The problem with “It’s all good”

March 10, 2012

Whenever I’m tempted to simply ignore John Piper, the spiritual leader of the “young, restless, and reformed” movement of new Calvinists, fellow Arminian Roger Olson, a Wesley-loving Baptist, reminds me of why I shouldn’t. As always, Olson puts the problem with Piper’s theology in sharp relief:

Now, again, let’s step back and take a bird’s eye view of Piper’s and other Calvinists’ divine determinism. If everything without exception is from God, planned, designed and governed by God for a reason such that God is not merely permitting it but actively willing it and rendering it certain (and I demonstrate in Against Calvinism this is the traditional Calvinist view and I am confident it is Piper’s as well), then the holocaust and the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of an innocent two year old child are also “from God” in that sense.

IF that’s true, then, I ask, why ever be upset about such things? Why react emotionally or with righteous indignation as if something happened that shouldn’t have happened? After all, God’s ultimate purpose in everything is his glory. (I demonstrate that that also is the traditional Calvinist view and I have asked many Calvinists if it’s their view and the answer has always been yes.) So, one who believes that has to say that the holocaust and the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of a two year old child glorify God. Then why object to them? Why oppose them? Why blame the perpetrators? Why try to prevent them?

For my Methodist readers who don’t know, we are “Arminian” Christians. John Wesley even published a magazine entitled, The Arminian. Among other things, Wesley strongly disagreed with Calvin’s (and now Piper’s) strict determinism—that everything that happens, good or bad, is determined in advance by God, including the salvation or damnation of individuals. Wesley was a big believer in God’s sovereignty, and he even believed at times that God sent natural disasters as punishment against people. But he didn’t believe that this ever precluded human freedom.

If what Piper says is true, then we Christians ought to resign ourselves to what, in non-Christian terms, we would call fate: whatever happens is from God, so it must be good. While this determinism fits nicely within the logic of Calvin’s theological framework, it makes no sense biblically.

One Response to “The problem with “It’s all good””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I don’t state the matter nearly as well as Olson, and I think my view is a bit of “quasi” Arminian, but I fundamentally agree that, IN GENERAL, bad events are God’s allowance for free choice. Here is a letter I sent to The Southern Baptist Texan a short while ago (too early to know if they will run it) with respect to a “creeping Calvinism” in Southern Baptist circles (such as by Dr. Al Mohler, and my own pastor). I think it tracks Olso a bit:

    With respect to the recent featured debate over Calvinism slipping into Baptist life, … [t]he issue boils down to one’s view of God. Which do we elevate more–our view of his capacities, or of his character? If we, like I, believe that “God is love,” and that “he is not desirous that any should perish,” then we do not believe he arbitrarily decides who goes to heaven and who to hell. So, how is it possible that God could allow people to choose for themselves in that regard? An immutable mystery.

    Whereas, if we insist on a nice, “logical” package, we hold that God’s governance means he decides each and every thing anybody does. But what does that do to his character? I would rather have “love” and a “mystery” than “logic” and an “ogre.”

    Why is this important to evangelism? I don’t accuse those of the Calvinist persuasion of not wanting people to meet Jesus. However, what kind of Jesus are we presenting to them? I, in particular, had a really difficult time with God when I considered predestination (or the Calvinist view thereof) to be true, and abandoned the Church for largely that reason for many years. Let’s preach a God of love, not an arbitrary tyrant. We’ll likely bring more into the fold that way.

    Tom Harkins

    [P.S. Brent, with respect to your comment to mine on prayer, first, thanks so much for joining with me, and, second, I don’t believe for one moment that you don’t care for people. I think the issue is, it’s hard to care for people when we don’t “see” them to feel what they are going through. When we do see the agony, we want to help, even if “all we can do” is pray (as though that was a little thing). “If you love not man whom you CAN SEE, how can you love God whom you cannot see?”, John says.]


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