Review of Greg Forster, “The Joy of Calvinism”

Review of Greg Forster, The Joy of Calvinism, Wheaton: Crossway, 2012, pbk, 205 pages

This new book by Greg Forster is written to set the record straight as regards what Calvinism is.  The author feels that Calvinism is often misrepresented by non-Calvinists, so he writes to help them understand this theology.  Forster’s book joins the shelves of books along the same lines that have been written by Calvinists.  That said, what he has produced is to be commended for its frankness.  Even if, like me, one finds it hard to accept that Calvinism broadly conceived can be easily misunderstood, The Joy of Calvinism presents it (again), often in plain terms, for the uninitiated.

One of the things of note is that Forster puts aside the TULIP acronym in favor of a presentation more in keeping with older formulations of Calvinism; although by “Calvinism” he is speaking in particular of soteriology (15).    He observes that “many Calvinist writers seem to agree that the five points are a lousy way to describe Calvinism!” (16).  So, much of the reason for the misunderstanding comes from the source.  As Forster says,

There are a million books out there claiming that “everything you know about” some subject “is wrong.”  This is another one.  But in this case it’s really justified.  The absence of affirmative and spontaneously devotional expression of Calvinistic theology has left a gaping hole in the public understanding of what Calvinism is.  Put simply, the rest of the world has no idea of what it’s like to be a Calvinist.  It’s like trying to describe Italian food by making a list of all the things it doesn’t taste like. (19).

Towards the close of his introduction the author issues an urgent warning relating to his use of the pronoun “you.”

Throughout this book I speak of the promises of salvation with reference to “you” – as in, “when Jesus died and rose again, he saved you” – on the assumption that you, the reader, possess these promises.  If you have genuinely repented from sin, trusted Christ alone as your Savior and Lord, and embarked upon a life of active discipleship through obedience and service to others, you do.  If not, you don’t. (27)

He underlines the discipleship aspect in assurance by declaring that the “biblical basis of assurance is to test the fruits of your faith in your life by God’s standards,” which he says is taught by 2 Peter 1:1-11 and 1 John.  

The next chapter; entitled “Detour,” repeats the claim that Calvinism has been “radically misunderstood” and presents the author’s own “5 Points” aimed at dispelling some of these major misunderstandings.  One such misunderstanding is over the issue of free will.  Forster says the Reformers were concerned, not with voluntary choices but in captivity of the will to Satan (31-32).  But even with this qualifier, what needs clarifying is how modern Calvinists use the word.  Forster reasons that even though the Holy Spirit “does not ask our permission” before regenerating us, this should not be understood as a violation of our freewill because this change “makes us more free, not less.” (34).  

On the issue of whether or not God loves the non-elect the writer admits that Calvinists have not come to a consensus about it, and admits that the Westminster Confession takes no position on it (39).  He stresses the Trinitarian aspect of salvation (43), and declares that the Calvinistic view of predestination “encourages reverence and meekness” (44).

There then follows four chapters on definite atonement, unconditional election, effective calling, and perseverance, and a Conclusion.  After that is a long Appendix dealing with questions and answers. 

Chapter one proper brings us right up against the doctrine of “limited atonement” or “definite atonement” (also called “particular redemption”).  This might seem like a surprising move, especially for any four-point Calvinist readers.  To be confronted with what many believe is the most uncomfortable, not to say debatable tenet of Calvinism like this might be thought of as unwise.  This reviewer believes it is very commendable.  As one who has studied this form of theology for many years I find myself in full agreement with those who locate the very logic of Calvinistic soteriology in this doctrine.  A Calvinism which denies limited atonement makes no sense to me, and I was glad that Forster nailed his colors to the mast like he did.

Forster wants to get across that Jesus died for each of us (the elect) personally and specifically (49-50).  He believes that “Whatever work God sets his hand to do must be effective” (51), which means all other options end up depersonalizing God’s love by universalizing it.  Hence, this is the watershed doctrine for Forster; “the most fundamental dividing line between Calvinism and all other theological traditions.”  In fact, he is clear that “everything else in this book hangs on it.” (52).  He presses the contrast by saying (throughout the rest of the book) that other views of the atonement ultimately are “salvation systems” which hinge on the “moment of decision” instead of the overriding work of the Holy Spirit to make us willing.  He throws in a few verses which he interprets in particularistic terms, because the elect were all “saved at the Cross and the empty Tomb.  This has to be the case because Jesus died for “you” (individual elect sinners), “and when he did, he actually saved you.” (59 my emphasis).  This statement is repeated numerous times. 

Knowing that Jesus died for “you” personally is what leads to the joy of Calvinism, so definite atonement is utterly central to the author’s thesis (e.g. 62).  

