Gottschalk taught a heresy called “predestinarianism.” In short, the heresy teaches double predestination (God decides both who is saved and who is not) with a twist. Ironically, some people take issue with double predestination itself, which they do so in error. If God predestines an elect, then by default all those who are not predestined are damned.
If simple logic is not convincing enough, then clearly the example of Esau and Jacob, both sinful men from the same womb, should be enough to settle the issue. God chose one, and in doing so because He has perfect foreknowledge, rejected the other.
However, predestinarianism is not simply double predestination. Predestinarianism teaches that God compels the unbeliever to be wicked.
Now, at first glance, this might not even appear wrong. God hardens whom He wills. If He hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that He will not repent, it awfully sounds like he is being compelled to do evil.
Cooler heads have helped explain what is really going on. John Stott writes:
“Neither here nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself.” That Pharaoh hardened his heart against God and refused to humble himself is made plain in the story. So God’s hardening of him was a judicial act, abandoning him to his own stubbornness.
Other theologians, like R.C. Sproul, teach the same thing under something I call “passive hardening.” Sproul writes:
About the only restraint there was on Pharaoh’s wickedness was the holy arm of God. All God had to do to harden Pharaoh further was to remove his arm. The evil inclinations of Pharaoh did the rest.
This idea is an old one, acknowledged by even Martin Luther:
Since, therefore, God moves and does all in all, He necessarily moves and does all in Satan and the wicked man. But He so does all in them, as they themselves are, and as He finds them: that is, as they are themselves averse and evil, being carried along by that motion of the Divine Omnipotence, they cannot but do what is averse and evil. Just as it is with a man driving a horse lame on one foot, or lame on two feet; he drives him just so as the horse himself is; that is, the horse moves badly. But what can the man do? He is driving along this kind of horse together with sound horses; he, indeed, goes badly, and the rest well; but it cannot be otherwise, unless the horse be made sound (Section LXXXIV,Bondage of the Will).
Imagine my surprise when listening to one of John Piper’s sermons on Romans, he explicitly contradicts standard orthodox theology. In response to Stott’s comment he says:
Let me say this calmly and firmly: That is exactly the opposite of what Romans 9:18 teaches…How easily Paul could have answered the objection with all the answers of modern man! And he didn’t. Because they are the wrong answer. (…)
Just before the verse that Paul quotes (Exodus 9:16) it says, for example, in Exodus 9:12, “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” The key here is the phrase “as the Lord had spoken to Moses.” When had God said to Moses that Pharaoh would harden his heart and not listen to them? Two times: one of them before Moses had ever arrived in Egypt (the other in 7:3 before any mention is made of Pharaoh’s self-hardening).
In Exodus 4:21 Moses is preparing to go to Egypt, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.’” The reason this is so important is that time after time you hear people say that God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart doesn’t start until the seventh plague and is the result of his own self-hardening.
But that that is not true. God said to Moses before he ever arrived in Egypt: This is what I am going to do. I am going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. And this is what happens in the very first meetings with Pharaoh, not just the later ones:
Before the first plague. Exodus 7:13, “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.”
After the first plague. Exodus 7:22, “But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.”
After the second plague. Exodus 8:15, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.”
After the third plague. Exodus 8:19, “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
And in every case what the Lord had said was, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (4:21; see 7:3). The point is this: whether it says Pharaoh hardened his heart (8:15) or that his heart “was hardened” (8:19) in each case it is happening “as the Lord had said,” and what he had said was, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” Which means that behind “self-hardening” and behind the “being hardened” is the plan and purpose of God. It is not described as a response to what Pharaoh does, but as a sovereign rule over what Pharaoh does. Paul sees this and draws it out and states it in Romans 9:18, “[God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”
Now, at first glance there is nothing technically wrong with the above. What Piper is saying, in short, is that that God had His mind set on hardening Pharaoh’s before He did anything such as harden His own heart. So, in that sense, the act was not specifically judicial.
