permits, but is not necessarily bringing about as the first cause. In his sovereign will, many things happen because of his direct intervention (Glynn).”

 

However, Calvinists may well be united in the belief it is God’s sovereign choice to elect some to salvation, and in the Piper neo-Calvinist world, to foreordain others to everlasting punishment. Obviously there is a seeming divergence, the degree to which God predestines everything, or not, according on personal perspective perhaps. It is here that we return, as we must, to Piper’s notion that everything happens by “God’s appointment.”

 

Calvin built a systematic approach to theology based on a background of gnostic interpretation used in the context of the socio-political, religious culture wars of his day. This trapped him and later followers into a preconceived systematic theology which defines and influences the reading of scripture, and the subsequent, and ongoing, construction of doctrine. All based, as Johnson suggests, far from the reality of the early church and the understandings of the Church Fathers.

 

The Bible, which teaches a God of love, compassion, and mercy, is rendered altogether different by a Augustinian-Calvinist theology. His just and righteous ways are reworked into the teaching that God creates some to be His elect, and others to eternal damnation.

 

Dave Hunt points to numerous authors who attest to the Augustinian influence on Calvinism. He says, “Calvinism is experiencing resurgence today. Yet there is widespread ignorance of what both Augustine and Calvin really taught and practised. Has the truth been suppressed to further a particular theology? Consider Boettner’s declaration that “Calvin and Augustine easily rank as the two outstanding systematic expounders of the Christian system since Saint Paul.”

 

Hunt expresses his astonishment at such views, that Boettner, one of Calvinism’s foremost apologists opposing the Roman Catholic Church, praised Augustine. It was, after all, Augustine who has been so influential within the Roman Catholic Church. However, this all points to the trajectory of the doctrinal influences that have shaped neo-Calvinism.

 

Erik Raymond makes an insightful observation: “I am a pastor. My whole life and ministry is about regurgitating someone else’s ideas. I believe it was Charles Hodge who said that he never had an original thought or idea. We read, listen, talk, think, integrate, pray, and listen. This is what we do. In one very real sense pastors don’t know what is original and what is not. Even our sermon outlines have a family tree.” Raymond is correct, we have no original thought, something does not come from nothing in any age. Calvinist thought shows a distinct and traceable pedigree.

 

Augustine, influenced by neo-Platonist and gnostic thought, in turn influenced Calvin’s own thought. It follows that Augustine and Calvin plagiarized existing ideas and doctrines. In some ways with great deliberation. In other ways they were just as we are, influenced to a greater or lesser extent by all the discourses, conversation and stories that have intersected our very existence and made us who we are.

 

Calvin in particular, with his fine humanist and legal mind, systematized and codified a theology to suit his own notions and purposes within the socio-religious milieu of the times. For reflective and thinking Calvinists I am sure it is an interesting conundrum to accommodate the notion that Roman Catholicism and Calvinism are so linked, because Augustine had such a profound effect on both systems of theology.

 

Olson, in his “What’s Wrong with Calvinism?” commentary says:

Calvinism’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty in providence includes its doctrine of predestination. According to it, absolutely nothing ever happens or can happen that God did not decree and render certain. Even sin and evil are part of God’s plan; he planned them, ordained them, and governs them. He doesn’t cause them, but he does render them certain. As Sproul says “If there is one maverick molecule in the universe, God is not God.” Calvinist theologian Paul Helm says “Not only is every atom and molecule, every thought and desire, kept in being by God, but every twist and turn of each of these is under the direct control of God.” One can find similar sayings in virtually every Calvinist theologian’s writings.

 

Every particle, molecule, quark or lepton is held in its place by the power of the Lord. Everything is predestined and God is responsible for good and evil? As to the question of why God might “ordain” evil, Piper explains it in the question, Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained That Evil Be? He says God does not delight in evil as evil, but allows it to come to pass so that “good may come of it.” “What good? And how does the existence of evil serve this good end?” asks Pipers, then he quotes Jonathan Edwards’ “stunning answer”:

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .

Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . .

So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.

 

Piper, based on Calvinist theology, and all its doctrines, concludes that God is all the more glorious for having conceived, created and governed this world we live in with “all its evil.”

 

Genesis 2-3

 

Calvinist’s, like all of us, have a particular world view, for example, of God’s sovereignty and providence. Nothing comes into being fully formed, and Calvinism has undergone a long genesis that stretches back in particular to Augustine’s view of “original sin”. Total depravity rests on the notion of “original sin”, therefore, Genesis 2-3, with God’s creation of Adam and Eve in the beginning and all that implies, seems a good place to begin to deconstruct the neo-Calvinist theology.

 

Olson suggests that this inherited “Adamic corruption” goes to the heart of any Christian doctrine. For example, he says, “Calvinism teaches that human beings are all born so corrupted and depraved by original sin that they, we, are incapable of even exercising a good will toward God.” This is a point of departure between Calvinism, and other Christian Protestant denominations and believers.

 

The assumptions adopted in Genesis defines the entire trajectory of theology and doctrine, the prism through which we read scripture, or the spectacles we put on to view the drama of the “theater of God.” The manner in which God is revealed through the interpretation of others, generally speaking, is realized in the subsequent construction of the edifice of the theology we inhabit. This theological edifice determines doctrinal positioning as it relates to the Trinity, the atonement, God’s judgments, God’s love, and any number of other doctrines. The implications are vast and far reaching.

 

The Adamic fall, the dialog involved, and the assumptions about the person’s involved, and what follows, all start in Genesis 2. The first dialog piece is Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV) , “16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” A reasonable person interpretation of this statement might simply be that by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam would simply die, physically, in all likelihood immediately. To read more into this demand by God is moving into the area of supposition and assumption.

 

Then God created woman. The next important dialog piece takes place in Genesis 3 between the “serpent” (the nachash, or shining one), and the woman. The serpent questions the woman as to whether mankind can eat from any tree, to which the woman replies that they can eat of any tree, except one, for they must not touch or eat of that tree, lest they die. The serpent responds, ““4 You will not surely die. 5 For God (’ĕ·lō·hîm) knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.””

 

With this seemingly innocuous exercise in auto-suggestion, no sooner had the serpent spoken than the woman saw that the tree was good for food. That is to say, if Eve had not been thinking about the tree before, it seems reasonable to suggest that as soon as the tempter spoke of the tree it suddenly became very important to her. So much so, that Eve, having been given such a great degree of liberty and choice in the garden by God, ate the fruit. Her husband then ate with her, and then their eyes were opened. They did not die, or certainly not right then. The Lord God then found that Adam and Eve had discovered their nakedness, for they now possessed the knowledge of good and evil.

 

What is this knowledge of good and evil? Genesis 3:22 provides an answer, “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”” Adam and Eve had known good, but now they understood good and evil, because they had acted contrary to the will of God and eaten of the fruit.

 

And, “one of us”? Who is “us”? One answer might be to say others persons of the Trinity, however that is an assumption. To explore this it might be suggested, firstly, that God, the speaker throughout Genesis 2 and 3 is the pre-incarnate Jesus, for all things were made by Him, and He is the Word of God (John 1:1). Therefore, secondly, conceivably the “us” is the Lord, and some other members of the unseen realm, or as Michael Heiser suggests, the lesser “elohim”, or angels. Regardless, mankind now had an awareness they did not have previously, and in this we became like one of “them”.

 

God questioned the man and the woman about the chain of events leading up to the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but He did not question the serpent as to his version of events. This is not inconsequential. Who was the serpent? There may be many theories, but the general weight of opinion is that this is Lucifer himself, who had previously (it may be argued) spoken intent (Isaiah 14:13 NIV): “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.” This is the ‘anointed cherub [or seraph] that covereth’, who seeks to be like, or greater than, the Most High (Ezekiel 28:14 KJV).

 

It must be pointed out here that there is not universal agreement that Isaiah 14 does refer to Satan, particularly because of verse 11, “All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.” My response to this would be that Revelation 20:2-3 tells us that Satan is going to be bound for a thousand years, in a bottomless pit. If God’s realms are above the earth, the earth itself, and under the earth, then to be brought so low that he is under the earth may imply a world of maggots and worms. The literal or figurative sense is unclear, but there is, arguably, a fit between Isaiah and Revelation.

 

As such, the serpent may be regarded as one who stood directly in the Presence of God, with all that implies, and withstood everything because he wanted more. A supposedly perfect being was found in time with iniquity in his heart, wishing and willing to no longer be a servant of the Most High. Lucifer had a choice, he exercised his free will, and was able to do so, but chose to do so in a way that was contrary to God’s will.

 

Nevertheless, God allowed this. He also, supposedly, allowed in time a third of the angels to exercise their free will and follow Lucifer (Revelation 12:4). If it is perceived that I am also making a number of assumptions here about the tempter, I suggest there is general Christian agreement nonetheless.

 

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the tree, and in part they were the subject of a temptation from a third party. The penalty was, as God told Adam it would be, death. Additionally the soil was cursed. Contrary to the probable expectation of the tempter, however, death was not instantaneous, but did come in time. However, their eyes were opened. Apart from this was there any change to their minds? There was an obvious change of perception, but was there a significant spiritual change of some sort.

 

The general Christian perspective is that Adam and Eve died spiritually. If so, in what way? Genesis 3:7 says that their eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil, but it says little apart from that. The one thing that is certain however, is that they were now separated from God. Perhaps the very important point to make is that the fruit was of the flesh, and in ingesting the fruit it is undeniable that a spiritual change of some sort followed.

 

There are critical aspects to the Edenic story. Adam and Eve each received punishments, but neither was cursed. The ground was cursed because of Adam, and his life would be a struggle because of it. A curse was also placed on the tempter, with God saying that Eve’s seed would bruise the tempters head, while the tempter would bruise the the heel of the woman’s seed. For Eve herself, multiplied pain in childbirth would be hers, and the rule of her husband, yet she would continually desire him. With that they were removed from the garden, and in time physical death overtook them.

 

Being in the image of God, or being God’s imagers at creation, Adam and Eve would have had full capacity of their created faculties, including free will choice. Obviously this was in play because Adam and Eve each chose to eat of the forbidden fruit, they chose to defy the command of God Himself. Eve was tempted and saw it was a tree (Genesis 3:6 KJV), “…to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

 

Heiser says, “This balance of sovereignty and free will is essential for understanding what happened in Eden. The choices made by human and nonhuman beings described in Genesis 3 were neither coerced nor needed by Yahweh for sake of his greater plan. The risk of creating image bearers who might freely choose rebellion was something God foresaw but did not decree.”

 

Then their eyes were opened. For as the serpent said in Genesis 3:5 (KJV) that, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Strictly speaking he did not lie on this point, for in Genesis 3:22 (KJV) God Himself says, “…Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.” They would not have been predestinated to eat, for God will not create evil, or cause evil to occur.

 

However God foreknew the outcome and had a plan in place since the foundation of the world. To say all elements of the fall were predestinated is a conceptual leap that the predestinationist must own, with all that implies throughout the rest of the Old and New testaments. Paradoxically, Olson, in What’s Wrong with Calvinism?, says, “Few consistent Calvinists hesitate to admit that they believe even the fall of Adam and Eve and all its consequences, all the sin, evil and agony of the world, are decreed and rendered certain by God. Otherwise, they argue, there would be powers and forces in control of God; God would not be omnipotent and sovereign.” [emphasis in the original.]

 

However, what now follows for the Calvinist is total depravity, that the children of Adam are so separated from god that we must be predestinated to salvation. The Theopedia site provides insight into such Calvinist understandings and confessions:

Total depravity In the Canons of Dort: Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform. (Human Corruption, Conversion to God, and the Way It Occurs, Article 3)^4^

In the Westminster Confession: Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. (Chapter 9, Paragraph 3)^5^

 

The Christ

 

To deal with Total Depravity you must deal with Jesus. The Wikipedia says of Total depravity: “Total depravity (also called radical corruption, or pervasive depravity), is a theological doctrine derived from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.”

 

How could sin enter the world if God is good. Could He, or would He predestinate the evil of sin, and therefore be the creator of that evil? The Adam and Eve account means for the Calvinist that all of us since, supposedly being biologically present within Adam, share in the same sin. That is to say, we are sinners from conception. The Theopedia puts it this way, “The Bible teaches [according to the Calvinist] that in Adam, all broke the covenant (Hos. 6:7) and so, in Adam all die (1 Cor. 15:22). Within covenant theology, the Covenant of Grace is God’s covenant designed to bring humanity into a restored covenant relationship with him, through the death of Christ.”

 

Oca.org, regarding “St. Augustine & Original Sin”, quotes Prokurat and Golitzin [pages 48 and 49]:

…Augustine maintained that everyone descended from Adam inherited the personal judgment decreed for that forefather. Everyone is born guilty of the original sin. Second, so corrupted is the ‘damned mass’ of the human race that its members no longer have the power to avoid sin. …Thus, without true freedom to act, third, all are utterly dependent on the free gift of divine mercy. Fourth, that mercy, completely gratuitous as it consequently must be, is not obliged to save all or any. Those whom God does choose to save are completely his to choose, and that choice has been established in the divine counsel before the world. Thus, fifth, those whom he has chosen and those whom he has not are so designated from before their birth, predestined. The doctrine of predestination has been a kind of leitmotiv, or at least a counterpoint, throughout the following centuries of Western Christian theology. (Thomas Aquinas has it, so does Luther, and so, of course, does its best-known exponent, John Calvin.)

 

Davis Young makes the point, however, based on his reading of Augustine that a too simplistic an approach to Genesis 1-3 should not be taken. He makes a couple of points. Firstly, “Augustine claims that we ought to be willing to change our minds about the interpretation of Genesis 1-3, particularly as new information comes to light.” Secondly, “Given that a theological thinker of Augustine’s genius… it is incumbent upon us to approach the early chapters of Genesis with far less dogmatism and far more humility and caution than we often do.” The point, suggests Young, is not to adopt Augustine’s specific interpretations too readily, that he himself recognized the early chapters of Genesis as complex, and without “easy, pat answers.”

 

Whither Jesus? The paradox is this. We are of the same flesh as Adam and Eve. Jesus, who came in the flesh as the seed of the woman, yet is Himself God, was the second Adam. He was the seed of the woman, of Mary (and Israel), yet Mary, obviously, was not without sin. Therefore any child she bore must, by the definition of Total depravity, be enslaved to sin. Jesus, however, was without sin, and died for us as our ransom, and could only be a ransom because, being without sin, He could pay the price for us.

 

Kyle Pope undertakes an analysis of Psalm English 51:5 (ESV), which states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Pope points out:

We should note that nowhere in the Old Testament is it explicitly stated that Adam’s sin was passed down! One would think that if Adam’s sin had such a monumental effect on his posterity it would at least be eluded to in the account of his sin. Yet all that is declared is: 1.) Adam and his wife were cast from Eden – Genesis 3:23. 2.) This deprived them of the tree of life (which deprived them of unending physical life) – Genesis 3:22. 3.) The man was cursed with having to work for food – Genesis 3:17-19. And 4.) The woman was cursed with pain in childbirth and submission to man – Genesis 3:16.

The New Testament deals more explicitly with the effect Adam’s sin had on mankind. I Corinthians 15:22 declares – “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (NKJV). In the context of explaining the reality of the resurrection Paul simply describes the effect of Adam’s sin – physical death. Romans 5:12 describes a different effect of Adam’s sin claiming – “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” There is little question (from the context) that this refers to spiritual death, yet how does the text say this death was passed? Through imitating Adam’s example of sin! Notice – “…thus death spread to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED.” [Author’s emphasis.]

 

David’s comment, says Pope, is simple. This was a cry of grief over his own sin, for which he was forgiven, and a lament of the very condition of the world into which he was born. A world plagued by sin, from which even his own mother was not immune. However, to say man is conceived in sin, is to say we are born with a sin nature. This is the very neo-Augustine thought that we are the very seed of Adam’s loins when he sinned.

 

Supposedly we are not ‘merely’ predisposed to sin because of our flesh, but we are born sinners. A key verse in discussions about “original sin” is Roman 5:12 (KJV), which states, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The difficulty lies, according to Philip Kariatlis, in the last four words of the verse. The reason for this, he says is because “e˙f∆ wˆ— pa¿nteß h¢marton” can be interpreted in at least three different ways: “These are as follows: 1) in whom all have sinned; 2) because all have sinned and 3) because of death all have sinned.”

 

Kariatlis proceeds to discuss these interpretations. The first is the notion that we all have inherited Adam’s sin, and therefore are guilty because we share this sin, in his nature. The second discussion is the, “because all have sinned”, notion. In this sense we have not inherited Adam’s transgression or guilt as such, but instead we replicate it in our lives, because we sin. “Simply put, in this understanding, Adam sinned causing death which in turn caused a likely propensity on the part of human persons to sin themselves.”

 

The third reading Kariatlis discusses takes the Greek words, usually translated as “because all have sinned”, to actually mean “because of death all have sinned.” Here, he says, “the relative pronoun, e˙f∆ wˆ— is taken to be masculine, as was the case in the first interpretation, but in this case it does not relate back to Adam but rather to the word “death”.” Kariatlis continues, “Grammatically speaking, it makes more sense to have the relative pronoun relate back to the word “death” since it is this word which immediately precedes and substantiates the phrase in question.”

 

Therefore, the understanding now becomes that it is the “cosmic reality of death” which explains the reality of sin in the world, and not the other way around. As such, we sin, and communion with God is lost. Kariatlis suggests the verse could read in the following way: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all; because of death all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).” When God commanded His creation not to eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil, it was, “a statement – that life exists in communion with Him and outside of Him there is death.”

 

Our inheritance is one of mortality rather than sinfulness. Jesus, says Kariatlis, did not become one of us to, “remove the result of Adam’s use of free choice since this would remove the way of life f®eely (sic) chosen by Adam.” Rather, it was to reverse the sentence of death into life, and in doing so not eliminate our capacity for “human freedom.” Alison Bennett says:

The cross is not an atoning satisfaction or penal substitutionary act, but rather it is Christus Victor—the victorious Christ who trampled sin and death through his voluntary, atoning sacrifice. God took on the flesh of his creatures and allowed us to participate in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), thus restoring creation to become what it was meant to be.

The doctrine of original sin as originally articulated by the Roman Catholic Church and later by Protestants is not simply a case of semantics, but an erroneous anthropology resulting from theological reactions and misunderstandings. This doctrine has wide implications for anthropology—sin, grace, free will, baptism, and theosis. How we understand the effects of the Fall directly bears on our soteriology.

 

Jesus was born as we are, and to deny Jesus came in the “flesh” is to deny God’s word (1 John 4:1-3 ESV): “1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

 

Some will argue that because Jesus was God in the flesh, He could not sin. He was indeed God in the flesh, but Hebrews affirms He was a man, sharing flesh and blood exactly like His beloved creation. Flesh and blood. It may be generally affirmed that sin finds us, lodges in our flesh, and therefore brings death with it. But Jesus, the Christ, withstood that to be our Savior (Hebrews 2:14-18 NKJV):

14 Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16 For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. 17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

 

Jesus shared our flesh, the seed of the woman, and He walked among us. Was He born enslaved to sin? No, He could not be, or He could never have gone to the cross a sinless sacrifice. And neither are we born enslaved to sin, because our flesh is like Christ’s was. Sin as such is not inherited. Sin inexorably finds us, and then we are answerable before God for the things we do in the body, as 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV) affirms: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

 

The things we have done, not as an inheritance, as confirmed in Ezekiel 18:19-20: “19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. 20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Total depravity and predestination appeals to some who value a legalistic, sackcloth and ashes, bleak view of human nature, but that is not a necessarily true and valid position to take.

 

Certainly, guilt, sin finds each of us, for the law is the bridge for sin into the flesh, and death is the result (Tremper Longman and Daniel Reid). It follows that if we say Christ was born sinless, yet we were not, then He differs from us, and His sacrifice could not be our perfect substitute. He was like us in every way, as the second Adam, and as such He did not sin, thereby defeating death, and principalities and powers. Hebrews 2:17 (NKJV) attests to this: “…in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God.” [emphasis added.]

 

Jesus reveals in Luke 22:31 (NIV) of the approach of the seed of Satan: “”Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.”” In all this He experienced things as we did, as a reading of His experience in Gethsemane reveals. Jesus experienced the horror of it all, and what lay ahead (Mark 14:32-42). Larry Perkins discusses in particular Jesus saying (Mark 13:48 NIV), “”The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”” His commentary is nuanced, but I take Jesus’ distress as one in which His flesh, like ours, was subjected to an horrific onslaught. An onslaught in the form of the temptation to not drink from the cup to come, and the fearsome approach of principalities and powers, of death itself.

 

Matthew 26:41 describes the scene, just as Mark does, and also cross-references with Matthew 6:13 (NIV) where Jesus taught us, ““And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”” Luke 22:43-44 (NIV) tells us, “43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” In Luke 22:45 Jesus exhorts his disciples, exhausted from sorrow, to, ““Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.””

 

The prince of the world thought the death of Christ would be an ultimate victory, but it was not to be. Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV) describes how Jesus, the man, being in the nature of God, and therefore Himself God, became as a servant, for which the Father exalted Him, and brings all things subject to Him:

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

The law multiplied sin, so grace might also be multiplied (Romans 5:20). The law is against us. It may be a bitter concept for many, but it seems Satan has legal rights. He fully expected Adam and Eve to die in a far different manner than they did, because he was banking on God’s righteousness to execute a perfect kind of justice, but God surprised Satan. Nevertheless, Satan remains the god of this world, this age, for a season, and he loves the law. Many men also love the law, but God in Christ saved us out from under the law, into his righteousness. The standard for the Christian is faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).

 

Jesus, the Christ, saved us by becoming one of us, in the flesh, and allowing Himself to go to the cross. Was that predestinated? No, it was predetermined that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). The same Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). I would not wish to be the one who stands before Christ and tells Him he was predestined to be one of the elect, while half-jokingly acknowledging that so many for whom He died are perishing.

 

The death of Christ, in which manner He also died for the lost: “7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7-8 NIV).” This is the Christ who said to those who wished Him dead (John 8:44 NIV), “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

 

Did Jesus say they were totally depraved? They were depraved, but they denied Him wilfully, and he also laid blame squarely at the feet of Satan, for he was the father of those who crucified Christ. They had allowed their hearts to become calloused, and they closed their ears and eyes. Otherwise, said Jesus, ““…they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them (Matthew 13:15 NIV).”” Zechariah 7:11 (NIV): ““But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears.”” [emphasis added.]

 

This turning away from salvation is clearly revealed in Luke 16:27-31 (NIV) where the rich man, realizing that his torment could not be eased, begged that someone go to warn his brothers, and probably by extension, their families:

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

 

Abraham makes it plain for all to read, if they did not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not even be convinced if someone rises from the dead. So it is with Christ. A cloud of witnesses testify to his dead, resurrection, and ascension, but many turn their backs and cover their ears. No total depravity, no predestination, just choice.

 

1 John 2:2 (ESV) declares the good news regarding Jesus: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

 

Satan

 

In Genesis 3:14 God very deliberately cursed the devil, saying he was cursed above all livestock, and above all beasts of the field, and that he would eat “dust” all of his life. Mankind is the dust of the earth, the devil is a significant part of our lives, and many in the seen and unseen realm would be, and are, his seed. God said there would be enmity between the devil and the woman, and between the devil’s seed and the seed of the woman. So it has been, just as God said it would. God cursed the adversary, bringing him low, and making him directly involved in our realm, in this “theater of God.”

 

The devil is so significant that when Jesus prepared for the temptations of Satan, after being led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, he fasted for forty days and nights in order to prepare (Matthew 4:2). Therefore, the temptations were significant. At one point Jesus was offered every kingdom of the world, and every kingdom was Satan’s to offer.

 

This is why it Jesus stated emphatically (John 18:36 (NIV), “”My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”” This is perhaps in part a rebuke of any overt attempts we make to enter into secular politics. Some may wish to overthrow the reign of the god of this world, but that is not our role.

 

As citizens we have the political right to vote in most countries, but directly attempting to be overtly political, particularly by way of Christian blocs, is questionable (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Piper, I suggest, with the support of the neo-Calvinists, takes this upon himself in a number of arenas. Paul tells us clearly (Ephesians 6:12 NIV): “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

 

A cluster of traditions without a clearly enunciated position of the seen and unseen realms that swirl around us is to deny the great battle for the souls of mankind. Jesus acknowledged it, yet the supposed servants of the Most High do not. Colossians 2:15 makes a point of telling us what Jesus achieved at the cross, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” The influence of Satan and his seed is testified to in Genesis, and throughout the New Testament. He is defeated, but persists for a season. We need to put on the armor of God to live victoriously, for in Genesis he was cursed, and therefore God’s enemy. If he is God’s enemy he is against the Church, and every Christian, in our walk with Christ and our witness to the world.

