John Piper: Are There Two Wills in God? A Response.

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John Piper’s chapter, “Are There Two Wills in God?”, found on his website Desiring God, and in the book Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), seeks to “show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for ‘all persons to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion.” This post is a response to (not an attack on) Piper’s theory of the two wills in God.

A secondary issue which Piper will address, and to which I will also respond, is his aim to show “that unconditional election therefore does not contradict biblical expressions of God’s compassion for all people, and does not nullify sincere offers of salvation to everyone who is lost among all the peoples of the world.” This issue alone will raise more than a few eyebrows. That God has genuine compassion on those whom He has chosen not to save unconditionally from all eternity, and actually “sincerely” offers them salvation, is beyond doubt the greatest burden of proof for all Calvinists.

Piper acknowledges that texts such as 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 and Ezekiel 18:23 might be called “the Arminian pillar texts concerning the universal saving will of God.” Indeed there are many, many other texts throughout the tenor of Scripture which support this truth, not merely those three so-called pillars. But his acknowledgment stands. Calvinists must address passages such as these, as they explicitly reveal God’s saving intention for humanity, even if the salvation of all persons will not be realized.

Piper admits that 1 Timothy 2:4 could refer to all sorts of people (in spite of the absence of the word “sorts,” or “kinds,” as is found elsewhere in Scripture, e.g. Acts 10:12; 13:10; 1 Cor. 12:4, 5, 6, 10; Eph. 6:18; 1 Tim. 5:10; 6:10; Titus 3:3), and that 2 Peter 3:9 could refer to the unconditionally elect. He adds:

    Nevertheless the case for this limitation on God’s universal saving will has never been convincing to Arminians and likely will not become convincing, especially since Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11 are even less tolerant of restriction. Therefore as a hearty believer in unconditional, individual election I rejoice to affirm that God does not delight in the perishing of the impenitent, and that he has compassion on all people. My aim is to show that this is not double talk.

His intent in this chapter is not to defend the theory of unconditional election. Such has been done elsewhere. His intent is to prove that the so-called “Arminian pillars” raise no weapon against the theory of unconditional election. He comments: “In fact I think Arminians have erred in trying to take pillars of universal love and make them into weapons against electing grace.” (Calvinists could likewise be charged with focusing on certain passages which appear restrictive and make them into weapons against God’s universal love and grace. His comment is easily turned on him.)

That Classical Arminians view God’s love for sinners and relate it to His intent (or at least desire) for the salvation of all people is actually supported by the most famous verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV). From this one verse, Classical Arminians have a biblical mandate to forge weapons against the theory of unconditional electing grace, since it was God’s love for all lost sinners which motivated Him to send His Son, so that whoever would believe on Him would be saved.

Piper insists that affirming “the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least ‘two wills’ in God, or two ways of willing.” Upon reading the apostle Paul’s words to the Romans, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2 NASB), I had to wonder when someone would construct a three wills in God theory — that God has a “good” will, an “acceptable” will, and also a “perfect” will. Clearly, here, God’s one will is good, acceptable and perfect.

Piper also notes that some theologians have “spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will.” He wants his readers to know that a theory of two wills in God is not a novel concept. (Arminius writes of “various distinctions” of the singular will of God, cf. Works, 2:343-47.)

Here at the outset we find the foundational problem with Piper’s particular theory of the two wills in God. This theory is necessitated by another theory: unconditional election. He has constructed a theoretical house of cards. If one is proven false, then the whole house falls. As a matter of fact, the only way for Piper’s particular theory of the two wills in God to be valid is if the theory of unconditional election can be proven true. Moreover, Piper assumes that God actually has two wills (i.e. they are not two distinctives of His one will): one will that all be saved and another will that only the unconditionally elect will be saved. But he is translating the Greek word thelō as “will” rather than “desire,” thus constructing another “will.” While I appreciate what he is trying to accomplish, the question is, Will Scripture support his theory?

Classical Arminians clearly see election taught in Scripture. Those who are in Christ are the elect. But nowhere in Scripture is this election thought to be unconditional by nature. That truth is the Calvinist’s stumbling block. At this point in Piper’s chapter, the Arminian finds it rather difficult to continue, since everything else which is written has as its foundation the unproven theory of unconditional election.

