Thursday, August 13, 2009

Here we go again, again: the illusion of human sovereignty among those who should know better

I'll never get over this. Who are the last people in the world you'd expect to think that Person A can cause Person B to be faithful or faithless from the heart?

Me, I'd nominate hardcore Calvinists.

Not unlikely as to their temperaments, but in terms of their (our) professed doctrine. Calvinists (claim that we) believe in a big mighty sovereign God, and a small weak dependent creature-man. We believe that the human heart is depraved, dead, rebellious. We believe the heart can only be changed by a mighty act of the sovereign grace of God, an act so radical that it is more like resurrection than plastic surgery or a makeover.


I've already once been compelled to go on at great length when razor-brained wordmaster Doug Wilson immediately and eo ipso blamed Todd Palin for Bristol's sexual immorality. Daughter sinned, blame Dad. Boom!

And now that good man has done it again (I infer from the title) and again (check my comments for the remark I target).

In both cases, if you're interested, I'll refer you to my remarks in the comment threads. What never ceases to amaze me (besides the position itself) is the argument (and kinds of argument) I get for — to my mind — pointing out the Biblically-obvious.

I'll close by quoting, well, myself from the second meta:

I think it is a pan-Biblical verity that you can never be assured of drawing a straight line between cause and effect in relationships. God has a human son (Luke 3:38) who sins in spite of perfect fathering, who has a son who is saved in spite of imperfect fathering. There's your template.

My great task — whether as a husband, father, pastor, friend or neighbor — is to trust and obey. I will be judged for that, and not for what others do in response to that.

If God did not use means, the Proverbial charges to me as a father would be meaningless. If means were sovereignly effective, the charges to my son to heed, listen, receive, memorize, learn and obey would be equally meaningless.
If I may ask it, ponder that last paragraph in particular.

I still note that God has no grandchildren. I still note that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17) — not "by the word of Christ skillfully applied by techniques you can read about in my books."

I think many Christians go into parenting thinking a particular formula will yield particular results. Then life actually happens, field work doesn't quite fall into line with that nifty parenting book they read, and they wise up.

But, apparently, not all of them do.

God help the heartbroken mother or father — well, especially father — with an apostate child, who limps over to such a Christian for encouragement and help. Heaven only will tell the full tale of destruction this line of thinking has done to individuals... and marriages ("Yes, that's right, Mrs. ____; if your husband had been a better father, this wouldn't have happened, and your heart wouldn't be in a billion pieces!")

Theology has practical implications. Bad theology has terrible practical implications.

I really would have expected hardcore Calvinists to figure that one out, too.


GrammaMack said...

Amen, and thank you.

JSA said...

I don't get it. You seem to be saying that Doug is wrong to blame a father for his child's behavior, but then you go on to blame Doug for unspecified damage to unspecified others, with this:

"God help the heartbroken mother or father — well, especially father — with an apostate child, who limps over to such a Christian for encouragement and help. Heaven only will tell the full tale of destruction this line of thinking has done to individuals".

In other words, Todd Palin has no responsibility for his influence over his daughter's behavior, but Doug has responsibility for his influence over other people's behavior?

Not trying to be argumentative; this is a sincere question.

NoLongerBlind said...

The power of (supposedly meaningless) words.

If I'm getting your point, this whole discussion would be quelled if the dogmatic assertion caused was replaced by the suggestive may have contributed....

Good points, here and over there; funny, how the environmental tone varies from one blog to the next........

DJP said...

Very simply resolved, Joshua.

In the one case, I am looking at horrible counsel and saying it will bear horrible fruit.

In the other, one sees horrible fruit, and just on the basis of that alone and without a shred of further evidence immediately leaps to the conclusion, "Aha! A must have done (or not done) B!"

To be specific and use your kind of example: if I were to find any member of any church in sin, and say "Boy oh boy, that pastor has a lot to answer for!" — or "A clear case of pastoral neglect!" — or any similar response; I'd be guilty of that same foolish sin. How do I know that the pastor hasn't preached against that sin, and __ has simply hardened his heart? How do I know that he hasn't tried to counsel ___ against it, and ___ has simply refused to receive correction? How do I know that Pastor X isn't about to escalate to the next level of discipline - or that he even knows about it yet? He's not God, is he? I don't think he is.

It is, in sum, the instant assumption that A must be responsible for B's sin; or that A had it in his power to prevent B from sinning.

Chris Anderson said...

Talk about kicking a sacred cow, Dan! And a rancher, to boot. :)

While I've not read all of the Wildson pieces, I agree with you in principles, as I said here.

Anonymous said...

A pattern of post hoc ergo propter hoc which I always thought was post hoc ergo procter hoc .