 

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (biblestudytools.com) says a couple of things about a curse. Firstly, “A curse was considered to possess an inherent power of carrying itself into effect.” Secondly, The term—and the thing signified—plays an important part in Paul’s interpretation of the cross. In the light of the law all men are guilty. There is no acquittal through appeal to a law that commands and never forgives—prohibits and never relents. The violator of the law is under a curse. His doom has been pronounced. Escape is impossible. But on the cross Jesus Christ endured the curse—for “cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:10,13)—and a curse that has overtaken its victim is a spent force.”

 

Both meanings relate directly to the enmity between God, and most specifically the person of Christ, and the devil. This was established in the prophetic statement that the seed of the woman would bruise the devils head. The curses is of judgment. God explicitly judged the tempter of Eve, and so Satan is defeated, although he continues to act as the prince of this world for now. John Hickey makes the point:

Although, the Genesis story portrays the account of the fall in very colourful metaphor, the message is crystal clear: the devil, who is the ‘prince of lies’, overcome by his pride and with angelic intelligence and free will, set himself against God because of his lust for power. In seeing that Adam was created by God with the potential to become immortal the devil’s diseased nature could not countenance the potential of God’s creation: ‘Man’. His mission was then, and still is, to destroy God’s creation in its entirety. It is imperative that this aspect of our fallen nature is correctly understood.

 

Judgment

 

God is typically seen as a great Judge. This notion often carries with it a sense of anger and wrath, and rightly so perhaps. Curiously, however, when Cain murdered his brother, God responded quite unexpectedly. God told Cain that the ground on which Abel’s blood was spilled would curse him. That was not God’s curse, but His observation of what had occurred. Seemingly Cain, who deliberately resisted God, was only too well aware at this point that he was now separated from God, whose face became hidden from him. Cain made no effort seemingly to change this state of affairs. Nevertheless, God protected Cain with a mark, so that no one might kill him for what he had done.

 

The evidence starts to mount that God was never our enemy, nor we His. He never cursed us. In our disobedience Adam was, and we remain, except for belief in Jesus, separated from Him, however, the enemy of God is Satan and his seed. Mankind was thrust out into a world where sin would invariably find us, but God always had a bridge back to Himself because of His eternal love for us.

 

In time, the law, being something we could never uphold, became the very overt and obvious conduit for sin to enter our earthly flesh, carrying death with it. Christ came, in the same flesh as us, but being sinless He was crucified, taking our sin upon Himself, and then rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. Being of our flesh, and absorbing our sin in His body means God can regard believers as righteous because Christ paid the ransom for us.

 

Through all this we have been cognizant human agents, choosing God or not. The notion of predestination, and that perhaps Christ did not die for non believers, denotes a paucity of care for the unsaved, and a blinkered view of the Word of God. Jesus says (John 8:15-16 NIV): “15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.” [emphasis added.] The Father and Son are in solidarity. Do neither judge us?

 

There is, in fact, no condemnation. None. The very notion, that Jesus does not judge, is verified in John 5:24 (NIV): ““Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”” [emphasis added.] Romans 8:1 (NIV) further verifies: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” [emphasis added.] Even more verification is found in John 3:18, 6:37, and Romans 5:1.

 

The wording should be noted carefully. “…whoever hears my word…” Are some prevented from hearing His word? John the Baptist said of Jesus on seeing Him (John 1:29 KJV): “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

 

John 12:47-48 (NIV) provides an elaboration: “”47 If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.”” [emphasis added.]

 

John 12:27-50 also captured the entire notion that Jesus does not judge. In particular, John 12:31 (NIV), which says: ““Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.”” Jesus expressly states the time for judgment, nothing could be clearer. Then in the same breath states, “now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Is Jesus judging the world? Or is He driving out the prince of this world? Both perhaps.

 

Who condemns us? Jesus? The Father? Neither. It is the law that condemns all those who reject Jesus, and there is solidarity on this point between the Father and the Son. There is no confusion, for ALL authority, in heaven and on earth, has been given to the Son (Matthew 28:18). Jesus adjudicates as the Judge over the living and dead, and in doing so deals with the evidence presented (Revelation 20:11-13 NIV):

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. [emphasis added.]

 

As Thomas Taylor attests in a letter to John Wesley:

Now if there be anything in the day of judgment analogous to what is transacted in courts of justice here, then causes are to be tried by the law or word, and such as have voluntarily committed crimes are to be punished accordingly, and every cause is to have a fair hearing, Rev. xx. 12. But, according to the scheme of absolute predestination, all is settled and fixed already; then there is no judging of every man “according to his works,” but according to what is before ordained concerning him. So that the clay of judgment is a solemn farce, or rather we may call it the day of execution, seeing it is only to execute what was long ago determined. What a ridiculous idea does this give us of the proceedings of that great and awful day! Should the king summon a number of cannons to take their trial in Westminster-Hall for blowing down some city, which cannon had been fired by his secret orders, would not every one who knew the affair both despise, and in their judgment condemn, such a foolery? But how does judging men for doing that which He has before determined they should do, reflect upon the wisdom and goodness of the Almighty?

 

Therefore, asks Taylor rhetorically, “…how does judging men for doing that which He has before determined they should do, reflect upon the wisdom and goodness of the Almighty?” The law is so exacting that it says in Matthew 5:28 that even our thoughts may condemn us. Romans 1:18-32 reveals the wrath of God in the verses of Revelation for those who do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

No one can deny the Son because of some presumed lack of evidence of His existence, or claim they never knew Him. If we deny Jesus then we choose the law as a basis of judgment, and the justice that it invokes. The whole notion of free will is embedded in justice and the law, both in heaven and on earth.

 

The choice of turning to God, or not, is highlighted in Luke with the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which tells us that there is a separation at death between those who belong to God and those who reject Him. We see the usual level of cognition, and a realization of the implications of choosing whom we shall follow, God or our own self interests (Luke 16:19-31 NIV):

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

 

The rich man did not appeal to any perceived unfairness at his situation, but only for relief from his agony, and concern for his family. His request exposes clearly the proposition that the lost are not totally depraved, or predestined. They have chosen a destiny, and nothing will alter it, by their own choice. Abraham reveals in the discussion with the rich man that there was already sufficient evidence available to the living to make a choice, a deliberate personal choice of whether to follow God or not.

 

We might wonder if perhaps the rich man thought that if Lazarus went with the message his brothers they might believe the truth because someone rose from the dead to bring the message. Yet we know Jesus rose from the dead, and was seen by a cloud of witnesses: “…and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”1 Corinthians 15:5-8 NIV However, do all believe on Him?

 

God says (Isaiah 1:18 NIV), ““Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”” It is an insult to suggest that God says to us, let us reason, and then consigns us to the saved or unsaved list. It is an insult to God, despite disobedience, that He is not permitted to deal with us as men and women with at least some residue of His image as our creator still alive within us, because God’s sovereignty means such a concept is unquestionable. Such notions risk making God in our image.

 

We are told that: The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love (Psalm 33:5 NIV). However, Jesus makes it very clear that many will not accept Him, despite the evidence (John 5:36-47 NIV):

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

“I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

 

Jesus lays the fault of unbelief squarely at the feet of the unbeliever. The law judges. God has books, for example, The Book of Life (Revelation 20:15), and The Book of the Living (Psalm 69:28), if they are in fact different. We all face judgment of some sort. At the Great White Throne Judgment books will be opened, and Jesus Christ will judge unbelievers: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” John 5:22 KJV For the Christian there is no judgment in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

 

It is true, just as Jesus told those Pharisees all those years ago, that the Father has given the power of judgment to the Son, He who … sat upon the throne (Revelation 5:1-7). “He will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14 NIV). Justice will be served, every deed, word, thought and so on is recorded, and we will be judged according to what we have done. Although not to condemnation for the believer, and this in no way introduces, in any shape or form, the concept of salvation by works. There is no salvation by works, nothing we can do can earn one iota of salvation.

 

Not only will justice be served, it will be seen to be served before a great host, all of whom will expect nothing less of God than perfect justice delivered perfectly. No one, not one person or angel will be able to say that justice was not delivered. Unlike many instances in this world where there is a great lack of openness and transparency God’s justice will be beyond challenge. It will be open, transparent, and in all likelihood, open for audit.

 

Entry to heaven will be based not merely on some capricious decision made by God, but squarely upon our choice of what, and whom we seek in life. This will lead to a perfect justice on the basis of intent: Actus Reus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea. In Latin this means, conviction of a crime requires proof of a criminal act and intent. I invoke Matthew 6:10.

 

Is such a concept of justice valid and true? Romans 1:18-25 (NIV) tells us:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. [emphasis added.]

 

No hint of total depravity or predestination in sight. People are without excuse, for they knew God, as we know God. Romans 1:20 (NIV) says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” He never leaves Himself unknown. Psalm 19:1-2 (NIV)

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

 

There is spiritual war that swirls around us, and in which we are players whether we like it, or accede to it, or not. It is one thing to say mankind are not left without knowledge of God and yet still choose to go on without him. Choose to do so. He is clearly able to be known, so people are without excuse.

 

No sense of total depravity or predestination. The reading and intent is plain. Regarding these powers Heiser, in his unpublished paper, says:

If you have ever wondered why Satan and other evil divine beings do what they do despite the power of God, this approach is the answer. There are evil divine beings because those beings have made evil choices and continue to wreak havoc in God’s world. And since everything is not predestinated, they believe they can thwart God’s purposes. This is why Scripture describes their opposition to a messianic bloodline, to the covenantal holiness of God’s people, to the very survival of those who follow the true God. Though confronted with superior power, they think they can win the battle for the souls of humanity. And the fact is, they won battles in the Bible many times, and win countless battles today. Why wouldn’t such victories, as frequent as they are, reinforce this belief? We may be assured of an ultimate end (which they may or may not deny), but evil has a lot of freedom. God has established parameters, and may (Job 1:6ff.) selectively restrict how far evil can go in specific circumstances, but evil has not been predestinated out of its victories. The battle is real, and the stakes can go no higher.

 

On the other hand we return to Total depravity, as described by the Theopedia:

Total depravity (also called total inability or total corruption) is a biblical doctrine closely linked with the doctrine of original sin as formalized by Augustine and advocated in many Protestant confessions of faith and catechisms, especially in Calvinism. The doctrine understands the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the the Fall of man, every person born into the world is morally corrupt, enslaved to sin and is, apart from the grace of God, utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation. [emphasis added.]

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV)

 

Predestination, the opposing principle to free will, hangs entirely off Total Depravity. Predestination is so fundamental that to admit the least particle of free will is to see it all unravel. Total Depravity thrusts all the focus on the complete spiritual failing of man, yet it is a man made tradition reaching back to Calvin, and beyond, to Augustine and Plato. Such men came to see a series of assumptions and philosophies usefully addressed the issues of their times, and then proceeded to ‘prove’ these in the Word of God.

 

Jesus, the Logos, came in direct opposition to the empty philosophies of men, particularly the Greek philosophers such as Plato. Assuming I am Arminian, for arguments sake, I believe in the notion of a man or woman as a sentinel being with a degree of spiritual free will. Certainly enough to allow God to be God, without limiting who He is, and the degree and extent of His majesty. The Calvinist God is constrained to be the author, and creator, of both good and evil. That is an entirely different thing than the knowledge of good and evil.

 

The Calvinist is irrevocably locked into predestination, because it is a necessary continuation of total depravity, and the potential of everything unravelling. The Calvinist theology is like a great, secure, refuge, where one can address God, not directly, but through the mediation of Tulip, or the more nuanced version of each point. In the final analysis a Calvinist cannot move too far from the fortress of their own codified narratives, or cracks will appear. God is effectively so constrained that He has been made in the image of the Tulip iconography.

 

Henry Collin Minton, in an 1909 journal article, made some observations regarding Calvin:

Calvin the theologian is Calvin the lawyer transferring his thought from the sphere of human jurisprudence to that of the divine. Unlike the other great jurist-theologian, Hugo Grotius of Holland, his conception of God is that of judge rather than that of governor. Calvin’s theology, like every theology that strikes its plummet straight to the bottom, was also a theodicy, and it is just this theodician valuation of it which represents both the seed-thought and the crux of his whole system. His conception of the universe is essentially theistic. The world is theo-genetic—God-originated; it is theocentric—God centred; it is theocratic—God governed; it is theologic—it has its rationale in God. God is Creator and Governor of all; but above everything else, He is Judge of all; and this is the juristic principium on which he builds his whole system.

 

Calvin was essentially a censorious humanist lawyer who regarded God as a judge. There is a certain love for such a censorious, legalistic nature, for some are certainly so inclined. Strangely too, it is the law, and all it implies, that is the bridgehead of sin into our flesh, all of which brings sure death.

 

What then of the walk according to the spirit and the fruits of the Spirit, which are (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV): “22 …love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

 

What of Jesus saying He does not judge, and therefore the Father does not judge either. Of course, such things are brushed aside by the Piper and the neo-Calvinists in their reformation testing of the scriptures to determine the sure election of some, and the sure damnation of many.

 

Such a bleak outlook. It is little wonder that we read in the Wikipedia entry of John Calvin that, “In 1551 Jérôme-Hermès Bolsec, a physician in Geneva, attacked Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and accused him of making God the author of sin.”

 

The Atonement

 

The moment mankind sinned they died, eventually. Within a certain mise-en-scène arrangement Satan was allowed a certain level of control, and every man and woman from Adam onward would be found out by sin, and would die. Christ came in our flesh, and died in our stead, but being sinless paid the price for all. As Romans 8:1-8 (ESV) says:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

 

The Wikipedia entry regarding the Penal substitution theory of the atonement points out that it is a theory developed within the Reformed tradition. However it should be noted that, “In scholarly literature it has been generally recognized for some time that the penal substitution theory was not taught in the Early Church. The ransom theory of atonement in conjunction with the moral influence view was nearly universally accepted in this early period.”

 

On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry for Christus Victor theory states: “The term comes from the title of Gustaf Aulén’s book, first published in 1931… in which he drew attention back to this classic early Church understanding of the atonement. Gustav Aulén writes in description of Christus Victor, “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.””

 

Our view of the atonement, and the nature of Gods judgment shapes and determines our doctrines and theology. The theologies of Calvin and Anselm were a perfect storm. That God, on one hand predestines some to salvation, and everyone else to damnation, could not tolerate the ransom theory of atonement. Anselm’s theory was readily adopted, and refined by John Calvin, who clung to the notion of punishment being the demand of divine justice. After one thousand years of Church history everything is rewritten.

 

Calvin appropriated Anselm’s work, Christ was seen as being punished for sinners, which in turn satisfied God’s demand for justice, so that he could justly forgive sin. Perhaps not for all, but for the elect. If mankind is regarded as totally depraved, and predestination is the the only rationale for God’s sovereignty, then the ransom theory will never fit within such a humanistic, and legalistic conceptual framework.

 

However, the penal substitution model is mono-dimensional, a point in time occurrence, significant though that may be. However, there is the whole of the book of Revelation standing before us, preceded by the spirit of iniquity that is already abroad. A view of the the cross, Christ’s great work, and the atonement is diminished by a focus on the punishment of sin, and an absenting of the devil.

 

In a much richer assessment of the Christus Victor, or Ransom theory, Ikechukwu Michael Oluikpe concludes:

The Christus Victor model describes atonement as Christ’s victory over evil powers. Though these powers were broken and defeated by the Cross, they were not destroyed. Armageddon will bring Christ’s victory on the cross to its logical culmination when all these evil powers that alienated humanity from God are completely and ultimately destroyed. This destruction will result in the perfect reconciliation (at-one-ment) between God and redeemed humanity, and the perfect restoration of peace and harmony in the whole universe: God dwelling with His people, with sin and sinners no more (Rev. 21:3, 4)

Thus, Armageddon must not be located in world events marked by terrorism, continual wars fought with ferocity, smart bombs, and threats of mushroom clouds—important as these are as signs of the end. The Scriptural understanding of Armageddon expects us to refrain from speculation but look forward to the ultimate triumph of God in the cosmic conflict between good and evil, between Christ and Satan. The biblical focus of Armageddon is Christus Victor.

 

The great and wonderful work wrought by God at the cross for mankind is not just in the past, but has present and future implications. The head of Satan is bruised, but his ultimate demise is future, and until then remains our bitter foe. We do not fight against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).

 

In Revelation 1:18 (NIV) someone like a son of man with a voice like the sound of rushing waters declares, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

 

The Age of Grace

 

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. According to Rick Flanders, “He was weeping because He is not willing that any should perish. That’s what the Scriptures clearly say.” Flanders then cites 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (NIV), which says: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”

 

Certainly Christ died for the many, and not for all, for not all choose to accept His great ransom price. Therefore they will be judged according to things done in the flesh, with the law as the divine standard. Longman and Reid say that in Romans 5–7 Paul develops the notion of an alliance of sin, the flesh, law, and death in a “narrative of conflict and subsequent defeat.” This, they argue, is an “apocalyptic power alliance.” Sin finds its foothold in the flesh, and when it does it preys on us, because the law is the “bridgehead” to wage war against us, and take us prisoner wherever and whenever possible. Death is the penalty.

Adam’s disobedience brought death (Romans 5:12), therefore sin and death form such an interlocking nexus that it simply follows that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Sin was the “power” that “entered the world” with mankind, and death, which pre-existed the law, rode with it. To defeat this “apocalyptic power alliance” Jesus, in the likeness of our sinful flesh, (Romans 8:3), became a man, but being guiltless, He conquered sin, and he conquered death in the very terrain it controlled.

If there is one thing God does it is to confound our logic completely. Isaiah 55:8 (NIV) says, “”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.” Now, this should not be taken to mean we cannot ever understand God’s ways in any way. Rather, it reveals that the plan He had for mankind confounds our notions, and the devils, of how things should happen. Many of us, when Adam sinned, would have had them die right there and then.

 

However, God in all His glorious majesty had a far greater and wonderful plan. A plan that reached right through and past the demand for lawful death, and drowned it in the endless love He has for His creation. Furthermore, God does not even seek to judge mankind, in any way. Mankind judges itself, and Jesus adjudicates to ensure that justice is delivered fairly and completely, without any favor, except the exceeding great grace of His ransom for whomsoever will (Revelation 22:17).

 

For He so loved His creation that He become one of us. God the Word, our creator, became Jesus, the second Adam, and the only one among us who was completely without sin. Christ’s death was a marker of where justice, based on a perfect law, was overtaken by an even greater love. The Word of God stooped down and was born of woman, His very creation.

 

Jesus became flesh in solidarity with us all, and was therefore subject to the temptations of the world, and to the demands, accusations, and schemes of the powers of evil just as we are. But being sinless, He went the cross, and took the “handwritten documentation of the charge,” as laid by the forces of malevolence against us, and nailed it to the cross in his own sinless human body (Colossians 2:14).

 

The devil cannot be erased from history. We cannot rewrite history and pretend it is all about total depravity. It may seem offensive, but Satan is permitted be the god of the age in the “theater of God”, for now. On the cross Jesus shared with, and stood in for, mankind, as Satan and his seed assaulted Him. He ransomed us, and paid the penalty for sin, which is death. Paul declares that Christ, while seemingly humiliated and seemingly defeated by His death on the cross, in reality triumphed, and then made a public spectacle of His enemies as He rose from the dead (Colossians 2:15).

 

Jesus’ victory was in the spilling of His blood, and believers share as beneficiaries in His victory (1 Corinthians 15:57). The most telling inheritance we have is that the flesh we now inhabit, will be cast off, and at the resurrection we will put on an imperishable body, just like our Savior’s.

 

Colossians 2:13 (NIV) reveals the purpose of the Father and the Son, which was to defeat the devil and his works, and offer eternal life to all who believe and therefore are saved out from under the law. Then we are told in Romans 8:29 (NIV): “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” [emphasis added.] He predestined what? He predestined that we be conformed when we believe, not that He predestined we were to be saved.

 

Then Jesus sat at the right hand of God and received authority (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV): “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

It is Jesus’ desire that all might be saved. This is seen in the statement (Revelation 3:20 NIV), “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Jesus, Himself God, acknowledges the right of a soul to deny entry to their inner being, of the Lord over life and death. The path is broad that leads to destruction (Matthew 7) so obviously many do deny entry, but none will ever deny they heard Jesus knocking. To open the door to Jesus reveals what Heiser says constitutes free will… “[it] is the ability to make a choice without coercion.”

 

The promise of John 3:16 is that whosoever believes in and on Jesus Christ will never perish, but passes into eternal life. There is an elaboration in John 3:36 (KJV),, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” [emphasis added.]

 

1 John 2:2 NIV assures us that: “… he [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2 NIV[emphasis added.] God reconciles to Himself ALL things, wherever these things or persons may be, whether on earth or in heaven. God does not want anyone to perish, for we read (2 Peter 3:9 NIV), “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

 

The great price for the salvation was paid by Christ, the sacrificial lamb who shed His blood for the sin of the world, so that all could be reconciled. However, not all persons by any means will choose such a great and costly salvation. Such is the privilege afforded us in free will. We are not predestinated to be saved, or lost forever. Rather the gospel message affirms in John 3:16 (NIV) that, “…God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [emphasis added.] Whoever believes. Not who was predestinated, but whoever believes. No one is so depraved that they cannot believe.

 

Therefore we gain some understanding of the cracks allowed us within any notion of predestination. Free will is the sole sovereignty assigned to mankind, being made in the image of God. For if God has total free will, we have at least sufficient capacity for free will to make a choice of the path we take, eternal life or the alternative. Proverbs 16:9 (ESV) says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

 

I have no real objection to anyone expressing their faith as they see their spirit leads. I affirm the right of anyone to acknowledge, or deny, the Holy Trinitarian God as our Savior. He did not need anyone, yet created unseen and seen families, and God the Father is loyal to His creation. So much so that He sent His Son, the Word, Christ, to die for us. The Holy Spirit affirms this superlative love. God would have none perish and judges no one, nor does He condemn anyone. The law is condemnation to those who perish, as is their choice.

 

Theater of God

 

My great concern is that many may actually be harmed in some way by the assertive nature of neo-Calvinism’s theology. I affirm that there is something far more majestic than total depravity and predestination unto hell itself. That anyone is lost is no joke, or even a half joke, not in any way shape or form, and I feel as a Christian, shame that the world who is perishing might regard such a thing, and wonder, what kind of love is this?

 

To cling to the iconography of Tulip is to put on theater glasses for viewing everything in the great “theater of God”, but these glasses offer only a myopic and distorted vision of the great and sweeping majesty of the Lord God Almighty. The real God is the one who acknowledged His perfect justice in a perfect law, and offered all who believed a life eternal, because of His Son. Jesus, at the cross, stripped off His flesh, with the law and principalities and powers that clung to it, and put on a new resurrected body, free of the draw to sin and condemnation. That is the free gift offered to all who believe.

 

Of course, many Calvinists insist that Calvinism should not be reduced to the iconography of Tulip, yet it is the brand by which many choose to be known. There is no point creating a brand, and enjoying its benefits as all the while decrying the reductionist nature while onlookers are educated about the assumptions of its nature and purpose. As Boettner claimed, it “won the admiration of thinking men of all creeds.” Perhaps not all.

 

Olson makes the observation: “…according to Piper, God has sincere compassion even for the non-elect so that he desires their salvation, even though he declines to provide for it on the cross. To paraphrase John Wesley, this seems to be such a love and compassion as makes the blood run cold. What love refuses to save those who could be saved because election to salvation is unconditional? What compassion refuses to provide for their salvation when it could be provided for?” What love is there?

 

This is all founded on a very particular view of total depravity, and predestination. Yet this view built on the pillars of Tulip, becoming an edifice constructed through a correspondingly intricate web of supportive theology. Danger looms, though, in the assuming of too much, too deeply, beyond the sanction of the broader Church, for then we may become prisoners of beliefs within this edifice with its foundations that are so deep and gloomy that even God’s love cannot penetrate.

 

This sets the mise-en-scène for the great historical “theater of God.” Was it all neatly predestined? The garden reveals the two main protagonists, the Lord God, and Adam (Biblehub, for Adam and Eve may be seen collectively). Genesis 5:2 (NIV) says, “He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.” And there is the tempter, that old serpent, the devil, the third protagonist. God has set punishments for mankind, including a cursing of the ground. Part of the punishment for the woman is the establishment of patriarchal relations that still persist in the Church despite Jesus’ work at the cross, because for believers there no male or female in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

 

What becomes of Adam? They are removed from the garden, and in due course they die physically, as God said they would. It is noteworthy, and no doubt a great surprise to the devil, that death, the great penalty for disobedience, was brought about in God’s own time and way. This is the first notion of a whole way of thinking that reveals that God’s ways are not the ways of His creation (Isaiah 55:8).

 

However, despite the punishments, and the banishment from Eden, there is no mention of any diminishment of capacities, whether cognitive, or spiritual. None. I am well aware that commentators may say Adam and Even died spiritually, but making assumptive leaps about just what exactly that means, is fraught. It might reasonably be assumed that death means just that, a physical death, accompanied by a spiritual death, which is simply separation from God, because of our disobedience. A spiritual separation seems reasonable, and in the sense of the communion that there may have been in Eden that would have been wrenching. Therefore it seems entirely within God’s nature to restore that which was lost.

