I recently came across a certain video by Douglas Wilson. It is a video about the sovereignty of God. I like Douglas Wilson – I like his eschatology, and I like his politics (mostly). I’ve read several of his books. His writings on the family are excellent. Wilson is also a Calvinist, and that is where I disagree with him, along with his definition of God’s sovereignty.
Calvinists define sovereignty in a way which seems to be unique to Calvinists. The definition goes something like this: All that happens in this universe happens because God ordained for it to happen exactly as it happens. This can get confusing. If God knows the future of an uncreated universe to the smallest detail, and then creates that universe, He automatically ordains, or predestines, all those future events to happen simply by creating. He may not like any of those events, but still allows them to happen. This could be called a negative predestination through allowance. Some Calvinists would be satisfied with this definition.
With Wilson, however, God positively predestines all events in creation just as an author of a play writes out all the actions of his characters. You bought a cookie dough flavored ice cream cone on Saturday, and you were predestined to do that from before the creation of the worlds. However, according to Wilson, you still bought that ice cream cone freely. You were not coerced against your will to do so.
How can a man be free when all of his actions have been predestined by God before the man even existed? If God is forcing His will on the man, does that not displace the will of the man? Yes, but only if God Himself is confined to and a part of the created universe. When one resident of the universe forces his will on another resident, the freedom of the forced is displaced by the enforcer. But since God is not a part of the universe, and the divide between creation and the Creator is infinite, God can predestine the actions of a man while not displacing that man’s freedom in making those decisions. God, being God creating ex nihilo (not god creating while confined to preexisting conditions), does indeed have the power to ordain all of a man’s actions while also ordaining that same man’s freedom. Make sense? You can watch Wilson’s video to hear a more detailed explanation.
Wilson also distinguishes between man’s creaturely freedom (Should I have pasta for dinner, or steak?) and moral freedom (Should I do evil or not?) We all still have our creaturely freedom, but we lost our moral freedom at the fall.
Is Wilson’s explanation of God’s sovereignty correct? He quotes Jeremiah 18:5-6… Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! (NKJV) Just as the potter does with the clay, so does the author with the play. Wilson acknowledges that his analogy of the author and his play is insufficient when comparing God to mankind. He counters that by stating that God is not a part of creation as a human author and the characters in his play are part of the same creation, and that God is powerful and can predestine the actions of His characters while not violating their freedoms.
Wilson considers his author/play analogy to be the same as Jeremiah’s potter/clay analogy. But they are not the same. In Jeremiah God is very much acting as a character within His creation. Jeremiah’s verse has nothing to do with God predestining the actions of Israel from before time. Read verse seven and following. God is warning Israel: If a nation is evil, God will destroy it, and if that nation repents God will not destroy it. There is nothing there about God acting as a predestining playwright deciding the actions of His characters from the infinite divide of Creator/creature. God is in the “story”, sword in hand, giving His creatures a choice. Wilson states in his video (at 12:06) that the potter/clay analogy breaks down and cannot fully capture the Creator/creature divide, but since the Jeremiah passage is not about God predestining the supposed free actions of Israel, Wilson is eisegetically infusing his own philosophy into the passage. (As all Calvinists do with this passage. You can blame their misreading of Romans 9 for that.)
Wilson has little to say about the character of God and how that fits into his definition of God’s sovereignty. He only quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith, as though that is any kind of authority (well, it is for Calvinists). It says: God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF 3.1) Now, if God ordains by negative allowance (see second paragraph above), He is not the author of sin. But, if God ordains by positive predestination, He is the author of sin. If God positively predestines a rapist to freely rape, God authored that rape. The infinite divide between Creator and creature is not sufficient to refute this logical fact. Two plus two equals four on both sides of the divide after all. And, if God authored the rape, he authored the evil act. If God authors evil acts, He is evil, or at least He transcends evil (and subsequently also transcends goodness) which is no different than being evil. I feel as though I am blaspheming in even writing this. I can go along pretty far with Calvinism, but this is where I turn in disgust. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
I am no Arminianist. Arminianism seriously calls into question the power of God. I will probably write an article about that sometime in the future (I’ve kind of touched on it here). But just as Arminianism calls into question the power of God, Calvinism calls into question the goodness of God. I have written a couple of articles about Calvinism here and here.
This article might be part one on Wilson’s video. If I have more thoughts on it I might do a part two. And I encourage you to take the time to watch Doug Wilson’s video.
The truth transcends Calvinism and Arminianism. Let us look forward to the glorious day when we can leave behind our inadequate theologies.
Related reading: Sovereignty