If Jesus makes atonement for your sins, you are in fact saved; therefore if you are not saved, he didn’t make atonement for your sins… What we know about the love of God and the cross of Christ compels us to say that God’s saving love cannot, in fact, be extended to everybody. (66)

There is no beating around the bush with Forster:

In fact, since Jesus knows the lost every bit as completely and as intimately as he knows his own people, the exclusion of the lost from Jesus’s saving work would also have to be a personal exclusion.  It would have to be as though Jesus said…’I am not doing anything to make him my brother, cleanse him, or bring him into my kingdom.  He is lost forever, because I have not chosen him (51).

Following on from definite atonement comes a chapter on unconditional election.  This includes a section on our individuality being seen either as a part of inviolable “nature” or as God “smashing through” our sinful natures to save us.  Arminian systems and such hold to the former, while only Calvinism advocates the latter (see 79-84).  One result of believing the Calvinist position is “the more Calvinist our piety becomes – the more fully and deeply we will love him back and have joy in resting in God’s personal love” (85).  Forster continues by surmising that the reason God does not save everyone is that “He values his justice too much to permit that.” (86). 

I’m going to return to the author’s bold statements soon.  This will mean I shall have to cut short my interaction with the other chapters.  Let me just include here then that Forster asserts, “Rather than working against our will, God simply replaces it.” (107-108), which about sums up irresistible grace (Cf. 115).  His chapter on perseverance speaks of the importance of “joy through suffering” (133).  The conclusion stresses the superiority of Calvinism over “compromising” positions.  Then the Q & A section explores some of the issues raised in a bit more detail.  

 For this reader the impression is that Forster is playing to the galleries.  That’s okay, because while doing that he speaks quite bluntly about what he believes.  At several points he admits that the force of Calvinist logic leads to difficult implications (50-51, 53, 85, 90, 186).  Thus:

The search for a universal saving love that doesn’t save universally is a theological snipe hunt…None of this makes the idea of God passing over the lost and allowing them to remain in their sins any less horrible to us.  Calvinistic theology shows us that this horrible truth must be accepted.  It dies not make it any less horrible. (66-67).

True, there are places, such as in the quotation above, where the logic ought to be more consistent: if God is in “total control” (171), so that “everything that happens is ordered and directed by God’s activity” (173), including “all human actions rather than just some of them” (175), and the very “essence of Calvinism to rejoice that God is in control of all phenomena” (180), then God doesn’t simply “allow” sinners to remain in their sins, He controls the whole process from birth to damnation.

Non-Calvinists hoping to see their theology correctly represented via quotes from the sources will be disappointed.  Forster deals a lot in wide-ranging characterizations of opposing views.  Nevertheless, the book is recommended to non-Calvinists because it purports to set the record straight about what Calvinism is, and it does so frankly.  It is also recommended to four-pointers because it serves up a challenge to that outlook by placing definite atonement front and center.

On the downside, I would have to say that the organization of the book seems a bit awkward to me.  Much of the Appendix could have been included in the main body of the book, especially if Forster had not rambled so much in places.  But that’s not a big issue.  Of more moment is the poor use of Scripture to elucidate the teaching.  With few exceptions the Bible is used to support general evangelical sub-points rather than the affirmations of Calvinistic soteriology in particular.  The author’s hope for the possible regeneration of a miscarried child (117) is a carry-over from covenant theology and will not be accepted by all Calvinists.  And certainly non-Calvinists will hardly acquiesce to Forster’s opinion that Calvinism leads to more joy and a greater appreciation of God’s love!

Does the book communicate “the joy of Calvinism”?  Only if “you” know “you” are one for whom Christ died.  But how can one infallibly know this?  Even self-examination is fraught with uncertainty.  Finally, Forster’s admittance that the justice of God requires the damnation of some (most?) has serious ramifications for God’s aseity.  If God’s attribute of justice, or any other attribute for that matter, necessitates the damnation of something He created, it makes that attribute contingent and destroys God’s Self-sufficiency.  This is a problem which Calvinist theodicies often fail to deal with.

Thanks to Crossway books for the provision of the review copy.




 

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57 comments

  1. The phrase “The Joy of Calvinism” as far as I am concerned is an oxy-moron, pointedly foolish, & at the
    least, contradictory. The only calvinists that I have met were more arrogant and argumentative than joyful.
    How can you be joyful without knowing for sure where you’re going?
    Yeah, I know that the above remarks will not be posted, but I no longer care. I’m sick of calvinists & their insidious, treacherous, gangrenous & inflated doctrines.
    God bless you anyway!

    1. John, I realize you have had your run-ins with obnoxious Calvinists, but…I know many (yes, many) who are not that way. I don’t think Forster writes that way either, although I doubt he looks outside the box very often.

