If God is Sovereign, Why Pray?

Last week, I called for readers to pray for Dr. Albert Mohler in light of the announcement that he will be having surgery to have a tumor removed from his colon. In the comments section of that post, a reader asked an important question:

“You ask us to pray for Dr. Mohler, but I don’t understand how you would have us pray. Since God is sovereign, doesn’t that mean this colon tumor is His will for Dr. Mohler, presumably to bring Him glory in some way (in which case I don’t understand having it removed or prayed for)? And since God is sovereign, won’t His will be done in Dr. Mohler’s life regardless of whom among us prays?”

I suppose the best answer to this question is simply to say that Jesus commands his disciples to pray. Whether we understand it or not, the command from our Lord is crystal clear. To be specific, he teaches us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). At the very least, the prayer shows that Jesus didn’t think that God’s sovereignty nullified the need for prayer. Why is this?

When Christ faced his darkest hour, we find him praying precisely in the same way he commanded the disciples, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:41-42). Was Jesus’ will in opposition to His Father’s will at this point? Is Jesus praying against God’s sovereign will that the Son of Man should die on the cross? A cursory reading that gives no attention to the rest of the scriptures might lead someone to such a conclusion, but such a conclusion would be a gross misrepresentation of how the Bible speaks of God’s will.

I think we have to distinguish the two ways that the Bible can speak of God’s “will.” On the one hand, the Bible speaks of God’s will in terms of that which conforms to his perfect holiness and character. Everything that God commands His creatures reflects God’s own holiness. For this reason, the theologians sometimes call this God’s moral will or his will of command. Paul speaks of God’s will in this sense in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “This is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” God’s holy, moral will is revealed in the command to avoid all sexual sin. This is God’s will of command. It is revealed in the scriptures, and it is often broken.

On the other hand, the Bible talks about God’s will in terms of what He has sovereignly decreed to happen. Sometimes the theologians describe this way of speaking of God’s will as his providential will or His will of decree. Isaiah prophesies the death of Christ in terms of God’s will of decree, “It was the will of the Lord to crush Him” (Isaiah 53:10). This means that God wills that Christ should die for sinners, even though God’s moral will gets broken in the process (Judas’ betrayal, unjust trial, etc.). God declared that it would happen from all eternity, and nothing could have prevented it from happening (Acts 2:23). As an expression of his sovereign, providential purposes, this “will” of God is secret and cannot be broken.

I think Jesus’ two prayers manifest a concern for both ways of speaking of God’s will, and they should direct us as we pray for the suffering. We can pray the prayer of Matthew 6:10, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that God’s will of command might be carried out among His otherwise rebellious creatures, that those who suffer would persevere in love and faithfulness to Christ no matter how awful and tragic the circumstances. We should also pray for the cause of suffering to be removed (just as Jesus did), but we do so from a position of faith that God’s secret providence may have something better for us that can only come through suffering. “Father, not my will but Yours be done.”

There’s so much more that could and should be said, but I will leave it there for now. In the meantime, let me pass along a couple of items from John Piper on prayer and the sovereignty of God. Both of these have been extremely helpful to me, and I pray they will be to you also.

“Prayer and Predestination: A Conversation Between Prayerful and Prayerless” – by John Piper (

“Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved” – by John Piper (


  • Joe


    Thanks for your post. It’s been several years back but I still believe the messages Rex preached on prayer and “cheering God on” in His sovereign purposes are the best thing I’ve heard or read on this subject. I don’t know if you could provide a link to that resource or not but I would highly commend those messages.


  • Bryan L

    I don’t want to get into a debate here over this (Lord knows I’ve gotten into plenty) I just wanted to point out that for some of you who read this it may at first be easy to swallow or accept but if you find yourself at some point down the road unable to continue to accept it or it no longer makes sense to you, check out Greg Boyd who has quite a different answer and perspective. You can either read one of his books like “Is God to Blame” or check out one of his sermons (which are free) from his church website as he’s always preaching on this subject. In fact I think I just heard one the other day.

    Bryan L

  • tim morrison

    I appreciate your spirit in recommending another, “alternative” viewpoint to the Biblical one that has been mentioned. But I feel it necessary, and I’m sure that you appropriately expect, someone to dissuade people from such teaching as that of Greg Boyd. I will take on that role in this occasion. Boyd is an open theist, claiming that God does not know the events of the future. This leads him to the viewpoints that you are talking about which he holds. He would say that God did not determine that Dr. Mohler should have this illness, in fact he would say that God didn’t even know that he would have this illness.

    I would rather serve a God that, though I do not always understand why, allows me to endure certain trials, even causes me to endure them at times, than to serve a God who doesn’t even know that I would be experiencing that particular trial or circumstance.

    As I said, I appreciate your spirit. Unfortunately this is a debate that will continue, I have no doubt. Many people have taken to the teachings of open theism, which I guess is the natural route of a particular type of theology. I pray that those who hear his sermons are drawn to the Truth found in Scripture, for it is not the truth that comes out of this teachings.

    Sorry, Denny. I hope this doesn’t cause of those big disputes in the blogosphere right here on your blog. I just can’t sit back and allow someone to put others to a harmful viewpoint.

  • Kevin J

    I believe the underlying objection to this biblical “deterministic” view is the fact that our sinful nature wants to be in control or at least believe that God does something solely because we ask for Him to do so and not just because it was His will to do it to begin with. Bottom line is that our human pride believes that God should listen to us on how He should run His universe…thank God He does not do that.

    1 John 5:14 – 15 (ESV) 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

  • Bryan L

    What did you read from Boyd?

    It sounds like you might have misunderstood Open Theism and are speaking of it in typical caricatures.

    The heart of Open Theism is that the future is partially open and not settled and God knows it as open.

    Either way I think it is interesting that you pointed out what type of God you would rather serve. Revealing statement.