However, this does not appear to be his point specifically. He comments:
I have not removed a mystery, I have stated a mystery. God hardens unconditionally and those who are hardened are truly guilty and truly at fault in their hard and rebellious hearts. Their own consciences will justly condemn them. If they perish, they will perish for real sin and real guilt. How God freely hardens and yet preserves human accountability we are not explicitly told.
The clear inference, in my mind, is that God actively hardened Pharaoh, even before he hardened himself. If Pharaoh was simply arrogant and unfeeling towards his slaves (as he surely was) God looking down the corridors of time easily could have seen how he would respond. So, instead of giving him the grace to react positively, He judicially left him to his own desserts. This is a simple enough response that squares both God’s freedom to harden while preserving human accountability. This clearly is how Sproul and Stott view the issue, something that Piper is obviously not unaware of.
But, instead of giving this simple response, Piper shrouds the whole matter in “mystery.” There appears to be a good reason for it: Because God’s active hardening of men is a heresy denounced historically by the Church. In the sixth century, the Second Council of Orange, which settled the semi-Pelagian controversey, stated:
We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.
Obviously, God foreordains evil. I mean, look at Job. However, God does not actively do it by His own power. Piper’s unease in saying the obvious and instead shrouding God’s hardening in mystery increases the probability that he adheres to predestinarianism.
Then there is DesiringGod.com contributor Tony Reinke who was asked whether God actively hardens hearts. His response?
“Without question, the answer is yes, he does.” He then quoted one of Piper’s books in support of this view. However, when you actually read the passages in question, Piper is equally vague. But, the fact is that the following words leave us with little doubt that he believes that God actively does the hardening:
Who is doing the hardening? Forster and Marston assume it is Pharaoh and not God [“the hardening of man by God appears as self-hardening.”] But in view of the prediction of 4:21 (“I will harden”) this assumption loses its plausibility.
How can we know this is wrong other than the obvious historical witness of the Church? I will list five simple proofs:
- In Romans 1, the wicked are “handed over” to their own sins. No where does Paul say God made them sin, but rather God gave them over to their own depraved minds. Clearly, Paul is speaking of God doing something similar in Romans 9. I do not see the reason that God would go about hardening hearts any differently than He does eight chapters previously. Further, it is worth noting, that in Rom 1 hardening is a judicial act. It seems strange that, for Pharaoh, it would be different for some reason.
- Psalm 81:11-12 explicitly endorses passive hardening: “My people did not listen to My voice, And Israel did not obey Me. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, To walk in their own devices.”
- In 2 Thes 2:12, God sends a deluding influence. The fact that God Himself does not delude such people is proof that God is not the active agent.
- This deluding influence can be seen in the episode of Micaiah the prophet and King Ahab in 2 Chron 18 and 2 Kings 22. The Scripture says that the demon told God : “I will go and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.” God then gives the demon permission: “You are to entice him and prevail also. Go and do so” (2 Chron 18:21). So, God permits evil but He does not need to put it in Ahab’s heart that He may do so.
- In the Book of Job, we can see precisely how this works. Job’s wife curses God because of circumstances God allowed Satan to affect. Eliphaz speaks blasphemous lies with encouragement from a demonic vision in the night that He allowed to occur. Job doubts God’s righteousness, because his life is a mess, his health is failing, and he is terrified by dreams. God did all of this without actively doing anything do anyone.
So, with such a great witness, why would a man as intelligent as Piper dabble with the idea of active hardening? Why does he employ those who endorse it? Why does he contradict those who teach passive hardening in favor of active hardening, an idea found nowhere explicitly in the Bible?
I do not know. It is just my hope and prayer that all Christians pray for their teachers and take care to stay within the pale of historic Christian orthodoxy. If we do not we are liable to ascribe to God things not fitting to His revealed nature.
One last note. I think a situation like this one gives us reason not to place our confidence in men, no matter how smart. We need to seek God in His Scriptures. God alone does not make mistakes.