Charles Spurgeon:

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—

that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens—

that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.

The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—

the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.

Does Scripture really teach this? I believe the answer is yes. Here is just a tiny sampling:

God Is Sovereign Over . . .

Seemingly random things:

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.
(Proverbs 16:33)

The heart of the most powerful person in the land:

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
he turns it wherever he will.
(Proverbs 21:1)

Our daily lives and plans:

A man’s steps are from the LORD;
how then can man understand his way?
(Proverbs 20:24)

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
(Proverbs 19:21)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . .  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15)

Salvation:

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
(Romans 9:15-16)

As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
(Acts 13:48)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
(Romans 8:29-30)

Life and death:

See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
(Deuteronomy 32:39)

The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
(1 Samuel 12:6)

Disabilities:

Then the LORD said to [Moses], “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
(Exodus 4:11)

The death of God’s Son:

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

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
(Acts 4:27-28)

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief. . . .
(Isaiah 53:10)

Evil things:

Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster come to a city,
unless the LORD has done it?
(Amos 3:6)

I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.
(Isaiah 45:7)

“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. . . . “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
(Job 1:21-22; 2:10)

[God] sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. . . . As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
(Psalm 105:17; Genesis 50:21)

All things:

[God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.
(Ephesians 1:11)

Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
(Psalm 115:3)

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
(Job 42:2)

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
(Daniel 4:35)

And since compatiblism is true, none of this contradicts the equally biblical teaching that Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and that human choices are genuine and significant.

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77 thoughts on “How Sovereign Is God?”

  1. Ken Temple says:

    The LORD kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

    This should be 1 Samuel 2:6 (smile)

    Thanks Justin for all labors in your writing of excellent articles!

  2. Luma Simms says:

    Thanks for this, especially in light of a post I read a few days ago about the “relational view” of God’s sovereignty.

  3. Daryl Little says:

    Thank God that when the Bible tells us that He is sovereign, it means it…

  4. anonymous says:

    Thank you. so many nugget treasures to find
    12 “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning and caused the dawn to know its place,or 35 “Can you send forth lightnings that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Job 38

  5. Arminian says:

    2 things:

    (1) Of course God is sovereign over the various things Justin says he is sovereign over. The problem is, IMO, that Justin and Calvinism have an unbiblical definition of sovereignty, basically holding it to be exhaustive determinism rather than God’s right and power and authority over all things to do as he wishes.

    (2) Compatibilism is false and incoherent, and I believe I show that in the comments of the post Justin linked to about it at the end of this post. It is not because compatibilism is true that the passages Justin cites do not conflict with human choices being genuine and significant. It is because those passages do not teach Calvinistic divine sovereignty (exhaustive determinism), but are in complete harmony with the Arminian view of divine sovereignty.

  6. Did you just proof-text your way through those difficult topics? Every one of those proof-texts have contexts, not only within their own chapter, but also book and then the rest of the Bible.

    “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.” (Hosea 8:4 ESV) How might your meticulous determinism reconcile this and many, manay other passages?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I have studied every verse in context, and I’m completely convinced they teach what they seem to say. But if I tried to demonstrate that in a blog post, it’d be a book! :)

    2. Justin Taylor says:

      BTW, interesting that you didn’t italicize “but I knew it not!”

      1. I understand the length it would take to expound upon all those proof-texts. My point is that they are fairly useless. You realize, don’t you, that Arminians could provide “opposing” proof-texts and appear right. That’s why I offered you a “counter” proof-text.

        I didn’t italicize it because that Hebrew word can be used for various expressions which do not necessarily include the notion of knowledge as we perceive it: interesting that you didn’t respond to the passage quoted.

        Don’t think I’m angry. But when Calvinists like James White constantly harp against Arminians proof-texting and offering no exegesis, and then I see what you just did, I can’t help but speak up.

        1. Scott C says:

          There is no need to assert proof-texting here. These passages largely speak for themselves as stand alone texts.

          Your text is the one not being understood in context. Read Hosea 8:1. Israel transgressed God’s covenant and rebelled against his law. Thus, they set up kings apart from consulting God’s revealed will. His sovereign will has nothing to do with the passage. BTW, vss. 2-3 confirm this understanding.

          1. I think you miss the point: the Israelites “have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law” (Hos. 8:1), yet, by your theology, God must have first decreed that they break His covenant, not consult Him about “selecting” — another gratuitous word for Calvinism — a king that God would desire. Was not God’s alleged “sovereign” will being carried out in their not selecting the appropriate king?

            If so, why is He complaining? He decreed it. They performed an act that God did not approve, as Israel had done when sacrificing their infants to a false God: “which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind” (Jer. 7:31; cf. Jer. 19:5; 32:35). There is no mention in the texts regarding the dichotomy of God’s “revealed will” and His alleged “sovereign” will.

