Dear John Piper

By on Mar 7, 2014

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So I wake up this morning to find John Piper has posted a video with some thoughts on my book. [Full disclosure: if you’ve read the book, you know Piper had a huge impact on my life and I still have immense respect for him. So hearing him talk about the book was surreal.]

Even though I was sure the book would convert him :)…go figure, it didn’t, and he had some sharp things to say. He was particularly miffed because he felt I had misrepresented Jonathan Edwards, claiming Edwards thought and taught God was a black hole that needs human worship. A few thoughts…

 

 

This is a tricky subject, but I feel the way Piper handled it misrepresented me more than I may or may not have represented Edwards. The nub of the issue is this: I don’t think Edwards or Piper think God is a black hole that needs human worship (a vacuum cleaner, as Piper says)—period, honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor. I worship and serve alongside many Calvinists at my church and I know they don’t think that about God.

What I say is that when I traced out Edwards’ logic and thought the things Edwards thought about God, I felt forced to believe God was a black hole that seemed to need to create in order to display all of his attributes (after all, how do you display wrath and justice without a creation?). There’s a huge difference here and throughout the book I go out of my way to make this concession: this is what I felt compelled to believe as a Calvinist and isn’t what all Calvinists believe.

So while Piper says I should be “ashamed” for misrepresenting Edwards, what I hear is that I should be ashamed for not agreeing with Edwards. And that makes me sad.

 

 

To turn the tables, most firm Calvinists I know think Arminianism (or anything that’s not Calvinism) inevitably leads to semi-pelagianism. They feel that if they were Arminians, they would feel forced to be semi-pelagian. Fair enough. I very much disagree, but I understand what they’re saying and can respect that.

I’m not going to wag the Protestant papal finger of shame at them and claim they think I think my works get me into heaven and are ignorant and have egregiously misrepresented me. They’re just saying they would feel compelled to believe that if they believed what I did. Again—fair enough. Reasonable, biblical, orthodox minds can look at the same picture and see different things. We’ve done it since Jesus walked out of the tomb. As someone who’s not a fundamentalist, that’s my conviction.

 

 

Did I say some sharp things in the book? Yes. Too sharp? I hope not, but I’m not above that criticism. But did I misrepresent Edwards? I’m under no illusion that I understand Edwards perfectly (who can!?), but I don’t think I misrepresented him. This is what I think happened and what I trace out in the book.

I sat and watched the meticulous picture of God that Edwards and Piper painted. I loved so many of the strokes and colors. They finished painting, stepped back and said, “What a masterpiece! The manifold excellencies of the glory of God, displayed in the doctrines of grace.” I stepped back and said, “I really want to see that!…but I’m afraid I see a black hole instead.”

 

 

So Dear John,

I appreciate so much of what you do and what you did in my life in a formative time. I think you’re a theological force of nature. I think your ministry brings glory to God. I think you believe in an infinitely glorious and beautiful God who loved you enough to die for you. I don’t think you believe God is a black hole—honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor.

But as much as I didn’t want to and as hard as I tried, when I stepped back from the picture of God you and Edwards painted and took it all in, I didn’t see what you saw. I saw a black hole.

I’m truly sorry if you feel I implied you and Edwards believe God is a needy black hole. I know you don’t believe that, so if that’s what you feel I said, I apologize. I’m not sorry that I (along with many others) look at the picture you paint, can’t ignore the reprobate, can’t reconcile it with lots of Scripture, can’t reconcile it with a good God who looks like Jesus crucified for the whole world, and can’t help but see a black hole. I can agree to disagree. Hopefully you can too.

Grace and Peace Brother,

Austin

  • Dustin Payne

    #burn

  • http://worshipforge.com/ Gene Pensiero

    Austin – thanks for your book. Be encouraged today!

  • Jenn Hickman

    A gracious response!

  • Drake Osborn

    What scripture can you not reconcile Piper and Edward’s views with? Just very curious.

    • Daniel Williams

      Excellent question. I was wondering the same thing.

    • Austin Fischer

      The book of Hebrews (check out McKnight’s “A Long Faithfulness), the biblical portrayal of what election is and people’s ability to opt in and out of it, 1 Tim. 4:10, John 3:16, etc.

      • Peter McKenzie

        Austin, I just listened to your debate with James White on Unbelievable, and I empathize with any frustration you might have felt afterword. Even though, I agree that the Bible should be our starting and finishing point, the critical point is that we don’t just read the Bible full stop. We read it with our reasoning, logic, rationale and intuitive sense – all helping us to read and understand it. So when you pressed him to provide an analogy that would help us make sense of how a good and loving God could create people for damnation, and he then could only harken back to the Bible’s depiction of the incarnation (without any further explanation), I found that extremely frustrating. It was classic circular reasoning. I suggest you stay with that tact.

        A quote by Dallas Willard says it better than I can:

        “The acid test for *any* theology is this: Is the God presented one that can be loved, heart, soul, mind, and strength? If the thoughtful, honest answer is: “Not really,” then we need to look elsewhere or deeper. It does not really matter how sophisticated intellectually or doctrinally our approach is. If it fails to set a *loveable* God – a radiant, happy, friendly, accessible, and totally competent being – before ordinary people, we have gone wrong. We should not keep going in the same direction, but turn around and take another road”.

        If this premise can be accepted, I don’t think anyone would honestly argue that God created some to be destroyed (however one defines “destroyed”).

  • Carly

    Thank you so much for your book. My free will theology was devoured by the Romans 9 tiger in college. I struggled for a good ten years or so with all of the moral and theological implications of Calvinism, and I finally got to the point where I couldn’t live with it anymore. I had a few choices (or not choices, for the Calvinists). I could choose to believe that God does not love everyone, created people He predestined to sin, predestined them to reject Him, and predestined them to be tortured for all of eternity. If that were the case, I could not worship that god. I could also choose to reject Christianity altogether, which I didn’t want to do. Or I could choose to believe that there was a Biblical way to interpret Romans 9 (and other predestination oriented passages that allowed for free will). That’s the option I chose, and that’s what drew me to your book. As you said, it’s all about choosing which monsters in your basement you can live with. Everyone I know has either never been a Calvinist or are currently hard core Calvinists. Your book showed me that I wasn’t alone. Thank you for that.

    • Michael Patton

      Just got your book. I look forward to reading it!

      • Daniel Williams

        Michael, I hope you will write a review of Austin’s book at “Parchment and Pen”.

        Daniel

    • archidude

      Hi Carly the link here has a great exegetical flyover of Romans 9 – a nice bit of tiger taming. Most of the author’s points are made in N.T. Wrights’ works: http://nagasawafamily.org/paul_romans.09-11.predestination&freewill.pdf

      • Carly

        Thanks so much for sharing! I just read the post and I did find it very helpful. I appreciated that he addressed the Jacob I loved but Esau I hated verses, since those were not specifically mentioned in Austin’s book (as far as I remember). I also started to read the post about C.S. Lewis’ Theology of Atonement, but then I realized that it was much longer and it’s 1 AM. So maybe tomorrow.

        • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

          Carly,

          I highly recommend you investigate the corporate election view. In my opinion it makes the best sense of all that Scripture has to say on election, including Romans 9. Here is a good place to start: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/corporate-election-quotes/

          Be sure to check out the first link at the bottom as well for even more resources and scholarly articles, some of which deal more directly with Romans 9.

          • Carly

            Thanks so much for the link! I had not heard of corporate election before. Very interesting.

        • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

          Oh, and here is a very good concise article on why the Calvinist understanding of “the elect” is at odds with Romans 9-11,

          http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/calvinist-election-refuted-in-romans-11-a-concise-and-devastating-article-by-a-professor-of-new-testament-and-greek/

          Mr. Austin,

          I haven’t read your book yet, but look forward to being able to do so eventually. We need more books like this and more people willing to share their stories of leaving Calvinism and why. I hope it is OK that I have left a few links here in the comments section as they are directly related to the comments being made here.

          God Bless,
          Ben

          • Austin Fischer

            Feel free! Thanks Ben.

    • Austin Fischer

      You’re very welcome! And some good links are shared here below. Hope they’re helpful.

    • Joe

      I have seen people go down this path before, rejecting the whole package because they were taught this demonic view of God, which as far as I can tell started with Augustine. Did you know Augustine also believed that any sex, even in marriage, that was not for procreation was a sin? Just one more reason to not take anything seriously that he taught.
      Carly, I suggest, even if you are in a good place now, I suggest you read Marcus Borg. He had a similar path to many people who reject the old way of thinking, but found there is way to take the Bible seriously but not literally. (part of a title from one of his books)
      You could start with “Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time”

      • http://kirstymcallister.blogspot.co.uk/ Kirsty

        “Did you know Augustine also believed that any sex, even in marriage,
        that was not for procreation was a sin? Just one more reason to not take
        anything seriously that he taught.”
        That’s hardly a revolutionary view, and has been held by many others (was/is it not a catholic view?). I don’t agree with it, but that doesn’t mean everything else he wrote was rubbish. We all have wrong views, but that doesn’t nullify our ability to have right views as well!

        • Joe

          Kirsty,
          I can’t say everything he wrote was rubbish, as I have have not read everything he wrote. But I do know a lot of his ideas are rubbish, and certainly do not line up with Jesus’ teaching.

    • Tegs

      I had a similar experience for sometime at a Calvinistic Bible College. The battle was so strong that I nearly slept away. The kind of God Calvinism teaches is terrifying, frightening and heartless; many times I wept and wept over everything of Reformed doctrines; the thought of God creating people by his own decision and selecting some for life and others for death,and no one has control over their birth into the world, and no one has a choice about their destiny, but everything predetermined by God, either to be tortured in hell or to live forever in heaven- calling that “grace” is totally mindless. The whole “5 Points” of Calvinism stand on false ground that many in that circle have not thought about. Many people in churches just take what theologian/pastor so and so teaches. They rely on the Hebrew, Greek and oratorical skills of these men. These men in turn rely on medieval literature, and Puritan materials, perceiving the Puritans as models to be emulated. Church history is packed with horrors, crude and evil acts when seen from today’s perspectives. However, Christ is presented in the gospels as compassionate and not as a arbitrary selectionist whose secrete mind cannot be known. I have long rejected Calvinism altogether. I’m not in any denomination. I believe in Christ, I love all humanity whoever people are, we are all brothers and sisters. I cherish beautiful creation and enjoy diversity. Ultimately, people need to come to this realisation- that God cannot be confind to any pieces of fragmented literatures or to the pages of the Bible. Nobody can know every purpose of everything that is divine. Theologians, however, won’t refrain from attempting to explain out everything written in the Bible. So many have been misled. The doctrine of predestination is altogether wrong. T

  • Becka Jarvis

    Hi Austin, you were kind enough to reply to me over at Roger Olson’s site. Am reading your book very slowly as it is like falling on a bruise to revisit any of these thoughts. Piper’s God has terrified all the faith out of me , & I ‘m scared to feel hope again. I hope your story is the first of many about exiting the YRR movement. Thanks for such a gracious reply to him, it is time he was challenged on his ideas by people he can’t immediately write off.

    • David Brainerd

      I believe that Calvinism is being used by the NWO to create atheists, who in turn will support the NWO. The New World Order knows Christianity is its enemy, and that Calvinism is a Christianity-killer. They are using Calvinism to good effect. Why are these Calvinist ministries so rich? Why are so many Calvinist pastors celebrities? Because the NWO is backing them financially to destroy Christianity.

  • Jae Lewis

    Austin, I just discovered
    your book today and I’m looking forward to it, however, I really enjoyed your
    reply to Piper. Calvinism troubled me so deeply when I first considered its
    implications that I ravaged the Word and spent a lot of time seeking Gods face
    on the matter… “God, do you reprobate the non-elect to for glory, rendering
    their obstinacy certain and then sweeping down on them with cosmic judgment? Why
    would you withhold the (irresistible) grace they so desperately need to
    surrender their recalcitrant hearts? If
    so, I need to know these things about You right now. Just rip it off like a Band-Aid
    and tell me the truth.” It went something like this. Thanks for being
    brave and facing the gale that I am sure has swelled about.

