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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Signs You Haven't Experienced Gospel Wakefulness | Main | So You Fell? So What? Run Christian, Run! »

    Does it Make God a Moral Monster if He Ordains All that Comes to Pass?

    A short response to Roger Olson by John Hendryx

    One of the major premises of Roger Olson's new book "Against Calvinism" is his declaration that classic Reformed doctrine of meticulous providence makes God into a moral monster, or worse, indistinguishable from the devil. He asserts that the Calvinist cannot consistently affirm that God ordains all that comes to pass, including the wicked acts of men, without also making God the author of sin.

    Does it follow? Not in the least. The charge that it makes God a moral monster if the God of Scripture ordains all things, even the wicked acts of men, rests ultimately on the assumption that unless we can explain his actions then we may sit in judgment upon Him. In other words, the charge rests purely upon rationalism and extra-biblical logic. We acknowledge that we cannot explain all of God's secret acts since God has chosen not to reveal many things about Himself. But one very prominent feature of the Bible is that it frequently declares that God meticulously ordains all that comes to pass (Eph 1:11) AND that men are responsible for their actions. One major example sticks out: the greatest sin ever committed by men in history -- the crucifixion of Jesus ---when the Apostle Peter, preaching at Pentecost declares:

    "...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." (Acts 2:23)

    and two chapters later in Acts it again says:

    "...both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." (Acts 4:27-28)

    Isaiah 53 also says

    "...it was the will of the LORD to crush [bruise] him"

    The Bible itself testifies, in plain language, that God ordained evil men to crucify Jesus. Yet "lawless men" are 100% responsible for carrying it out. So those who embrace the Bible as authoritative need to be able to develop a theology which fits that into their view. While you may not understand it, you must yield to what the Scripture teaches regarding God's meticulous hand of providence in all things, and His blamelessness in doing them. And just as the crucifixion of Jesus was was not done without purpose, but for a greater good, so God tell us that all things (including evil events) work for good of those who love God (Rom 8:28-30). So these things are not thoughtlessly ordained without any purpose. It would perhaps only make God a moral monster if He allowed the evil, but that its existence was ultimately meaningless or done for the sake of cruelty itself. But we know God, in His perfect wisdom, sees beyond this fleeting world to the ultimate conclusion to these matters.

    There are countless examples like this in the Bible. For instance, when disaster struck Job and his family at the behest of Satan, Job did not look to second causes but acknowledged that "the Lord gives and the Lord takes away." And the text says that "in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong." ( Job 1:22).

    The fatal flaw in Olson's argument flows mostly from his insistence that Calvinists must somehow explain this philosophically or else we are being inconsistent, or worse, make God into a monster. But I would argue to the contrary: since the Bible holds forth our highest presuppositions, the most consistent position possible is to yield to the Bible's teaching that both God's sovereignty and human responsibility are true. God does not tell us much about HOW he can ordain evil acts while not being guilty of evil, only shows many examples where He does so for a greater purpose, often to remind people of the human condition and need for God. Ultimately it may be a mystery for human beings to understand at the time, yet crystal clear as regards to its established truth in the Bible.

    Likewise, nowhere in the Bible did God call us to work out the details of this doctrine by philosophical means, or pry into the secret things of God. Rather He calls us to be faithful to the Text that says God ordains all things, even evil, and that, at the same time, God is blameless in doing so. That He ordains sin sinlessly. I do not have to hold these truths together rationally (according to human knowledge) or philosophically but because they are axiomatic in the Bible. My understanding the intricacies of how this comes about is secondary. God is God. DO our finite minds have to understand HOW He does this in order for it to be true?

    It appears that, ultimately, Olson's objections to this are moral and philosophical rather than exegetical. He is, therefore, basing his considerations and thus his theological foundations on sand. The conclusions we reach, I would contend, must be based on what the Scripture says. For the alternative is to draw our highest presuppositions from something other than an authoritative source, such as unaided human reason. It is of utmost importance that he come up with exegetical grounds for his position, rather than base his theology on an emotional reaction.