            1. Scott C says:

              There is no problem with God sovereignly willing that which he does not command. Take Isaiah 10:5-19 as a direct example. Here, Assyria is called the “rod of God’s anger” (vs. 5). He sends it against a godless nation to bring judgment upon them (vs. 6). Yet, they had no such intentions of being a righteous agent of divine judgment according to vs. 7. Rather from their limited perspective, they were simply there to destroy people and cut off nations with evil intent.

              Note this. After God sends Assyria to punish Jerusalem He charges Assyria with blame, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria” (vs. 12). Verses 13-14 explains the evil arrogant heart of the Assyrian king as if he was the source of his own power and wisdom to bring down such peoples and nations. After his empty boasting, God set the record straight in verse 15: “Is the axe [Assyria] to boast itself over the one [God] who chops with it?” As punishment, God says he will send a wasting disease and so forth to Assyria to punish the arrogant heart God created to achieve His just purpose.

              So here we have in pretty unequivocal language that God uses those with evil intent to do his righteous bidding and then holds them accountable for the evil deeds He purposed them to do. You can protest this scenario all you want and say it makes God unfair or the author of evil, but you will be like the interlocutor of Romans 9:19 who complains just so. And God will confirm his word through Paul and say, “On the contrary , who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (vs. 20). The molded will have little to say to the Molder.

              1. Well, that’s one interpretation of those events. Did not Assyria already conceive of attacking Israel? Could God not have used their intent for His judgmental reasons? It doesn’t matter that they had no intentions of being a righteous judgment of God — God used them in spite of such ignorance. Their intent was to attack Israel regardless of God’s using them for His own purpose. (We mostly agree.)

                But why did you not address the very thorny passage I presented — that of Israel burning their children in the fire to a false god, and that act being something for which God was outraged? Did God not decree the burning of those children in the fire? According to Calvinism, yes. He then blasts the Israelites for doing what He decreed for them to do.

                I dare not talk back to God. I only talk back to Calvinists for defaming God’s holy name and character.

              2. Scott C says:

                How does an axe act by itself without an axe wielder?

                “He then blasts the Israelites for doing what He decreed for them to do.”

                Precisely the point of Isa. 10:5ff.

                I have no problem with God being outraged with child burning Israelites whose action He decreed. The key to understanding God and His sovereignty over evil is that He ALWAYS has righteous intentions for the evil he decrees, whereas as human culprits ALWAYS have evil intentions for the evil they do (Gen. 5:20). This is what makes compatibilism so compelling to me.

                We can never ferret out the deeper reasons why God decrees certain evil acts, but we can always be certain that he has a good intention for it. In this regard, the point of the book of Job is this: I am God and you are not. In either case, we must like Him be outraged at those things which are contrary to His moral will.

              3. An axe, as an inanimate object, is compared to a human being? Really? And then Calvinists get hot-headed when we charge them as promoting a “God’s robots” or “God’s puppets” motif.

                So, you admit God decreed the burning of those children to a false god? And thus, by consistency, you admit that God decreed the bomb, in every minute detail, in Boston — and, by consistency, then, every wicked, heinous, sinful, lustful act of rape, incest, child molestation and every other abominable act conceivable. All the decree of God. Finally! A consistent Calvinist.

                God has “righteous intentions” for decreeing and bringing about sin? Righteous. Sin. Righteous sin. The very thing God admits He abhors He also decrees and brings about. Why? Well, He has His own “righteous intentions.”

                This, my friend, is why I abandoned Calvinism years ago. You have hit the nail precisely on that head. This is, tragically, the most heinous Christian theology known in Church history. Thanks, Augustine.

              4. Scott C says:

                No need to get emotional.

                God decreed something far more heinous than rape, the Boston bombs and all other manner of evil perpetrated against other evil persons. God actually decreed that the only truly righteous human being would be mercilessly maligned, stripped naked, tortured with whips and then nailed to a beastly piece of wood to die a most brutal death – albeit for us. The cross is the worst evil ever perpetrated by man. Tell if there is a worse evil. Yet, ironically the greatest evil man could devise was decreed by God to be the great good for humanity.

                This is the amazing, holy, sovereign and gracious God I believe. He has humbled me before Him so that I can see the otherworldly goodness that penetrates the evil He decreed. That is not something any human being would make up. It probably explains why most people are libertarians by default. I left Arminianism because this was the compelling vision of Scripture. It made God more glorious than I ever saw Him before. I believe it is only this Biblical vision of God that makes sense of and magnifies His grace. Because without decreeing evil in the world there would be no grace and grace is the best thing about God and His sovereignty.

              5. Scott C says:

                BTW, the axe illustration is Isaiah’s [God's] – not mine (Isa. 10:15).

              6. Stating that I think your theology is heinous is not emotional, just objective fact, from my perspective.

                I think you’re confusing categories, are you not? Christ’s redemptive act is not tantamount to God decreeing rape, incest, molestation, the burning of children to a false god that doesn’t even exist, etc. The former is redemptive; the latter gratuitous. Subscribing sin to God is hardly magnifying or glorifying Him, IMO.