 

Does the disobedience of Adam (by which I mean mankind) constitute total depravity, total inability, or some such notion? After all, what changed? Adam, and by extension we, became like the “gods”, knowing good and evil. A great and significant change in perception took place. That change came from disobedience, and separation from God, of that there is no doubt. However, the knowing of good and evil hardly constitutes total depravity, and God never stopped talking to his creation.

 

Further, the Tulip acronym makes no meaningful mention of the devil, yet the devil is a truly significant actor in the great historical ‘theater of God’. After all, he was the protagonist who warranted a curse, and a prophetic enmity was established, which points directly to the battle between Christ and Satan. 1 John 3:8 (NIV) states emphatically: “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” [emphasis added.]

 

Perhaps Satan is somehow assumed in the ‘Perseverance of the saints’, but that seems entirely unsatisfactory given the significance God Himself ascribed to the forces lined up against us, His beloved creation. There is a significant blind spot in Calvinist theology. The devil is certainly acknowledged, but in the reality of Tulip he is seemingly excused from world events, and what that may imply for mankind. Or he is simply made the “handmaiden” of God.

 

Olson (SEA) puts the matter of the full theater of God in perspective, “For me nothing about the Christian worldview is more important than regarding God and the devil as absolute competitors in this universe and its tragic history. God is good and desires the good of every creature. As church father Irenaeus said “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The devil is bad and desires harm for every creature. To view the devil as God’s instrument makes a mockery of the entire biblical narrative.”

 

At about this point total depravity is unraveling. Indeed, whence or whither the wilted Tulip one might ask, for a “world” in thrall to the god of the age, for it, or a flower by any other name, which denies the impact of the devil is weakened, even ineffectual. There is simply no notion of total depravity, or some inalienable, inherited, or inherent tendency to resist God scripturally defined, or even hinted at.

 

What should be becoming clear, however, is that it is our flesh that is our great enemy, for Christ Himself had to come in the flesh to be a perfect sacrifice in order to redeem us. The flesh draws us from God, the law is a bridgehead for sin into our body, and the outcome is death.

 

Deliver Us From Evil

 

Romans 16 is a letter to the Church where Paul acknowledges many women who were servants of the Church, in the same manner as Paul said he himself was, in a message of Christian egalitarianism. Here he instructs us to avoid “divisive persons”, and therefore the reader of this text should consider whether I am being divisive, and perhaps I am, and therefore to be dismissed. However, this is what Paul has to say about such things:

17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. [emphasis added.]

 

As Jesus said (Matthew 26:41 NIV), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The spirit is indeed willing. It is not a matter of total depravity, but our flesh that betrays us, for sin lodges in the flesh and death rides with it. Jesus Himself told us to pray after this manner (Matthew 6:13 (NIV), “”And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (Biblehub.com) says of Matthew 6:13:

Deliver us from evil – The original in this place has the article – deliver us from the evil – that is, as has been supposed, the Evil One, or Satan. He is elsewhere called, by way of eminence, the “Evil One,” Matthew 13:19; 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 3:12. The meaning here is, “deliver us from his power, his snares, his arts, his temptations.” He is supposed to be the great parent of evil, and to be delivered from him is to be safe. Or it may mean, “deliver us from the various evils and trials which beset us, the heavy and oppressive calamities into which we are continually liable to fall.”

 

To simply make a great man made tradition, a philosophy about total depravity, without acknowledging all the protagonists on the stage in the great “theater of God”, sets a snare for us, and creates a great danger of missing the target. The Calvinist theater glasses of those who bind closely to the Tulip iconography, and make half jokes of it, shift the meaning of scripture to mean something never intended. The denotation of the Tulip flower takes on a connotative narrative that adherents read and gain sense and meaning from, rendering a beautiful flower cold and stark in the absence of love.

 

For example, despite a certain graciousness in the writing of Corrie Mitchell in seeking to make a defence of “Reformed Theology”, it reveals a number of inherent issues. I suspect that if someone commences an online conversation with the comment, “Is Calvinism the cold, rigid approach to Christianity it’s made out to be?” then some cold, rigid realities about Calvinist theology are indeed evident, even to the neo-Calvinists.

 

I am not wishing to be negative about Mitchell, I respect her for her point of view. Nevertheless, the document is defensive, and I suggest it is a pointer to the far wider, and inherently dissonant nature of the Calvinist Tulip system. The theology that is a series of “man” made clusters of belief creating an overall template for superimposing over the Bible, thereby forcing a certain interpretation.

 

It is in such man made traditions and interpretations that the difficulty arises, as time is devoted to dealing with the threads of uncertainty and doubt that threaten to unravel the underlying theology completely. Therefore the requirement for adherents who rush to undertake a self-healing process to support the organism when it is questioned. Not that support may be required, but it is rather to shore up their own legalistic interpretations that stand in contradiction to the love of God that shines from the Word of God regardless of attempts to occlude it.

 

Mitchell is very upfront and honest, saying, “Calvinism is a system of theology, not a denomination.” She continues, “Broadly speaking, Calvinism encompasses the whole of Reformed theology and its doctrinal distinctives. Many more churches hold to Reformed teaching than just the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church. For example, some of today’s most outspoken Calvinists are Southern Baptist.”

 

Mitchell points out that Tulip is, of course, reductionist, and there is much more to her faith than just that. She points out too that not all are five-pointers, even pointing back to Perman’s article where Piper is described as “half-jokingly” referring to himself as a seven-point Calvinist. Mitchell’s assertion regarding Tulip is confirmed by Todd Billings: “But TULIP does not provide an adequate or even accurate distillation of Reformed theology. TULIP is a relatively recent acronym used to summarize a much older theological document—a document that was itself never intended as a summary of Reformed theology.”

 

Billings continues, “The New Calvinists, with their God-centered message and their focus on dogmatic theology, make a robust contribution to contemporary ecclesial theological conversation.” However, there is a “but.” The but is, suggests Billings, that such things as Tulip obscure a much richer Calvinist heritage: “The New Calvinists pick the TULIP from the Reformed field, overlooking the other flowers. There is much besides the TULIP in this spacious field that has grown from the seed of God’s word.” Tulip may well be reductionist, yet it seems to speak very articulately for more than a few. Reductionist, yet somehow a synthesis of a faith structure for more than a few.

 

Mitchell, as an apologist for Calvinism as a system of theology, speaks with as much authority, I assume, as any woman might be permitted to speak within such a strict complementarian structure. Nevertheless, she represents the wave of neo-Calvinist believers who underpin and sustain John Piper’s assertions regarding salvation, which Perman describes this way: “Just as God chooses whom He will save without regard to any distinctives in the person (Ephesians 1:5-6; Acts 13:48; Revelation 17:8), so also he decides whom He will not save without regard to any distinctives in the individual (John 10:26; 12:37-40; Romans 9:11-18; 1 Peter 2:7-8). By definition, the decision to elect some individuals to salvation necessarily implies the decision not to save those that were not chosen.”

 

Perman continues, and makes a truly paradoxical statement: “Rather, we are all dead in sin and unwilling to seek God on our own. A true, genuine desire for salvation in Christ is in fact a mark of election, and therefore none who truly come to Christ for salvation will be turned away (John 6:37-40).” I wonder, if we are so dead in sin and so unwilling to seek God on our own, just exactly how does one have a true, genuine desire for salvation? How does one then truly come to Christ, and not be turned away? Because God has to create the desire of a few for Him?

 

Perhaps that is a mystery, for it seems a truly convoluted use of semantics. I am certain there is more than a little predestination in the mix there somewhere, but it is such an extraordinary degree of redundancy used in the language, quite apart from the semantics. A true seeker is one who is already elected, therefore could not, ever be turned away? Could they? Or is the perseverance of the saints thrown into doubt? It is right here, in this space that contradictions abound. Further, God’s sovereignty is revealed because He saves, and His judgment is revealed in His damnation of the sinner, but He chooses who fits into which category. Such love divine?

 

I wonder if some neo-Calvinists sense any contradictory notions, in the quiet moments that they stop to reflect, momentarily separated from the support mechanisms needed to shore one another up. The organism, with its extremes and extremism, is a self-regenerating and self-healing rhetorical algorithm. Insiders share, and understand the Tulip ideology, and are able to engage, and acknowledge the humor of half-jokes about the damnation of billions of souls.

 

Johnson makes the point, “It is Satan who takes away the Word from the minds of the people so they would not accept Christ by believing the gospel and become saved. It is not God who forces this to happen. God’s grace is resistible.” On the other hand, Romans 10:9-10 (NIV) assures us, “9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

 

Larry Ray Hafley puts it this way, “According to the creeds of men, Satan does not need to influence man. Man is “wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body . . . . (and) we are utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.” If that truly represents the condition of man (and Calvinism says it does), then the devil can sleep until the last trump sounds reveille on the morning of the resurrection.” Hafley continues:

The Holy Spirit does convict the sinner. Does He effect the conviction of sinners directly, without means or agency, or does He convict sinners through the instrumentality of the gospel? No argument ever devised can overthrow Paul’s words, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). “The preaching of the cross . . . is the power of God . . . . it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:18-21). What pleases God (to save men by preaching the gospel) does not please men nor the arguments of Calvinists, but it is true nonetheless.

The Bible order is: (1) preachers sent (v. 15); (2) preachers preach (v. 15); (3) sinner hears (v. 14); (4) sinner believes (v. 14); (5) believer calls on the name of the Lord (v. 14); (6) believer saved (v. 13). There is no reference to a separate work of the Holy Spirit on the sinner’s heart in Paul’s chain. It is a missing link.

General Summary And Conclusion The Spirit guided the apostles into all truth (Jn. 14:26; 15:26,27; 16:13). This word given to the apostles was to be employed to make believers (Jn. 8:32; 17:17,20). That is why the Lord Jesus sent them “into all the world” to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Matt. 28:19; Mk. 16:15,16; Lk. 24:47).

 

There remains a ruler of this age. God, in His sovereignty, and despite the bruising of Satan’s head, allows principalities and powers to continue until Christ returns to totally defeat all His enemies (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 ESV): 6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

 

The Love of God

 

When Jesus said [on the cross] “It is finished,” surely he was expressing relief that his suffering was over. “It is finished” meant, in part, “This is finally done!” But the Greek verb translated as “It is finished” (tetelestai) means more than just this. Eugene Peterson captures the full sense of the verb in The Message: “It’s done . . . complete.” Jesus had accomplished his mission. He had announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God. He had revealed the love and grace of God. And he had embodied that love and grace by dying for the sin of the world, thus opening up the way for all to live under the reign of God (Mark Roberts).”

 

Olson in “What’s Wrong with Calvinism?” makes the very deliberate point that issues regarding God are about providence, predestination, or even the sovereignty of God. The most basic issue, says Olson, is to do with God’s character:

The fundamental conflict between Calvinism and Arminianism is not sovereignty but God’s character. If Calvinism is true, God is the author of sin, evil, innocent suffering and hell. That is to say, if Calvinism is true God is not all-loving and perfectly good. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” “God so loved the world.” Calvinists must explain this as meaning that God loves “all kinds of people,” not everyone. Or that “God loves all people in some ways but only some people [the elect] in all ways.” Arminians believe these interpretations distort the clear message of the Bible about God’s love. If Calvinism is true, John Wesley said, God’s love is “such a love as makes the blood run cold.” It is indistinguishable from hate—for a large portion of humanity created in his own likeness and image. [emphasis in the original]

 

The neo-Calvinist sovereign God less sovereign than He actually is. Olson labels the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty, “divine determinism.” Paradoxically, with the notion of “divine determinism” God’s sovereignty is constrained, because everything is predetermined. Everything is played out in a predetermined, and certain manner in God’s ‘theater’. Olson asserts regarding God’s sovereignty:

God is sovereign—even over his own sovereignty! Saying we have free will to resist and even thwart the will of God does not diminish the greatness of God’s sovereignty and power because our ability to resist and thwart God’s perfect will is given us by God for the sake of having real relationships with us, not artificial ones. Yes, of course, God could control us. But he doesn’t. Not because we have some power over him but because he wants us to love him and obey him freely and not by compulsion.

And let me conclude with a ringing, resounding affirmation of the gift nature of God’s saving grace! We do not earn any of it. But we can reject it and God will not impose it on us against our wills. [emphasis in the original]

 

God, it may be reasonably argued, treats His creation with a degree of dignity that is simply lacking in the notion of total depravity. Why would God treat us with some dignity? Why indeed. Perhaps because He thought us so important He became one of us. He made us sentinel beings, in his image, and despite sin He keeps talking to us. Indeed, it was for the very reason of sin, and the contingent matter of death that He did become one of us. God is notable for being interventionist, extremely personal, and wishing all might be of His family. Isaiah 45:22 (NIV) says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

 

There is a meta-narrative in the Bible: God’s justice, sometimes evidenced as wrath; reasons with us about the problems; and follows this with resolution, or salvation. Why? Because in every day and age we each of us have an encounter God and we make our response to Him, for we were not created devoid of an understanding of Him. For those who think this ended at the fall, and see scripture to support that, are viewing everything through the prism of assumptions made about a shift in nature at the fall. Indeed, what happened was, we have knowledge of good and evil, and as God said (Genesis 3:22 NIV), “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”

 

There is a thought that Tulip points two through five are hinged on point one. Be that as it may, there seems to be a sense at which total depravity and predestination, to my way of thinking, converge. I acknowledge readily that God predestinated my birth, and all its circumstances. This seems a fair and reasonable assumption that I am sure many Christians may accept as true. We could, however, tighten this concept to suggest that we were not merely conceived and born of our parents, but in the same sense, created by God.

 

For example, Psalm 127:3 (NIV) says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” Genesis 33:5 (NIV): “Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked. Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”” Or perhaps Genesis 48:9 (NIV), which says, ““They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father. Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”

 

The point? The point is revealed in the New Testament’s thundering declaration that Jesus is the Logos, the Eternal Discourse (John 1:1-3 NIV): “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

 

The point is that God makes each of us a new creation, for without Him was not anything made that was made. God cannot deny His own nature. If we are a creation He could not create anyone conceived in sin. We are not born with a sin nature. We are born into a fallen world, where Satan is the prince, and we know only too well that sin soon finds us. We literally swim in a world that provides temptation in all forms imaginable. But that is not the same as suggesting we inherit a fallen nature, and therefore total depravity is our lot in life.

 

Tulip limits God, it renders Him unable to do certain things, like His overwhelming and perfect righteousness and justice, His ever abiding love for us. God foreknew the fall of mankind, and had a plan. The Father sent His unique Son, who was willing to lay down his life for us. In doing so He reconciled all to God, all who believe. He ransomed us out from under the law, so that we might have the guarantee of the circumcision of our heart of an imperishable body like our Savior at our resurrection (Romans 2:29). That is how much God loved us. He confounded every notion of how things should be done.

 

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16 NKJV ).” Is it the case that we ‘need’ do is to believe? Certainly for some God crowds in around us, perhaps hounding us to the end of the world, but we must believe for anything to happen. John 3:18 (NIV) confirms that, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Whoever believes. The gap between God and His creation is completely bridged in Christ Jesus. We may not know the exactness of it all, but predestination of who is saved and who is not is certainly no answer in and of itself.

 

Adam’s sin brought death, which has spread throughout the entire human race (Romans 5:12). Therefore we needed to be saved because death is our lot in life because of sin. Through Christ the spiritual death is defeated, and we cross over into spiritual life as God delivers us from sin. As sin flows from death, so righteousness, which is trust in God, flows from the life giving sacrifice of Christ. Christ died for our sin, but it should never be forgotten that God is not just a God of justice, but also of love.

 

The problem may be that the righteousness of God has been misunderstood as justice, “God sets us right with Himself by making us alive to Himself. And the faith flowing from that life is that right relationship to God. It is faith in the risen Christ through Whom we are made alive to God that is righteousness (Rom. 10:9-10).”

 

Christ saves us from sin. This action changes us, not only from being law breakers, but also from trusting in a false god. Death stands between us and God , but God through Christ removed the the barrier. Jesus stepped into our death so that we step into His life, and therefore be reconciled God. An action which reverses Eden and the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Being alive we can now trust, love, and worship Him, which is true righteousness.

 

Romans 1:16 (NIV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” 2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV) affirms God’s long suffering: “8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

 

Against Predestination

 

As I asked at the beginning, using Proverb (14:12 NIV), “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” A death of what? Perhaps the insularity of the neo-Calvinists reveals a certain malaise. The absence, or death of love perhaps? Or even truth and life?

 

Piper, a “Bible-believing Christian”, deepened his conviction that the Calvinist five-points, or seven, as the case may be, are Biblical and a “pathway” into deeper experiences of God’s grace. Piper explicitly states that it is the “magnificent Christ” who is the author of the “doctrines of grace.” What really underpins Tulip is the deeply rooted need both Augustine, and later Calvin, had to establish their own particular ideological, socio-religious politics.

 

The fit of the Doctrines of Grace as component parts of an ordered whole has, suggested Boettner, won the admiration of thinking men of all creeds. “Prove any one of them true and all the others will follow as logical and necessary parts of the system. Prove any one of them false and the whole system must be abandoned.” Steve Jones, a former Calvinist, points to the difficulty of Boettner’s position:

Man is a sinner. Every person has folly bound up in the heart from earliest days (Prov. 22:15). But was Adam any different? The burden of proof is on the Calvinists to show that he was. The Scriptures never say so, and it is not our responsibility to prove a negative (a logical impossibility).

This is a serious difficulty. The Calvinist’s entire system of soteriology is founded on the grand assumption that Adam was created morally impeccable. He lost perfection through sin and assumed a nature totally corrupted and alienated from God, a nature imparted to all mankind as a curse. But the Scriptural evidence for these contentions is, at best, scant. For the most part, the doctrine is assumed unquestionably. Adam’s fall from moral perfection was established by Augustine’s polemics against Pelagianism and passed on, without alteration, through the barren centuries of the Middle Ages. Calvin received it in toto from his medieval legacy, as has each successive generation of theologians since.

A doctrine that forms such a colossal foundation-stone for the system should have unequivocal proof in the Bible. If a theology is based on an unproven philosophic assumption how can the rest of the system be trustworthy? The Calvinist cannot expect us to believe him unless the consistent tenor of Scripture tells us: (1) God made man morally perfect; (2) Adam’s sin immediately corrupted him and rendered him unable to respond to God; (3) God transmitted this inability to all his descendants.

 

Piper is deeply rooted in Tulip. From the notion of total depravity flows the whole concept of predestination. If total depravity is the root, its sap nourishes the tree that is predestination, for that is what determines Calvinist thinking. Predestination colors all thought as Piper reveals in “Has God Predetermined Every Tiny Detail In the Universe, Including Sin?”: “God’s plan had predestined to take place in the killing of Jesus, you have God’s plan and hand predestining the most horrible sins ever committed.”

 

On the other hand, 1 Peter 1:18-21 (NIV) says: “18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. [emphasis added.] Christ was chosen. As such can it truly be said that Christ going to the cross was predestined? Predetermined? Foreknown perhaps?

 

All of this is to suggest that there is a balance between what is foreknown, and what constitutes our free will. Care must be taken that the pendulum does not swing too far in either direction. It cannot be denied that the Trinity chose one action, perhaps over others. It must also be admitted that all members of the Trinity must have participated in the choice, or they are not themselves God.

 

Therefore, if Christ’s death was predestinated, did He predestinate Himself? Christ redeemed us from our empty way of life, from death, because we believe in God, who raised Him from the dead. Many Calvinists allow for “mystery” in all of this, but Piper goes well beyond that point.

 

God, says Piper, predestined the killing of Jesus, including the way He was killed, and His (God’s) plans and hand in the predestining of the most horrible sins ever committed. It follows that apart from the crime of Jesus’ death, how can we begin to imagine all the atrocities God obviously predestined? Centuries of murder, rape, and pillage? Indeed, well may Piper state that one might become arrogant wielding these kinds of doctrines, that they can be used to club people. But wield them he does.

 

What follows is owes much to Robin Phillips, who was a Calvinist, but now writes from an Orthodox perspective. Phillips points out that many of the issues to do with Calvinism occur at a certain meta-level. These issues are revealed in, “a network of inchoate practices, assumptions and conventions which implicitly ‘carry’ certain notions, even while the doctrinal formulations may not explicitly affirm them.” There is as much that is implicit as there is explicit, but they shape the very “mood” and worldview of Calvinist communities.

 

While critiquing Monergism, Phillips does point to its very good points and truths, but suggests these are so formalized into such a tight system that important Biblical aspects of human participation in the salvation process are lost or denied. In a non-monergistic universe God ceases being God. Phillips quotes David Bradshaw to reveal an inherent logic flaw:

“on this view the Augustinian interpretation of predestination is not only true but is necessarily true, since God could not create creatures who are capable in any way of affecting his judgments regarding salvation and damnation. Yet the Augustinian position began precisely as the attempt to exalt the divine will over all necessity…. It is problems such as these that led Pascal to exclaim that the God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Augustinian-Thomistic God, who is perfectly simple and fully actual, seems to be locked within a box from which he cannot escape in order to interact in any meaningful way with his creatures.

 

Regarding Christology Phillips discusses the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681), also known as the Third Council of Constantinople, which offered a framework for understanding the relationship between the human and the divine. It rejected the heresies of Monoenergism and Monothelitism. Against the Monoenergists (Monoenergism) heresy of two natures, it was affirmed that Jesus acted through two energies: the divine and the human. Against the Monothelites (Monothelitism), it was maintained that if Christ is truly man and truly God, then He must have two wills: a human will and a divine will. The two wills work together synergistically, even as we are called to co-operate through our human will with the energies of God.

 

The doctrine affirmed by the Council was Dyoenergism, which mean “two energies.” The Monergism of Calvinism is seemingly driven by many of the same concerns that informed the ancient Monoenergists, for both tended to treat the divine and the human as if they are two sides in a “zero-sum transaction.” “Soteriological Monergism,” says Phillips, is no less than the heresy of Monoenergism, because in this the divine and the human compete for the same space, and both want to “give the divine all the pieces of the pie.”

 

Piper probably knows this. His dilemma, however, is that in saying God predestined the killing of Jesus, and the way He was killed, seemingly assumes the human nature of Christ, and if His human will was not exempt from divine predestination, then it becomes problematic. Firstly, was the pre-incarnate Christ predestining Himself. Secondly, ““if Christ’s human will was “irresistibly” moved by the divine will, then it follows that there must have been only one energy operative in Christ—a divine energy, not a human energy (Phillips).””

 

Therefore the notion of predestination must assume that Christ’s humanity is passive in the sense that His “killing” is predestined. That conflicts more than a little with John 10:18 (ESV), which states, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” Not only does Jesus lay down His own life, but He takes it up again (John 2:18-21).

 

As Phillips further argues, “…this suggests, even when they could grant two wills, Monothelitism was characterized by the belief that there was only one activity or “energy” operative in Christ since the humanity of Christ was essentially a tool that was subordinated to, and determined by, the divine. As such, the Council is a confession of the necessary role of the human will in the scheme of salvation as it is anything else.

 

Piper’s neo-Calvinist’s deny that the human will possesses self-determining powers, and that Christ’s human nature, in being “killed”, was a kind of passive tool used by God. Therefore, the separation of Christ’s divine nature and His humanity at the cross makes vital the notion that the Word of God, Christ, was not the one actually experiencing the humiliation on the cross, but “only” an abstract “human nature.” Whither Jesus? Phillips says:

The scandal of the incarnation and crucifixion that created so much discomfort for the Gnostics is equally difficult for Calvinists today. The Gnostics tried to solve the problem with a Docetism that detached Christ from materiality while Calvinists in the tradition of Sproul try to resolve the problem by a crypto-Nestorianism that sequesters the Second Person of the Trinity from the human nature going through birth and death (as Sproul says, “death is something that is experienced only by the human nature…”).

 

“However,” continues Phillips, “…extricating the human nature of Christ from the divine person, so that the central acts of the incarnation can be predicated of the former without touching the latter, denies the Nicene Creed’s explicit affirmation that it was “very God of very God” who was crucified, suffered and buried. The Second Council of Constantinople was even more explicit in affirming that it was “true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity” who was born and died on the cross.”

 

If Jesus came in the flesh as we are, and He laid down His own life and took it up again, it follows that He expressed free will. If Jesus came in the flesh as we are it further follows that we also have free will. For being human and divine in one hypostasis, or individual existence, He nevertheless experienced life as we do, but was sinless.

 

As noted earlier, the Theopedia says that, “The NT [New Testament] in no way differs from the OT [Old Testament] teaching of predestination.” The difficulty is that there is a complete paradigm shift between the two testaments. The neo-Calvinist clings to the notion of the sovereign God, however, Christ cannot be abstracted from the concept of Himself being the sovereign God. He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). Jesus also made it completely clear that (John 14:6 ESV), ““I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.””