    I honestly cringe for Olson when he says that if God ordains evil events then God is indistinguishable from the devil, because the Bible declares that God does ordain all events, and also declares that he does so blamelessly, i.e. without sin. And if our theology is biblical, (and I believe it is) then Dr. Olson ends up calling God a monster or worse, the devil.

    Note: It should be a given for Christians, that due to the fall, all human beings are not safe from temporal and eternal punishment. Why should it, therefore, so surprise Olson that God justly exercises this authority during our lives? Judgement has already begun east of Eden and we all are subject to death. So nothing (no suffering) should surprise us here except for the great mercy He has shown us in Jesus Christ. Regarding the Tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4), Jesus declared that it did not fall on people for their particular sin(s) because they were somehow worse that others, but as a sign in this fallen world that we are all ill-deserving sinners, under a curse who need to repent and receive the mercy of Jesus Christ. Don't be surprised that the tower fell on those people - let it be a sober reminder that you deserve the same.

    Related Resources
    The Secret Providence of God by John Calvin
    Letter from Visitor on Calvinism, Evil and God's Holiness by John Hendryx
    Does God Elect Persons Based on Their Foreseen Faith? By John Hendryx
    The Inconsistency of Synergists on Election & Foreknowledge edited article by WithChrist.org (shows how Arminians cannot believe in God's exhaustive forknowledge and be consistent)
    Testing Roger Olson's Depth of Exegesis: 1 Timothy 2:4 by James White
    Seven Things the Bible Says About Evil by Johnathon Bowers
    Does Calvinism Make God a "Moral Monster"? by Michael Horton

    Now available at Monergism Books
    "For Calvinism" by Michael Horton and "Against Calvinism" by Roger Olson
    . (Book)

    Posted by John on November 20, 2011 10:59 AM

    Comments

    It seems to me that if the fall is as the Bible says it is, then man is a morally incapable creature. The first point of Calvinism. To not believe God, is in and of itself evil, and because of that "free will" choice in the garden, evil is a rational effect from the cause of man's fall (man's choice, not God's) when he chose not to believe God. Evil would seem to me to be the rational result of the fall and that God in His common grace holds back evil, and in His sovereign grace saves His elect from eternal evil. Evil is a necessary effect of man causing it to happen and we must live with it here as a logical outcropping of the only real human "free will" choice ever made, which was choosing to not believe God. Evil in this fallen world is traceable to man and his "free will" choices.

    Dennis,

    Indeed, man, due to his voluntary choice to rebel against God, is completely responsible for the results of the fall. Since the fall, man is in bondage to sin and thus, only a force more powerful than man's natural resources, can save man out of this bondage.

    John

    John,
    But man didn't voluntarily choose to rebel. He did so because God ordained that he rebel. Man can't choose anything, everything has been decided by God's choice alone. Therefore, man isn't at all responsible for his sin in the strictest sense, but it doesn't matter because it is irrelevant. God, and God alone, has already chosen people to burn in hell for eternity, it has nothing to do with their choice. Right?

    John Calvin dealt with the same thoughts in his "The Secret Providence of God" - he answered those thoughts very well and it is interesting that these same arguments have to be rehashed all the time - maybe someone just wants 15 minutes of fame.

    John Boyd

    I would argue that most all of our choices ARE voluntary and not coerced. They are ordained by God but our choices were not made against our will, kicking and screaming. The opposite of "voluntary" is "coerced" and this is certainly not a description of how our choices are made, even if ordained by God.

    Calvin said it well in his bondage and liberation of the will:

    "...we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined." (John Calvin, BLW pp 69, 70)

    @Larry, the arguments are re-hashed all the time because the Arminian does not think it has been answered and they lead 1000s of their congregants in this type of thinking, so there will always be people out there who do not know the arguments.

    A couple of things, then.

    First: "...For the alternative is to draw our highest presuppositions from something other than an authoritative source, such as unaided human reason. ..."

    ""...such as unaided human reason."

    Bingo! In order to understand even that there are some things we just are not going to understand, we will need God's aid.

    Jesus did say He was going to send the Holy Spirit to us to render that sort of aid necessary to live in the Peace available through the Cross without understanding all mysteries we wrestle with in this life.

    Second, just a thought about evil from this perspective. There are two prayers I suppose everyone involved are glad that God answers?

