An Important Essay from Scot McKnight on Meticulous Sovereignty

kinnon —  May 23, 2013 — 10 Comments

A-Long-Faithfulness-coverThe publishing of McKnight’s new essay is particularly relevant in light of the latest John Piper Tweet firestorm — enflamed by tweets which, it has been blogged, he intended as comfort for people in Moore, OK. This ‘tweet comfort’ after the brutal tornado that wreaked destruction on the Moore community. (Wade Burleson’s response to Brother Piper and that of Chris Hubbs are two of the best I’ve read.)

I would suggest that Pastor Piper has been consistent in his theological response to this and other tragedies. Would the key to understanding his response be his belief in what Scot McKnight says “might be called “meticulous” (or “exhaustive)” sovereignty“? (Note: I wrote about a Piper response to the 2007 I35 Bridge Collapse tragedy.)

Scot McKnight’s latest eBook/essay, A Long Faithfulness: The Case for Christian Perseverance, engages Piper’s understanding of God’s sovereignty. McKnight does it in an irenic manner. ( I purchased and read the essay yesterday. It is available in Canada here, and in the US here)

He says this about the purpose of his essay:

This essay ultimately contends for a generous evangelicalism, one in which each of our theologies is represented fairly and is accepted as a genuine element. This essay is not an argument for Arminianism, which ironically is itself–as Roger Olson has clearly stated over and over in his excellent books, including Arminian Theology and Against Calvinism–a development of Calvinism. Instead, this essay is designed to cut the nerve feeding only one kind of resurgent Calvinism: the meticulous sovereignty sort. I hope to convince the reader that meticulous sovereignty conflicts with the Bible’s presentation of human freedom, namely, the ability to choose and un-choose God. If my argument is accurate, then we are set free to explore other options for tragedies and injustices in this world besides meticulous sovereignty. The heart of this resurgent Calvinism is found in the singular, clear, and passionate vision of John Piper. There are other theologians and pastors around him, including Mark Driscoll, D.A. Carson, David Wells, and many others. Alongside these key, articulate, and passionate voices are institutions that prop up these voices: places like Southern Seminary (led by Al Mohler), Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and other lesser known but serious seminaries, colleges, and conferences (like the Passion Conference and The Gospel Coalition). [emphasis added]

I would strongly suggest that using the warning passages in Hebrews — 2:1-4, 3:7-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, 12:1-29 — McKnight accomplishes what he sets out to do. He ‘cuts the nerve’ that feeds “meticulous sovereignty”. He also challenges and corrects those of us who’ve bought into the “once saved/always saved” cheap grace of American evangelicalism.

I look forward to my friends and others in the Piper/TGC/T4C universe giving this essay an honest assessment — actually wrestling with McKnight’s argument — treating it and Scot McKnight with the respect deserved.

I’m about to read the essay through again. I doubt it will be the last time. I do hope you will read it, as well.

UPDATE: Chaplain Mike @ Internetmonk: John Piper, Miserable Comforter



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.

10 responses to An Important Essay from Scot McKnight on Meticulous Sovereignty

  1. I bought it and read it last night.
    My problem with the essay is this…he doesn’t deal with the Scriptural reasons for holding to “meticulous sovereignty”…and it’s those Scriptures that lead some of us to wrestle a little harder with the book of Hebrews.
    He also doesn’t interact with current Reformed scholarship, especially with Schreiner and Canadys “Race Set Before Us”.
    It will be welcomed by those who want an answer to Calvinism…but it’s an incomplete answer to this Calvinist.
    Thanks for the recommendation…I always enjoy McKnight and sometimes even agree with him. 🙂

    • Gee, and here I was hoping he’d convince you. 🙂

    • Scot McKnight May 23, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Michael, thanks for this. Ardel was a student of mine but I find the rhetorical hypothetical theory quite unlikely, esp in light of OT texts. But this is an e-book, not a monograph, so the intent was not to interact with everyone but present a case. All I tried to do.

  2. thanks for cluing us into this essay, saw the title but didn’t know what it was about… a needed contribution to this conversation.