Piper notes that Arminians have long withstood the Calvinist’s theory that God has a secret will and a revealed will. He writes:

    These criticisms are not new. Jonathan Edwards wrote 250 years ago, “The Arminians ridicule the distinction between the secret and revealed will of God, or, more properly expressed, the distinction between the decree and the law of God; because we say he may decree one thing, and command another. And so, they argue, we hold a contrariety in God, as if one will of his contradicted another.”

Note the Calvinists’ dilemma: “we say he may decree one thing, and command another.” And the Calvinist balks because we charge them with holding a contrariety in God? The Calvinist is right: for them to suggest that God commands that person A not sin in a certain manner, but that God has unconditionally decreed that person A will sin in that manner, is to hold a contrariety view in God. The attempts to prove otherwise have been embarrassing for the Calvinist. Nevertheless, Piper writes: “But in spite of these criticisms the distinction stands, not because of a logical or theological deduction, but because it is inescapable in the Scriptures.” Piper believes that Arminian scholar I. Howard Marshall agrees with his two-will theory, at least in principle. However, Marshall, in the quote from Piper, did not admit to there actually being two wills in God, but only that what God “wishes” is not always what He “wills.” Piper quotes Marshall:

    To avoid all misconceptions it should be made clear at the outset that the fact that God wishes or wills that all people should be saved does not necessarily imply that all will respond to the gospel and be saved. We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will [singular, not plural, as in two wills]. The question at issue is not whether all will be saved but whether God has made provision in Christ for the salvation of all, provided that they believe, and without limiting the potential scope of the death of Christ merely to those whom God knows will believe.

Marshall is not suggesting that God “wills” by necessity the salvation of all people, but only that God “wills” by necessity the salvation of those who trust in Christ Jesus. God “wishes” or “desires” the salvation of all people, but this “wish” is not His necessitarian “will”, by which He determines to save all people, at which Piper is alluding. Only those who believe in Christ does God by necessity will salvation.

Piper then illustrates the two wills in God theory by “drawing attention to the way Scripture portrays God willing something in one sense which he disapproves in another sense.” He begins his illustration with the events surrounding the death of Christ. Arminians agree with Calvinists that it was God’s “determined purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23; 4:28 NKJV) that Jesus die for the sin of the world (Isaiah 53:4, 6; John 1:29): “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him” (Isaiah 53:10 NKJV). The crucifixion was God’s predetermined plan, and there is no contention here. Arminian Adam Clarke comments:

    By the determinate counsel . . . that counsel of God which defined the time, place, and circumstance, according [prognōsis] to his foreknowledge, which always saw what was the most proper time and place for the manifestation and crucifixion of his Son; so that there was nothing casual in these things, God having determined that the salvation of a lost world should be brought about in this way; and neither the Jews nor Romans had any power here, but what was given to them from above.

Piper further illustrates his theory with the war against the Lamb, quoting Revelation 17:17: “for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose,” which Arminians also teach. He comments:

    Waging war against the Lamb is sin and sin is contrary to the will of God. Nevertheless the angel says (literally), “God gave into their [the ten kings’] hearts to do his will, and to perform one will, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (v. 17). Therefore God willed (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they would do what is against his will (in another sense).

Though this is true in one sense, still it does not necessitate a two wills in God theory. When we speak of God’s “will” that a person not sin, we are insisting that God has an established rule in the earth. God commands us not to commit certain acts, for they are offensive and sinful in His sight. But God’s commanding us not to sin is not considered a “will,” strictly taken. Or at least there is no necessity to infer such. When Arminians insist that God does not “will” anyone to commit a sin, which is against the nature and character of God, we mean that God did not predetermine by divine fiat (and thus by a necessary and causal sense) that a person sin.

Even Augustine admits, “Therefore, either the will is the first cause of sin, or no sin is the first cause of sin and there is nothing to which sin can be attributed except the sinner.” But if Piper and most Calvinists are correct, then the first cause of sin is the decree of God, by which a person sins necessarily. As a matter of fact, Augustine argues against “those who deny that the source of evil has its origin in the free choice of the will and who contend that, if this is so, God, the Creator of all natures, is to be blamed.” Though Augustine does not always maintain this view consistently in this theology, he at least recognizes that God (or the decree of God) cannot properly be named as the first cause of sin. Again, Augustine writes: “‘Evil deeds are punished by the justice of God,’ and I added: ‘for they would not be punished justly unless they were done voluntarily.'”