    Luk 23:34 And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments.


    ...

    Act 7:59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
    Act 7:60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

    I believe it is safe to conclude all involved know all to well whether or not God answered those prayers?

    There are three things that the Bible records, in regards to free choice.
    1. God is Sovereign
    2. Man is responsible
    3. We have no idea how to integrate the two into one cohesive system.

    Todd

    I agree wholeheartedly with the first two. But the third I think we can have a pretty clear glimpse of how this is true.

    If I borrow $10 million to fund my new company but squander it in a week of wild living in Las Vegas, my inability to repay the debt to the bank does not alleviate me of the responsibility to do so. Likewise, in Adam, I am responsible to obey the commands of God perfectly. If that fails I am responsible to obey the command to believe the gospel. My inability to do either does not alleviate me of the responsibility to do so. Both obedience to the law and gospel are not possible without renewal of heart. God must be sovereign in doing so if I am to be saved. If I owe a debt I cannot repay, inability does not alleviate responsibility. God's standard for us does not change after the fall. But he can still sovereignly come to us in his mercy to save us in Christ.

    John


    Are you saying that being a slave of sin means that man has no free will?

    I have never read or heard anyone make a Biblical case that the will of man is in bondage. Can you do that in a post?

    Jim

    Consider this question ....If the natural man has a free will to believe the gospel, then why does he need grace? If his will is naturally free then it would do away with the need for grace altogether.

    See these quotes by Luther:

    http://www.reformationtheology.com/2011/02/i_dont_want_free_will_by_marti.php

    http://www.reformationtheology.com/2005/12/martin_luther_on_the_bondage_o_1.php

    I did not see a Biblical basis for teaching a man is born with a "bound will" in the articles you gave. My understanding is that Martin Luther equated being a slave of sin with bondage of the will. Here is a quote you included.

    "For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?" Martin Luther BW pg. 149

    Was any man set free from slavery to sin before men were baptized into Christ's death (not water baptism), being crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be destroyed THAT WE SHOULD NOT SERVE SIN(Rom. 6:1-6)?

    Martin Luther begins with the assumption that a man's will is bound when a man is a slave of sin. He does not present verses which specifically teaches that a man's will is bound. He taught that baptismal regeneration was the grace which freed the will. Which is logically odd, because what grace freed the will in the OT then, before men were baptized?

    I do not believe that the Bible teaches that a man's will is bound. That is why I asked you to present your Biblical basis for this teaching in a blog. Is there something more than Martin Luther's belief that a slave of sin equals a bound will?

    As to grace and faith, Paul states that we have our introduction BY FAITH INTO THE GRACE in which we stand (Rom. 5:2).

    Jim,

    Grace goes before AND grace goes after. Your isolated Rom 5:2 text is right insofar as as it goes but your out-of-context usage of it does not give one shred of proof that grace, therefore, never comes before faith as well. The biblical evidence for God's extending grace both before and after faith is so overwhelming that I almost hate to waste my time actually making this argument - something that even a schoolchild can see in the text, with all due respect. Rom 5:2 merely is speaking of the grace of salvation which comes through faith, which we all readily acknowledge. It appears however that you deny the other side of what the Bible teaches which is that grace goes before faith as well. that no one can come to Jesus unless God first grants it (John 6:65).

    It appears you are trying to convince me that the Bible teaches that a man can come to faith in Jesus Christ apart from any grace and apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. But the evidence is so overwhelming in the Bible for man's need for grace in order to believe, that it is an established truth that has already been determined. Apart from grace man remains in bondage to sin and will not believe the gospel.

    As soon as you acknowledge the need for grace to come to Jesus Christ, as it plainly asserts in passages, for example, such as 2 Timothy 2:24-26, John 6:63-65 & 37 and a multitude of others, then you must likewise acknowledge the bondage of the will.

    When we speak of the will, we are speaking first of the affections. Man loves darkness and hates the light and will not come into the light. His affections drive his will. He does not LOVE Christ and cannot because he is dead in sins (eph 2:1) Alive to the flesh but dead to spiritual things until God gives him eyes to see and a new heart to obey (Ezek 26:36) 1 Cor 2:14 says, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." 1:12 states, "we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." In other words, no unspiritual man can understand spiritual truths. That is, he sees no beauty or truth or goodness in them.

