Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Gospel of Sovereignty? Romans Series Interlude: Predestination, a Potter’s House Journey; Part 7

Posted in Uncategorized by pptmoderator on February 9, 2016

Originally posted June 30, 2014

HF Potters House (2)

sov·er·eign·ty [sov-rin-tee, suhv-] noun, plural sov·er·eign·ties.

1. the quality or state of being sovereign.

2. the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royalty.

3. supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community.

4. rightful status, independence, or prerogative.

5. a sovereign state, community, or political unit.

“The sovereignty of God” is a phrase that we hear often in Christian circles; in fact, it is a subject that dominates Christian discussion in our day. Moreover, it is an attribute of God that Christians make intrinsic to the gospel itself. In my contention against progressive justification in our day, the argument I hear most is, “You don’t understand the sovereignty of God.”

And no wonder, one of the premier evangelicals of our day, John MacArthur Jr., had this to say in a message titled, “An Explanation of the Sovereign Gospel.”

So we know it has been laid upon us to be faithful in our evangelistic responsibility. At the same time, sometimes we struggle with this reality of divine sovereignty and what it is that we can do when everything is predetermined by God and worked by the Holy Spirit.

Well, the simple answer to the question is God has not only ordained whom He will save, but He has ordained that we in our faithful evangelism would be the means by which He would save His own. To be useful to Him is the purpose in the fulfillment of His sovereign plan, to be an instrument that He can use, to be a vessel unto honor, fit for the Master’s use. To be obedient because that brings, of course, blessing, reward in this life and eternal reward as well (Grace Community Church | Romans 9-11 | September 03, 2011).

Of course, if God has predetermined who will be saved, and uses our evangelism to carry that out, our obedience to evangelism must be preordained as well. As discussed in a previous lesson in this series, this necessarily requires the redefining of the words “obedience” and “reward” as well as many other words and the normative understanding of them. But the main point I want to make here is MacArthur making salvation synonymous with sovereignty which is defined as CONTROL.

Herein is the problem: the word “sovereign” does NOT mean “control,” it means that one has the right to have authority in a given jurisdiction. Even some among the Reformed admit this:

What does it mean to say that God is sovereign? The refrain has become so common, almost clichéd, in Reformed writing and preaching that it sometimes slips away from the reader or listener without lodging meaning in the mind. Worse, we typically hear the phrase to mean something it doesn’t. When Christians affirm that “God is sovereign,” they often mean “God is in control.” Paul Tripp, for example, wrote in his excellent book Lost in the Middle that “God truly is sovereign . . . there is no situation, relationship, or circumstance that is not controlled by our heavenly Father.”

The problem is that the English word sovereignty does not mean control. The U. S. government is sovereign within American territory, but that doesn’t mean the government controls everything within American borders or causes all that happens. If you look up sovereignty in the dictionary you’ll not find control in the definition—nor even as a synonym in a thesaurus.

Sovereignty means “rightful authority.” A dictionary gives “supreme rank” as one definition, and a thesaurus lists jurisdiction and dominion as synonyms. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty tells us God is the rightful ruler of the universe. He has legitimate claim to lordship. His government is just. In fact, justice is defined as his rule. God’s sovereignty doesn’t tell us whether God does in fact rule—just that he ought to, and that we should acknowledge his rule and obey it. (Is “Sovereign” the Best Descriptor for God? Paul D. Miller).

Miller goes on to say…

Once again, it is true God is sovereign. It’s also true he’s in control of everything that happens and he causes all that happens. But that is the doctrine of God’s providence, not his sovereignty.

Does God CAUSE everything to happen? Perhaps, but that’s not what providence means either.

prov·i·dence [prov-i-duhns] noun

1. the foreseeing care and guidance of God or nature over the creatures of the earth.

2. God, especially when conceived as omnisciently directing the universe and the affairs of humankind with wise benevolence.

3. a manifestation of divine care or direction.

4. provident or prudent management of resources; prudence.

5. foresight; provident care.

First, the word “sovereign” appears nowhere in the Bible which should give people pause in regard to the frivolousness of its use in Christian circles. Secondly, it does NOT mean, control, preordination, or predetermination. Certainly, if God wanted to control everything, He could, but does He? Did God know sin was going to come into the world? Yes, so why didn’t he prevent it beforehand? The best answer points to the importance of freewill. God did not cause sin by not preventing it. God tempts no one with sin and is not the creator of evil (James 1:13-18).

When the attributes of God are considered (most theologians name 21 different attributes), absolute deterministic control is not one of them. Even with said attributes, God at times chooses to forfeit the attribute for a period of time. Therefore, if God is predeterminist, He wouldn’t always necessarily choose to predetermine. Some attributes of God are temporarily mutable, and others are NOT ever mutable. An immutable attribute of God is His love towards mankind for all the living. Clearly, an example of an attribute that God has temporarily suspended at times is omniscience:

Genesis 18:20 – Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

Mark 13:32 – But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Also, yes, in regard to some things God is immutable, but in contrast, he can be persuaded by prayer:

Isaiah 38:1 – In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

4 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.