                God is glorified by righteousness, not sin. You seem to forget in this discussion that God hates sin. He even admitted that He had not commanded or decreed for the Israelites to burn their children, yet they did it (Jer. 19:5). How, if He decrees every event? You keep avoiding fully addressing this passage.

                In the axe analogy, God used their free decision to attack Israel.

              7. Scott C says:

                I acknowledge there is a categorical difference between gratuitous acts of evil and the redemptive outcome of the evil perpetrated against Christ. Nonetheless, the distinction is not such that it eliminates my point, that God does in fact decree evil to accomplish good. Gratuitous evil could be prevented by God if he wanted to prevent it, but He often does not. We don’t fully understand why and it grieves us as it rightly should. Nonetheless, His not preventing it is tantamount to saying he had a purpose in allowing it.

                I believe Rom. 5:20-21 gives us some insight into part of the theodicy problem. God purposed the presence and increase of sin in order to magnify His grace. The greater the sin the greater His grace is magnified.

                With regard to Jer. 19:5, the language could just as easily refer to God’s revealed will in the Law as it could to His sovereign will. To say something was in His mind does not of necessity entail that it speaks of His sovereign (decretive) will. It could just as easily speak of His instructive (preceptive) will contained in the Law He revealed to Moses. In that sense, we can say that God decreed certain moral precepts are to be followed by Israel and any precepts or Laws contrary to those He decreed never entered His mind. I doubt that passage is much of a stumper for Calvinists. But I would sure love to see your explanation for the passages Justin cited.

              8. Well, since I used to be a Calvinist, and then rejected Calvinism as false, you can imagine what my explanation of the passages Justin cited would be, since, as you admitted, you also used to be an Arminian. But I intend to copycat Justin’s post from an Arminian perspective tomorrow.

                All of your “decretive” will and “perceptive” will offerings are, I think, a way to juggle the alarming contradictions inherent in a Calvinist understanding of such passages as Jeremiah 19:5, but nowhere in the text itself, nor the surrounding context, are we privy to such sharp distinctions.

              9. Scott C says:

                Jer. 19:5 does not need to make such a sharp distinction when so many other passages do. Here, we simply employ ‘Scripture interprets Scripture.’ So for those interested:

                Passages that indicate God’s preceptive will or will of command include Ezra 10:11; Psa. 5:4; 103:21; Isa. 65:12; Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11 (cf. 1 Sam. 2:25); Matt. 7:21; 12:50; Mark 3:35; Luke 7:30 [purpose = will]; John 7:17; 9:31; Acts 17:30; 22:14; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 7:9, 10; Eph. 6:6; Col. 1:19; 4:12; 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:18; Heb. 10:36; 13:21; 1 Pet. 2:15; 4:2; 1 John 2:17; 5:14.

                Conversely, passages that indicate God’s decretive or sovereign will include Psa. 33:8-11; 51:18; 103:19; 115:3; Prov. 21:1; Isa. 14:24, 27; 46:10; 48:3, 14; 53:1; Jer. 18:1-11; 49:20; 50:45; Lam. 3:37-38; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32, 35; 5:21; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; Rom. 1:10 (cf. Rom. 15:32); Rom. 9:19; 1 Cor. 1:1 (cf. 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1); 12:18; Eph. 1:5, 9, 11; Phil. 2:13; Col. 1:19; James 1:18; Rev. 4:11.

                For those that want a more full treatment of the topic just go over to the DesiringGod website and type in: “Are There Two Wills in God?” by John Piper.

              10. And for those looking for what we consider to be a more biblically sound theology on this issue, Google or Bing the Society of Evangelical Arminians and type in “Determinism,” for the exposure of this serious theological error that damages the integrity of God’s glorious Name.

              11. Arminian says:

                Sorry about this. I posted this below, but meant to post it here:

                Scott C is just asserting those various passages to belong to one category as opposed to the other in what is a bogus, contrived, Calvinist 2 wills theory that has long been a problem for Calvinist proponents. So many find it so hard to buy, being contradictory on its face. For a brief refutation of the Calvinist 2 wills theory along with attempts to try and nuance it into the same category with basic distinctions in will, see http://evangelicalarminians.org/two-wills-in-god/.

              12. Arminian says:

                Also, see the refutation of Piper’s 2 wills view specifically on pages 240-43 of Thomas McCall, “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper”, Trinity Journal 29/2 (Fall 2008) 235-246 http://evangelicalarminians.org/thomas-mccall-we-believe-in-gods-sovereign-goodness-a-rejoinder-to-john-piper/.

  7. Godismyjudge says:

    Many (but not all) of these passages are among the reasons I believe in middle knowledge, which reconciles God’s providential influence with libertarian free will, and avoids the contradictions of compatible determinism.

    God be with you,
    Dan

    1. AStev says:

      Unfortunately, middle knowledge implies there is some “truth” above and beyond God that he is subject to and cannot alter. Which is both unbiblical and logically incoherent.