    Rom 8:7 "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."

    In John 8:34-36 & 47 "Jesus answered them [the unbelieving Jews], "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed....why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

    You must be born again to see and enter the kingdom (see John 3). To declare that a person can have faith without any grace is the heresy and non-Christian error of pelagianism: outside the bounds any recognized form of historic Christianity. Even Arminians recognize that the will is in bondage apart form grace.

    Salvation is a free gift, not something to be earned by meeting certain conditions. We meet the conditions because we are regenerated, not in order to be regenerated ( 1 John 5:1).

    Solus Christus
    John

    I asked a question that remained unanswered:

    Was any man set free from slavery to sin before men were baptized into Christ's death (not water baptism), being crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be destroyed THAT WE SHOULD NOT SERVE SIN(Rom. 6:1-6)?


    Jim,

    Both Old and New Testament saints were all baptized into Jesus Christ, and as such, no person in the history of mankind, from Adam to the end of the world have been set free from slavery to sin apart from Him. Jesus is the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. There is no hope outside of Christ for any. The persons of the OT and NT were all saved by the grace of Christ and nothing else. This is what the Bible teaches and what we affirm. We are not dispensationalists who somehow believe that people saved themselves in the OT and were saved by Christ in the new. Old Testament saints weren't saved by animal sacrifices (that pointed to Christ)...They weren't saved by works (only Christ fulfilled the law by living a sinless life) but through the covenant made with Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ. Paul makes much this same argument in Galatians 3. By faith, we have been ingrafted into God's covenant with Abraham. Jesus told the Pharisees that if they believed Moses they would believe Him for He wrote about Jesus. The entire Scripture points to Christ.

    Also see Ephesians 2

    John

    Jesus Christ was not slain before the foundation of the world. This whole teaching is based upon one phrase, taken out of context in the book of Revelation. Revelation 17:8 is speaks about people "whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world". Revelation 13:8 is speaking of this same group of people, who are not written in the book of life, and here a clause is inserted to identify whose book it is: "of the Lamb slain". But as in the other parallel passage it was the book that was written from the foundation of the world.


    To say Jesus died before the foundation of the world, puts death before sin. That is not Biblical. The Bible explicitly states that Jesus died ONCE for sin (Rom. 6:10). And, "but now ONCE at the consummation He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 10:26). The offering of the body of Jesus Christ was ONCE and for all" (Heb. 10:10).

    I'm not sure how you have men entering into the presence of God and becoming one with Him in the Old Testament, before the blood was shed that could take away sins. Men did not have access to God in the OT. Priests could not enter into God's presence in the earthly Tabernacle, unless they were the High Priest and that only once a year. And the account of the Day of Atonement is careful to note that no other man is in the Holy of Holies when the High Priest goes in to offer the blood of the sin offering. Priests under the Old Covenant died and ceased being a priest. In contrast, at Christ's death there is the very vivid account of the veil being torn in two which tells us that the way into the heavenly holy place has been disclosed (Heb. 9:8). "Jesus entered into the heavenly holy place, not the copy, as the forerunner for us, having become a High Priest forever (Heb. 6:20). Jesus died and became the High Priest with an indestructible life. This High Priest makes men priests under the New Covenant who are given indestructible life by the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Men only have confidence to enter the heavenly holy place BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS, by the new and living way which HE INAUGURATED for us THROUGH HIS FLESH" (Heb. 10:19, 20).

    How do you have men entering into the heavenly realm before Jesus had blood to shed or a body of flesh?

    Jim,

    I agree with you that Rev 13:8 refers to the names excluded from the book of Life, not to the point in time when the Lamb was slain.

    Nevertheless, Jesus' death in the first century does not preclude that the OT saints before Him did not receive the grace presented by the Son of God. We know they had faith (Heb 11:13), in the promises that a Messiah would come to crush the head of the serpent, set up a kingdom, and ultimately redeem His people. If they had faith, then they must have recieved grace.

