The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s “Two-Wills” View (Part 2)

, posted by stridermtb

[StriderMTB’s lengthy article, “The Folly of Doing Theology in an Echo Chamber: A Thorough Examination of Piper’s ‘Two-Wills’ View,” has been divided into 30 parts and edited for serial publication on this website. Here is a link to the original post. After the entire series is published, it will be made available as a single article on this site. Critique 2 and 3 are included in this post.]


Critique 2: HAS GOD UNILATERALLY DECREED ALL EVIL IN ORDER TO BRING ABOUT GOOD, OR DOES GOD EXPLOIT EVIL FOR GOOD?

Throughout this examination, I will try to zero in on how Piper uses Scripture to substantiate his view that God’s holy mind is the origin of conception and decree for all sin and evil. There is no ignoring the fact that sin and evil occur in our world, so there is no argument there. Moreover, there is no getting around the fact that God is sovereign over sin’s occurrence. Indeed all informed Arminians recognize that fact. But what does that mean? That is where the controversy lies. Does it mean— as Piper’s “Two-Wills View” requires— that all sin and evil was fabricated in the workshop of God’s willing mind and then issued forth via divine decree to secondary wills?

Hardly.

The contrast of Piper’s position is neither to deny sin’s occurrence nor to suggest God is helpless in the face of evil. Rather the position the Scriptures most consistently take is that in all situations God reluctantly seeks to use sin and exploit evil for purposes that accord with his own counsel. In that sense, God never decrees sin through personal, purposeful agency! That is Piper’s key mistake. Rather God accommodates his will to a paradigm of sin that he did not decree, and seeks to use sin within the moral boundaries of his counsel that is informed by his morally perfect nature.

In that sense, much of what Piper points to as God’s decree of sin or his will for sin to occur is nothing of the sort. Rather it is merely evidence of God reluctantly accommodating his will to a fallen humanity that allows him to: 1) exploit sinful events to achieve his own purpose; 2) ransack evil by overruling its intended effects for good; 3) use sin and evil as his sovereign tool to bring either redemptive discipline or deserved judgment upon rebellious people; and 4) establish a world of condition and moral consequence where the onus is on us to respond to God’s graceful initiatives.

We can summarize so far by saying whenever and wherever possible, God reluctantly seeks to exploit evil and trump its intended effects by overruling it for his sovereign purpose. God’s glory is not best seen in him justifying all evil in virtue of decreeing all evil.[5] Rather it is best seen in him exploiting evil and overruling certain evils for good purposes while simultaneously denying that those evils were conceived and decreed by God in order to bring about those good purposes. There is a vast difference between the two. It is not my wish to belabor the point, but it is critical that we recognize that God is sovereign over evil in the sense that God lovingly and mercifully accommodates himself to us rather than wipe the dust of humanity off his feet. God knows we are ravaged by evils he never intended or decreed, and at all times he stands ready, willing and able to use evil (reluctantly since it is not his ideal) as a means to bring about his own purposes. Overruling unintended, un-decreed evils for good is a mark of his sovereign mercy, justice, and glory.

So yes—God is glorified through sin and evil, but not in the way Piper envisions. Again, we need to be careful here. Though it is correct to say God can exploit sin and use a fallen humanity to glorify himself, it is outrageous to say God unilaterally decreed every sin and act of evil for the purpose of glorifying himself. To argue for the latter is to inescapably and undeniably assert that God’s morally perfect nature and holiness is the origin of conception for every God-dishonoring sin and un-glorifying evil. It cannot be repeated enough that this is exactly the bedrock assertion that Piper’s confused aberration of divine glory rests upon. He argues:

“Everything that exists–including evil–is ordained by an infinitely holy and all-wise God to make the glory of Christ shine more brightly.” [6]

“He wills that evil come to pass that good may come of it.” [7]

God’s collusion with sin and evil does not just exist on the margins of Piper’s theology; it goes to the very core of his entire theological foundation. We are talking I-beams and pillars, not wallpaper and trim.

Critique 3: DOES PIPER’S TWO-WILLS VIEW COLLAPSE INTO A CONTRARIETY WITHIN GOD?

Piper begins his lengthy attempt to ground his view of God being the conceptual and decretive origin for all sin and evil by quoting Spurgeon who said:

“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.”

Piper never tries to demonstrate why the Calvinist position does not indeed logically collapse into a “contrariety in God” wherein God’s revealed will (moral will) is contradicted by his secret will (decretive will). Rather Piper simply dismisses the accusation by saying, “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 appears to be conceding that logic and reason oppose him, but Scripture embraces him. Indeed it is an unfortunate reality of our world today that all theologies, both good and bad, often get traced back to the Scriptures in some way. So let’s begin to roll out Piper’s hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures and behold how it is radically governed and controlled by his myopic propensity to see his biased assumptions everywhere he looks.