      1. Godismyjudge says:

        AStev,

        Oh? If you want, name a bible passage that you think contradicts middle knowledge and I will give a shot at explaining it.

        God be with you,
        Dan

      2. “Unfortunately, middle knowledge implies there is some “truth” above and beyond God that he is subject to and cannot alter. Which is both unbiblical and logically incoherent.”

        Here’s another truth that is “above” and “beyond” God: ‘P and ~P’ cannot be true. Nor can God make the proposition “God does not exist” false. But since he cannot “alter” these it does not mean he is not sovereign, nor does anything logically incoherent follow. And if there are some truths that God cannot alter, why can’t their be others?

        As for compatibilism, if it is true, we should expect there be some account of how we can be determined to do what we do before we are born, and be responsible for our actions that are brought about by those antecedent causes. This is because it seems that we are not responsible for events that occur before our birth, events that are such that they causally determine the outcome of our actions. If there isn’t any (and none seems to be forthcoming as Calvinists regularly remind us this is a mystery we just have to except), perhaps a better explanation of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is in order. I think middle knowledge gives us one.

        1. Oops, I made a typo. The sentence that reads

          Nor can God make the proposition “God does not exist” false.

          should read:

          Nor can God make the proposition “God does not exist” TRUE.

          Thanks

    2. One problem with middle knowledge is that it is completely speculative. It draws from Scripture passages which speak of God’s sovereignty and those which speak of man’s responsibility and inserts in between a theoretical framework in an attempt to reconcile the two. It’s a good effort but lives entirely in the world of speculation rather than biblical exegesis. When it comes to asserting truth about God, we should stick with what Scripture teaches rather than what we posit.

      1. Godismyjudge says:

        Hi Chris,

        It’s true the twin pillars of middle knowledge are passages that teach God’s providence and those that teach libertarian freedom. But the bible also repeatedly claims God knows what we would choose under various settings. Here’s some examples:

        Exodus 3:19, Deuteronomy 7:3-4, Deuteronomy 28:51-57, 1 Samuel 23:6-10, 1 Kings 11:2, 9, Ezekiel 3:6-7, Jeremiah 49:9, Obadiah 1:5, Matthew 11:21-23, Matthew 12:7, Matthew 23:27-32, Matthew 24:43, Luke 16:30-31, Luke 22:67-68, John 8:39, John 8:42, John 14:28, John 15:19, John 18:36, 1 Corinthians 2:8, Galatians 4:15, and 1 John 2:19.

        God be with you,
        Dan

        1. Dan,

          If those passages teach middle knowledge, then we all act according to middle knowledge. Taking your first verse as an example, I can with equal confidence state that I know that my children will not clean their room unless compelled by a mighty hand. Several of those don’t even qualify because they don’t speak of God knowing what men might choose in given circumstances but speak of God knowing the effect of his work in the lives of people. For instance, just scanning your list I picked out John 8:42 and 1 John 2:19 as two passages which have nothing to do with counterfactuals but speak of fruit. Whereas a counterfactual in middle knowledge is a statement like, “If it were raining, he would have chosen to ride the subway instead of walking to work” these verses are more like, “If it is an apple tree, it would grow apples.”

          1. Godismyjudge says:

            Chris,

            There’s something to your example about your kids. People often talk about what another person would choose in a different setting and we think what we say is true. But one difference is that God can be 100% certain whereas we can only be 99%. Volumes have been written on how God gets that additional 1%, but the bible doesn’t get into it, so the best I can probably say is because He’s God.

            As for the Spirit’s good influence on us, it’s in some ways more like the subway ride than the apple tree, because the apple tree example removes all elements of choice. Now you and I probably disagree on what it means to choose something, since I am guessing you are a compatible determinist. So when the Holy Spirit works in us, I think He enables obedience and you probably think He determines obedience. But I think your position entails the contradiction that a Christian in a given situation can and cannot obey. Never the less, John 8:42 and 1 John 2:19 are probably not the first place I would go to explain this.

            God be with you,
            Dan

  8. Great post, Justin! I love God’s sovereignty!

    Don’t forget verses like Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17 which I believe directly address Spurgeon’s words. Not only does God create all things, but he sustains all things.

    Regarding our free will: God’s will is creative, but our will is reactive. My desire is that of my Lord, Jesus: not to do my will, but that of the Father. Were it not for sin, there would be no paradoxical conflict between my will and God’s. Compatibilism is indeed true, but our fallen nature precludes our capacity to apprehend it intuitively.

  9. Bruce Russell says:

    He is sovereign in a way that brings comfort and hope to the godly and terror and despair to the ungodly.

  10. Scott C says:

    Libertarian free will means the ability to choose contrary to all possible influences. That means that God can neither determine choices or know them beforehand. That is plainly in contradiction to the Scriptures. It destroys the concept of prophecy and leaves middle knowledge bankrupt.

