Wednesday, April 7, 2010

God's Eternal Decree, Part I: The Complete Freedom of God

“The complete freedom of God, combined with God’s role as the divine King who rules over His creation, provide the irrefutable foundation of God’s sovereign decree” (James White, “God’s Eternal Decree,” from “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 38).

I read the book “Debating Calvinism” approximately one year ago, and it’s taken me 60-70 books (and some free time) to finally get a chance to start blogging on this book. It was one of the first books I bought on the Calvinism-Arminianism debate (although Dave Hunt, the other co-author of the book, isn’t Arminian). However, it got me to start seeing the problems with Calvinism itself---as well as the dangerous implications of Calvinist theology itself.

I begin blogging on the book with the above quote because I think it is one of the most fundamental issues regarding God that Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike must consider when developing a theology and a philosophy of God. Whether most believers know it or not, they have an underlying philosophy of God that governs their interpretations of Scripture. Jay Wesley Richards writes:

“Such extrapolated interpretations of PP [Principle of Perfection] and SAC [Sovereignty-Aseity Conviction] exercise enough control that theologians, including staunchly biblical ones, sometimes use them, in a sort of hermeneutical feedback loop, to interpret Scripture…we must judge the legitimacy of such use case by case...” (Jay Wesley Richards, “The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity, and Immutability.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003, page 37).

Richards’ quote shows us that philosophical principles, while good ones, can be used to reinterpret Scripture...instead of Scripture revising philosophical principles. This is why we must be careful in doing sound biblical interpretation, always testing our reading and comprehension by the Word of God. Yes, believers must become “Berean” in their thinking (Acts 17:11).

Now, on to examining White’s quote. Let’s read it again here:

“The complete freedom of God, combined with God’s role as the divine King who rules over His creation, provide the irrefutable foundation of God’s sovereign decree.”

White tells us that we can believe in God’s sovereign decree because first, God has total freedom to do whatever He wants; and second, because He rules over His creation. I would have to say that I think these are two good reasons why we can believe in the sovereign decree of God. However, having said that, I believe that God’s Word tells us what God’s sovereign decree is. We can easily know what God decreed from the beginning of the existence of time because He tells us in His Word.

To match his quote of God as being sovereign, James White immediately, in his section titled “The Counsel of His Will,” goes on to quote Ephesians 1:11---

“We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestinated according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

James White comments:

“This [Eph. 1:11] is the positive way of stating what Paul said in Romans 9:11 (‘So that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls’) and 2 Timothy 1:9 (‘He saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity’). God’s purpose, God’s will, is the basis upon which God acts. He works ALL THINGS in accordance with the counsel of His will. MAN’S WILL CANNOT THWART OR DESTROY HIS PURPOSE, and THIS TRUTH IS STATED HERE IN EPHESIANS IN THE CONTEXT OF SALVATION ITSELF” (“God’s Eternal Decree,” from “Debating Calvinism,” page 39).

In the opinion of James White, since “all things” work out “after the counsel of His will,” then everything works out exactly as He wants it to. What does it mean, to say that everything works out like God wants it to? James White states,

“without this truth, one is left with the religions of men: God offers, God tries, but in the final analysis, MEN DISPOSE” (39).

In other words, “without this truth” (that God determines everything to go His way), men frustrate the plan and will of God. Either God determines everything, or man determines everything.

Don’t you think that White sets up two extremes, creates a false dichotomy, when the answer of truth lies “in the middle” between these two extremes? Why must God determine everything OR man determine everything? Why can’t both God and man be determining (or causal) agents in the universe? After all, is everything in life determined? Are there not some things in the universe that are determined, and some that are indeterminate?

Dave Hunt responds:

“Yes, God works ‘all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Eph. 1:11), but White ignores the key word ‘COUNSEL’. Contrary to Calvinism, which makes God its author, the evil and suffering in this world are not God’s will but the result of man’s rebellion: ‘They rebel against me’ (Hosea 7:14). IN THE COUNSEL OF HIS WILL, GOD HAS GIVEN MAN A FREE WILL. That fact provides the only explanation for rampant wickedness (‘Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate’ [Jeremiah 44:4])” (Dave Hunt response, page 103).

I think the problem with Calvinists is that, when they wanna talk about the God-human relationship, they turn to Ephesians 1...but bypass Genesis 1! Genesis 1 shows us the glory God bestowed on man in the beginning when He gave man dominion over His earthly creation and blessed their rule (Gen. 1:26-28). God gave man free will in the Garden when He allowed Adam to name the animals (Gen. 2:19). God does not determine all the events of life in the Garden; rather, as Terence Fretheim states, God “shares power in relationship.”

Perhaps White’s gross view of God is the direct consequence of his gross view of men: since men are just puppets in the hands of a dictatorial God, then God has no regard for them. This, though, is a direct violation of Scripture (Psalm 8), which tells us that God desired to glorify man (and that man, in turn, would glorify God).
What is “the counsel of His will” of Ephesians 1:11? I’ll get into that in my next post.

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