    • Austin Fischer

      Gracious responses like yours make it worth it! Thanks Jae

  • Daniel Williams

    Austin Writes: ” I (along with many others) look at the picture you paint, can’t ignore
    the reprobate, can’t reconcile it with lots of Scripture, can’t
    reconcile it with a good God who looks like Jesus crucified for the
    whole world, and can’t help but see a black hole.”

    My Reply:

    Most Calvinists are Infralapsarians, not Supralapsarians. I am an Infralapsarian Calvinist. I believe that according to the logical order of events in the divine decree, the fall of mankind preceded election. That’s an important distinction, if the election was according to grace, which I believe that it is. 95% of Calvinist’s think so.

    So therefore, when considering that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and leaving others to the fate that they deserve, He is both merciful and just. Everyone gets what they deserve, or better. God treats nobody worse than they deserve. Nobody but Jesus that is, but Jesus willingly gave His life, for the joy that was set before Him.

    For God to have mercy on some, does not then require that He be merciful to all. If God sends all men to hell, He is just. But His mercy triumphs over justice.

    I want to read Austin’s book to see if the reprobates in the basement make a valid argument, “Why did you make me like this?” I can’t imagine that any of the unsaved will have a valid excuse before God on judgment day. These reprobates in the basement seemed to be where Austin was turned from Calvinism.

    Daniel Williams

    • archidude

      Hi Daniel,
      The way you describe God just makes him a jerk. Jesus seems to think that “God so LOVED the world.” What you describe is an arbitrary despot who is not worthy of much of anything. He is simply the biggest dog on the block. If he chooses to swallow you so be it. This theology doesn’t make me trust God – he is merely a cosmic power grabber.

      As for the logical ordering of events in the divine decree, I always thought God chose Adam. After he chose Adam, he called Cain (to no avail) – finally after one disaster then another, God called Abram, and Abram responded. It seems to me that God’s call is a foundation to all divine decree. (i know there were others who responded to God, but Abram was the catalyst to the whole world)

      Please read Austin’s book – good stuff!

      • Daniel Williams

        “The way I describe God” ??

        We are reading the same Bible. I became a Calvinist, at first reluctantly, because I believed it is the correct exegesis of scripture.

      • Daniel Williams

        I will read the book however.

      • Joe

        Daniel, Most scholars believe it was John that said those words, not Jesus, as well as all the other rather dogmatic claims about Jesus, which are only found in John. They are not found in the synoptics, and John was written much later than the other 3 gospels.

  • Daniel Williams

    The reprobates argument is that God is not fair. If God elects some men to salvation and not others, then the those He passes over have a valid complaint, supposedly.

    Fairness says, If I do something nice, or gracious, or in mercy for one person, I then obligate myself to do it for everyone alike. Jesus tells us a parable to set us straight on our idea “fairness”.

    Matthew 20 contains a parable about Laborers sent to work in the vineyard. Not all are treated the same. All are treated justly, but some are treated more favorably. And the the parable ends with a valuable point.

    “‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

    Is it okay if God does what He wishes with that which belongs to Him?

    “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
    “Friend, I am doing you no wrong”

    • archidude

      Gee, interesting reading – I thought in Matt 20 Jesus was parabolically making the point that Israel is going to have to widen her tents (Is 54) because the outcast and exiled were being brought back into the family. Interesting that you have taken a parable that speaks of the inclusionary nature of God and used it to justify a reading that seems exclusionary (because big dog god chooses only certain folk)
      blessings
      gary

      • Daniel Williams

        Gary, God is being inclusionary when He considers the fallen pool of humanity, of which none deserve anything but damnation, but instead of damming all, He has mercy on some.

        Do you take exception to the words of God, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy”?

        • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

          Daniel,

          Do you hold to exhaustive divine determinism like Piper and Edwards? If so, I don’t see how infralapsarianism really changes things much. God doesn’t just pass over people who got themselves into their sinful predicament and leave them to what they deserve. God is the one who decreed their sinful predicament in such a way that they could no more resist their sin and unbelief than create a universe. That is the problem. The question is where does this “fallen pool of humanity” come from? How did it get there? How did it get to be fallen? These are very important questions.

          It seems strange that Calvinist continually use this argument. It just doesn’t work when the fundamental presuppositions of Calvinism are kept in view (exhaustive divine determinism). It is like borrowing a little from Arminianism in order to defend Calvinism. I wrote a post on Piper’s view and his illegitimate attempt to make us culpable for sin rather than God (by basically trying to sound very Arminian, just like you), given His commitment to determinism. You might find it helpful in better understanding the objection and why your solution doesn’t satisfy Arminians like me: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/john-piper-on-god-ordaining-all-sin-and-evil-part-1-an-arminian-response-to-pipers-first-question/

          You write,

          Do you take exception to the words of God, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy”?

          This is another rather typical Calvinist retort that I find strange. First, it is only a single prooftext. One could answer with another prooftext, like this: “Do you take exception to the words of God when He says that He loves the world; made atonement for all, the whole world, every man, and desires none to perish, all to be saved, etc.?”

          But what is really strange is that you just assume that when God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” that should automatically mean that He decides who He will have mercy on based on no conditions whatsoever. What if God is saying that He has the sovereign right to bestow mercy on the condition of faith alone rather than on the basis of ethnicity or works? That is perfectly in line with that statement and with the context of Romans 9 (and Rom. 9-11, and Romans as a whole). So if God has determined to show mercy on the basis of faith rather than unconditionally, do you then take exception to the words of God? See how that works?

          Gdo Bless,
          Ben

        • archidude

          Hi Daniel,

          Sorry it took me a day or two to get back to you. Wow, did you read Ben’s linked post? Intense – bring a sack lunch or sit down with a cup of coffee; the article will take awhile to read.

          I’m going to pass on Ben’s trajectory and just go to Romans 9. But, first, I want to let you know that my favorite scholars include Ben Witherington, N.T. Wright, Gordon Fee, Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, Richard Hays, Roger Olsen, Kevin Vanhoozer, Henry Knight, Nick Perrin and Rikk Watts. Hopefully this list gives you an idea of some of my foundation.

          If I begin my study of God with Genesis, I don’t recognize the God who sees us as a damnable, fallen pool. Instead, I see a god who chooses to create in the image of himself. Choice is either part of the created order, or I don’t understand the two trees in the garden. Mistakes (fallenness) doesn’t automatically alienate one from God. A great case in point is God’s pursuit of Cain, and Cain was a jerk. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob seems to pursue a people to be his own. He makes covenant with them, he delivers them, and he never leaves.

          By the time the narrative of the Old Testament gets to Sinai, we have witnessed a strange and crazy faithfulness by this God towards his chosen people. And they tell Moses they don’t want to talk to God, and they make a golden calf. God wants to wipe them out, but Moses intervenes. God listens to Moses, but he is ticked and tells Moses you guys go ahead to the promise land. I’ll meet you there. But Moses refuses and tells the Lord that if the Presence of God doesn’t go, he’s not going. It is this context in which Paul quotes from the book of Exodus. (33.19)

          Rom 9.15 isn’t a proof text arguing about the existential nature of God, but rather, Paul arguing that God has worked his plan. Paul’s argument is not “God can do anything he wants,” but, rather, God has chosen a certain people, he has chosen the younger son, he has hardened certain hearts, he has had mercy according to His faithfulness. This text is discussing Israel’s history. Not the nature of God. And Paul seems to think that he is now in similar place to Moses. Paul is interceding for his people of the flesh. Paul infers that God has had mercy on him the way God had mercy on Moses. Look at Exodus 32.32. Moses tells God, “curse me instead of them.” In Rom 9.3, Paul says, “I wish I could be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.”

          So in answer to your question Daniel, I do not take exception to the words of God, I merely place them in their inspired context.

          Have a great evening
          blessings
          gary

          • Joe

            Gary,
            Remind us how Cain was a jerk? Genesis 4:1-5. No indication of jerk status.

          • archidude

            Hi Joe,

            Cain brings an offering that is unacceptable. God says that’s not what I want (lots of meaning possible here). Cain gets mad and is unable to let it go, so he acts out violently against his brother (you want a sacrifice God? well here’s one for you) . . . That counts as jerk status in my book.

            So then God says fine – here’s a bit of correction (judgement). Cain cries, “This is way unfair. I’m dead, dead.” God says, “no worries – I still got your back.” And Cain still decides to go his own way. I consider Cain a jerk – when we read his story it’s all about his feelings his self-vindication . . . he was a jerk, but God still met with him. This is why I think depravity is not all my Calvinist friends say it is. Cain is the model for regret not repentance. My Calvinist friends would have me believe that God is distant from the sinner. Well Cain is about as messed up as any of us, and God still met with him.

          • Joe

            Could we please just focus on the text? Specifically Genesis 4:1-5. More specifically, why was Cain’s offering unacceptable?
            We are not told, are we? That is why, at least for bible literalists, this is one of the toughest stories in the Hebrew bible. The picture of God here, and in much of the Hebrew bible, is one of a capricious and temperamental, even vindictive God.

  • 1689LBC

    I have not read the book yet, however I am going to ask my pastor if our church can read it as a study. I am a Reformed Baptist in a Reformed Baptist church, and so obviously a Calvinist, but I would like to engage the book to see if it can challenge my interpretation of justification. I do think that some of the problems however stem from the faulty presupposition that God loves every human being equally. He does not. When I was introduced to Calvinism I hated, not disagreed with, but hated it! Eventually I came to believe that, that is what scripture actually teaches. Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. Now that may be a Hebrew idiom and does not mean that God actually hated Esau, but it clearly shows that God showed favor (grace) to Jacob that He did not show to Esau. Thats just what it says. Be careful that you do not read your beliefs about what you think God should be like into the scripture, instead of forming your view of God from scripture. The question is not do I like what it says, but is what it says true, should be our approach. Well, there is my two cents. God bless to all the saints, Calvinist or not.

    • Austin Fischer

      I don’t get into the debates over justification. I’d suggest you check out N.T. Wright’s “Justification” if you’re looking for that. It’s a great read. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | Austin Fischer’s Response to John Piper’s Criticism of His Book about Leaving Calvinism

  • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

    Austin,

    I put together a page at my site many years ago where Calvinists can safely share their stories about coming out of Calvinism. Would you be willing to add your voice there? You could give a brief description or leave a link or just refer people to your book. If you would like to, just go here and leave a comment: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/x-calvinist-corner/

    And this invitation is for any other ex-Calvinists who want to share their story. Many people view this page and I think sharing stories about leaving Calvinism helps a lot of people who are just entertaining Calvinism (to reconsider) or those who are getting to a point of leaving it themselves and need some encouragement.

    Thanks,
    Ben

  • Tobie

    Hi Austin. I’ve only read an excerpt of your book, and immediately liked it. I’m fairly convinced that the strongest argument against Calvinism is not a theological/intellectual one (as important as that may be), but rather one coming from ordinary believers who have encountered God in a personal, intimate way, and who love him with all of their being, but who cannot find him in the same way (i.e. the way they came to know and love him) in Calvinism.

    This obviously sounds astoundingly flaky to most Calvinists, but perfectly sane to those who can relate to the experience. Calvinists are correct when they say that the love of God is immensely different to our understanding of love, but they are wrong when they make that difference qualitative instead of quantitative. God does not want to deconstruct our understanding of love, but deepen it. As wonderful as a first kiss may be, it is nothing in comparison to the act of marriage. Yet the latter is an extension of the former, a progression along the very same line, and not another thing altogether. It includes everything experienced at the beginning, yet magnifies and intensifies it so as to completely transcend it.