      1. Thank you Brother Henebury for answering me. I’m just weary.
        God speed & keep looking UP!
        John G.

    2. I’m a Calvinist. Full five points and everything. I consider myself extremely joyful, even to the point of being jovial. Just sayin’

    3. Wow! Talking about making unfair judgments about fellow-believers you don’t even know. Is your attitude regarding individuals you have run into any better than the arrogant calvinists? To refer to calvinistic doctrines as insidious and treacherous all the while saying God bless you anyway reminds me of James who said that blessings and cursings ought not proceed from the same mouth. Maybe a retraction should be considered.

      1. To Mr. Dingess. I can only speak what I have encountered. Those calvinists that I have met were what I called them.
        I will NOT back away from what I said about calvinist doctrine at all. All five points of calvinism are false, as is covenant
        theology. I do not dislike those individuals who are calvinists, I cannot stomach their false, untrue , & treacherous
        teachings. I did not curse any one, nor did I use vulgar language. Nor will I ever. I do pray that God will show them the truth of His Word, inorder that they can pull free from the bondage of calvinism. I do not dislike anyone! But I NEVER
        cursed them. Part of my on family have been led out of calvinism, and they are very happy that they left calvinism.
        They are sad that they EVER went into calvinism. I pray for anyone and all those who are held captive by this cultish
        belief. Including you. RETRACTION? NEVER!
        God bless,
        John Gregory

      2. John,

        Ed knows first hand that Calvinists can behave very badly. But he also knows bad behavior isn’t limited to them. He is a strong Calvinist and holds to it because he is convinced it is true. I don’t want to minimize the grief you have had in this area, but I must say that your language, though not cursing, is liable to cause offense to those good brothers who are Calvinists. I think that is what Ed is referring to.

        Your brother,

        Paul

    4. There are a lot of very good people on both sides of the “five points” of Calvinism. I only hope that as Christians we can shed more light than heat and that we can recognize that none of us have arrived at a perfect understanding of all things theological. If God can love us and treat us with care and grace, surely we can do the same with one another.

  2. Really enjoyed your review, will be reading it this evening to my family. I’m sure it will lead to some great discussion.
    Would you consider a review of the Joy of Cooking next?

  3. I’ll post this comment here, but it really ties into the last post too. I’m sure that “Joy of Calvinsim” was not a great book to win over people to the Calvinist position. I’m also surprised that election is not in your list of clear teachings of Scripture. Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 seem to be pretty clear about it. But also, I think the election of Israel is a pretty good indicator of at least, in principle, unconditional election. Even though Israel was corporately elected, that election was still unconditional (Deut. 7:7-8). In fact, I actually think that the Calvinist view of election actually supports Israel restoration in Romans 11, because their restoration is contingent on God’s work to restore them, not Israel’s own response (Surprisingly, many Calvinists who oppose the restoration of Israel sound like Arminians on that point).

    1. Chris, you raised a very perceptive point here. I too believe it’s an archilles heel for the Calvinists who believe in supercessionism. They can’t in any meaningful way answer “Why do Christians benefit [unconditionally] from the blessings promised to israel despite our sin [and Israel failed too]?”. The best they could come up is “because Jesus came and God promised there will be a New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 which is unconditional!” – forgetting the original covenant was signed with Israel, and even there were two Mosaic covenants with Israel in Deut.

    2. Sure Chris, my list is not extensive. There is an issue over Rom. 9 and whether Paul is speaking corporately of Israel (my view), or individually of Christians (e.g. Piper), so election constitutes an interesting test-case. Hopefully, I shall address this matter in the future when I run my Statement of faith through these rules.

      Thanks brother.

      P

      Btw, I do hold to the individual election of Christians

  4. After reading your review I am very thankful that my reading of the book, in the evening after a day of work and in a leisurely fashion, ended up being more devotional. I was very moved in considering God’s incredible love for me. The book produced worship and an exulting of God with tears of thankfulness.

    All that you have said in the review I would agree with Paul, but it really makes me glad that it was you who was the one stuck with doing a critical review and not me.

    1. Well, I’m certainly glad you were moved by considering God’s love for you. What better subject is there to be moved by? But the theological fallout presented in the book was by concern. I recommend the book but not the conclusions. I hope my review was respectful and “positive” even though I had to disagree here and there.

      Thanks and God bless

      P

  5. Paul,
    This was a very fair and balanced review. My response to those who don’t understand how a calvinist could be a joyous calvinist, my response is they either don’t understand calvinism or hamartiology, or most likely, both. How difficult is it to understand how someone could be joyous about be saved out of a condition they were helplessly lost in? Of course if one is inclined to believe that men at least deserve some sort of chance to be saved, well the, I can understand why they might consider Calvin’s God a monster. But such a view obliterates grace now, doesn’t it. Again, I appreciate your review along with your honesty and your gracious disposition. Truly the fruit of God abides in your life and ministry. I am blessed to call you a friend.

