Piper & Kinnon Dashed

kinnon —  August 18, 2009 — 17 Comments

God knew I was going to write this post. For some folk, it was part of His sovereign plan – for others, His foreknowledge was not His foreordination.

Some folks think I recently took an unnecessary shot @ John Piper (a far better man than me) in my recent review of a book written by young men from the Truly Reformed end of the theological pool. I was attempting to unpack where I stood on original sin in light of our free will – an obvious point of divergence from my Reformed brethren – and said this,

I should note that I do believe in original sin. I believe that the world is broken because we broke it and I believe that our sinful natures are the primary cause for the problems in this world. I believe our free will has caused us to make choices that infect and affect our family, friends, neighbours and the planet. I do not believe in a God who foreordains every action, but in a God who is not surprised by anything. As an example, the collapse of the I35 bridge in Minneapolis/St. Paul was not part of God's sovereign plan – no matter what Piper told his young daughter.

My friend, Dr. Darryl Dash, (Triple D to the interweb cognoscenti) has decided to engage with my statement and that of Dr. Piper's in Darry's post, God and Evil. He begins with two quotes today – one from Dr. Piper and one from your not particularly humble servant and promises to be back with more, tomorrow. Triple D writes,

This is a huge issue. What role does God play in the bad things that happen? Does Piper’s belief that God ordains all things make God the author of evil?

Tomorrow I’ll list some passages that bear on this question.

It should be an interesting conversation discussion.

UPDATE 2: My friend, Jason Coker, brings a lot more theological heat to the discussion. A must read: The not-God of I35, Job, and John Piper

UPDATE: The conversation heats up over @ Triple D's and I go into storytelling mode. My favourite comment so far,

God has foreordained everything to happen. The Scriptures are blatant about this side of the truth revealed about God’s sovereignty. Just because you can’t logically conceive of this as compatible with suffering in this present fallen world doesn’t mean you have to denigrate God’s pre-determination of all things.

And yes, this person is responding to me.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

17 responses to Piper & Kinnon Dashed

  1. There was a clip a while ago of a discussion between Tim Keller, DA Carson and John Piper in the aftermath of one of their Gospel Coalition Conferences – Pastor Piper admitted that if there was one thing he could change in his earlier writings it would be to emphasize Christ more.

    I think he has a fine appreciation for the sovereignty of God – but when he makes statements like the ones you quote – I think he comes dangerously close to a theology of glory. God chooses to reveal himself through Christ, whose command is that we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We aren’t supposed to spend our time trying to reason out the secret things of a God who dwells in unapproachable light.

  2. I’ll admit, I took a smidgen of delight from your little swipe at Piper. But then, I’m fairly petty.

    Still, isn’t Triple D a little late to the party? The I35 bridge collapse – and it subsequent flurry of theological debate – was like 3 decades ago in blog years.

    I’m wondering if you read Greg Boyd’s response to Piper at the time. Personally, I appreciated it as a counterpoint to the typical smug superiority on display in the TR camp. Here’s an excerpt:

    “In the end, this view requires that we accept that God punishes people with catastrophes – and then eternally in hell — for doing precisely what he predestined them to do. Good luck making sense out of that!”

  3. Thanks, Chris

    I linked to Greg back in the day. It even appears in the You Might Like links at the bottom of this post and Greg is quite right.

  4. Jason:

    I’m late to the party, except Bill keeps bringing it up. I took the bait. 🙂


    Looking forward to the discussion.

  5. Bill, of course I missed that link…it was right in front of my eyes! It’s like that between me and God too : )

    Daryl, a party is a party, so it’s all good. I’m looking forward to it : )

  6. You and me, both Jason.

    I think it’s an important conversation and I look forward to what you have to offer in order to help us with the discussion.

    Back to Boyd. Many folk want to write Greg off because he is an Open Theist. I casually know one of Greg’s associate pastors who, in regards to God’s foreknowledge says that according to Greg, God “overknows the future.” He knows it in all its possible permutations.

    For fear that Greg’s post from two years ago on this subject might disappear (as he now blogs here), I’m going to copy his entire post into this comment. I hope he won’t mind.

