There is no greater theological imperative today then to restore Christianity to a proper understanding of God’s glory—which is unadulterated, pure holiness and moral perfection. In speaking of his glory, God told Moses, “I will have all my goodness pass before you” (Ex 33:19). D.A. Carson and Tim Keller are self-confessed Calvinists of our 21st century—diluted for mass consumption but nonetheless still drawing from the same murky well. God’s goodness, the very essence of his glory, is not an attribute that God wants to leave us in the dark about. Nor is it an attribute that theology should ever directly or indirectly push into the realm of mystery when other divine attributes are highlighted—no matter how precious those other divine attributes are to our theology. You can be assured that when any theology unwittingly places God’s morally perfect nature and his sovereign will into an inexplicable tension where mystery is the only escape hatch—something terrible has gone wrong. Our theology has become poisoned.
Calvinism has long had a dark secret—a secret so utterly horrific and monstrous it is hardly allowed into public view to see the light of day. God has unilaterally and unconditionally predetermined every God-dishonoring sin and act of moral evil men commit before the world began. Men only do what God has unconditionally predetermined they do through irresistible decrees. God has foreordained all things that happen—and did so unconditionally. In other words God did not condition his decrees of sin or evil on any prior knowledge of human free will or choice. All choices humans make allegedly (according to Calvinism) originate in God’s sovereign will of decree before the foundation of the world. If you think historic Calvinism does not teach this—then simply click here and behold Calvinist splendor, un-cloistered and unfurled in all its “glorious” expression.
Unfortunately many popular Calvinist theologians today bend over backward to conceal the dark and sinister logical implications of Calvinistic sovereignty behind obfuscating, inconsistent language that borders on sophistry. A small caveat is needed. I am about to embark on a strongly worded criticism of D.A. Carson and Tim Keller, but first I want to say that I believe Carson and Keller possess a genuine love for the Lord that is beyond question. I agree with them on a host of issues and consider them my brothers in the Lord. They are sincere men, precious to the Lord and I would never want to put that in question. It is so important that I be understood on this point that I do not want to marginalize it to a footnote that may or may not be read. Tim Keller, in particular, is one of my favorite speakers to listen to—because I agree with so much of what he states and how he states it. He is immensely gracious, understanding and insightful. Right now my weekly Bible fellowship is on their second book and DVD series put out by Keller. Except for a few disagreements, they are fantastic! I would highly recommend them to anyone.
That being said it is all the more astonishing to me to hear Keller say things that simply do not logically cohere with his Calvinist “Doctrines of Grace.” For example in his DVD series on The Reason for God he is in a room full of only non-believers, and while looking intently at each one of them, and without any qualification, he says to all of them, “God came into the world to forgive you of your sins.” However we all know such general statements of God’s universal intent to forgive people of their sins has no grounding in Calvinist theology. Since Keller affirms Calvinism he can only guess, only hope, only wonder that what he is saying is true. Unlike an Arminian, he actually doesn’t know! It could very well be that God unconditionally predestined all of them to suffer eternal damnation and intentionally left them out of the orbit of his redemptive love. And therefore it would be a malicious lie to say, without qualification, “God came into the world to forgive you of your sins.” But it gets even worse.
In the second section of the DVD series titled, “How can you say there is only one way to God”, Keller astonishingly converts to full blown Arminianism concerning the extent of Christ’s atonement for sins. In speaking of Christ’s mission to enter our sinful world, he states without qualification, “In the gospels Jesus comes into the world and forgives all sins. Jesus says, ‘All sins are against me and so I forgive you.”
There is no way Keller, the Calvinist, can honestly say such statements. As a Calvinist, Keller is bound to the view that Jesus did not die for “all sins” and that a large section of humanity was intentionally left out of Christ’s redemptive love, intention and forgiveness.
Moreover when asked what the Bible teaches about people who die without knowing Christ, he states, “I don’t know… that belongs to the secret things of God.” Such statements can’t be given a pass. Keller is sweeping the dark elements of his Calvinism under the rug. For a principle doctrine of Calvinism is that one of God’s many “secret things” was his “secret decree” to foreordain a particular portion of mankind to damnation. But for Keller to feign ignorance on this question is nothing new. In a public Q&A at Harvard he was asked the same question. He stated,
If right now someone doesn’t have him, he or she needs to get him. If someone dies and they don’t have Jesus– I don’t know. In other words I’m on a need-to-know basis.
He went so far as to say that individuals that “don’t have Jesus…and are headed toward a Christ-less eternity…are those who have chosen not to turn towards the grace of God.” This is quite astounding given that Calvinism repudiates any idea that God’s redemptive, irresistible grace is of a nature that it can be turned away from! Keller’s public statements would be more congruous with his privately held beliefs if he had said, “Millions of people go to hell because Jesus ultimately didn’t want them. Therefore he decreed that his redemptive grace would turn away from them.”
There is no denying Keller is being thoroughly inconsistent with his definitive, unambiguous Calvinist beliefs as to why people are not ultimately saved. As a Calvinist he is not at all on a “need to know basis.” He knows! Nonetheless he simply couldn’t bring himself to say what Calvinists believe privately and tend to utter only in safe quarters. Had he done so, he would have been forced to say,
“According to my honest beliefs, God didn’t atone for the sins of all people and didn’t love multitudes of people enough to unconditionally elect them to ‘get Jesus.’ God could have elected all to salvation–because what his irresistible grace can do for some, it can do for all. So in the end those that didn’t ‘get Jesus’ before they died were those God secretly decreed ‘to not get Jesus’ and be saved.
Such is the unembellished truth of Keller’s privately professed Calvinism, as taught by none other than Calvin himself, who taught that men are destined for either heaven or hell according to “the eternal election, by which God has predestinated some to salvation, and others to destruction”.
However Keller perceptively knew that if he answered the interviewer’s question in a straightforward, Calvinist manner he would have immediately lost all intellectual and moral credibility in the eyes of the public audience. The critical point not to be missed is— if it can’t be preached in public it shouldn’t be believed in private. Keller’s “Gumby-esque,” theological inconsistency is indefensible.