    To touch God’s love, and to grow in it, is similar. This means that the so-called “counter-intuitive” element of Calvinism is Calvinism’s greatest refutation, as it is the one thing that can be experienced by all of God’s children, even the simplest. It represents an unanticipated turn-off on the highway of the ever increasing revelation of God’s love, and explains the ad nauseam “I came in kicking and screaming” references in Calvinistic testimonies.

    I sometimes miss this very obvious emphasis in the whole debate, but picked it up in your book, which is why I am looking forward to reading the rest of it.

    • 1689LBC

      Hey Tobie, I have a question I would like to ask you. Do you believe God loves all people the same or is there a qualitative difference between the love that He has for His children in comparison to unbelievers? I am not poking fun but I am somewhat confused about what you mean when you say that God does not want to deconstruct our understanding of love, but deepen it. Unless I have misunderstood you, I disagree that God does not want to deconstruct our understanding of love. Our culture misunderstands love as being, if you love me you will do whatever makes me happy. Now that is not everyone in the culture but many. I would say for some their definition of love is not biblical at all and needs to be completely redefined once they have come to Christ. Thank you and may God bless.

      • Tobie

        C. S. Lewis speaks of a “Real Morality” that it is to be found amongst all people groups, cultures etc., and that provides the basis for statements like “The Nazis were bad.” This includes an understanding of what love is, albeit at a rather basic level. Yes, there are many perversions out there, but the great writers and filmmakers were oftentimes great exactly because they tapped into the this “real” meaning of things and presented it to their audiences. This is the understanding I’m referring to. It is best understood in experience, such as when a man truly loves a woman, or a parent a child, or in a true friendship, or between brothers/sisters, etc. And so the Bible uses all of the metaphors above to tap into, build on and expand our understanding of love, in order to ultimately introduce us to the reality only hinted at by the shadows, namely the love of God. This what I mean when I say God’s love is not a “different” type of love to our intuitive understanding of it, but a clearer picture of the same thing. For 3 decades now, I have heard the same response from sincere Christians (some simple-minded, some brilliant) when they are confronted with Calvinism: “How can a God of love do that?” The answer “God’s love is different to your understanding of love” is not a consolation, but a terrible deconstruction of the very natural understanding of God that is birthed by following the clear metaphors of Scripture to their logical conclusions (Father, husband, friend, a God who shows no favoritism, who extends an open invitation to the poor and oppressed to come to him, who loves us like the father loved the prodigal, etc.)

        As far as your question re God loving all people the same: Mark tells us that Jesus looked at the rich young man and “loved him”, before being rejected by him. Matthew tells us that Jesus looked upon Jerusalem as a mother hen looks at her brood, wanting to gather them under her wings, but that they would not. Furthermore, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Would he give us a command that he himself does not keep? Of course not. The command is intended as an emulation of the very character of God, and so the rest of the sentence in Matthew 5 reads: “In order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

        That’s enough for me, and it seems to be enough for millions of Christians who have not been trained to read the Bible through a Calvinistic grid.

        Hope I’ve answered your questions! God bless.

        • 1689LBC

          Tobie, I think your reference to what C.S Lewis described as “Real Morality” makes sense. Being made in the image of God, though it is a corrupted image, there is still a remnant of understanding that enables all people to realize what real love is yet at a basic level, as you have stated. Again I think that makes good sense. In regards to your references to the love of God being the same toward all people, I still disagree. You have given good scripture references to back up your position, however I still believe there is an affection (a love) that God has toward His children that He does not share with unbelievers. The scripture verses you offer again are good, however they deal specifically with actions toward the unbeliever and not necessarily affections. Psalm 5:5,6 are pretty forceful. They state that God hates the evil doer, and that He abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. It does not say that God hates the sin, but the one committing the sins. This is contrary to the common phrase among evangelicals that God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. There is some validity to that statement however I think it has been abused, and has become misleading considering what all of scripture states, Psalm 5 being an example. One of my favorite scriptures is Zephania 3:17

          The Lord your God is in your midst,
          a mighty one who will save;
          he will rejoice over you with gladness;
          he will quiet you by his love;
          he will exult over you with loud singing.

          This is not a scripture that can be applied to those that God will pour His wrath out on, for example Isaiah 63:3

          “I have trodden the winepress alone,
          and from the peoples no one was with me;
          I trod them in my anger
          and trampled them in my wrath;
          their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
          and stained all my apparel.

          God will not do this to His beloved Covenant children. And so I still think that there is a qualitative difference in the love God has for His own verses those that do not belong to Him. Not that God does not have any love for unbelievers, the verses you listed I believe demonstrate that He does, or that He at least acts in a loving manner toward them to a certain degree. That love however is not the covenant love that He has and will always have for His people. In addition to this, being a limited atonement guy, I don’t believe that Jesus died for every sinner but only the elect and therefore demonstrated His sacrificial and covenant love on the cross for the elect and not all sinners. All this being said, let me say this. Though I believe that all of what the Bible says is important, or else God would not have given it, I do not intend to beat anyone over the head with Calvinism. I do think that these issues should be discussed and the truth of the word of God be sought out and honored, however these issues should not hinder us from serving Jesus together. I can go and knock on doors with someone who is not a calvinist, in fact I have. I am stating this so that you don’t get the impression that I am determined to make sure you absolutely agree with me. Yes, I would like for you to agree with me, just as you would want me to see things as you see them because you believe that is what the word of God actually teaches. I enjoy these discussions very much and am willing to continue the discussion but I am not out to beat you in the debate either. May the LORD be honored in all our worthy discussions. God bless.

  • David Brainerd

    Bah. Too much political correctness and wishy washiness. Grow a set Arminians. [Please excuse my Driscollian-Calvinist terminology there.] I mean seriously. You guys are the most limp-wristed mealy-mouthed people on earth.

    Quoting you: “The nub of the issue is this: I don’t think Edwards or Piper think God is a black hole that needs human worship (a vacuum cleaner, as Piper says)—period, honest to God, cross my heart, scout’s honor.”

    Then you’re an idiot, because that’s exactly what they believe, and everything they say points in that direction.

    When you take to defending your enemies in their very attacks on you, you are committing suicide. Piper all but admits that he thinks God is a scared little woose who can’t dare create a world with people who have freewill because he’s afraid someone with real choice might reject him and that would make him have a nervous breakdown, so Piper’s woosey god creates a world of robots to spare his paper-thin ego. And what should an Arminian do with this? Deny that Piper said what he said? Defend Piper by lying and saying he doesn’t believe what he claims to believe? Why would you do that? Are you retarded?

    • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

      David,

      Try to relax a little. No need to say people are idiots or retarded. It is just a matter of Christian charity and being honest. I know you think you are the one who is being honest, but really you just seem to be honestly hostile towards Calvinism. Believe me, I don’t like Calvinism either because I find it unBiblical and potentially spiritually damaging. But guess what? Calvinists think the same thing about Arminianism. Calvinists also say we believe things we do not because they assume certain things we say necessitate certain conclusions. For example, they say that Arminians hold to works salvation or believe they are sovereign over God or are self-saviors. None of that is accurate, but Calvinists believe that our various claims demand these conclusions. So Piper is being a little hypocritical when he gets all hyped up about the things Austin said (since Piper very often misrepresents Arminianism). That should be pointed out. But many feel the right course is to be charitable with what the other side says they believe (which is what I want from Calvinists) and to then take on the burden of demonstrating how what they say they believe leads to the conclusions that they say they do not believe (which is exactly what Austin did). This an approach which encourages dialogue and allows people to think things through without being immediately turned off and turned away by unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric and what can easily be perceived as theological arrogance. It might be helpful for you to read this post by Austin: http://purpletheology.com/theological-pretention/

      I think his distinction between certainty and confidence is very helpful.

      Oh, and in my contrasts between Calvinism and Arminianism above, I do not me to assume that Austin necessarily considers himself an Arminian. One can be a non-Calvinist and not be an Arminian.

      • David Brainerd

        Of course there are non-Calvinists who aren’t Arminians. They’re called Christians, which the Calvinist atheists are not. But all your little nice-police comment shows is that Arminians are all spineless pansies who would rather have the accolades of the atheist Calvinists than speak the truth, which is that Calvinism is a Satanic cult.

        • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

          David,

          You are certainly entitled to your wrong opinion.

          God Bless,
          Ben

          • David Brainerd

            For me, I think Arminians are as dangerous as Calvinists. After all, the Calvinists could not destroy the churches the way they do if it weren’t for the Arminian belief that we should join hands and sing Kumbaya with the Satanists. Arminianism is a spirit of compromise with Belial, nothing more.

    • Rusty Freeman

      I could accept being an Arminian again. But I would also know that I would have every right to take the credit for being in heaven and laughing at the stupid people who are in hell. Logically, there is no way around this, in an Arminian prevenient grace system, I would be the determining factor in my salvation, not Christ because He did the same for all equally which results in nothing. And God is not to receive praise, except for the “opportunity” in which case I was humble and intelligent enough to make the most of the grace given to me. If only all those other sinners were more like me.

      That’s why I am not an Arminian any longer. It gives me the credit for my conversion. I pursue God’s glory, not my own and from my own personal testimony, I know without a shadow of a doubt that God is in the heart changing business. And if He can change mine, there is not a heart to hard for Him to change. Therefore, I know He’s not attempting to, otherwise all would repent and believe such as I did because there is nothing inherently special about me. God saved me, from start to finish. To Him be the glory in my conversion forever and ever.

      • David Brainerd

        The scenario you describe as being unacceptable actually sounds an awful lot like Isaiah 66:23-24.

        “[23] And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one
        sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the
        Lord. [24] And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have
        transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall
        their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.”

        Do the saved despise the carcasses of those who transgressed because God made them transgress monergistically and saved the others monergistically? Or do they despise them because they sinned by freewill and they were saved at least partially by freewill in obeying? Your straw that broke the camel’s back is a Marcionite concern, not an orthodox one. And if it was truly Paul’s concern (I think you Calvinists overplay your hand there) it only was to the extent that Paul was a Marcionite heretic.

        • Rusty Freeman

          Not sure what point you are trying to make but, the fact that “God made them transgress monergistically” is a misrepresentation of the doctrine of the headship of Adam and the effect and curse that the fall had on humanity causing spiritual death and sinners by nature.

          We sin willfully and are already condemned in Adam. Rom 5. God saves sinners who cannot “will” themselves to come to Christ. John 6:44. Unregenerate man with his freewill rejects God (like you and I before our conversion). Regenerate man with his freewill repents and believes. Salvation is by grace alone. God’s wisdom of the imputation of the two headships of “Adam” is utterly amazing and worthy of worship. Adam sinned with freewill. Man’s freewill was cursed after that. Everyone is born a slave to sin. Whomever the Son shall set free shall be free indeed.
          To Him be the glory in conversion forever.

          • David Brainerd

            I know the Manichean line you are spewing very well. But in the end it boils down to the same thing: the Puppetmaster God monergistically doing everything. Nothing happens without his explicit will, the Calvinists say. Therefore, everything, even your sin, was willed by him directly, according to Calvinism. So my comment “made them transgress monergistically” IS an accurate statement of Calvinist teaching.

            “Not sure what point you are trying to make…” The point I am trying to make is that God is not up in heaven quaking in fear that someone may boast about doing good. In fact, Jesus (God in the flesh, right?) tells us that when we do good deeds “GREAT IS YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN”…how very different from the Marcionite teaching that “it must be by faith so that it can be by grace, lest any many should boast.” God isn’t really that concerned with preventing us from boasting. Only deluded Gnostic heretics are. And anyone who has ever read either the Old Testament or the Gospels would know that.

            And prior to Augustine, Paul was clearly only deutero-canon.

          • rex

            HA! HA!

            “The point I am trying to make is that God is not up in heaven quaking in fear that someone may boast about doing good.”

            *although hostile on some points David got one right here.

          • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

            Rusty,

            This comment is very problematic. You write,

            Regenerate man with his freewill repents and believes.

