The following comments (slightly edited) are taken from a SEA member while discussing the subject of the problem with the Calvinist “two wills” view and the suggestion that the Arminian position must likewise adopt essentially the same “two wills” view as the Calvinist. This is especially relevant considering a recent post at Justin Taylor’s blog where R.C. Sproul seems to use the “two wills” approach to explain how God can truly desire for all to be saved while secretly reprobating so many by way of an irresistible and unchangeable eternal decree Does God Really Want All People to be Saved?”),
“I think the Calvinist view of two wills is egregious and absurd. Part of the problem is that one can describe the Arminian view in terms of two wills, and some Calvinists like to play that up, but the two views are so far apart as to have almost nothing to do with one another. Everybody knows what it is to have two or more conflicting desires. And everyone knows what it’s like to have power to force someone else to do what one wants, but chooses not to because of respect for that person’s will or to be able to have genuine relationship or what have you. But Calvinism posits God saying and commanding what he wants to happen, and then irresistibly causing people to violate that, and then punishing them for it, assuring us that he’s still good because there was a part of him that didn’t want to do it. If he could have thought of a better way to display his justice and power than commanding people not to do things that he unconditionally and irresistibly decreed that they would do, necessitating them to do it, if he could have come up with a better way, than he would have. That’s just nonsense to me.
The trick that Calvinists like to do, and Piper is very good at this, is abstracting the two views to the point that they can both be described in the same way, and then alleging that they are hardly different. Calvinists probably tend to do that a lot (abstracting two different views on any number of topics to make them sound the same). But the specifics and the details make all the difference. Just think of the difference between telling your son not to touch the TV with the threat of a spanking for disobeying, and then grabbing his hand and making him touch the TV (or somehow irresistibly controlling your son’s will so that he touches the TV) followed by a spanking for touching the TV vs. telling your son not to touch the TV with the threat of a spanking for disobeying, and being in the room in the position to stop him when he goes to touch the TV, but you don’t stop him and then give him a spanking. Both of those scenarios could be abstracted to the point of describing them in the essentially same way: you had one will that the boy not touch the TV and not be spanked, but you had another will that the boy be able to touch the TV and get spanked because of a higher purpose you had. If you abstract it to a high enough degree, you can make them sound the same. But they are so completely different as to have almost nothing in common.
I don’t think it is helpful to speak about the Arminian view as two wills. I think it is better to think of it as one complex will, or one conditional will. God desires this if such and such is the case, but this if such and such is the case. This comports with the normal experience of having conflicting desires largely created by differing circumstances in the world. Usually, one’s “will” refers to the desire one chooses to pursue or one’s greatest desire. I ask a woman to marry me, and surely want her to say yes, but only if she wants to and is uncoerced. So do I want to marry her or not? Complex will. I want her to want to marry me, and I want her to say yes, but I only want her to freely want to marry me (so uncoerced, not under the influence of a drug, etc.) and I only want her to say yes if she really wants to. Do I want to marry her? Yes. Do I want to marry her if she doesn’t want to? No. Two different wills? No, not really. One complex will: I want to marry her if she wants to marry me and freely accepts. But do I want her to want to marry me? Yes. But do I want her to want to marry me if she is somehow irresistibly caused to do so, perhaps by a drug or effective magic love potion? No. Two different wills? Not really. One complex will: I want her to freely want to marry me. But Calvinism is completely different. Irresistible cause is not an issue. Everything is unconditionally decided and caused by God. It is all according to whatever he says is to be.”
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