The Errant and Hubristic Theology of Anti-Lottery Zealots

Posted: January 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: VOC Essays | 17 Comments »
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On Wednesday, January 13th, 2016, the largest lottery in world history will take place. As it currently stands, people will be vying for a chance to win $1.5 billion. This has led to some, allegedly speaking for God, attacking the idea of Christians playing the lottery. The notion that playing the lottery is a sin is the epitome of false theology and pseudo-spirituality. There is nothing in the Bible that demonstrates that playing the lottery in a responsible fashion is a sin against God. It is perfectly acceptable for a Christian to decide not to play the lottery, but the idea that Christians who do play the lottery are somehow in contravention of God’s will and are living in sin is Biblically unsupportable bunkum.

Curiously, last week, as the current jackpot began climbing to its current billion-dollar range, Calvinist preacher John Piper wrote a piece titled Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery. When the article was posted on Twitter, it arrived with a message that said “every penny [of the lottery] offends God.” When one sits and reads the article, it becomes clear that Piper, like most from this school of thought, has no sound theological arguments to defend his point. The rest of this article will expose the weaknesses of his arguments.

“Playing the Lottery Is Spiritually Suicidal”

To make this claim, Piper relies on the trusty scripture of anti-money Christians: 1st Timothy 6:9-10. The scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and that while trying to get rich, some people fall into destruction and perdition. Anybody reading this passage without an anti-money agenda can clearly see that the passage says that some fall into destruction and perdition while trying to get rich. The purpose of the passage is not to tell Christians that trying to become rich is verboten. The passage is a warning against pursuing wealth at all costs, especially to the dangerous point where one loses faith in God. A scripture that is related to 1st Timothy 6:9-10 is Matthew 6:33:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

God ought to be primary in the life of a Christian, not money and material things. Like the Matthew passage, the 1st Timothy passage is cautioning Christians against loving money more than God and the things of God. Only willfully dishonest people can argue that this passage means that Christians should not be wealthy.

“Playing the Lottery Is Embezzlement”

This is just an assertion with no support, except Bible passages that talk about working with one’s hands. On a superficial level, it sounds somewhat spiritual to talk about our property being God’s and that we are caretakers over the things He gives us. However, making the case that spending $2 on a Powerball ticket constitutes embezzlement based on that principle is utter balderdash. By this logic, investing in the stock market is also a sin, inasmuch as one buys a stock with a little money and hopes that, by chance, the stock one purchases increases in value. Moreover, stock market investments are far riskier than “embezzling” $2 to buy a Powerball ticket. Piper expertly elides the fact that the Powerball costs $2 per ticket. He coyly begins his piece by pointing out that $70 billion is played on the lottery annually. By failing to point out the price of a single lottery ticket, Piper’s argument seems sophisticated. When scratching just a little beyond the surface, his argument falls apart and is exposed for the nonsense that it is. Additionally, who is Piper to determine what constitutes “embezzlement” in the relationship between a Christian and God? Only jaw-dropping hubris would make people think they can, with no solid Biblical reference, speak for God relating to what Christians can and cannot do with the money He allowed them to acquire.

Granted, there is a case to be made about people who play the lottery irresponsibly. Certainly, there is no reason why Christians should use their money for rent, utilities, and other responsibilities and squander it on lottery tickets hoping to become rich. That is problematic behavior that crosses the line into sin. However, the idea that the average, fiscally responsible Christian who plays the Powerball is operating in sin makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Piper and others like him would be on far sturdier ground if they focused their attention on the extremes. Gambling addiction is a serious issue and an undeniable sin. By trying to castigate the majority of responsible people who play the lottery, however, they lose an opportunity to make a strong case that needs to be made.

“Playing the Lottery Is a Fool’s Errand”

This is not a Biblical argument at all. This is just an assertion. Yes, the chances of winning the lottery are vanishingly small, but winning is not impossible. Of course, if someone were planning on winning the lottery and used this as a sole financial plan for the future, it would be idiotic and damaging. However, the vast majority of people who play the lottery have jobs and careers. The fundamental point still remains: Piper and his ilk have failed to point out anything that demonstrates why it is problematic for Christians to open a legal, morally acceptable avenue through which God can bless them by playing the lottery.

