Challenging God’s Sovereignty

God is sovereign, period. Challenges to the contrary are often interesting and fiery, like an argued third strike in a close contest. Voices will be raised, faces brought into close proximity and colorful words and phrases will pepper the debate but, in the end, the conclusion is the same. God is sovereign, the plate is vigorously swept and it’s ‘batter up!’ 

God is the supreme, superior being accountable and subordinate to no other. If any of these were not true, He would not be God. It is primary among His attributes as we consider the nature of God. “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.” (Col 1:17) In the course of theological discourse, particularly with respect to election, Calvinists aver that Arminian theology strips God of his sovereignty and the Arminians in turn, accuse Calvinists of viewing sovereignty as God’s exclusive attribute, dismissing other aspects of His character. Neither extreme is true, of course, but it is the various forms of this argument that comprise one of the major components of the superheated rhetoric that serves as theological discussion in the world of the Theobloggers.

God’s sovereignty means that he is completely free to act in any way He wishes in accord with His own nature. He can create, order, and ordain anything in any fashion that he wants to. At the same time, he cannot do what is not possible (according to the way he has ordered the universe) such as making a circle a square nor will he act in any way contrary to His character. We can agree with the plain reading of the following section  of the Westminster Confession of Faith which states:

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass”

Given the truths that God rules over all things (1 Chron 29:11-12, Ps 29:10) and He is in control of all things (Job 42:2, Dan 4:35) why then is the issue of human free choice often portrayed as a despicable attempt to wrest His sovereignty away? The answer, which sounds odd, is that it cannot be, because the sovereignty of God need not be established and therefore cannot be contested. It simply is. As I stated earlier, it is an essential attribute of who and what He is. Because it [sovereignty] is not contingent upon any action that He takes, God’s sovereignty is not challenged by whether he elects or not, whether he elects some or all, and whether that election is conditional or unconditional. It is not contested by the free will of men nor is it opposed by the belief in limited atonement.

Now, we can begin the discussion without the threat of that canard.

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19 thoughts on “Challenging God’s Sovereignty

  1. I enjoyed this thread. Strips the debate of that stupid silly straw man of Sovereignty. As a Calvinist, it was an “argument” I rarely used, probably because I never understood the point of it. The Arminians I know never made statements that questioned God’s sovereignty. The conversations were and are always around HOW God’s sovereignty works concerning the salvation of His people, not IF God is sovereign.

  2. I can agree with all the above. I really think what separates the Calvinist from the Arminian is the notion of whether God’s election is decretive or reactive. Is it God decreed it so it comes to pass or is it (because of His being outside of time as we know it) God saw it would happen and so decreed it?

  3. Andy – you’re absolutely correct when you point the discussion towards how the Sovereignty works out. This is what I’m going to carry on with this series of posts. Peace

  4. Camaro – shouldn’t we look at how election plays out within the decree? I think the *sarian order that we apply has a lot to do with our impressions of the shape of election.

  5. Well I don’t think that I am misrepresenting the (common) Arminian when assume that most hold to the classic “God looked down the corridor of time…” scenario in regards to election. I view God’s sovereignty as Him actively orchestrating whatever comes to pass and I believe that many today view it as He knows what’s going to happen and works with the results of our decisions/choices. There is a markedly different understanding of the sovereignty of God between our Arminian brothers and sisters and the reformed notion of it.

    In my view the time line of election is linear. God elects/ordains and then works within his creation to accomplish this. I believe the Arminian view is a sort of jumping back and forth across the time line and making the decrees based on a foreknowledge of future choices by men. In my view this is not sovereignty. This is accomodation. Ultimately, man is “sovereign” when it comes to election because it is based on his will not God’s.

  6. Well Ken, forgive my use of a simple analogy but, try this. You’re going to go to 7-11 to get a slurpee this afternoon. From your house to the store, there are three different paths you could take. Each one will involve various choices and each will have different effects on your mood, character, etc. You will arrive at the 7-11, but the choice is yours in how you get there.

