What undermines and is the biggest flaw in Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism is how it makes the problem of evil worse. The sovereignty that many Neo-Calvinists adhere to in the end creates determinism and shares more in common with Sunni Islam. To illustrate how Neo-Calvinism makes the problem of evil worse I am going to look at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting committed by Adam Lanza on December 14, 2012. I will also look at how John Piper responded to it.
“Which means that the murders of Newtown are a warning to me — and you. Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved.”
John Piper on how Newtown was a warning by God
“So the answer to the question in the title of this message, “Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be?” is no, just the opposite. God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil. The effort to absolve him by denying his foreknowledge of sin (as we saw this afternoon) or by denying his control of sin (which we have seen this evening) is fatal, and a great dishonor to his word and his wisdom.”
John Piper on God ordaining evil
John 11:35 NKJV
How Newtown broke on CNN
9-1-1 calls made during Newtown shooting
Adam Lanza was born on April 22, 1992 to Peter and Nancy Lanza in New Hampshire and in the course of time would be a very troubled individual with a whole host of issues. Early on in life he was diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder when he started elementary school, which made him extremely sensitive to sight, touch and smell. In 2002 Peter and Nancy Lanza separated when Adam was in the fifth grade. At the age of thirteen he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and later on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Adam’s OCD was so severe that he changed socks 20 times a day and his mother did three loads of laundry each day. Treatment however ended when his mother Nancy objected and had it stopped. It was also suspected by Peter’s father that Adam may have also had schizophrenia. Adam was taken out of school and home schooled by his mother and father. Adam really did not have any close friends save one. Nancy spent all her time dealing with Adam, and for stress relief liked to go to the shooting range. The support Peter gave her as part of the divorce settlement allowed her to retire and focus on her son Adam.
At home Adam spent most of his time in his room playing violent video games. Black garbage bags covered the windows and people were not allowed inside his room. He communicated with his mother by email. He became obsessed with violence and death and allegedly created a spreadsheet where he researched and tracked the history of mass shootings. He was deeply inspired by the Columbine and the Northern Illinois University mass shooting in 2008 incidents. He refused to have a Christmas tree in the house and was incredibly picky about eating food. In 2010 Adam had a falling out with his father Peter and refused to interact with him, despite Peter’s attempts to do so. He also cut himself off from his brother Ryan Lanza. In June of 2012 Adam Lanza had a falling out with his one and only friend over a movie.
December 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School
On December 14, 2012 Adam Lanza entered his mother’s bedroom. Then while she was sleeping in bed he shot her in the head four times. Investigators don’t know exactly when Adam murdered his mother. That Friday morning he grabbed three guns from the house including a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle and two handguns and got in his mother’s car and drove 5 miles to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he arrived. Earlier that year as fate would have it Sandy Hook had just installed a new security system, and the doors were closed and locked. At about 9:35 in the morning Adam took his Bushmaster AR-15 and shot his way through a glass panel and opened the door. He was wearing black clothing, yellow ear plugs, sunglasses and carrying magazines for his rifle. Meanwhile at 9:35 in the morning Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were meeting with other faculty members when they heard the shooting. Concerned, Hochsprung, Sherlach and the lead teacher Natalie Hammond went into the main hallway to investigate. There they ran into Adam Lanza holding his assault rifle. The three women called out “Shooter! Stay put!” and this alerted the other individuals in the meeting. Lanza killed Hochsprung, and Sherlach. Hammond was shot in the leg and then again and laid injured in the hall way and when he Lanza left crawled back into the conference room and leaned against the door to keep him out. Sandy Hook’s janitor Rick Thorne encountered Lanza and yelled at him, “Put the gun down!” The intercom in the office was turned on. As a result teachers and students in the classroom heard the shooting and they started to react. After killing the principal and school psychologist of Sandy Hook Adam Lanza walked into the main office. School nurse Sarah (Sally) Cox hid under a desk and hoped Lanza would not find her. She saw his boots and knew he was 20 feet away. Adam never saw her and walked out of the office. Both Sarah Cox and Barbara Halstead called 9-1-1 and hid in the first aid supply closet for as long as four hours. While this was going on Rick Thorne was running through Sandy Hook alerting people to the situation.