            I know this is the standard Calvinist line, but the Bible nowhere puts regeneration before faith. And there are Biblical examples of God fearers who sought God and pleased God prior to being regenerated (like Cornelius, cf. Acts 10). That makes sense in Arminianism (since we do not hold that God’s gracious enabling is regeneration), but not in Calvinism (where it is claimed that we are all God haters prior to regeneration). Not only is there no Biblical support for the idea that regeneration precedes faith, but such a claim leads to numerous theological absurdities. Here is a post that briefly touches on this issue,

            http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/03/17/the-arminian-and-calvinist-ordo-salutis-a-brief-comparative-study/

          • Rusty Freeman

            The bible’s testimony is that fallen unregenerate man has no fear of God before his eyes(Rom 3). Cornelius was a devout God fearing man, thus logically and scripturally in possession of eternal life based on the intercessory work of Christ alone on his behalf. Unregenerate man does not seek after God nor can those in the flesh please God. You ASSUME that men who seek, please, and fear God are unregenerate. This is an irreconcilable position based on the testimony of Romans 3 and 8.

            Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, has been (past tense, past completed action) born of God.
            Regeneration precedes faith in time.
            And because you ARE sons(election/adoption), God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (regeneration) whereby we cry Abba Father (faith). Gal 4:6

          • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

            Rusty,

            You write,

            The bible’s testimony is that fallen unregenerate man has no fear of God before his eyes (Rom 3). Cornelius was a devout God fearing
            man, thus logically and scripturally in possession of eternal life based on the intercessory work of Christ alone on his behalf.

            So Cornelius was regenerate before receiving the gospel of Christ? Are you sure you want to affirm that for the sake of holding to your Calvinist claims that regeneration precedes faith? And what about OT believers? How did they trust in God without regeneration?

            Unregenerate man does not seek after God nor can those in the flesh please God.

            Unregenerate man can seek God if God enables and empowers them. They just cannot seek Him on their own (without this gracious enabling).

            You ASSUME that men who seek, please, and fear God are unregenerate. This is an irreconcilable position based on the testimony of
            Romans 3 and 8.

            Hardly. Romans 3 only affirms depravity. It does not say what enables one to overcome that depravity. On Romans 8, see below.

            Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, has been (past tense, past completed action) born of God.

            Is this a reference to 1 John 5:1? That Calvinist argument has been thoroughly exploded by NT scholar Brian Abasciano: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/john-piper-tweets-out-an-already-refuted-calvinist-argument-on-1-john-51/

            Regeneration precedes faith in time.

            Not at all. That’s just an assertion on your part.

            And because you ARE sons(election/adoption), God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (regeneration) whereby we cry Abba Father (faith). Gal 4:6

            Well, this passage actually creates big trouble for your claims since Paul makes it clear that the Spirit is received through faith (Gal. 3:2,
            5, 14). Oh, and of course, verse 24 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” So faith logically precedes the receiving of the Spirit who regenerates us and marks us out as children of God, by whom we cry, “Abba Father.” Thanks for making my case for me!

            You will find that Rom. 8 backfires in the same way for your claims as it is describing victory over sin by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit which comes to us through union with Christ (8:1, cf. 8:9-11). And then we see again that we can call out “Abba father” because we have received the “Spirit of sonship” and that Spirit is received by faith (Gal. 3:2, 5, 4; 4:6, 24). And Eph. 1:13 makes it clear that we come to be joined to Christ through faith as well (cf. Rom. 8:1). So Galatians and Romans 8 are big trouble for your claims and actually serve to demonstrate the Arminian ordo salutis instead.

            What else do you have?

            Oh, a quick addition (by way of edit). In your affirming that being “sons” has reference to election, you have also proven that election is by faith as well (cf. Gal. 4:24). This just keeps getting better and better. I guess you have every reason to be an Arminian now.

          • Rusty Freeman

            I could counter, or we can establish that we agree on the total depravity of man. I’m sure that we agree on that much. It’s the prevenient grace/ effectual grace that we differ on. Let’s focus on that particular point.
            Please demonstrate from the scripture where exactly you see this universal equal enabling empowering prevenient grace to every single individual. How is it accomplished? What does it do to the rebellious nature of fallen man? To what length of time does it take place in a sinners life? At what point in life does it occur in a sinner? What does it do to his heart (which is the crux of the problem)? To what degree does it influence a sinner to repentance and faith? And does it come from an omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign Holy Spirit?

          • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

            Hey Rusty,

            Please demonstrate from the scripture where exactly you see this universal equal enabling empowering prevenient grace to every single individual.

            First, the idea of “equal” seems redundant. It is just an enabling. It makes something possible that was previously impossible. Not sure what adding “equal” to that is supposed to mean. As for Scripture, I would point to any Scripture the Calvinist typically uses to assert irresistible grace as I think those passages actually show resistible grace. As for its universal scope, I think we find support for that in passages like John 12:32; 16:8-11; Titus 2:11. On top of that, we have all the passages that speak of the universal scope of atonement and God’s desire for all to be saved and all to come to repentance, etc. The idea of a universal enabling fits perfectly with such universal language regarding the provision of salvation, while the Calvinist view makes a mess of such passages and creates forced and highly contrived interpretations and explanations. So the idea of a universal enabling fits better with the overall Biblical narrative concerning God’s love for the world and desire for all to be saved.

            How is it accomplished?

            By the power of God. What more do we need to know?

            What does it do to the rebellious nature of fallen man?

            It overcomes it, making it possible to receive the gospel in faith. God is certainly able to overcome our depravity. He is more powerful than our depravity. Wouldn’t you agree?

            To what length of time does it take place in a sinners life? At what point in life does it occur in a sinner?

            You are starting to ask questions that go beyond what we need to know. It is enough to know that when a person hears the gospel, God enables them to respond. It is enough to know that in accordance with God’s desire to save all, He draws all to Christ and convicts the world by His Spirit. It is enough to know that the word has power to bring conviction to those who hear as well (Hebrews 4:12; Acts 2:37). It is enough to know that His kindness is given and intended to lead us to repentance, though we can resist this kindness that is intended to lead us to repentance and bring judgment on ourselves instead (Rom. 2:4-5).

            Some Arminians (like Wesleyan) would typically say that this prevenient grace is effective throughout one’s life, while others would say it is given at specific times (like when the word is preached). But the Bible isn’t really clear on that, which is why there are different opinions about the operation of prevenient grace, though all would likely agree with what I said above.

            What does it do to his heart (which is the crux of the problem)?

            It enables the heart to believe. We could say it “opens” the heart to believe (Acts 16:14, note that the text says the Lord “opened her heart to respond”. It doesn’t say He gave her a “new heart” to respond). Again, we don’t need to know exactly how God does it. We just need to trust that He can and does (and we have no reason not to). We can also be sure that this enabling is not regeneration (because the Bible nowhere makes such a claim and everywhere places faith before regeneration, as you inadvertently helped to prove).

            To what degree does it influence a sinner to repentance and faith?

            To the degree that repentance and faith become possible, but not irresistibly so.

            And does it come from an omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign Holy Spirit?

            The Spirit definitely has a primary role (cf. John 16:8-11).

            I could counter

            I would be interested to see you counter and deal with the fact that the passages you used to support your contention actually work against your claims and support mine.

            May God bless you as you continue to seek Him and His truth,

            Ben

      • http://www.arminianperspectives.wordpress.com arminianperspectives

        Rusty,

        This doesn’t make sense. How does trusting in Christ to do for us what we cannot possibly do for ourselves take credit for conversion? No Arminian believes that we convert ourselves, so it seems crazy to suggest we can take credit for our conversion. The Bible says that faith precludes boasting for one reason and one reason only: it receives an unearned and undeserved gift from God (Rom. 4:4-5, cf. 3:21-28). Salvation by faith is what establishes it as by grace, for God gives to us what we do not (and cannot) earn- salvation,

        “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace…” (Rom. 4:16)

        How can we boast in a gift that we did not earn or deserve? Meeting the God ordained condition of faith is not working for or earning the gift freely offered. If you freely receive a gift from someone, does that mean you worked for it? Of course not. Does it mean you bought the gift? Of course not. Does it mean you “contributed” to the gift? Of course not. Does it mean you gave the gift to yourself? Of course not. All of that is plainly absurd. What if you are free to reject the gift? Does that make it not a gift anymore? Of course not. If you are free to reject the gift and yet freely receive it, does that give you cause to boast in the gift as if you gave it to yourself? Of course not. But this what Calvinism tries to say in arguing against Arminianism. Arminians do not hold that we justify ourselves. Arminians do not hold that we regenerate ourselves. Arminians do not hold that we sanctify ourselves. All we do is trust God to do these things for us. The fact that we are trusting God to do these things for us is why faith (in God/Christ) excludes boasting.

        The Bible nowhere says that grace can only be grace if it is given irresistibly. Neither does it say that a gift can only be a gift if it is given irresistibly. Such claims are the result of Calvinist philosophy being read into the Biblical text. Trusting in Christ to save us does not mean we save ourselves or get credit for salvation (or conversion). Indeed, trusting in Christ to save us is proof that we cannot save ourselves and can take no credit for the salvation that God freely provides and offers us. And even the ability to believe is divinely enabled by God’s grace.

        So as an Arminian I can say with you, “To Him be the glory in my conversion forever and ever.” Amen!

        God Bless,
        Ben

        • http://kirstymcallister.blogspot.co.uk/ Kirsty

          Amen!

    • Karin Henry Matheson

      Do you really need to attack innocent people with intellectual disabilities just because you don’t agree with someone’s opinion? God created every one of them in his image, the same as he did you. There are numerous choices of words that are more appropriate. Please consider Ann alternative word next time you think someone is being stupid.

      • David Brainerd

        Please explain to me what the hell you are talking about. If its because I used the word “Retarded” please know that only Barbarians like you would dare call disabled people “retarded.” I reserve the term for the Calvinists alone.

        • Austin Fischer

          David…I actually think you are kind of funny, but chill it with the rhetoric. That or find somewhere else to go get off your chest whatever you feel you need to get off your chest.

  • Pingback: Society of Evangelical Arminians | Roger Olson, “John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, Austin Fischer, and God”

  • http://tuckerjacob.tumblr.com/ Jacob Tucker

    Just listened to John Piper’s response and I would agree that he misrepresented you, Austin. The thing about most of the Calvinists that I’ve encountered, and this is evident in Piper’s response, is that if you don’t agree with the picture they’ve painted of God, then they dismiss it as if you just don’t understand Calvinism and/or point out the flaws of non-Calvinist views (which ironically are usually misunderstood and misrepresented).

    For me and my personal experience with Calvinism, I felt the opposite – that the more I understood it, the more problems I had with it. I think most people that have had brushes with Calvinism and ultimately decided it wasn’t the best picture of God, have had similar experiences. The more they dug in, the more they distanced themselves from it.

    Sadly, many Calvinists have a hard time agreeing to disagree, they end up just agreeing that you’re wrong. I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush though, I do have some Calvinist friends that are okay with just parting ways on some views of God, while still ultimately being held together as children, brothers, and sisters of Jesus.

    Great response Austin. Be encouraged and stay gracious.

    • Austin Fischer

      Right on. Thanks Jacob.