  6. WOW! Now I I don’t understand calvinism or harmatiology! After studying theology for 40
    years, I do understand calvinism and harmatiology. In fact, harmatiology eradicates calvinism.
    Joyous about the salvation of the lost? YES! And I am joyous that My gracious God has seen
    fit to enable the lost to have the freedom to choose to be saved, which ability the calvinist
    denies! Do I obliterate grace? God forbid! Is there joy concerning the non-elect of calvinism?
    Is there ANY grace for them? Is not this limiting the grace of God? Honesty? I am honest!
    I am biblicistical. DO NOT try to make calvinism and Scripture the same! They are NOT!
    Every person on this planet is able to choose the salvation that our gracious God has graciously
    provided! Calvinism DENIES this. You have joy in the damnation of the non-elect? WOW!
    If you appreciate HONESTY, then be honest in your harmatiology! If you appreciate graciousness,
    Then allow our gracious God to offer the non-elect of calvinism the salvation that HE so
    graciously offers to His elect! Having a gracious disposition does NOT allow us the excuse to
    allow false doctrine!
    Debate calvinism? It is my command from God to stand for the truth, which calvinism, with
    its convoluted teachings, is only one of many.
    God bless the truth,
    John G.

    1. I will pass on the debate. All I need is one more debate on the merits of calvinism. Perhaps you might want to consider easing up a bit on the vituperative rhetoric. I always game for gracious and charitable dialogue between believers, but I have learned to refrain from discussions that do not enhance the fruit of God or Christian knowledge in my own life.

  7. OK ED! I will back out! YOU do not want Christian knowledge. I’ll leave you to your fruit.
    God bless, anyway.
    John G.

    1. John, every behavior we exhibit toward one another must be governed by Christian charity. I almost speak to me as if I am an enemy of the faith. Dr. Henebury would be the first to tell you that I am absolutely within the Society of Christ, with a long track record demonstrating my love for God and His word. I would encourage you to be mindful of your conduct toward others. We are all sinners. Let us treat one another with the same mercy that our Father treats us.

  8. I’m extremely grateful for this very fair and generous-spirited review of my book. One of the things that has pleased me most about the response to the book has been that all of the reviews by non-Calvinists that I’ve seen so far have been positive. I take that as a sign that the Lord granted me success in my desire to compose a defense of Calvinism that was fair and irenic as well as bold. (I will be printing out and taping up on my office door the statement “There is no beating around the bush with Forster.”)

    Paul (the other Paul) I’m honored by your statements about your response to the book. Praise God for his love!

    1. Thanks for dropping by Greg. Your comment only underlines my recommendation of your work! It is also the best reply to any who have encountered some Calvinists a little less gracious than yourself. John take note 🙂

  9. I have read your review of the above book & I think that it is adequate Given the subject, I would like to humbily request
    that you try to give us all a review of the book ” Getting the Gospel Right” by Dr. C. Gordon Olson. This is a concise rewight
    of his other volume ” Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism”. I doubt that you will have time, but it does not hurt to request.
    God bless,
    John Gregory

    1. I thought that Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism was excellent, barring a few points on which I disagreed. I think its definitely one of the best discussions of the subject. I have not read the later edition though.

  10. I have looked at Olson’s inductive method so-called and found it to be lacking in the kind of objectivity it claims. In the end, perhaps it is a softer way to posit a mediating position between Calvinism and Arminian theology than others have been able to pull off, but it still fails to remove soteriological synerigsm and that moves the argument not even an inch. In the end, I fail to see any material difference in Olson’s argument than I have witnessed in other defenses of classic Arminian theology.

  11. I skimmed Olson’s first book and was not greatly impressed, but that could be because I needed more time with it and did not have the opportunity. I’ll look out for “Getting the Gospel Right” but I’ve spent my allotment for this year and cannot buy every book I’m recommended. I appreciate the heads-up though!

    I would suggest two books for those who wish to see about where I land. The first is B. Ware’s “God’s Greater Glory,” and the second is K. Keathley’s “Salvation and Sovereignty.” I will review the latter once i get it back from the person to whom I loaned it.

    My position is monergistic, but not in the refined sense of many Calvinists; a viewpoint I see as too “mechanistic.”

    P

  12. A belated response to John Gregory, if possible: I am at the same place you are. I have read and encountered the same false doctrine and theology and , in my opinion, heresy that will keep more people from coming to Christ because of the doctrine that God has “chosen” who will be saved and who will not; a doctrine that seems to offer no assurance to either group. Of course, if you assume you are in the “chosen” group, then you are “sure” that you are saved. This theology plays well with Bio Logos and the Gospel Coalition, in that most, if not all of the leaders are Calvinist or Reformed.