The classroom that Adam entered was the first grade. Lauren Rousseau who was a substitute teacher had herded her students into the back of the room and was trying to hide them into a bathroom. Lanza forced his way into the classroom and killed all 15 students. Later on the teachers were found crowded in the bathroom as they were killed also. One six year old girl survived by playing dead in the corner. Later on when she was re-united with her mother she said, “Mommy I’m okay but all my friends are dead.” Another witness also heard a student plead for help saying that he didn’t want to be there. In return allegedly Lanza taunted him.
Lanza then went to another first-grade classroom, the one of Victoria Leigh Soto. Today there are conflicting reports about what happened. According to some reports Victoria Leigh Soto hid some of the students in a closet or bathroom, and others were hiding under their desks. Soto was walking to the door to lock it when Lanza entered the classroom. Lanza supposedly walked to the back of the classroom and shot the children hiding under their desks. Jesse Lewis who was a first-grade student shouted to his classmates to run for safety. Several students did and Lanza fatally shot Lewis as he was looking at him. That is one account, the other account goes like this in regards to what happened in Victoria Leigh Soto’s classroom. Lanza came in and no one said anything and all the students were sitting in the back of the room. Lanza stared at people but didn’t fire at him. The boy got up and bolted out of the classroom and survived. Those who survived in this classroom did so because they ran when Lanza stopped shooting and was re-loading. Victoria Leigh Soto put herself between Landa and some of the students and for that act of incredible bravery Lanza killed her. In another classroom first grade teacher Kaitlin Roig hid 14 students in a bathroom and barricaded the door. She told the students to remain absolutely quiet to be safe. Lanza walked past her room because the door was closed and the window covered and it is believed that he assumed that the room was empty.
At 9:39 a.m. the first police responded and arrived on site at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At 9:40 Lanza went into one of the classrooms and took a gun and committed suicide. This was the final shot that people heard. The toll was beyond comprehension. In five minutes 20 children were killed along with six adults, plus he had also killed his mother in his sleep earlier. Connecticut State Police were shortly on the scene. The reaction was stunning and unthinkable, the loss of life staggering. The community of Newtown grieved and it was in the national spot light for this incredible act of evil. Over the next few days there would be a memorial service, talks by President Obama and funerals would start to take place. The nation would mourn and this would be one of the most horrific mass shootings in United States history. On December 14, 2012 President Obama cried on national television in discussing the situation. Later on Adam Lanza’s father gave an interview to the New Yorker in which he said he wished his son was never born.
John Piper’s Response to Sandy Hook and his Thoughts on the Problem of Evil
While the President wiped tears from his face on national television and the nation was horrified John Piper issued two articles. Here is the first one for your reference. In this essay I am going to focus on the second one. On December 15, John Piper published, “A Lesson for All from Newtown.” In that essay he makes his claim that we’re all sinful and that the Newtown shooting were a picture of our own corruption. Maybe its me, but sometimes I read John Piper’s stuff and I scratch my head and ask, “what the hell is he saying?” Yes we are all sinful I am not disputing that at all. While we maybe sinful not all of us are capable of going into an elementary school and committing a massacre like Adam Lanza did. We are all not that depraved. From my vantage point Adam Lanza did what he did because he was dealing with mental health issues. But what really stood out for me is this next and last paragraph which I want to identify.
Which means that the murders of Newtown are a warning to me — and you. Not a warning to see our schools as defenseless, but to see our souls as depraved. To see our need for a Savior. To humble ourselves in repentance for the God-diminishing bitterness of our hearts. To turn to Christ in desperate need, and to treasure his forgiveness, his transforming, and his friendship.
Now let’s stop and think about what John says here. What does he mean when he says that the Newtown murder are a warning to him and me? What does he mean by warning? If the Newtown murders are a warning by God what does that mean? I would suggest that what it means is that if the shootings are a warning that would mean that God orchestrated and planned the event. God had to put Newtown in motion in order to communicate his “warning.” If the Lord ordained evil does it mean that Adam Lanza’s rampage was an act of worship to God? In John Piper’s world I would suggest that yes, it is. But there is more that John Piper writes in regards to evil. In 1998 he gave a talk that was published as “Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained That Evil Be?” In that talk John Piper explains how the Lord ordains evil. He borrows from Jonathan Edwards (who is vastly over-rated in my opinion…) to discuss how God controls all things, including evil. That includes both moral evil and natural evil. In that talk he calls out Greg Boyd and says that all evil has a plan according to God. In quoting Job so heavily especially in which he implies that it is wrong to question God I would propose that John Piper’s theology has more in common with Sunni Islam. Like the Muslim you submit, no questions asked. In the post he quotes from Charles Spurgeon when asked if all that is being taught is fatalism and determinism. He later says that Jonathan Edwards is correct in that “God decrees all sin.” I would also suggest that John struggles in saying that sin being willed by God is different than God being the author of sin. I think John Piper is dancing on the head of a pin. Its a theological version of how Bill Clinton once said, “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’, is.” However here is the other problem that John has..is he redefining sin? If God ordains evil is he re-classifying sin to state that evil is good and good is evil? He then goes on and says that God ordains evil to be. I would encourage you to read the entire article.