    “Many people have taken to the teachings of open theism, which I guess is the natural route of a particular type of theology.”

    What type of theology is that? I think it can be more shown to be particular way of reading the Bible that takes certain statements God makes and depictions of God more seriously and doesn’t try to explain them away because of our discomfort about what they might imply.

    I hope this doesn’t turn into some useless back and forth though, as I wasn’t coming on here to debate open theism and I don’t even think you need to be an open theist to have a different view point from the one Denny gave. Plus I think there are plenty of discussions that have taken place here in the past that we could just refer to instead.

    Bryan L

  • Ben

    In response to #5 and #6, it is wrong to assume that theologians like Boyd do not take the scripture seriously. In the works of his that I have read, he takes many passages more seriously that most reformed theologians I have read. He simply comes to different conclusions.

    Now, I don’t agree with Boyd, but I also don’t fully agree with the response Denny provided, and I certainly don’t agree with the first link provided in the post.

    I do not believe this is because people who think like me have our sinful nature in control and want to believe that God does something just because we ask for it, as is stated in comment #6. I would venture to say that most who disagree with the Reformed position on this do so for the very reason the Reformed hold so tightly to their belief – because the character of God is at stake.

    In my opinion, it comes down to whether or not one sees God as an agent that is moved (i.e., can be changed) in compassion, love, wrath, etc, or if one sees God as immutable. A “Biblical” case can be made for both.

    That being the case, arrogance seems to have infiltrated those comments so far that seem to indicate that only the viewpoint in the original post is “Biblical”, and any “alternative” viewpoint is immanently not Biblical.

  • Ben

    Oops, I meant to add more that affirmed the original post.

    Despite our disagreement about how to conceive of God’s character, we probably all agree that prayer is important, and avails much.

    Let us all pray for the well-being of Mohler and his family, also knowing that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

  • Brett


    Thank you for providing an alternative viewpoint to the true biblical one. It is important that readers know the alternative views to the right one, and you have provided one. However, I feel it is my duty to tell others that it is dangerous to believe this way. If we extrapolate this view out, then the God we serve is a monster and unloving. The links you give to Piper do not make any sense and simply cannot explain many passages within scripture.

    It is dangerous to believe God is this way because it can affect your character and make you view life more deterministically and cause passivity in others lives.

    I would rather serve a God that did not determine and pre-ordain that 6 million Jews be slaughtered in the holocaust or that the majority of people on this earth would spend eternity suffering and burning in hell. If this is how you view God, then you serve a monster, dangerous God. However, the biblical view of God is that he is love, so this alternative viewpoint falls short.

    Readers beware.

  • Benjamin A

    Thanks for the post Denny.

    Father God, thank you that each difficulty is an opportunity to see You work. Glorify yourself and draw people to saving faith through your child and servant Albert Mohler. Use his circumstances to that end and give him and his family a peace that surpasses all understanding. Guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

  • Bryan L


    I don’t believe anyone is saying God is not sovereign. The disagreement is over what it means for God to be sovereign and how he practices his sovereignty.

    Bryan L

  • Brett


    I respect your humility. Thank you, my brother, for being mature and humble and realizing the ambiguity of the issue. I found myself agreeing with nearly all you said. I too am not an open theist, but think Greg Boyd has much to offer and is a man of God. For a reader to call Denny’s view the “biblical” one and any other one an “alternative” is the height of arrogance and pride. Also, my sinful nature (whatever that is) does not at all want to be in control or expect God to answer my every command. I don’t feel this way at all, nor would I say many people feel this way. This is a gross misunderstanding of the “sinful nature” (whatever that is).

  • Kevin J

    If God chooses to practice His sovereegnty in a way that “aalows” the killing of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust then didn’t He somehow “ordain” it since He chose to not put a stop to it?

    It seems to me that those who believe God is sovereign yet say God has nothing to do with a horrible situation like the Holocaust are confused about what it means to be sovereign.

    Does not “sovereign” mean to be the ultimate authority and nothing is out of the sovereign’s control?

  • Kevin J

    Ben & Brett,

    I hope that you both notice that I did not “point” that comment (#6) at anyone in particular. Also, I am not saying that the deterministic view is 100% biblical either. The word “deterministic” in #6 is quoting what was said in #1 and not meant to portray that Denny’s view is actually deterministic but that Denny’s view IS biblical to the extent it is explained in this post.

    If you do not agree with the post, please show biblical evidence to prove that the post is incorrect instead of just saying that you do not agree with it and point to someone else’s view.

    I apologize that you have taken #6 personally but I also included me in the word “our”.

  • Kevin J


    I amen that. If God is not in complete control and can not do what He pleases, then why pray to Him to change something?

    Underlying this is the reason so many people that do not adhere to the doctrines of grace choose not to pray for the salvation of the lost. Also, if they do pray, how silly does it sound to ask God to do something (overcome a person’s stubborn “free” will) that God has “chosen not to do”?

    Why pray for the lost if God is not sovereign over someone’s will to turn their heart toward Him and grant faith & repentance?

    2 Timothy 2:24 – 26 (ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant£ must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. GOD MAY PERHAPS GRANT THEM REPENTANCE leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

  • Benjamin A

    you stated in opposition to Denny’s post-
    “If we extrapolate this view out, then the God we serve is a monster and unloving.”
    “I would rather serve a God that did not determine and pre-ordain that 6 million Jews be slaughtered in the holocaust or that the majority of people on this earth would spend eternity suffering and burning in hell. If this is how you view God, then you serve a monster, dangerous God.”

    Do you think it actually rained 40days and nights and all flesh with life in it was destroyed from the face of the earth?

    Do you think God owes Jericho an apology? Joshua 6:2, “The Lord said… I have given Jericho into your hand.” Joshua 6:21, “…utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old…”.

    Was this not the same God you claim to love and serve? Or do you love and serve a different God?