2Chronicles 16;12 – In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians (NIV).

We have established that sovereign would be the wrong word to describe God as causing all that happens, and those things being according to His desired will. It has also been mentioned that the word “sovereign” is not in the Bible. Even if sovereign did mean that all things are predetermined according to God’s pleasure, would it be correct to make that part and parcel with the gospel as most do in our day? Below is yet another version of the infamous Cross Chart that can be applied to this question:

Chart A

The Problem is defining the gospel according to God’s sovereignty as opposed to God’s love and the good news thereof. Why would the idea that God preordained people to hell be good news? This also speaks to man’s worth. Did Christ die for humanity because it has some kind of worth to God? We can again utilize the cross chart for this question:

Chart B

To the extent that man has worth, the gospel gets smaller and God’s grace, and the degree of His sacrifice are diminished. A gospel based on the sovereignty of God must completely eliminate man altogether, and John Immel’s point made in this year’s TANC conference is well taken: it eventually boils down to Man having no right to exist.

All of this greatly hinders the proper answering of questions people have about the Bible. Take note of John Piper’s answer to the question, “Why was it right for God to slaughter women and children in the Old Testament? How can that ever be right?”

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing.

If I were to drop dead right now, or a suicide bomber downstairs were to blow this building up and I were blown into smithereens, God would have done me no wrong. He does no wrong to anybody when he takes their life, whether at 2 weeks or at age 92.

God is not beholden to us at all. He doesn’t owe us anything.

Now add to that the fact we’re all sinners and deserve to die and go to hell yesterday, and the reality that we’re even breathing today is sheer common grace from God.

I could make the question harder. As it was stated, it doesn’t feel hard to me, because God was stated as the actor.

My basic answer is that the Old and New Testaments present God as the one who has total rights over my life and over my death.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). How he takes away is his call. He never wrongs anybody.

~ Ask Pastor John | Desiring God .org | February 27, 2010

In essence, you see the mentality in this answer that man does not have the right to exist, and has no worth. Yet…

Malachi 3:17 – They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.

John Piper has been called out many times publicly for making these kinds of statements in regard to tragedies, but no one seems to understand the ideology behind such statements. Some also notice tacit acceptance of terrorism as well, and the lack of justice in the institutional church for those who have been abused speaks for itself. If the president of the flagship seminary in service to the largest denomination in the world thinks that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s patriot,” what are we to expect?

When one thinks of life past the fatalistic prism of the “sovereign” gospel that saturates today’s church and reads the Bible in the same thinking way, much better answers evolve. Unfortunately, life teaches us that terrorists cannot be reasoned with. I heard a retired high-ranking military official state this week that the only way to deal with terrorists is to eliminate them. Keep in mind, this is because they do not value mankind or life because of the same presuppositions that we are discussing.

When Israel was getting ready to enter the Promised Land, it could very well be that God knew certain cultures in the area would continually harass Israel and were completely unreasonable while having no regard for life. Israel’s lack of obedience in following God’s command to completely wipe out certain cultures came back to bite them for hundreds of years—even until this very day. These were cultures very much like ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria who are presently wreaking havoc in the Middle East and mercilessly slaughtering thousands. These people, unfortunately, cannot be negotiated with.

Lastly, another problem with a gospel that is based on deterministic fatalism follows. There is only one person spoken of less in our day than the Holy Spirit: Satan. The Bible warns us throughout to be aware of the devil’s schemes, and that he “deceives” the world. Why would this be relevant and how do you “deceive” someone who is already preordained for eternal punishment? The Bible continually places blame on Satan for leading people into condemnation.

In the final analysis, a “sovereign” gospel devalues prayer, God’s promises, evangelism, sin, justice, hope, life value, future reward, and the belief that what we do in this life is relevant. I have come to believe that people will perish because we have been neutralized by ignorance:

Ezekiel 3:16 – And at the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”

John MacArthur claims that Christians should take part in God’s “sovereign” plan, and therefore find blessings in being obedient to evangelism. I have heard this same take from people who equate freewill with an unsovereign gospel/false gospel. Again, God’s “sovereignty” is the attribute that primarily drives the gospel and not love. But the following is irrefutable, such obedience must also be preordained and not really of our own volition. Furthermore, the reward is invalid as well.

I have also come to believe that there are no paradoxes in God’s election. I believe the confusion can be eliminated, and people motivated to labor in God’s ministry field with zeal. But I believe the study will be very hard work.

Nevertheless, let us begin it posthaste.

3 Responses

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  1. April said, on February 9, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    Thank you for all your hard work. I’m encouraged when I read your articles and research.


    • Paul M. Dohse Sr. said, on February 10, 2016 at 1:52 PM

      Thank you for your encouraging words April.



  2. Timothy Smith said, on September 16, 2016 at 12:11 PM

    To borrow a quote from Rush Limbaugh, “Mega Diddos, April.” Appreciate you, Paul!


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