    Jean C would say that the way you will go is out of your hands, it was predestined for you with no control on your part which path you will follow. Jake A would concur that you will arrive at the store, the ultimate goal, but the road that leads you there is ultimately up to you.

    If God has predestined all that will occur, why is it such a stretch that he would foreknow the choices made by his creations? He created them.

  7. Since we’re talking in simple terms can the distinction between the two systems be boiled down to God chooses because of man’s choice or man chooses because of God’s choice?

  8. No, God doesn’t choose because of man’s choice. God has chosen the ultimate goals that will occur but has left the means of accomplishing those goals to the moral agents he created.

  9. Ahh but can those free moral agents do anything BUT what God has predetermined? Or even has forseen? If God forsees all, then is it not destined to happen?

  10. Open Theism Andy? What has happened to you dear brother?

    I believe the discussion is about means and ends. Does God predestine the ends and will they occur? Most certainly, without change. Are the means for arriving at those ends fixed, no. Could God have attached strings to us, Yes. Did he, no.

    God can certainly affect our thoughts and direct us toward his end but if we choose an alternate course, as we do in our sin, he has innumerable other options available to him to chart a course back to his objective.

  11. BTW Andy, how’s the record coming? I listened online and liked the tunes but something struck me that I had to think about for a while. I figured out (from my sensibilities only) that the dynamics seemed backward – the quiet spots were where I expected loud parts. Probably all my metal years have affected my hearing.

  12. I don’t believe I was resorting to open theism, though I admit that open theism would seem like the LOGICAL answer to my statement. Although, I must admit I was playing more of a cat and mouse game with the statement…and many times in conversations I’ve been able to catch the “mouse” with open theism…sorry! Sometimes I just can’t help myself!

    The recordings are going good. Are you sure you’ve heard the newest tunes? I haven’t updated the official thesuburbansound.com website yet because we aren’t finished w/ the horn arrangments, but you can hear the newest songs w/ the scratch horn tracks at http://www.myspace.com/thesuburbansound

    I know exactly what you mean about the dynamics…especially if you were listening to the songs on thesuburbansound.com!

  13. Also, I’d be more than satisfied if you would have just said, “I have to claim divine mystery in the case of God’s forknowlege. Becasue even your means and ends statement would somehow mean that God didn’t foresee (and therefore make inevitable that it would happen) someone taking an alternate path…

    I would say divine mystery is the ONLY answer for both camps concerning the issue. Calvinists don’t believe there are strings attached to us either, nor do we believe that God is the origin of sin or that He sets us up for sin…yet our theology, if “followed out to it’s logical conclusion” might lead some to think so, the same way that Arminian theology “might lead some” to think that open theism is the logical conclusion. Divine mystery throws a wrench into taking both theologies beyond what they were intended to go. The Reformed have a saying. Go as far as the Bible goes and stop. What’s not explained in Scripture has to be left up to mystery. I would assume that most “good arminians” live by the same standards.

  14. Hey Andy, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what you suggested in divine mystery so I didn’t immediately respond to you. How would God choose some for salvation and some for destruction pre-creation but then not be the originator of the fall?

  15. Divine mystery haha! Seriously. I don’t mean to cop out of the question but I can’t answer other than that. I could say the fall was part of God’s plan (as Augustine wrote, God deemed it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist at all), but I still would say God didn’t MAKE Adam fall. Adam was still fully responsible for his actions. I believe it because I believe that’s what Scripture says. It surely is beyond my capability to understand it all. It’s a mystery how it all works. God only reveals so much in His word, the rest is nto for us to know yet. Like I said, I can only go as far as Scripture leads me and then I have to stop. To not stop is how we get such BS as open theism and hyper calvinism.

  16. Pingback: Challenging God’s Sovereignty II « Love Acceptance Forgiveness

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