 

Want to talk about the sovereign God? Talk about Jesus, because the Trinity is in agreement that He is Lord of ALL. Philippians 2:9-11 (NIV) attests to His authority:

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

When the high priest asked Jesus Mark 14:61-62 (NIV), ““Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”” Jesus replied ““I am… And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”” None can say Jesus is not a man, for He calls Himself, “the Son of Man.” In this He was made like us (Hebrews 2:17 NIV), “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

 

If Jesus was fully human, in every way, did He lack free will? Can we tell Christ to His face that He was predestinated to be killed? No, for in all things, from the foundation of the world, He had free will, as He must. These truths are established in the scripture, through the words and determinations of the Church fathers in turning back heresy, and alive in the Church’s heartbeat today.

 

Hebrews 2:1 (ESV): “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”

 

Against Total Depravity

 

The nature and person of Christ brings us full circle back to total depravity, the idea that we cannot of our own accord love, obey or please God. Total depravity is the very underpinning of predestination, for without original sin, and its contingent total depravity, predestination would not then be necessary to explain any sense of a plan of salvation. Christ’s very humanity disproves total depravity. Christ’s humanity is bound in the version of Piper’s argument as it relates to God’s plan of “killing” Jesus on the cross, as predestined, “God’s plan and hand predestining the most horrible sins ever committed.”

 

If Deborah, God’s prophet of the Israelites, and the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel, is a conundrum for patriarchal Christianity, then the Penitent thief also poses a conundrum for those who propose total depravity. Luke 23:39-43 (ESV) tells the story:

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

Much can be said about the words spoken here, but a some things are noteworthy. Firstly, the Holy Spirit inspired this interaction for a purpose. We are meant to see things here. Jesus then, as now, demands a response from every living soul. One thief rejected Him, but one was drawn to Him. The penitent thief initiated the interaction with Jesus with the simple appeal that he, the thief, be remembered when Jesus entered His kingdom. Jesus responded, simply saying that on that very day the thief would be with Him in paradise.

 

A straightforward reading suggests an ‘authentic’ interaction between two men. One made a request, another responded, two men, man to man. It was barely a question, more an acknowledgment, a recognition by the thief of who he was talking to, as though simply saying, “take me with you.” One man, Christ, had the divine capacity to grant eternal life, and He did. These were the moments in which God “presented Christ” as a sacrifice for the atonement, and His blood was justifying us. As Roberts says:

Thus we have encountered one of the most astounding and encouraging verses in all of Scripture. Jesus promised that the criminal would be with him in paradise. Yet the text of Luke gives us no reason to believe this man had been a follower of Jesus, or even a believer in him in any well-developed sense. He might have felt sorry for his sins, but he did not obviously repent. Rather, the criminal’s cry to be remembered seems more like a desperate, last-gasp effort.

Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and though we should live our lives each day as disciples of Jesus, in the end, our relationship with him comes down to simple trust. “Jesus, remember me,” we cry. And Jesus, embodying the mercy of God, says to us, “You will be with me in paradise.” We are welcome there not because we have right theology, and not because we are living rightly, but because God is merciful and we have put our trust in Jesus.

 

Even in those moments of horror Jesus responded to another in a manner that we can all understand. This is God revealed in the Trinity (1 John 3:16 KJV) bringing about a great salvation for His creation: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

 

Matthan Brown explores three questions to make one point: (1) If man is by nature a sinner, then God wouldn’t love him?; (2) If man is by nature a sinner then Jesus, who was without sin, was not really a man; and (3) If man is by nature a sinner, then sin is a virtue and to sin is to align oneself with the Good. Essentially, if God loves us then we may be depraved, but not totally depraved. This is simply because we were and always will be in the image of God, and imagers of God. However, Romans 3:9-18 (KJV) confirms a certain level of depravity:

9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

 

As already discussed, orthodox Christianity teaches that Christ is one person with two natures, in that He is both fully God and fully man. This point, says Matthan Brown was, “vigorously defended by both the Apostles and the Early Church Father’s and its truth is of primary importance.” Therefore, if total depravity is correct then one of two conclusions follows: “(1) Jesus did not take on the full nature of man (i.e. he was not fully human), or (2) Jesus was not sinless. Both of these conclusions are unacceptable. Hence, it cannot be true that sin is a part of the nature of man.”

 

If we are by our very nature sinners, then sin is a virtue, it is who we are, and therefore to sin is to align oneself with the what is “Good”. However, points out Matthan Brown, the “Good” of something is directly tied to its nature and purpose, its “telos”. It follows then that if we are made in the image, or as imagers, of God then our nature, and purpose, is to be like God. It is only if the the notion of our being in the image of God has been entirely snuffed out, and therefore we are totally depraved in a Calvinist sense, that we run into theological major problems.

 

Suddenly, suggests Matthan Brown, to sin is simply to act in accordance with our nature, and therefore functioning as we should. Sin becomes virtue. How then, could anything be expected except that we sin, and why would that be an issue for God? The proposition of such total depravity is at odds with Scripture. We are to be Holy as God is Holy, and we are to conform to God’s will. This is an inconceivable notion if total depravity is our lot. Therefore, it must be asked, did Jesus come in the flesh like we are?

 

On a very personal issue to us all, what of prayer. Phillips says: “One person told me that if prayer made a real difference then God wouldn’t be truly sovereign and our prayers would therefore be a ‘work’.” Or as Taylor puts it, “I ask eternal life for my wife, children, or friends. How vain is all my labour! For if God has decreed to give them eternal life, they shall have it in the way, time, place, and manner it is decreed for them, whether I pray or not.”

 

Predestination negates the supplication of Matthew 6:9-10 (KJV), which Jesus Himself taught, “9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” The reasonable reading is that God wishes us to invite Him into our world, because although it may seem strange, God the Father wishes to fellowship with His children, and interact with us in our world. Is it not God’s world? Perhaps Satan remains, for now, the god of the age.

 

Why pray like this? Because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Not that He has abdicated the world, but contrary to a world where sin crouches at the door, so that we will sin with death following, His discourse is one of free will certainty. Out of love He gave us the two contingent New Testament commandments regarding love, agape love (John 13:34-35 ESV): ““34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.””

 

Hebrews 2:5-12 (NIV) reminds us that Jesus is not only sovereign over all, but through His suffering in the same flesh as us, those that believe on Him become family. God, in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, also made us bothers and sisters of Jesus Himself:

5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. 6 But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

a son of man that you care for him?

7 You made them a little lower than the angels;

you crowned them with glory and honor

8 and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;

in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

 

Salvation

 

God, it seems to me, is notable for being extremely interventionist, and intensely personal. It does not get any more personal than the Holy Spirit, testifying for the Son, circumcising the heart of every believer to guarantee the future of a new imperishable body (Romans 2:29, Colossians 2:11, Ephesians 1:13, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22). Therefore we can all declare (Galatians 4:6 NIV), “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.””

 

This is the love of God, an overwhelming, overflowing love that pours into the heart of whomsoever will (Revelation 22:17 NIV): “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

 

In the parable of the great banquet in Matthew 22, Jesus revealed the whole idea of a rich man filling his banquet table with the riffraff, the lowlife, and the scum of society. The self righteous excuse themselves. This parable is notable for the refusal of some who were invited to come, and for those who were uninvited were then made the offer to come (Matthew 22:3,9 KJV): “3 And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. 9 Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”

 

No doubt the new guests were prostitutes, “tax collectors”, LGBT people, drug addicts, adulterers, and even murderers. All such people who are or who become humble of heart, and call on the Lord, are invited to fill the rich man’s house. In reality, sinners like any one of us.

 

The problem with the Tulip iconography is that it is, as Mitchell affirms, so very reductive. However, it is so iconic, so fundamental to the neo-Calvinist theology that it becomes the rallying symbol of unity, so that Piper makes such specific use of it as to, half jokingly, tell the story of the millions God consigns to Hell, and eternal torment. He is, to be fair, is far from alone in this stark assessment. The struggle then, in the light of such harsh and bleak pronouncements, is to find the God of Love.

 

We cannot serve two masters, we stand on one side of the cross or the other. God’s sovereignty is revealed by His love in sending the Christ to be the ransom for whosoever believes. We cannot stand on the side of the law, while paying lip service to God’s love.

 

Having said that I obviously acknowledge, not predestination in all things, but certainly that the Lord establishes our steps (Psalm 37:5, 23-24 (ESV)): “5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. 23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; 24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.”

 

The great challenge for the “neo’s”, I suggest, is not to get lost in a Matrix of theology and ideology that says God is sovereign, yet limits Him. Olson puts it this way:

The key insight for a non-process relational view of God’s sovereignty is that God is sovereign over his sovereignty. The missio dei is God’s choice to involve himself intimately with the world so as to be affected by it. That choice is rooted in God’s love and desire for reciprocal love freely offered by his human creatures. None of this detracts in any way from God’s sovereignty because God is sovereign over his sovereignty. To say that God can’t be vulnerable, can’t limit himself, can’t restrain his power to make room for other powers, is, ironically, to deny God’s sovereignty.

The limiting of God is not unique to Piper of course. Nor am I trying to take aim at Calvinism generally, although obviously I disagree with the “system” of Calvinist theology, for it grinds exceedingly fine of course. This from Olson, taken from his book, Against Calvinism, sums things up:

To be perfectly blunt and to “cut right to the chase,” as the saying goes, my problem is primarily and especially with divine determinism that leads to God’s unconditional reprobation of certain people to eternal suffering in hell for his glory. I am opposed to any idea that, as the old Calvinist saying goes, “those who find themselves suffering in hell can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God.” I recognize and freely acknowledge that few Calvinists would say this. But my argument is they should find the courage to say this because it is necessarily implied by what they do say.

 

Jesus says in John 6:44-47 (NIV), “44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers (Biblehub.com) assures us that: The word “draw” need not perplex us; and all the theories opposed to the width of divine love and influence, and to the freedom of human will and action, which have been built upon it, are at once seen to be without support, when we remember that the only other passage in the New Testament where it occurs in a moral sense is in the declaration: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me” (John 12:32). [emphasis added.]

 

Paul himself makes a great point of insisting that God, our Savior, desires all be saved, therefore Jesus Christ gave Himself as a ransom, for all. Paul even makes sure this is spoken truly by him, stating that he says this as a preacher, and as an apostle, and as a teacher (1 Timothy 2:4-7 ESV): “…and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

 

Jesus came to the world as the Christ, the Logos. To believe on Christ means a circumcision of the heart, an eternal rebirth, and that we are quickened to speak the New Testament discourse. Therefore our narratives should change, as we are admonished in Ephesians 4:31 (ESV), to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

 

If we are so admonished to put away such narratives, then we are now quickened and enabled to do as Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) says: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

 

[Another] Doctrine?

 

I wish to be very clear. I am not expecting anyone to accept my views, but I would wish only to say, as Paul says (Philippians 1:9 ESV), “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” Each of us must be discerning, be like the Berean Jews who examined the scriptures closely to see is what was said by Paul was true (Acts 17:11).

 

Therefore, this is very much the point: Do not believe what I say to be true, only test anything against scripture, as the Berean Jews were commended for doing. This carries the inherent admonition that Tulip is not a lens for scripture. It may possibly be a mnemonic, but when it becomes more than that then surely the contingent theology comes into question. If Tulip is the very basis upon which the reading of scripture is predicated, it differs surely from the gospel of Jesus Christ as it was delivered to the saints. I will suggest that Piper certainly appears to read the scriptures differently than many in the wider Church.

 

While I have taken attempted to challenge Tulip, the pillars that supposedly support the superstructure of Calvinist belief, I am definitely not wishing to challenge anyone’s beliefs in any way, unless they feel so challenged at the theological level. My concern is with Piper, to the degree that he espouses a certain theology that brings disrepute to the Church, as I see it. My concern is too, with the neo-Calvinists who provide Piper the necessary oxygen to breath his theology. To this end I made a deconstruction of a couple of points of Tulip because it so underpins Piper’s theology, and therefore my concerns, which I will now outline.

 

Again, I have been blessed by the writings of many Calvinist writers and many are cited in my papers here and elsewhere. I would wish a position were possible as described by Olson, Calvinist leader promoted Tulip, and was challenged by another Calvinist for the “robbery” of God’s sovereignty:

I remember well when the leader of a Calvinist Baptist organization spoke to my class some years ago. He seemed to agree with Piper about God’s sovereignty and sin and he promoted TULIP Calvinism if not supralapsarianism. My dear, late friend and colleague Chip Conyers, a Calvinist himself, cornered the speaker and berated him (I’ve never seen Chip that angry) about his presentation of Calvinism. His main point was that it robbed God’s sovereignty of the element of mystery Calvin preserved. I stood off to the side watching and listening. The speaker had obviously expected ME to attack him (which I never do with my guest speakers); he was totally taken aback when Chip did it–not in my defense but because HE (Chip, the Calvinist) was offended and was defending God’s transcendence and the mysteriousness of God’s sovereignty.

 

There is so much more to Calvinism than Tulip, opine Mitchell and Billings, and Billings clearly appears to have issues with the direction of the new Calvinism, as I read it. Sadly, the trajectory of the neo-Calvinist’s, and their matrix that so much rests in the pillars of Tulip, may tend to render protestations to simply background noise. And just to be perfectly clear, back in 1985 Piper clearly aligns with Tulip:

I do not begin as a Calvinist and defend a system. I begin as a Bible-believing Christian who wants to put the Bible above all systems of thought. But over the years — many years of struggle — I have deepened in my conviction that Calvinistic teachings on the five points are biblical and therefore true, and therefore a precious pathway into deeper experiences of God’s grace.

My own struggle makes me more patient with others who are on the way. And in one sense, we are all on the way. Even when we know things biblically and truly — things clear enough and precious enough to die for — we still see through a glass dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). There can be many tears as we seek to put our ideas through the testing fires of God’s word.

It is more important to give a positive biblical position on the five points than to know the exact form of the original controversy. These five points are still at the heart of biblical theology. They are not unimportant. Where we stand on these things deeply affects our view of God, man, salvation, the atonement, regeneration, assurance, worship, and missions.

It is fitting that we close this article on the doctrines of grace by appealing to you, the reader, to receive the magnificent Christ who is the eternal Author of these doctrines. [emphasis added.]

 

Piper, a “Bible-believing Christian”, deepened his conviction that the Calvinist five-points (now seven for him) are Biblical and a “pathway” into deeper experiences of God’s grace. To emphasize the point, and make it crystal clear, Piper said clearly that it is the magnificent Christ who is the author of the “doctrines of grace.” Is Tulip, the “doctrines of grace”, now an addition to the Bible, seeing that Christ Himself is the author?

 

This goes to very heart of doctrine, and there is an assumption that Piper speaks for Christians and their theology and doctrines. A non-Christian, for example, makes no differentiation between Calvinists and an Arminian, so it must be a reasonable thing to make rebuke of excesses in rhetoric that may sweep influentially, certainly in Protestant circles, both wide and deep. Excesses that in juxtaposition to the background I have laid out, suggest a paucity of understanding of the real sovereignty of God.

 

There is nothing to suggest Piper’s perspective has changed. Further, my concern is where Piper uses such theology to “club people”, in a way that creates significant hurt to Christians and non-Christians alike. If there are particular doctrinal issues that some Calvinists appear to have regarding Piper I am not addressing those. While I may obviously have issues with Calvinist theology, my only area of concern is anything that may be perceived as relating to the wider Church and its witness to an unsaved world, and the edification of the saints.

Legalism Prevails

 

The Wikipedia defines Legalism (theology) this way:

‘Legalism’ (or nomism), in Christian theology, is the act of putting law above gospel by establishing requirements for salvation beyond repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and reducing the broad, inclusive and general precepts of the Bible to narrow and rigid moral codes. It is an over-emphasis of discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law at the expense of the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption.

 

I am not talking about obedience, but more perhaps the, “overzealous adherence to the word of the Bible, as law, in all things said.” There may be debate about the exact meaning, but my concern is where a Christian may step beyond the bounds of grace, charity and love in a way that brings harm to people, whether the body of Christ, or our witness beyond. Legalism goes to the heart of Christian theology.

 

Legalism in the gospel message is a contradiction, because it was the law that separated us from God in the first place. Romans 5:20 (NIV) makes it clear that, “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Generally there are many who suggest that the mark of being a Christian is to keep all the commandments. Sadly we cannot. This is the reason Christ died, to save us out from under the law, and defeat death and principalities and powers. We are to love God with all of our being, and also to love others.

 

John 15:12-17 (NIV): “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

 

Being legalistic puts us back under law, and we will sin. We become once again a slave to the flesh, and therefore sin. Legalism begets sin, and sin makes the law active (Romans 7:8). For example, a couple in a complementarian Church are under the Old Testament patriarchal law. Therefore abuse may too easily follow. Indeed, the broader Church that embraces complementarianism may be denying all that Christ died for us. As I intend to demonstrate.

 

What of the gospel? Was the law delivered so that unbelievers could see a Church that binds all men and women in “complementary” ways? This is not life giving. The Church must stand to ensure that Christ’s death, which turned the world upside down, as well as all our notions of how things should be, was not in vain (Galatians 2:21).

 

Calvin was obviously a brilliant man, a Renaissance humanist scholar who has contributed much to where and who we are today. Many may well follow his doctrinal principles in a charitable and meaningful way. Nevertheless, I believe Piper indulges in some theological excesses that the Calvinists generally must bear some responsibility for, for he does things as a Calvinist.

 

I recognize that someone like Piper, with a myriad following, will naturally attract some who will be disaffected in one way or another. Religion in particular is often argued in an extremely pointed and granular way, with very detailed aspects of doctrine coming into play. Nevertheless, I do think Piper has excesses that are deeply rooted in legalism, bearing in mind that I have argued that Jesus himself does not judge or condemn.

 

As flagged in the introduction, the issues or excesses are four-fold: the place women have in the Church; the attitude toward same-sex people, or more generally, LGBT people; the pronouncements of disasters, whether natural or ‘man’ inspired, such as terrorist attacks, as judgments; and lastly, the matter of the millions consigned to eternal separation being treated as a “half joke.”

 

I realize these concerns will attract little sympathy, and perhaps even ridicule. Nevertheless, I feel the need to express concern, and there are others too who have similar concerns.

Women

 

Chuck DeGroat, an Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Western Theological Seminary MI, quotes John Piper directly as saying, “If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.” [emphasis added.] DeGroat states that such a view is, “…not just theologically and pastorally wrong, it is potentially dangerous.” Note that the reference is to “her”, and it is mostly women who suffer domestic abuse.

 

The Work and Family Researchers Network offers this definition of such abuse: ““Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in which one intimate partner uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual, or economic abuse to control the other partner in a relationship. Stalking or other harassing behavior is often an integral part of domestic violence” (FBI, 2001).” To this list could be added the strange world of “Christian Domestic Discipline”. This is no minor matter, statistics in the US suggest that one in every four women will experience domestic violence during her life.

 

DeGroat obviously has had to deal with women subjected, as he says, to the “kind of twisted theology” Piper is articulating. DeGroat goes further to suggest that this may be a “false gospel”: “If the Gospel is good news to the poor, release for the captives, and freedom for the oppressed, then Piper is in some way, some how minimizing sin’s awful destruction to the human soul. He might have a lot to say about a theology of justification, but the Pharisees had the right answers, too.”

 

Jeff Crippen, an author and pastor, along with Barbara Roberts, an author and survivor of domestic abuse, created the website, Cryingoutforjustice.com, to provide, among other things, teaching on what scripture says about abuse, marriage, and divorce. They have several posts that deal specifically with the, “erroneous and harmful theology of John Piper.” … Why? Because John Piper has had a huge influence on Christians and pastors and theologians, and that influence has not been entirely good. In fact, the majority of it has not been good.”

 

Crippen states that Piper consistently applies the “Law of God”, which was meant to convict unbelievers of their condemnation and need for Christ, to those already freed by the grace through faith in Christ alone. This, says Crippen, is in other words, “a false gospel of justification by works.” This is what I suggested might be under the catchall of legalism, and Piper applies legalism across the spectrum of believers and unbelievers.

 

Piper clearly endorses and perpetuates the global authority of men, or some particular men we might assume, and the global submissiveness of women. This is no minor introspective interpretation or assumption about scripture. To the contrary, Piper was a leader, if not the leader, in the founding of The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW), which has been in operation since 1987. It stemmed from a concern about the spread of teachings that, supposedly, were not Biblical, particularly feminist views.

 

Piper was instrumental in the putting together what we now see as the definitive theological articulation of complementarianism as defined in the Danvers Statement. The CBMW assert that the complementarian perspective is a biblically derived view of men and women as complementary, and although of equal dignity and worth, being in the image of God, are in reality called to different roles. That simply means that men rule, and women are submissive. Women are not to preach to, or teach men in the Church. The equal dignity and worth espoused in principle is denied in reality.

 

Genesis 3:15,16 (NIV) describes the punishment of the woman. Matthew Henry remarks that, “God does the woman the honour to call him rather her seed, because she it was whom the devil had beguiled, and on whom Adam had laid the blame; herein God magnifies his grace, in that, though the woman was first in the transgression, yet she shall be saved by child-bearing (as some read it), that is, by the promised seed who shall descend from her, 1 Tim. 2:15.” God said at that time, “…Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” However, at the cross Jesus nullified such punishments (Galatians 3:28). Gender equality, or Christian egalitarianism, is the New Testament standard for the Church.

 

Men in authority seem to love the power that it brings, particularly if there is mandatory submission. Paradoxically however, we are all, as women and men, the building blocks that make up the Bride of Christ. I for one eagerly anticipate the wedding supper of the Lamb. Revelation 19:6-9 NIV For now Galatians 5:13-14 (NIV) is our guide to that future destination and state: “13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.””

 

Crippen points to, “Piper’s habitual disregard for the proper application of the Law and of the Gospel.” He makes the very significant observation that Piper does not differentiate between believers and non-believers, but simply as one monolithic category: the world.” Crippen further states:

And he then applies the Law to all of them. Jesus DEMANDS from the WORLD. All through this book, you will find yourself asking a very pertinent question of Piper: “Who are you talking to? Christians or non-Christians? Children of God or rebels against Him?” Most of the time you won’t be able to answer that question because Piper applies the Law indiscriminately to the saved and unsaved alike. This is why we maintain that his “gospel” is a false one of works righteousness, and anyone who follows him is going to be brought into the bondage that Paul warns us against in Galatians.

 

In reality, Piper and the complementarians are just pouring old wine into new wine skins. Legalism cloaked in ‘grace’. What impact does this have? Is there a cost to superimposing some type of doctrine on believers, doctrine that is so contested? It is useful to cast a wider to see what may further inform the issue of women in the Church.

 

Josie McSkimming in he doctoral studies focused on why people leave the evangelical church, and how they change after they leave. McSkimming, a counseling social worker with over thirty years experience to inform her studies and observations, says of some Churches:

What is taught as “absolute truth” and embedded in the created order in these churches is the permanent subordination of women…? The subordination of women is taught as the counterpart of male headship and leadership in a marriage; a “complementarian rather than egalitarian” style of relationship. The problem experienced by the research participants with the “equal but different” teaching, is that, inevitably, concepts such as headship and authority end up meaning, in practice, men behave in a controlling and rule-based way towards women. If the women in any way questioned, protested, or disputed the dominant narrative of Christian womanhood, they got a strong push-back from leaders and other church members.

McSkimming points out that this is not merely a “binary structure”, where men dominate the agenda. In Churches where women are subject to men the women themselves are complicit in maintaining the ongoing life of the Church organization. The very great danger in this is that any ‘problem’ people, men or women, are then subjected to overt or covert pressure to conform. This may establish dissonance with the acceptance of a pattern of practice, but perhaps with some awareness that all is not as it should be, which leaves the person in a psychological struggle with themselves, with hurt and disappointment following. Sadly, the Church is always hurt by such things. Any sister or brother who hurts impacts on us all, for we are one body.

 

Dr. Marlene Winell, a human development consultant, and daughter of Pentecostal missionaries, identified the problem of Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) a number of years ago. RTS is caused by a number of possible factors, one of which is physical and/or sexual abuse. Such things stem from, “patriarchal power; unhealthy sexual views; [and] punishment used as for discipline.” As Winell suggests, we assume religion is benign, but that it is not necessarily the case at all.

 

I am not advocating secular solutions to problems within the Church, except, civil authorities are put in place by God to be the place abuse should be dealt with instead of attempting in-house options. When the world has to pick up the hurt and wounded among us because of unrealistic, legalistic patterns of belief and narratives, then something is seriously wrong. It should be said too, that generally, in the West, anyone in the secular workforce who suggests a woman, “endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night”, would be intensively counseled, or simply sacked. Yet we permit it in the Church?