That being said, I want to acknowledge my own sinfulness, depravity and self-righteous pride. It is very difficult for me to humbly write against a theological position I passionately disagree with—because I so much want to be found in the right. However it is that desire to be right, not just live right that can be dangerous if left unchecked. I can only ask for forgiveness if any reader feels passion has drifted over into fleshly pride. Please know my forthcoming use of words like, “absurd” and “nonsense” should not be considered reflective of my opinion on Keller’s or Carson’s intelligence. They are not stupid men. They are eminently intelligent, and I consider them far more intelligent than I, despite their dissemination of what I believe to be a morally bankrupt theology and their reluctance to speak forthrightly and clearly on matters that relate to God’s sovereign relationship with sin and evil. In sum while I affirm them as my brothers, I do believe them both to be under a spiritual deception, and history bears out that intelligence is no barrier to deception.
In their co-editing work of The Gospel as Center Carson and Keller rely on fellow Calvinist, Reddit Andrews III to set forth the Calvinist understanding of God’s sovereign relationship with sin and evil. In the chapter titled “Sin and the Fall,” we read:
God created Adam upright. He possessed what we might call original righteousness. This was a probationary period in which Adam and Eve were exposed to temptation and capitulated to it. It was possible for them not to sin, and it was also possible for them to sin. God gave to man the power of contrary choice. Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination, used that power in the commission of sin. There was no necessity arising from his physical condition, nor from his moral nature, nor from the nature of his environment, why he should sin. It was a free movement within man’s spirit. 
So far so good, right? I could not agree more. Everything they have said is 100% Arminianism par excellence. Now comes the Calvinism. Notice how they subtly and without explanation re-interpret “freely sinning” as sinning in the exact manner God sovereignly decreed! In the very next paragraph they declare,
God sovereignly decreed that sin would enter the world, and Adam was responsible for freely sinning.”
So let’s get this right. First Andrews, Carson and Keller want us to believe that, “Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination, used that power in the commission of sin.” Then they say, “God sovereignly decreed that sin would enter the world…”
What? God’s external will decreed Adam and Eve to sin, but did not determine them to sin? Does that make one iota of sense? If not, don’t worry, it makes about as much sense as saying I found a one-ended stick in the forest. But that is part of the Calvinist strategy. They habitually present contradictions and then qualify them as unexplainable, glorious mysteries.
Truth be told neither Calvinists nor Arminians believe God’s sovereign decrees only render events possible. Arminians and Calvinists (at least the intellectually honest ones) agree that God’s sovereign decrees determinatively render events certain and necessary. They render events certain because they determine what will (and must) happen and necessary because they are ordered extensions of the mind of God and stem from the necessity of his very being.
The key difference that separates Calvinists from Arminians—and it is a big difference—is that Calvinists will say because God is sovereign it must mean God has decreed everything that occurs. Arminians on the other hand hold that God’s sovereignty is free and not threatened by genuine freedom, contingency and indeterminacy. That is to say God is free to not decree some things just as equally as he is free to decree other things. In short for God to be sovereign does not require the view that God must decree all things. To suggest that it was necessary or required for God to decree all things, because he is sovereign is to suggest God’s sovereign acts are not free, but are rather obligatory to some law of necessity outside God himself.
No Calvinist would want to say this; nonetheless they insist that divine sovereignty requires that God decree all things. But therein lies the problem. If God’s eternal decrees render our actions non-negotiable, such that we are not free or able to act contrary to God’s decrees, then by definition our choices are not free—they are determinatively authored, controlled and caused by God. The liberty and contingency of the human will, at least from God’s sovereign vantage point, is simply non-existent in the Calvinist scheme. Moral responsibility now becomes our responsibility not to commit what God decreed, which is of course impossible. Any suggestion otherwise is to dabble in incoherent gobbledygook to deflect away the undesirable consequences of deductive reasoning.
But lapsing into incoherent jargon is nothing new to Calvinism. It has a long history. The following is a prime example. A.W. Pink in his book The Sovereignty of God will attempt to argue that God decreed Adam to fall, decreed the sin of every man and determined its course in the world. He will then declare that man is held morally responsible because man is responsible to not commit the sins God secretly decreed. He writes,
That God had decreed sin should enter this world through the disobedience of our first parents was a secret hid in His own mind. Of this Adam knew nothing, and that made all the difference so far as his responsibility was concerned… Though nothing contrary to holiness and righteousness can ever come from God, yet He has for His own wise ends, ordained His creatures to fall into sin… God never tempts man to sin, but he has by His eternal counsels (which He is now executing) determined its course… though God has decreed man’s sins, yet is man responsible not to commit and is to blame because he does.
It just doesn’t get any more confused than that above. But to top it all off Pink in another book realizes he needs to come up with a sound reason as to why God, who has sovereignly decreed all of man’s sins, would be angry at the very sins his sovereignty decreed. Bewilderingly he declares, “God is angry at sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong committed against his inviolable sovereignty…” So let’s get this right. God’s inviolable, unbreakable sovereignty decreed all our sins, and God is angry at sins because they are wrongs committed against His inviolable, unbreakable sovereignty. Folks you just can’t make this stuff up. It is delusion and deception of the highest order.
Andrews, Carson and Keller try to appeal to the Westminster Confession, which tends to act as an infallible, paper “pope” for Calvinism, to assuage their views in a more reasoned manner. But their logic fares no better. We are provided the following quote:
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.
Now perhaps we might be tempted to think the phrase “God, from all eternity, did…of His own will…ordain whatsoever comes to pass…” doesn’t require the morally absurd view that God unconditionally and unilaterally predetermined every act of sin and evil. Maybe it can be taken to mean God took into account his foreknowledge of our fallen and depraved natures and in that sense ordained our sins as acts that stemmed primarily from our own free wills. In other words God’s foreordination of all our sinful choices is merely a sovereign act of confirmation that seals us into doing what he already knows we will freely do—meaning it is a conditional ordination. But that is not the case—and every informed Calvinist knows it. Unfortunately neither Andrews, nor Carson and Keller as editors, thought it necessary to cite the next line in the Westminster Confession which states, “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”
In other words God did not condition any of his decrees on the basis of any foreknowledge he possessed (which would include our sinful depravity). Good or evil—it matters not—God first unilaterally conceived what we will think, desire and do and then decreed to “ordain all things” on the basis of that unconditional decree. However many “Gumby-type” Calvinists today will deny that makes God the author of sin by appealing to what I would call a “just because” fallacy. This is committed when you deflect the logic of your position, or the need to offer a reasoned explanation, by appealing to some alleged authority on the matter. For Calvinists that is typically the Westminster Confession. God is not the author of the very sins his mind conceives for people to commit “just because” the Westminster Confession says he is not.