God’s “putting it into the heart” of those wicked men in their war against the Lamb of God is a form of punishment. These rebellious men had already spurned the grace of God which could lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4), and trampled upon the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:29). Again, Adam Clarke comments:

    Let no one imagine that these ten Latin kingdoms, because they support an idolatrous worship, have been raised up merely by the power of man or the chances of war. No kingdom or state can exist without the will of God; therefore let the inhabitants of the world tremble when they see a wicked monarchy rise to power, and let them consider that it is raised up by the Lord to execute his vengeance upon the idolatries and profligacies of the times.

That God has decreed or willed to further deceive the deceived was foretold as a warning to all by the apostle Paul: “and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false” (2 Thess. 2:9-10 NASB). However, the concept that God has from eternity decreed that these specific ones would be the recipients of that delusion (again, merely by a decree) must be inferred, for such cannot be exegeted from Scripture. Piper argues: “God’s prophecies are not mere predictions which God knows will happen, but rather are divine intentions which he makes sure will happen.” But does the Calvinist ask why God intentioned things thus? In Calvinism, there is no need to ask why, since God has decreed all things without taking into consideration anything other than His own will. Thus God “willed” for those certain men to be reprobates and to reject Christ, and He also “willed” to punish them for being reprobates.

For Piper, God does all things to make the glory of Christ shine brighter. Calvinism, in my opinion, dishonors God through Jesus Christ by suggesting that He needs to strictly decree or foreordain sin “in order to make the glory of Christ shine brighter.” Such a conception is lacking in the eschaton, and yet Christ Jesus will still be glorified (Rev. 21:22-23). Dr. Bruce A. Little, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, commenting on the rape and murder of a young girl named Jessica, asks: “Could Christ’s glory not shine brighter with a lot less trauma to Jessica and her friends and family?”1

Does God need de facto the foreordination (merely by decree) of human sin in order for the glory of Christ to shine brighter? Dr. Little asks: “Yet if a righteous life glorifies God (1 Cor. 6:20), how does evil [or its being decreed] also glorify God? How do the contraries, one commanded and the other forbidden, both glorify God?”2 The answer of course is that both do not glorify God in the same manner. Goodness, righteousness, and justice glorifies God through Jesus Christ (Micah 6:8; Rom. 2:7, 10). Evil, sin, and injustice dishonors God through Jesus Christ (John 8:49; Rom. 2:8-9, 23). Therefore, God could not bring about sin merely by a decree “in order to make the glory of Christ shine brighter.” Neither has God strictly decreed for one man to be evil and another to be righteous strictly by a decree. The wicked men of whom John writes at Revelation 17:17 were not wicked and deceived merely by decree. They experienced God’s punishment via deception for spurning His grace.

Piper continues in the same vein regarding the hardening work of God, as well as His right to restrain evil and His will not to do so, both of which are generally agreed upon by Arminians. What was argued above by me applies also at this point. We agree that God has all power in the universe to restrain all evil. There is no contention here. God does not, however, harden one person’s heart by a mere decree, while softening another’s heart by a mere decree, though Piper and all Calvinists will argue otherwise. Read carefully: We are not suggesting that God does not harden anyone’s heart, or that He has not in some sense decreed to harden someone’s heart.

Piper has tried to demonstrate “God’s willing a state of affairs in one sense that he disapproves in another sense.” But by “willing,” Piper means “willing by necessity.” The ones so “willed upon,” if you will, by God, have no other choice but to do or say or think that which God wills by necessity, even when what He wills by necessity is something of which He disapproves. Even so, he still has not shown how this affirms the conception that God has “willed” (or genuinely desires) the salvation of all people, though He has unconditionally elected to save only some.

Arminians agree that God “wills” things of which He does not approve. However, we deny that God does so by necessity (e.g. Deut. 28:1-2, 15; 30:15-19; Isaiah 65:2-7, 11-12; Jer. 2:20; 3:21-22; 6:16; 7:28, 30-31; 9:7-9; 13:11, 24-25). God allows human beings to behave contrary to His holy and righteous standards. But I am not suggesting that God “wills” for them not to sin, and then also “wills” for them to sin by necessity. We reject the philosophy of the Westminster Confession, which states that “God from all eternity, did . . . freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; . . . yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions” (III:I, II).