    1. Scott,

      How did you make the leap from us making free decisions from various options (choices) to God not being able to know them beforehand? What is, to you, the determining factor in God not being able to know/foreknow what free decisions we will make from various options (choices)?

      1. Scott C says:

        Well it is pretty simple. On the one hand, if choices can be made contrary to all possible influences, then choices have no necessary antecedent causal connection. That in itself suggests that they can’t be known until they are actually made. Secondly, if God absolutely knows with infallible knowledge what choice a person will make beforehand, in what way is it possible for such a person to make any choice contrary to what God already knows will transpire? Libertarian freedom would mean that even if God somehow knew beforehand the choice a person would make, that person would have the freedom to confound God’s knowledge and make a different choice instead. Otherwise they are not truly free in a libertarian sense.

        1. But no decision is made contrary to but concurrent with a given possible influence. Influences, by definition, are not determinatively causative. I may be influenced toward a thing, yet not ipso facto be determined toward it.

          That God knows what free decisions I will make does not, in and of itself, render certain that I will make those decisions, though I will make those decisions. In other words, His knowledge is not causative. But He knows all things, as Arminius states, by His own divine essence (attributed to His being omniscient).

          Libertarian freedom would mean that even if God somehow knew beforehand the choice a person would make, that person would have the freedom to confound God’s knowledge and make a different choice instead.

          No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Perspective is king, here. Our making decisions from various options, even though known/foreknown by God, are not foreknown by us. From God’s perspective, yes, He knows every decision I will freely make; even though, from my perspective, I do not know what decisions I will make until I make them.

          1. Scott C says:

            “From God’s perspective, yes, He knows every decision I will freely make; even though, from my perspective, I do not know what decisions I will make until I make them.”

            Much agreed, but the fact remain even though you don;t know beforehand the choice you will make, God certainly does with absolute certainty and that alone renders your choice certain. You have no freedom to act contrary to the choice God knows already that you will make.

            Your seems to be affirming and denying libertarian free will at the same time. A simple definition from most libertarian authors I have read is that free will is the power of contrary choice. Olson puts it this way: “Free agency is the ability to do other than what one in fact does.” This means that choices are unpredictable and therefore unknowable with certainty. If God can predict (I don’t like this term) choices with absolute certainty then libertarian free will is an illusion.

            1. This means that choices are unpredictable and therefore unknowable with certainty.

              Again, you miss the point, I think. God’s knowledge of what I will do — and what He knows I will do I, certainly will do (we agree) — is not the determining factor of my doing what He knows I will do.

              By suggesting that we could have — theoretically — have decided contrary is not to dismiss God’s omniscience. He would have known that decision as well. (Point in fact: 1 Sam. 23:12.)

              If, as you agreed, God knows what I will do — even within my own hermeneutic and theological context — how, then, can you admit that, from our perspective, “this means that choices are unpredictable and therefore unknowable with certainty.” They are certainly not “unpredictable” and “unknowable” to God, even as you yourself admitted. So, which is it?

              1. Scott C says:

                I agree that God’s foreknowledge is not the determining factor of the choices one makes, yet it is consummate with His decreeing what choices will be made and flows directly from it. God declares the end from the beginning. His purpose WILL be established with absolute certainty (Isa. 46:10) and the certainty of human choices indicate that very fact.

                Note again Olson’s definition: “Free agency is the ability to do other than what one in fact does.” This to me suggests that a person makes a choice which in the classic Arminian view God knows beforehand. But the definition also suggests that the person could have chosen contrary to the choice God already knew they would make. I understand you are saying God would have known that too, but that is to assert a hypothetical that does comport with reality. God’s knows you would never make a contrary choice to the one you will make thus how could you possibly do so?

                This is the reason why Open Theists have denied exhaustive foreknowledge. I believe the logic of libertarian free will demands such a view. Even Olson seems to come perilously close to accepting this logic.

            2. But God is capable of knowing hypotheticals (1 Sam. 23:12).

              1. Scott C says:

                This passage is easily explained if you understand that God is simply telling David what the intentions are of the men of Keliah. From David’s perspective (which is the important one here) God is saying in essence, “If you stay in Keliah the men here will deliver you into Saul’s hand, so take your men and leave.” Of course God does not have to spell that all out, David is not stupid. The point is, God is not prophesying what is to take place, but He is revealing the intentions of the hearts of the men of Keliah so that David will make the common sense choice of leaving the city. This is in strict accordance with a compatibilistic understanding of scripture, not a problem at all for Calvinists.

            3. God was not merely “telling David what the intentions are of the men of Keilah;” that is not how Scripture reads. David asked, “will the men of Keilah surrender me . . .” (1 Sam. 23:12); not, “is the intention of the men to surrender me . . .”. In effect, David asked, “If I do such and such, will such and such happen?” The Lord answered yes. He knew a hypothetical. It is a major problem for Calvinism, as are so many other passages of Scripture, IMO.