Piper seeks to defend his view that all choices to sin ultimately originated in God’s decretive will by arguing that God possesses two wills in regards to sin and evil. On the one hand, God hates sin and never desires that it occur, but on the hand, everything God hates and wishes should never occur, does indeed occur because God intended and decreed that it ought to occur and therefore must occur. Piper tries to split the difference by consigning one aspect of God’s will as God’s “will of command” and the other aspect of God’s will as his “will of decree.” He tries to argue they are not in conflict. But we shall see they are unquestionably in conflict given that God’s will of command is that human beings ought not commit sin and God’s will of decree is that we ought to commit sin in every instance (not just some) where God commands that we ought not commit sin!

As both Spurgeon and Piper rightly note, Arminian scholars contest that Calvinism’s interpretation of God’s two wills is grossly misconceived since it inescapably presents a contrariety within God that makes his essential nature and character morally ambiguous and contradictory.

Shockingly Piper attempts to commence building his defense by outrageously abusing and misrepresenting a quote from an Arminian theologian named I. Howard Marshall. He makes it appear as if Marshall’s understanding of the nature of God’s “two wills” is synonymous with his own. For instance, Piper states, “Marshall …concedes the existence of two wills in God.” And then he proceeds to quote the relevant portion of Marshall’s statement in defense of his own view:

“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.”

Piper then attempts to perch atop Marshall’s quote and throw a dragnet over every perversity contrary to God’s moral nature by saying:

“In this chapter I would now like to undergird Marshall’s point that “we must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and [that] both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.”

It should not be missed that when Piper speaks of what God “actually wills to happen” he is not talking about God’s consequent will in light of human rebellion (as is Marshall); he is talking about God’s decree to unconditionally predestine multitudes to hell and render all their sins certain, if not necessary, via sovereign, irresistible determinations. Though Piper obscures this definitive goal at crucial junctures, his ultimate aim is to prove just that, using Marshall’s quote as a catalyst to that end.

So how is Piper’s treatment of Marshall’s statement an egregious abuse of what Marshall said? Quite simple. When Marshall speaks of “what God would like to see happen, and what God actually wills to happen” he has in mind a complementary difference—not a conflicting difference as does Piper. In context, Marshall is seeking to elucidate what all non-Calvinists believe and which the Scriptures affirm concerning God’s will in reconciling humanity unto himself. Marshall is saying that God’s perfect will is that no man perish but that all people come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pet 3:9). Yet this does not occur. Now the question is why? Is it because God has a conflicting desire deeply sequestered in his sovereign will that trumps the intentions of his universal, saving desire? Is it because God’s secret, decretive will leads him to unconditionally restrict and purposely thwart the fulfillment of his own sovereign desire from being realized?

Piper must answer, “yes” to these questions because in his theology salvation is ultimately an act of God’s raw power overcoming all human resistance. Obviously, if it is just a power move that can brush aside any resistance, what God can do for some he can do for all. As such, in a Calvinist context the reason God’s redemptive desire for all to be saved collapses into an unrealized desire is principally due to the existence of an escapable conflicting desire within the divine will that is so powerful it even brushes aside his universal, redemptive desires! In Piper’s interpretation, God actively works against the fulfillment of his own desire— unless of course, God’s stated desires are insincere and artificial posturing.

Marshall, being the Arminian he is, would profoundly disagree that God actively works against his own redemptive desires. The Arminian position is that God’s desires are genuine, but that God sovereignly ordained that the realization of certain aspects of his desires would be contingent upon the free, moral agency of his people. God can no more be said to have two wills (as Piper distinguishes them) than an earthly father can be said to have two wills when he tells his children that he desires to give dessert to all his children, but adds the complementary condition that he wills to only grant dessert to children who eat all their vegetables.

The Arminian position is that God is just and gracious, and therefore he can neither dismiss sin nor force his sovereign desire that all be saved upon all people. So in that sense, the fact that God’s sovereign desire for all to be saved goes on unrealized is due to God’s accommodating, complementary will (not conflicting will) that takes into account human freedom and hence conditions salvation only upon those who freely respond to his graceful initiatives. Just as there is no conflict in saying a father genuinely wills to give dessert to all his children, but qualifies the actual giving of dessert on the condition of finishing one’s vegetables, so also there is no conflict in saying God genuinely wills that all respond to his work of grace and be saved, and also saying that God wills to save only those who meet his condition and respond to his work of grace. For as the scriptures say, “God is the savior of all men– especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10).

In the Arminian view, God’s power seeks to undergird his divine desire that all come to repentance and be saved, rather than intentionally undermine it, as Piper’s view undeniably demonstrates.


[5] Whatever God decrees must flow out of his morally just nature. Therefore whatever God decrees he approves of morally and sees it as justified. If Piper’s Calvinist paradigm is true, then God’s morally perfect nature has unconditionally decreed all evil, rendering all evil approved and justified.

[6] Piper, John. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be

[7] Piper, John. See: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-god-less-glorious-because-he-ordained-that-evil-be