“The System Is Designed for Most People to Lose”

This is not a theological argument—or a good argument of any kind. The idea that Christians ought to be against things where most people lose has no Biblical basis whatsoever. Again, it is vital to highlight what people are “losing”: The Powerball is $2 per ticket! The way Piper and people like him structure this weak argument, one would think most people irreparably damage their finances by spending $2 on the lottery. What also strikes me as odd is the hypocrisy of Piper, who is a proud Calvinist. Interestingly, Calvinists believe in the theological principle of “Unconditional Election,” which is the idea that God chooses those He wants to save and damns those He does not want to save. This is a glaringly false doctrine that impugns the character of God. How is it plausible to consider that God is good if he ordained people to go to Hell for eternity? However by Piper’s very own view of salvation, Christianity is a lottery “designed for most people to lose.” It is stunningly ironic that someone who believes in the blasphemous “lottery view” of Christianity and salvation suddenly develops moral indignation at the fact that people lose $2 playing the Powerball.

Matthew 7:13-14 (KJV) says:

13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

This is not something that God chooses. It is merely a description of what humans do with the choice that God gave mankind. God gives humans free will and people are free to accept the gift of salvation, which is given to all. It is not given to a select few as Calvinists like Piper falsely promote.

“It Preys on the Poor”

This argument falls apart when one remembers that most lottery tickets cost $1, and the Powerball costs $2. Even the poorest, homeless person can pay for a lottery ticket with a morning shift of panhandling (and still have enough change left over for a cup of coffee).

In any event, the vast majority of pastors who live large off the massive contributions of poor congregants should be a more important consideration for Christians. But attacking the lottery is a lot easier than attacking money-grubbing frauds in the pulpit. Admittedly, Piper is not one of these high-rolling preachers, but the point still stands. Why would Christians be more concerned with denouncing the lottery than bettering the image of Christianity?

There Is a Better Alternative”

Here, Piper points out that about one-fifth of lottery players think that playing the lottery is a practical way to accumulate wealth. Assuming that the survey is accurate—and one cannot assume that without having read it and seen the questions that were asked—that constitutes approximately 20 percent of lottery players. This means that 80 percent of lottery players are aware that they need other sources of income and are interested in realistic financial planning. I am willing to wager (at risk of “embezzling” God’s property), that Christians who play the lottery are mostly in the 80 percent.

Piper suggests that people should save their lottery money and invest it to create $24,000 in 20 years. If the survey he cites is to believed, approximately 80 percent of people are already planning their financial futures in other ways. They do not need to have their spare dollar bills policed by officious preachers with god complexes.

“Government Is Undermining Virtue with the Lottery”

Does the government “undermine virtue” when they put on VISA lotteries, too? Does every church “undermine virtue” when they put on raffles to raise money? This idea that participating in a lottery depletes human virtue is simply a ridiculous assertion with no Biblical support.

To be clear, playing the lottery irresponsibly is unquestionably sinful, but there is nothing in the Bible that suggests that playing $2 on the Powerball when it is at $1.5 billion constitutes immoral behavior or an absence of spirituality. It would also be sinful to win the $1.5 billion and do nothing for people in need of charity. In other words, there are sins that are related to playing the lottery (in the same way that any earthly activity could plausibly lead to sin), but there is no credible argument that can be made that, ipso facto, playing the lottery is sinful.


Unfortunately, there is a massive problem in Christendom: Very few people have the Christ-like humility to simply say, “This is my opinion.” Too many people claim to be speaking for God to give their opinions an added, undeserved air of credibility. It is perfectly acceptable to claim that you do not want to play the lottery, or that you do not feel that playing or winning the lottery will help your relationship with God. That is an opinion to which a Christian is entitled. However, it is the zenith of spiritual arrogance to force that perspective into the mouth of God based on demonstrably tenuous theological assertions and palpable pseudo-spirituality.