  13. Thanks for a good review. Could you please explain your last paragraph:

    Finally, Forster’s admittance that the justice of God requires the damnation of some (most?) has serious ramifications for God’s aseity [God as the siurce of his own existence]. If God’s attribute of justice, or any other attribute for that matter, necessitates the damnation of something He created, it makes that attribute contingent and destroys God’s Self-sufficiency.  This is a problem which Calvinist theodicies often fail to deal with.

    1. Sure,

      God’s justice is an aspect of His goodness. It is what He is without consideration of any reality external to Him. As you know, His aseity comprehends God’s total independence from what He has created and constitutes the essential component of the Creator/creature distinction. (I would take some exception to defining aseity the way you have above. The technical definition supplements “a se” making it more in line with self-existence).

      In the paragraph you quoted notice that I placed a necessary connection between God’s justice and the damnation of (some) creatures. Please don’t think that I was saying that unrepentant sinners do not necessarily collide with God’s justice and wrath. Rather, my point has to do with the common Calvinist theodicy with its assertion that God needs some sinners to damn; which is why those sinners exist. The argument is often that God receives glory that He otherwise would not have by the damnation of sinners. Ergo, His justice must express itself in wrath or else it will lack the glory which would come with the operation of judgment to damnation.

      Now, if there is anything in God’s character which requires something of the creature (even damnation), then God’s nature is to that extent dependent on the creature and total independence (aseity) is destroyed in the process. Sinners are damned because they rebel against their Creator, not because the Creator needs sinners to damn.

      God bless you and yours,

      Paul H.

      1. Hi Paul,
        Can you point me to some Calvinist authors who teach that “God needed some sinners to damn?” I recognize that God is glorified in vessels of wrath, but that is not the same thing as saying that God needed something. I know of no prominent Calvinist who holds this view. That does not mean one does not exist. Hence, my request for some references. In addition, I would not categorize this idea as “common Calvinist theodicy.” It is my view that theodicy is precisely where the non-Calvinist runs into a serious inconsistencies if not outright contradictions. Anyways, I appreciate any references you might have on the subject.

        Ed

  14. Ed,

    John Piper writes,

    “What does God will more than saving all?…The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).” – “Are there Two Wills in God?” Available: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/are-there-two-wills-in-god

    The problem here is that God could have saved everyone but chose not to. So why?

    Again, “Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; Romans 9:22-23).”

    See also The Justification of God, 215-216 n.33 where he is quoting J. Edwards.

    Particularly helpful is this piece by Arminian theologian Thomas H. McCall: http://evangelicalarminians.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/McCall.-We-Believe-in-Gods-Sovereign-Goodness.pdf

    This is a rejoinder to Piper’s response to an article by McCall in Trinity Journal.

    That will have to do for now as I must turn to other matters.

    God bless you and yours,

    Your brother,

    Paul

    1. Without reading the entire article, I am going to assume that you selected the more forceful and clear statements from Piper on the issue. That being said, Piper does not say that God created sinners because He needed to have some way to display His justice. It is true that we do say that God’s righteousness is put on display in vessels of wrath created for destruction. Those are God’s words, not Calvinism’s. Piper is not pressing this nearly as far as I think you are. Calvinism does not contend that this was some need in the nature of God. It merely affirms that the state of affairs that have obtained are such that these vessels were created and that God’s righteousness is demonstrated in them in this manner. Of course no state of affairs obtains beyond God’s eternal decree. God with wholly without need. He lacks nothing. Man nor his punishment are not necessary things. Calvinism teaches the complete and absolute freedom of God in all things which is as cardinal to Christian theology as any cardinal teaching could be.

      In short, Calvinism nowhere to my knowledge asserts that God needed anything to exist, much less sinners. He was just as free to create as He was not to create. In addition, the concept that God receiving glory is somehow understood to mean that something lacking was now no longer lacking seems to me to be an odd way to think of it. All things created were created and do exist to glorify God, not by bringing God something He is lacking, but rather in the demonstration of God’s divine nature and attributes. That is to say these things are a reflection of God’s glory in all that He is. Calvinism does not present the glorification of God in the way in which you describe it. God has no needs, lacks nothing, and does not NEED to receive glory for His grace or His justice. This is not how classical Calvinism positions these concepts.

      The discussion of two wills in God is nothing new. I take that position as beyond dispute. That no state of affairs exists at any time in any place outside of God’s divine decree is the unambiguous assertion of Scripture. Who could ever deny such truth without committing significant hermeneutical violence to the text? But that is not the question before us even though it seems to be the question that Piper and Edwards are dealing with. Our matter seems unrelated to that issue.

      God bless,

      Ed

      1. I, onedaringjew, must give credit where credit is jue, and with interest: Ed, great reply. Now, Paul, are you going to put that in your pipe and…or are you going to come out smokin’?

