Piper on Calvinism, Arminianism, and Logic

TulipsI think John Piper is on target with this assessment of Calvinists, Arminians, and logic:

It is a great irony to me that Calvinists are stereotyped as logic-driven. For forty years my experience has been the opposite. The Calvinists I have known (English Puritans, Edwards, Newton, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul) are not logic driven, but Bible-driven. It’s the challengers who bring their logic to the Bible and nullify text after text. Branches are lopped off by “logic,” not exegesis.

Who are the great enjoyers of paradox today? Who are the pastors and theologians who grab both horns of every biblical dilemma and swear to the God-Man: I will never let go of either.

Not the Calvinism-critics that I meet. They read of divine love, and say that predestination cannot be. They read of human choice and say the divine rule of all our steps cannot be. They read of human resistance, and say that irresistible grace cannot be. Who is logic-driven?

For forty years Calvinism has been, for me, a vision of life that embraces mystery more than any vision I know. It is not logic-driven. It is driven by a vision of the ineffable, galactic vastness of God’s Word.

Let’s be clear: It does not embrace contradiction. Chesterton and I both agree that true logic is the law of “Elfland.” “If the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters.” Neither God nor his word is self-contradictory. But paradoxes? Yes.

We happy Calvinists don’t claim to get the heavens into our heads. We try to get our heads into the heavens. We don’t claim comprehensive answers to revealed paradoxes. We believe. We try to understand. And we break out into song and poetry again and again.

It’s not my commitment to the principles of Aristotelian logic that leads me to embrace the tenets of Calvinism; it’s my commitment to taking all of the Bible seriously and not being content to accept shallow harmonizations that don’t do justice to all of the truths in tension.

Roger Olson basically agrees with the role that logic plays in the two systems in his “Calvinism’s Conundrums,” chapter 8 of Against Calvinism [Logos] (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 175–79. It’s his commitment to logic that leads him to reject Calvinism: “I believe Calvinism has too many and too profound conundrums that have no apparent solutions” (175).

For more on the topic of logic, mystery, and harmonization, see also my post “Did the Incarnation Improve God?

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2 Responses to Piper on Calvinism, Arminianism, and Logic

  1. Mark V February 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

    Great post, Phil.

    I was just talking about this with some colleagues over coffee the other day. It seems to me that many Christians are Arminian by default. The prime example of this being the perception that “I chose” to give my life to Jesus. As Piper so eloquently stated in the excerpt above, Scripture would suggest otherwise.

  2. Jurek May 25, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    If Calvinism and Arminianism in fact contradict/or exclude each other logically in a most fundamental way possible (i.e. in the matters related to God’s and man’s role in Salvation) and we still want to follow basic rules of logic, we have to admit that only one of the two can be true meaning while the other, b necessity has to be false. Reframing contradictions as “paradoxes” does not seem to help much.

    My kind question to you goes somewhere like this: since Arminian and Calvinist positions are contradictory and at the same time developed from the same Source, maybe it just means that (a) neither of them could be correct because they present too conclusions from the same Source (this position defends the Source) , or (b) the Source itself is invalid (i.e. not consistent end-to-end) because it allows to draw logically contradictory but still in some way valid conclusions, especially if considered in an specifically isolated context taken on purpose out of the entire Source, that allows to ignore or exclude the rival view. The point is that if the Bible can be interpreted in such diverse ways and there is no clear solution available to explain it, maybe we are either developing wrong theological positions or the Source is really not meant to build theology base on this.