It all becomes even more confusing and contradictory when we read that John Calvin explicitly stated his view of divine sovereign makes God the author of the very evils he wills, saying,
“[It] is easy to conclude how foolish and frail is the support of divine justice by the suggestion that evils come to be not by His will, but merely by His permission. Of course, so far as they are evils…I admit they are not pleasing to God. But it is quite a frivolous refuge to say that God otiosely permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing but the author of them.”
To be sure, no Calvinist to date has been able to parse the difference between God’s holy mind being the origin of conception for the sin of X, but not be the author of the sin of X. Calvinists who are more logically inclined will usually admit that God is indeed the author of every sin he unconditionally conceives of and decrees because a proper view of God’s sovereignty demands it. Calvinists who want to shove logical implications under the proverbial rug (to save what’s left of God’s character) will usually embrace the contradiction but call it an unsearchable mystery. Co-editors Carson and Keller apparently opt for the latter since the Westminster Confession qualifies its position as being the “high mystery of predestination…”
The confusion notwithstanding, one thing is abundantly clear. In choosing to believe that God has determinatively ordained “all things” (i.e. every thought, word and deed) Andrews, Carson and Keller are dismissing the Arminian position that God has only sovereignly ordained to permit sin and evil in his sovereign wisdom. For Arminians hold that God is more than just sovereign in power, he is sovereign in wisdom. And it was on the basis of his sovereign wisdom that God realized that for true worship, love and obedience to be most meaningful and viable, the choice to not worship, to not love and to not obey must also be possible and undetermined (i.e. free). Notice their rejection of the Arminian position, believing it to be in need of a critical addendum—the addendum of determinative ordination.
Many people question whether God was wise and just to ordain evil. God, who is holy and not the author of evil, did not merely “permit” evil. It is not as though God did not ordain evil but allowed it to occur. The view that God merely permits evil fails to provide an answer that removes the tension that comes from affirming that God ordains evil, because in both cases God is ordering the entrance of sin.
Here we find Andrews, Carson and Keller again twisting their theology into an unworkable, Gordian knot, saying, “God, who is holy and not the author of evil…ordains evil…” But more to the point they assume the Arminian position is deficient. It is not enough to say God permits or allows evil, God must ordain evil—which is to say he must design, order and decree that evil occur unfailingly and necessarily. For as we have already noted, it is nonsense to suggest God’s irresistible, sovereign decrees only render events probable and possible, but not actual and necessary. If one wants to explore in depth the oft-repeated charge from Calvinists that God’s sovereign decision to permit a world of genuine freedom, wherein evil is rendered possible (the Arminian view) is the same as the Calvinist view wherein sin and evil are rendered actual and necessary via divine decree, click here and scroll all the way down to the Appendix on Jonathan Edwards.
But in a nutshell let me summarize the key distinction. For Calvinists to insist the Arminian position (God allows the foreknown possibility of moral evil) is the same as the Calvinist position (God determinatively decrees moral evil) evinces a stubborn refusal to concede there exists a critical distinction between the making of X possible and the making of X actual. In creating a world populated with free creatures God creates the possibility for evils to occur, but it is through our free wills that human beings actualize those possibilities. Hence God’s foreknowledge does not act deterministically upon our wills because our choice to actualize one possibility over another is what informs God’s foreknowledge– not the other way around. Calvinism inverts this and says God’s foreknowledge of human decision is informed by his exhaustive determinative decrees that render our decisions not just possible, but actual (and necessary since God is a necessary being). It is that critical error that makes God responsible for moral evil in a Calvinistic paradigm. In an Arminian paradigm God is only responsible for creating a world where moral evil is rendered possible, but not actual. Once again the sovereign wisdom of God understood that he could only remove all possibilities for evil to occur by removing our freedom and countermanding his own sovereign decision to endow us with free moral agency.
The next section is where the obscuring wordplay of Andrews, Carson and Keller is particularly manifested and becomes as thorny as a cactus. It is impossible to extricate oneself from their view without getting hung up on a protruding discrepancy. They choose to quote the esteemed, Dutch Calvinist theologian, Herman Bavinck to aid their position. Take notice of how Bavinck firmly stakes his claim in a Calvinist paradigm of God willing sin and evil before quickly retreating into the safeguards of Arminianism to reclaim God’s morality by establishing the occurrence of sin and evil in terms of human free-will and divine allowance and permission—not divine design and determination. I quote Bavinck at length,
He [God] did not fear its [sin and evil] existence and power. He willed it so that in it and against it He might bring to light His divine attributes. If He had not allowed it to exist, there would always have been a rationale for the idea that He was not in all His attributes superior to a power whose possibility was inherent in creation itself. For all rational creatures as creatures, as finite, limited, changeable beings, have the possibility of apostatizing. But God, because He is God, never feared the way of freedom, the reality of sin, the eruption of wickedness, or the power of Satan. So, both in its origin and development, God always exercises His rule over sin. He does not force it, nor does He block it with violence but rather allows it to reach its full dynamic potential. He remains king yet still gives it free rein in His kingdom. He allows it to have everything—His world, His creatures, even His Anointed—for evils cannot exist without goods. He allows it to use all that is His; He gives it opportunity to show what it can do in order, in the end, as King of kings, to leave the theater of battle. For sin is of such a nature that it destroys itself by the very freedom granted it; it dies of its own diseases; it dooms itself to death. At the apex of its power, it is, by the cross alone, publicly shown up in its powerlessness (Col. 2:15).9
This is called trying to have your cake and eat it too. It is so misleading it can be qualified as outright misinformation. Being the faithful and informed Calvinists they are, Andrews, Keller, Carson and Bavinck believe God unconditionally decreed “all things”—good and evil, so in what sense does God “allow…freely” what he has determined must occur unfailingly and of necessity? Does God need to ask permission from himself? That makes about as much as sense as me saying, “I am resolutely determined to go to the store and buy milk, therefore I will allow myself to go to the store and buy milk.” In a deterministic world “allowance” is simply an empty formality of means, vacated and void of any meaning.