    Yes, they were ceremonially bound - as you know very well - in that they had to perform sacrifices. This signified their faith in the coming Messiah; although they could not freely go into the Holy of Holies because animal blood only foreshadowed Christ's blood. However, they also had a certain spiritual communion with God that extended beyond temple worship. David wrote in Psalm 139 and others about God's presence and personal keeping hand.

    How could the OT saints receive grace to have access to God? This is only possible because God had already chosen the elect before the world began (Eph 1), so a covenant between God the Father and God the Son had already been made to save the elect. It was by that agreement that the OT saints could also enjoy the merits of Christ and have peace with God.

    Put another way, imagine this analogy of an entrepreneur telling the governor, "Sir, I intend to purchase this bankrupt business. I know how corrupted its employees are, and I know they will continue to chalk up debts and infringe the State laws. I will buy the company and all its assets, pay all its debts, and make it perfect. This purchase will be paid in full, on the appointed day exactly 5 years later. In the meantime, please treat this business and its employees as though they belong to me: speak kindly to them, accept their works, answer their requests, and take care of their needs. Because my promise to pay their debt is sure, so they do belong to me already."

    Anyway, please look at this other analogy too. It's a representation of the covenant the triune God made before creation - and it applies to both the OT and NT saints: http://www.truecovenanter.com/gospel/peden_covenant_of_redemption.html

    There seems to be a great deal of weight placed upon the teaching of a covenant made before creation, which allowed OT believers “to enjoy the merits of Christ” (your words). You referenced it, but didn’t give supporting Scriptures. I could not recall any Scriptures teaching about a covenant made between the Father and Son before creation. I checked out Grudem’s Systematic Theology to see if he gave supporting Scripture. There was a great deal said about a “Covenant of Redemption” made between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. Again there was no Scripture was referenced to say where this teaching is found in the Bible. There were only references to various NT passages which detail what the Father, Son, and Spirit did (do), and a claim that these were elements of said covenant. Can you please tell me where in the Scripture you find the teaching about a Covenant made before the creation?

    This is important because you stated, “So a covenant between God the Father and God the Son had already been made to save the elect. It was by that agreement that the OT saints could also enjoy the merits of Christ and have peace with God”.

    It solves nothing if we say God did not ordain all things. If he allows them when he could stop them, it amounts to the same thing, as far as that goes.

    Mike,
    Thank you for weighing in on this conversation. But if you track the discussion, I believe that you will see that your comment does not answer the current question.

    All,

    I have a question regarding the original post. How is it that most Calvinists arrive at the point where they say, "I believe it because that’s what the Bible says and, therefore, it is true”? “It” can represent anything, but in the case of this blog post “it” is the fact that the Bible says that God is sovereign AND humanity is responsible. The premise of the post is that Arminians (in particular Olson and his book “Against Calvinism”) ultimately fall back on human logic instead of the Bible. The assumption is that human logic and the Bible are not compatible. Likewise, many people (both Christians and non-Christians) believe human philosophy, history and science to be incompatible with the Bible.

    What is so bad about human logic? If you remove human logic from the equation than what distinguishes Biblical Christianity from any other religion? Any religion can claim it is true based on the fact that their holy book says that it is true. I believe that the distinguishing factor between Biblical Christianity and other religions is that philosophy, logic, history and science all confirm its truth. They are simply the avenues which God has graciously given us to learn more about Him and His creation.

    To base one’s faith 100% only on that faith’s holy scripture is the same circular argument that all major religions fall back on. Why does the Buddhist or Muslim say they believe what they believe? It is because they are following what they were taught, and what they were taught is confirmed by what their holy scriptures say. It is NEVER because logic, philosophy, history or science also validate their faith. But for me philosophy, logic, history and science ARE the reason I am a Christian; as they add the external credibility to the Bible necessary to distinguish it from all other holy books/religions. I don’t think this is a problem (or a work or man), rather it is a gift from God that affirms his grace and character.

    For the record, I do not see how my belief that man has the free will to respond to God’s grace somehow reduces the sovereignty of God. Just because God has chosen to not exercise his ability to determine the actions of all does not mean he is incapable of doing so. And choosing to not exercise a power does not remove sovereignty.

    Steven

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