 

It gets worse. Piper saying such things gives explicit permission, or support at least, for pastors everywhere, who believe such a thing, to take a similar approach to domestic and other abuses in their Churches. Then, if it were possible, it gets worse again. Piper suggests women, and it is usually women, with children perhaps, should then seek help from the Church. What does that help entail. To our great and enduring shame, women are all too often returned to the abusive situations they are seeking to flee from.

 

It gets even worse, women are effectively muted in the Church through the practices of complementarianism, and muted in regard to speaking too quickly about abuse. Such an overall code of silence abroad in the Church suggests the strong possibility that many of our sisters are hurting, and possibly think of it as inevitable. They are caught in a cycle of abuse, whether mental, emotional, or physical, and either accepting because of the “submissive” position of women, or knowing full well that the Church will not provide satisfactory help. Therefore, seeking help, and being sent back to the where the abuse occurs may achieve nothing more than what now becomes ‘sanctioned’ and religiously institutionalized abuse.

 

Can it get worse? Yes it can. Women flee from abuse, and perhaps leave the Church, although many may remain in their abusive situation for a number of reasons. One reason could be that they simply do not realize it is happening. A submissive wife becomes numb to what is occurring in a controlling environment. A woman may choose the “Biblical” notion of the local Church, that this is the right thing to do, to persevere, that separation is a sin, that a father is still there for the children, shame, and any other number of reasons.

 

One reason many women may endure abuse is the very real concern that if they leave the family home, and if the husband is the breadwinner, she runs the real risk of structural poverty. If the woman leaves, even if her salvation is maintained and her faith intact, often her witness to the unsaved is lost. Women who may be otherwise powerful in the Lord, and a witness to those around her, may now be muted in speaking of Christ’s love. The implication of the ‘men rule’, and ‘women are submissive’, narrative is destructive.

 

It should be noted in DeGroat’s quote regarding how Piper think a woman should deal with abuse, which says in part, “I [Piper] think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church”, is that there is an onus thrown on the woman. There is the supposed understanding that this comes from the submission of wives to their husbands in everything as in Ephesians 5:24. Of course Ephesians 5:25 (NIV) follows on, and says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This rarely gets mentioned. Husbands and wives should have a reciprocity where neither should be hurt.

 

Piper knows the verses. He gave a message in 1983 from Ephesians 5:21–33 titled, “Marriage: a Matrix of Christian Hedonism.” Piper relates back to Genesis and the creation of woman, “a person like Adam yet very unlike Adam, God provided the possibility of a profound unity that would otherwise have been impossible. There is a different kind of unity enjoyed by the joining of diverse counterparts than is enjoyed by joining two things just alike.”

 

Counterpart is an interesting choice of wording, it implies equivalency, an opposite number, or a peer, an equal. Piper then paints a word picture from Paul in the New Testament, with Christ as a husband, and the Church as the bride. He suggests Paul makes the link from Genesis 2 to explain the relationship between Christ and His Church.

 

The conceptual leap from Genesis to today is, as Piper puts it, that, “Marriage is a mystery. There is more here than meets the eye. What is it? I think it’s this: God didn’t create the union of Christ and the church after the pattern of human marriage; just the reverse, he created human marriage on the pattern of Christ’s relation to the church.” [emphasis added.] It follows therefore, he suggests, that Genesis 2:24 is a mystery wrapped in that marriage, which is a “parable or symbol” of how Christ relates to his people.

 

Marriage now carries the greater meaning of the, “union between the Son of God and His bride the church .” Piper admits that verse 21, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”, seemingly casts the sense of mutual submission across the section. But, he argues:

…it is utterly unwarranted to infer from this verse that the way Christ submits himself to the church and the way the church submits herself to Christ are the same. The church submits to Christ by a disposition to follow his leadership. Christ submits to the church by a disposition to exercise his leadership in humble service to the church. When Christ said, “Let the leader become as one who serves,” he did not mean, let the leader cease to be leader. Even while he was on his knees washing their feet, no one doubted who the leader was. Nor should any Christian husband shirk his responsibility under God to provide moral vision and spiritual leadership as the humble servant of his wife and family.

 

Piper has widened the inferencing from marriage as an institution between a man and woman, to the a model for the wider Church. It is no longer just about husbands and wives, but all men and women. Women are to submit to their husbands as the scripture states. All women are to submit to men, as leaders who provide the moral and spiritual leadership, in the same way the Church submits to Christ as our leader. As Piper adds, “So the implication of the mystery of marriage as a reflection of Christ’s relation to the church is that wives should take their special cue from the church and husbands should take their special cue from Christ. The broader implication is that women take their cue from the Church, as men take their cue from Christ.

 

All women in a complementarian setting are fixed in this logic trap. However, Galatians 3:28 must always be addressed, that there is no male or female in the body of Christ. Quite apart from that, it seems very improbable that all women are somehow not leaders, and yet submit to two leaders? Who, for any woman, is her first priority? If all men in leadership were truly servants, in all humbleness and forbearing, it might be a fine thing. However, I am fearful of Piper’s caveat that no one should doubt who the leader is, and that, obviously, in his opinion should be a man. I suggest that in a complementarian Church where men rule abuse is almost inevitable.

 

In 2012 Piper, made some “Clarifying Words on Wife Abuse”, several years after being asked, “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?” He made seven “biblical observations.” Part of point one stated that every Christian is “called to submit to various authorities and to each other”, including “…wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:22)”. To be clear, if a married couple make a fully cognizant and conscious choice of “submission” on the part of the wife in a home environment where love prevails, then far be it from me to demur.

 

However, Piper says, “We are all responsible to Jesus first, and then, under him, to various other persons and offices.” Submission for a woman means any woman is so bound. It must be very difficult being responsible to Jesus, to a husband, and to the men of the Church, and the Church as a whole. No doubt too, Piper would assume leadership in some overall capacity. A truly hierarchical structure. Surely such a convoluted series of submissions inherently creates an incubator for abuse. For who arbitrates on who does not submit, and what thoughts enter their head as to how submission might be brought about?

 

To his credit, Piper admits that if an abused person does turn to the Church for help there may be difficulties. He says, “By way of caution and lament, I cannot promise that every church has such spiritual, gifted, and compassionate men and women available for help.” What then is a woman to do if there is no promise that a Church may help? What is her refuge? Surely the civil law is an authority that even the Church must acknowledge.

 

J. Lee Grady directly confronts the dark side of the complementarian model, and the associated teaching on male headship. He cites a number of international examples of the absolute distortion of this ‘Biblical’ teaching, and then he makes a number of points. Firstly, marriage is not a hierarchy. Grady cites 1 Peter 3:7 and 1 Corinthians 7:4 to make it explicit that submission in marriage underpins the intimacy, mutuality, and that forms an enduring bond. Secondly, Grady says headship of Ephesians 5:23 is not a license to control. In essence it goes more to the understanding that, “The husband is the “source” of the wife because she originated from him [Genesis 3], and she is intimately connected to him in a mystical union that is unlike any other human relationship.”

 

Lastly, Grady says, abusers are out of fellowship with God. He cites 1 Peter 3:7 (KJV), which states: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” Grady also submits that, “I believe pastors who silently support abusive husbands by refusing to confront the behavior—or by telling women to submit to the pain—participate in this sin and could find their own prayers hindered.” Grady summarizes it all this way:

Truly Christian marriages, according to the apostle Paul, involve a tender, servant-hearted and unselfish husband who (1) loves his wife “just as Christ also loved the church”; (2) loves her as his own body; and (3) loves her as himself (see Eph. 5:25, 28 and 33). He stands alongside his wife in faithfulness, and she joyfully respects her husband because he can be trusted. And the two become one.

If we are to uphold this golden standard, we must confront abuse, shelter its victims and provide the tough love and counseling necessary to heal troubled relationships. And we have no business telling women to stay in marriages that actually could put them or their children in danger.

 

The complementarian cluster of intertwined assumptions inextricably bind women in submission, and men into a role many of us may be generally ill-equipped for. Sadly, in Piper’s view this model is assumed as correct for not only wives, but women everywhere, and that provides all sorts of permissions to crush the spirits of many. It also means some of the gifts and talents of women are lost to the Church.

 

What love is this, in the name of Jesus? It is Old Testament patriarchal standards carried over and maintained legalistically in the New Testament Church. It is patriarchal Christianity, where law and grace try to co-exist, but it merely old wine being poured in new wineskins, and that never works (Luke 5:37).

 

1 Corinthians 12 (ESV): “12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

 

Same-Sex

 

If complementarianism in the Church is fraught, then same-sex issues, and LGBT issues generally, become truly challenging. If it is challenging for the Church then imagine how challenging it might be for someone who discovers they have same-sex orientation as a member or part of a Church which disavows such a thing. In Piper’s world it is simply an abomination. So simply said, but with such destructive connotations. I must say at this point, that if any individual, or a Church collectively regards same-sex relationships, in good conscience, as a sin, then I understand that point.

 

We must all act according to conscience as we believe scripture leads and speaks. Having said that, there must be a sense of responsibility for the outworking of that belief. There is no way to find any way, whether medical, scientific, or psychiatric, to deny that sometime may or may not have an innate same-sex orientation. Indeed, for all those who do claim we are sinners at our very conception such a notion is entirely feasible, for we are broken humans born into in a fallen world. If it is a neat definition of sexual orientation that is required of sexual orientation, then we look in vain, for there is not one to be found.

 

The Wikipedia entry on the Demographics of sexual orientation indicates just how difficult it is even to define sexual orientation. For example, “The population that has come to be referred to as “gay” in the West is not a descriptive term that would be recognized by all men who have sex with men (MSM) as known in the rest of the world. While gay culture is increasingly open and discussed, the world of MSM consists of a diverse population that often may respond differently depending on how communications in clinical settings are framed. “Gay” is generally used to describe a sexual orientation, while “MSM” describes a behavior.”

 

For actual statistics the Wikipedia for LGBT demographics of the United States indicates the percentage of LGBT persons to be about 3.8 percent. In a 2014, nationally representative telephone survey of 35,071 Americans, Pew Research found: “that 1,604, or 4.6%, of the sample identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and 32,439 (or 92.4%) as heterosexual, with the remainder refusing or being unable to provide an answer, or identifying as something else.”

 

If the 68–95–99.7 statistical rule were adopted, as stated in Wikipedia, then the LGBT population might be considered an outlier one. At worst, if all lie at one end of the bell curve, then there is a small number in the second standard deviation. What it does suggest as a possibility, however, is that given the very diversity of the human condition it must be allowed that sexual orientation will differ across the entire population. I am very carefully stating here that orientation is not the same as choice. Some may choose to go into same-sex relationships. I suggest instead that there must be allowance for a fellow human being to experience attraction only for someone of the same-sex.

 

My concern here is not so much whether ‘homosexuality’, or a same-sex relationship is right or wrong, but how we deal with it. To do so it may be useful to consider the other side of homosexuality. Heterosexism is described in the Wikipedia as, “…a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior.” This seems to have some parallel to the issue of women in the Church, and again points to the notion of “patriarchal Christianity”.

 

My concern is that patriarchal Christianity defines the Churches responses to women, and to LGBT people. Where there should be extended the love of Christ as the only way to salvation, that approach may be overtaken by an approach that does not make clear the gospel message because of very negative messages. Not only that, but it may create an environment where a person with a same-sex orientation becomes so estranged from God that they might go to the extreme of taking their own life because of the shame they feel.

 

The whole topic of same-sex relationships creates a lot of passionate discussion, and there is a divergence of opinion. For example, Calvin College, founded in 1876 by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and named after John Calvin, says it, “…seeks to be a community where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are treated with respect, justice, grace and understanding in the Spirit of Christ. We recognize the complexity of current issues around homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gender identity. The college desires to engage these conversations with courage, humility, prayerfulness, and convicted civility.” They note that our world, which was originally created good, has been damaged and corrupted by human sin.

 

Piper, on the other hand, takes a different direction. In an article about Satan and “sodomy” he says:

The word sodomy has two advantages: It refers to the act of same-sex copulation, not same-sex orientation, and it still carries the stigma of shamefulness. Those who love people with same-sex attraction should want to preserve the stigma of shameful practices which destroy them — just as we should try to preserve the stigma of stealing and perjury and kidnapping, and fornication, and adultery. It is a gracious thing when a culture puts signs in front of destructive behaviors that read: Don’t go there; it is shameful. [emphasis in the original]

My prayer for both weeks is that we as a church, and I in particular as the preacher, will find a Biblical balance between clear conviction about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, on the one hand, and patient compassion to come alongside those of you who have homosexual desires, and your friends and relatives, and seek your good. I have no desire to drive homosexual people away. On the contrary, I would like to be able to say of our congregation what Paul said to the church in Corinth: after mentioning “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers,” he says in 6:11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

 

Piper has some gracious comments, but then forges a tight link between same-sex people and fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, and so on. There is a clear message of the ‘inappropriateness’ of same-sex issues. In another message about “so-called same-sex marriage” Piper says, “And in our best moments, we weep for the world, and for our own nation. In the days of Ezekiel, God put a mark of hope “on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 9:4).”

 

Overall, an unambiguous link is established between same-sex relationships and the notion of “sodomy”. There is the breaking of the link between orientation and practice, and copulation is tied to shame. Then both are conflated to be registered as “shameful practices”. The further link is then made to abominations. The thread is woven that those who engage in their same-sex orientation, homosexuality, are supposedly in a evil practice, they are sodomites, and an abomination. If Piper never said such a thing outright he has effectively given others ‘permission’ to say such things, and many do.

 

We are left with the great question, can a homosexual ever be a Christian, in Piper’s world? The term, “sodomy”, is problematic as it carries connotations of judgment unto death. What of abomination? Jay Michaelson says, “Homosexuality is abomination. The Christian Right says so all the time, and non-religious LGBT activists say it too, to relegate religion to humanity’s dustheap. After all, isn’t that what it says in the Bible? No—and progressive religionists should not use the word. It’s a mistranslation and a misconception, doing harm to LGBT people and religious people alike.”

 

Essentially Michaelson proposes that “abomination” has an actual connotation of a cultural prohibition, but, he says, abomination has come to be a much more loaded term than that. Instead, in our contemporary arrangements it has been rendered “something horrible”, associated with disgust. Abomination has become an abominable word to use. It follows for those who ascribe to the worst view of the word they are using the term abominably.

 

Some lodge a claim of moral superiority based on their views about certain perceived sins in an extremely sophisticated narratives. The homosexual narrative has overwhelming condemnation embedded in it, all carried in a presupposed theology that many mainstream believers may be unaware of. All well and good perhaps.

 

In his same-sex message Piper states, “This is what the highest court in our land did today — knowing these deeds are wrong, “yet approving those who practice them.”” Piper continues further on, “What’s new is not even the celebration and approval of homosexual sin. Homosexual behavior has been exploited, and revelled in, and celebrated in art, for millennia. What’s new is normalization and institutionalization. This is the new calamity.”

 

Part of the real issue that besets the Church today, for some, is Dominion Theology, or Theonomy, which generally speaking is a blending of two streams of thought into a loose coalition from within the Reformed, [neo-]Calvinist, and the Charismatic/Pentecostal Kingdom Now theologies. It seeks to superimpose Mosaic thinking on society, and how it should be ordered, in a way that reflects the patriarchal, and legalistic ways of the Old Testament. Piper has previously denied the Theonomy thinking, stating: “The closer we get to Dominion Theology the closer we get to living by the sword. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.””

 

However, whether knowingly or not, I suggest that Piper does align with Theonomy, for his narrative walks him straight into it. Further, he provides the imprimatur for many to follow him in such a stance, and they do. The same-sex narrative is vociferous. Many seem to revel in using the term “sodomite”, or similar, knowing it is offensive, and therefore use it all the more. A narrative is constructed from a range of ideas and thoughts, which are formulated into words and the narrative emerges for the world to hear. Words matter, and they matter a great deal.

 

Individuals and societies are constructed by words. As with God the Father, His thoughts were spoken by Jesus, the Logos, and an entire universe was created (Genesis 1:1, and John 1:1-3). Such is the Logos, or Rhema (Hebrews 4:12 (NIV): “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

 

James McGahey has several posts about homosexuality and the Christian, or Biblical perspective. He argues, and makes it clear in a very nuanced way, that it is, in his view, altogether contrary to God’s ideal. However, he offers this insight, which I think is thoughtful, and a commendation for all who might simply label same-sex persons in pejorative terms, terms that simply deny the love of Christ and the real possibility of the presentation of the gospel message:

It is entirely appropriate to agree with the judgment of Paul that homosexual behavior is a perversion of God’s creational intent for human sexuality. All too often in my experience, however, such an affirmation or proclamation is not married to a humble acknowledgement of one’s own moral inadequacy and consequent debt to the mercy and grace of God. It is indeed tempting to be smug when the focus is drawn away from the areas of one’s own moral failings. But, for Paul, hypocritical, judgmental self-righteousness is every bit as serious a matter as the homosexual behavior he presents as “exhibit A” for humankind’s rebellion against God and his creative designs. All of us — Jew and Gentile, English and Ethiopian, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual — play on a level playing field, and all of us, apart from Christ, stand equally condemned, on merit, in the dock before God who judges justly and impartially. Let none of us who claim the name of Christ ever forget that or, even worse, pretend it isn’t true.

 

Amen.

 

Judgments

 

It was 2012 when, in an interesting juxtaposition of subjects, Piper addressed the issue of, The Tornado, the Lutherans, and Homosexuality. It is listed under the topic of, “The Power & Effects of Sin.” Piper writes: I saw the fast-moving, misshapen, unusually-wide funnel over downtown Minneapolis from Seven Corners…A friend who drove down to see the damage wrote, “On a day when no severe weather was predicted or expected…a tornado forms, baffling the weather experts—most saying they’ve never seen anything like it. It happens right in the city. The city: Minneapolis.””

 

The tornado occurred during the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s national convention in the Minneapolis Convention Center, and it coincided with the main item of the session at the time: “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.” The issue was whether practising homosexuality is a behavior that should disqualify a person from the pastoral ministry. Essentially the tornado devastated the convention, finally leaving Central Lutheran with a broken steeple.

 

Piper then proceeds to remonstrate about sin, but homosexuality in particular. He makes a number of points, including: “Therefore, official church pronouncements that condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, are evil. They dishonor God, contradict Scripture, and implicitly promote damnation where salvation is freely offered.”

 

Piper’s conclusion? He says, “The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.”

 

In a 2012 article Olson addresses the issue of Piper’s views on recent tornado activity, and various other catastrophes, and God’s judgment. He makes the observation that Piper seemingly believes every natural and man-made disaster, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., is from God, sent as judgments or as wake up calls to people to repent. Not that Piper is alone in this of course.

 

Olson then asks the question, why is this so, for there is no particular rationale offered for the position of judgment offered, like why there, and why then. He then discusses some of the possible options Piper may have had for suggesting these were judgments, and having run out of conceivable options says:

Now, remember, all of the above assumes, with Piper and all consistent Calvinists and other divine determinists, that every catastrophe is specifically from God whether directly or indirectly. That is, they are all sent by God in some manner and are not simply what happens in a fallen world.

Appeals to the book of Job to explain catastrophes raise more questions than they answer. For example, if one correlates what Piper said about this particular natural catastrophe and what he surely believes about all of them (“fingers of God”) with Job, then Satan becomes God’s fingers.

So, at the end of the day, anyone who says a natural or man-made disaster, calamity, catastrophe is from God must be thinking either that it was an arbitrary act of God, done for no particular reason other than perhaps to create fear (which still doesn’t explain why that particular place), or that it was in some sense God’s judgment.

 

To understand, perhaps a step back is useful, to see a bigger picture. Jason Anspach makes the observation that Calvin heavily influenced the men of his time, just as his disciples today go to his writings and theology, and then return “to their cultural homeland proclaiming the gospel via Calvinism.” I have suggested that Piper abides Theonomy. To get the full flavor of what this might mean it is useful to see what Calvin’s views were regarding the law.

 

Gregory Johnson introduces some useful background in an article, Natural Law and Positive Law in Calvin’s Thought: Placed at the end of his fourth book dealing with the church, Calvin demonstrated that civil government was not to be divorced from God or from Christian theology. [emphasis added.] Johnson, in his conclusion says: “A natural law approach to political engagement is an approach that relies on those with a clarified grasp of the natural law to persuade others of the implications of that natural law. Both the theonomist approach and the natural law approach must persuade enemies of God to live in outward conformity to God’s law.” [emphasis added.]

 

Garry Cole offers an elaboration, “Calvin acknowledged the need for separation of church and state, but never considered the separation of state and God.” And: “Calvin’s views regarding government stemmed from his belief in the necessity of civil authority because of the depravity of man, his belief in providence, and his uncompromising certainty that God is sovereign over all things, including governments… When he was called upon to draft ordinances that would serve as a constitution for Geneva, he established an ideological movement that would have a lasting impact on both the sacred and the secular worlds.”

 

Cole makes very clear the perceived, and supposed authenticity of a God-ordained theology. He states, “By applying the principle of the sovereignty of God to the establishment of governments, be they secular or sacred, Calvin offered liberation from the tyranny that thrived under Arminianism and Roman Catholicism.” [emphasis added.] Cole continues, “[Calvin] believed there should be mutual support and cooperation between the civil and the ecclesiastical jurisdictions, but he knew the sinful nature of man meant there would be no perfect kingdom on this earth. So as we do today, Calvin ultimately looked forward to the time when Christ will reign on earth, stating, “for it is not of us, but of the Living God and His Christ” who will “rule from sea to sea and from the river even to the ends of the earth.”

 

What is of greater significance of Calvin’s premises regarding the law, is the notion of a Theonomy, and the layering of Mosaic law across the cultural landscape. If this belief is not for all then certainly it is for some. To really see it clearly the views of Gary North may be useful. North, says the Wikipedia, “…is known for his advocacy of Biblically-influenced “radically libertarian” economics and also for his staunch support for theocracy.” North, at one point asked the rhetorical question, “Was Calvin a theonomist?” His answer was that the clear answer is, “yes.” [emphasis in the original.]

 

North states: “Calvin’s view of history was straightforward: God brings His sanctions — blessings and curses — in the midst of history in terms of each man’s obedience to His law. Each man reaps what he sows in history. Calvin did not qualify this statement in any significant way, and he repeated it over and over.” North points to the real possibility of “interlacing” within such a framework:

…blessings with many afflictions and corrections, as though He had cursed us, we must realize that His purpose in this is to provoke us day by day to repentance, and to keep us from falling asleep in this present world. We know that our pleasures make us drunken and unmindful of God unless He constrains us by pricking and spurring us forward.” Further, “You see then how we must understand that all the afflictions and miseries we endure in this world are indeed strokes from God’s own hand. And along these lines it is said by the prophet Amos, “Is there any evil in the city that God has not done?” (Amos 3:6). That is to say, “Can there happen either war or pestilence or famine or disease or poverty or any other calamity whatsoever, that does not come to you from God?” Wretched people, are you so foolish and beastish as to imagine that God, who created the world, has left it at random and has no care to watch over His creatures, or to bestow on them what He thinks fitting for them? Does He not sometimes show His goodness and sometimes make them feel Him as judge, punishing the sins of men, and making men know what His office is? Do you think that He lives idle in heaven, and that He does not set forth His power, or that the world is not guided and governed by His providence?” [Covenant Enforced, p. 140.]

 

Therefore, North makes it emphatically clear that we should see God’s hand clearly in “history”. North continues with a number of points that include regarding Calvin’s theology, which he says was fully biblically covenantal in structure: “1) the sovereignty of a Creator God, 2) a God who reveals Himself in history, 3) a God who lays down fixed laws, 4) a God who brings predictable historical sanctions in terms of these laws, and 5) a God who (probably) raises up His people to victory in history. He did not adopt the six loci of seventeenth-century Protestant scholasticism, with its narrow definition of theology. His Calvinism was not narrowly theological; it was cultural in the broadest sense.” Calvin was in this sense, says North, a Christian Reconstructionist (Christian Reconstructionism).

 

Frank Schaeffer, a reconstructionist insider before he “fled” from it, names Piper, and suggests that New Calvinism on its “worst day” is similar to an ultra-Calvinist, reconstructionist worldview. The point, says Schaeffer, is that, “Reconstructionism, also called Theonomism, seeks to reconstruct “our fallen society.” [emphasis in the original.] Where does Piper sit on the continuum between moderate and ultra-Calvinism? He certainly does not appear to be moderate. Is it possible to further determine his position?

 

In 2014 Piper posted an article, under the topic of Topic of “The Wrath of God”, titled “Will America Be Judged?” He points out that the gospel of Jesus is precious, because it “offers joyful rescue from furious judgment.” Then he asks, “Does God Judge Nations Today?” The answer seems to a resounding yes. Piper firstly states that the Bible reveals God as sovereign over the nations, and that He rules them for his purposes. Then he points out that the Bible further portrays God, in His relationship to the nations, as one where He tolerates sin, up to a point, and then He brings calamity.