Whoever taught me that must have been a lousy teacher.

danny2 said...

haven't read wilson's pieces either, but this brief article is excellent. thank you dan!

bottom line: i will be responsible for my failures as a father. my children will be responsible for how they respond to my failures.

praying my children will join me in begging God to forgive me of my failures through the work of Jesus on the Christ...and because that's my heart, i pray i continue to constantly present that message to my children!!!!

threegirldad said...

Still waiting for "Valerie (Kyriosity)" to explain what she finds fault with in those three paragraphs...

DJP said...

Chris Anderson — that's a terrific post. I'd encourage my readers to check it out.

The connection you make to Finney is very apposite; I also don't think Proverbs 22:6 is a guarantee (it's actually a warning); and of course I love the Princess Bride allusion.

DJP said...

Oh and Chris: interesting, isn't it, how we both independently end our articles on the exact same point?

DJP said...

Amen, Danny.

Chris Anderson said...

First, my typo "Wildson" was timely. Freudian slip. :)

Second, Dan we think very much alike. Which frightens me. :) Like they say, "Great minds think alike." And like I say, "So do befuddled ones."

DJP said...

My dear wife and I say "Fools seldom differ."

It's gotten apocopated over the years. When we have the same thought, one will say "Great minds," to which the other offers the countersign "Fools seldom."

Terry Rayburn said...


While you're points about the illusion of human sovereignty are right on, I don't get why you would expect otherwise from Doug Wilson.

He is a false teacher (not a "hardcore Calvinist") who believes in salvation by grace + faith + works.

Specifically, he believes in salvation through union with Christ through water baptism, thereby entering into "the Covenant", whereupon one who is "in union" with Christ may willfully sin his way back out of union with Christ and end up in the lake of fire.

Why Bible-believing Christians even give him the time of day is beyond me.

Maybe it's because of his "razor brain"?

Terry Rayburn said...

Sorry, make that "your points"...

David Kyle said...

Dan I apppreciate your post and agree with it, but how does that reconcile with the qualifications Paul lists for a pastor in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1?

Don't those passages make the father responsible for the child's behavior and/or lack of conversion?

Aaron said...

I like Wilson generally, but the blogs (as well as the related posts by his wife and daughter) seem filled with a lot more psychology than Scripture. And sometimes their logic totally escapes me.

Whenever I think of parenting, I'm reminded of my own shortcomings, not as a father, but as a child. My parents forced me to go to church every Sunday, taught me about chastity, made me memorize Bible verses, etc. And when I turned 18, I ran as quickly as I could to do exactly the opposite. So a father can do everything he thinks is right with the best intentions, and yet have a child do the exact things he was trying to prevent.

Now I'm very sensitive when others tell me how to parent. Somehow many people think there is a specific forumula you must apply, like reading to your one year old everynight from the KJV (hyperbole). I have to tell can use the exact same recipe for biscuits in Denver as you do in Houston, but they wont come out the same.

Aaron said...


Go to Pyromaniacs (Dan's other blog) for June or July and see Frank Turk's series on those qualifications. It might help answer your question.

DJP said...

Terry, I don't overall "get" Wilson. I started reading him because Frank Turk likes him, which is a big plus with me. His responses to Christopher Hitchens were devastating, instructive and deft. His political/cultural comments are often brilliant, as are other things he says.

As to what he makes of the Gospel, I haven't run into it except by hearsay. If he really believes as you say, I don't know why he hasn't been "outed" by those who have the time to study all the writings of everyone in the world. I know he's got this ongoing argument with Lane Somethingorother, "Green Baggins," in which he constantly says Lane Somethingorother doesn't understand him.

So, if you understand him and have the goods, the direct quotations, and All That, do a series of posts and tell me and I'll read it, and probably link to it.

Meanwhile, I deal with what I see - like this stuff! And boggle at how people argue with me about it. ("It" being, for instance, the substance of this post — not your question.)

CR said...

One of the most difficult biblical concepts to grasp for us is God's sovereignty and human responsibility. D. Martin Lloyd-Jones I thought put in the most succinct terms. Here is the biblical concept of God's sovereignty and human responsibility in one sentence put forth by Lloyd-Jones: God is 100% percent responsible for our salvation and we are 100% responsible for our damnation. I couldn't have said it better myself.

DJP said...

Witness, the short answer is that I don't think they're saying that children must be regenerate which, given the rest of the Bible, would be an odd requirement. I think it means faithful, specifically as defined by the following words: "having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion" (Titus 1:6 CSB). He can control their behavior, to a degree. He can't regenerate their spirits.

Paula said...

I've been pondering this recently. I wonder if we are a bit anti-Calvinist (I can't believe I'm going to say this) in our strong advocacy of homeschooling. If we're absolutely truthful, don't we, as homeschoolers, think our kids are going to turn out better than if we plop them in the government schools? Why is that? If God is sovereign, won't He have His way with them regardless of where they go to school?