              1. Scott C says:

                “will” and “intention” in your reply is a distinction without a difference. The word “will” is not so narrow as to assume that David is asking what ‘will’ in fact take place. If that was the case, then why did David leave? If he believed that it was God’s sovereign will that the men would in fact deliver him over to Saul then his leaving indicates that somehow he thought he could thwart God’s will. That is ridiculous. David’s is asking for God’s counsel. He is saying, “will these men deliver me over to Saul if I stay here?” God’s reply is yes. This passage assumes nothing about what in fact will actually happen. A common sense reading of the text ought to tell anyone that.

            4. But you are assuming that David had the same perspective that you hold. Is that how you interpret Scripture?

              David did not ask God what the intention of the men were — that is what you are inserting into the text, which is called eisogesis. He asked what those men will do if he does a certain action, and God told him what the men would do, even though it never happened.

              Try your best to skirt around this, but it keeps blowing up not in your favor. David passed by another way in order not to get caught. How simple could this passage be? I’m sensing a certain interpretive gymnastics in your reply.

              1. Scott C says:

                From the human perspective hypotheticals make sense because David doesn’t know the outcome but God does. This much I think we can agree on. It is appropriate for God to interact with David in this way without revealing what actually will take place. IOW, God did not deliver a prophecy to David which I think you would agree to as well.

                But let me ask you this. Is prophesy a matter of God determining what will take place in the future or merely predicting what will take place in the future? The answer to this question has profound implications for understanding God’s sovereignty.

            5. If God prophecies an event then the event will take place. He does not merely predict that something may happen.

              The big question is how God knows what He knows; does He know from having first decreed an event, or does He know from knowing all future realities exhaustively? You admit the former; I admit the latter; and the two shall never find common ground.

              1. Scott C says:

                So did God decree the death and resurrection of Christ or did it result from the fact God just happened to know Jesus would die and rise?

            6. So, your entire hermeneutic of God decreeing all things, including sin and evil, is based upon God’s foreordination of the redemptive act of Christ? Cannot God foreordain the death and resurrection of Christ without having to foreordain sin and evil? If not, why not?

              Calvinists take one example in Scripture and then force the entirety of the rest of the Bible into that mold. Because Christ’s death and resurrection were foreordained, then everything in every minute detail, including sin and evil, was foreordained, strictly taken. But the one does not necessarily follow from the other.

              When God chose to create human beings — every human being who would ever live but did not yet exist — did He know anything about them? When He had you in mind, could He not know, given His capability of exhaustive divine cognizance, everything you would ever do without having to decree everything you would ever think, say, act out, not act out, etc.?

              If not, why not? Why do you assume that He must have decreed every minutiae of your existence? Upon what do you base this significant attribute?

              1. Scott C says:

                Well that was not quite what I was looking for in the question. In either case, no Calvinist I ever read argues from the greater to the lesser as you seem to imply. A careful perusal of the sort of passages Justin cites indicates that God ordains everything from sparrows falling to the ground to deposing entire kingdoms. No inferences are made from the big stuff God ordains because the scripture cover all bases.

                But let us get back to the question at hand, do you or do you not believe that God foreordained the death and resurrection of Christ? If you say yes, then you must deal with the mechanics of how he did so. For example, did God violate the free will of any pertinent parties? To be more specific, could Pilate have chosen otherwise than to order Jesus crucified?

                My gut feeling is that you must resort to your divine cognizance notion, because it would violate your libertarian perspective on free will. In that case, God did not plan the death and resurrection of Christ, it just so happened that the convergence of all the relevant human choices happened to result in that scenario and then perhaps God decided to attach redemptive significance to it post-facto even if he did so merely as a result of foreseeing how these events would unfold. Please tell me otherwise if this is not your view of the matter.

            7. Yes, God foreordained the events of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection, in accordance with His foreknowledge of all events, decisions, choices of each free individual involved. Could Pilate have, hypothetically, done otherwise? Yes, but we’ve already been around that bush, and we will not agree.

              But you only think this view renders the redemptive significance to a post-facto motif because of your own hermeneutic, which does not correspond with my hermeneutic. The cross was not an afterthought, but was divinely orchestrated by God in conjunction with and not in spite of human free will.

              This entire debate is one of hermeneutics, and nothing else — nothing else at all. I traded in my Calvinist hermeneutic for a Classical Arminian hermeneutic nearly thirteen years ago. I can present you with a ton of scriptural passages, like Justin did today (as I will for tomorrow’s post), and not conclude with theological determinism. That has been my point from the beginning, since 9:40 this morning.

              1. Scott C says:

                This view does not seem to cohere. I don’t how it is possible for God to ordain something like the death and resurrection of Christ without also ordaining the choices of the participants. Furthermore, if libertarian freedom is true, then there is always the possibility that one could choose contrary to what God foresaw, thus the rise of Open Theism. You would have to alter your view of free will and and I am not aware of an alternative to libertarianism then the view compatibilists offer.