    How about Sodom and Gomorrah? Genesis 19:24-25, “The Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven, and He overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the city…”.

    How about all the inhabitants of Canaan?

    Seriously, how do you reconcile you notion of God’s love with the totality of Scripture?

    What about Ananias and Sapphira?

    How have you justified God’s acts seen in scripture that contradict your own notion of Him and how He must act?

  • Bryan L

    Are you equating the Jews that died in the Holocaust with Sodom and Gomorrah or the inhabitants of Canaan?

    Again not looking for a debate here because they usually don’t go anywhere, but what would you consider to be biblical evidence to show that the post incorrect? Are you looking for a verse? Or a story? or a theme throughout scripture? I think it would be important to establish what you see as proof or Biblical evidence.

    Also, I was wondering where you derive your definition of ‘sovereign’ from? In everyday life when we use the word sovereign does it mean the one who is sovereign controls the actions of those under it?

    Does anyone here actually think this discussion or debate will go anywhere?

    Bryan L

  • Brett


    Just because God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah does not mean that he ordained and destroyed the Jews as well. I believe we serve a faithful, loving, patient God…but he is prepared to be tough when necessary. I have no problem seeing God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, on the city of Jericho, on the Canaanites. God judged these people because they were extremely wicked and they would be a hindrance and stumbling block for Israel to worship and serve Yahweh alone.

    However, this does not mean that God is behind every disaster or genocide. To read this into the text would go beyond the limits of what it allows for.

    Ananias and Sapphira? Well, you could say Peter misused his authority, which he possibly did. Just like Elisha misused his authority when he cursed the young boys and 2 bears came and mauled them.

    I love and serve the same God as the Bible depicts, but which God do you love and serve? Do you love a serve a God who “ordains” 50 million babies to die before they exit the womb? Did God ordain abortion? Whenever you sin, does God cause you to do that? Did he ordain it?

    I articulate God’s will as being antecedent (something he has desired since creation, e.g. he desires for all to come to know him, for all to live in peace with one another, etc) and his consequential will. God did not ordain or desire to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but because of the consequences surrounding it and their lack of repentance he demolished them because he takes sin seriously. However, this was not his desire or antecedent will. If Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented, then God would not have done that.

    Do you think God ordained and caused 6 million Jews to be slaughtered? You can’t point to a few contextual texts in scripture and extrapolate that to mean that every genocide and disaster is from God. To do so is bad and dangerous practically and hermeneutically.

    I see no contradiction of my notion with God, but I see numerous ones with yours. Why did God not execute judgment on Ninevah when he said he would? Why does it say in 1 Kings that God had determined that the king should die but a lack of obedience thwarted that determination? Why does 1 Timothy 2 say God desires for all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? Why does God make many of his covenants conditional? Why does God show anger if he already knew and determined that it should happen? Why did he create humanity in the first place if we would be so wicked? Why does God allow Job to suffer as a result of the Satan’s claims and not as a result of his pre-determined plan? I could go on and on.

  • Ben

    Kevin J (#16 above):

    I politely decline to enter into the debate about what it means for God to be sovereign. I will point out, however, that I neither pointed to someone else for the answer, nor denigrated Denny’s position. I simply disagree. I accept that my refusal to further address this may minimize my voice on this blog, but I also know that the previous debates concerning this issue on Denny’s blog were fairly fruitless.

    My issue in comment #8, however, has to do with the descriptor “biblical”, which was used both in comment #5 and #6 with no qualification. My feeling is that “deterministic” was used in your comment in a bid vilify the use of “deterministic” in comment #1. In other words, use of the word “deterministic” in your post was satire pointed towards comment #1. (Whether comment #1 or #10 were appropriate is another matter.) To remove the satire leaves me with the phrase:

    “…the underlying objection to this biblical…view is the fact that our sinful nature wants to be in control…”

    It is this type of sentiment I am warning against. The underlying objection to the Reformed position is not, as comment #6 seems to suggest, gluttonous attitudes contrary to Biblical teaching, but instead deep concern over our theological portrayal of God’s character in light of the Biblical teaching.

    My point is that using the adjective “biblical” as if it only applies to the view espoused in the original post is a tacit condemnation of your Christian brothers and sisters who, because of conscience, cannot hold to such a view. Such use, it seems to me, is an infiltration of arrogance.

  • Kevin J

    Bryan L,

    Are you saying that your view of God’s sovereignty is the same as the sovereignty of the CEO of a corporation?

    Can you really compare our “everyday” use of the term “sovereign” with the sovereignty of the almighty, all-knowing God of the universe?

  • Bryan L


    I’m hesitant to address your questions being that you haven’t even answered my questions but instead just responded with incredulity and a rhetorical question. This doesn’t show me that this type of discussion will go anywhere.


  • Benjamin A


    Thanks for your reply. The sovereignty of God and man’s freedom are difficult issues to navigate.
    However, I doubt that any of the Canaanites would have had the same view of God that you have, “faithful, loving, patient”, and it surely is convenient for you to simply say they got what they deserved in that they were “extremely wicked and they would be a hindrance and stumbling block for Israel to worship and serve Yahweh alone.”
    What constitutes “extremely wicked” in your world? Can’t you see some of the families there who were simply trying to live a simple life and to enjoy the family, to work hard; just simple folk living and dying. Then one day an Israelite soldier bust into the home, where Mom was caring for her children, and in the name of YHWH of hosts slaughters them all; women and children alike.
    Well, had they only known God really didn’t want that to happen, but seeing how wicked they were, He had no choice. Oh yeah, and they would be a stumbling block to the worship of the true God of heaven and earth. The faithful, patient, loving God.
    Had they only understood “God’s will as being antecedent (something he has desired since creation, e.g. he desires for all to come to know him, for all to live in peace with one another, etc) and his consequential will.” I’m certain that would have cleared it all up.
    If only they could have been told… “this was not his desire or antecedent will”.
    Well, thanks for straightening all of us reformed thinking types out.