      • Steve

        We are never prepared for the sake of one truth to deny another, and we do as heartily believe in free agency as we do in predestination. It has never been our custom to murder one truth in order to make room for another. There is room enough for two truths in the mind of the man who is willing to become as a little child. Yea, there is room in a teachable heart for fifty truths to live without contention ~ Charles Spurgeon

      • Steve

        Do we need to understand everything? Are we to be all brain, and no heart? What should we be the better if we did understand all mysteries? I believe God. I bow before his Word. Is not this better for us than the conceit of knowing and understanding? We are as yet mere children. We know in part ~ Charles Spurgeon

  • Deborah

    Austin,
    I want you to know that I appreciate your thoughts and your writings. I want to encourage you to continue this honest work, both internally and for the rest of us former Calvinists. It is encouraging to me that somebody is brave enough to stem the Calvinist tide. I was raised a Calvinist, and became a much more “intellectual” Calvinist (for about 15-20 years) when I discovered Sproul, Piper, and Keller — among others. It was a year or so ago, at 38 years old, that I finally came to grips with what Calvinist theology does to the evangelist — what it does to the Gospel. I wanted to share the Gospel with my unbelieving friends/neighbors. I realized that there was nothing I could say — not within Calvinism. My tongue became tied. I realized I couldn’t say to them, “Jesus died for the sins of all men, including you.” I could only say, “Gosh, I hope he died for you . . . but I’m not sure . . . so maybe it’s best if I don’t say anything at all, lest I find myself lying to you.” (I didn’t actually say that to anybody.) So thank you for your bravery. We former Calvinists understand how much courage it takes to do this — because Calvinists believe (without saying it) that Calvinism is Christianity, and anything else is akin to heresy. Thank you — you encourage me.

    • Austin Fischer

      Funny and candid thoughts here, Deborah. Thanks for the encouragement as well!

    • John Hutchinson

      As a monergist and not a Calvinist (Calvinism has several other distinctives, I find erroneous and detrimental); I think your comments about Calvinism unfair in the main. And I will differentiate between myself and what I find amongst more truer Calvinists. There is a “cage period”, whereby new converts to Calvinism become overzealous. This is not so unusual as a human dynamic; think of converts from Catholicism or more universally, ex-smokers. I have seen this in the history of my own family, which runs the gamut from HyperCalvinist to effectively an Armininian. in the early years, I found the new faith of my folks come down hard on those did not subscribe to Calvinism. However, over a period of time, the zealotry declined, the rancour became wearisome, the issues became more complicated and nuanced as such will always happen if God be wise and wisdom is the antonym of simple. In the history of atrocious bad blood between Calvinism and Arminianism, many Calvinists have believed and stated that “Calvinism is the Gospel” (i.e. Spurgeon), although Spurgeon fully acknowledged in that sermon that Wesley was one of the best of Christian giants.

      It is not Calvinist, or rather monergist theology that discourages evangelicalism, it is that creedal reductionist monstrousity T.U.L.I.P.. Calvinists must fight the implications of their understanding from T.U.L.I.P. and do evangelicalism; just as I would argue with much empirical observation, that Arminian theology naturally induces pride, with which Arminians must contend. The problem with the truncation of monergism, implied in T.U.L.I.P. is that it does not allow for the possibility that a person did not come to Christ, although readied in the heart, because there was no willing witness. That is, the Sovereignty of God works both in the recipient and the witness. Some witness failed to do their witness (and God did not sufficiently impress upon that person their duty and to overcome such things as T.U.L.I.P.’s implications on the heart and will). There is abundant scriptural support for this assertion.

      I am one who actually welcomes a healthy tension between Calvinism and non-Calvinism because I see the propensities in both towards their own bevy of further heterodoxies, heresies and even apostasy. The critiques of both against each other mitigate those propensities in much the same way a proper husband and proper wife mitigate against the male/female propensities of both. The emphasis between the two is different and it is more a matter of an unbalanced emphasis. Both are on either side of a peak, both erroneously thinking that they are at that peak.

      • Deborah

        I cannot defend John Calvin against Calvinism, as some do. He himself is quoted to have said that God elects some to damnation and some to salvation. I have a problem with that, because the Bible simply does not say it (although many argue it is implied), while it does say that Christ died for the sins of all, and that God desires all to come to the knowledge of the truth. TULIP accurately reflects Calvin’s own theology. That is my observation, having been raised in a severely Calvinist culture and having wholeheartedly embraced it myself. I have a copy of the Institutes on my shelf. To say that Calvinism tied my hands for the purposes of evangelism is not unfair to Calvinism or to Calvin — it is simply my own true, personal experience. If Christ died only for the elect (Limited Atonement), I could be lying to tell my neighbor that the Good News is for him — when it might not be, and might never have been intended to be. I am an honest person. I try not to lie. What am I supposed to say to an unbeliever — Christ died for the sins of some, maybe you, I don’t know, I guess we’ll find out if you respond in faith AND perseverance? If Calvin’s ideas are true, then I don’t know how to present the Gospel in light of them.

        • Michael

          I think you would say to an unbeliever that Christ died for His sheep, all who will believe in Him.

          • Deborah

            Okay, I understand that. Thanks, Michael. However, is the Good News supposed to be Good News for everybody — or really bad news for most people? That is my honest question — I’m not trying to be sarcastic.

          • Michael

            It seems to me that it is good news for anyone who will receive Christ and bad news for Christ’s enemies. Since the secret things belong to the Lord (Deut 29:29), we do not know how many will come to faith in Christ. I try to focus on my orders so to speak, and pray for those around me while seeking to share the gospel in word and deed. One could look at the doctrine of election as an encouragement to evangelism. It is my understanding that the doctrine was used pastorally to encourage believers struggling with doubt, because if someone has any faith in Christ in this world, it is a miracle. I think often of Matt. 16:15-17, where Jesus asks His disciples “Who do you say that I am?” To which Simon replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” I find great comfort and encouragement in Jesus’ answer, He says “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

          • Deborah

            That’s interesting, Michael, thanks for the response. :) It is confusing — while on the one hand, Christ prays for his people to be “one” so that the “world might believe,” on the other hand we read things like, “God opened (Lydia’s) heart to receive the word.” It is clear from Scripture that God wants all to believe. Yet, it is clear that it takes a work of the Spirit to bring about faith.

          • rex

            Michael and John is not answering any of your questions.

            “Since the secret things belong to the Lord (Deut 29:29)”… <– this does not apply to Deborah's question.

            "we do not know how many will come to faith in Christ. I try to focus on
            my orders so to speak, and pray for those around me while seeking to
            share the gospel in word and deed." <- the order was to share the Gospel then apply it here to what Deborah is saying:

            "What am I supposed to say to an unbeliever — Christ died for the sins
            of some, maybe you, I don't know, I guess we'll find out if you respond
            in faith AND perseverance?" <– Christ died for Some that is "The Truth" within Calvinism. @michael are we to ask an unbeliever Who do they think Jesus is and wait for their answer?

            Or you simply "Lie" straight out to say that Jesus died for that person? To avoid lying and be consistent with your beliefs, you should ask the same question then what Jesus asked to Peter to every unbeliever you encounter.

        • John Hutchinson

          Even as I think that monergism (or Calvinism in your lexicon) is true, my acquaintance with it is such that it is very difficult doctrine to fully grasp. And I find that most Calvinists do not have a very good grasp of it. They have this 5 point understanding without working out the conundrums etc. And so what you have been presented in the past is a corrupted understanding.

          The one mistake that Calvinists make is to make it a doctrine by which we operate by, rather by merely being informed by it. God works His Sovereignty in the background, but we are never privy to such knowledge. We are to be guided by and act upon the commands and promises of God, and not attempt to divine into the knowledge of the divine. Otherwise,we act in presumption and can go mad.

          I bumped up against this with regard to Assurance. I was told by most that I could acquire my assurance that I was in the Faith (that I had faith) through the P in T.U.L.I.P. However, the astute mind under spiritual attack will just transfer the weakness of that framework (at least in regard to Assurance) to the U and L of that Framework. The saints are preserved, but how do I know that I am one of the saints? I might believe
          now but I will fall in future because I never was truly regenerated. Then you look for signs of your Election. You get my drift. Calvinists err by attempting to get Assurance by theology alone rather than abiding by Scriptures which says that Assurance is an interventionist role by the Spirit Himself. And when God
          does it, God will assure you beyond all doubt. And one does not need to have that Assurance to be saved. But it makes you at peace and bold.

          I have met many both in this day and in past history who meet up with this same conundrum. And many fall from belief in monergism in order to keep their faith. And I say, good to them. Better to keep what actually justifies and saves than that which might be merely useful.And quite frankly, their very experience makes them more knowledgeable about the doctrine than those who have a mere intellectualist understanding but have not ‘experimental knowledge’, to use Luther’s phrase.

        • John Hutchinson

          You say:

          “If Christ died only for the elect (Limited Atonement), I could be lying to tell my neighbor that the Good News is for him — when it might not be, and might never have been intended to be.”

          You present a very good example about confusing what God does in background and how we are to live our lives. I came up with something like this myself in a different context. I was tempted “’God will never leave you nor forsake you’”; therefore sin that horrible sin to prove His love”. It leads to presumption. It is the 2nd temptation of Christ (Matthew’s Gospel). However, even if God will never leave you nor forsake you, it doesn’t mean I won’t leave Him or forsake Him. One is applying the verse in a Sovereign way to do evil in an Immanent way.

          Likewise, Christ died for your neighbour. If your neighbour generally believes the Gospel and acts upon its
          premises and hangs on for dear life, come what may; even if God didn’t have your neighbour originally in the Book of Life, God would have to do a post-Judgment edit to add that neighbour to that Book. That is the promise. (And the Calvinist Spurgeon very much says the same.)

          Now one might say “but I don’t know that I will hang on”. But a resolved heart to trust, whatever may come, is almost itself a guarantor that you will believe to the end. If you look at sociological surveys, it is this resolution in marriage (to stay together no matter what happens) that is one of the greatest predictors that they will stay together. That concern of I might falter becomes a strong breach, which the Adversary will attack at, and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

          Now. Hanging onto the end cannot happen without God’s sustaining grace. But the very resolution to believe, come what may, is very much the attitude that might derive from God’s sustaining grace. We do not know how God truly sustains us.

          I hope that you might start to grasp the circularities and conundrums that occurs if you confuse the Sovereign will and the Commanded will of God as many Calvinists do, and which brought me and
          others into states of varying degrees of madness.

        • Marc F

          Wasn’t Calvin or maybe more recent Sproul/Piper that stated that God’s election of some to eternal damnation is a “family secret” that shouldn’t be shared with non-believers. I always laughed when I hear that stated, because a true Calvinist wouldn’t care what they said to a non-believer because the non-believer has no choice in the matter to accept or reject.

  • Darrell

    Aloha, Austin! Heard you at the tail-end of a Michael Brown interview a few weeks ago and decided to check out your blog. I really enjoyed some of your “outside-the-box” thinking on things. I guess you could call me a “Calvinist” but I detest labels and the walls they erect over which Piper appears to think its acceptable to throw any kind of bomb. I’m with you, lets tear down the wall or blast a huge hole through it at the least. So, not here to argue or throw bombs, just to say thanks for your thought-provoking blogs and I have ordered your book. Does it contain your understanding of “free will?” If not, perhaps in a future blog you could share that with us. Thanks, again!

    • Austin Fischer

      Hey Darrell, thanks for the kind words and for stopping by! Yep, the book outlines a basic understanding of free-will theism.

  • Rick Patrick

    Some of us in Southern Baptist life do not consider ourselves Calvinist, Arminian or Semi-pelagian. Since we affirm salvation doctrine in the Herschel Hobbs-Adrian Rogers tradition, the term Traditionalist has taken hold—basically a form of Arminian theology (1) accepting Depravity but denying Inability, and (2) holding to Perseverance of the Saints as a non-negotiable doctrine. Perhaps those who agree with your article will find some common ground in the two theological journals linked on our homepage: connect316.net.

  • SundaySchoolTheology

    Hi Austin,

    Just to want to say that I have been blessed so much by your book. I have read it cover to cover twice and certainly will read it again. Your story have some similarity with my story. I joined a Presbyterian church in 1992 (still with them until today).

    Like many people, initially I wasn’t comfortable with Calvinism but Romans 9 nailed it for me (just like Pastor John Piper I guess :) ). And I am a big fan of Pastor R.C. Sproul (still is). More than comfort, I want the truth. So I sort of become a Calvinist for about 18 years. Until one day (4 years ago), my brother in law who is the elder teaching spoke about God eternal decree / God meticulous providence (Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 3).

