The seeming popularity of Neo-Puritanism (John Piper and the “new Calvinists”) is concerning to me, but it is also–in some senses–welcome. Of course, I am concerned about its apparent belligerence and its theology of unconditional election along with a rigid TULIP. However, I welcome a renewed emphasis on divine sovereignty in the context of an Open Theism that is uncertain about whether God can direct all things for good.
The Stone-Campbell heritage, in terms of divine sovereignty, has significant roots in Classic Arminianism (though it would not necessarily have such on other points in that tradition). Whether we are talking about Alexander Campbell who denied “chance” in the world or Robert Richardson’s series on providence that resonates with Classic Arminianism, we have some valuable roots that express a high view of sovereignty without a Calvinistic (Reformed) eternal decrees determining events in the world. (I know that needs nuancing, but that is not my point here.)
A case in point is David Lipscomb himself. Hear this section from Salvation from Sin (pp. 46-47) in the light of current discussions between Calvinism, Classic Arminianism and Open Theism.
The nation that God had used more than all other nations to punish and destroy the rebellious nations was in turn punished with a more fearful destruction than any others. [Commenting on Jeremiah 50:23-29, 38-40.] It is folly and deception for a people to think that because they are used to punish other nations and are successful in war, therefore they are better or more favored of God than the nations they conquer. The wicked are the sword of the Lord. As God deals with nations, he deals with families and individuals. God intends to accomplish certain ends and purposes. He created man for a great end. He will use him to accomplish that end. If man is obedient and faith, God will work in and through him, and, in accomplishing the work, will exalt, bless, and honor the man as his faithful servant and beloved child; but if he refuses a willing obedience, God will overrule his rebellion to work out God’s purpose or end, but, while doing this, will crush the rebel down to ruin.
Man’s liberty is not very wide, yet broad enough to show his character. He must serve either God or the evil one; he can make his choice. He must accomplish the ends of God in the world. The choice is given him of doing it as an obedient servant and of being blessed and honored with God, or he may rebel, and, in rebellion, be destroyed while accomplishing the end. God must rule. The good of the universe and his own honor demand it. The soul that rebels against his authority must perish. God forgives iniquity and transgression and sin, and ‘will by no means clear the guilty.’
God has the right to rule and direct all persons and all things for his own ends and purposes; all must serve him or be brought to ruin. He is able to direct and control them so as to bring about his desires and purposes. None need gainsay or oppose; none in heaven or on earth ‘can stay his hand or say unto him, ‘What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35)
There are parts of this that the Reformed person will not like (but not much), but there are more parts that the Open Thesist would not like. It is a high view of sovereignty that places God at the center with the divine mission, purpose and goal as the agenda of the cosmos. There is no risk that God will not accomplish his purpose, according to Lipscomb. That is sovereignty in Classic Arminian style.