This definitive Calvinistic confession demonstrates that God did not by His own essence foreknow (or foresee) future contingencies by His exhaustive knowledge of all events, foreknowing each individual who would ever exist, in the circumstances in which they would exist (Acts 17:26-27), and in time and history work “all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11 NASB). Whatever comes about, according to Calvinism, is brought about by the decree of God. All sin (rape, incest, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, murder, theft, blasphemy against God) is all brought about by God’s deterministic will. Thus when one encounters sin in any form, that person can rightly, according to Calvinism, and according to John Piper’s two wills in God theory, understand that God brought it about, and did so because it was His decree from eternity. Also, God brought the sin about in order to make the glory of Christ shine brighter (link).

Piper, as do all good Christians, wrestles with the notion of God delighting in and not delighting in the death of the wicked (cf. Deut. 28:63; 2 Sam. 2:25; Ezekiel 18:23). From a Classical Arminian position, God never delights in the death of the wicked for its own sake (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11) because of the sinner’s everlasting destruction in hell. In another sense, God’s justice and holy character are satisfied in the death of the wicked, which brings Him pleasure. Sin must either be atoned for or judged: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36 NASB).

For the rest of the chapter, Piper addresses how extensive is the “sovereign” will of God and vies for it to “make sense.” He explains: “Behind this complex relationship of two wills in God is the foundational biblical premise that God is indeed sovereign in a way that makes him ruler of all actions.” God as “the ruler of all actions” is where the shining element of Calvinism became tarnished for me when I was a Calvinist over ten years ago. Piper complains about R. T. Forster and V. P. Marston’s claim, that, “Nothing in Scripture suggests that there is some kind of will or plan of God which is inviolable.”

The word “inviolable” indicates a thing which cannot be transgressed (The Free Dictionary.com), secure from violation or assault (Webster), or incapable from being violated (Dictionary.com). Piper adds: “This is a remarkable claim. Without claiming to be exhaustive it will be fair to touch on some scriptures briefly that do indeed ‘suggest that there is some kind of will or plan of God which is inviolable.'”

Piper rightly insists that there are “passages that ascribe to God the final control over all calamities and disasters wrought by nature or by man.” Not even Forster or Marston were claiming that God does not “have the final say” over all things. What they were rightly rejecting was Piper’s theory that God has strictly decreed all things, the most devastating of them being sin.

We are not given enough context from Piper, but if Forster and Marston made their comment on the grounds that not everything which happens does so at the decree and behest of God, then they are biblically correct. We have explicit statements littered throughout Scripture where God admitted that the Israelites committed a sinful act that was not commanded by Him, nor did such a thing enter His mind for them to do (cf. Jer. 19:5). The fact that the Israelites disobeyed God for so many years, when He had declared to them that it was His will that they obey Him, levels the Calvinist’s theory of determinism. Since God has not strictly decreed whatsoever comes to pass merely by that decree, then there are things that happen which God does not strictly bring about (at least, not by His decreeing it so). (Divine concurrence is not the subject matter here, so it will not be addressed.)

Nevertheless, Piper takes the passages of Scripture which demonstrates God’s intervention in the lives and hearts of human beings (Job 42:2; Ps. 115:3; Prov. 16:1, 9; 16:33; 19:21; Isaiah 43:13; 45:7; 46:9-10; Jer. 10:23; Lam. 3:37-38; Dan. 4:35; Amos 3:6; Matt. 10:29; Acts 18:21; 21:14; 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7; Phil. 2:12-13; Heb. 6:3; 1 Pet. 2:15; 3:17; 4:2, 19; James 4:15), scriptures which no Classical Arminian would try to “explain away,” and concludes that He always and at all times and in all places controls the thoughts, words, will and actions (choices) of each individual, and that He must do so in order to be “sovereign.”

As with most of Piper’s proof-texting, however, many of them must be interpreted in light of his theory of exhaustive determinism. One example includes his quoting Philippians 2:12-13: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (NASB). This, in Calvinism, must be deciphered to mean that God is irresistibly working in the believer, giving the believer the will and the working for His good pleasure. But does Scripture allow for us to infer that this is done in the believer irresistibly? Clarke, again, comments: “Every holy purpose, pious resolution, good word, and good work, must come from him;” and at this point the Calvinist agrees. He continues: “ye must be workers together with him, that ye receive not his grace in vain; because he worketh in you, therefore work with him, and work out your own salvation.” This statement, however, promotes a synergism which Calvinists typically shun. Yet it is a synergism which Scripture itself promotes. Why tell believers to work out their salvation if they do not have to work out their salvation? Though the ability to do so requires the ability of God, the responsibility remains upon the believer to do something, i.e. work out his or her salvation with fear and trembling. If God is going to irresistibly work in the believer, then what is there to fear and tremble? Piper concludes:

    In view of all these texts I am unable to grasp what Forster and Marston might mean by saying, “Nothing in Scripture suggests that there is some kind of will or plan of God which is inviolable”. . . . Nor can I understand how Fritz Guy can say that the “will of God” is always a desiring and intending but not a sovereign, effective willing. . . . Rather the Scriptures lead us again and again to affirm that God’s will is sometimes spoken of as an expression of his moral standards for human behavior and sometimes as an expression of his sovereign control even over acts which are contrary to that standard.