                In either case, I have enjoyed the dialog. I disagree that there is a Calvinist hermeneutic and an Arminian one. I believe a careful grammatical historical hermeneutic will yield a set of interpretations that corresponds historically with Calvinism. I am moving on.

                Blessings,
                Scott C

            8. Well, Scott, you once did know “how it is possible for God to ordain something like the death and resurrection of Christ without also ordaining the choices of the participants,” because you said you were once an Arminian. So, how did you change? How is it conceivable that you once knew how such was possible, but now you suddenly don’t know how this was so? I’m not expecting an answer, because you’re done. I’m done as well. But I thought I would bring to your attention that you are a convert to Calvinism, so you should remember how such a position could be possible.

              Furthermore, if libertarian freedom is true, then there is always the possibility that one could choose contrary to what God foresaw . . .

              You tried that bit earlier, but you were proven wrong, remember? There is no possibility of someone choosing what is contrary to what God foresaw or foreknew. I don’t see how you are able to perpetuate this . . . yet again. I realize you probably want, ever so eagerly, for Open Theism to stick to Arminianism, but it just doesn’t.

              Scott, even Reformed theologians admit that hermeneutics is the basis for our theology — every theology that can be named. What you have described in your concluding remarks (i.e., “a careful grammatical historical hermeneutic”) is tantamount to naïve realism, and no truly credible theologian or philosopher, Calvinist or otherwise, holds to it today. I hope you change your view on that in the future.

              I can’t say I’ve enjoyed the hours we’ve been around the mulberry bush today, but at least you’re not condemning me to hell like other Calvinists. God bless you, always.

              1. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. You treated me very nice today, Scott. Thank you. Until next time, the Lord bless.

          2. A.M. Mallett says:

            I can see that Staglin in ya.

    2. Scott,

      I believe in a God who, sovereignly and for his own good pleasure, determined, to create world of libertarian free will agents, whose actions God, in his infinite wisdom, would know in advance, but in no way determine causally.

      Therefore, to any man who would say to me, “God cannot do that,” I might simply ask, Who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Your human cognitive incapacities do not hinder God from fulfilling his will to create all human beings, and his will to save each one.

  11. Chris says:

    God can’t do logically impossible things. He can’t make a square-circle, for example. If God is sovereign over EVERYTHING there is no free will. Ultimately then, God would be a sinner. This form of Calvinism is dangerous.

    1. Scott C says:

      This is incoherent. You need to be more clear about what you are trying to say.

  12. Lynn Rutledge says:

    How thankful I am that there is not one autonomous atom in the universe! Great list.

  13. Glenn Carrin says:

    Has every man become God’s counselor? I think, “Yes,” for libertarianism. And “No,” for Calvinism.

    1. Has God become the author of sin and evil? “Yes,” for Calvinism. And “No,” for libertarianism.

  14. drwayman says:

    Unfortunately, the Calvinist believes the achilles heel of Arminianism is libertarian free will. We get repeated contests in that arena.

    The thrust of Arminianism is the character of God. To sacrifice God’s impeccable character on the altar of the Calvinist’s mistaken concept of sovereignty is abhorrent to Arminians. If Calvinists would concentrate their efforts at discussing the character of God with Arminians, there would be much better discussion about God’s sovereignty.

    A proper understanding of God’s characters brings in a biblical concept of God’s sovereignty. Arminius rightly noted that if the Calvinist God is accurate, then He is the only real sinner in the universe.

    Thomas Taylor in his seminal work cautioning about the conclusions of Calvinism also noted, “…all things are just in the state and condition which God has appointed and all are just doing what his will is, and then there is no such thing as sin in the world.”

  15. Ken Stewart says:

    Taken in the abstract, there is no upper limit to divine sovereignty. Nothing is too hard; no item is too heavy; no ruler is too obstinate for God to deal with.
    But in the Bible, God’s sovereignty does not operate in the abstract. Sovereignty is not, in itself, an attribute of God. The word itself hardly appears in the Bible. What we refer to as divine sovereignty is, in effect, his supremacy of power, wisdom, and direction over everyone and everything. You could as easily call this divine transcendence, i.e. His ‘over-ness’.
    Most importantly, in Scripture, this supremacy of power is never stressed in isolation from God’s other attributes. For example, we find it ‘twinned’ with divine love (Psalm 62.10-12). The principle to grasp is that God’s supremacy in all things is never exercised as ‘naked power’. Millard Erickson puts his finger on the issue this way (Introducing Christian Doctrine 2nd ed. p.99):
    “If His qualities of greatness…were God’s only attributes, He might conceivably be an immoral or amoral being, exercising his power and knowledge in a capricious or even cruel fashion. But we are dealing with a ‘good’ God…He has attributes of goodness as well as greatness”

  16. Robert says:

    Justin,

    I believe your whole approach here is misguided and off track because of how you define sovereignty. You affirm that God is sovereign and then present the common proof texts used by theological determinists in support of their determinism. The problem is that you appear to define sovereignty ***as*** exhaustive determinism. Consistent Calvinism affirms exhaustive determinism. So your semantic formulation is this:

    Divine Sovereignty = exhaustive determinism
    ,
    exhaustive determinism = Calvinism,

    therefore, only Calvinism presents the biblical view of Divine sovereignty.

