Bobsled Sovereignty

It seems to me that many of the people involved in various discussion regarding justification by faith, the proper place of works in our lives and doctrine, the nature of the final judgment, etc. have a fundamental difference in perspective that hinders communication. At issue, I believe, is one’s understanding/application of God’s sovereignty.

The folks that I have read on the issue all agree, as far as I can tell, with a view of God’s sovereignty as found in the WCF chapter III. But the stance assumed on account of that view, and the corollary views of man’s free will and the historic means that God in his providence ordains along with the ends, seem greatly at odds and is perhaps a root cause of some of the disagreements on the issue of works.

In my opinion, the wrong way to view God’s sovereignty can be appropriately called Bobsled Sovereignty. This is quite a popular view in reformed churches as far as I can tell. Bobsled Sovereignty basically affirms that because God is sovereign, it is the duty of man to basically get in the bobsled and go for a ride down that twisty, but always linear and unforking, path of God’s will. Such a stance, I believe, minimizes the historic dynamic of human involvement and pushes people’s thinking toward the decrees of God at every turn, though these decrees are confessed to be unknown. It also has the odd effect, over time, of pushing God’s wisdom toward the realm of human comprehension, since his wisdom and hidden decree forms the bedrock of such thinking.

A more robust view of God’s sovereignty, in my opinion, was held by Moses among others.

Exodus 32:7-14

7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’

9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “O Lord ,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ ” 14 Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Here’s my point. If Moses had bought into the Bobsled Sovereignty school of thought, here’s how verse 11 might have read:

“Then Moses replied, ‘Oh Lord, I am ready and willing to copulate frequently that I might have many children and build this nation that you have decreed. I have heard you speak from your own mouth, and know that all you say is decreed from everlasting and must come to pass.'”

So, all you folks involved in such debates, is it not possible that such a view would hinder someone from understanding your points regarding works, if that person has a view of sovereignty that hinders them from even understanding the historic involvement of man in the decrees of God?

3 Comments

  1. Paul
    May 9, 2002

    Yes! I’ve said the same thing (I think) – but not nearly so well. It’s as if some Reformed believe that God brings His will to pass via ordinary means in every area except election, despite the commands to repent, believe, obey, persevere at every turn in the text of the New Testament.

  2. Manlius
    May 17, 2002

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to say it, but this was an excellent post, Jay. You’ve really been on a roll lately!

  3. John Carswell
    Jun 11, 2002

    Quite true…we do something similar to what Moses did in this passage when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, right? We remind the Lord that we abide in the covenant of His precious Son…

    “Bobsled” is a typical attitude, huh? “I’ll save my skins, and let the other poor SOBs burn…after all, I’m much holier than them.” What’s more Reformed (and American!) than that?