I ask again, “Does God need to ask permission from himself to follow through with his own sovereign determinations?” To even have need to ask the question is to reveal the utter nonsense of their position and demonstrate their intentional display of duplicity to shield the average lay person from apprehending the true, sadistic horror that lies at the root of Calvinism—i.e. God is the primary cause that lies behind all evil. Their doublespeak is witness that Calvinism cannot stand on its own two feet. It must be propped up by Arminian theology so as to not collapse into total moral ruin. 
Accept for Bavinck’s key phrase “God…willed it [sin and evil]” his explication on sin and evil could grace any Arminian textbook on theology. However Bavinck is a Calvinist and we must put his comments in their proper Calvinist context. Arminians believe the Calvinist context is an unacceptable libel against God’s glorious character and holy nature. For one cannot separate God’s decrees from God’s holy nature from whence all divine decrees issue. God cannot circumvent his holy nature in issuing sovereign decrees anymore than we can circumvent our own nature in any decision we make. As already noted Arminians believe any sense of God “willing sin and evil” can only go so far as to mean God has sovereignly willed to create a free world, where sin and evil are rendered possible, that he might obtain the greater good of rendering love and moral responsibility also possible and maximally meaningful.
The perceptive reader will also notice their inexcusable attempt to conceal the true nature of their theological determinism by redefining God’s decree of sin and evil as simply God rendering the power of sin and evil a “possibility”, that he “allows”, but not a certainty stemming from a divine decree. They again quote Bavinck to their case:
If He had not allowed it to exist, there would always have been a rationale for the idea that He was not in all His attributes superior to a power whose possibility was inherent in creation itself.
To speak of God’s choice to create a free world that only renders sin and evil as “possibilities” that God “allows” and not “certainties” that God “determines” is to toss the logical implications of Calvinism to the wind and place both feet firmly into Arminian theology. Their level of deceptive word play is astounding and completely out of line. I am convinced that the majority of lay Calvinists are actually Arminians—they just don’t know it! How could they know it when principle Calvinists repeatedly slander Arminianism on the one hand while simultaneously redefining the most pernicious features of their theology in the language of Arminianism on the other hand?
Another example is in order. Careful to skirt around the unpleasant, deterministic nature of his own theological position, Bavinck rewords God’s sovereign relationship with sin and evil it in a manner completely unhinged from the determinism his theology demands. He writes,
…He does not force it…but rather allows it…He remains king yet still gives it free reign in His kingdom.
Such fence straddling again reveals Calvinism for what it is—a logically incoherent theology wrapped in oratory that shields the inquisitor from apprehending the moral absurdities and logical incongruities that stem from its principle doctrines. The Calvinist will reason that for God to be extolled as sovereign, means he is to be extolled as the one who has determinatively decreed every sinful choice humans make. But Calvinists insist we are morally responsible for every choice we make because we choose our sins freely. But when you ask a Calvinist if humans are free to resist God’s decrees, they will say no—God’s sovereign decrees render our choices certain and cannot be resisted by human will. But then they say that doesn’t mean God’s decrees force you to make the sinful choices you do, it just means God doesn’t allow you the freedom to not choose what he determined you must choose.
At every turn Bavinck (not to mention Andrews, Carson and Keller) seems desperate to avoid at all costs the unsavory, logical ramifications imbedded in the Calvinist view that God determinately decreed all sin and evil. This is quite strange since Calvin had no problem admitting that God’s decrees act coercively upon our wills— so much that he stated the devil and ungodly are “forced to serve” God’s commands and are not free to break away and do other than what God willed. He even goes so far as to say our wills are in bondage to God’s will.
“[The]…devil and all the ungodly are reined in by God, so that they cannot conceive, plan or carry out any crime, unless God allows it, indeed commands it. They are not only in bondage to him, but are forced to serve him. It is the Lord’s prerogative to enable the enemy’s rage and to control it at will, and it is in his power to decide how far and how long it may last, so that wicked men cannot break free and do exactly what they want….” 
Let’s return again to the remarks of Bavinck. Why would Andrews, Carson and Keller think it useful or even meaningful to call on Bavinck to point out, “God did not fear sin and evil?” Obviously since every Calvinist believes God unconditionally foreordained all sin and evil, God wouldn’t fear sin and evil—he would want it! In the Calvinist context, what God fears, what his sovereignty is most insecure about, is indeterminacy and genuine, human freedom. The Calvinist depiction of God’s sovereignty does not extoll or glorify God; it makes him look small, anxious and too insecure to engage with an indeterminate world of human freedom.
A.W. Tozer, in his disagreement with the historic Calvinist view, astutely summarizes the deficiency of the Calvinist view to engender a confident God. He rightly points out that any theology of divine sovereignty that assumes God must determine all our choices, in order to be qualified as sovereign or remain sovereign, is to completely misunderstand the nature of God’s sovereignty. Rather than diminishing or undermining God’s sovereignty, human freedom extols God’s sovereignty! With tremendous insight he explains,
“Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”
One more note of Bavinck bears further examination. In speaking of the origin of sin and evil, he states, So, both in its origin and development, God always exercises His rule over sin.