      2. Calvin says, “He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man is rejected; for it was not meet that the things contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiosity examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.” Calvin, Romans 9:22.

        And again, ” First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into predestination they are penetrating the sacred precincts of divine wisdom. If anyone with carefree assurance breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity and he will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exist. For it is not right for man unrestrainedly to search out things that the Lord has willed to be hid in himself, and to unfold from eternity itself the sublimest wisdom, which he would have us revere but not understand that through this also he should fill us with wonder.” Institutes, Book III.XXI.I

        Calvin states the doctrine, informs us that we will not work out its details because God has hid them from us, tells us to accept the wonder of God’s truth, reassures us that Scripture certainly informs us that is just in His action, and cautions us not to try to plumb that which God has determined to be unsearchable. In other words, we must trust God that He is just and take Him at His word even when the human mind, with its proclivity to arrogant and autonomous thinking, cannot reconciled and settle the tension.

      3. Ed,

        Thanks for a thoughtful reply. You are right, this is not about the two “wills” in God concept, it is about some Calvinists who teach that God receives glory from the necessary suffering/damnation of people. Of course, i agree with you when you defend God’s aseity, but that wasn’t my point. My point is that certain versions of Calvinist determinism undermine God’s aseity. You say,

        “All things created were created and do exist to glorify God, not by bringing God something He is lacking, but rather in the demonstration of God’s divine nature and attributes. That is to say these things are a reflection of God’s glory in all that He is.”

        Someone like Piper (and others I have come across personally) would interpret this statement as logically entailing that sinners necessarily exist to glorify God (since He is in control of even our thoughts – as per Paul Helm). The “demonstration” you speak of is seen as necessary by Edwards and Piper. It is necessary because God actualizes the possible world which will most fully bring Him maximal glory. That is, this world, with its suffering and sin and damnation, reflects His glory better than others would.

        That being the case, God’s choice in creating this world was constrained by the consideration that it most reflect His glory. From there is is but a short step to declaring that people have to be damned so that God will receive maximal glory. And that is the problem with tying God’s glory too closely to a given state of affairs. It introduces a contingency.

        But let me here quote from Forster: “it appears that [God’s] justice is inconsistent with his pardoning all the criminals in his court. Like the judge who has a responsibility to uphold the law as well as to show mercy, God will not totally forgo the manifestation of his justice among sinners…I know each person’s standing with God is determined only by what pleases God’s perfectly good and loving will for that person.” – Joy of Calvinism, 90.

        Here the same logic as Piper is displayed. Notice that in the illustration of the judge it is needful for God to damn people instead of save them. It is this “need” I am referring to as a problem in some Calvinist formulations of theodicy.

        God bless,

        Paul

      4. Paul,
        I still think you are pressing more into this than the authors do. I think the use of the word “necessary” is very problematic. I think it likely that most of these authors would object to this characterization. But I cannot speak on their behalf…yes, a rare conjecture on my part. I try to avoid that behavior. Secondly, I do not think that a view should be classified as a “version” of Calvinism on the basis that “a Calvinist” embraces it.

        In terms of possible worlds, this speculation gives me great indigestion. Do counterfactuals exist? Maybe, maybe not. Are those real counterfactuals or literary accommodations? This is probably best left for another discussion. However, the idea of possible worlds and the assumption that this one is the best of all possible worlds seems to me to place God in a lower position. It seems to threaten God’s freedom if in fact the concept is true, which I have have my doubts. I prefer not to give it much time because I consider it unworthy of much of my time. In addition, I do not think it is right to uncritically accept the presupposition that this is necessarily the best of all those possible worlds, if such a concept exists. Rationally speaking, I think God could have had perfectly good and justifiable reasons for choosing this world even if it is not the “best” of all possible worlds. In addition, we have a problem with the criterion once more, don’t we. Whose best? What is “best?” I have to jump. I will come back to this tomorrow when I have more time. It is good to chat with you my brother. I miss that.

        God bless,

        Ed

  15. Ed,

    Calvin was a man and he had no right to tell others who spotted problems in his theology that they were being arrogant or autonomous. I think there are versions of Calvinism which are not open to the problem I highlighted. But they are those which do not hook up God’s glory with His providence. Piper does, following Edwards (whose espousal of occasionalism brings him close to panentheism), and so he says things like God brings about evil for His glory. That assertion is open to objection on Biblical and philosophical grounds (see the McCall articles).

    Brother, I am a “Sovereigntist” – I believe that God always decides what happens. But I do not feel obligated to overlook difficulties with ANY theological system – my own included. The problem I highlighted at the end of the review was one which I have not yet read a good response to. That is all I meant.

    As always, God bless you and yours.