    It really woke me up, I just could not digest or believe what it teaches if I follow the ‘good and necessary consequences’. I thought to myself “God gotta be better than this”. From that day until today, I read many Calvinist materials and ‘stumbles’ to many Classical/Reformed Arminianism materials. (Strangely, it was what I learnt from Pastor R.C Sproul solidify my decision to leave Calvinism. More than anything, Pastor R.C Sproul taught me to think logically even though I come up with a different conclusion from him.)

    However, among those great books, it was your book the first time touches my heart. All the rest filled my mind but never moves my heart. What you share in your book changes me from inside to outside. In your book, you put Jesus back to the picture and center of our life. I thanks so much for this insight. I want to encourage you to stay the course i.e. Jesus as the center of what we believe and live. You face many oppositions but you will certainly win both sides when you have Christ and His love as the center of your life and what you preach.

    God bless..

    • Austin Fischer

      Thanks for sharing this story…very helpful and insightful! I agree…if Calvinism were taught with more honesty, I think a lot of people would, rightly, walk away.

  • Randy Starkey

    I was quite shocked by John Piper’s statement that he hadn’t read the entire book and probably didn’t plan to, and then proceeded to misstate what Austin related about the black hole analogy, saying Austin should be ashamed of himself. Wow. I felt that that was a bit of theological pride or similar! Am I missing something? Again, I was shocked at the apparent lack of even handedness?

  • Andrew Schultz

    Calvinist. Arminian. Calvinist. Arminian. Would this be the same group arguing over whether Jesus was the Christ or a blasphemer?

    It’s all humans trying to figure out the right way to “do church”. That’s the black hole here. The black hole of theology. Let’s not hide behind the couple verses in scripture about sound doctrine and miss the whole point.

    How about we all just get along and focus on Jesus, rather than acting like Pharisees? How about we get up from behind these keyboards and do something to help the poor? The widows? The sick? The orphans? The homeless?

    Live in harmony with each other. Do not be arrogant, but associate with humble people. Do not think that you are wiser than you really are. Romans 12:16

    I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10

    But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow
    those who are entering to go in. Matthew 23:13

  • Marc F

    A lawyer by trade I have struggled with these issues for sometime. My Calvinist preacher as well as friends think as a lawyer Calvinist should fit me like a glove because I am lawyer. The problem I have, which is exactly what you expressed above, is that you have to follow the logical consequences of their view. I find that Calvinist get very upset when you do so asserting that you are attempting to explain the unknowable things of God. I look forward to reading your book.

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    You GO Austin! You should read about my time spent studying Calvinism, and then rejecting it. http://etb-former-fundamentalists.blogspot.com/2012/04/edward-t-babinski-if-it-wasnt-for.html

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    Austin, I totally agree with you about Jonathan Edwards. I have read hundreds of pages of Edwards along with a thick biography, and he’s two-faced, preaching that one should be rejoicing at the damnation of one’s spouse and children if God so chooses because it’s perfectly just, while on the other hand comforting members of his own congregation in private after they lost spouses or children by telling them (but only in private, never in his sermons or public pronouncements) that the spouses and children of the elect will most probably be secured by God since he loves the elect. This is of course, passive-aggressive nonsense, all for the sake of trying to get everyone to believe and then remain in such a hellish mental prison. Here is an excellent scholarly article on the matter, sans polemic, just the arguments so to speak: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/

    Also, conservative Calvinists were not the only ones who preached that heaven’s occupants would rejoice at the knowledge and sight of the damned suffering for eternity. Conservative Catholics likewise agreed with the Calvinists on that issue. Nice to see them in such perfect agreement. Ha. Same psychological manipulation, different church. But just sticking with Edwards note these quotations…

    “This woman has discovered a very sweet and heavenly frame of mind… Discovering an unusual joy and satisfaction in her countenance… I inquired into the reason of it, [and] she replied that God had made her feel that ’twas right for him to do what he pleased with all things; and that ‘twould be right if he should cast her husband and son both into hell; and she saw ’twas so right for God to do what he pleased with them, that she could not but rejoice if God should send them into hell, though ’twas apparent she loved them dearly”
    - Jonathan Edwards. The Life of David Brainerd.

    “You that have godly parents… You will see them with a holy joyfulness in their countenances, and with songs in their mouths. When they shall see you turned away and beginning to enter into the great furnace, and shall see how you shrink at it, and hear how you shriek and cry out; yet they will not be at all grieved for you, but at the same time you will hear from them renewed praises and hallelujahs for the true and righteous judgments of God, in so dealing with you… After they shall have seen you lie in hell thousands of years, and your torment shall yet continue without any rest, day or night; they will not begin to pity you then; they will praise God, that his justice appears in the eternity of your misery… singing the more joyful for the glorious justice of God which they behold in your eternal condemnation.” [The last sentence was from earlier in the same essay].
    - Jonathan Edwards,.”The Ungodly Warned” http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.vi.ix.v.html

    “When the saints in glory … shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they [the saints] in the mean time are in the most blissful state and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!”
    - Jonathan Edwards 1834, sec. II http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.vi.ix.html )

    And back in Edwards day, the foremost hymn writer, Isaac Watts, had people singing lines like these:

    Thy hand shall on rebellious kings
    A fiery tempest pour,
    While we beneath thy shelt’ring wings
    Thy just revenge adore.
    [Book 1 Hymn 42]

    There endless crowds of sinners lie,
    And darkness makes their chains;
    Tortured with keen despair they cry,
    Yet wait for fiercer pains.
    Not all their anguish and their blood
    For their old guilt atones,
    Nor the compassion of a God
    Shall hearken to their groans.
    [Book 2, Hymn 2]

    Lord, I ascribe it to thy grace,
    And not to chance as others do,
    That I was born of Christian race,
    And not a heathen, or a Jew.
    [Divine and Moral Songs, Song 6, Praise for the Gospel]

    • Austin Fischer

      Interesting stuff Edward. Thank you for sharing these insights. I had never come across a lot of this.

      • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

        I once had a discussion with a Calvinist who told me we can do nothing good of ourselves. I asked him, “What if your son cleans his room but there’s still a speck of dust in it, do you then paddle the kid for hours? Or, if the room is successfully cleaned, do you both get on your knees and praise God that He hath made the room clean, rather than your son?” So if anything goes right God gets the praise, but if anything goes wrong humans get the blame, all of it, eternally.

      • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

        Purple Theology reminded me of PrplFox over at youtube. He’s been through more cataclysmic religious/philosophical changes than you, but like you he’s also got a big heart: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3F74B2359EBDAAE4

  • Clayton Hutchins

    Austin, I am thankful for your kind response to Piper, but it does seem to me to be inadequate in a few ways that I would like you to consider.

    1. The thrust of this blog post is this: you did not say that Piper or Edwards believe God is a black hole, only that when *you* look at their God, *you* see a black hole. I can see only two logically consistent ways to understand this statement. Either you are saying, (1) “The God of Calvinism is not actually a black hole, he just seems like one to me,” or else you are saying, (2) “The God of Calvinism actually is a black hole, and he seems like one to me precisely because he is, and not all Calvinists see him this way, but they should, because he really is a black hole, according to their scheme. That’s part of why I’ve written this book: to show that the God of a Calvinism is a black hole, not the loving God of the Bible.” If #1 is your meaning, how does it advance your argument? If #2 is your meaning, how is Piper wrong in attempting to address that very question by defining what he thinks you mean by black hole and showing that according the doctrines of Calvinism, God is not a black hole? Indeed, if #2 is the case, it is perfectly alright for Piper to say that you misrepresent his God by saying that the God of Calvinism is a black hole.

    2. You claim that God’s love is an end in itself – it is not unto his own glorification. But I have three questions: (1) Isn’t love nothing other than seeking the welfare and good and happiness of the beloved? (2) And isn’t the welfare and good and happiness of man found in communion with and the enjoyment of God, in all of his manifold perfections and glory? (3) And is not praise the expression and consummation of enjoyment? If these things are so, then you simply can’t make an ultimate separation between God’s love for man and God’s desire to be glorified or praised. For then all of God’s labor to highlight the riches of his glory *is* an expression of love, because he is seeking that which is our greatest joy (namely, the full display of God’s manifold perfections), and all of God’s passion to be praised is a passion for us to be happy, because our greatest delight is found in praising his name.

    3. It seems to me that you are in many ways beating around the bush of Piper’s response. His response was not merely: “Austin thinks Edwards and I think God is a black hole, but he’s wrong; we don’t. That’s that.” Rather his response was much more along the lines of, “Austin thinks that my God is a black hole, here’s why he’s not.” I would appreciate it if you actually interact with Piper’s reasoning in the podcast, specifically the last bit, where he points toward a couple texts where redemptive love is said to be given “so that” God would be praised by humans for his mercy (Rom 15), or where God endures with patience the vessels of wrath in order to display the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy (Rom 9).

    • Austin Fischer

      Hey Clayton…fair questions here.

      1. I do think the God of Calvinism (consistent, high Calvinism) is a black hole of self. Piper is not wrong for attempting to refute this…by all means it’s his right and duty! I think Piper was wrong in claiming I, by “ignorance or malice” (his words), misrepresented Edwards. That’s the point, and I don’t think I do. In fact, everything Piper says in the clip and you mention above (God’s glory is our good, Christian hedonism, etc.), I say and explain in the book and was an important part of my theology when I was a Calvinist (pages 8, 14-15). I do not put words or concepts in the mouth of Edwards. I just disagree about what those words and concepts result in when traced out and mapped on to God. In short, I think you’re fudging the tone of Piper’s response. There’s a big difference in”ignorant, malicious” (again, his words) misrepresentation and “Austin said this and I think he’s wrong…here’s why.” I would think you’d agree…?

      2. If you’ve read the book, you’ll note I make it clear that (in free-will theism) you don’t have to choose between God’s love and God’s glory (pages 57-58), so in a significant sense, I agree with a number of the things you say. I do think our greatest delight is to be found in praise. I quite like the idea of Christian hedonism. I do think that God always glorifies himself. That isn’t the issue. The issue is, “How does God prefer to glorify himself?” My answer: God prefers to glorify himself as the God who loves. In Calvinism, God doesn’t prefer to glorify himself as the God who loves…that is one, small (when you consider the actual numbers of elect vs. non-elect) way God glorifies himself. Love is just a cog in the self-glorification machine, a machine in which (again, considering the numbers) God prefers to glorify himself as the one creates humans in order to damn them.

      I quite like what N.T. Wright says along these lines in critiquing Piper’s definition of God’s righteousness: “Piper’s claims about God’s righteousness could be seen as going in exactly the wrong direction. He [Piper] sees it [God's righteousness] as God’s concern for God’s own glory, which implies that God’s primary concern returns to himself. There is always a sense in which that is true. But the great story of Scripture…is constantly about God’s overflowing, generous creative love–God’s concern, if you like, for the flourishing of everything else…The ‘tsedaqah elohim’, the ‘dikaiosyne theou’, is an outward-looking characteristic of God, linked of course to the concern for God’s own glory but essentially going, as it were, in the opposite direction, that of God’s creative, healing, restorative love. God’s concern for God’s glory is precisely rescued from the appearance of divine naricissism because God…is always giving out, pouring out, lavishing generous love…”-Justification, 70.

      3. Along these lines, I have no qualms with the idea that God desires to be praised for redemptive love. Of course he does! As Miroslav Volf says it, God seeks to glorify himself as the giver and it is good for us that he does so. The big hole (no pun intended) in all the Calvinist talk about God’s glory being for humanity’s good is the reprobate, which most Calvinists consistently, systematically, (and I can only assume) deliberately gloss over. For example, in your response you say God’s concern for his self-glorification is “seeking that which is our greatest joy.” Who do you mean by “our”? I assume you mean “the elect.” But what happens when you take off the elect blinders and have the damned masses in view too?