Yes— God does rule over sin, and has done so ever since the fall of man. But we must be careful here. Arminians hold that sin and evil are parasitical upon God’s sovereign designs for the world—they are not part of his original design. And yet God still reigns and rules over our fallen world. His rule over sin and evil is demonstrated in his ability to overrule and usurp the intentions of sin and evil for our good (“He causes all things to work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose” Rom. 8:28). That is to say God is able to overrule evil by redeeming the evils committed against us, and cause good to come through them. But that is a far cry from the Calvinist position that suggests God causes evil to cause good. Calvinists are remiss in thinking God’s sovereignty is the primary cause of all things. Far from it. God’s sovereignty is the cause that can bring good out of all things—not the cause of all things. In his glorious sovereignty God is able to exploit all things and “work [them] together for good to those that love God…”
In sum God indeed rules over sin and evil, but God’s rules over sin and evil should never be interpreted deterministically as meaning God’s holy nature is the origin of decree and determination for all that opposes his holy nature. For if God’s nature is the paradigm of good, and yet we say all that opposes his moral nature was decreed by that same, divine nature, what then is left to qualify as objectively evil—which by definition and by nature is anything opposed to God’s moral nature? The entire idea is self-defeating, and yet Calvinism posits just such a scenario— insisting that God’s “rule over evil” means his will is the determinative origin for every act of human wickedness. As the Calvinist theologian Vincent Cheung unapologetically explains:
“God controls everything that is and everything that happens. There is not one thing that happens that he has not actively decreed – not even a single thought in the mind of man. Since this is true, it follows that God has decreed the existence of evil, he has not merely permitted it, as if anything can originate and happen apart from his will and power… Those who see that it is impossible to altogether disassociate God from the origination and continuation of evil nevertheless try to distance God from evil by saying that God merely “permits” evil, and that he does not cause any of it. However, since Scripture itself states that God actively decrees everything, and that nothing can happen apart from his will and power, it makes no sense to say that he merely permits something – nothing happens by God’s mere permission.
We should not think Cheung’s remarks to be exaggerated or overstated. He is simply being consistent with the logical ramifications of holding a Calvinist view of divine sovereignty, and refuses to make it a more palatable pill to swallow. He is certainly going no further than John Calvin himself, who taught that God’s will is the inspiration and primary cause of our decisions, and all of man’s deliberations and actions find their origin in God’s previous, secret decrees.
“Men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what he has previously decreed with himself, and brings to pass by his secret direction.
But where it is a matter of men’s counsels, wills, endeavors, and exertions, there is greater difficulty in seeing how the providence of God rules here too, so that nothing happens but by His assent and that men can deliberately do nothing unless He inspire it.
What we must prove is that single events are ordered by God and that every event comes from his intended will.
For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.
That last phrase particularly stands out. “God is the chief and principal cause of all things.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.
So when Bavinck is quoted as saying “both in its origin and development, God always exercises His rule over sin” Andrews, Carson and Keller do not have in mind the Arminian position that God possesses sovereign power to overrule the intentions of sin and evil and exploit them towards his own purposes. Rather they have in mind the historical Calvinist position that “God’s rule over sin” must be primarily interpreted in terms of God’s determination and control of every sin—not just his authority over sin. Being the good Calvinists they are, they are bound to the dogma that each and every sin (not just sin in general) has been sovereignly fabricated in God’s mind and determinatively willed by God before any other minds even existed. And because Calvinists insist (wrongly) that divine sovereignty means divine determination of all things, and maintain nothing can occur outside what God has determinatively willed, they are logically committed to the view that God unilaterally and unconditionally predetermined the fall of Adam and Eve. Moreover it requires them to hold that men and women have never possessed the power of contrary choice, for everything they choose was determined for them ahead of time by a transcendent will external to their own— i.e. God’s secret will of decree.
But wait! Didn’t we already see that Andrews, Carson and Keller set forth the motion that Adam and Even sinned of their own free will, and were undetermined by external causes and that God gave man the power of contrary choice? Yes they did. In point of fact we read,
It was possible for them not to sin, and it was also possible for them to sin. God gave to man the power of contrary choice. Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination, used that power in the commission of sin” [emphasis mine].
Here Andrews, Carson and Keller are as slippery as wet fishes; trying to get a grip on what they are saying is near impossible. For example what do they mean, “It was possible for them to not sin, and it was possible for them to sin?” Calvinists and Arminians both agree that God’s perspective frames all reality. So do Carson and Keller really expect us to believe that God sovereignly decreed Adam and Eve to fall, but from God’s sovereign perspective “it was possible for them to not sin?” Do God’s sovereign decrees only render events possible, not certain? Can man act contrary to God’s sovereign determinations— or not? And what do they mean “Man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination” chose to sin. Did God determinatively decree the sin of Adam and Eve and of every subsequent human thereafter—or not? Did God unconditionally, of his own will, preordain every act of child abuse, every act of adultery, every homoerotic porn film, every act of rape, every act of greed—or not?
The answer is either yes or no. Either God did determinatively will every sin, including the fall of Adam and Eve, or he did not. If not—then we need to simply affirm the negative and embrace Arminianism. If yes—then we need to own up to it and stop obfuscating with eloquent oratory. God’s moral character, not just his power and sovereign freedom are in question, and therefore the issue deserves a forthright answer not cryptic mystery and an obscuring use of words.
It is impossible to reconcile the words “man of his own will, by no external compulsion or determination…sinned” with the words of John Calvin who taught God’s sovereign providence determines and compels reprobate, wicked persons to commit their sin in obedience to God’s prior predeterminations.
To sum up, since God’s will is said to be the cause of all things, I have made his providence the determinative principle for all human plans and works, not only to display its force in the elect, who are ruled by the Holy Spirit, but also to compel the reprobate to obedience.
If Carson and Keller disagree with Calvin, why do they call themselves “Reformed Calvinists.” We already have a name for people who disagree with John Calvin. They are called “Arminians.” Whether they see it as a problem or not, Carson and Keller both have an unnerving talent to play both sides of the field—Keller especially when he is discoursing on theology for the general public. For example in the companion study guide to his book “The Reason for God” the language of Calvinism is dropped and the language of Arminianism is readily picked up. The question is asked, “Why is there so much evil in the world?” That should be an easy question for any Calvinist like Keller to field. Obviously the amount of evil in the world is directly related to the amount of evil God wanted and decreed! But rather than forthrightly declare that God decreed all acts of human evil, and that is why moral evil exists, we read these words instead,
“Human freedom is an enormous good. As this theodicy points out, perhaps this freedom is worth the terrible evil that results from abuse of free will. A great deal of suffering in this world should not be blamed on God; it is the mean, cruel, inhuman choices people make that cause much of the evil.”