So in the case of Newtown God willed it according to John Piper’s theology. In the end Adam Lanza was just an extension of God who was doing the Lord’s will. In the world of John Piper when evil acts are committed they are a form of worship to God. Its the opposite of saying “whatever you do for the least of these you do for me.” In the case of John Piper’s theology since the Lord ordains evil you go out and commit evil. In the process you have no free will. But if we’re ordained to practice evil I wonder if that is why John Piper stands by and supports C.J. Mahaney. Did the Lord ordain C.J. Mahaney’s corruption and his allegations of covering up child sex abuse? If the Lord did that is that why John Piper defends C.J. Mahnaey? If the Lord has willed that the Mahaney allegedly cover up child sex abuse, can one say that C.J. is worshiping God by allegedly covering up child sex abuse? There is a process to illustrating how Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism makes the problem of evil worse. I want to illustrate that in the next section.
How Neo-Calvinism Makes the Problem of Evil Worse in a Step by Step Process
Many of the Neo-Calvinists under John Piper’s spell and Kool Aid have bought into a form of sovereignty that is deeply flawed. In this view of sovereignty God ordains and knows all things in advance. In many instances he wills them to be. Many Calvinists take comfort in these answers but there is a very dark side that exists. While it can be comforting to know that the Lord ordained your job, provided you a wife or more, the tricky part is what do you do with the problem of evil in that frame of mind? If God ordains and creates all things that must mean that he ordains evil as well. Correct?
What happens is that the Neo-Calvinist is forced on a slippery slope to defend the indefensible. In order to create a God who ordains all things that must mean that this God also ordains evil as well. You can not divorce the two. Here is how the problem of evil is made worse. There is a process that one has to follow:
- God ordains things and is in control of everything. His sovereignty is in control of everything. As R.C. Sproul has said God is in control of every molecule. So you have a sovereignty that that now allows for determinism and fatalism. Here is how the process works.
- Since God is in control of everything he thus wills evil to happen. So in the case of Newtown God willed it to be, and desired it to happen. Free will is eliminated in this form of theology. He must out evil in motion.
- Since God desires evil to happen that means that God is not just and that he lies. It also means that when in Titus where it says God does not lie, that God is in conflict with scripture. God doesn’t desire good in the end God desires evil.
- The instruments of the evil which God ordains now come into play. Since God wills evil and orders it the actors become crucial. They are now doing God’s will. In the case of Newtown what it would mean in the fatalist world view of John Piper is that Adam Lanza was doing the Lord’s will. Since God ordained evil, Adam become the actor that carried it out. Since Adam Lanza went on a shooting spree in an elementary school in the end that shooting spree is a form of worship to the Lord. Since the Lord wills evil, Adam honored the Lord by carrying out his act.
- Evil and Good in this scenario can be twisted. For example good can become “evil” and evil now becomes “good.” In this scenario words are redefined. Since the Lord redefines evil that is what honors him.
- In the end you have a twisted and corrupted God. A God who is a monster. A God who delights in people’s suffering and pain. A God who enjoys other peoples’ pain.
- Here is the other problem that needs to be raised…if the Lord ordains everything can people be held accountable for their actions? Will people like Adolf Hitler, Mohammed Atta, or others be held responsible for their action? If the Lord ordained that C.J. Mahaney would engage in alleged criminal activity and cover up child sex abuse should he face punishment by God?