  • Brett


    How do you expect me to dialogue with you when you answer me that way? I thought we were having a legitimate conversation and I answered legitimately trying to defend my case. It was unnecessary for you to respond to my serious post to you in that way.

    I would love to hear your explanation. Do you not think God is loving, patient, and kind? How do you explain these texts? Do you just say “Well, God is sovereign and he ordained it to happen” and let it be? That answer just doesn’t quite cut it.

    I thought we were making progress here…maybe I was wrong.

  • Brett

    And what do you know, all of my questions went unanswered. I’m starting to see a pattern here. It’s easy to criticize and not back it up

  • Benjamin A


    You answered well and bring up some difficult questions to answer. I was simply putting your answer in a narrative context to show how difficult these issues really are. No easy answers in my book.

    I do believe God has ordained all things and is in the heavens doing what so ever He pleases. Whatever that really means I don’t exactly know, but I do believe He is doing all things to glorify Himself. I do believe God is all loving, patient, kind, just, etc… and has ordained everything according to the counsel of His will.

    His ways are beyond my finding out most of the time. I’ve stopped trying to fit God into a nice comfortable box a long time ago, but when I study scripture I see an all sovereign God who chooses and I see man as responsible for his actions.

    I leave room for this mystery.
    I don’t think it’s mysterious to God, but it is to my finite mind.

    If my response offended you, and it seems that it did- my apologies.

  • Tristan


    “And what do you know, all of my questions went unanswered. I’m starting to see a pattern here. It’s easy to criticize and not back it up.”

    Under the D. A. Carson post below I asked you a number of questions and they all “went unanswered” and yet in this post you mock someone for not answering your questions? How is this consistent in any way?

    “It’s easy to criticize and not back it up”

    Again, if you feel it is okay to mock another believer in this way, the least you could do is exhibit the same character you call for in your own interaction with others. Please respond to my questions in the D. A Carson post below. Thanks.

  • Kevin J


    It is actually more simple than I thought.

    You asked me 2 questions:

    1. What would I consider to be biblical evidence to show that the post incorrect?

    2. Where do I derive your definition of ’sovereign’ from? In everyday life when we use the word sovereign does it mean the one who is sovereign controls the actions of those under it?

    Answer to Question 1:

    The evidence I would expect is biblical proof that God does not have 2 wills (will of decree, and will of command) as defined in the post and defined in John Piper’s exegesis (to which a link is provided above)

    Answer to Question 2:

    The Merriam Webster definition of sovereignty states that it means “freedom from external control.” Does this definition include that a Sovereign controls all actions of those “under” His power? I do not think so. I also do not think the Bible teaches that God “controls” all of mankind’s actions. What I do see the Bible teach is this…apart from God’s sovereign intervention of grace over our sin-bound wills, we will ALL reject Him and be bound for hell. Sovereignty does not mean absolute “control” but absolute FINAL authority. In other words, a sinful action may not be “controlled” by God but it definitely is not accomplished apart from God’s permission.

    Think about this…if God wanted to, He could have snuffed out mankind as soon as they fell into sin. Everything since then has been “allowed” by God, thus He indirectly “ordains” that all that happens exist for His own mysterious purposes.

    I hope this helps explain my position.


  • Brett


    I have to say, I somewhat agree with what you have said. I wouldn’t articulate it the way you did in some instances, but overall, I think we agree much more than we disagree.

    I do think it’s tough find 2 wills of God. I do think there are 2 wills of God, and I would certainly articulate them differently than Piper and Denny (as I said earlier, I would go with the terms “antecedent” and “consequential” will). However, Scripture never explicitly says this, so it’s tough to convince some that there are.

    I, contrary to what many may think, do not think God is chilling up in heaven biting his fingernails and worried to death what’s going to happen next. However, I certainly would define “sovereign” different than most reformed people. I actually think the definition you provided is very good, and I might have to say I completely agree with it. We see in the OT a recurrent theme that Yahweh is the King. So, I do not see Yahweh as sovereign in the sense that he ordains and causes all things to happen (like a puppet show…I know you hate that example, but I’m honestly just taking it at face value), as if anything that happened that God didn’t ordain would mean he’s not sovereign. I think that’s kind of crazy to define it that way (which you don’t seem to do). I try to see God as the sovereign King, he is in control and reigning over his people. Occasionally chaos might break out, but he is a God of order and is in control of his people and land. Enemies might try to kill or steal one of God’s people, but he is sovereign and defeats our enemies for us.

    Anyways, I try to see it like that. I could have articulated it better, but I think you get the picture.

    In any case, thank you for typing that (even though it wasn’t to me!). I respect that you articulated your own stance and didn’t quote a proof-text or some section out of a Piper book or something. Good stuff brother!

  • Brett

    By the way Benjamin,

    Sorry I reacted so vehemently against your post. I did take it as offensive and felt like you were mocking me all the way through it. Since you have expounded on your purpose, I understand what you were trying to do. However, in the moment it seemed hateful and degrading.

    I do see this issue as somewhat mysterious as well (a positive aspect of the Eastern Orthodox church…mystery). I think Calvinists think they have it figured out. For instance, Piper thinks he has it figured out or he wouldn’t spend so much time on it. I went to 2 passion conferences and it seemed like he always brought it up. I think Arminians think they have it figured out as well. People like Greg Boyd and Clark Pinnock, though I believe they have much good to offer, have built them a system that makes God nice and neat, emphasizing his love, kindness, etc. However, many texts do not line up too well with this belief…and also, many texts do not line up with the Calvinistic belief either. In the end, I believe an eclectic approach is kind of doable. I think the Calvinistic system has some good things to offer. I’m not to the point to say God does everything for himself or his chief end is to enjoy himself, nor will I probably ever be, but aside from that, it has some good things to offer. The emphasis it puts on exegesis is second to none. Also, the system respects and honors God so much. They do it to a degree that I believe is scripturally unwarranted, but I admire this belief nonetheless.