It is astonishing that anyone could call themselves a Calvinist and say such things. It is thoroughly dishonest and inconsistent with historical Calvinism. Whatever happened to Calvin’s statements highlighted above that “single events are ordered by God and that every event comes from his intended will. And that the “the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things… ?
In Calvinist theology, it makes no sense to say “terrible evil…results from abuse of free will.” It would be more accurate and honest to admit the logical end of Calvinist thought, which is that “terrible evil is the result of God abusing his sovereignty.” Unfortunately it seems that Calvinism, at least in its honest form, is only allowed out see the light of day when people are already conditioned to accept its horrific ramifications. Apparently Keller feels it is not at all dishonest or deceitful to conceal hard-to-swallow, Calvinists truths in the public arena. But what is more shocking is his appeal to an Arminian theodicy of free will to explain the occurrence of evil in our world. To the degree he does this, he forfeits Calvinism and adopts Arminianism.
Like Keller, Carson also does all he can to avoid allowing his Calvinism to become overly exposed to new believers and a thoughtful analysis that could lead one to see the moral and logical flaws inherent to his view. So far our citations are coming from Carson’s co-editing initiative to establish a Calvinist perspective on core Biblical doctrines he believes are in jeopardy. It is a work geared towards a general Christian public for a general consumption of Calvinism that has all the technical, sharp edges smoothed over. I would call this “comfort Calvinism.” That is why Carson allows Andrews to say, “God gave to man the power of contrary choice” and that man’s will does not operate under “external compulsion or determination.”
To qualify Calvinistic sovereignty in this manner appears to retain a semblance of reason that man is morally responsible for his choices. As such it is a pill that goes down much smoother than his fully informed, robust Calvinism where the sharp, deterministic edges come into view in a rather embarrassing manner that exposes “comfort Calvinism” for what it is— an outright fabrication and falsehood. For in his technical, scholarly exposition of man’s willing and God’s determinism Carson contradicts his “comfort Calvinism” and declares,
If ‘free will’ be taken that human actions are ‘indeterminate’ and therefore ‘unpredictable’, the most that could be said (if one is simultaneously to accept statements about divine sovereignty) is that such uncertainty exists solely in the mind of the human perspective, not the divine.
No “comfort Calvinism” there! Carson is saying from God’s perspective all of man’s actions are indeed determined by an external will— God’s will—and therefore man only enjoys the illusion of having a will that is free and undetermined by God. Not too surprisingly Carson also contradicts his earlier, “comfort Calvinism” contention that God “gave to man the power of contrary choice” when he categorically states in the same scholarly work that,
…free will defense apologists are sometimes challenged by theists, Christian, who do not hold that human freedom, conceived as power to contrary, is logically defensible in the light of divine sovereignty… I find myself aligned with those who remain unconvinced by apologists of the free will defense. 
Whereas Carson earlier had no problem allowing the Calvinist position on human freedom to be defined as “God giving to man the power of contrary choice” he now distances himself from such “comfort Calvinism” and states unequivocally that he counts himself among those “who do not hold that human freedom as power to contrary, is logically defensible in light of divine sovereignty.”
If you find yourself confused with Carson’s inconsistency, you are not alone. It is as clear as mud. But “mud” is the glorious, alleged “mystery” Calvinists bask in, but in truth do not affirm. They give lip service to “mystery” but in actuality they try to resolve the alleged mystery and unravel it by redefining “freedom” in compatibilistic terms that affirm determinism. For when Calvinism is at a safe distance from the uninitiated minds of a lay public, we discover that a will defined as “free” should not be conceived as a will free from external, deterministic factors. Far from it. Instead freedom is redefined as choosing to do what God determinatively decreed you must do! This is a view called Calvinistic compatibilism. This is also called “redefining terms” to suit one’s own bias.
Carson again provides all we need, saying,
First, we refuse to think of these two statements [God’s sovereign decree of all things and human freedom and responsibility] as embracing a deep contradiction. Granted there is mystery in them, and we shall have to explore just where that mystery lies. But if we are careful about semantics, we can avoid setting up these two statements as if they were mutually exclusive. [bracketed text mine]
This is almost humorous since it is readily discernible that Carson is habitually “careful about semantics” only in so far as he can twist them towards his own bias. So when he says there exists no contradiction “if we are careful about semantics” he is really advocating for the complete rejection of the long-standing, common-sense definition of what “freedom” actually means—which is that an act is free if and only if it is not causally determined or constrained by an external will. In its place Carson wants to redefine “freedom” along Calvinist lines (i.c. compatibilistic determinism), and suggest that if we reinterpret the semantics “Calvinistically” then any suggestion that my freely choosing X could somehow be in conflict with my being determinatively caused by God to choose X, completely disappears!
Notice how Carson subtly makes this move while simultaneously assuming the very thing he is trying to prove—i.e. sovereignty understood in a Calvinist paradigm is the only sovereignty that counts.
That means, for instance, that we must be careful with the notion of freedom. Many Christians today think that if human beings are to be thought of as morally responsible creatures, they must be free to choose, to believe, to disobey, and so forth. But what does “freedom” mean? Sometimes without thinking about it, we assume that such freedom must entail the power to work outside God’s sovereignty.
Who are these alleged Christians who have assumed human free choice must be defined as “entailing the power to work outside God’s sovereignty”? Arminians have never said that— and if any person has, they certainly aren’t Arminian! I believe Carson knows this, but he wants to set up a false dichotomy. Either one embraces his Calvinist view that divine sovereignty means God has determinatively decreed everything humans think, desire or do, or one doesn’t have a legitimate view of divine sovereignty to speak of at all. If we start with that controlling assumption, then of course it follows men cannot “operate outside God’s sovereignty.” Obviously Carson is begging the question. The conclusion of his argument is being smuggled into the premise of his argument as an assumption, such that the premise of his argument would fail if the conclusion weren’t already assumed to be true. His view could be summarized as follows:
- God is sovereign.