    Why the 35W Bridge Collapsed

    As all of you know, I’m sure, a little over a week ago the 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. This is the most traveled bridge in Minnesota. It was a tragedy, though the fact that only 13 people died and/or are presumed dead is really amazing, especially given that this happened at the peak of rush hour. The catastrophe is rendered especially poignant by the fact that it involved the failure of human-made structure we instinctively trust. Like the Titanic, this collapsed bridge has become a symbol of our perpetual vulnerability.

    It’s also an occasion for theological reflection. A prominent local pastor in the Twin Cities reports that the night of the collapse his eleven-year-old daughter wanted to pray that people wouldn’t blame God for the event. He told her this was a good prayer since “blame” implies God did something wrong. He assured her God let the bridge fall, in part because he wanted people in Minneapolis to “fear him.” But, he assured his daughter, God isn’t to “blame” because he did nothing wrong.

    In this same blog the pastor discusses Luke 13:1-5 where Jesus responds to two catastrophes: Pilates’ slaughtering of some Galileans and the fall of the tower of Siloam that killed 18 people. About both events Jesus asked his audience, “Do you think these people were more guilty than anyone else? No. But unless you repent, you will all perish” (vs. 3-4, my paraphrase). This pastor interprets Jesus to be saying that “everyone deserves to die,” for “all of us have sinned against God.” And this, he insists, is “the meaning of the collapse of this bridge…”

    What is more, this pastor argues that catastrophes like this one are God’s “most merciful message,” since they mean there’s “still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction.” For this reason, the message of the collapsed bridge is “the most precious message in the world.”

    Now, I respect this pastor as a man of God, but this teaching honestly concerns me. I’ll make four points in response to this blog.

    First, his interpretation of Luke 13:1-5 assumes that God was somehow involved in Pilate’s massacre and the falling tower of Siloam. He thinks Jesus was teaching that the ultimate reason the Galileans were massacred and the tower fell on people was because “everyone deserves to die,” and Jesus was simply saying to his audience; “You’re as guilty as they are, and you’ll die too if you don’t repent.” But where in the text is there any suggestion Jesus assumed God had anything to do with either of these catastrophes?

    In fact, if you read on five more verses, you come upon another catastrophe Jesus confronted: a woman who had been deformed for 18 years. Rather than assuming that God was somehow involved in this deformity, Jesus says this woman was bound by Satan (13:16). He then manifested God’s will by healing her.

    This is what we find throughout the Gospels. They uniformly identify infirmities (sickness, disease, deformities, disabilities) as being directly or indirectly the result not of God’s punishing activity, but of Satan’s oppressive activity. So it is that Peter summarized Jesus’ ministry by saying he was anointed “with the Holy Spirit and power” and “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil” (Ac 10:38).

    In light of this, I see no reason to accept the assumption that drives this pastor’s exegesis.

    Second, while I agree with this pastor that all people are sinners who deserve to die, I wonder how the death of Christ factors into all this. Scripture teaches that Jesus died “not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2:2). If so, then why is God still in the business of physically punishing people for their sins by sending catastrophes? Wasn’t Jesus’ sacrifice enough?

    Certainly God has the right to punish people by taking back the life he gives when he sees fit (e.g. Acts 5:9-10). But in the light of Calvary – and the entire ministry of Jesus – why should we think that this is his post-Christ ordinary mode of operation? Isn’t the Good News good precisely because, despite our sin, Jesus came to give us abundant life (Jn 10:10)?

    Third, and closely related to this, the model of God bringing about disasters to punish people is rooted in the Old Testament. Here we several times find God using nature and human agents to punish people. (Though even back then this wasn’t God’s normal mode of operation). But in these contexts, God first gives ample warning about a coming judgment and he tells people exactly what he is doing. Punishment without teaching is not pedagogically effective.

    Imagine a parent saying to their child, “I’m going to spank you whenever I want to but not tell you why.” It just doesn’t work!

    Now, God is no longer working within the framework of the Old Covenant in which these judgments have meaning, so we have no reason to think God is still trying to teach people lessons by sending disasters. But even if were to suppose he was still operating this way, where are the warnings and the teachings? If God was in fact collapsing the bridge to make people in Minneapolis “fear him,” as this pastor claims, why didn’t God establish a context where the people would understand what God was up to and have a chance to repent?