Piper means that the first will is the “expression of his moral standars for human behavior,” and His second will is an “expression of his sovereign control over acts which are contrary to that standard.” He writes:

    This means that the distinction between terms like “will of decree” and “will of command” or “sovereign will” and “moral will” is not an artificial distinction demanded by Calvinistic theology. The terms are an effort to describe the whole of biblical revelation. They are an effort to say Yes to all of the Bible and not silence any of it. They are a way to say Yes to the universal, saving will of 1 Timothy 2:4 and Yes to the individual unconditional election of Romans 9:6-23.

These expressions are no doubt “an effort,” as Piper states, but I think they are a failed one. It is a failure because one so-called “will” is flaccid and useless, while the other “will” determines everything. One “will” really does not do anything, while the other “will” does everything. What Piper wants to accomplish (and I for one appreciate) is a way to insist that God genuinely loves every lost sinner even though He has unconditionally chosen to save only some. One is led to think, however, that the Calvinist is aware that something is amiss or awry in holding these two beliefs simultaneously. Still, ultimately, we are left with only the all-determining “will”: the “will” which actually does or accomplishes something, or rather everything.

Let us view an analogy (in spite of how weak analogies can sometimes be). Let us be practical about Piper’s theory of the two wills in God, but allow the same principle for human beings. For the sake of arguing, let us suggest that I have two established wills by which I live and move and have my being: 1) I unconditionally love every human being (which is impossible, I know), and I am known for my unconditional love; and 2) I have unconditionally chosen to help only certain people in my community, and no one can really know who those people are because it is my secret. The first premise by which I live is my revealed will. Everyone can know at least that much about me because I have revealed it to everyone, and there are many people who actually tell others about me and my attribute. I am known for my unconditional love. The second premise by which I live is my secret or hidden will. No one really knows this will, and some have accused me of being arbitrary.

I see plenty of people in my community in need all the time. I am always willing to stop and help those whom I have unconditionally chosen to help. I am not willing to stop and help those in need whom I have not unconditionally chosen to help. I have already unconditionally chosen those whom I will help, though no one can know why or who those chosen ones are. Recently, someone began telling others that my unconditional love for people was being questioned because I saw some people in my community in need but did not stop to help them. (Not only did those particular people not deserve my help, but they also hated me.) Moreover, they were not ones whom I had chosen to unconditionally help. After all, I am not obligated to help anyone.

But one man, speaking on behalf of the rest, complained about me to my face. He said, “You claim to unconditionally love everyone, and yet you have unconditionally chosen to help only some people. Why? And how can you claim to unconditionally love everyone when you will not help those you see in need?” It seems as though merely telling others that they do not deserve my unconditional love and that I am not obligated to help them did not actually solve anything, nor was it an answer to their questions. I was forced to ask myself, In what sense is my unconditional love for all people a motivating factor for those whom I have not unconditionally chosen to help? What about those whom I have not chosen to help? How can I express my unconditional love for them? I certainly cannot express it by running those underserving cretans over with my car.

Piper, in trying to make sense of his theory of the two wills in God, begins by rightly noting that God cannot sin (Isaiah 6:3; James 1:13). He affirms Jonathan Edwards’ greater-good theodicy while confessing that God brings about evil for a good purpose. Classical Arminians will doubtfully balk at such an admission (though some may, and not everyone affirms a greater-good theodicy). Piper adds: “All must own that God sometimes wills not to hinder the breach of his own commands, because he does not in fact hinder it.” However, if God’s commands are His “will,” or one of the two “wills,” as Piper stated above, then at least this “will” is not inviolable (this “will” can be thwarted). Having dismissed the unbiblical notion that anything in the universe could be more powerful than God, thus overruling what God wills, his answer to 1 Timothy 2:4 is thus:

    The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all. This is the solution that I as a Calvinist affirm along with Arminians. In other words both Calvinists and Arminians affirm two wills in God when they ponder deeply over 1 Timothy 2:4. Both can say that God wills for all to be saved. But then when queried why all are not saved both Calvinist and Arminian answer that God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.