- For God to be sovereign requires that he unconditionally decree every human choice.
- Therefore if men and women were free to make choices God did not determinatively decree, it would mean humanity possesses some greater power to operate outside God’s sovereign rule.
Once again the contrast to Carson’s Calvinist view is not to say, “God is not sovereign” or “man can operate outside God’s sovereignty.” The Arminian contrast is to say God is sovereign and he has sovereignly decreed to permit a world of genuine freedom. It is abundantly helpful to recall the insightful words of A.W. Tozer on this matter, who wisely stated, “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice… the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it.”
To his credit Carson isn’t a theologian who avoids Scripture. Quite the contrary he thinks the scriptures provide ample testimony to conclude God has determinatively rendered certain everything human do. What is his number one example for such confidence? The predestined death of Christ for sins.
He points out that in Acts 4:27-28, we read “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
Then comes the most underhanded display of mischaracterization I have ever come across—especially as it relates to a doctrine held precious by both Arminians and Calvinists alike. Speaking specifically of Christ’s crucifixion in Acts 2:28 he writes,
Even brief reflection demonstrates that any other alternative destroys the fabric of the Christian faith. Suppose God had not been sovereign over the conspiracy that brought Jesus to Calvary. Would we not have to conclude that the cross was a kind of after thought in the mind of God? Are we to think that God’s intention was to do something quite different, but then, because these rebels fouled up his plan, he did the best he could, and the result was Jesus’ atoning death on the cross? All of Scripture cries against the suggestion.
Carson attempts to prop up his own Calvinist position by drawing our attention to the death of Christ in a manner that completely subverts the historically recognized position of his Arminian brothers and sisters. He attempts to argue that only the Calvinist position can speak of God’s sovereign plan in the predetermined death of Christ, and that “any other alternative destroys the fabric of the Christian faith.” He is of course speaking of Arminianism. He then goes on to define what alternatives to Calvinist theology would have to say in the most fraudulent manner possible, declaring they must “conclude that the cross was a kind of after thought in the mind of God” and that because “rebels fouled up his plan” God had to make the most of it and “did the best he could.” Words fail to convey how utterly unfair and underhanded his mischaracterization of the alternative, Arminian position is.
Please click here (and scroll down to “Critique 4”) for an explanation of the Arminian position that affirms the predestined nature of Christ’s death while avoiding the unnecessary, Calvinist add-on that God had to unconditionally decree the wickedness of individuals like Herod, Pilot and Jewish authorities in order to bring it about. But to summarize it very briefly in a few sentences, Arminians believe the Scriptures affirm God is sovereignly wise and adept enough to exploit foreknown human characteristics and bring about certain predetermined ends without needing to have exhaustively predetermined all the behavioral means to bring about those ends. (The same holds true for his examples of Joseph and Assyria). In other words in order to bring about the predestined death of his Son for sins, God was more than capable of exploiting the foreseen sinful characters of ruling authorities, without needing to have eternally decreed and pre-engineered that such ruling authorities would have such wicked, sinful characters. God’s sovereign glory in the cross is best seen in him having trumped the wicked intentions of enemies—both human and demonic—without having predetermined their wicked intentions in the first place.
We need to remember that one of Carson’s main aims is to argue that God has sovereignly willed all human decision— including all sins. He then attempts to highlight the crucifixion of our Lord as a key hermeneutical perch to sit upon whereby he can cast God’s sovereign “net” into the world and “catch” every sin and every sordid evil event of world history. This is an insult to the cross and wide of the mark. Put simply to view the one act that removed the sin of the world as the hermeneutical key to justify how God could have sovereignly decreed all the sordid sin of that world, is an exegetical leap that is unwarranted and misconceived. It is undoubtedly absurd to think the one act of God to remove all sin in the world is key evidence God determined and decreed all the sin of that world! Jesus died for our sins—not the predeterminations of his Father.
Carson goes on to argue that the Calvinist position alone can blend God’s sovereignty and moral responsibility together, and even goes so far as to indirectly claim that the Calvinist understanding of beholding divine sovereignty in absolute (i.e. exhaustive, universal) terms is equal to the gospel itself—such that if a person rejects the Calvinist view of divine sovereignty and man’s moral responsibility—he or she must “give up their claim to be a Christian.” He writes,
God is absolutely sovereign, yet his sovereignty does not diminish human responsibility and accountability; human beings are morally responsible creatures, yet this fact in no way jeopardizes the sovereignty of God. At Calvary, all Christians have to concede the truth of these two statements, or they give up their claim to be Christians.
It is necessary at this juncture to examine Carson’s claim that Calvinism alone can embrace both God’s sovereignty and humanity’s moral responsibility. For the latter is manifestly not true— since moral responsibility cannot be reasonably affirmed in a context of doing only that which God sovereignly willed you to do. Of course to put it that way sounds far too counter-intuitive and contradictory. To their credit most Calvinists are much too intelligent and crafty to be—if I may be allowed to say— caught with their pants down on this issue. Rather than speak forthrightly of their view that freedom should be understood as being causally controlled and constrained to only do what God has determined you must do, they will obscure the obvious discrepancy by again setting us up to receive another indispensable, deflecting presupposition. It is typical for them to start with the smuggled in premise that God has sovereignly decreed all human action, and then say something along the lines of, “Freedom is not the ability to choose against God’s sovereign will, but rather the ability to choose in accordance with what one desires to do.”
However what they keep tactically keep hidden from view is the fact that “what we desire to do” must itself be tied to God’s all-encompassing sovereign will—so the qualification is meaningless. Carson again models for us this approach. Like we saw before he astutely recognizes that God’s determinative decrees, human freedom and human responsibility can only be subsumed together if we redefine the critical terms in play and load them with Calvinist assumptions. Speaking of Calvinist theologians he writes,
That is why many theologians have refused to tie “freedom” to absolute power to act contrary to God’s will. They tie it, rather, to desire, to what human beings voluntarily choose. 
However what Calvinist theologians, like Carson, will never confide in you, at least not until they feel you are conditioned enough to absorb the shock, is that what you “voluntarily” desire to do has itself been determined by God! For Calvinists believe God has not only exhaustively predetermined the ends of all things, they believe he has exhaustively determined the means to bring about those ends—and since action proceeds from desire, what we desire must be subsumed under the “all things” God has foreordained.
