Thursday, March 25, 2010

John Piper on the "drawing" of the Gospel of John

In John Piper's sermon on John 6:44, he also deals with the context at large, namely, as it spans from John chapter 5 to John chapter 12 (listen carefully to 26:40 through 29:52, especially the conclusion). Certainly, John Piper, as a Calvinist, espouses the traditional Calvinist interpretation of the drawing of John 6:44, but notice what he says about the "drawing," concluding at the 29:52 mark, because, surprisingly, that's actually the traditional Arminian interpretation. Piper mistakenly attributes the traditional Arminian interpretation of John 6:44 as God drawing everyone to His Son, which is simply not the case. Instead, and I recognize that there are exceptions, Arminians have predominantly interpreted the Father's drawing of John 6:44, as being the Father's drawing of those that were in covenant with Him, as the faithful remnant of Israel, whom the Father was, upon that transitional period, drawing to His Son, viz. if you love the Father, you will love the Son, who bears His message. Conversely, if you hate the Son, then that serves as evidence that you hate the Father as well. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews that if God was their father, as the Jews had claimed, then they would have loved the Son, but as it was, they did not. What's interesting to note, is one Calvinist's agreement with the Arminians, whether conscious of it or not, that the drawing, or lack thereof, was in direct correlation to one's standing with the Father.
Piper explains: "I'm leaving you. You have resisted Me. I'm backing away from you. I'm not going to draw most of you."
In contextualizing John 12 in relation to the drawing, John Piper has brilliantly, albeit unwittingly, articulated the Arminian perspective, which gives hope that Calvinists and Arminians can have some sort of common ground. In other words, the Father's drawing of the Jewish people to His Son is a function of their belief or disbelief in Him. As such, the reason why the Father had not drawn many in Israel to His Son, and consequently, not counted them among His Son's flock, was because they had persistently rejected the Father, who had so often, spread out His arms to them. (Isaiah 65:2) That's typically how Arminians have interpreted the general setting of John chapter's 5 through 12, and John 6:45 has particular relevance to this concept, insomuch that those who have "heard and learned from the Father," that is, having been in covenant with Him, come to the Son. It's fairly natural, that if one had loved the Father, that for these, the Father was recognizably noticeable in the Son and His message. Again, it must be emphasized that a remnant of faithful Israel, who are in covenant with Him, were being drawn by the hand of the Father to His Son, in a transitional period, by the Spirit-filled Preparer, John the Baptist, who baptized in the name of the One who was to come after him.
The line of distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism over this passage is that with Calvinism, God is not drawing the faithful remnant of His covenant people, Israel, to His Son, but rather is drawing an unfaithful, unbelieving remnant of eternally pre-selected Covenant people to His Son, who through the Father's eternal giving and drawing, become faithful and believing, and hence come to Christ. Arminians contend that this is a dramatic case of eisegesis, that is, importing a concept that is totally foreign into the text at hand. But what about the Arminian interpretation? Does that amount to reading something foreign into the text? On the basis of John 6:45, I don't see how such a claim could stand. It's fairly clear that those who have heard and learned from the Father, i.e. those in covenant relationship with Him, come to the Son. Thinking out loud, if what Arminians are saying is true, would Calvinists still have a work-around? Conceivably, I suppose that a Calvinist could theoretically argue that a person would become part of the Old Testament faithful by ordinary Calvinistic means, i.e. through "sovereign grace" (effectual grace, irresistible grace, regeneration, which Calvinists infer from Romans 11:2-5), and as result, in this setting, God draws His own to follow His Son. Nevertheless, my argument was silent on the particulars of just how people became part of the Old Testament faithful, and simply took them as they were, which as such, were drawn by the Father to His Son. But again, according to the traditional Calvinist model of the drawing, God draws unbelievers, not believers (which according to Calvinism, could not otherwise be believers, since they are totally unable to believe apart from an effectual drawing), and hence by said drawing, become believers. But again, Piper's exegesis of John 12 betrays such a view by contextualizing the nature and purpose of the drawing, in making it a correlation of belief or unbelief, which is the exact opposite of what traditional Calvinism teaches about the drawing.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Clarification on "Chilling Quotes"

The Society of Evangelical Arminians [SEA] did an article on “Chilling Quotes” from John Calvin, based upon some quotes that I had provided. This article drew a response from Colin Maxwell to which I owe an explanation:

Quotes 1 & 2

John Calvin: “Elsewhere I deny that any injury is done the reprobate, for they deserve destruction. Here Pighius spreads his wings and noisily exults, that in this case I neither understand myself nor remember what I previously said. But it does not seem to me worth while to say many words in my own defence, and I am displeased at having to use even a few. When God prefers some to others, choosing some and passing others by, the difference does not depend on human dignity or indignity. It is therefore wrong to say that the reprobate are worthy of eternal destruction. If in the former case no comparison is made between men themselves, and worthiness has no relation to the reward of life, so in the second case the equal condition of all is not proved. Add to this that Augustine writes in one place that salvation never lacked to anyone worthy of it, but qualifies the statement in the Retractions so as to exclude works and to refer acceptable worthiness to the gratuitous calling of God. But Pighius presses on. If what I teach is true, that those who perish are destined to death by the eternal good pleasure of God though the reason does not appear, then they are not found but made worthy of destruction. I reply that three things must here be considered. First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined. Secondly, Adam himself, on account of his defection, is appointed to death. Lastly, in his person now fallen and lost, all his offspring is condemned in such a way that God deems worthy of the honour of adoption those whom He gratuitously elects out of it. I neither dream nor fabricate anything of this. Nor am I called on in the present instance to prove each particular, because I fancy I have done this already. But I must dispose of this calumny of Pighuis who proudly triumphs over me as though I were vanquished ten times, for the reason that these things are quite inconsistent. When predestination is discussed, it is from the start to be constantly maintained, as I today teach, that all the reprobate are justly left in death, for in Adam they are dead and condemned. Those justly perish who are by nature children of wrath. Thus, no one has cause to complain of the too great severity of God, seeing that all carry in themselves inclusive liability. As to the first man, we must hold he was created perfectly righteous and fell by his own will; and hence it comes about that by his own fault he brought destruction on himself and on all his race. Adam fell, though not without God’s knowledge and ordination, and destroyed himself and his posterity; yet this neither mitigates his guilt nor involves God in any blame. For we must always remember that he voluntarily deprived himself of the rectitude he had received from God, voluntarily gave himself to the service of sin and Satan, and voluntarily precipitated himself into destruction. One excuse is suggested, that he could not evade what God had decreed. But his voluntary transgression is enough and more than enough to establish his guilt. For the proper and genuine cause of sin is not God’s hidden counsel but the evident will of man.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, Westminster John Knox Press, 1997, pp.121-122, emphasis mine)

With my edition, it is clear that there is no “scandalous tampering,” but I can hardly fault you since I did not include the edition for you to cross reference. What happened is that I had simply misinterpreted as belonging to Calvin, what Calvin was instead highlighting as being Pighuis’ inference. To that, I am in error, and my website at has been updated. Clearly, in context, John Calvin flatly denies the charge that he teaches that the “Reprobate” are unconditionally condemned, but rather are conditionally condemned on account of “inclusive liability.” Perhaps I was overly focused on the part which states: “If what I teach” while missing the part which says, “I reply.” That was sloppy on my part, and for that, I owe SEA and its readers an apology. But there is more to this story.

Colin, perhaps you would be willing to also comment on the following from Calvin, to see if I have inferred of Calvin correctly, which ultimately works back to the initial quotes 1 & 2:

John Calvin:They again object, Were not men predestinated by the ordination of God to that corruption which is now held forth as the cause of condemnation? If so, when they perish in their corruptions they do nothing else than suffer punishment for that calamity, into which, by the predestination of God, Adam fell, and dragged all his posterity headlong with him. Is not he, therefore, unjust in thus cruelly mocking his creatures? I admit that by the will of God all the sons of Adam fell into that state of wretchedness in which they are now involved; and this is just what I said at the first, that we must always return to the mere pleasure of the divine will, the cause of which is hidden in himself. But it does not forthwith follow that God lies open to this charge.” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 4, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “They deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed that Adam should perish by his revolt. As if the same God, who is declared in Scripture to do whatsoever he pleases, could have made the noblest of his creatures without any special purpose. They say that, in accordance with free-will, he was to be the architect of his own fortune, that God had decreed nothing but to treat him according to his desert. If this frigid fiction is received, where will be the omnipotence of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which every thing depends, he rules over all?” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 7, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “Here they recur to the distinction between will and permission, the object being to prove that the wicked perish only by the permission, but not by the will of God. But why do we say that he permits, but just because he wills? Nor, indeed, is there any probability in the thing itself—viz. that man brought death upon himself merely by the permission, and not by the ordination of God; as if God had not determined what he wished the condition of the chief of his creatures to be.” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 8, emphasis mine)

My comment: In other words, Adam and Eve fell by the “pleasure of the divine will.” As such, God has a set script for His noblest creature, man, and that if any such creature were to script his own ways, according to the desert of his libertarian freedom, then God could not simultaneously be omnipotent.