  3. lydiasellerofpurple May 23, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    I downloaded this yesterday. I don’t feel so dumb anymore. I have wrestled with the warning passages in Hebrews for 10 years but everytime I brought them up in any Evangelical venue I was told they did not mean what I thought they meant. I think in an indirect way some of 1 John backs this up, too. Some of James, too.

    In my recent research on very early Christians I found they were focused almost soley on “kingdom now” living and not on seeking perfect doctrine. That came soon enough with the power wars.

    Interestingly enough they referred to “Jesus our Lord” instead of what we say, Jesus our Savior even though they believed He was their Savior. The focus was on Him being Lord of their lives. That tends to affirm the view that how we live now as kingdom people is serious and has eternal consequences.

    I come out of the seeker mega industrial complex and I really believe the doctrine of once saved, always saved is ruining people. Yes, it helps bolster the cheap grace that is served up with it. In fact, I think it is same side of the coin as Calvinistic thinking in a way.

  4. Scot,

    Thanks for the reply.
    You made a good case and it will certainly further the conversation…and that’s always a good thing for all of us.

  5. As a Reformed Christian, I have two thoughts I’d like to share.

    First, we need to be aware of the intellectual culture in which philosophies like “meticulous sovereignty” are derived. I find it driven by a kind of Enlightenment intellectualism that forces precision and absolutism in definition upon doctrines that are expressed in a narrative context in the Bible.

    I remember having to read Berkof’s Systematic Theology in seminary feeling how strange it was that the narrative nature of the new testament had been turned into a scientific-like philosophical document. Why did this theology begin with the nature of God, and not with something else. It was a philosophical decision made by Berkof to organize his book this way. In this regard, it is important to remember that meticulous sovereignty is an interpretation of Scripture by human interpreters, and not THE Gospel. I believe some of my Reformed brethren forget that.

    I am making a qualitative distinction between systematic theology and biblical theology. And I am saying that biblical theology takes precedence.

    Second, the other problem that I find is confusion as to the distinction between time and eternity. I rarely hear anyone speak to this distinction. Or rather, they seem to see no problem in seeing the eternal functioning in time. Einstein, and other physicists, believed that time is an illusion. But that is not the same thing as believing in an eternal present. I find many of these absolutist statements about God, that he is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. as incoherent when functioning within created time. I can easily see it within non-created eternity.

    The larger question for us is whether the Scripture is truly the sole measure of truth, or whether experience is as well. It was drilled into us in seminary that experience cannot be trusted, and the Scripture is the only thing that can be. The problem is that we don’t really rely on Scripture, but our individual interpretations of it which are based upon our life experience.

    Many of these statements that are about God’s sovereignty, in my estimation, are not truth statements, but faith statements serving as veiled questions in search of an answer. Does God intervene in the world through the Holy Spirit? I believe so, but I have no absolute proof, and a philosophical statement of belief in that notion is not a proof. Does God operate within time in a predicable pattern of behavior that can be measured, quantified and systematized for inclusion into the life of believers and the church? I don’t think so. For me this really raises the question of why do we set our selves up with these statements that clearly are intended or assumed to be proven as true, and yet, there is no means of measuring them to determine this. We are thrown back of their truthfulness being based on Scripture’s testimony, and I find that the Bible is ambiguous about these questions. We see statements about God’s sovereignty, but not see it acted out in the stories. Rather, what we see is a more selective sovereignty. Why does Jesus heal one blind man and not all of them? There is clear a process of discernment that goes to some other question beyond or of greater priority than the exercise of sovereignty.

    Ultimately, we have no way of knowing, in the full sense of knowing, meaning in the fullness of our experience as God’s human creation, whether God is sovereign or not. It is a tenet of belief that guides our quest for understanding and sanctification. That doesn’t make is nihilists. It does mean that we should be suspect of any statement that depends on an uncritical reading of Scripture or based essentially on an intellectualist argument.

    • Ed, As I just said on Twitter. Once again you provide a response that’s better than the post. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

      • We fall into temptation when we seek to define God the Father instead of simply following His son Jesus Christ (Mark 9:7). Attempts to define God the Father will simply play into the enemy’s hand to divide us. Instead may we commit ourselves to the complete unity for which Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior prayed in John 17 that the world may know that He came from God the Father.

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