 

Piper then speaks of a, “remarkable sequence of sins in Leviticus 18:20–25 that sounds very much like the progress of iniquity in the modern Western world.” He proceeds to list these: Adultery; Child sacrifice (which he says we now call abortion); “homosexual intercourse”; and bestiality. A sound logic chain is established by Piper that adultery, abortion, and same-sex issues are a present reality, and therefore there we all are, presumably for the United States at least, on a very slippery slope to the sin of “beastiality”.

 

It seems very clear that Piper sees it as entirely appropriate to step into the area of making judgments at the national level, and perhaps beyond. There seems to be some evidence for Crippen’s assertion made earlier that, “Piper does not differentiate between believers and non-believers, but simply as one monolithic category: the world.” Piper makes sweeping determinations about women, same-sex people, and a number of other issues. While he may disavow Theonomy, he nevertheless offers it succor.

 

We step into very difficult terrain when we attribute God’s judgment to some devastating event. There are, for example, some verses that suggest the whole area is God’s and God’s alone. “Deuteronomy 32:35 (ESV) says, ““Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.””

 

Again, Hebrews 10:30 (ESV), “For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”” Then Romans 12:19 (ESV): “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.””

 

I suggest that vengeance is the Lord’s domain, and His alone, and unless we have a clear mandate to attribute a judgment to Him we are seeking His glory as our own (Isaiah 42:8 ESV): ““I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”” If the Lord judges it is for His glory, but to assume the right to appropriate His good name and attribute judgment without a mandate seems presumptuous in the extreme.

 

The Matrix

 

Schaeffer says reconstructionism was, “…propagated by people I knew and worked with closely when I, too, was a Jesus Predator doing culture war battle for “truth.”” He then recounts some recollections of his “shameful past”, and his influence in the anti-woman right movement of the 1970s and 80s. He recalls the “True Woman Conference,” where organizers launched a “True Woman Manifesto.” He says that a clause in the preamble read, “When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to [male] authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father.”

 

Speakers at the conference, says Schaeffer, included some of the foremost leaders of the 21st-century “mainstream” Evangelical world, including John Piper. Schaeffer supposes the leaders a the conference would not have publicly embraced Reconstructionism, nevertheless, their presence to this meeting and other similar ones, implicitly endorsed the reconstructionist view of women, and the supposedly divinely ordained male headship of women.

 

Women are “called to encourage godly masculinity” by submitting to men, says the “True Woman Manifesto,” which effectively means women must “submit to their husbands and their male-only pastors. Piper so clings to the mosaic law, and its incumbent patriarchy that he wants an even more masculine theology (Held Evans; Zack Hunt).

 

While some may question Schaeffer’s position, and the tenor of his argument, there is no denying the perspicacity of his historical perspectives and revelations. He concludes some of his recollections with the observation that: “Appeals to facts get nowhere with these folks because, like the women who are helping keep other women down, they don’t trust any sources but their own and listen only to what emanates from an alternative right-wing universe. Thus arguments become circular. The more impartial the source, the more suspect it becomes.”

 

Schaeffer is an outsider these days, no longer part of the incestuousness that is part of movements like reconstructionism. Jonathan Merritt has a similar story, pointing out that the neo-Calvinists are a highly mobilized and influential grouping. While the overall number of Calvinists in the United States has not changed much for over a decade, the neo-Calvinists are a, “vocal and visible strain that has risen to prominence in recent years.” Authors, such as Piper, sell well, they are active online, and have “vibrant training grounds for raising new recruits.”

 

Within the movement Merritt identifies tribalism: “This is the kinship tendency within a group to protect insiders while combating outsiders. Several prominent Calvinists, for example, declined the opportunity to comment on this story due to fear that their words might be used to disparage the movement. Said one well-known leader via email, “I don’t want to be a brick in a wall that’s used against the tradition/movement I identify with.”” There is a reluctance to critique, for if they do, and the critique is viewed negatively by the “tribe”, then there is a very great risk of being moved to, or beyond, the margins.

 

As Merritt puts it, “Tribalists attempt to “clean house” when it comes to outsiders but “sweep under the rug” when it comes to insiders.” He also quotes Olson: ““[Neo-Calvinist’s are] a tribe, and they’ve closed ranks. Somehow they’ve formed a mentality that they have to support each other because they are a minority on a crusade. Any criticism hurts the cause.” Olson says that when he speaks to Calvinist leaders, they will often critique the movement and its other leaders in private, but never in public.”

 

The neo-Calvinists have become an anomaly. Claiming “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” or “The church is always to be reformed.” ““The perspective of many today is that if you aren’t a Calvinist, you don’t really have a grasp of the gospel,” Olson says. Sometimes it seems as if Calvinists view themselves as judge, jury, and executioner of the Christian movement at large—determining who is faithful and not, who believes the gospel and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out (Merritt).”

 

Merritt discusses “thin” and “thick” expressions of religion: “[Thin religion is] religiosity reduced to a single symbolic gesture. And once you reduce religion to that . . . you can project everything that you want onto that . . . [Thin religion] isn’t textured. It doesn’t have depth. It doesn’t have relief. It doesn’t rely on a long history of that religion with all the varieties of reflections that have gone on in the religion.” Coinhabitation with Christians in the wider Church guards a movement against “thin” expressions of religion.

 

However, the neo-Calvinist movement is insular, and risks inhabiting an emaciated shell of what at first glance passes for Calvinism overall. Some believe the neo-Calvinists need a good dose of humility. With Piper as a figurehead they judge, and are judgmental. On the other hand, the Bible states explicitly that Jesus does not judge, or condemn, and neither does the Father, for all authority has been given to the son.

 

Yet Piper takes the mantle of judgment as if it were his own. Rooted deeply in Tulip, with its prescriptive notions of total depravity and ‘double predestination’, he sets about to make clear our damnations. In all this he is uplifted by the neo-Calvinists.

 

James 4:12 (ESV): “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” The law came to multiply sin. If you cling to the law you will not just sin, you do sin.

 

God’s Sovereignty

 

I must confess to a certain bemusement at Matt Slick’s response on The Calvinist Corner website to what he perceived as “anti-Calvinism rhetoric”. His complaint is that, “Anti-Calvinists think they accurately represent Calvinist doctrines completely and faithfully, and that it is we who are not representing Christ properly. They speak about the freedom of choice, about God’s love for all people, how He died for everyone, and about how Calvinism often presents God as a horrible, uncaring, and unfair being.”

 

Slick continues, “…those who deny and oppose Calvinism, apparently believe that in their sinfulness they had the wisdom and the ability, where others did not, to choose to believe in Jesus on their own. We Calvinists, would never make such a boast. We know better than to exalt ourselves to such a high level of goodness and wisdom. Why? Because we believe God’s word.” Slick is correct of course, anti-Calvinists are very unfair. For example, I wonder where Tulip fits with God’s word, and how simply attributing sinfulness to others makes ones own position righteous.

 

Personally, I always believed God could deal with criticism very well. I feel no need to defend Him, I believe He does that rather well Himself, but my reasoning is that (1 Peter 3:15), “I am Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have… [and to] do this with gentleness and respect.” Which is quite the point, and reveals a couple of issues.

 

Firstly, Slick’s concern is about the nature of “anti-Calvinism” sentiment, which this paper is in some ways. That does not mean it is an attack on God. Slick may wish to allude to such a notion, but instead it merely reveals that Calvinism is essentially ideology. Secondly, are the neo-Calvinists part of the broader Calvinist Church, or the wider “Church”, or are they totally separated. If they are within the broad Calvinist Church then what of Piper’s anti-woman, and LGBT rhetoric? Or his pronouncements of judgments? What of his half jokes about God condemning billions to damnation? What of his clinging to Tulip and his seven-point Calvinism?

 

J.D. Greear takes a similar tack. He raises the issue of heresy, but minimizes it by seemingly passing it off as subjective, which it is not. He says, ““Calvinism is not an issue to me until it becomes one to you. But when it becomes one to you, it becomes one to me… and I’ll probably take whatever side you are not.”” In this sense Greear defends Calvinism, although there should be a way of dealing with any criticism that may be true and valid. If it is not valid and true, that is another matter. However, all such things are difficult terrain.

 

Greear then proceeds to says, “But we must learn to be comfortable with certain scriptural tensions, and live with grace and freedom in some places God has not bestowed clarity to the degree we’d prefer. As Alister McGrath says, the ability to live within scriptural tensions is a sign of maturity, not immaturity.”

 

What Greear seems to be saying, as I see it, is that fundamentalist approaches, from any perspective, impede the spread of the gospel, which is true. Calvinists, he suggests, can be prone to fundamentalism, for example, “They go to Calvinist conferences where they only listen to Calvinist speakers who have the tulips in their clerical caps configured correctly. They read only Calvinist books. Anyone who is not their version of a Calvinist is suspect, and they will concoct any number of Shibboleths to determine if you’re in or out. The only game they play in their church’s nurseries is “Duck, Duck, Damned.””

 

Greear adds, “”Anti-Calvinism fundamentalism can be just as bad, of course.”” I agree, and I do not wish to be Anti-Calvinist generally, just against the extremes of it. I am also against patriarchal attitudes within the church, but that goes for any part of the Church, it is not limited to the Calvinists. Greear says, “The gospel—not the 5 points of Calvinism—is the center of our faith. If you believe in the loftiness of God’s glory, that salvation belongs only to God, and that God is sovereign over the world, and that he that has begun a good work in you will see it through, then you and I can stand in alignment, even if we parse some of the particulars differently.”

It depends too on what Greear means by God’s sovereignty, for the Calvinist notion of sovereignty is what makes God in the their image. Generally, it seems, if there is any discussion, commentary, discussion, or rebuke of Calvinist theology, then His sovereignty becomes the overriding factor. Slick says, “We Calvinist further believe that the enslavement of the wills of the sinner to sin (Rom. 6:14-20) and that it has incapacitated the freedom of the unregenerate so much that this necessitates the intervening work of God.”

 

Jack Wellman, a self-described “pastor, father, grandfather, & train wreck” (but is not a Calvinist) makes the point, “You can read about predestination, like in Ephesians 1, and all it means is that something has been predetermined…or been determined ahead of time. This doesn’t mean we don’t have free will and that we won’t be responsible for our actions and that we won’t reap what we sow.” He cautions however, “I cannot hope to fully explain the tension that exists between free will (John 3:16) and predestination (Eph 1). I only know that both are true but I don’t know how they are both true at exactly the same time. That should not surprise anyone because who can fully know the mind of God since His ways are beyond finding out.”

 

Wellman allows for the Christian God to be truly sovereign, but also acknowledges a degree of mystery. Many Calvinists may allow for a similar space within the divine administration. However, it is the advocate of divine causal determinism that really gets into theological difficulty. Sovereignty, for the neo-Calvinist, is the answer for all the theological conundrums they find themselves confronted with, from within or without, and these are many.

 

Olson proposes such a hypothetical (I assume it is a hypothetical) in, “A Conversation between a Calvinist and an Arminian about God’s Sovereignty”:

Calvinist: “Well, I don’t even know what you mean. God’s sovereignty in Scripture is clearly absolute control. That’s how God acts in Scripture.”

Arminian: “And what about all those times when God didn’t get his way and regretted things because of what humans did to thwart his plans and will? And what about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and saying he wanted to…but they would not? Et cetera?”

Calvinist: “Oh, well, that’s easy. Those are anthropomorphisms.”

Arminian: “And so could be all those times in Scripture when God controlled circumstances and people.”

Calvinist: “No, those must be taken literally.”

Arminian: “You are coming to Scripture with a preconceived idea of God and choosing what to take figuratively and what to take literally based on that. Your starting point is a philosophical idea of God drawn from reason and then you use that as a Procrustean bed of hermeneutics.”

 

Such is the sovereignty of the Calvinist God, managed according to their ideology, and therefore constrained in the Pascalian locked box. Randal Rauser tackles this question of God’s sovereignty by addressing the claim of the Arminians that Calvinism sacrifices God’s love on the altar of his sovereignty, but then sidesteps the issue to ask, “Is it true that Calvinism rejects the Arminian view that God cannot save all?”

 

Rauser says it depends which Calvinist you ask as to what answer you will get. However, he draws a conceptual line from John Calvin to Jonathan Edwards, and then to Piper. According to Rauser, there is a point of agreement between the Calvinist and the Arminian that God cannot save all.

 

However, according to Rauser, Piper claims that God always acts so as to maximize his own glory. Therefore, he continues, “…by his own nature God is constrained to actualize the state of affairs that will glorify him most fully. And the reason not all are saved is because this state of affairs – of some saved and others damned – is more glorifying to God than the state in which all are saved.” The problem that then follows is this, points out Rauser, “…if God always acts to maximize his own glory and damning some maximizes his own glory, then God cannot save all because doing so would be to act against his own greatest glory.”

 

Rauser concludes that the Calvinist God of Calvin, Edwards, Piper, is no more sovereign than the Arminian God, concluding: “So the Calvinist surrenders God’s omnibenevolent love whilst offering no higher a degree of sovereignty. And that seems to me to be a pretty poor deal.”

 

Malcolm Hester, in a three-part series, also addresses the complexity of the Calvinist system. He clearly identifies, correctly I believe, two “foundational concepts”, or “pillars”, on which the system stands. In doing he draws on the work of Baptist Calvinist theologian Millard Erickson. The two foundational pillars identified are, the concept of divine sovereignty, and the concept of human inability, or total depravity.

 

Hester suggests the issue of Divine sovereignty is one of the real issues associated with Calvinism that is often passed over. This problem is exacerbated, points out Hester, because conservative commentators often may not wish to deny what appears to be a self-evident truth. Further to that, Hester himself admits to “approaching the topic with fear because charges of heresy are easily made and hard to refute.” Accordingly, he asserts the complete sovereignty of God, and rejects any doctrine that would limit His sovereignty by any force outside himself.

 

Here Hester rubs against the grain a little to expose, I suggest, the religiopolitical forces that may constrain good men to speak out. This is not a rebuke, it merely acknowledges the power of the networks that prevail at certain levels of church life.

 

The question is, asks Hester, “”How does God choose to use his sovereignty?”” The Calvinist response, he says, “allows for no decisions to be made outside the will of God.” Nothing happens, human action or otherwise, that is outside the will of God. According, Calvinist’s ponder endlessly the presence of evil in the world, and issues relating to such things as salvation, free will, and predestination.

 

Hester suggests some Calvinists, and I suggest Piper falls into this category, take sovereignty to its logical conclusion and simply say that, God is responsible for evil, and that He decides who is lost. Free will seemingly evaporates, because God is sovereign with all authority and power, and all that implies. Nevertheless , Hester argues God allows mankind some limited freedom in matters of morality and salvation, and he supports this with examples. The Calvinist conundrum is that they offer no doctrine that says God really does not want everyone to repent. Vigorously asserting God’s sovereignty in all things is one way around this.

 

The second pillar of Calvinism is total depravity. While Adam and Eve were free to choose God’s plan, the Calvinist position is that this ability was lost in the fall. Hester cites Erickson: “Because all humans are lost in sin, spiritually blind, and unable to believe, however, some action by God must intervene between his eternal decision and the conversion of the individual within time.” He suggests this explains why some Calvinists may not emphasize the gospel call to salvation in worship services.

 

Hester says Erickson offers Ephesians 2:1-3 as a “key passage” to defend total inability. Can the “Spiritually Dead” hear and respond to Christ? It is here, suggests Hester that Calvinists do something “that is illegitimate in argument.” They misrepresent the non-Calvinists view so as to more easily make their own case: “Erickson quotes New Testament scholar George Ladd to make his point on this issue in his presentation of the Calvinist doctrine of effectual calling. Ladd says, “Only by the illumination of the Spirit can men understand the meaning of the cross; only by the Spirit can men therefore confess that Jesus who was executed is also the Lord.” This defence of effectual calling assumes that an in-depth knowledge of spiritual matters is needed in order to respond to the call of Jesus to repent.”

 

Hester points out that, “The Calvinist doctrine ignores the teaching of our Lord in John 5:25 which says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.”” Hester emphasizes that Jesus said the time has come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. Some may argue that this verse speaks only of the physical resurrection, which is not the context, and an avoidance of the clear meaning of the scripture.

 

The physical resurrection, points out Hester, is addressed in verses 28-29, and verse 25 refers to the spiritually dead, and Jesus says they can hear and gain life, eternal life. It follows that total inability denies that the sinner can hear the call of Jesus, which in turn denies the teaching of the Bible, and rejects the power of Jesus. Hester says they can hear, because Jesus said they could.

 

It is common for Calvinists, suggests Hester, to attempt to read into the Bible their doctrine. Hester: “”Where does the Bible speak of the effectual call?” That idea is a theological concept built on the reasoning of the Calvinist system and not a doctrine taught in the Bible.” Hester cites Cain as an a example of fallen man’s capacity to respond to God. It is, as he points out, dealt with in Genesis 4:1-7, directly after the fall of Adam and Eve. Citing verse 7 Hester points out that if Cain does well he will be accepted, but if he does not, then the sin will be his responsibility. A plain reading is that Cain has the capacity to determine his own spiritual fate and destiny.

Individual human responsibility, argues Hester, reveals a “major weakness” in Calvinist theology. Such responsibility is fundamental to judgment in both “human law courts and the divine court.” God is just and will do right, and what is right is to judge each sinner for the sin they have committed. Hester continues: “I even have scripture to back up my position. Ezekiel said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20) The rest of that verse strikes down another false idea taught by the Roman Catholics and accepted by many Calvinists. That is the doctrine of “inherited guilt.” The next part of verse 20 says, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” The acceptance of this false doctrine led to the practice of infant baptism which our Baptist forefathers had to stand against.”

Hester also cites Joshua 24:15, which reveals the choice ever before each of us, “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” It is not an attack on God’s sovereignty, says Hester, for God to grant limited freedom to mankind. We do not tell God how to govern his creation, but only seek to discover the method of His administration.

Kenneth Boa does a lengthy text on the issue of “Divine Sovereignty vs. Human Responsibility.” He states, ““The dice are thrown into the lap, but their every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). In view of the overwhelming scriptural evidence for divine sovereignty, terms like fate and luck lose their significance. In an ultimate sense, nothing happens by pure chance.” He then concludes, “Nevertheless, the biblical doctrine of human responsibility is just as clear, and the lives of all people bear this out. No one can live as though he were a machine programmed by the forces of fate. He must make choices.”

Molinism

 

There is a middle ground for Calvinists, and Arminians for that matter, which some may find useful. An appeal could be made to Molinism, which the the Wikipedia says, “attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will.” William Lane Craig, one of Molinism’s major proponents, in addressing Molinism versus Calvinism, lists five issues within Calvinist theology: “1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture; 2. Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed; 3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility; 4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency; 5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce.”

 

Craig ponders why so many “intelligent and faithful Christian leaders” buy into Calvinism, and while he asserts that the Calvinism of section III of the Westminster Confession is a “fair summary of Scripture’s teaching”, he has a caveat. He says, “It’s only when one goes beyond it to try to resolve the mystery by embracing determinism and compatibilism that one gets into trouble. So insofar as these Christian leaders are content to remain with the mystery, I think theirs is a reasonable position.”

 

For example, in a discussion of the Molinist approach to “Middle Knowledge and Divine Election”, Lane says, “So although God sovereignly chooses which world to create, it is up to the persons in that world whether or not they will be saved. One French Molinist has put this paradox very effectively:

 

It is up to God whether I find myself in a world in which I am predestined; But it is up to me whether I am predestined in the world in which I find myself.

Think about that long and hard, says Craig, for so long as the second clause is true, God cannot be blamed for anyone’s damnation.”

Nevertheless, in an assessment of Molinism, Paul Helm suggests that there is much that is interesting and puzzling about Molinism. He concludes though that, “the Reformed response to it has been—and should continue to be—that not only are there unresolved difficulties in the idea of middle knowledge itself, it is also an unnecessary speculation. Scripture scarcely mentions anything that may be thought to give support to Molinism, while teaching perfectly clearly that God works all things, even the evil actions of people who act with full responsibility, after the counsel of His own will. As Peter said on the Day of Pentecost, Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” and lawless men crucified and killed him (Acts 2:23).”

 

By way of interest Olson also addresses the issue of Molinism directly in a text about the possible compatibility of Arminian Theology and “Middle Knowledge.” Olson’s opening remark is to strongly assert, “One of the most basic impulses of Arminianism is that God is not the author of sin and evil—even indirectly.” Olson suggests someone could be an Arminian and a Molinist, while at the same time stating his opinion that “Molinism is a foreign body in Arminianism.” He does this while conceding Arminius himself may have subscribed to it at some point.

 

However, says Olson, if Arminius did subscribe to Molinism then, “He contradicted his own most basic principle which is that God is by no means the author of sin and evil. He unwittingly fell into determinism at that point and should not have relied on middle knowledge. Why he did, if he did, is a separate question. I think reasonable answers can be imagined (having to do with his desire to build bridges between himself and his critics).”

 

Wider Implications

 

Molinism does hold interest for no less a person than Paige Patterson, the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who did a foreword for Kenneth Keathley’s book, Salvation and the Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Patterson reveals that as a young man he was “charmed” by the writings of the Reformed. He says, “…the botany of Calvinism seemed to me flawed by having two petals of the TULIP at best sparsely represented in Scripture. I could see that irresistible grace and limited atonement made sense to the Calvinistic system; but for the life of me, I could find little substantive witness for them in Scripture.”

 

Patterson goes on to say:

More troubling still was my inevitable conclusion that a thoroughly consistent form of the Calvinistic message made God in some way or another the author of evil and thus called into question both the justice and the universal love of God. In fact, some Calvinists openly advocated that God created most men in order to condemn them and thus demonstrate His justice, and these advocates seemed to me to be the more consistent Calvinists.

As the years have passed and I have studied these questions more extensively, my dissatisfaction with the answer of Calvinism has become more profound. Added to this, I find myself uncomfortable with the usual definitions of three other petals of the TULIP and the fact that in order for me to endorse them I have to be certain that the definitions are correlated with what I find on the pages of Holy Scripture, not only in verses specifically on the subject but also in accounts of the nature and character of God Himself.

 

Patterson concludes that Keathley’s book appeals to two groups. Firstly, those uncomfortable with Calvinism because they feel that it has exceeded the actual witness of Scripture, while ignoring other major aspects of Scripture. Secondly, for some Calvinists he does believe the book will change their mind about things. However, he observes that they hold their convictions sincerely, and of course, as a Baptist, Patterson believe in their freedom of faith to do so.

 

One can only wonder whether there were genuine theological demons facing Patterson. Gustav Niebuhr reported in 1998 for The New York Times, “The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and an increasingly conservative force among American religious organizations, amended its essential statement of beliefs today to include a declaration that a woman should “submit herself graciously” to her husband’s leadership and that a husband should “provide for, protect and lead his family.”

 

Niebuhr continues to say that, “Paige Patterson, a seminary president from North Carolina who was elected today as the Southern Baptists’ president, said the amendment was a response to “a time of growing crisis in the family.”” These points are made only to allude to the fact that the submission of women in the marriage, and by extension, as espoused by some, that they also submit to men in the Church, has far wider implications than Piper and the neo-Calvinists. There is widespread support for the subordinate position of women in the Church, and this potentially can have far reaching implications, which too easily become negative.

 

Steve Kloehn of the Chicago Tribune reported the Southern Baptist “Submissive Wives Doctrine” this way:

“Those Southern Baptists who do not agree with this policy simply do not come to this convention any more,” said Rev. Tim Owings of the First Baptist Church of Augusta, Ga.—the town where the denomination was founded.

Owings proposed a revision to the statement that would have read, “Both husbands and wives are to submit graciously to each other as servant leaders in the home.” He argued this was more biblically correct, also citing Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. But his amendment, and another that would have pointed out other family relations in the Bible, were defeated handily.

Though three-quarters of the 8,000 delegates at the convention Tuesday were men, the new statement had wide support among women in attendance.

“People misinterpret it,” said Jean Lindo of the Caribbean Baptist Church in Hollywood, Fla. “If you take one part out and forget the rest of the Bible passage, then you are misinterpreting it.”

While the Baptist rendition of that passage calls on the wife to be the husband’s “helper” in managing the family, it also states plainly, “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image.”

 

It all seems very reasonable. But equal worth? Does that also mean equal value? Equality perhaps? For we also find here the notion that women submit to men, as men submit to Christ. There is much that is said and a great deal more that is unsaid. Indeed, there are some very prominent leaders, teachers and preachers who send wives back to their husbands, and those wives then risk being abused, perhaps repeatedly.

 

An Internet search on terms like “Christian wife abuse” reveals something of the problems that arise from such submission. Articles that speak of the silent epidemic of Christian women suffering are simply too easy to find. Strangely, however, all that gets reported on, or headlined certainly, is the submission of wives. Probably the admonition that husbands love their wives, and always refrain from abuse is somehow taken-for-granted. It should not be forgotten that all too often spousal abuse involves children.