    P

    1. You say,
      “But let me here quote from Forster: “it appears that [God’s] justice is inconsistent with his pardoning all the criminals in his court. Like the judge who has a responsibility to uphold the law as well as to show mercy, God will not totally forgo the manifestation of his justice among sinners…I know each person’s standing with God is determined only by what pleases God’s perfectly good and loving will for that person.” – Joy of Calvinism, 90.”

      “Here the same logic as Piper is displayed. Notice that in the illustration of the judge it is needful for God to damn people instead of save them. It is this “need” I am referring to as a problem in some Calvinist formulations of theodicy.”

      My response is that the necessity you say is there is nowhere present. Is it necessary for God to punish sin? Of course it is, but this is because He is necessarily righteous and just. Does the act of God’s punishment display His righteous nature and result in His glory? Of course it does. But does God need this in order to be just? Absolutely not! Did God NEED to create this world in the first place? Absolutely not! The idea of necessity does not exist in Forster’s statement above, and I think it is lacking in Piper and Edwards as well. Since God was free NOT to create at all, the indictment against Calvinism’s theodicy seems invalid, or unsound unless I am missing something here. And that is always possible.

  16. Hey Paul,
    I don’t mean to imply that you have no right to disagree with or point out problems within any theological system. All TS are wrought with problems of their own as far as I can see. I think you know me better than that. You are asserting that some Calvinists hold that God had a need. Specifically, that God needed to create sinners to damn so that He would receive maximum glory. I have yet to see this in the authors you quote. I have to ask if this is their clear position or if it is your interpretation of the logical conclusion of their position. I am skeptical that Edwards and Piper would agree with you that they believe God needs anything. It is one thing to posit that God created sinners in order to demonstrate His righteousness by their condemnation. It is entirely another matter to position this event as some lack in God. The two are not the same. My confusion seems from your inference that Edwards and Piper believe that God NEEDED to have sinners to damn, that their condemnation was necessary in some way. You can’t even get to necessity with the “best of all possible worlds” argument because that logically follows only after the decree to create. God was free not to create. And if that is true, this argument from necessity proves invalid from my perspective. I don’t mean to upset you Paul. I enjoy these discussions because I always learn something from them. But I would caution that we must always be careful not to carry another person’s view farther than they do. I think that may be what you are doing here. I could be wrong and that is fine. I just don’t see necessity in Piper or Edwards in the way you frame it.

    1. That could be maybe charged to those who are Supralapsarians since in their order of decree they have election and reprobation as first without contemplating humanity as created or even fallen prior to that. Basically the net result would be reprobated unto sin instead of reprobation due to sin all due to the glory of God. I dont think it can apply to infralapsarianism or sublapsarianism since men are condemned because of their sin.

      1. The problem is that creation, regardless of the order of decrees, remains a free act of God. Moreover, creation has not in any way added anything to God nor has it compensated for something that was lacking. God’s act to create can rightly be said that it was in part to display His glory to His rational creatures. We can say this because God has revealed this fact to us in Scripture. However, to engage in speculation and conjecture as to hidden reasons for the current state of affairs tends toward various and I might add hazardous errors. Concerning the decrees, Shedd’s view that the decrees of God should be viewed as one is a very fascinating position. An argument can be made to that end given other revelations concerning God’s nature. Still, in the end, if we do say these things have merit, carry weight, or are interesting, we must always remind ourselves that God has revealed and made plain those things that demand a high degree of attention and study. Other matters, being less obvious or more obscure, are worthy of less attention. We must always remember that the Word of God has work to do. The purpose of Scripture is to sanctify. This perlocutionary goal should never be lost in our investigation of Scripture’s revealed truths. God’s word informs lives with the goal of changing lives.

        Ed

    2. Ed,

      I am not in the least bit offended my brother. Feel free to disagree with me!

      I do not have the time or the opportunity right now to address this the way I should like to. But the fact is some Calvinists have made it plain that God acts to maximize His glory; therefore, what occurs must maximize His glory. Ergo, this world is necessary to maximize God’s glory.

      Piper has affirmed this statement by Edwards:
      “It is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice and holiness should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed.” – The Justification of God, 215-216 n.33.

      Because my books are in disarray I have to rely on McCall’s paper (http://evangelicalarminians.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/McCall.-We-Believe-in-Gods-Sovereign-Goodness.pdf), page 238, for the quote. But McCall produces enough evidence to show that both Edwards and Piper (and others I might quote if I could get my hands on my books) believe that God created THIS world to maximize His glory. If such were not the case He would not have decreed it, since to decree that which is not “best” in terms of His glory would be to say that He is satisfied with less than His due.

