Is Sovereignty An Eternal Attribute of God That Non-Calvinists Deny?

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.  Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

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The attribute of God’s Sovereignty is not an eternal attribute. Sovereignty means complete rule or dominion over others. For him to be in control over others there has to be others in which to control.  He can’t display His power over creatures unless the creatures exist.  Therefore, before creation the concept of sovereignty was not an attribute that could be used to describe God. An eternal attribute is something God possesses that is not contingent upon something else.

The eternal attribute of God is His omnipotence, which refers to His eternally limitless power. Sovereignty is a temporal characteristic, not an eternal one, thus we can say God is all powerful, not because He is sovereign, but He is sovereign because He is all powerful, or at least He is as sovereign as He so chooses to be in relation to this temporal world.  As Dr. Ach put it, “Sovereignty is the expression of God’s power, not the source of it.” 

If the all powerful One chooses to refrain from meticulously ruling over every aspect of that which He creates, that in no way denies His eternal attribute of omnipotence, but indeed affirms it. It is the Calvinist who denies the eternal attribute of omnipotence, by presuming the all powerful One cannot refrain from meticulous deterministic rule over His creation. In short, the Calvinist denies God’s eternal attribute in his effort to protect the temporal one.  Additionally, an argument could be made that the eternal attributes of God’s love and His holiness are likewise compromised by the well meaning efforts of our Calvinistic brethren to protect their concept of deterministic sovereignty over the temporal world.

No one is denying that sovereignty is a current attribute of God, but only in part given that He has not yet taken full sovereign control over everything on earth as it is in heaven. Passages throughout the Bible teach that there are “authorities” and “powers” which are yet to be destroyed, and that have been given dominion over God’s creation.

Isaiah 24:21On-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven
A time is coming when the Lord will punish the powers above and the rulers of the earth.

Ephesians 6:12 
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Colossians 2:20
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world.

1 Corinthians 15:24
Then the end will come; Christ will overcome all spiritual rulers, authorities, and powers, and will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father.

Don’t misunderstand my point. I affirm that God is greater than these powers and authorities. He created them after all.

Colossians 1:16
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

And one day God will strip them of that authority:

Colossians 2:15 
God stripped the spiritual rulers and powers of their authority. With the cross, he won the victory and showed the world that they were powerless.

But, if God has chosen to allow created beings to have dominion and power over something, even for a time, how is His “sovereignty” (as defined by some being “complete and total control/determination over every single thing” eternally) not compromised?

God is certainly more powerful than any evil.  He could stifle it at any moment with a word. I don’t think anyone is denying that. And I think we all agree that there’s a sense in which it is proper even to say that “evil is part of His eternal decree.” (Permissively)

He planned for it, obviously. It did not take Him by surprise. He declared the end from the beginning, and He is still working all things for His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10), but isn’t there a difference in working evil out for good and unchangeably determining evil yourself? It’s one thing to help my child grow from being bullied, its another for me to hire the bully so as to make my child grow.

Most say that God’s role with regard to evil is never as its “author,” but few define the distinction between “predetermining,” “ordaining,” “decreeing,” as contrasted with the concept of “authoring.”  Ask the next Calvinist you speak with to give example of God authoring evil and then an example of God decreeing evil and see if you can find a distinction with an actual difference. Only if he affirms the concept of bare permission (God allowing men to be free and make their own choices) can any real distinction be drawn between those terms.

1 Tim 6:15, Isa 48:11, Isa 42:8. Isa 44:24, Heb 1:3, Rev 19:6, 1 Cor 8:5