Book Review: “Does God Desire All to be Saved?” #1

Recently, I wrote an extensive and somewhat meandering review of Roger Olson’s book, “against Calvinism”.

In the interest of fairness, I am going to write a review of a booklet by John Piper titled, “Does God Desire all to be Saved”. While it is significantly shorter, it deals with a single subject and so has a much narrower focus. Under review is not the Calvinistic system as a whole, but rather the one issue of whether God desires all to be saved.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at each section, beginning today with his introduction. Then later we’ll move into the following chapters of the booklet:

  1. My Aim
  2. Illustrations of Two Wills in God
  3. How Extensive is the Sovereign Will of God?
  4. Does it Make Sense?

In his introduction John Piper uses the illustration of climbing a mountain to explain the process of learning about and understanding Calvinism. Ultimately, I can see how these function as disclaimers as to why someone may disagree with his assertions and conclusions.

Disclaimer #1

“That’s one way to view this book. I hope it will serve as a guide upward through the haze and confusion about God’s electing and saving will.”

John Piper – Does God Desire All to be Saved?

From the outset Piper prepares the reader to have to abandon some degree of understanding in order to accept Calvinism as he teaches it. While God’s Word does contain mysteries, they are far different from the contradictions and confusion that Calvinism creates and then demands we accept.

Disclaimer #2

“I admit that some of the paths in this book are steep. And some of the steepest places are through the thickest clouds. The climb is not for everyone. We all have different gifts, and not everyone is called to this kind of intellectual climb. I don’t mean that the non-climbers will see less glory or worship with less passion. There are glories in the valleys. And there are paths into beauties of God that are less intellectual. I would not dare to claim that those who do this sort of climbing always see or savor more glory than those with wider eyes for the glory that is right there in the meadow. Nevertheless, some of us are wired to make this climb.”

John Piper – Does God Desire All to be Saved?

So, if you do not accept Calvinism, or if you walk away from it, it may be you just were not “wired” to grasp it. If so, who wired you that way and why?

A few pages later Piper states, “The aim of the climb is not intellectual satisfaction. The aim is worship.”

But why do we have to settle for just one or the other? Why can we not have a system of theology that is intellectual coherent AND encourages worship?

In the closing paragraph of the introduction we read,

“That God has chosen us to know him and love him makes us debtors to every person.”

John Piper – Does God Desire All to be Saved?

But if some cannot receive the Gospel because they are not one of the elect then what do owe them? I appreciate the desire to share the Gospel with everyone. I understand the motivation to tell all even if all cannot be saved as they cannot know who is and who is not elect. However, the aim of telling the Gospel to all and the proposition that we owe a debt to all does not logically follow from the tenets of Calvinism.

In speaking with Calvinists in the past I have often had these three issues arise as reflected in this brief introduction:

  • 1). You don’t understand or you can’t understand. You’re just not wired that way.
  • 2). You just have to accept it even if you can’t understand it
  • 3). Live in a way inconsistent with your theology (i.e. Not all can be saved, but you need to witness as if all could be saved).

To these points I would respond.

1. While some points of theology may challenge our understanding more than others, there exist Biblical explanations that do not create the intellectual leaps and bounds that Calvinism demands. Further, I struggle to accept that salvation, where we all begin with the Lord, is too challenging for some to understand.

2. I do not like to leave matters of faith in the hands of others. Just because it makes sense to someone else is not grounds for me to significantly alter my beliefs and behavior.

3. Once more, there are interpretations of the passages of the Bible under discussion that allow for consistency in both belief and behavior.

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