      It’s fine and well to talk about God doing all manner of things for his glory, but when you assert that God wanted (and I think this is a fair word to use) the overwhelming majority of humans who have ever existed to be damned forever and made certain they would be so he could glorify himself (flex the wrath muscles for the elect to see if you will), you run into massive problems of malicious divine narcissism where you can’t pull the “but it’s for our good” card.” No–for the overwhelming majority of humans who have ever existed, the divine narcissism is not good…it is the most horrific thing imaginable: eternal damnation. That’s what the book is about. In that sense, I think Piper has done what you think I did: refuses to interact with the actual issues I raise in the book and burns down a straw man. Edwardsian Calvinism works just fine when you ignore the damnation of the majority of humanity. How some can do that so easily and persistently troubles me.

      In short, Piper (and you and most Calvinist I’ve ever interacted with) seeks to explain how the God of single predestination isn’t a black hole. I’m not asking that. I’m asking how the God of double predestination isn’t a black hole. If you think the Bible forces you to believe it, that’s fine…but either explain how it doesn’t make God a black hole of self or pull the mystery card and admit it sure looks that way to us.

      • Clayton Hutchins

        After typing my message I thought to myself, “This is a bit long… he probably won’t reply.” The mere fact that you took the time to reply by writing out an even longer response is astounding to me – in a good way. I am thankful for your interaction!

        1. As I think about it more, I think your deepest dissatisfaction with Piper’s response is not ultimately with his tone in itself, but his (mis?)understanding of what you mean by the phrase “black hole.” He thinks that when you call God a “self-glorifying black hole,” what you mean is something like: “God wants our praise because he is needy or trying to fill some lack.” He thinks this because of certain statements in your book that link being a black hole/vacuum to being needy or wanting to supply a lack (he quotes one in the podcast at 2:10, and I found a similar statement in your introduction posted on your blog). Can you see why if he thinks *this* is what you are saying that he would respond harshly? If you were to say, “The God of Calvinism wants praise because he feels needy and wants to supply an inherent lack in him,” this *would* be a serious misrepresentation, since Calvinists like Edwards have clearly clarified that God does not lack and he is not needy in seeking praise. So if this is not what you mean by “black hole,” I think you should clarify that. I personally doubt this is what you mean by “black hole,” but you have to admit that in some ways you paved the way for this sort of misunderstanding since in numerous places in your book you link being a human “black hole” to being needy or lacking, and then you don’t clearly define what you mean when you then call God a black hole. This could easily lead the reader to suppose that what you mean by being a human “black hole” is what you mean when you say the God of Calvinism is a “black hole.”

        As an aside, from what I piece together from your response to my initial comment (esp. your closing paragraph), I think most basically what you mean by calling the God of Calvinism a “black hole” is that the God of Calvinism is unloving, particularly due to the reality of the reprobate. I will return to this in point 3.

        2. This may get me into the same trouble as Piper – and I can only hope it won’t also earn me a response blog post ;-) – but I think you have misrepresented the Calvinist view with regard to the role of God’s saving love in his self-glorification. You say that according to the Calvinist, “God doesn’t prefer to glorify himself as the God who loves…that is one, small (when you consider the actual numbers of elect vs. non-elect) way God glorifies himself. Love is just a cog in the self-glorification machine, a machine in which (again, considering the numbers) God prefers to glorify himself as the one creates humans in order to damn them.” Again I’ll talk about the reprobate in point 3, but the point I want to make here is that according to Calvinism God’s desire to glorify his grace and love is not on the same level as his desire to glorify his justice and wrath. In other words, Calvinism (at least Piperian, neo-Calvinism) does not teach that grace is merely one way among many ways in which God chooses to glorify himself. Grace is the point. Above all else, he wants to be magnified for his redemptive love through Christ. Folks like Piper (see http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/how-god-makes-known-the-riches-of-his-glory-to-the-vessels-of-mercy) have argued on the basis of Romans 9:22-23 that God shows his wrath and his judgment and power on the non-elect in order to make known how great and amazing his love for the elect is. The point of it all, according to Calvinism, is love. So it is misleading to say that according to Calvinism “God doesn’t prefer to glorify himself as the God who loves,” or that love “is just a cog in the glorification machine.”

        3. What an ambitious task I have before me in this third point. I want to try and briefly argue that Edwardsian Calvinism works just fine in showing how God is a loving being not only in spite of the damnation of the non-elect, but rather because of it. Allow me to say preliminarily that the most fundamental reason why I believe both that God is loving and that God predestines some to hell is because I think the Bible clearly teaches both ideas. So at the end of the day if I can’t completely figure out how those two truths cohere, I’m just going to trust that they do because I see that both are there. However, this does not stop me from trying to see how they both cohere, and I think I have made some significant progress. I commend this view for your consideration (I also know that Piper and Dan Fuller have stated this as their own respective views before).

        Short version: God created the world to communicate himself for the greatest amount of joy for the greatest amount of people, and this can only be accomplished through ordaining that some rebellious creatures should be punished for their sins. Long version: God is loving when he seeks the creature’s happiness, and the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God. Therefore if some of God’s attributes are not made fully known to the creature, there will be a proportionate lack in the creature’s happiness. So in order to make the attributes of his love, holiness, and grace fully known, he must also make known his wrath and judgment as well. It is not possible for God to make known the former attributes to some creatures without there being other rebellious creatures who experience the latter. So God decides to create a world that would have a fall, in which all men would be sinful and deserving of hell, and in which he would graciously redeem some and justly pass over others. In all of this, God is wanting to make himself proportionately known in all of his perfections to as many people as possible, and in order for the greatest number of people to experience the greatest amount of happiness, a certain number of people must be punished. Reprobation thus serves love. I say the “greatest amount” of joy and the “greatest amount” of people because I trust that God is wise and he knows the proper proportion that should exist between the amount of wrath that is fitting to be displayed and the fitting amount of people who will know the riches of his mercy.

        I would love to hear your thoughts on this explanation. In my mind it does seem to show how God can both be “kind in all his works” (Psalm 145:17) and yet ordain that some perish. And I don’t want to get in a fight over Romans 9, but it does seem to be an extension of the sort of logic that is found in verses 22-23 of that chapter: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?”

        • Austin Fischer

          Haha!..you raised some good questions and deserved a response. I think your explanation is just about as good as Calvinism can get ;)…so I’ll just briefly mention the points that I still think stick.

          As to the notion that the complete manifestation of God’s glory (which is also the good of the creature…well, the elect creature ;) ) required damned humans so God can display his wrath…this view has never made much sense to me because of the cross. Briefly, if what the Bible says about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is true and God truly takes God’s wrath upon God’s self and dies our death…what more could possibly be needed to display the seriousness of sin and the wrath and justice of God? I cannot think of a grander, more awe-inspiring display of wrath. Indeed, compared with the crucifixion of God, the foreordained, predetermined damnation of a human being just seems, well, very silly, superfluous, and rather “not awe-inspiring.” So for me, the notion that God needs to damn the reprobate so the elect can see wrath displayed falls flat on its face from the start, ignoring no less than the central event of Christian faith.

          I know you think it’s misleading for me to say that (in Calvinism) “love is just a cog in the glory machine” and that you think “grace is the point” and that “God’s desire to show grace and love is on a ‘higher’ level than his desire to show wrath”…but I just can’t get that math to add up. How is “grace the point” when it’s only the point for such an unbelievably small slice of humanity? How is grace the point when the whole universe is oriented towards the eternal misery of the majority of humans who have ever existed so a select few may be eternally happy? I get how grace is the point for the elect, but the leap from there to “grace is THE point” is quite a chasm.

          We keep coming back around to this point and it really is an impasse: I just cannot get myself to ignore the reprobate in the way most Calvinists seem comfortable doing. Indeed, an essential part of Edwardsian Calvinism (which I think you do a great job concisely explaining by the way!) is a systemic dismissal of the reprobate and fixation on the elect (shown in the willingness to say grace is the point when it’s only the point for a few at the brutal expense of the many). When I was on my last legs as a Calvinist, I clung to my Calvinism because I thought the Bible left me no choice (similar to what you’ve claimed), but I gave up the illusion that grace was the point. Because if grace was THE point, double predestination is a rather bizarre way of making the point.

          All that to say, I don’t think Edwardsian Calvinism (even in its most articulate treatments) comes close to explaining how the God of reprobation is love, in any intelligible sense of the term.

          • Clayton Hutchins

            If the person you’re talking to says you both are “at an impasse,” there’s no avoiding it. It’s no use arguing against it – for in that case you would be at an impasse over whether or not you both are at an impasse, in which case the person arguing “yes” wins. ;-) I’ve enjoyed getting to hear from you, and you have provoked me to think in some helpful ways with your pushback on my argument for God’s love in double predestination. Briefly, I also want to state the points that seem to me to “stick” in light of your most recent comment, and then maybe if you want to follow up even more, we could take this conversation elsewhere – email or what-have-you. (Sorry for the length! It is mostly due to your aforementioned thought-provoking question which I wanted to explore, and it really is at the heart of our discussion, as I will show.)

            You say: “I get how grace is the point for the elect, but the leap from there to ‘grace is THE point’ is quite a chasm” – yes, but only if you can’t see how the damnation of the non-elect is meant *for the purpose of* highlighting the fullest amount of the riches of God’s grace for the fullest amount of creatures. On this topic you raise an interesting rebuttal: “Wasn’t the death of Christ enough to put God’s holiness, hatred for sin, wrath, and justice on display for the enjoyment of God’s elect? Doesn’t the eternal damnation of even a large number of human beings seem silly and totally unneeded for the purpose of highlighting these divine attributes which were already so sufficiently displayed in Christ’s sacrifice?” I want to affirm that God’s hatred for sin and his concern for the upholding of his law and justice is in no place more fully displayed than at the cross – the damned will suffer for all eternity, never making up for their sins or completing the amount of punishment they deserve, so in that sense it is incomplete (viewed from a temporal standpoint) and inadequate as a full and complete expression of God’s hatred for sin and his concern for justice. But I think that upon deeper reflection, it can be conceived that the eternal punishment of the wicked does truly *add* something to the display of the fullness of God’s glory and the elect’s capacity to enjoy it than if no human were ever condemned and Christ’s past death was the only event in the universe where God’s wrath and justice was displayed. (An assumption in all this is that the saints in heaven are aware of and in some ineffable way able to view the torments of the damned, an idea which I find in Scripture: Isa 66:23-24; Luke 16:22-26; Rev 14:10 [cf. 7:15]; 18:20; 19:1-3.)

            1. Christ’s sufferings were a past event, but the torments of the damned are ever-present and everlasting, and as such they serve to further impress God’s justice on the minds and hearts of the glorified saints. Though Christ’s sufferings are the fullest and most complete display of God’s hatred for sin and his concern for justice, the sufferings themselves are a past reality. Christ’s hands still have holes in them, true – but being raised and glorified, he no longer can experience pain. It is important to note on this point that the glorified saints will be eternally embodied creatures, and as such they will have creaturely limitations. Their capacities to feel and have holy affections are dependent upon their knowledge and mental conceptions. So while the contemplation of Christ’s death will indeed incite them to praise God for his mercy, grace, and his holy concern for justice and righteousness which led him to offer up his own Son to make atonement, yet this contemplation is of a past event of suffering which they never personally viewed. But having the damned ever before their eyes, whose great and terrible sufferings are ever available to be viewed, will in fact give them a further reason to praise (as in Rev 19:1-3); the present display of God’s wrath will give their minds conceptions which will further allow them to feel the weight of God’s wrath and justice, since they have seen it being poured out themselves – not just heard about Christ’s past experiences.