    I can make my point this way. How many non-believers in Minneapolis do you think interpreted the bridge collapse as an expression of God’s wrath? And of these, how many were moved to turn to God out of fear? I’m thinking it’s probably close to zero. If God was trying to get people to fear him, it simply didn’t work. But it did cost a number of lives and inflicted misery and sorrow on many more. It was a harsh spanking without any helpful instruction, and thus was unhelpful while being costly. Is this the way the God revealed in Jesus Christ operates?

    Fourth, and finally, if you accept that angels and humans are free agents who thus have the capacity to go against God’s will, there’s simply no need to appeal to a vindictive divine purpose to explain why catastrophes like this collapsed bridge happen. As Scripture depicts the matter, the world is oppressed by rebellious, evil powers that in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels have corrupted nature. As I’ve discussed at length in previous blogs, nothing in nature operates exactly the way God originally intended it to operate.

    On top of this, we humans have allowed ourselves to be co-opted in the epoch long battle these powers are waging against God, so we too have become corrupted. We thus don’t have the right priorities, which in part is why bridges we build sometimes collapse. Think about it. To give one illustration, we are generally much quicker to spend billions of dollars on war than we are making sure people are safe (and adequately fed).

    There’s undoubtedly plenty of blame to go around for why this bridge collapsed, ranging from fallen cosmic powers to a wrongly prioritized government to the wrongly prioritized people who elected these officials into office without holding them sufficiently accountable. But if you accept that God created a world with free agents, the one being you don’t need to blame is God.

    If, on the other hand, you don’t accept that the cosmos is populated with free agents who can therefore make decisions that are contrary to God’s will, then you have an even greater problem. (This is the camp the pastor whose blog I’m discussing is in). For in this case one has to explain how everyone can deserve to die when everything every person has ever done, however sinful, was part of God’s great plan from the start!

    Not only this, but if angels and people don’t have free will that can go against God’s will, then it’s no longer adequate to say God “allowed” a bridge to fall. You have to say God “caused” the bridge to fall. Other agents may have been instrumental in bringing about the collapse of the bridge, but they only did what God’s sovereign plan decreed they do. So one is fudging words to say God “allowed” the bridge to fall and that God is not to blame for the bridge falling.

    In the end, this view requires that we accept that God punishes people with catastrophes – and then eternally in hell — for doing precisely what he predestined them to do. Good luck making sense out of that!

    I suggest it’s far more biblical, and far more rational, to simply say that in a fallen, oppressed world, bridges sometimes collapse — and leave it at that. Rather than trying to see the vindictive hand of God behind catastrophes, it’s wiser to simply acknowledge that the world is an oppressed place where things sometimes go tragically wrong and focus all of our mental and physical energy turning from our self-centered ways to carry out God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”

    That, after all, was what Jesus was getting at in Luke 13:1-5.

  7. And one further point.

    I was struck this morning by Jesus discussion with the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10. When the young man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus has the perfect opportunity to unpack the complete sovereignty of God and say something like, “there is nothing you can do to inherit eternal life because God chose who his elect would be from the beginnings of the world and if you’re in, you’re in – and if you’re not, you’re not.”

    Instead, Scripture says that Jesus looked on this man with love and told him that he needed to sell all he had and give to the poor. The man went away disappointed, for he loved his stuff.

    Jesus then tells his disciples that it easier for a camel to go through the Eye of a Needle (a gate in Jerusalem shaped like the eye of a needle – where camels needed to be stripped of all they carried, and go through on their knees) than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.

    Jesus offered the Rich Young Ruler a choice, and he chose to turn away and remain attached to his stuff. He exercised free will in rejecting Jesus.

    God knew what the RYJ’s would be – but Scripture states the choice was made by the young man – rather than it being foreordained by the Lord.

  8. “So one is fudging words to say God “allowed” the bridge to fall and that God is not to blame for the bridge falling.”

    What about the book of Job? Where it states that God allowed Satan to do those horrible things to Job as long as he did not kill him.

    Job was definitly exercising Free Will in how he responded to the situation, though.

  9. A fun exercise is to take a spare Bible and highlight (or better yet, black out, if you dare) all the content that contains behavioral exhortations. You know, all the stuff that indicates we have a responsibility to actually DO some thing over and against some other thing – stuff that assumes our ability to willfully determine our allegiance with God.