One last remark deserves mentioning before we bring this examination to a close. Notice that Carson states that human “freedom” is tied to what “human beings voluntarily choose.”
This is beyond mere inconsistency. We are now planting both feet firmly in intentional misinformation. The last I checked every dictionary defines “voluntarily” as meaning, “freely chosen without being constrained, forced or necessitated.” Therefore the key question to be asked is, can Carson honestly say our choices are “voluntarily chosen”— especially given the fact the very definition of “voluntarily” would dictate that our choices are “not forced, constrained or necessitated” by God’s will?
No he cannot.
Carson is already on record unequivocally declaring such a view of human freedom to be contrary to his understanding of divine sovereignty, and therefore is a wrong assumption to be working from. He explicitly states we are mistaken if we assume human freedom “involves absolute power to be contrary that is, the power to break any constraint, so that there is no necessity in the choice we make.” The reason is quite simple. Carson assumes God’s “absolute sovereignty” must constrain our choices to his prior, exhaustive decrees–rendering them necessary.
His obfuscating terminology notwithstanding, Carson is putting forth two motions: 1) that a proper view of human freedom is anchored in voluntary choice, and 2) human freedom ought to be interpreted ultimately in a context of constraint and necessity, not outside it. And for Carson that overarching force of necessity is God’s sovereign will of decree. So rather than assume that “voluntary choice” should be interpreted by its accepted, historical definition, (i.e. not forced, constrained or necessitated) Carson believes what is “voluntarily chosen” can be reworked to mean any act that is irrevocably bound to one, definitive constraint— God’s meticulous sovereign will! We might wonder why Carson doesn’t seem bothered by the glaring irregularity and definitional revisionism that dismissively ignores the very meaning of the word “voluntary.” But this would be of no use. Carson is following his own advice and “being careful about semantics”, and definitional revisionism is the lynchpin that keeps it all together.
It becomes all to clear that in Carson’s world there are no contradictions between exhaustive, divine determinism and human freedom, provided you redefine human “freedom” as God “allowing” you to do what God determined you must do, such that you are not free to choose against his prior determination. Hence if you think contradictions exist, it is only because you aren’t being flexible enough with your terminology and need to adopt a more “Gumby” approach to word meanings.
Given the Calvinist penchant to employ words while simultaneously ignoring their established meanings, any attempt to nail down modern-day Calvinists on key questions that relate to human freedom and moral accountability is as easy as trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. They inexplicably adopt “Gumby” theology in order to reflexively dodge every criticism that could box them in to a particular viewpoint that leaves them naked and exposed to simple, deductive reasoning.
Calvinists repeatedly seek to appeal to “mystery” whenever their views become too riddled with glaring discrepancies and contradictions. But in reality, their view allows for no mystery at all due to their belief that every thought, desire, word and deed has been pre-engineered by God’s sovereign decrees; decrees we are powerless to resist or act contrary to.
In his presentation of five compelling arguments against Calvinism, William Lane Craig rightly dismisses the Calvinist habit to couch their view in mystery, pointing out that there is exists no mystery in a compatibilistic view that is founded on universal, causal determinism. He writes,
“There’s nothing wrong with mystery per se… the problem is that some Reformed theologians, like my two collaborators in the four-views book, try to resolve the mystery by holding to universal, divine, causal determinism and a compatibilist view of human freedom. According to this view, the way in which God sovereignly controls everything that happens is by causing it to happen, and freedom is re-interpreted to be consistent with being causally determined by factors outside oneself. It is this view, which affirms universal determinism and compatibilism, that runs into… problems. Making God the author of evil is just one of the problems this neo-Reformed view faces.”
Since Calvinism logically collapses into an affirmation that every God-dishonoring sin was conceived and decreed by none other than God himself for the express aim of extolling the greatness of his sovereign glory over the very acts of evil he conceived and decreed, the only thing left to be defined as mystery is how God can act like that and still be called “good”?
As it concerns God’s sovereignty over sin and evil, we must be resolute in grounding our theology into God’s holy character—not raw power and predestinating decrees that unquestionably leads to every perverse act opposed to God’s holy character. For God is more than sovereign in power, he is sovereign in virtue, which is why we are told “God cannot “lie” (Titus 1:2) nor “tempt men to evil” (James 1:3) for our God is a “God of light; in whom there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). To place limitations on what God can do does not diminish his sovereignty in the least. Rather it extols his sovereignty by grounding it in a morally perfect nature that is the paradigm of good and the antithesis of evil.
So let there be no place for mystery shrouded in “secret decrees” on this issue. When it comes to the question of God-dishonoring sin and wickedness we must understand God’s sovereign rule over evil in terms of exploitation and usurpation, not instigation and origination. In his sovereign glory, resplendent and transcendent over all creation, God brilliantly seeks to exploit sin and evil, not be its initiating, determinative cause. Make no mistake about it, the former is Arminianism and the latter is Calvinism (and Islam for those that care to know). Moreover for Calvinists to insist God has unconditionally predestined all sin and evil, while simultaneously insisting the ground of God’s moral exoneration and our moral culpability is an inexplicable mystery beyond our finite minds to comprehend, is a debased theological concept unworthy of God, unworthy of divine glory and unworthy of Christian affirmation, no matter how exalted the oratory it is wrapped in. 
If we must choose oratory over content, let’s at least try to get both right. G.K. Chesterton does exactly that, saying,
“The Calvinists took the Catholic idea of the absolute knowledge and power of God; and treated it as a rocky irreducible truism so solid that anything could be built on it, however crushing or cruel. They were so confident in their logic, and its one first principle of predestination, that they tortured the intellect and imagination with dreadful deductions about God, that seemed to turn Him into a demon.”
The preeminent Arminian theologian Roger Olson agrees. In his excellent book, Against Calvinism Olson similarly sums up the moral dilemma that faces Calvinism. He writes that at the end of the day the Calvinist rendering of God “is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil.”
I could not agree more.