Once again, is it necessary to use a two-will theory, even though what Piper is saying here is true? Is it any less biblical of a notion to insist that God has one will with various distinctions: God is “willing” to save all people, and “willing” to save “those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21); God is able to save all those who come to God through the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:25)? This truth does not need a theory of two wills, one of which is unproductive and inefficacious.

Piper suggests that both Calvinists and Arminians affirm two wills in God, yet, “The answer given by Arminians is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace.” Piper is known for charging Arminianism as inherently “human self-determination.” His careless calumny ignores all that Arminius himself taught on the will (here, here, and here), and that Classical Arminians hold as well.

If God’s kindness or grace must lead one to repentance (Rom. 2:4), and His proactive grace must precede and enable our faith (Eph. 2:8), and one must be convicted of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) by the “power” of the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17) in order to receive Jesus Christ and be granted the power or right to become a child of God (John 1:12), then how can any Calvinist insist that Arminianism affirms “human self-determination”? If we confessed human self-determination then we would not be Classical Arminians, we would be semi-Pelagians. Failure by Calvinists to accurately represent our theology is quite an embarrassment on their part. Failure by Arminians to accurately represent Calvinistic theology is quite an embarrassment on our part. Both sides need to take great care in accurately representing the theology which they are critiquing.

What hinders God from “saving all people” (1 Tim. 2:4) is not His hidden or secret will to unconditionally save only some from among humankind, which is exactly what Piper and all Calvinists teach. This theory is not even taught in Scripture; it is inferred by a Calvinistic hermeneutic. Piper insists: “The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).”

Do not be misled by Piper and other Calvinists: Arminians give “all credit to God” for their salvation. Do not allow the Calvinist to deceive you into thinking that Arminianism naturally leads one to take any credit for his or her salvation. God is the only One who can save a soul. No one can cause his or her own regeneration and salvation. At the same time, Scripture indicates that salvation is conditioned upon faith in Jesus Christ — salvation is not unconditional: you must really believe or trust Christ Jesus in order to be saved (e.g. Acts 4:12; 15:9; 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Rom. 1:5, 17; 3:22, 25, 26, 30; 4:5; 5:1; 10:6; Gal. 2:16; 3:8).

Piper continues: “This is utterly crucial to see, for what it implies is that 1 Timothy 2:4 does not settle the momentous issue of God’s higher commitment which restrains him from saving all.” He states that this one verse says little regarding free will or God’s alleged exhaustive determinism or theory of unconditonal election: “The assumption is that if God wills in one sense for all to be saved, then he cannot in another sense will that only some be saved. That assumption is not in the text, nor is it demanded by logic, nor is it taught in the rest of Scripture.” But in Piper’s theology, God’s alleged “will” that all be saved is merely an expression — this “will” (expression) is just words on a page.

Again, by the word “wills,” Piper is inferring determinism by an unconditional decree. But the Greek word for “wills,” or better, “desires,” is thelō and indicates “to will, have in mind, intend
to be resolved or determined, to purpose, to desire, to wish, to love, to like, to do a thing, be fond of doing, to take delight in, have pleasure” (link). Most English translations give the sense of “desire” (NASB, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NRSV, HCSB, ISV, NLT, GWT, CEV, NCV, Amplified, Darby) over “wills” (KJV, ASV, Douay-Rheims). God wanting or desiring all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth is worlds apart from His deterministically “willing” the same by a theoretical unconditional election. He adds: “Both Arminians and Calvinists must look elsewhere to answer whether the gift of human self-determination or the glory of divine sovereignty is the reality that restrains God’s will to save all people.”

Did you detect how Piper constructed the two differing views? One was predicated upon “human self-determination,” and the other upon “the glory of divine sovereignty.” Perhaps Piper would appreciate another take on the differing views. One is derived from God’s totalitarianism and the idol of exhaustive determinism, while the other is founded upon the glory and grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who will believe. No wonder so many young people are increasingly joining the Young Restless and Reformed group, when men like Piper, Sproul Sr. and John MacArthur (to say nothing of James White, Mark Driscoll and Michael Horton) are caricaturing (and lying about) Classical Arminian theology.