            2. The contemplation of Christ’s sufferings aptly demonstrate God’s hatred for sin and love for righteousness, but they do not in the same fullness demonstrate the fierceness of God’s *power* and *might* against sin as the eternally visible torments of the damned do. Christ’s torments were primarily inward and spiritual, not primarily outward and physical (for many have suffered even more physically excruciating deaths than Christ; this is not what brought him to a bloody sweat in the garden). But the torments of the damned are to a much greater degree on the physical level. Jesus tells us to fear him who can destroy both soul “and body” in hell – and the torments of the damned are described as hell-fire, and as being trampled underfoot. It is not the soul only, but also the body, which will be the subject of hell’s torments. And God’s desire to show the fierceness of his wrath and the greatness of the might that he exerts in punishing the damned is singled out in Romans 9:22 as what will display “the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy” – meaning we ought to see a link between these two. And the place where Scripture says this power and fierceness is shown is in hell. “He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured *full strength* into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Rev 14:10); “He will tread the winepress of the *fury* of the wrath of God *the Almighty*” (Rev 19:15).

            3. Another element is that Christ’s sufferings are not an example of God actually hating sin or a sinner, considered as such, but the damned in hell are. Christ bore God’s wrath – yes, but he was not hated by God in an absolute sense. Christ had no sin for God to hate. Jesus, as God, is eternal and eternally beloved within the fellowship of the Trinity, and this fact did not change at the cross. It is paradoxical, but profoundly true that Christ bore the weight of God’s anger without God actually hating him. But the damned are hated by God in an absolute sense – they are hated in themselves for what they are. There is no virtue or righteousness or loveliness in the souls of the damned.

            I have some other reasons too, but this message is getting much too long. I hope to have shown though that while Christ’s past sufferings are the fullest and most complete manifestation of God’s abhorrence of sin and concern to uphold justice and the divine law, the visible and everlasting torments of the damned do add something to the elect’s knowledge of the fullness of God’s glory and their capacity of joy for God’s mercy. And if it is true that damning some does in fact more fully display his glory for the enjoyment of the redeemed, then my previous argument about the love of God in double-predestination would hold against the objection you brought up.

            At this point you could bring up another objection that I could think about and try to answer, but at this point I am constrained to say: I believe both that God is loving and that he ordains that some perish because the Bible says so, and I think I can see how these two cohere. Now I admit I have not read your book, but it is my impression that you at first held to Calvinism because you saw it to be clearly taught in Scripture, but you came to wonder how it could be possible for God to be loving and yet ordain that some perish. Not seeing how this is rationally possible, you began to re-asses the “Calvinist texts” and asked yourself, “Could these be taken another way?” and seeing other potential explanations that would fit with your understanding of how God couldn’t be both loving and predestine some to hell, you accepted those. If this is your story (in the crudest, most simplified form), my only comment would be: I would be wary of allowing a non-Biblical understanding of love or what it means for God to be loving (an a priori “a God of love would never _______”) to take the lead for how I interpret Scripture, especially if it leads me to interpret some passages which seem clearly or at least more plainly to teach something in conflict with that non-biblical definition. Even so, I think it is at least rationally conceivable how the God of Calvinism could still be loving even in ordaining that some perish. If my comments have made that even a little more compelling, I am glad. If not . . . well, I am still glad to have talked with you! It helped me if anything. :-) Sorry for making this last post so long. I’m really pushing my luck. But I thought I’d go out with a bang.

          • Prometheus

            You should read his book. It is kind of rude to discuss Piper’s critique without reading his book.

            And, one thing that Austin did not mention in his reply to you (that you’d find in his book) is that one problem with your logic is that you forget to mention that God is seen as glorious to the elect for his “justice” towards the reprobate when the foredoomed damned are being “justly” punished for sins that God unconditionally ordained that they would commit, for causing them to unconditionally reject the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which, incidentally in many Calvinist views, wasn’t a sacrifice for them anyways! (Limited Atonement). As for being wary of what a priori assumptions about what love is, perhaps you should read Austin’s book, in which he deals with that!

            Please read his book before making any more comments!

          • Clayton Hutchins

            Prometheus – I don’t think it is “rude” to discuss Piper’s critique or try to interact with Austin without reading his book. Austin has been kind enough to interact with me on a few points of interest even though he knows I haven’t read it, and I think our discussion has been a constructive, meaningful one.

            My response to the “problem” you bring up, to be brief, is threefold: 1. God doesn’t “cause” them to reject Christ, rather by nature they hate and reject Christ, and God chooses to leave them as they are: Christ-rejecters. 2. In light of #1, God is just for punishing the reprobate. 3. Limited atonement does not mean that Christ did not die to make salvation available for all – he did do this, and in this sense he died for the non-elect. He died to open up the door of salvation to them and offer himself to them, saying, “Come to me, believe in me, and you will have life!” Limited atonement teaches that Christ did this *and* something more. If he had only made salvation available to all if they were willing to come (as the Arminian claims), then no one would be saved because all men naturally hate God and will not come him. So on top of making salvation available to all, Christ also dies to purchase the regenerating, converting grace which God gives to his elect. So on the cross Christ did more, not less, than the Arminian claims. He died not only to offer himself to all men, but to actually save his people.

            Unfortunately I feel like I have plagued Austin’s comment section with enough of my pro-Calvinism ranting, so I won’t be engaging here with you on any follow up stuff from the problem you mentioned. If you want to continue the discussion, I’d be happy to email you. Or call. Or meet up if you happen to live near me. :-)

          • Prometheus

            Thank you for your reply. But I think interaction with Piper’s comment at least irresponsible if not rude. The reason being, that you are unaware of what Piper is critiquing. And, yes, I believe Austin was gracious to you for answering. He could have easily said, “please read my book because I address all your questions” and I’m glad he didn’t. As for your three things. Since you will not be interacting with me on this forum anymore, I suppose that it is pointless to point out, but:

            1. God doesn’t cause them, you say, but no matter what “lapsarian” you are, the sinner is a sinner, not by ultimately by his/her own choice or even Adam’s, but by the decree of God. Their choice was caused by the decree, not vice-versa. Unless, of course, you are willing to say that God had no decrees (temporally) until the fall (i.e. Adam had non-compatibilist free will). I have other problems with this, but they are not as serious. But anyone who has read Calvin and Edwards knows that they believed in double-predestination and the supralapsarian position because all these things were decreed – even the fall itself. To many of us it looks nothing like justice.

            2. The decree makes the justice look nothing like justice. (I know it gets old.)

            3. Your explanation of Limited atonement is confusing. It sounds, then that Christ died for all, but that his death, though capable of paying for all was incapable of actually saving all (because he had to die for two things: for sins and regenerating grace and the latter was purchased for some). As for your understanding of “and something more” I know that you know that we disagree. We would say we have the “something more.” For an Arminian, Christ not only died to make salvation available to all, but sufficiently available to all (not effectively available to all – that is universalism). For Calvinists, if I understand you correctly, Christ died to make salvation “available” to all, but effective for only some. To an Arminian mind this is not available at all to most, just available for whom it is effective; so you may say that Christ died for all, but in the end, what difference does it make if it doesn’t actually get offered to all? An Arminian does not believe that depravity is any less than a Calvinist believes, despite protestations. Our view of grace is different. And we, too, believe that the human cannot begin to repent without God’s work of grace. We just believe that he provides sufficient grace to all to enable a free will resembling what Adam and Eve had before the fall (assuming a non-compatibilist understanding of free will). This grace is not regenerating grace, but prevenient grace. God’s power makes it possible for people to repent and believe. Once one responds to the call, God regenerates one. As Austin said we’d have to agree to disagree on, non-Calvinists don’t think that the ability to receive or reject the gospel amounts to ability/right to boast. Anyone who has been saved physically would feel the same way about a gift or about a saving attempt. Accepting either does not constitute a work, it constitutes faith/trust.

          • Clayton Hutchins

            Prometheus – I will keep the promise I made and not reply to your message here. However, send me an email at claytonhutchins@sbcglobal.net and I’ll reply there!

          • http://kirstymcallister.blogspot.co.uk/ Kirsty

            Are you seriously saying we will be sitting in heaven – that perfect place of eternal joy – happily watching people be eternally punished and glorifying God for that? Wow :-(

          • Clayton Hutchins

            Yes. Check out Rev 18:20 and 19:1-3.

          • Clayton Hutchins

            And this is not to say that the saints will *always* be looking upon the wicked. Just that they will be able to and will.

          • Steve

            Clayton is biblical. Austin has strayed from scripture due to lack of trust in the goodness of God

          • Joel Kessler

            I am biblical and I think that women are different than men. Women are saved by bearing children. Slaves should submit to masters. God kills people for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, and God glorifies his wrath more than his mercy, because he condemns more “examples” to conscious, eternal, torments in hell eternally for temporal sins they commit in this life. Lets stop being quasi-biblical and go the whole way! I can’t wait for Jesus to come back to earth with a gattling gun of swords coming out of his mouth to slaw the rest of the “examples” in order to show forth his glorious wrath! I worship wrath, not grace!

  • Joe

    Hard to believe folks are still debating Calvinism and Arminianism, has no one heard of a third way? Which was the belief of most all of the early church, as well as most all mainline churches, and serious thinkers from Immanuel Kant to Karl Barth to John Hick.
    Please read some Rob Bell, or if he is not deep enough for you, read Thomas Talbott, or George McDonald. Most thinking people, especially those educated outside of Christian colleges and seminaries, abandoned Calvinism long ago, with it’s very demonic view of God. (viewing God with qualities we using associate with the devil or demons)

    On a related note, it is troubling to see folks like Dan Kimball say things like – Our old theology is fine, we just need to do church differently. No Dan, doing church differently, whether it means lighting candles or rewriting the old hymns, isn’t bringing the church back to life. People aren’t stupid, they ARE discarding the old theology and it’s teaching of burning forever in eternal conscious torment, which sadly is still found in the statement of faith from everyone from the hipster churches all the way up to the Talbot school of theology.

    If Christians want to be taken seriously again, we need to stop promoting absurd teachings that are not even in the Bible. And please stop taking the Bible so literally, although even a literal read of the Bible does not teach there is a hell. Gehenna (Hell) is an actual place on a map, not some place in the afterlife where we are all going – although they do say “Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company”.

  • Chase Stewart

    Austin,

    Thanks for interacting with Karl Barth in the book! There are not enough pastors/people in the church today who have read and interacted with Barth. I think we could all use a little more Karl in our lives. I was very excited to see quite a bit of his work in the book. I’m guessing you own the Dogmatics? Out of curiosity, who introduced you to Barth?

    Chase

    • Austin Fischer

      You’re quite welcome! And I agree…a little more Barth would do us all some good. I came across Barth during undergraduate studies reading a book called Models of Revelation by Avery Dulles. I am quite fond of his doctrine of the Word of God.

      • Chase Stewart

        Awesome. I am also very fond of his doctrine of the Word of God. I do have to ask for your thoughts on his doctrine of election? :)

  • Peter McKenzie

    Austin, I just listened to your debate with James White on Unbelievable, and I empathize with any frustration you might have felt afterword. Even though, I agree that the Bible should be our starting and finishing point, the critical point is that we don’t just read the Bible full stop. We read it with our reasoning, logic, rationale and intuitive sense – all helping us to read and understand it. So when you pressed him to provide an analogy that would help us make sense of how a good and loving God could create people for damnation, and he then could only harken back to the Bible’s depiction of the incarnation, I found that extremely frustrating. It was classic circular reasoning. I suggest you stay with that tact.

    • Austin Fischer

      I love that line from Willard! It’s underlined with lots of stars next to it in my copy of Divine Conspiracy.

      • Peter McKenzie

        Yeah – that’s one of my favourite books. He takes a lot of (post mortem yet) heat for his contemplative prayer leanings (which I don’t agree with) – but I think he was really onto something when he wrote the DC. I agreed with his diagnosis in the book but not his prognosis – where he equates discipleship with disciplines such as centering prayer.

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