 

Not all husbands that abuse may be Christian, which simply makes it all the worse in instances where abusers are Christian. Non Christian husbands abusing wives, goes toward the point that submission is the way of the world. It is the sinful outworking of patriarchal arrangements, and the Churches that perpetuate it have not accepted the great liberation of all men and women within the Church.

 

As an aside, I would not deny there may be some husbands that are abused, but that tends to be virtually insignificant beside what women endure. I would also suppose that many Christian husbands that do not abuse, but that is not the source of the issue.

 

Indeed, why discuss all this at all? Joe Carter in a 2012 comment offers the insight that, “…a group of current and former Southern Baptist leaders signed and posted a statement which attempts to draw a clear line between Calvinism and what they call the “traditional Southern Baptist” of soteriology. The document has attracted a considerable number of supporters and critics and sparked a vocal debate about the role of Reformed theology within the Southern Baptist Convention.”

 

Carter then notes that for anyone who is not a Southern Baptist, why should they care about this debate? He says, “Because the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant denomination in America, both the controversy and the debates about Calvinism are likely to spill into other non-reformed denominations and parachurch ministries and have an influence on the larger evangelical community.”

 

Piper and the neo-Calvinist’s support for complementarianism is supported by a greater network of opinion that makes some things almost a given. Whether Calvinist or Southern Baptist, there are significant forces at work that in the best of circumstances create loving, intimate spousal arrangements, but there is too easily slippage into abusive arrangements. However, given the degree to which we remain broken in a broken world, the requirement that women are to submit, in all areas of Church life, can too easily become crushing.

 

While all this discussion is about women, it would be relatively straightforward to extrapolate to the difficulties LGBT people have in a Church home like the SBC. Leah Marieann Klett reports on a former Southern Baptist Church, First Baptist of Greenville, South Carolina, which has adopted a new non-discrimination policy, allowing for same-sex weddings, and to employ openly gay and transgender individuals without telling them their lifestyles violate Biblical mandates.

 

Klett reports that the SBC is in prayer for the Greenville Church to return to Biblically driven beliefs of marriage and family, rather than culturally driven imperatives. Klett cites Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who also expressed his opposition to same-sex relationships, and encouraged churches to hold fast to a Biblical definition of marriage. Further:

Moore contended that the church should be ready to reach out to “refugees from the sexual revolution,” drawing a biblical reference in regards to the “sexually wayward Woman at the Well of Samaria.”

However, he warned that a “church that has given up on the truth of the Scriptures, including on marriage and sexuality…has nothing to say to a fallen world.” He also cautioned against ostracizing those in the LGBT community, explaining that a church that “screams with outrage at those who disagree will have nothing to say to those who are looking for a new birth.” “We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace,” Moore wrote.

“We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does – with mercy and with an invitation to new life.”

 

In 2013 Erik Parker noted that Tony Jones actually called for a Schism in the Church over the role of women. That Christians upholding an egalitarian view of men and women in the Church leave and break fellowship with those Churches that are complementarian. On the other hand, observed Parker, Moore, who apparently is affiliated with the CBMW, said that, “egalitarian couples “preach a false gospel.””

 

While Jones pulled back from the notion of a schism Parker noted something of a parallel between Lutherans rejecting “apartheid systems”, and the beginning of the ordination of women. Parker ties the two as a rejection of Donatism., which, Parker says, “…was the claim that the moral character of a person affects the proclamation of the gospel and the means of grace. Or that only “good” or “special” or “saintly” or “chosen by God” people could lead worship, preside over the sacraments and proclaim the gospel.”

 

Naming heresy, suggests Parker, is not about schism, but a clear rejection of unorthodox doctrine. Further it is a call dialogue together, where both men and women are free to preside. That the gospel might be enough reason for egalitarianism alone, but there is so much more at play.

 

Be that as it may, these matters are not insignificant. The White Ribbon website says that in Australia, with its population of about 23 million, approximately one woman is killed every week as a result of intimate partner violence. Corrie Cutrer cites Detective Sgt. Don Stewart, a retired police officer who handled domestic violence cases for 25 years. He says: “…one out of every four Christian couples experiences at least one episode of physical abuse within their marriage. In fact, battering is the single largest cause of injury to women—more than auto accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that 3 to 4 million women are beaten in their homes every year. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 2,000 women are murdered every year by an intimate partner.”

 

In almost every Church of any size there will be abused spouses and LGBT people, and it is the Church that should be a place where people should find Christ and safety from the world. This is in the sense that the gospel ideally will lead to the creation, and ongoing witness of the community of believers that at the very least simply states what sinners we are, but as much as possible makes allowances for difference. Within this paradigm some may see LGBT as contrary to a scriptural view of marriage and sexuality, but it would be very useful if this was done without, as Moore suggests, the screams of outrage sometimes seen in these matters.

 

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, in 2013, reported that Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), speaking at the Religion Newswriters Association conference, said, “The Christian mission field is a “magnet” for sexual abusers… While comparing evangelicals to Catholics on abuse response, “I think we are worse,” he said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference, saying too many evangelicals had “sacrificed the souls” of young victims.”

Further, “Protestants can be very arrogant when pointing to Catholics,” said Tchividjian.” GRACE, says Bailey, had earlier that year spearheaded an online petition decrying the “silence” and “inattention” of evangelical leaders to sexual abuse in their churches.

Tchividjian is also quoted as saying, “The Protestant culture is defined by independence… Evangelicals often frown upon transparency and accountability… as many Protestants rely on Scripture more than religious leaders, compared to Catholics. Abusers discourage whistle-blowing by condemning gossip to try to keep people from reporting abuse, he said. Victims are also told to protect the reputation of Jesus. Too many Protestant institutions have sacrificed souls in order to protect their institutions… “We’ve got the Gospels backwards.”

Hännah Ettinger, the “Friendly Atheist” and a ten year veteran of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), points to some particular scandals that were surrounding SGM, and associated issues, at the time of her writing. In doing so she does an overview of “new Calvinism,” in which John Piper seemingly plays an important role. She points out that, “the big leaders in the Christian homeschooling movement and the Reconstructionist theology circles shared a lot in common with the New Calvinists.”

 

In Ettinger’s opinion New Calvinism is unraveling at the edges, because of some of the inherent issues at its heart, issues exacerbated, by such doctrines as complementarianism and the approach to LGBT issues. She goes on to propose that the new face of American evangelicalism seems to be the post-church Millennials. This is the new generation that, “talk about spiritual abuse, healing, and use trigger warnings and intersectional feminist lingo in their writing and teaching.”

 

Interestingly, in May 2014 Ettinger predicted problems ahead for Mark Driscoll: He resigned his ministry at Mars Hill Church on October 14, 2014. Part of the issue for Driscoll was his treatment of women. The Daily Beast (Sessions) in the lead comment of a Driscoll authored book review said: “Evangelicals of all stripes are outraged at a new marriage book by controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, from conservatives shocked by the graphic sex descriptions to liberals who hate its degrading of women.”

 

The Daily Beast cites David Moore of Fuller Theological: “Moore picks out numerous passages from Real Marriage that seem to show Driscoll primarily concerned with the sexual needs of men. “This book is an astoundingly unbelievable work of disrespect for women,” Moore wrote.”

 

Cathy Mickels, back in 2009, questioned Driscoll’s qualifications to lead. She also asked, “Why are evangelical leaders, such as John Piper, willing to overlook his crudity and excuse the fact that at the expense of God’s Word, Mark Driscoll distorts and twists Scripture as if it were material for a stand-up comedian?” Of course he did, he styled his delivery on such comedians as Chris Rock. Yet the Church, particularly Piper, sustained Driscoll for years.

 

In the transcript of an audio dealing with the questions asked of Piper, “Do You Regret Partnering with Mark Driscoll?”, he responded, “First, no regret. John Piper has no regret for befriending Mark Driscoll, going to Mark Driscoll’s church and speaking at his events, or having him come to the Desiring God conference. I do not regret that. My regret is that I was not a more effective friend.”

 

No regrets. Piper could be accused of very poor judgment ,somewhat belatedly observing Driscoll’s faults, but he has no regrets. It might be argued that this is very much in part all about complementarianism, and a web or network of interconnected support between men who would rule. Things such as Driscoll’s virtual abuse of the integrity of women, and Piper’s support, hurt and demoralize people, particularly when it is exposed for its very ugly nature. Where is Christ in this?

 

Nate Sparks says of Driscoll: “Mark Driscoll lost his entire ministry, caused the closing of over a dozen churches because he believed men were God’s chosen ones. He openly mocked women in his sermons and books. He told the women under his care to witness to their husbands by submitting fully and in all manners in sex… He posted mysogynist (sic) comments on blogs and destroyed the lives and ministries of anyone who questioned him. He allowed his beliefs to lead to pride and denigration.” How utterly tragic.

 

Sparks says that in response to some of his posts regarding complementarianism some suggest that there are good and Godly complementarians. His question then is, “Is “Not All Comps!” [“Not All Complementarians (Comps)!”] an appropriately Christ-like response to the teachings of Complementarian leaders?” [emphasis in the original.] This is the very point, it is not how a single person acts, or how one particular Church acts, but how an entire culture is created and is self-perpetuating in a way that denigrates an entire gender, and silences those who express concern or may attempt to expose its abuses.

 

Sparks statement is a direct refutation to any suggestion that Christian egalitarians may sometimes fail to distinguish between “genuine” complementarianism, and those situation that drag it into absolute disrepute. Complementarianism creates risk for women everywhere, and endorses and supports the extremes of the subjugation of women. Not only women it must be said, but this whole attitude could be generalized to LGBT people too.

 

Complementarianism in endemic. Sparks says, for example, that the Danvers Statement, of which Piper was a council member, is: “…the official document defining complementarity penned by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), states that women may be equally gifted, but they are not equally called. Thus, for a woman to use her gifts in man’s domain is “sin”. The woman are equal in image, but separate in authority and calling.”

 

The place of women in the Church is sacrificed to the socio-religious, political imperatives of men. Why does it keep happening, asks Sparks:

How can people hear the horror stories, see the damage, and still defend these men?

The answer is fear. Fear of losing their grounding, fear of admitting complicity. Most importantly, fear that questioning the status quo will bring a quick descent into post-modernity and relativism. Fear that to question these teachings is to question the Gospel itself.

This occurs because men like John Piper and Kevin DeYoung argue that complementarianism is the clear teaching of Scripture, necessary to fully understand the Gospel. Complementarity, they claim, is a necessary protective strategy for ensuring the safety of the Gospel message. Like Timothy Keller, these men argue that Inerrancy is simply saying Scripture is true and has a clear meaning. Of course, they insist complementarianism is the clear teaching of Scripture and anyone who rejects this clear teaching is rejecting Scripture itself. When you question the inerrant teachings they put forth you cannot truly have a moral compass or come to God salvifically. After all, Jesus taught Inerrancy!

 

“[W]e are called”, says Sparks, “…to practice a cruciform solidarity with the abused. This solidarity will seek to participate in and understand the suffering they face. It will be willing to offer apology for the times we have been complicit in their sufferings. It will ensure it shares their words and empower their voices to expose the injustices they face. And it will be humble enough to silence ourselves that their voices might be heard.”

 

To be fair, Julie Anne Smith, in April 2015, posted a text online based on advice that Pastor Jason Meyer, of the Bethlehem Baptist Church, Piper’s Church, had preached on domestic abuse issues, and the care for abused women. This, she observed, marked a change in direction from John Piper’s teachings. Among a number of issues they were “confessing” that abuse at Bethlehem has not always been handled as it should have been. One wonders why it took so long to acknowledge that.

 

Little changes however. Even if John Piper resigns now, the die is cast. While complementarianism is invoked there will be abuse problems, for it puts submission squarely in the minds of every man and woman. It is the fall of Genesis 3 in full flight. There Satan questioned Eve about the fruit that she should not eat, and after that she fell into sin. Is complementarianism so much different?

 

A married couple go home after hearing a sermon on the practice of patriarchal complementarian marriage, and perhaps if the husband does not think his wife is submissive he may do things he might never have dreamed doing otherwise. Christian egalitarianism, I believe, is Biblical, and treats all with the dignity and respect of people made in God’s image.

 

The absence of the idea of rule and submission surely minimizes the very notion of abuse. A corporate endorsement from the Church one way or the other is a powerful narrative indeed. It is clear (Romans 5:20 NIV), “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” If we live according to Old Testament patriarchal law, sin will follow.

 

Complementarianism is a very deceptive term. It has low impact in denotation and connotation generally, but in the Church context it is a carrier of dreadful things. There is, for example, an online article that talks about complementarianism in terms of a “Christian rape culture.” Is such a concept hyperbolic? I am sure it is not for women who are abused. The author of the post, Dale Fincher has Savvy Wolfson tell her personal story of how following Driscoll’s advice damaged her marriage.

 

After describing a number of issues Wolfson says, “Driscoll’s ideas aren’t random. They’re a blend of America’s patriarchal culture and Fundamentalism’s purity culture taught in many churches and families under different names. And like many fundy (sic) sermons, they’re delivered in a way that shames anyone who disagrees. “Oh, you don’t like this? Well, it’s in the Bible, so you must have a problem with God himself.” Since Neo-Reformed Millennials are passionate about truth and don’t want to be in rebellion against God, they believe it. None of this is new, other than the packaging.” [emphasis in the original.]

 

This is the reality of praxis. As J.C. Ryle said, “Doctrine is useless—if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless; it does positive harm. Something of the ‘image of Christ’ must be seen and observed in our private life, and habits, and character, and doings.”

 

Austin Fischer, who came from neo-Calvinism, makes a significant point: “John Piper understands this better than most, and his brilliant attention to the aesthetics of Calvinism (channeling Jonathan Edwards) is one of the (if not the) primary reasons for the tremendous surge of Calvinism among young evangelicals.”

 

Fischer continues, “Simply put, plenty of people have argued Calvinism is true. Piper’s particular genius has been in arguing that Calvinism is also beautiful. Many young evangelicals have been convinced and their hearts sing for Calvinism.” It is indeed so, Piper cloaks much of what he says in poetic form. A reading of his text regarding the 2015 terrorist attack on France, “France: A Fabric Torn”, reveals his propensity for a particular style of expression. Such things do not go unnoticed. A more straightforward expression of solidarity with France and the victims may have served better.

 

Fischer paints a picture of Piper elevating neo-Calvinism to an art form, which is entrancing to many. But he expresses the disenchantment, “I don’t think I could ever again believe that Calvinism is beautiful. To my mind, calling Calvinism beautiful is to subject the very concept of beauty to so ruthless an equivocation that it loses any intelligible meaning.” Then Fischer allows the aesthetics to fall away:

But it is the very measure of beauty given us by the Bible (gratuitously aggressive and kenotic, self-giving love) that threatens to burst the wineskins of Calvinism. The good news of God’s beauty is too good and beautiful for Calvinism to contain. And it is the very intoxication with raw power, which fits so snugly within the Calvinist vision of God, that blinds us to God’s true beauty.

So instead of retreating to shopworn quips (“Well if you just trusted the Bible more than your ‘feelings’ and ‘aesthetic sensibilities’ then none of this would be a problem”), I hope more of the New Calvinists will allow themselves to grasp the gravity of the dilemma Calvinism faces when it comes to biblical, Christian aesthetics. It is not a blemish of the surface, but a chilling abyss at the very heart of Calvin’s God.

Perhaps it is Jesus, the sovereign Lord who is missing at the heart of Calvin’s God. Therefore, is neo-Calvinism fraying at the edges, as Ettinger suggested? Rachel Held Evans, a Christian egalitarian, says many are increasingly drawn to high church traditions such as Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, and so on. Why? Because of the unpretentious forms of the liturgy, which is, she says, refreshingly “authentic.”

 

Millennials, suggests Evans, are seeking substance. An end to the culture wars. Churches that emphasize the kingdom of God over an allegiance to single political parties, or a single nation. We want, says Evans, “…our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.” Further, “We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.”

 

Evans continues: “We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” Every new generation, and perhaps every new believer, longs for Jesus, simply that. Because Evans says, “Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” Not, suggests Evans, that the divide cannot be bridged, but obviously there are real issues.

 

Brandon Hurlbert, a blogger interested in theology and praxis, and presumably qualified to speak for the contemporary generation, has had some experience with Calvinism. His observation is that, ““The Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement (YRR) has been slowly aging, changing, and now it appears that it is also dying.” This, he suggests, is a good thing. Why. For all the very good reasons they became restless that “quickly turned to a restlessness better described as angst.” This is not an insignificant issue.

 

It may be why some in their darker, self-reflective moments some might perceive neo-Calvinism as cold and rigid. An aesthetic art form, but devoid of meaning and authenticity. A place where women are reduced to being submissive to the men of the Church, where LGBT people are vilified, where judgments are pronounced on God’s behalf.

 

Hurlbert mentions the great names: Edwards, Owen, Pink, Kuyper, Spurgeon, and Calvin. These are the names of influential men who had been ‘dead’ for decades or more, but who have had breath breathed back into them. This is the culture of the ‘restless’ Calvinism and the reformed tradition. This gospel that emerges emphasizes total depravity, and God’s ultimate glory (sovereignty) in all things. This type of Calvinism is dying says Hurlbert. The neo-Calvinist epoch has been measured perhaps. Hurlbert suggests there many factors why the “age of angst” might be over, but mentions three in particular.

 

Firstly, Hurlbert identifies the rise of homosexuality, and most particularly Gay marriage. This factor has been totally confrontational, and many Calvinists and Non-Calvinists have been forced to deal with the issue in their Churches. Many have had their hearts softened, realizing the brokenness of the human condition and the complexity of the issue. There simply is no time to fight the issue.

 

Secondly, Hurlbert sees Tullian Tchividjian’s departure from The Gospel Coalition as a real catalyst in the death of Calvinism. His is a complex story, but it revealed that the neo-Calvinists would marginalize their own. Hurlbert says, “Tchividjian had disagreed doctrinally with some of the other members of TGC, and eventually he was asked to leave. This type of Calvinism is divisive even among its own leaders.” This points back to the implicit network of control that exists between and across the neo-Calvinists, and those who provide support for certain doctrinal positions.

 

Lastly, Hurlbert identifies the controversy over Pastor Mark Driscoll, and the eventual closing of the Mars Hill network of Churches as a real issue. Hurlbert identifies closely with this issue as he says he was as serving in leadership in Orange County until the doors were closed. The main issue in this case, suggests Hurlbert, is that “practice became the crucible, not doctrine.” Driscoll’s actions, not beliefs, led to his downfall. Hurlbert says, “The angst over strong masculinity, reformed theology, and church growth, became points of contention to others. This angst produced malpractice, which ended up hurting a lot of people.”

 

Praxis and doctrine must align, and theology should inform doctrine and praxis. As Hurlbert says, “We have learned over these past few decades that theology is very important, but it must be connected with right practice. We have also learned that the world is really broken and supremely in need of the Gospel. We don’t even have the time to be angsty about supra or infralapsarianism. Instead, we should spend the time reaching out to our neighbors who don’t yet know Jesus.” Therefore, “The Age of Angst is over…it has devoured our own leaders, our own people, and has done nothing for those who aren’t our people. This type of Calvinism is dead. What stands on the horizon is a better type of Church, one that has both convictions and unity.”

 

Preston Sprinkle says that, “There’s no dispute. There are no conflicting reports. They all independently show—and anecdotal evidence confirms—that millennials who grew up in the church are leaving the church in droves.” He continues, “…if we accept these studies, we would affirm that only [* 8% (about 22 million) of Americans are genuine believers. ] This is a rather significant decrease from previous decades. In fact, if the trend continues—and the research on millennials shows that it’s continuing—only [ 4% of Americans will be genuine believers in 30 years from now. *]” [emphasis in the original.]

 

Writing for the Charisma News in 2014, Rob Schwarzwalder suggested many young people were abandoning the faith of their parents as they moved to college age. The reasons given for this, he suggests, are multiple: “They include such things as over-identification of older Evangelicals as angry Right-wingers who disdain homosexuals and are skeptical of global warming; a subculture that is unwelcoming to the young and secular; Christianity’s claim of exclusivity as to truth and salvation; and the general superficiality of the preaching and teaching.”

 

Schwarzwalder does, however, question any “pat” answers that may be arrived at for the reason for the drift out of the Church of the younger generation. He offers three reasons why the Church may not be engaging well. The third is as follows:

 

3. Evangelicalism has failed to articulate and advance the biblical view of human sexuality

 

In a recent letter to columnist Rod Dreher [an American writer and editor], a self-identified “ex-Evangelical,” a young man writes that he was never taught the theological bases of his tradition’s opposition to homosexuality. As he puts it,

 

In all the years I was a member, my evangelical church made exactly one argument about SSM. It’s the argument I like to call the Argument from Ickiness: Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worst kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.

When you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues, the moment ickiness no longer rings true with young believers, their faith is destroyed. This is why other young ex-evangelicals I know point as their “turning point” on gay marriage to the moment they first really got to know someone who was gay.

 

How eloquent, how correct, and how sad [says Schwarzwalder]. [emphasis in the original.]

 

Piper, as much as anyone, has systematically maintained and sustained the Old Testament Christian patriarchal model, where men rule and women are submissive. His name appears as an attendee of conferences, councils and such things that are associated with the greater network of complementarianism, literally over decades. All this means too many may slip too easily into patterns of abuse, as perpetrator and victim. Piper also has excellent support for his views in the broader Church, within and beyond Calvinism.

 

The men who run these greater bodies are bound into patriarchal Christianity by the politics of Church affairs. However, the Church universal is not a denomination. Believers will come from within many Churches. Piper may think he speaks for the many, but he does not, he speaks for a few. To the extent that he speaks some of his narratives carry hurt, or maintain and sustain such narratives as they are carried abroad to the wider Church. Not only to those who know Christ, but as a witness to the wider world. A witness that may mute the gospel message of Christ for sinners.

 

It is generally acknowledged that of the Seven churches of Asia Jesus reveals in Revelation 2 and 3, the Church of the latter days is the Church of Laodicea. Does it speak to us of this matter in any way? Revelation 3:14-22 (ESV) says:

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. 15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

 

Does it speak? Matthew Henry has an interesting perspective on these verses, for example:

How many professors of gospel doctrine are neither hot nor cold; except as they are indifferent in needful matters, and hot and fiery in disputes about things of lesser moment!” He continues, “They would give a false opinion of Christianity, as if it were an unholy religion; while others would conclude it could afford no real satisfaction, otherwise its professors would not have been heartless in it, or so ready to seek pleasure or happiness from the world. One cause of this indifference and inconsistency in religion is, self-conceit and self-delusion; ”Because thou sayest.” Professors grow proud, as they become carnal and formal. Their state was wretched in itself. They were poor; really poor, when they said and thought they were rich. They could not see their state, nor their way, nor their danger, yet they thought they saw it. They had not the garment of justification, nor sanctification: they were exposed to sin and shame; their rags that would defile them. They were naked, without house or harbour, for they were without God, in whom alone the soul of man can find rest and safety. Good counsel was given by Christ to this sinful people.

 

Proverbs 14:31 (NIV) tells us that, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Matthew 25:34-45 (NIV) continues:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

 

In Matthew 5:3 (NIV) Jesus says, ““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”” Who are the poor in spirit? Perhaps it is this very singular state: “Happy is he who gains the knowledge of the first cause of all things; who can trample on every fear, and the doctrine of inexorable Fate; and who is not terrified by death, nor by the threatened torments of the invisible world! (Adam Clark)”

 

We are not under the influence of the fates (predestination) or of chance (randomness), but instead our steps are ordered because of our Love of Christ, to be transformed into His likeness.

 

Heresy?

 

Jeremy Myers, over many years, went from being a five-point Calvinist to finally abandoning all points, and is now a non-Calvinist. This journey was an, as he says, “exciting but scary time.” The abandonment of anything ‘certain’ is very difficult. Myers makes the point: “It is exceedingly rare to find a defence of Calvinism which actually deals with the documented beliefs and ideas of Calvinistic opponents. A typical Calvinistic defence seems to consist of stating the Calvinistic beliefs, quoting numerous Calvinistic authors, and referencing several biblical texts which seem to support the Calvinistic perspectives.”

 

This is an important point that goes directly to the insularity of Calvinism generally, and therefore, arguably, the neo-Calvinists. For example, just to repeat David Bradshaw’s referencing of God, “…who is perfectly simple and fully actual, [but] seems to be locked within a box from which he cannot escape in order to interact in any meaningful way with his creatures.” So it is for the neo-Calvinist.

 

In part this is simply because for different theologies words have different meaning. I do not imagine this paper being one to engage the insular neo-Calvinist. If they did engage the very real problem is they would attempt to deal with things from the perspective of their own theology. To do so means that there is simply no meeting of the minds in a useful way. Insularity means an unwillingness to be subject to the discipline of discussion on a level playing field with an agreed understanding of the terms of debate.