Finally, Piper gets to the heart of his discussion: “If, as Calvinists say, God deems it wise and good to elect unconditionally some to salvation and not others, one may legitimately ask whether the offer of salvation to all is genuine. Is it made with heart? Does it come from real compassion? Is the willing that none perish a bona fide willing of love? ” He proceeds to illustrate his point by using the real life example of an event in the life of George Washington, as told by Robert L. Dabney.

Major André had “jeopardized the safety of the young nation through ‘rash and unfortunate’ treasonous acts.” Washington deeply regretted signing the death warrant for André because the major was a reputable man, though it was in Washington’s power and right to release him should he so choose. Washington’s verdict was “rationally counterpoised by a complex of superior judgments . . . of wisdom, duty, patriotism, and moral indignation.” Washington’s pity was “real, but was restrained by superior elements of motive.” Piper writes: “The corresponding point in the case of divine [unconditional] election is that ‘the absence of volition in God to save does not necessarily imply the absence of compassion.'” Arminians Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell respond:

    He [God] is fully glorified when his holy love is manifested most clearly, and it is precisely this love that seeks our fulfillment and happiness. Given that Piper heartily affirms this, it’s puzzling why he believes God isn’t fully glorified unless some are consigned to damnation. Does God have a duty to damn some persons in some sense analogous to Washington’s duty to sign André’s death warrant? If so, to whom could he owe such a duty? Washington’s authority is not even remotely analogous to God’s sovereignty, and God is beholden to no one and nothing higher than himself. How could he be duty bound to damn some persons?3

Walls and Dongell deal a devastating blow to Piper’s theory and illustration. Given that Piper’s theology places God’s decrees in eternity past, prior to anyone existing or doing anything evil, one wonders why God would in eternity past be obligated to create some human beings for the purpose of their condemnation so that He could be glorified. The notion is bizarre at best and defaming at worst. Consider John Calvin’s statement:

    By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.4

Understand Calvin’s erroneous supralapsarian comment: each person “has been created for one or the other of these ends,” heaven or hell. Evidently, God was under His own compulsion to create human beings either for heaven or hell, and this for His glory. Piper then has the audacity to claim, “In other words, God has a real and deep compassion for perishing sinners.” In what sense whatsoever has God demonstrated that He has a “real and deep compassion for perishing [non-elect] sinners”? By mere words? Piper continues:

    God’s expression of pity and his entreaties have heart in them. There is a genuine inclination in God’s heart to spare those who have committed treason against his kingdom. But his motivation is complex, and not every true element in it rises to the level of effective choice. In his great and mysterious heart there are kinds of longings and desires that are real — they tell us something true about his character. Yet not all of these longings govern God’s actions.

Again, in Piper’s theology, God’s “expression of pity” and compassion is benign and nominal for the non-elect — that expression is in word only and not in deed. But God’s unconditional love for humanity was never expressed, at least not in Scripture, in word only but also in deed. For God so loved the world that He did something, not merely said something, not merely felt something. God did not just say that He loved the world of lost sinners, He sent His one and only unique Son into that world (John 3:16) to take away the sin of that world (John 1:29) and to reconcile that world back unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19) so that whoever would trust in Christ Jesus could really be saved, not just in theory but in reality. Lost sinners need genuine compassion, not just an expressed pity that is inefficacious, as in Calvinism.

Piper concludes: “My contribution has simply been to show that God’s will for all people to be saved is not at odds with the sovereignty of God’s grace in [unconditional] election.” Sadly, he failed miserably to demonstrate how God in any real sense “willed” for all people to be saved (a will which does absolutely nothing), since He has “willed” deterministically to unconditionally elect to save only some people; especially when we consider Piper’s (and Calvin’s) theological stance on the doctrine of reprobation.

If God needed to create some people for hell, so that He could be glorified for His alleged attribute of wrath, then God could not have desired, in any manner possible, the salvation of those whom He decreed to create for hell. If God needs the non-elect to experience His wrath in hell for eternity so that He can be glorified, then He cannot, if we want to maintain any semblance of consistency or sanity, also desire their salvation, because it is their damnation which will ultimately bring Him glory. The two wills in God theory is an inept attempt at trying to talk out of both sides of one’s mouth without appearing that he or she is doing so.

1 Bruce A. Little, “Evil and God’s Sovereignty,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, eds. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 290.

2 Ibid.

3 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2004), 178.

4 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008), 3:21:5.