Sproul quotes the Westminster Confession:†
I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; (WC III.I)Sproul relates that when he asked his seminary students whether they agree with this statement, about 30% answered that they did not. He then asked how many of his students were atheists—and of course none of the students answered in the affirmative.
He then argued that this made no sense: if you disagree with the statement from the WCF, you are, for all intents and purposes, an atheist. Affirmation or denial of this statement on the sovereignty of God is not what separates different denominations of Christianity, or what divides the three great monotheistic religions—it is, Sproul reminds us, what distinguishes theists from atheists.
Is Sproul a nutcase, elevating the WCF to a litmus test?
No—he is, while acknowledging his rhetorical device, absolutely correct.
As he goes on to point out, the problem is with the word “ordains”. That word conjures up images of God the puppet master dictating eons ago that I am, at this instant, about to pause my typing to scratch a pesky mosquito bite—ahh that’s better.
No, what the Westminster Divines meant is perhaps made clearer by a modern paraphrase:
What ever happens either a) God decreed it (Let there be…) or b) God permitted it to happen, with no implied endorsement or divine sanction. God could have prevented it.Sproul argues that if there is something, anything that happened outside of God’s decree and his permissive will—then God is not sovereign. If God is not sovereign—then he is not God.
In 1961 Racecar driver Tony Bettenhausen was killed when a 1¢ cotter pin failed.
In a similar manner, this hypothetical seemingly inconsequential “thing” outside of God’s sovereign control (Sproul calls it a “maverick molecule”) could ultimately run amok and thwart God’s plan, leaving his promises unfulfilled. It could be the broken cotter pin that prevents the Christ from returning.
That is why the bible teaches and we believe exactly what the confession states: God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.
And if you don’t believe that then you are effectively an atheist.
† He could have, of course, just as easily quoted the London Baptist Confession.