It is also important to note that not everything is written in the Bible. That notwithstanding, we have enough information, in addition to our God-given consciences, to live Christ-like lives. Some people go as far as to say that people who play the lottery do not trust God as the source of their income. This statement can only be true if one can demonstrate that the lottery falls outside of the remit of God’s providence. How can anyone who believes in the omniscience and omnipotence of God make such an assertion? Playing the lottery is not murder or prostitution—things that are manifestly verboten according to the Bible. Simply assuming the lottery is akin to any other incontestable sin and arguing that one must have a weak relationship with God to participate in it is absurdist. Having examined the exasperatingly obtuse and pathetically tortured theological arguments for suggesting playing the lottery is a sin, it is clear that finding a single good argument from the anti-lottery crowd is about as likely as hitting the $1.5 billion jackpot.

  • Antiliar

    Obviously you REALLY did not like John Piper’s article. For the record, one can be a Calvinist and not agree with his article.


      Yes, I made it very clear that I did not like Piper’s article and that his arguments are completely bogus.

      I agree that one can be a Calvinist and not like Piper’s article. As I pointed out in the fourth section, it is logically inconsistent for a Calvinist to oppose the lottery on the grounds that it is a system “designed for most people to lose.” Calvinists essentially believe salvation is a lottery “designed for most people to lose.” How can you support a theological view of salvation that is essentially a spiritual lottery, but oppose the Powerball? It makes no sense.

      • Antiliar

        While I think I agree with you about 90% of the time, I don’t agree with your characterization of the Calvinist view of salvation as a lottery. Lottery implies random chance; with God nothing is due to chance. From God’s point of view, chance doesn’t exist. God has a reason and a purpose for everything, but He doesn’t reveal all of the specifics to us, which is His prerogative as God. By the way, Michael Medved, who is Jewish (for those who aren’t familiar with him), is also against playing the lottery, so I can’t think of a theological analogy that would work for him either.

        To me, playing the lottery, drinking alcohol, etc, are all a matter of using wise judgment. Spending a few dollars for the potential of a big win is fine, but if you don’t have much money then it would be foolish to use most of one’s paycheck to buy hundreds of tickets. Do all things in moderation, as Aristotle said. The biblical principle here would be self-control versus gluttony. People can be gluttonous for things other than food. Hoarding, for example, is a type of gluttony. Being a “degenerate gambler” is another case of it. For most people it’s not an issue.


          1) You need to read up on Calvinist theology. The first principle of Calvinism is Total Depravity, which is that man is so sinful that it is impossible for us to relate to God. So God has to predestine certain men to know Him and damn other men. As I said in the piece, this impugns the character of God, because it means that God willfully chose to create and damn most of mankind without even offering a chance at salvation. From our perspective, this is a lottery. Heck, from God’s perspective, this is a lottery, too. God bases his predestination on nothing. He just picks and chooses randomly, and there’s nothing that any human can do to relate to God. If Total Depravity is true, there is nothing in the Calvinist view that separates the predestined and the damned—except the luck of being picked. This is sheer heresy and in complete opposition to the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

          2) Michael Medved’s Judaism and opposition to the lottery is irrelevant to my piece. I am clearly writing about John Piper, Calvinism, and anti-lottery Christians.

          3) On this point we agree. Using wise judgment is what is required of Christians. Anything can turn into sin if not done in moderation. That does not make most actions, ipso facto, sinful.

          • Antiliar

            1) I have read up on Calvinist theology, so please don’t assume that I haven’t.
            2) I wouldn’t assume what you do about what is from God’s perspective. As a mere human with extremely limited knowledge that’s above my pay grade. Since it does not say anywhere in Scripture that God chooses randomly, there is no reason to believe this assertion. On the contrary, according to Ephesians 1:4 it says that God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world,” and he did it according to the “purpose of His will.” I suggest you read Romans 9. It’s Biblical and NOT random, and if it’s Biblical then it can’t be heretical. That’s a strong word that shouldn’t be used lightly and not to be thrown around loosely like an inquisitor.
            3) What separates the predestined and the damned isn’t luck, it’s God’s saving grace.