    There are some major and irresolvable problems with this formulation.

    First, the vast majority of Christians throughout church history have not defined sovereignty as exhaustive determinism. Previous to Augustine no one espoused exhaustive determinism/Calvinism in the church. After Augustine there have been some who adopted his deterministic ideas, but they have always been the minority within Christianity. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do not define sovereignty as exhaustive determinism. So you are presenting a minority position’s definition of sovereignty here which is rejected by most Christians as the proper understanding of sovereignty.

    Second, the definition of sovereignty as exhaustive determinism is both highly questionable and highly debatable. The biblical understanding of God being sovereign is held by most Christians and does not require the Calvinistic conception of sovereignty as exhaustive determinism.

    And what is the biblical understanding of sovereignty? It is found throughout scripture and shows itself most clearly in the Bible passages where God is said to be the one who does as He pleases in any and all situations. It is also shown in real life situations where people acknowledge that while they know that God could do X, it is up to Him whether or not He in fact does X.

    A perfect illustration of this acknowledgement of divine sovereignty is found in Daniel 3. Here Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are threatened with death by means of a furnace for their obedience to God and rejection of idolatry. What specifically reveals their belief that God is sovereign is their statement in verses 17-18 that: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire: and He will deliver us out of your hand O King [X]. But even if He does not, [not X] let it be known to you, O King, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They were saying that God could deliver them/do X or He could choose to not deliver them/not do X. Either way, they would continue to praise Him and follow Him. They were saying that God could do X or not-X and that the choice was up to Him, He would do whatever pleased Him in that situation.

    We may not go through as dramatic a circumstance as they went through, but we also have situations where we acknowledge that God is sovereign. If someone is terminally ill and close to death we may pray that God heals the person, knowing that He could do so if He pleased or He may not do so. If someone is seeking a job we pray the same way, that God could give them that job or He could choose not to, either way it was up to Him and He was going to do as He pleased in that situation. Either way, the choice is up to Him. I have Catholic friends and Eastern Orthodox friends who operate with this same understanding of God being sovereign. And one is fully consistent with the Bible in doing so. And one can affirm and believe that God is sovereign WITHOUT affirming exhaustive determinism.

    And that is just it, the biblical understanding of God being sovereign requires that God does as He pleases in any and all situations. This does not require that one affirm exhaustive determinism. Put simply the Bible clearly presents God’s sovereignty; theological determinists such as yourself on the other hand go beyond the biblical text and argue that sovereignty must be equated with exhaustive determinism. They then bring up verses which they interpret to support exhaustive determinism as their proof texts. These texts are like “preaching to the choir” in that they may convince fellow determinists. But non-determinist Christians will not be persuaded by these misguided attempts at making the Bible teach exhaustive determinism.

    And non-determinist Christians whether they be Protestant, or Catholic or Eastern Orthodox are under no obligation to accept the deterministic understanding of sovereignty. The Bible clearly presents that God is sovereign that He does as He pleases in any and all situations. But this is not presenting that God can only be sovereign if He has predetermined all events as theological determinists would like to believe.

    Robert

  17. Arminian says:

    Scott C is just asserting those various passages to belong to one category as opposed to the other in what is a bogus, contrived, Calvinist 2 wills theory that has long been a problem for Calvinist proponents. So many find it so hard to buy, being contradictory on its face. For a brief refutation of the Calvinist 2 wills theory along with attempts to try and nuance it into the same category with basic distinctions in will, see http://evangelicalarminians.org/two-wills-in-god/.

  18. Patrick says:

    What a lively comment thread!

    1. andrew price says:

      Don’t think it’s over yet….

  19. BrokerBeach says:

    Quite a thread.

    Any insights from either side on verses like Acts 4:27-28 and Romans 9:17-18?

    Also, William Birch (from above) posted his blog rebuttal here… http://theepiscopalian.blogspot.com/2013/04/how-sovereign-is-god.html

  20. BrokerBeach says:

    Oops… Justin already used Acts 4:27-28 above.

  21. Michael Snow says:

    Now,if we take God’s sovereignty seriously, can we not take serioiusly Spurgeon’s words on faithful obedience to Kingdom standards?
    http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

  22. TC Robinson says:

    At some point, as in this case, we need to agree with those Welch preachers who use to say that we need to interpret “carelessly,” by which they meant, to so interpret that we live with “tensions” and mysteries.

  23. I am convinced that it is a sin to treat scripture so flippantly as Justin Taylor has in the original post. How absurd it is to assert a proposition theologically, then follow it up with machine-gun exegesis unanalysed/unanalysable. It is completely useless.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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