 

Myers makes the general point on his Redeeming God “About” page that many are enslaved by religion through scripture and theology. He says, “When you understand Scripture and theology as God meant it, you are freed to live life in relationship God, rather than under the control of religion.” Myers points out that God is in the business of redemption, but suggests that in some instances God too must be redeemed: “We have tried to enslave God, and we must liberate Him from the prison of our minds if we are ever going to understand Him and follow Him into true life.” Our minds and our theology I suggest.

 

“I believe”, says Myers, “that this is why Jesus came to live among us. God is not sinful and so does not need redemption in that manner, but humanity has terrible ideas about God, and God wants to reveal Himself to us as He really is; not as who we think He is. So by revealing God to us, Jesus has redeemed God. That is, Jesus has redeemed our understanding of God.” [emphasis in the original.]

 

The “sovereign God” that is in complete control of absolutely every molecule in the universe at every single moment is supposedly made apparent in the assumptions of the rhetorical mote trope. This, however, is the point at which the sovereignty of God becomes ‘stuck’. Fortunately, the wisdom of God is well able to rise above such things (1 Corinthians 1:22-25 ESV): “22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

 

Is neo-Calvinism as cold and rigid? It is, of course, the oxymoronic world of “Christian patriarchy”, where the Old Testament and New Testament teaching of predestination remains constant. Tulip reinforces all this, providing the theater glasses for viewing a version of the scriptures that differs from the early Church and the Church fathers. It is a view in which the mosaic law, and patriarchy stands inviolate. Piper takes it Tulip a step further of course.

 

For Piper and others, Tulip is regarded as Christ inspired doctrine, therefore God is revealed and rendered “sovereign. The Tulip view of Genesis 3, and the notion of moral depravity constructed there, reinforces the doctrine of Tulip itself. In this circular logic God is locked in a Tulip shaped box, and the key is hidden in Genesis 3.

 

The weaknesses and flaws in Calvinist theology are occurring at deep structural levels. Calvinism starts with the complete sovereignty of God, while in fact it should end there. The author of the Grit In The Oyster site makes a useful observation regarding God’s sovereignty, “By starting where it should end, it collapses the space in which the story might unfold. It has an anti-narrative bent, a static tendency, built-in. There is no deep significance to time in the Calvinist worldview. Whatever time it is, at the deepest level all is well, for every molecule is following the predetermined will of God. And so all times are fundamentally the same time.”

 

God’s descriptions of creation were to establish that He is THE Elohim from everlasting. That there is none beside Him. The stories of creation are not necessarily scientific, but they are meant to bring to nothing the false gods and philosophies men worshipped and constructed. Genesis 1 and John 1 in particular firmly establish Christ, the Logos, as the agent of all creation. Creation is the starting point of God’s work. It is significant, but it is a reference point, and He chooses to reveal only a certain amount of detail.

Christ, the sovereign creator God, became flesh and walked among us, as one of us. However, as established, Christ’s divine nature cannot imply passivity, when He lay down His life and went to the cross. To describe Christ as being “killed” speaks to his human nature, which would necessitate predestination.

 

For Jesus, who walked among us, and spoke daily with men and women, also healed people, cast out demons, raised people from the dead, and forgave sins, among the many miracles done for us. All by His own divine nature, office and contingent authority, for He did the will of His Father, and they were as one. That Jesus did His Father’s will did not alter in any way, at any time, the very notion of Him as Lord of all (Philippians 2:10).

 

The authority that establishes a system of theology as orthodox demands more than a relatively contemporized socio-religious politics. A politics that created a sort of theological pseudo-certainty by seeking to neutralize other players in the culture wars, perhaps as Calvin sought to remove the Pope’s right to determine eternal life. Winning socio-religious political and culture wars only ensures that the possibility of any delusion and false doctrine created, such as any theological lie built from neo-Platonist, humanist, gnostic origins, is firmly established, and therefore ongoing (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

 

Every Calvinist who says there is more to Calvinism that Tulip must stare long and hard into the darkness of Piper’s assertion that Christ Himself is the author of the “doctrines of grace”. A level of authority is thereby given that is from the sovereign God Himself , for if Christ is the author of Tulip surely everyone who wishes to called a Christian must accept it is so? It might be reasonably asked, however, what does the early Church, and the early Church fathers, teach regarding such matters?

 

Of course, the reality is, that every theology reconstructs history in its own image, so unless a very detailed appeal is made to history, it become impossible to prove, one way or the other. Nevertheless, the weight of research seems to support that scripture stands alone, and Tulip has no place in the Christian experience.

 

Everything goes back to the beginning, and all Calvinist thought, certainly neo-Calvinist thought, is locked into Genesis 3. Calvinist theology is a construction to deal with the concept of “original sin.” With an understanding of that point of our history, and the Calvinist rendering of our total, absolute, and complete depravity, then their systematic theology starts to make sense. Predestination is necessary so that God can even break through to make contact with us. The background socio-religious politics of Calvin against the Roman Catholic Church is lost beneath a cultural landscape that obscures such artifacts of knowledge.

 

Such difficulties rest in the likelihood that “original sin”, rather than a notion of ancestral sin, is a pernicious lie. Ancestral sin is embedded in the very doctrine of Christ coming in the flesh, and in that manner becoming one of us, just like us. The suggestion then that the sovereign God “killed” His Son is something from which anyone who has a true grasp of the sovereign God, might shrink. But some, without due humility and care, step into such terrain imprudently.

 

Why? Perhaps because in the flesh we are drawn to the law, and the law was established to multiply sin. Not that there is anything wrong with the law, but we cannot keep it, and Christ fulfilled the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). The love of the law lingers, however, and sin takes every opportunity to make the law a “bridgehead” to wage war against us, and to take us prisoner wherever and whenever possible. Death rides with sin, which is why Christ came, to defeat the works of the devil, defeat death, and free those death had taken captive (1 John 3:8, Ephesians 4:8). Matthew 6:13 (NIV) reminds us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

 

To embrace the law is more than to sin, it is an embodiment of sin. It is to remain firmly rooted in the Old Testament. God’s sovereignty is Old Testament, but He has moved all attention to His Son, and Jesus is to be our focus. Jesus, gentle and lowly of heart, with His free offer of eternal life to all men and women (Matthew 11:29-30).

 

For the neo-Calvinist under Piper, God’s sovereignty is presupposed, Jesus is “killed”, and His death ascension, and resurrection is accounted for. But all this is established without the absolutely wonderful significance and meaning that should be attached to it. Which is what? A significant change from the Old Testament Mosaic view to the joy and love of the New Testament Church. The Church is God the Father’s great ingathering of sons and daughters, and Jesus’ brothers and sisters, for whosoever believes. Predestination potentially overrules the reality of the conversation Jesus wants with each of us regarding His free gift of salvation.

 

God spoke to Cain, man to man, just as Christ spoke to the penitent thief. Indeed, God strives too with the impenitent, just as He did with Cain. God reasoned with him, as He does with every living soul. God reasoned with Cain, to no avail, yet even after sin found him, and he committed his terrible crime, God still intervened and interceded for him, protecting him during his lifetime. God is our great and interventionist Savior. He simply transcends in every way any Calvinist notion of sovereignty.

 

Jesus came to be a ransom for us, to defeat principalities and powers, to set the captives of death free, and give gifts (Matthew 20:28, Colossians 2:15, Ephesians 4:8). There seems then a disjunction here between Piper’s neo-Calvinist theology, and orthodoxy. Is Piper’s theology heretical? Is it a false gospel, or anti-gospel? To answer that it is necessary to establish how far it is removed from orthodoxy.

 

In a review of Olson’s book, Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church, McKnight cites a section where Olson comments regarding Piper:

Piper is bold in proclaiming the absolute sovereignty of God to the point of preaching that even if a “dirty bomb” fell on a city it would be from God. Whenever a disaster or calamity happens, including one that involves sin and innocent suffering, Piper boldly proclaims that it is “from God.” He does not mean that God directly caused the perpetrators to sin—especially not against their own perverse wills. However, even their perverse wills are under the control of God’s sovereignty. Nowhere does Piper say that God is the author of sin and evil, but it seems fair to assume that he agrees with Edwards (134).

 

Johnson, for example, says that Calvinists are Christian, but with a doctrine that is far from ideal. Johnson makes the point, which I believe Olson also does, along with Boettner, that unless you are a five-point Calvinist, then you are not truly a Calvinist. Johnson cautions, however, that: “…anyone can see, since the Scriptures do not teach Calvinism, the doctrine of the five-pointers (or seven) is based on a known cult and this false doctrine should be silenced.”

 

Olson says of Piper’s view regarding God’s sovereignty and sin, “I will not say Piper is not a Christian; I will only say that his view is worse, far, far worse, than open theism.” McKnight cites Olson: “In my opinion, and many other Christians’ opinions, making God the author of sin and evil is heresy. Most Reformed, Calvinist Christians do not fall into that.” Further, “It would seem, then, that all forms of divine determinism are on the precipice of heresy even if only calling God the author of sin and evil is outright heresy (136).”

 

All this and a number of other points raised earlier certainly raise doubts. The real question of whether heresy is a factor comes down to a matter of authority, and that is a broader question for the broader Church to address. While all that is serious enough, my particular concern is the hurt Piper brings to the broader community, upheld as he is, by the neo-Calvinists.

 

Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) reminds us, “13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”” Is the neo-Calvinist still salty? Perhaps a plea to the Belgic Confession, “Article 29: Of the marks of the true Church, and wherein she differs from the false Church” might be in order:

We believe, that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church. But we speak not here of hypocrites, who are mixed in the Church with the good, yet are not of the Church, though externally in it; but we say that the body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects, who call themselves the Church. The marks, by which the true Church is known, are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.

 

While Piper is one who makes much of the sovereignty of God for the purpose of predestination, does he adhere to the word of God? Tulip is the overlay, the iconographic template that interprets scripture. It is one thing that this does harm to himself, his followers, but if that were not bad enough, and perhaps despite what Piper and his followers assume, the broader Church does not belong to the neo-Calvinist. The real issue with Piper and the neo-Calvinists is the praxis of their theology. The things that actually have the effect of hurting people deliberately, and intentionally. The women who have no voice in the Church, or worse, suffer domestic abuse through the impact of complementarianism.

 

Jenny Rae Armstrong, in an article about “Calvinism, Control Freaks, and the Sovereignty of God,” asks, “Is it possible that the Neo-Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God creates a culture where authority is valued over submission? Where the strong are not only justified in but called to rule over the weak and vulnerable? Where right MUST make might, or risk being compromised?” This, she says, “…is the point where theology slams into praxis, where philosophy and personality become hard to disentangle.”

 

The vilification of many of those for who Christ died; instead of outreach with the gospel a holier-than-thou attitude prevails. The attribution of disasters and acts of evil directly as God’s judgments, instead of perhaps seeing them as “Acts of God”, impacts on Church witness, and may damage the faith of some. Lastly, making a joke, albeit a half joke, of those supposedly on some list drawn from the foundation of the world, many of whom may be loved ones, are eternally damned.

 

Piper a significant driver of such praxis, but all these factors reach far wider than just the neo-Calvinists. I contend this praxis is based on theology that misses the target, therefore without warrant. I find it amazing, for example, that on a website someone will admit that they have been told how offensive calling same-sex people “sodomites” is, but being aware do it all the more deliberately because of the perception of what a great “sin” it is in their eyes. There is, it seems to me, something badly amiss when “Christians” do such things. Sadly, such attitudes then reinforce the discourse of hate that is all too prevalent.

 

Piper may not be responsible for every instance of these issues, but he has for many years, even decades, contributed persistently and consistently, with great deliberation, to the development of such doctrinal positions, and also offers, at the very least, implicit support to similar approaches from others. For example, there is a wider, and very powerful socio-religious alliance that form a bloc to tightly bind women, and generally make the LGBT community a moral scourge. For example, Piper loosely aligns with the evangelical right, and the Mormons, not only theologically in some instances, but in their general forays into the arena of civil law and the political arena.

 

Matthew 7:16 (ESV) tells us, “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Piper uses doctrine in a wide sense to “club” people, but claims the cross. A theology that stands, at the very least, at the precipice of heresy, and punishes people must be questioned. Not only on the basis of the theology, but the praxis of that theology. What is the neo-Calvinist theology and its praxis? The theology is questionable, it is also cold and rigid, and it hurts people, some badly.

 

Piper dresses as a lamb, but does not speak with the Savior’s voice. Not the Savior I know anyway. Piper has a discourse, and there are narratives within that discourse that he selects and uses to cut and hurt. I am aware of the possibility that with the examples I have extracted from Piper’s work that he mis-spoke, and the meaning may be not as it came across. However, on reflection, I am certain Piper does not mis-speak, his theology is clearly woven throughout the fabric of his texts.

 

What is Christ’s discourse?

 

Finding an Ending

 

Piper is a very gifted and talented man, of that there can be no doubt. He obviously has always moved easily through the Church matrix, as a socio-religious political warrior in the culture wars. To this end he dresses as a lamb, and carries doctrines with which he “clubs” people. Perhaps his days as a vanguard for the neo-Calvinists are numbered, who knows.

 

Perhaps too, many, if not most neo-Calvinists have good intent. It is not my purpose or my place to say whether Piper’s theology means he is heretical or not, and therefore by default many of his adherents. My only purpose has been to deconstruct the neo-Calvinist theology, because I believe that it is a very bad theology underpinning a very bad praxis. A praxis that carries the potential and actuality of being punishing far too many people. The neo-Calvinist reality is too often realized in hurtful and negative praxis, because scripture, through the lens of Tulip, begets a certain theology that turns into opportunistic ideology.

 

In part this all this meshes with some of the greater Church networks. However, because of Tulip, which skews the theology, the resultant ideology is evident in ways that distances the neo-Calvinists from mainstream Christianity. Piper is a prime mover of contemporary complementarianism, which is tied deeply and irrevocably to Genesis 3, the root of our every sense of good and evil. This is the point of course, the neo-Calvinists perpetuate the patriarchal punishment of Genesis 3, overlooking who we were, and missing what we have become in Christ. That the husband “rules” over his wife was a punishment for sin. Such things are “finished.”

 

Genesis 3 is the root of good and evil. It provides the patriarchal sap that nourishes complementarianism. For every pastor who declares it our sisters may be hurt. For every sister who embraces it another may be abused. Genesis 3 also provides the patriarchal sap for many accepting that same-sex (LGBT) people can reasonably be labeled “sodomites”, an abomination, and therefore shunned by the neo-Calvinist Church.

 

Genesis 3 is the sap that drives the neo-Calvinist shibboleth of a version of God’s sovereignty, which becomes the theological catch all, the answer to their every conundrum. It is Piper’s platform to declare that natural and man initiated disasters and tragedies are judgments of God.

 

Genesis 3 is the sap for seven-point Calvinism, with its double predestination, which Piper embraces, with a chuckle. How tragic that is. Genesis 3 is the sap that nourishes the Tulip, remembering too, as Piper suggests, it is the “magnificent Christ who is the author of the “doctrines of grace.”” The question is, which sap is it, the good or the evil, and is Christ really the author? I suggest He Christ is not, which leaves only one conclusion that can be drawn as to whether they are good or evil.

 

Where, it may be asked, is the focus on men loving their wives, and giving them the respect and dignity necessary as Christians? The ideology of rule and submission, of discipline, is too easily extrapolated from marriage to the Church as a whole. Piper has for decades seemingly been involved in all movements that fosters such things. Unless he is naive he will understand clearly what is involved.

 

If, for example, he or his pastors were to claim indignation that they are unlike other Churches in their complementarian ways is disingenuous in the extreme. Will they also regard same-sex people as sinners like all of us who seek the safety and refuge of the body of Christ?

 

Neo-Calvinist praxis is bad in the sense that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not being lived out for the world to see. The shackles of sin, and the demands of the punishment of Genesis 3, were broken about 2000 years ago when the Word of God, entered time and space, being born of woman as the Lord Jesus Christ. The Trinity in unity, foreknowing the fall of mankind, were unified in Jesus allowing Himself to lay down his life, and to take it up again. Jesus is our redeemer, drawing all of mankind to Himself, and for all that believe He gives eternal life.

 

The evidence suggests, I submit, that Pipers Neo-Calvinism is a pitiless place, relieved only by the supposed humor of his chuckle about double predestination, because of, one assumes, the billions that are going to eternal damnation. Does the devil chuckle too? What a terrible tragedy. Was Christ was crucified needlessly? Did He not die for all? Was his precious blood shed in vain?

 

“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.” (Hebrews 2:3 KJV).

 

CONCLUSION

 

What is the key to unwinding the theology and doctrines, the ideology of neo-Calvinism? In Genesis 3 there were three protagonists: the Word, who was the pre-incarnate Christ, Satan, and mankind. When Jesus was on earth how many protagonists were there? One answer could be, it depends. Another answer could be that there still three. Certainly, the same three protagonists were present, except of course, the Word was now Jesus, the Christ. The difference was that the uncreated creator was now one of His creation. The creator was now a man, and in that sense there were two protagonists.

 

Christ, however, was the “second Adam”, and in this sense Christ was truly man and truly God, with a human will and a divine will, working together synergistically. However, Jesus was in the same flesh as us. Conceived of woman he could not have been sinful in the womb, for if He were He would have totally depraved, and needed to have been predestinated to be one of the elect to be in concert with His Father. But the scriptures assure us He was sinless (John 8:29, 1 Peter 2:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 3:5). He withstood temptation and was therefore a perfect sacrifice for our redemption.

 

Jesus was conceived of a woman, a sinner, as are we all, but He was not born a sinner. We are like Christ, for we are flesh just as Jesus was, and we are not born sinners either. However, unlike Christ our flesh draws us to sin, and we inevitably fall. Christ died to draw all mankind to Himself instead. There is support in Genesis 3. With the fall of mankind they were removed from Eden and punishments administered. There is no mention or hint of total depravity, and the subsequent need for one to be predestined to know God. On the contrary, the Word said (Genesis 3:22 KJV), “…Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.”

 

Therefore, the neo-Calvinist notion of total depravity is, like their notion of creation itself, a shibboleth. The presentation of the sovereignty of God, which has become a catchall answer to any and all Calvinist conundrums, which locks God into a box, is also a shibboleth. The sovereignty of God hides, obfuscates, occludes, and otherwise leads people from the truth. The key to the box God is locked into is found in Genesis 2-3, for that is the root of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Mankind knows good and evil. We know and understand how evil we have become. The list of murder, rape and sex trades of (particularly) women and children, anti-Semitism, the drug trade, pogroms, holocausts, and genocides is a long and fearfully awful one. Nevertheless, we cannot simply apply the take the evil and ignore the good we have remaining, that would be simply disingenuous. At least to argue for sufficient free will to turn to God.

 

The notion of predestination was set in motion for socio-religious political reasons. In order to make that work mankind had to be rendered totally depraved. With such an ideology now established over the top of historical theology God needed to become sovereign in absolutely every aspect of the multiverse, right down to the the singularity at the center of a black hole. It is not that any of these things are necessarily untrue, in part, but a cluster of assumptions are the only things holding the ideology together. There are a number of Calvinist notions, such as total depravity, predestination, the sovereignty of God, and Tulip, and more, that are religiously constructed narratives, woven into a tightly enunciated neo-Calvinist discourse.

 

Piper’s neo-Calvinism has constructed an ideology on top of a theology that is heinous in its praxis. He is a prince of the neo-Calvinist Cathedral with cold, bleak and censorious corridors. Tulip, the eyeglasses the Calvinist wear in their viewing of the “theater of God” must be removed, so salve can be applied to their eyes, to truly see the truth.

 

Scripture is not an end in itself, it is given to reveal Jesus, the Savior of the world to whomsoever will believe. Scripture is a rich tapestry woven of Jewish fiber, to clothe us in a pure salvation until we receive the white robes Jesus Himself has prepared for us. For Jesus is the Logos, the believers true discourse, as described in Revelation 1:16 (NIV): “In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”

 

Christ (Revelation 19:11-13 ESV), “…is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is “The Word of God.”

 

Jesus, our brother, is the righteousness of God. He is the sovereign ruler, and He alone judges and makes war. None of us should declare judgments on His behalf, for that is the prerogative of the one who has been given ALL authority, in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). If a neo-Calvinist discourse makes the sovereignty of God the great tautology, and fails to acknowledge the majesty of the Christ, who has been granted such authority, then that discourse can rightly be questioned. Christ is Lord, and He will not be locked in any box.

 

Therefore, the really good news of Matthew 11:28 (ESV) is, ““Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” …and [He also] said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 ESV).” Why must we become like children? Jesus explains (John 3:7 NIV), “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”

 

Romans 2:29 tells us that both men and women share in a circumcision through the work of Christ at the cross. In Christ we undergo an ethical renewal as our old self is cut away, and we put on our new humanity in Christ (Longman and Reid). The Adamic self is cast off, and a new self, that is defined by the New Adam, Christ, becomes ours. This is the second birth. The circumcision of the heart is the casting off of the flesh we inhabit, in which sin gains its foothold because the law is a “bridgehead to wage war against us.” The same law condemns us all. 1 Corinthians 15:53 (NIV) is the promise that for believers this perishable flesh we presently inhabit will be clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

 

2 Corinthians 5 (NIV) reassures us of promises made that will be kept, which is eternal life:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. [emphasis added.]

 

This is why Paul assures us in Galatians 3:28 (NIV) that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Unlike the patriarchal arrangements of the Old Testament where only the men were circumcised, in the New Testament arrangements we are all, with Christ, brothers and sisters. We share the circumcision as a guarantee of our new imperishable body. It may make for an awkward moment for a woman to declare in mixed company that she has had a circumcision, of the heart. But that’s the reality, and it is truly a “Hallelujah!” exhortation of praise! To belief on Christ, and receive the circumcision of the heart is to have eternal life. We cannot fall, we cannot be taken out of Jesus’ care.

 

God is not the author of evil (1 John 1:5-9 ESV) for it says, “5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

 

Christian egalitarianism is New Testament model for the Church. LGBT believers are, as are we all, sinners saved by Christ, and their rightful place must be found. The gospel should be made clear to all others with love, in the same manner as Jesus loved us first.

 

“24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 1:22-25 ESV).”

 

REFERENCES

Anspach, J. (2009).Calvin’s Disciples, Then And Now. [online] Western Reformed Seminary – Personal Touch, Pastoral Vision – “In Spirit and in truth” John 4:24. Available at: http://www.wrs.edu/calvin%e2%80%99s-disciples-then-and-now/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2015].

Armstrong, J.R. (2014). Calvinism, Control Freaks, and the Sovereignty of God | Jenny Rae Armstrong | Red Letter Christians. [online] Red Letter Christians. Available at: http://www.redletterchristians.org/calvinism-control-freaks-sovereignty-god/ [Accessed 22 Dec. 2015].

Bailey, S. (2013). Billy Graham’s Grandson Reveals Major Evangelical Scandal. [online] The Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/01/protestant-sex-abuse-boz-tchividijian_n_4019347.html [Accessed 19 Dec. 2015].

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Against [neo-]Calvinism: Deconstructing Theology and Praxis

This book is a deconstruction of the theology and praxis of a part, or group, within the greater Calvinist, or Reformed community, and the universal Church in general. This is the theology and praxis of John Piper, and the following he has attracted among the “Young, Restless, Reformed”. This part, or group, is given the name of “neo-Calvinists”, because it has constructed a contemporized theology and praxis. The book proposes that they have a particular ideology, and as such it may be perceived as contra–indicated. A general deconstruction of the neo-Calvinist theology is undertaken, particularly the “Tulip” mnemonic, the sovereignty of God, “original sin”, total depravity, and predestination, and this is juxtaposed against praxis. The book suggests that the neo-Calvinist theology misses the target, with clearly perceived leakage into praxis, and visa-versa. If, individually, or corporately, we are known by our fruits, then the book explores whether the neo-Calvinists not fulfil the New Testament obligation to build up, and provide safe harbor for the saints. The book suggests systemic failure for the women of the Church, and the same-sex or LGBT[Q] community. The neo-Calvinists support a much wider network within the wider Church who cling to Old Testament patriarchal standards, and exhibit heterosexism. This is revealed in the submission of women in the Church, which produces fertile ground for abuse. On the other hand the same-sex and LGBT[Q] community are simply too difficult to deal with at best, or vilified at worst. The neo-Calvinist theology is judgmental, because of the notion of double-predestination. A range of topics are canvassed so as to underscore the notion of an ideology built on a theology to determine a certain praxis. The question is also asked, how does this fit with the faith of the church fathers. Overall the book attempts to show that the theology and praxis fails to fulfil the wider Church’s New Testament obligation to spread the good news gospel of Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, the good news of Jesus, the Savior of whosoever believes.

  • ISBN: 9781310596865
  • Author: Rick Dale
  • Published: 2015-12-30 04:05:12
  • Words: 60581
Against [neo-]Calvinism: Deconstructing Theology and Praxis Against [neo-]Calvinism: Deconstructing Theology and Praxis