I am sure those of you with cable have noticed the last 3 years that No Limit Texas Hold’em has been prevalent on the Travel Channel, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN Classic, Fox Sports, and Bravo. Normally what you see is either the World Series of Poker or Celebrity Poker (particularly on Bravo). My sister and brother-in-law got me watching about 2 years ago (he has poker night every week too), and I have even purchased a $20 program online to play on my computer. It has gotten so popular online that people can even qualify online to get into the World Series of Poker (WSOP) where this year top prize at the Main Event was $7 Million. There is certainly a great level of skill involved, but the past two years, amateur online qualifiers have won the main event. It is beautiful because everyone has a chance to win. I have often thought of taking up online poker (which is free to play), to see if I could get good enough to qualify and get a chance at some big time dough. It is fun, exciting, but can be extremely risky (once you qualify for the WSOP, you need to come up with like 30 or 40,000 to play).
Cut to a few weeks ago. My wife was reading through John Eldredge’s book Wild At Heart. She stumbled upon the following on p.30-31:
In an attempt to secure the sovereignty of God, theologians have overstated their case and left us with a chess-playing God playing both sides of the board, making all his moves and all ours too. But clearly, this is not so. God is a person who takes immense risks. No doubt the biggest risk of all was when he gave angels and men free will, including the freedom to reject him-not just once, but every single day. Does God cause a person to sin? “Absolutely not!” says Paul (Gal.2:17). Then he can’t be moving all the pieces on the board, because people sin all the time. Fallen angels and men use their powers to committ horrendous daily evil. Does God stop every bullet fired at an innocent victim? Does he prevent teenage liaisons from producing teenage pregnancies? There is something much more risky going on here than we’re often willing to admit.
Most of us do everything we can to reduce the element of risk in our lives. We wear our seat belts, watch our cholesterol, and practice birth control. I know some couples who have decided against having a child all together; they simply aren’t willing to chance the heartache children often bring. What if they are born with a crippling disease? What if they turn their backs on us, and God? What if…? God seems to fly in the face of all caution. Even though he knew what would happen, what heartbreak and suffering and devastation would follow upon our disobedience, God chose to have children. And unlike any hyper-controlling parents, who take away every element of choice they can from their children, God gave us a remarkable choice. He did not make Adam and Eve obey Him. He took a risk. A staggering risk, with staggering consequences. He let others into his story, and he lets their choices shape it profoundly.
The theological eye of my wife was attuned to point this out as she read this aloud to me. Our joint knee-jerk reaction was to lament that Eldredge could possibly be making such a mistake. I love Texas Hold’em, but I know that God does not play this game with His creation. John Piper actually has a chapter in The Pleasures of God where he takes time to deal with this increasingly common idea. I took the time to re-read part of Piper’s chapter to Kalila, and she was quick to give the Amen.
Eldredge ends the section with:
Trying to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s free will has stumped the church for ages. We must humbly acknowledge that there’s a great deal of mystery involved, but for those aware of the discussion, I am not advocating open theism. Nevertheless, there is definitely something wild in the heart of God.
I will say, that I am glad that he is trying to point to God as the one who is wild at heart first, then moving to us to model Him. He is trying to start God-centered, which is certainly commendable. However, I do think that he is gravely mistaken about God if he uses the word “risk” or “risk-taker” to describe God. The reason is that the word “risk” implies “uncertainty”. Risk is what you do when you don’t know the outcome of something. So in essence Eldregde is teaching people that God doesn’t know what the “flop” will be, but things will work out for him somehow. It is obvious that Eldredge is implying “uncertainty” when using “risk” because he has to clarify that he doesn’t advocate Open Theism. Open Theism generally believes that God has chosen to create a world in which he would not know the future. That doesn’t mean that God couldn’t know the future, but that He has decided not to know future. I guess I am just curious as to how he would differ from that. Most open thiests like Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, and John Sanders would agree whole-heartedly with the idea that God is a risk-taker. In fact, John Sanders has a book entitled, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. It quite naturally provokes inquiry when Eldredge makes these kind of statments.
Of course, there are few out there that would say they have all the intricasies of divine sovereignty and human responsibility worked out. It just irks me that Mr. Non-Theologian Eldredge begins to dismiss “Theologians” who believe in an all sovereign God. He does it, not with any argument from the Bible, theology, or philosophy, but simply by saying, “clearly, this is not so”. Then he launches into his “God is a risk-taker” theology. Whatever, that’s fine, I guess there is no dialog, it is just wrong. No explanation, no footnote, no problem. I guess me and all my calvinistic friends can give up now. “Sorry guys, John Eldredge said that what we believe is cleary not so. No he didn’t give any reasons, he just said it wasn’t so” (in my favorite Brian Regan voice of course). Does this mean we are Arminians or Open Theists? “He said he doesn’t advocate open theism, so I we are just Arminians.” Forgive me for the sass, but it is just laughable to me. He has just written off part of my theology without even engaging it. If that’s the way he wants to write, so be it. I’m not the only one with reservations about his theology. There have been a few articles in Christianity Today that have featured him, including a negative one from last year. This particular article is about a paper a seminarian wrote that is linked on a church website. Eldredge’s response is interesting to his criticism:
I suppose my reaction is simply ‘You shall know them by their fruits’ (Matt. 7:20). Etheridge claims I diminish God’s sovereignty and lead people to idolatry (charges not unlike those leveled against Jesus and Paul, I might note). But that is not the actual effect that my works have had on those who read them. Far from it. Virtually every response we see is that people are drawn to a deeper worship of God and a deeper level of repentance. The actual fruit of my ministryâ€”holier lives of men and womenâ€”is quite the opposite of what Etheridge describes. That’s not a bad test, as Jesus said.
Who is going to argue with that kind of response. So it is OK for Eldredge to trash other people’s theology, but when he is challenged indirectly, we get the holiness BS. I guess he doesn’t read a whole lot either, because he says in the same article, “I don’t read any press on me, good or bad”. It seems like he’s doing a hit and run to us. “I am going to make a contribution while combating a number of people, but I am not going to entertain any responses.” Dude, there are people talking about your book in like every Christian magazine and website, how can you ignore it? Why would you ignore it?
Whatever. I really don’t have anything against Eldredge. I’m sure he is a fine Christian and I’m glad people are getting stirred to think seriously about their spiritual life through his writings. I don’t really care for his books, so I dont’ have to read them or talk about them. If you want to see what I think about the sovereignty of God, click here.