          • VOICEOFCHID

            1) If you have read up on Calvinist theology, then I can only assume that you’re being willfully obtuse about its implications.

            2) I am not assuming anything. I am telling you the logical conclusions of Calvinist theology. Yes, God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” That does not mean that he intended for most of mankind to perish without anything even close to having a choice of whether or not to commune with God.

            Before telling me to read Romans 9, perhaps you and others sympathetic to the heretical hogwash of Calvinism should flip a few pages back and read Romans 5 (especially verse 18), which utterly refutes the nonsense that Jesus Christ only died for an elect few.

            18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

            The idea that humans have no choice in salvation is heretical. Your misapprehension of scripture doesn’t make it any more theologically accurate. It remains wholly bogus. The only acceptable Christian and Biblical position is that man chooses whether or not to accept the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary, which is available for all.

            3) Again, creating humans and choosing to damn most to Hell from the start is sheer wickedness—not saving grace. What is gracious about making and eternally damning the majority of mankind with no opportunity for redemption? Words mean things! Wickedness is wickedness and grace is grace. God did not create mankind with the intention of saving some and damning most. His desire is for all men to come into a knowledge of Him. Calvinist theology is not only blasphemous, but a satanic smear against the character of God.

          • Antiliar

            Chid, it’s funny that in defending your viewpoint you attack Calvinists as being “blasphemous,” “heretical” and even “satanic.” So you are saying that Calvinists, not only aren’t Christians, but heretics. Satanic heretics. So who is damning who to Hell? Moreover, even according to an Arminian or synergestic view of salvation, one still has to believe in Jesus and that He died on the cross for our sins. That leaves out about 1.6 billion Muslims who haven’t accepted Christ as the Savior, along with millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Animists, etc. So even according to non-Calvinists, most people will not be going to Heaven. And by calling Calvinists satanic heretics, they will obviously go to Hell too, and you will be increasing the number of the damned. Is that the position you want to go with?

          • VOICEOFCHID

            I see that since I’ve swatted away all of your ludicrous attempts to take Bible verses out of context, you’ve now resorted to twisting my words. I did not call Calvinists satanic heretics. I called Calvinist theology a satanic smear against the character of God. That’s a very different point. I damned nobody to Hell. I talked about the theology—and where certain erroneous theological beliefs come from. I said nothing about the eternal dwelling place of people who believe in Calvinism. Unlike certain Calvinist preachers, I have no god complex.

            Additionally, the eventual number of people who end up in Heaven and Hell is irrelevant to the topic of debate here. The debate here is whether an omniscient and omnipotent God decided to create mankind with feelings, spirits, and souls, with the clear purpose of damning most of mankind to Hell for eternity and only giving salvation to a few that he predestined. That is the Calvinist view. A god that could conceive of such a scheme is demonstrably wicked. That is not the God of the Christian faith, and any attempt to argue that God would engage in such behavior is a heretical, and indeed SATANIC, smear against the character of God.

          • Antiliar

            Nothing I wrote was ludicrous and I wasn’t really trying to debate you in the first place, because, if you recall, I first posted in agreement with your essay on gambling and the Christian. Nor was I twisting your words, but I took your words to their logical conclusion. If Calvinism is a Satanic heresy, then it follows that those who believe in a Satanic heresy are not saved unless you believe that Heaven is going to be filled with heretics. The problem there is that if Heaven is filled with heretics then there isn’t much point in Christ’s saving work since you essentially have universalism.

            It also seems to be the case that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is a target of extreme anger and vilification. I prefer friendly discussions rather than having my beliefs demonized. Good job in turning a friend into an enemy. I don’t consider you my enemy, but since I mentioned Calvinism I clearly have a target on my back leading me to the proverbial burning at the stake. I’ve had friendlier debates with members of ISIS.

