Providence of God

Providence of God

Providence of God 1

The providence of God may be defined as His guardianship and care for His creatures and creation. Also, any manifestation of such care may be described as providence.

“There is probably no point at which the Christian doctrine of God comes more into conflict with contemporary worldviews than in the matter of God’s providence. Providence means that God has not abandoned the world that he created, but rather works within that creation to manage all things according to the “immutable counsel of His own will” (Westminster Confession of Faith, V, i). By contrast, the world at large, even if it will on occasion acknowledge God to have been the world’s Creator, is at least certain that he does not now intervene in human affairs. Many think that miracles do not happen, that prayer isn’t answered and that most things “fall out” according to the functioning of impersonal and unchangeable laws.”^[1]^

    Providence in All of Life, by John Frame
God’s Providence Over All, by B.B. Warfield

    Providence and Human Action, Providence and God, by John Calvin

“God’s Ever-Present Hand”Calvin on Providence (Institutes I.16-18) by John  Drury

    The Providence of God, by Loraine Boettner

    Providence (

    On Divine Providence by John Wesley

The Secret of Providence of God by John Calvin PPD  21 pages

Calvin and Calvinism by Stephen Giese

Despite the criticisms that are commonly aimed at Calvin, and whether one agrees with his theology or not, few can deny that Calvin was a man that deeply loved and intensely revered the God of the Bible.[4] Calvin’s love and utter adoration for God resonates from his written word, a refreshing reality rarely seen in contemporary theology.[5] Born out of his deep reverence for God was a commitment to a supreme being who is in exhaustive and/or meticulous control of the unfolding drama of human history.[6]

[4] Much has been written on the piety of Calvin, and appropriately so. For Calvin, “piety is unavoidably associated with doctrine, and all experience a challenge to thought. . . . Gratitude, love, and obedience are involved in this religious attitude which is the indispensable condition of a sound theology” (Institutes, Introduction, lii).

Concerning piety, Calvin writes, “I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him” (Institutes, I.2.1).

[5] This is in no way intended to be an indictment of contemporary Christian scholarship. It is merely an observation of the writing styles that we see today as compared to the writings of Calvin. Incidentally, John Piper’s writings tend to have the same passion that we see in Calvin, see for example, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2000).

[6] It’s worth noting that while the sovereignty of God clearly played a key role in Calvin’s theology, it’s probably wrong to conclude that the sovereignty of God was a unifying theme in his approach to theology. Alister McGrath appropriately writes, “Calvin scholarship possesses an abundance of studies which, presuming that there existed a unifying principle within Calvin’s thought, have proceeded to identify it in his doctrine of predestination, his doctrine of the knowledge of God, or his doctrine of the church. A more modest (and, it must be added, more realistic) approach involves conceding the obvious, and, allowing that there is no central doctrine within Calvin’s thought. The very idea of a ‘central dogma’ has its origins in the deductive monism of the Enlightenment, rather than in the theology of the sixteenth century” (Alister E. McGrath, A life of John Calvin: A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture (Cambridge: MA: Basil Black, Inc., 1990), 148-49.

Providence of God 2

As already stated, Calvin’s theological perspective was inherently deterministic. This, of course, has generated innumerable discussions and writings on related issues. Critics of Calvin and Calvinism generally focus on the alleged consequences to Calvin’s theological determinism. These consequences include the loss of human free will (libertarian), which, in turn, allegedly destroys human responsibility, and perhaps chief among the criticisms is that Calvin’s theological determinism makes God the author of evil.[11] Any study on Calvin needs to understand how Calvin dealt with these weighty issues, issues that any honest student of Calvin should recognize are serious tensions in his theology.

The tensions above have generated some of the most fiercely fought debates in contemporary theology. Indeed, the long held tension between Calvinism and Arminianism generates as much controversy today as it did in Calvin’s day. The most prominent expressions of this debate are probably most notably seen in the current discussions concerning divine foreknowledge and human freedom. Contemporary Arminianism, while far from monolithic, continues to put forth arguments concerning divine foreknowledge and human freedom (of the libertarian[12] ilk).

It is the robust conviction of Calvin, and later Calvinists, that God is the ultimate cause of all causal relations[13] that has led contemporary philosophers and theologians to put forth carefully constructed arguments for libertarian free will.[14]

We see this in Open Theism, Molinism, Ockhamism, Boethianism, and sustained arguments for God’s Simple Foreknowledge.[15] All of these views, in one way or another, strive to maintain a strong commitment to libertarian free will, a view that is fundamentally antithetical to compatiblism, the standard Calvinistic position concerning the will of man.[16]

Interestingly, and certainly noteworthy, is the fact that all of the approaches put forth to sustain libertarian freedom are steeped in philosophical speculation, something that Calvin would have adamantly opposed.

[11] Other recurring criticisms include the charge that Calvinism results in fatalism and that it renders prayer superfluous. With regard to prayer and providence, see Terrance Tiessen, Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000).

12 Lbertarian freedom may be defined as the ability to choose to perform A or to choose to not perform A. This much of the definition isn’t controversial. It however becomes controversial when it is qualified by stating that the choice to perform A or to not perform A is ultimately undetermined. In other words, if all of the antecedent casual influences were to remain the same, a person might choose to perform A or to not choose to perform A and this choice retains equal ultimacy. While libertarians tend to grant that there are cause and effect influences upon the decision making process, they claim that these cause and effect influences are not determinative. It’s important to note that there is a distinction between that which is undetermined and that which is uncaused. Libertarianism, while not a monolithic position, generally holds that our actions, choices, etc., are causally influenced, but not causally determined. What is denied is that causal influences are ultimately determinative. If this were so, libertarianism could not be maintained because libertarianism requires for human action to be undetermined. On the other hand, human actions can rightfully be said to be caused, but it must be emphasized that they are self-caused. What it means to be self-caused is a matter of considerable confusion. This delineation of libertarian freedom is essentially the same as we find in Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga asserts that if a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine that he will perform the action, or that he won’t. It is within his power, at the time in question, to take or perform the action and within his power to refrain from it. Freedom so conceived is not to be confused with unpredictability (James F. Sennett, editor, The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 27-28.

[13] Calvin writes, “Let him, therefore, who would beware of this infidelity ever remember that there is no erratic power, or action, or motion in creatures, but that they are governed by God’s secret plan in such a way that nothing happens except what is knowingly and willingly decreed by him” (Institutes I.16.3). Similarly, Calvin notes that “nothing is more absurd than that anything should happen without God’s ordaining it, because it would then happen without a cause. For this reason he excludes, also, the contingency that depends upon men’s will. . . . God’s will is the highest cause and first cause of all things—because nothing happens except from his command or permission” (I.16.8). It’s important to note that Calvin’s use of the term “permission” should not be understood to mean that God sits watching and waiting for chance events to happen and that his judgments depend on the human will. For Calvin, “permission” is somewhat synonymous with that which is ordained. See Institutes 1.18.1-4.

[14] Of course, it should be noted that much of the contemporary discussions are simply re-articulations of historic arguments.

[15] Four of the most prominent arguments concerning divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will can be found in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views ( Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001), edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy. Gregory Boyd, David Hunt, William Lane Craig, and Paul Helm make key contributions.

[16] It’s worth noting that Calvin never explicitly argues for compatibilism, though I think Paul Helm is correct when he suggests that the vast majority of Calvin scholars argue that Calvin’s views were in agreement with compatibilism. See Paul Helm, “The Augustinian Calvinist View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 162.

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