    There are certainly tensions there that both sides do not like because it’s a portrayal of a God, as you say, that does not fit nicely into their box. I agree with you about not fitting God in a box. I think we all try to fit him in one to some degree…but it just can’t be done. God cannot be predicted. That’s why (and some might not like this), that I personally do not like the discipline of systematic theology at all. It seeks to fit God in a box (re: system), by combining dozens of proof-texts ripped from their contexts while shunning problem-texts. Anyways, don’t want to get on a rant! Blessings

  • Kevin J


    It is cool to see we have some agreement. 🙂

    However, I would like to discuss the following paragraph you wrote above:

    “I articulate God’s will as being antecedent (something he has desired since creation, e.g. he desires for all to come to know him, for all to live in peace with one another, etc) and his consequential will. God did not ordain or desire to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but because of the consequences surrounding it and their lack of repentance he demolished them because he takes sin seriously. However, this was not his desire or antecedent will. If Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented, then God would not have done that.”

    I agree with your statement in part. The fact is that Sodom & Gomorrah did deserve their destruction, but where does the Bible state that they were even given a chance to repent?

    Also, even if God had sent a preacher (like Jonah) to Sodom and Gomorrah, He may not even have granted them repentance (like He did for Nineveh).

    Here is where the rubber of sovereignty meets the road of reality. If God is absolutely sovereign then not 1 sinner repents apart from God granting them the “right” to repent. Thus, our Sovereign retains His final authority and control over His kingdom.

    I agree that God does not delight in the fact that the wicked perish. But, as I see it, there have been millions (if not billions) of people who have never heard a prophet/preacher of God preach a message of repentance…yet, they are still held responsible and are condemned to eternal perishing.

  • mike


    Is it possible that since you are truly a brother, you become easily offended when it appears that the character of God has been attacked (which is an admirable quality) like the rest of us?

    Is it possible that you are magnifying one of God’s attributes more than His others, which is enabling you to see God through a “distorted” lense? The reason that I ask is from what you stated in post 10 where you wtote-” . . . the biblical view of God is that he is love . . . ”
    If I were to primarily view God through this lense (love) I too would come to much of the conclusions that you have come to regarding God.

    Is it possible that your dominate view of God’s attribute(s) (love, steadfastness, faithfulness, mercy etc…) play a big part in how you do theology?

    Have you ever read the attributes of God?

    If so, have you ever considered filtering your knowledge of the Bible (which appears to be quite extensive) through the filter of the understanding of the attributes listed in this book?

    Brother, since, as concluded in previous posts, you do not clearly understand reformed theology, is it possible that you are not “hearing” all that the reformed brothers are saying on posts that deal with reformed leanings? Is it possible that our “monster God” is not actually a “monster God” after all since we seem to, as a whole, view God through other (additional) lenses (attributes) than what you do?

    I appreciate your response in post 33. God loves a humble heart!

    God bless!

  • Bryan L

    I’ll have to respond a little bit later, but as far as the first question that you responded to I want to press you a little bit more on that so that hopefully I have a clearer picture when I do respond.

    You said, “The evidence I would expect is biblical proof that God does not have 2 wills (will of decree, and will of command) as defined in the post and defined in John Piper’s exegesis (to which a link is provided above)”

    Originally you did not want people referring to other books or articles in response (I ‘m not sure what’s so bad about this) but it sounds to me that you literally want me to go through these 2 article and Denny’s posts and pick them apart. Do you realize how much time and space that would take? Wouldn’t it just be easier if you could go and read some alternative viewpoints yourself?

    I was under the impression that you just wanted some sort of verses or themes or narratives of something showing things happening that God did not desire or bring about? That’s not hard at all, but instead your are asking to literally dismantle 2 articles and a blog post. Is that correct?

    Do you realize that Piper’s 2nd article is arguing that God wills that people do things he doesn’t like for them to do (such as sin)? I just want to make sure you caught that before moving forward, because Piper’s article is arguing that it’s not schizophrenic for God to make people do things (like sin) that he doesn’t want them to do.

    Let me know. Thanks,

    Bryan L

  • Kevin J

    Bryan L,

    You said:

    “Originally you did not want people referring to other books or articles in response (I ‘m not sure what’s so bad about this) but it sounds to me that you literally want me to go through these 2 article and Denny’s posts and pick them apart.”

    I never said to not point at someone else’s view and explain why it is wrong. Just don’t say someone’s view is wrong and point to someone else’s view as proof that the other view is wrong. Hope that is clear as mud. 🙂

    We need to be able to explain our differences “on our own two feet.”

    Anyway, in answer to your question in #38:

    I have not always held to the 2 Wills of God position and I have previously held (very loosely) to the “open Theism” view. So, I do not see the need to read anything else at this time.

    You also asked:

    “Do you realize that Piper’s 2nd article is arguing that God wills that people do things he doesn’t like for them to do (such as sin)?”

    Yes. To accomplish His purposes requires people to sin. Does this mean that God “makes” them sin? No. Does it mean that God “allows” them to sin in a way that fulfills God’s all-wise purposes…yes. To believe anythin different would be to deny God’s absolute sovereignty. How God does this without undermining man’s total responsibility for every action is a mystery that the Bible does not even try to explain so I am not responsible for trying to explain it either. And I believe that is not just a “cop out” for my position.


  • Bryan L

    Quick question again Kevin (unfortunately this is all I can do right now):
    Do you think that Piper would draw a distinction between God willing and allowing? I seem to remember him (or another prominent Calvinists scholar) saying there is no distinction. Many try to soften it by saying God just allows it but if I’m not mistaken I think some like Piper say there is no difference and if God is allowing he is actually making or willing it to happen.

    Are you aware of this or can you confirm or deny this?