            I have to wonder what else constitutes a Satanic heresy from your point of view. If you believe in the pre-tribulation rapture and someone else believes postmillenialism, is that also a Satanic heresy? If someone believes it is acceptable to get a tattoo and you don’t, is that person also believing in a heresy? If you believe in believers’ baptism and someone else holds to infant baptism, is that person believing in a Satanic heresy?

          • VOICEOFCHID

            I find this hilarious. Now you’ve run out of arguments, you’ve resorted to baseless attacks on my character. Anyone who doesn’t agree with me is the “target of extreme anger and vilification”? Interesting. Anybody reading this thread can see that we’re having a civil debate. What you are reading isn’t anger or vilification. It’s just vigorous disagreement. In this thread, I haven’t called anybody any names. I focused my attention on Calvinism. It’s perfectly fine for people to vigorously disagree. It’s strange that you’re getting offended because I stated my points forcefully and without mincing words. Sorry, but that’s just how I talk. I’m a Christian, so I don’t have enemies. If you consider me one, that’s entirely on you. Good luck with that. I have no issues relating with people who believe different things than I do. I grew up in multicultural London. I have several socialist atheist friends and vigorously disagree with that worldview. Somehow, we still manage to remain very good friends. Your characterization of me as this cantankerous and intolerant guy who cannot brook disagreement is completely bogus.

            The issues of pre-tribulation rapture and postmillenialism are non-essential parts of Christianity. They have nothing to do with salvation. I’m more concerned about things that are essential to salvation, such as whether men have a choice to relate to God, or whether most men are damned from the beginning without any choice. I fundamentally disagree with the Calvinist view on that. Whether Calvinists are going to Heaven or Hell, I don’t know. I am not God. God will decide that. What I do know is that Calvinist doctrine regarding salvation does not accord with the Bible.

          • Antiliar

            I haven’t “run out of arguments” as you put it. I’m just choosing not to fight because when you state that Calvinists believe in Satanic heresies does sound like a personal attack. Do you tell your atheist friends that they are following Satan? Do you believe that Calvinists are Christians or something else? Are they devil worshippers?

            I also made it clear that I don’t consider you an enemy, but that I came on here to post as a friend, at least a friend in spirit since we’ve never met. There are beliefs that you have that I disagree with, but I wouldn’t jump out and yell that those are Satanic heresies. I would say that I disagree with you on topic X and why I believe you are mistaken on topic X. So yes, your interaction with me has been cantankerous. As for intolerant, I don’t know. Would you welcome a Calvinist such as John Piper as a fellow brother in Christ or send him packing as a believer of a Satanic heresy?

          • VOICEOFCHID

            Nobody is fighting here. We’re discussing. You are continuing to discuss this topic with me (despite my alleged extreme anger and vilification of you). Curiously, I am not bad enough to warrant you ending the conversation…

            My atheist friends know exactly what I think about atheism as a worldview, but we still manage to get along very well. Asking me whether I think Calvinists are devil worshipers shows that you are fundamentally unserious about dealing with my point. Saying that a theological belief has satanic implications and calling people devil worshipers are two different things.

            If you think my beliefs are satanic heresies, that’s your prerogative. I am capable of defending my beliefs without launching unfounded attacks on a person’s character and manufacturing anger where there is none. As for John Piper, if I had a church, he would not be welcome as a guest speaker.

          • Antiliar

            I have never said I think your beliefs are Satanic heresies. The only person who made that assertion is you, not me. I think that’s a severe charge to make against someone’s beliefs and I don’t take it lightly, and it absolutely does have ramifications about someone’s character. Not only that, but I don’t know enough about your soteriological position to make any assertion about it. All I know is that you are obviously not Calvinist or Reformed. There’s Arminian, Wesleyan, Amyrauldian, Pelagian, etc. I don’t know if you follow under any of those categories or none of the above.