I haven't quite landed on the answer to that question yet. I guess I'm leaning toward this: homeschooling has nothing to do with a child's salvation, but has something to do with his character and his ability to function as a moral and intelligent citizen.

CR said...


I concur with Dan, the short answer is those passages you cited don't make the parents responsible for their lack of conversion. As I said in a previous comment, God is totally responsible for salvation, we are totally responsible for our own damnation.

This is what parents are responsible for and commanded to do: teach their children the commandments of God. I find this fascinating because many people can probably cite the first commandment but do we all know that if we continue in Deut 6 and verse 7, if we go on in the commandment, what's included in that commandment is that we teach these things to our children?

Here is what Todd (and Sarah) Palin were completely and utterly responsible for: teach Bristol (and the rest of their children) the commandments of God. Did they do that? Honestly, I don't know. I've not read any biographies of how they do their family devotions or what have you.

Did Francis Shaeffer do that for his son? I assume yes, but honestly I don't know. I have not read any of his personal biographies or confessions from his son whether they had family devotions.

I appreciate Sir Aaron's testimony. Did Sir Aaron's parents fulfill that commandment? Given his testimony, yes. That is what parents are responsible for and commanded to do. They are not responsible for their children's conversion. The Lord is, completely and totally responsible for that.

David Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...


I lot of Christians advocate the former position. Especially when they consider homeschooling as the only option for all Christians.

I think you have the latter nailed, but I would also say that it is difficult to raise your child in the way he should go, if you send him to a place for 8-10 hours a day that blatantly teach the opposite. Not that all public schools do this, but certainly in many cases.

David Kyle said...

OK Dan, but isn't the Timothy and Titus passages holding a father responsible for what a child does to the degree of withholding a specific type of service from the father?

Why then would Paul say umm... Mr. Seeking A. Pastorate, you are disqualified from filling the pulpit because your child has chosen to drink and carouse.

Doesn't Paul expect Mr. Pastorate to influence his child to the degree of at least some outward signs of faithfulness?

Maybe I am just not getting you... sorry.

Aaron said...

You don't need "family devotions" to teach God's commandments. Duet says to teach them constantly.

Aaron said...

Not disagreeing, but claifying CR.

Aaron said...


I don't think those passages refer to adult children, but rather children still under the authority of the Father. I'll wait for Dan's comments though.

DJP said...

If a pastor has small children under his roof who are drinking and carousing then yes, that's a problem.

Remember, the norm for that culture would be marriage at a relatively young age.

Chris Anderson said...

Deja vu. Remember the post I linked to earlier? The discussion went the same way, leading to this post on leadership qualifications.

Weird, eh?

Chris Anderson said...

Note the John Gil quote from the discussion following the second link I made:

“[B]y faithful children cannot be meant converted ones, or true believers in Christ; for it is not in the power of men to make their children such; and their not being so can never be an objection to their being elders, if otherwise qualified; at most the phrase can only intend, that they should be brought up in the faith, in the principles, doctrines, and ways of Christianity, or in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

DJP said...

Something weird with the blog your links go to. Article isn't there anymore. Looks as if it's from 2006, and their archives now go only to 2008 — and no Nate.


Chris Anderson said...

Weird. Anybody know Nate that could ask him for the data?

CR said...


I think your post raises some interesting points.

The challenge I think for Christian parents who put their children in government schools is that there is less input by the parents into what goes into their education of their children. There is little bit more input by the parents in the private schools and of course in homeschooling parents have 100% input.

Unfortunately, God has been exiled out out public education. And I suppose that some who responsible for exiling God from public education thought they were doing it to be fair and neutral because of all the different religions. The problem is as we know there is no such thing as a neutral education. Since God exists, the sphere of His domain, Christ's domain, is not limited to just the church. God reigns over the entire creation and so God reigns over mathematics, science, business, law, ethics, government, culture. He reigns over all these things, or He is not God. And to learn these disciplines divorced over any reference to the Lord, you're going to have a distorted perspective of ultimate reality.

Now, that doesn't mean that Christian parents can't put their children in government schools. But you're going to have to be really involved in your child's education, go to the PTA meetings, volunteer in the classroom, monitor their homework and remind them of that ultimate reality that the Lord reigns over all these disciplines.

CR said...

Sir Aaron,

The commandment actually goes much further than what I said (not merely family devotions) and what you said. Maybe there is a little hyperbole in verse 7 of Deut 6, but the responsibility of parents is that you teach them when you sit down, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, when you rise, bind the teachings on your hand, frontlets between your eyes, write them on your door posts.

What that essentially means, and I don't think Scripture could be any clearer, it's not merely family devotions, but every time, every place and in every activity you are to teach these things. That is what is meant by sit/walk, lie down/rise. What an awesome responsibility.

Rachael Starke said...

I had a conversation once with someone who was relating how her spiritual mentor was lamenting over her mentor's son's wholehearted abandonment of the faith.