    BTW who did you read from the Open Theist camp? I’d be interested to know which books you were convinced to Open Theism by (before you abandoned it).

    Bryan L

  • Ken

    Let me post a few words in defense of systematic theology (and implicitly in defense of systematic theologians). Properly understood and pursued, systematic theology is not an attempt to force a preconceived set of ideas upon Scripture. Rather, it perceives Scripture as issuing from the same Author and entirely coherent. Systematic theology is the attempt to discern the patterns of thought revealed in the entirety of Scripture, to make sense of the teachings that run throughout, because we know these teachings come from the same divine Mind.

    Because God’s thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, it should come as no surprise that people will develop different systematic theologies. Not one of us can comprehend the mind of God. But that some of us have set as our lives’ goal to apprehend as much of God’s teaching as possible should be an occasion of commendation, not approbation.

  • Kevin J

    I have listened to Piper now for about 19 months…hundreds of sermons and a few books. I have never heard (as far as I can remember) him say that “allowing” is identical to “making” someone to sin (like a puppet). I would say that “allowing” something to happen can be the same as “willing” something to happen if the “willer” is sovereign. If the “willer” is not sovereign then there are things outside the “willer’s” control (based on the definition at

    As far as the “open theism” goes I read my own fleshly reasoning and believed that way before I ever hear of “open theism.” I had no problem believing those things while being wrapped up in a debilitating addiction to por/n/ography. In fact I taught lessons in Bible college that would be considered nigh to “open theism” while I was wrapped up in sin. If someone had approached me about the doctrines of grace then I would have scorned them the same way my college professors did. Thus, I never abandoned true “open theism” but I abandoned my prideful disposition that thought that God was bound by my “free will” decisions.

  • david

    It seems to me most of the posts on this blog are trying to explain how a loving God can allow bad things to happen to good people. I think the real question should be how can a just God allow good things to happen to wicked sinful people. We do not deserve a happy healthy life. I would say that we deserve things alot worse than what sodom and gomorrah or even the jews in the holocust. We deserve a eternity seperated from the love of God burning in hell.

  • Kevin J


    The reason that I approach it from that viewpoint (how a loving God can allow bad things to happen to “good” people) is because the dissenters on this blog have that viewpoint. To just blatantly say what you said does not convince or persuade the dissenters.

  • Brett


    It doesn’t say they were given a chance to repent. I didn’t say it did. I guess God didn’t think they deserved a chance at repentance. And I would interpret what you say as God “granting” repentance as sending somebody like Jonah to preach repentance to them. God didn’t grant it to Sodom and Gomorrah because he didn’t send anybody to prophesy to them. It was their fault and their sin that led to their wickedness…nothing else. They were responsible for their actions. But, as we all know the story, God was willing to preserve it for the sake of only 10 righteous people. I understand God sending them a preacher (like Jonah) as God giving them a chance to repent. A preacher was not sent to Sodom and Gomorrah…so God did not give them a chance to repent. They could have repented on their own I suppose, without a preacher. But this doesn’t mean that God would not have still destroyed them. Repentance essentially means to turn. To turn from one way (a wicked way) of living life to a righteous way. We can’t necessarily read Pauline theology on to Genesis and say nobody can repent unless God does it for them (gives them repentance). We might be able to justify this view of repentance from the NT, but in the OT (as far as I know, I could be wrong), repentance is ultimately the responsibility of human beings. I agree that billions of people have not heard or been preached to, or given a chance to repent…yet still they are held accountable for their actions. It’s because it’s their actions, their responsibility…God sends a preacher or prophet out of his mercy. And, for reasons unknown to us (I suppose some is a lack of obedience from God’s people), some people are not given that chance. This isn’t God’s fault, it’s theirs, it’s ours.

    Mike, the post you referenced was basically a polemic against post #5. If you read post #34, you will see that I do not necessarily always think like this. Also, I consider God’s attributes as something he possesses from all eternity. This does not include wrath or anger. Wrath and anger are divine responses to human sin…not attributes. I do not include wrath as an attribute of God. I believe God is wrathful because of sin…nothing more, nothing less.

    I do understand reformed theology. You all might think I have mischaracterizations of reformed theology, which I possibly do, but I do not misunderstand it. I grew up in a reformed southern baptist church. I have many reformed friends. I go to a reformed seminary where I have to take systematic classes on reformed doctrines.

    I’m sorry for not being clear from my earlier polemical post. I understand your points and agree with most of them. However, it has been my experience that the reformed system exalts God’s sovereignty more than all the other attributes. Arminian theology exalts God’s love more than all attributes. Eastern Orthodox theology exalts the mystery of God above everything else. So, a balance is needed on all sides.

    Personally, I exalt God’s mission above all else. I have recently become acquainted with Chris Wright’s “Mission of God” book, and think a mission hermeneutic is a key to much of the Bible. However, I should try not to diminish those other attributes in the process, as you say!

    Thank you all for the questions and input.

  • Bryan L


    I think your response is very reductionistic and if pressed a bit would show how it is really not that helpful and it just raises more questions and problems than answers (especially when you try to fit it into a theological system, even Calvinism). I think it sounds nice and pious at first but I don’t know that it accurately reflects God or even us and instead it sounds like it is an attempt to go higher and further than even God does (e.g. ‘God judge S&G because they were truly wicked and perverse but by virtue of us being just human we deserve even worse.’or ‘Not only do we deserve punishment we deserve excruciating torture forever.’)

    I’m still gonna eventually get to you’re thoughts (although I don’t know what I could really offer that hasn’t been said before). Thanks for the clarification on Piper. I wonder now who I was thinking. It may just be because Piper speaks so much about God ordaining the evil things that happen that it doesn’t really sound much different than saying he makes something happen and allows it. Do you know of any where where he really makes a distinction between permit/allows and determines or causes?