            It’s interesting that you would not invite John Piper if you had a church. Do you consider Calvinists to be Christians and brothers in Christ, or not? Are they grouped with atheists in some sort of general non-Christian category? Or maybe they are in the category of heretics like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter-Day Saints? Just asking for clarification.

          • VOICEOFCHID

            Now we’re just going around in circles. I know you didn’t say my beliefs are satanic heresies, which is why I clearly said “IF.”

            I don’t agree with Calvinism. Calvinists may technically be Christians, but I disagree with their theology. I don’t see why you need further clarification. I’ve been very lucid in this thread.

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  • Samalabear

    I found a great piece on this same issue in Nairaland. I printed it out, saved it and read it constantly. This guy starts out with a quote from Tony Evans’ book about “gambling and the lottery.” A whole book this man wrote, which he sold, and which, I am sure, he probably made a cool million or so on, conservatively.

    But cut to the chase, I have read the story of many, many — and saved them, too — lottery winners, the most accessible being jackpot lottery winners. Most are one by one ticket and one quickpick number, many are not regular players, and the ones that are spend an amount that is less than one lousy latte.

    The other thing that is interesting about these lottery winners — whom Evans charges are just greedy people wanting money, which prayer God will not answer — is that they did pray, they believed that it was theirs, most were in difficulties as a result of things outside of their control, illness,you name it. I have not read one where the folks were not hardworking people. I guess this Piper dude has no idea how many families have had their homes saved through the lottery, or through the generosity of lottery winners, how many folks have had bills paid, rents paid, etc., through the generousity of lottery winners.

    The stories are not always easy to find, but when you do you realize one thing — the good lottery stories outweigh the “horror” stories that the media and religious people like to post. And, as far as those horror stories, where someone wins big and spends it all and is broke, hey, that money spent went somewhere and you never know what the needs were of the folks on the other end.

    The Lohse story is just one of many. Up against major brick walls they made a plan, a list of their dreams. The biggest item was being able to build a grocery store for their town, something they said they would do for years if they ever came into a lot of money. Well, push came to shove and they were on the brink of losing their home. So they put the list together and at the top their plan for seeing it happen — prayer and winning the lottery. It didn’t happen overnight but they persevered. Well, they won $200 million in Mega. The grocery store they built is just beautiful. You can look it up. Like most lottery winners they are not lavish livers. Like most lottery winners they didn’t just ask for a pile of pile for the sake of having a pile of money, as folks like the wealthy preacher Tony Evans seem to think, or the wealthy John Piper seems to think. Both of these folks make their money off preaching, and neither strikes me as being very humble about anything.

    I dare anyone to look at some of these stories, not end up with tears in their eyes and grateful for the goodness of God.

    For myself, and my reading of God’s Word — and having left religion behind, finally — God is good, pure and simple; God is love, pure and simple. I believe that, as Scripture says, God owns all the gold and silver and the cattle on a thousand hills. God owns all the money, including what is is in the lottery and all that is in Piper’s and Evans’ bank accounts. I sure hope that neither Piper or Evans are “investing” their money in Wall Street or any other risk-type venture because that is gambling — and getting into those is far more expensive upfront than that simple “dollar and a dream” and faith. The rank hypocrisy of those in religion never fails to amaze me, although it shouldn’t — it’s been going since the beginning.

    Frankly I think what happened in this $1.5 billion lottery is just amazing. Something like 67 people became millionaires over a two-week period, outside of the winners of the jackpot. Just from winning the second-place prize, of which you can have basically unlimited winners. Ordinary people, most of whom probably work long hours for inadequate pay.

    I agree with the older gentleman, who won a lottery 25 years ago, a few million, and who was also in dire straits and sick with diabetes. In an article a couple of years ago that looked into the lives of folks who won the lottery and what their lives are like today, this is what this man said: “I am thank God everyday for this godsend.” But for that lottery win he given life, literally. Yes, God is good — and unlimited.