      Your restating the doctrine of Divine Aseity (which I agree with) does nothing to engage the issue. It appears that the main argument against my original theodicy problem is that Edwards and Piper either didn’t say that or I misunderstand them: a response I respectfully but strongly disagree about. Piper has said enough about tsunamis and bridge collapses to show the direction of his thought. As time permits I shall show my understanding to be accurate, although McCall has shown it quite well.

      Again, I don’t think you caught the full thrust of Forster’s “judge” illustration i cited above. If it would be inconsistent with God’s justice to save everyone, because of a responsibility to show judgment then Forster has just said precisely what Edwards said in the previous quotation: that, “It is necessary that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice and holiness should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed.” This is a train that won’t stop.

      As for the existence of counterfactuals: well they exist as possibilities in God, as the Bible plainly shows (1 Sam. 23:11-12; Matt. 11:21).

      God bless,

      Paul

      1. Hey Paul,
        To be fair to Piper (whom I consider a wildcard at times), it would be imprudent for me to wrangle with the quote you provided. That being said, I think whatever Piper is driving at, he is not likely to be driving at the idea that creation was necessary. It seems that we might get closer if we were to paraphrase Piper by saying that if God’s plan was to provide a full display of His justice, that sin and punishment was just as necessary as redemption and forgiveness. That is conjecture on my part. I am not sure what Piper is driving towards here.

        To say that THIS word maximizes God’s glory is to define the criterion for why God chose to create in the first place. I believe Scripture is clear that all things have been created for His glory. This includes the Pharaoh whom God hardened as well as the vessels of wrath, as well as the natural disasters we experience. However, to say that this world was created because this is the criterion by which God chose to create is the product of philosophical speculation and conjecture at best. I can say this about the subject of God choosing to create: God chose to create for reasons known only to Himself. Within those reasons we know that God chose to create for Himself, for His own glory. He had no need to create. Creation will remain a mystery with God choosing reveal some things about the event while hiding others.

        We know that Edwards affirmed God’s freedom. It is one thing to say that once God chose to create, and once God decreed to display His full justice, that it was necessary for sin and punishment to exist. It is quite another to say that God needed such a state of affairs from the start. The latter would be the thing to which I would strongly object. I would also argue that Piper and Edward would likely fall into that position. If I understand them, they are saying that God’s decree to create was entirely free. But since that decree involved the demonstration of His full justice, then sin and punishment had to exist in order to accomplish that which God had decreed. In other words, the necessity was contingent on the nature and content of God’s prior decree. This is how I understand their position.

        That being said, sovereignty demands that nothing happens that God has not decreed would happen. So the question is not why does evil exist. We know why. God decreed it. The question then is why did God decree it? In addition, the real point to be made is that since all evil exists by God’s divine decree, it follows that there is no purposeless evil in the world. The influence of chance invades theology and creates havoc and chaos within the Christian system of truth. It seems we are content to rebuff chance in our apologetic with great passion, but for some reason, when it comes to theology, we want to make concessions. It is my view that the typical Arminian theodicy that encounter leads to disaster in Christian theology as well as apologetics.

        God bless,

        Ed

  17. Ed,

    The issue is not whether Piper would affirm God’s aseity (He does). It is whether his theological statements undermine it. Though I’m no Arminian, if this post were about where Arminian theodicy may lead perhaps your objections wouldn’t be as persistent? 😉

    At the end of your second para. above you make a plea for what I might call “moments” within the Divine decree. These would have to be logical, not chronological (since time would not have been created). But it appears that you are now indulging in the kind of speculations you advise against.

    Again, because I know you to be a solid theologian and biblicist I have no problem with it.

    Your brother,

    P.

    1. Hey Paul,
      If I am right about Piper and Edwards perspective, and I am not certain that I am, it would seem that their view would not undermine aseity. I think that is the crux of our difference. Our interpretations of what both men are saying seems to differ around God’s choice to create. You seem understand both men to argue that God NEEDED more glory, or maximum glory while I take the the hypothetical, If God wanted to accomplish “x” then “y” was necessary. In my arrangement, “x” is not at all necessary in any sense of the word, and since y is the consequent of x, it is not necessary either.

      Your interpretation of my comments to mean “moments” in God’s decrees is a perfect example. Of course I mean logical ordering. In addition, I was speaking hypothetically from their position as I understand it, not necessarily my own.

      Let me just say this: Classical Calvinism does not teach that God was lacking in the amount of glory He needed and therefore,as a means of obtaining the glory He was lacking, He created the best possible world that would provide it. On the other hand, Calvinism considers the best answer for why God created at all to be “for His own glory,” to be single best answer to the question. In truth, I can think of no better answer and Scripture clearly points us up to this fact repeatedly.

      It has been a delightful conversation as usual. I enjoy chatting you with you my friend. I always learn something and I always walk away with something more to think about (even if I don’t always say so).

      God bless,

      Ed

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