Its a step by step process and you have to follow the steps. I would suggest that John Piper is in the final step. His God is a monster, and its why when disasters occur he issues the idiotic statements he does. In the end John Piper is nothing but the Neo-Calvinist Pat Robertson. I would further suggest that the theology of John Piper has much more in common with Sunni Islam than with historic Christianity. Like the Muslim in Lahore, Pakistan or Jetta, Saudi Arabia you willingly submit to what the Lord desires. This is often referred to as the Islamization of Christianity. But what does it mean in the Neo-Calvinist movement? Glad you asked! That is the next segment I want to explore.
Neo-Calvinism and the Problem of Evil
What undermines the Neo-Calvinist movement is the problem of evil. The Neo-Calvinist theology makes the problem of evil worse and there are a number of articles or sermons that I can pull from to help illustrate my point. This is but a sampling.
Tabor Laughlin wrote a post at Desiring God called “The Day I Dug my Daughter’s Grave.” In that post he writes that while he and his wife planned to have a child the Lord had other plans. In this case the Lord planned for his wife to have a miscarriage and to lose their child at 5 months. The tone of the article left me with the impression that the author praised God for the loss of his child. If so, that is how someone in Reformed Theology/Neo Calvinism should react. They are responding to God’s will. The Gospel Coalition had another humdinger called “Miscarriage and the Confusion of Sinful Grief.” In that article it asks the question if its okay to deal with your sin while you are grieving. In that article it also refers to a miscarriage. I am not going to dive into that article as its been talked about already at The Wartburg Watch in this post here.
Then there was this audio at The Gospel Coalition that featured Matt Chandler, John Piper and David Platt. The title of the talk is called “Why ‘God Didn’t Ordain That Tragedy’ Is Terrible News.” In that talk Piper and Chandler speak how God even ordains our suffering. My question which I would love to ask Matt Chandler one day is this…if the Lord ordained his brain tumor can one say that he sinned in seeking medical treatment and having it removed. If the Lord really did ordain that Matt Chandler was to have a brain tumor shouldn’t Matt just have submitted to the will of God and let the brain tumor take his life? This blog writes about issues in the Evangelical Free Church of America. There was a fascinating situation in California where the largest infrastructure project is going on in the United States. A strong Calvinist church under the influence of John MacArthur was all about God’s sovereignty until the state of California wanted to build a high speed railroad through the church. You can read that post which is called, “The Church of the Canyons, The California High Speed Rail Project and my Question to Senior Pastor Bob Childress: Is the Lord Still Sovereign?“
Since the Lord ordains everything in the end you have a faith system which is nothing but determinism and fatalism. So what does that mean if you are into Neo-Calvinism or Reformed Theology?
- The fall of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 was ordained b the Lord. If you had a relative who was employed at Cantor Fitzgerald God ordained an Al Qaeda terrorist to fly a 767 into a skyscraper.
- The mass shootings in the Navy Yard, or San Bernardino were ordained by the Lord and orchestrated for a purpose.
- Your rape or child molestation was ordained by the Lord for his will. Hey John Piper even said that your molestation will be wasted if you don’t use if for God’s glory. Don’t believe me read this article on The Wartburg Watch called, “John Piper Explains God’s Will in Scrabble and Child Molestation and We Pick Up the Pieces.”
- Lose your daughter to a drunk driver, well it was ordained by the Lord.
I could go on and on, but I think I have made my point. I firmly reject this theology as in the end you have a system in place that is nothing but a Calvinist version of fundamentalism. I say that knowing that fundamentalism comes in all different shapes and sizes. There is a good blog post a while back called “John Piper and Divine Command” which explores this issue at an atheist blog. One of the greatest tragedies of this theology is that for many atheists and those of the secular camp this determinist theology gives them reasons to reject the Christian faith. As for me I reject this view, I realized during my faith crisis that the theology I was being exposed to was not just fundamentalism but determinism. As to how one should process pain and suffering I wrote a post that explores that topic which you can read. Its called “Thoughts on Pain and Suffering: Differing Perspectives from Scott Hamilton, Ben Petrick, and Derek and David Carr.” The Lord I believe is with us in the pain, and weeps when we weep. He suffers with us. It a hard topic and one of the greatest and legitimate challenges that Christianity faces. With that I will leave you with two vides to consider. The first one deals with a perspective from Sandy Hook by the family who lost a loved one. Then I will leave you with Natalie Grant. If you agree feel free to state and if you disagree feel free to speak your mind. Take care guys and know that I love you.