John Calvin:The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination. Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.” (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 23, section 7, emphasis mine)

My comment: John Calvin indeed believes that the Fall was divinely “arranged,” and also “dreadful.” Of course, if you are on the losing end of the arrangement, it is dreadful indeed. Now we return back to John Calvin’s comments in Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God:

John Calvin: “To this opinion of this holy man I subscribe: in sinning, they did what God did not will in order that God through their evil will might do what He willed.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.123, emphasis mine)

John Calvin:If anyone object that this is beyond his comprehension, I confess it. But what wonder if the immense and incomprehensible majesty of God exceed the limits of our intellect? I am so far from undertaking the explanation of this sublime, hidden secret, that I wish what I said at the beginning to be remembered, that those who seek to know more than God has revealed are crazy. Therefore let us be pleased with instructed ignorance rather than with the intemperate and inquisitive intoxication of wanting to know more than God allows.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.123, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “But now, removing from God all proximate causation of the act, I at the same time remove from Him all guilt and leave man alone liable. It is therefore wicked and calumnious to say that I make the fall of man one of the works of God. But how it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author or approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, pp.123-124, emphasis mine)

Understood, but when you go back to my initial quote, in which I mistakenly inferred of John Calvin, what was actually instead John Calvin’s summarization of Pighuis’ inference of Calvin, how would Pighuis’ inference not, in fact, be indicative of Calvin, since it appears to be so well congruent? In other words, if God’s choosing of some for the purpose of destruction, in no way depends upon His permission of their voluntary defection and the “desert” of their libertarian freedom, but instead depends solely upon a divine “arrangement” according to the “pleasure of God’s will” for His “noblest creation,” then how can we not say that Pighuis’ inference is absolutely spot on? Simply to “confess ignorance” as to how determinism and liberty fits together, does not suit his defense against Pighuis’ inference very well.

Quote 3

John Calvin: “Paul does not inform us that the ruin of the ungodly is foreseen by the Lord, but that it is ordained by His counsel and will. Solomon also teaches us that not only was the destruction of the ungodly foreknown, but the ungodly themselves have been created for the specific purpose of perishing (Prov. 16.4).” (The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, William B. Erdman’s Publishing Company, 1995, pp.207-208, emphasis mine)

Colin, you say that we should not overlook the significance of the word “ungodly,” in terms of “their responsibility,” but are you not simultaneously overlooking the point of Calvinism’s objectors, who like me, highlight Calvin’s use of, “created”? In fact, does that not seem perfectly congruent with the inference of Pighuis, in that these are not merely found, but made, according to divine arrangement, according to divine purpose, and according to the pleasure of the divine will, to be born into this world as “ungodly” for a set purpose and perish as such? Surely you can see the unconditional nature of that, as per the doctrine of Unconditional Reprobation.

John Calvin: “Conceited men are resentful, because, in admitting that men are rejected or chosen by the secret counsel of God, Paul offers no explanation, as though the Spirit of God were silent for want of reason, and does not rather warn us by His silence—a mystery which our minds do not comprehend, but which we ought to adore with reverence.” (The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, William B. Erdman’s Publishing Company, 1995, p.209, emphasis mine)

John Calvin: “There are some, too, who allege that God is greatly dishonored if such arbitrary power is bestowed on Him. But does their distaste make them better theologians than Paul, who has laid it down as the rule of humility for the believers, that they should look up to the sovereignty of God and not evaluate it by their own judgment?” (The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, William B. Erdman’s Publishing Company, 1995, pp.209-210, emphasis mine)

Again, where is the disharmony from the inference of Pighuis, in that these are not found but made worthy of condemnation by the “arbitrary power” of a “sovereign God”?

In Summary, here is how Calvin’s defense works:

Assert that since “A” is true, and that “B” is true, we do not need to explain how they work together, but merely that they are true, and the rest will sort itself out. Fully executed, here is how it appears:

We know that “Hard Determinism” is true, and we know that “human responsibility” is true, therefore we do not need to intrude upon the secret workings of God in order to figure out how they are both true, but only to recognize that they are both true, and let God sort out the mystery in His own due time. The problem, of course, is that we do not all recognize Hard Determinism as true, and therefore we can substitute a more *friendly* word such as “Sovereign.” With the substitution, here is how it appears:

We know that God is “Sovereign” (insert smily face) and we know that “man is responsible,” therefore we do not need to know how they work together, but only that they are, in fact, true and God can sort out the mystery in His own due time. Obviously, when dissected, Calvin’s defense is nothing more than Circular Logic, by simply presuming Hard Determinism (which is step 1 in his two-step defense, as shown in the initial quote where I have bolded the words “First” and “Secondly”), which is why Pighuis’ inference seems valid.