  • Benjamin A

    While I understand David’s concise quib, I also shudder to think that any human could say and think such horrible things without feeling the pain of such realities.
    As Paul said in Romans 9:19 “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
    People are not evil and wicked simply because they are human. We have been made in the “image” and “likeness” of God, and He said that creation (male/female) was “very good” (Gen.1:31).
    Sin, rebellion against our Creator God, is evil and wicked. And ALL creation now groans under God’s curse against that first sin.
    Non-believers also have the image and likeness of God all over them and it should break our hearts to speak of men and women being eternally separated from the face of God. That is a horrible reality. A reality for sure, but not one I can speak of with any sense of pleasure.
    This is an area where we reformed thinkers might reconsider how we say (write) things.
    God as God can say such horrible realities and still be pure in every way. When we speak such realities, it seems we do so with too little compassion.

  • Kevin J


    As far as “granting” repentance goes, please consider the following:

    2 Timothy 2:22 – 26 (ESV) 22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant£ must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

    Sounds to me like true repentance is ultimately up to God and not man…thus He retains His sovereignty in this area as well. Do you see it differently?

  • david

    Bryan @ Benjamin

    I did not mean to some off as one who takes pleasure in the fact that all humans deserve Hell. So if I did that I am sorry, but I take great pleasure that even though I am a sinner who deserves Hell Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I also admit that I sometimes get confused with the commits on this blog, but if you say that humans are not wicked and do not deserve Hell then are you saying that humans are good and deserve Heaven? That seems to be very dangerous thinking to me. If I am reading your comments wrong I am sorry.

  • Brett


    I honestly don’t have a stance on this because I have not studied it. I do not think we can base our whole theology about it off of one section of scripture though. I would have to see what context “granting repentance” is used elsewhere. I would also have to see how the OT views repentance since this was Paul’s expertise. So, I think a good canonical/biblical theological study (not systematic!) would need to be done in order for me to have a definitive stance.

    I know it is a popular belief among reformed folks to believe this way. I know they think faith is given by God and up to him as well. I think the explicit evidence is certainly lacking in the “faith” issue, but I’m not sure about repentance. If we look at “grant” as “allow” then I’m not sure if we can say God gives it. I certainly do think it’s a blessing and merciful that he allows us to repent and accepts our repentance though! Because he doesn’t have to.

    Anyways, any other thoughts you have on this? Other than just hearing reformed people say that repentance is given by God, I have not heard a case made from it. I am just at the point right now to say I don’t see how this could be, because the very act of repentance requires human actions made by human choice. This is repentance in it’s essence. Anyways, that’s all I’ll say. I would totally be open for more dialogue on this issue though.

  • Bryan L

    A few thoughts in response to Denny’s post (I can’t believe I’m doing this again : )

    Denny first points to the Lord’s prayer. The prayer shows that prayer is an important part of God’s kingdom being established and his will being done on earth. The prayer supposes that without that prayer it is possible that God’s will, will not be done on earth at least not to the fullest extent. If you suppose that it will still be done regardless do you also think that our sins will be forgiven without asking (as the prayer instructs us to do). The prayer supposes that our asking is part of what brings about the answer and without it that answer might not come.

    In Gethsemane Jesus is really praying that if God can come up with another way then let him take it. Sure Jesus says not my will but yours, but unless he is hoping that God will see Jesus’ desires as acceptable and change his plan then what he is praying makes no sense and is at worse deceiving.

    Denny’s strategy is to ignore what the passage is saying and then bring it into conformity with his preferred passage in scripture. This is one of the problems with systematic theology from either side. Both sides must pick verses that they give hermeneutical privilege to and others that they either ignore or try to bring into conformity with their preferred scripture.

    Notice how Denny says “but such a conclusion would be a gross misrepresentation of how the Bible speaks of God’s will.” The problem with that statement is that we are already talking about what the Bible says about God’s will. Jesus prayer in Gethsemane is in the Bible, the Lord’s prayer is in the Bible. If you were looking at other verses that said the opposite–that speak of a more deterministic view–then you could say that taken on their own they lead to the conclusion that God determines everything that happens but “such a conclusion would be a gross misrepresentation of how the Bible speaks of God’s will” when you look at other passages like the Lord’s prayer or the prayer in Gethsemane. So you see the problem with that strategy? It can go either way.

    One of the other things I’m seeing is the strategy (that gets used quite often) to read God’s role in the death of Jesus as normative for how God runs the world how he does everything. That is to make the crucifixion event say waaayyyy more than it was ever intended to. It is to stretch its implications in a direction it wasn’t intended to go. Besides it fails to take into account that it is God who is coming down to give himself into the hands of the enemy so as to defeat Satan, sin and death through some mysterious way. It’s not just like God picked a bunch of people to kill a person and then found it to be redeeming. There is way more mysterious stuff going on there. If we were to make the event of Jesus crucifixion as normative for how God always works or what he desires then we would have to come to other conclusions like human sacrifice is ok or acceptable to God (it’s clearly not and we don’t see Jesus death as the same as if someone were to sacrifice a human being to God to appease him) or that suicide is ok or has redemptive value (what else could you call it if Jesus is willfully seeking to be killed he has to allow them to kill him). Of course we realize something entirely different is going on there and we don’t try it press it further.

    One of the articles from Piper is there to show that God is not schizophrenic by saying that although God generically desires one thing, he in fact specifically ordains that other things happen instead. Unfortunately this approach tries to harmonize verses to make that happen. Are there verses that seem to support determinism or that suggest that God is behind thing or that people aren’t acting according to their own free will? Sure? But there are also plenty of verses where it shows God desiring, hoping, even EXPECTING his people to do otherwise so that he won’t have to judge them and yet we don’t some how think he is actually causing them to do just the opposite of what he specifically (not generically) wants them to do.

    Like I said there are verses on both sides and I think it is unwise to try and harmonize them with each other. Here is one from Jeremiah 3:6-7?