"I don't understand how this happened!" my friend said. "I mean, she homeschooled him!"

Cue my stunned silence.

Then again, she goes to one of these New Covenant churches where they talk "all of grace" and live "all of law."

Aaron said...


Yep, yep. That's why I was clarifying the use of "devotions" since I know you don't hold to the same definition of devotions as many modern evanjelly fish do (i.e. the idea that reading from a devotional book once a week is teaching commands).

Anonymous said...

I agree with your point. The fact is, "train up a child in the way he should go..." is a PROVERB not an infallible formula. I think, for instance, of Andrew Fuller's son, who was always a cause of grief to his godly father.

As a dad I hope and trust that God will be gracious as I feebly try to live my faith before my four kids and seek to instill a biblical worldview in them wherein the Cross of Christ makes sense.

Thought I'd pop in, and glad I did.

Aaron said...


Your post shares exactly my concern. Homeschooling has become a legalistic requirement of raising up a child that is held in high regard by many Christians.

P.S. I was homeschooled for a bit and I wasn't the only one from my homeschool group that ran for evil as soon as the leash was taken off. I could give a littany of advice to homeschoolers...

JSA said...

@DJP, thanks for the explanation. That does, indeed, clear things up. It's an obvious case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, as you explained, and as Stan said.

I guess I was confused by the reference to "illusion of human sovereignty" and the reference to Calvinism. I mean, it would still be post hoc ergo propter hoc if an Arminian said it -- and it's not as if Arminianism (or any other non-Calvinist theology) is defined by such logical fallacy. As a Calvinist, I could not see how this had anything at all to do with Calvinism.

Stefan Ewing said...

Speaking as someone who came to faith in Christ long after finishing school, one thing about public school is that you're exposed to a certain worldview there—to the secular way of seeing art, science, literature, human organization, and so on—so that when the time comes that you entrust yourself to Christ, you can say with confidence that you've seen what the world has to offer, but that you've found something far more precious and valuable.

I'm sure there are many blessings to being raised in a Christian home, and being homeschooled or going to a Christian school; but the one disadvantage is that the grass may appear greener on the other side of the fence, out there in the world; and/or when you go to college or university, or into the working world, you may be unequipped for the seductive allure of the philosophies and cultural phenomeno to which you're exposed.

Stefan Ewing said...

"phenomeno" ==> "phenomena"

jmb said...

I have known someone very well for over 50 years. He has seven children. He was a pastor for 18 years (proof of nothing, I know; just for the record). I've never known a more godly person or loving father, and his wife is a Proverbs 31 woman. One of his daughters, while in her 20's, has gotten pregnant twice out of wedlock, lies to everyone, and has severed connections with her family. The other children are fine.

I used to assume that, when a girl or young woman exhibited this kind of behavior, there must have been a bad father-daughter relationship. I no longer believe that. I've never seen or heard any evidence of it in this case.

We live in a sinful world. Things happen

jmb said...

Like leaving out a period.

Anonymous said...


That's it, your father is disqualified.

No PERIOID??? How can this happen?

Ahhhhh, I've got it, you weren't homeschoole .

Unknown said...

Ahhhhh, I've got it, you weren't homeschoole .

Who are you to point fingers when YOU'RE the one doing the apocopating? For shame.

(Had to go to the dictionary when I read Dan's 7:52 comment. Now I'm just showing off my new big word.)

Stefan Ewing said...


jmb said...

Daryl, I wasn't referring to my father.

Interesting how much apocopating is going on. Thanks for the new word, Dan.

DJP said...

Like I say: why go anywhere else? It's like a university on a page!

NoLongerBlind said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


Quick question about your interpretation of Proverbs 22:6, because I've heard you mention it several times but can't remember if you've made a post about it explicitly. Would you paraphrase it something like this: "Train a child to always get his way, and when he's old he's gonna keep demanding it." Just curious if I've grasped your understanding of it.

DJP said...


I haven't written a post on it yet, but I have one that's been in Draft status for a couple-few years.

The Hebrew actually isn't all that opaque; it's just that there's a strong tradition to do it as the ESV does it.

I'd suggest the translation, "Start out a boy according to his own way; Even though he may grow old, he will not turn from it."

Though it's in the form of a command, it's an ironic command (like 19:27), meant to have the opposite effect.

Susan said...

Dan on Valerie and himself: It's gotten apocopated over the years. When we have the same thought, one will say "Great minds," to which the other offers the countersign "Fools seldom."

This is going to sound not only tangential but also disrespectful, Dan, but the image that I had in my mind was a bunch of people yelling alternatively, "Less filling!" "Tastes great!"

(Sorry, Valerie.) :P

(And then I found this old gem on YouTube (waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before my time, of course....).

Anonymous said...

I also don't think Proverbs 22:6 is a guarantee..

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