    After all the blacking out, you’re not left with much. The OT? Forget about it. The NT? Most of Paul…gone. Virtually all of Peter and John’s stuff…gone. All of Jesus’ teachings…gone. You’re pretty much left with only the narratives about Jesus’ birth and passion, the front-ends of Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and a few other bits and pieces of his letters, and John’s Revelation. It’s the perfect snapshot of Reformed theology.

    I call the “Calvinist’s Bible” and I’m thinking of marketing it…complete with blacked-out text, like it came from a Freedom of Informaiton Act request : )

  10. Jason,
    You crack me up. You really should wander over (both you and Lin) to Darryl’s post and join the conversation there.

  11. So I went to leave a comment and ended up with a whole new post. As if we’ll get this solved anytime soon…

  12. Jason, that is so clever, I am pilfering the idea from you…

  13. “(a gate in Jerusalem shaped like the eye of a needle – where camels needed to be stripped of all they carried, and go through on their knees)”

    Just to strain at a gnat, there never was such a gate in Jerusalem. It’s an exegetical myth. Jesus was making a hyperbolic pun which works in both Aramaic and Greek. “Kamelos” means camel and “kamilos” means rope. Putting a rope through the eye of a needle would be difficult; putting a camel through would be absurd.

    The Babylonian Talmud contains a similar figure of speech.

  14. Brian,
    Gnatless or otherwise, your point, presented so definitively, is, unfortunately open to debate.

  15. Slightly off-topic, except that you brought up Greg Boyd…

    Doesn’t his latest book make a big deal about how “judging” is the true fruit from the tress of the knowledge of good and evil?

    When I first heard people excitedly quoting Boyd to the effect that anyone who “judges” (or uses common sense discernment) is automatically eating the bad fruit, I immediately saw the same mentality as the hyper-charismatics who say stuff like “you have a religious spirit” or “god offends the mind to reveal the heart”.

    It’s interesting/bemusing/disturbing to see some similar uses of “shut up” slogans are cropping up in emerging and extreme charismatic circles.

    I’m just sayin’…

  16. i just prefer to use adhominen arguments. i think piper and carson are just retarded and so are all those who believe sovereignty foreordains such misery

  17. A little late to the confab, though not to reflecting on this topic.

    As a life long Reformed, Calvinist, and Presbyterian, I struggled with this issue as a young person. Here’s how I came to resolve this in my mind.

    I have no problem in thinking of God as sovereign, or even all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. My problem is with our confidence that we know what these concepts mean outside of human experience. This is what we are saying when we assert that all actions are controlled by God. The only way I can understand this idea is from my own experience. I can read the words, and know that I do not understand what they truly mean in an ontological sense. If it is true that God is in control of all actions, then would we have any real, independent perception of it? Or, rather, if we did have that perception, then is our perception of free will then a trick that God plays on us to convince us that we really aren’t spiritual robots? And if that is so, why create the world at all. The fact that I have questions means what about God’s activity in this world. Am I delusional in thinking that my thinking is independent in any way of God’s control of the whole of creation?

    The issue is our human capacity to understand the full nature of God independent of God. To make such strong claims is not to support a high view of God, but rather of human knowing. Because we live in the bubble of space and time, and not outside with God the Father, Son and Spirit in eternity, our conception of God and our conception of who we are as human beings is indelibly tied together. We cannot describe who God is without saying who we are. To say, I am responsible to God for my actions and God is in control of all my actions is a philosophic nonsequitur. As a human being, I can’t reconcile these two ideas that both are found in Scripture. And I do not feel that I have to reconcile them. I allow them to remain in tension so that I live my faith in God’s goodness rather in the security of my own belief system.

    All our concepts of God are human interpretations. Whatever we think it means for God to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present is not the whole story. We make leaps of judgment from the words to truth, without pausing to ask the simple questions of the historical, social, literary context of the words and concepts in Scripture and of our time and place as interpreters of Scripture. To treat metaphorical statements in Scriptures as if they are contemporary legal and scientific statements is to fail to rightly handle the Word of God.

    It is time for both a bit of humility and more sophistication in how we read, interpret and apply Scripture. I hope it will come from this discussion, Bill.


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