    6 During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there.
    7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it.

    How do you explain this? How do you harmonize it with other verses? Why would you want to?

    In the end if you want Mohler to get better then pray that God heals him. Don’t worry about what God’s will is in this specific circumstance. We see over and over in scripture that sickness is not God’s will or design for his people and unless you get some sort of prophetic word from God telling you he has made Mohler sick and not to pray for him (which I would still question) then pray like his health depends on it. Call the elder to anoint him with oil and lay hands on him. You shouldn’t have to second-guess yourself on such a crucial issue. I know in my time of sickness I don’t want someone who is going to doubt whether they should pray for me or ask whether this is in accord with God’s will or worrying that they are somehow praying against God’s will. I just want someone who is having faith and believing that God is going to do something miraculous in my life.

    Bryan L

  • Lucas Knisely


    I am going to continue to point out, in front of everyone, that you publicly slandered me and attacked me with your comment here and I confronted you here.

    You claim Christ, yet ignore a brother who is seeking reconciliation for a wrong you committed against him. That is troubling.

  • Bryan L


    Thanks for the links. Unfortunately I didn’t get them until after my last post. But I wanted to highlight a few quotes from the 1st article by Piper:

    “You hate what God wills to happen if he wills that you hate what he wills to happen. God might will something precisely so that you would hate it.”

    “We must be careful not to oversimplify things to where we can’t hate something and be thankful for it at the same time. You can hate something and consider it evil and yet still see it as an expression of God’s will.”

    “In fact, one of the reasons he leaves Satan marauding in the world is precisely so that there would be an occasion for me to declare myself to be morally against evil. If there were no evil there then that kind of dynamic wouldn’t even happen.”

    This stuff doesn’t sound silly to any of you?

    Again one of the problems I see with his article is that it uses the crucifixion as a paradigm for how God acts in the world in terms of ordaining and willing things. It takes something that is a mystery and then tries to extrapolate principles for how God operates in the world with regards to evil. Again I think it is stretching it too far in directions it wasn’t meant to go. Just my opinion though.

    Bryan L

  • Kevin J


    I respect your opinion and I would agree if John Piper’s statements were not backed up by scripture (and logical reason as well).

    How would we know what “good” is if there were not “evil”? How would we know what “grace” is if there were no need for “forgiveness”? How would we need “forgiveness” if there were no “sin”? How would their be “sin” if there were no “Satan”?

    Why does God allow the “heathen to rage and the people to imagine vain things”

    Romans 9:19 – 24 (ESV) 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

    Verses 22-24 explain why God allows evil and also backs up what John Piper said – in my opinion.

  • Bryan L

    Let’s be honest neither of them were innocent in that back and forth. Go read the exchange from the beginning. They both acted ugly towards each other and were both equally culpable for any wrong done. No one is really taking the high road or humble path here. Can y’all either kiss and make up, stop talking to each other, or just move on?

    Bryan L

  • mike

    From a brother to a brother. I understand what you are saying. I dont agree with a lot of peoples attitudes and responses on this blog (yes, I am very much including myself).
    Remember, humilty comes before honor. I would like to encourage you to drop it. 🙂
    Brett IS a brother also.

  • Lucas Knisely

    I guess Denny disabled using html tags for hyperlinks. My response wasn’t showing up. Here it is without html…

    I have a duty to not let this go, Mike. The following will show how many insults and attacks I have already let go.

    The first encounter can be found in Denny’s post on Calvinism in the SBC:
    The first thing I said to Brett:
    Brett’s response (uncharitable and he doesn’t really respond):
    My response (I point out he has been uncharitable to me and others):
    Brett apologizes (he also passively insults everyone who has been disagreeing with him):

    We went back and forth a few more times on “The Docrtines of Grace”, but nothing really happens.

  • Lucas Knisely

    Sorry… gotta break this up into 3 parts.

    Our second encounter can be found in Denny’s post on Romney’s speech:
    My first comment to Brett:
    Brett’s response (he accuses me of being arrogant and prideful):
    I shook my head at him.
    He responded with another insult:
    I bow out:
    He insults me some more:

    Hopefully everyone can see the pattern emerging.

  • Lucas Knisely

    Our third encounter can be found in Denny’s post about D.A Carson:
    My first comment (I admit, it’s sarcastic):
    Brett proceeds to “keep score” and I respond. I admit, I was sarcastic and it was ultimately pointless.
    The next thing that happens is Brett has an encounter with Tristan where he refuses to respond to Tristan’s questions. Why? Probably for the same reason Brett didn’t respond to my comments about Calvinism.
    I then asked a short and simple question:
    Brett then slanders and attacks my character:
    I respond:

    It should be obvious at this point that I have done nothing to deserve what Brett said to me. The way he has treated me is wrong, plain and simple.

    You may need to scroll up to view all 3 parts. I had to break it up.

  • Quixote


    Thanks for the post (prompted by my previous question). I’ve hesitated to leave a serious response, since it seems your comment thread has unfortunately deteriorated into a juvenile cock fight.

    Thanks for attempting to provide a satisfactory answer. Sadly, I wasn’t satisified. If I thought my comments would be handled seriously, I would consider elaborating and further carrying on a discussion. But I’m going to leave with a sincere “thanks for trying.” And applaud your patience at comments that at times must sadden you as to our society’s current crop of would-be theologians.

  • Kevin Jones


    Sorry we could not satisfy you. It is kinda ironic that the person asking for an answer would know when they get the correct answer.

    If you know what the correct answer is then why ask?

    I know this sounds sarcastic but I am serious. How would you know when you are satisfied if you do not know the correct answer?

  • Benjamin A


    Kevin Jones does make a good point.

    However, I’m sorry you didn’t feel you could join in the conversation. If any of my comments pushed you away- my apologies.

    Don’t allow a few negative comments to prevent you from adding your thoughts.

    Hope to hear from you in the future.

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