Book Review: Does God Desire All to Be Saved – #2

Part 1 – Introduction

In the first chapter of this booklet John Piper explains his aim for the publication,

“My aim in this short book is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for all people to be saved and his will to choose some people for salvation unconditionally before creation is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegeti­cal confusion.”

Piper draws a line between God’s will to save all but His only choosing some to be saved. While the traditional view would also accept that God wills to save all but not all will be saved, the reason is very different.

The Calvinist believes God only choose some for salvation, and others are left to destruction. God’s choosing is the basis for their salvation or destruction.

The traditionalist also believes God wills for all to be saved, but not all will to be saved. But in their case the choice of the individual is the basis for their salvation of destruction (not the earning or deserving of it, but simply either accepting or rejecting God’s offer).

In the latter view the responsibility lies with the individual, while in the former God is responsible for their judgment.

Piper goes on to list the primary verses in question

  • 1 Timothy 2:4
  • 2 Peter 3:9
  • Ezekiel 18:23
  • Matthew 23:37

Concerning the first two passages Piper states that a

“careful interpretation” will result in the belief that God does not desire for all individuals to be saved, but rather “all sorts of people”.

However, he goes on to claim,

“Nevertheless, the case for this limitation on God’s universal saving will has never been convincing to Arminians.”

Two things to note, the lack of gracious toward and clarity about those with him he disagrees.

It is not just to imply that those who disagree with his position do not exercise “careful interpretation”. It subtly, but certainly, implies a lack of care in how we handle God’s Word.

Secondly, not all who disagree with his position would identify, or could be identified, as Arminianists. Again, there is subtlety, here, in implying that there is only one alternative to the the Calvinistic interpretation. Seeing as many would naturally shy away from being labelled an Arminianist, they defer to the Calvinistic position.

To further demonstrate this point consider the footnote explaining Arminianist theology. Having explained that both camps agree that humanity is fallen and cannot save itself, he goes on to highlight some differences.

“But unlike the Reformed, Arminians do not believe that this prevenient grace is decisive in bringing about personal salvation, but rather that humans have the power of decisive self-determination, and that is what finally determines who is saved and who is not.”

That’s fair. That summarizes perfectly a major distinctive, the “power of decisive self-determination.”

Then Piper goes on,

“Another doctrinal distinctive is summed up in The Global Dictionary of Theology: ‘For Ar­minius, predestination, instead of being unconditionally founded in God’s will alone, is conditional on an individual’s faith. God elects those to salvation who do not resist, but accept, his gracious gift of faith and perseverance; God reprobates those who stubbornly refuse to receive his saving gift.’ Thus, persevering to the end in faith and being saved is not certain. Christians can use their power of self-determination to reject the faith and lose their salvation…”

Now, the vast majority of Christians would reject the possibility of losing their salvation. When they read that Arminians believe this they reject it and instead embrace Calvinism, never realizing there are viable alternatives to both.

Piper now moves on to explain how God can apparently have two wills – in the Calvinistic model, He simply does.

Now, some might believe in God’s perfect will and His permissive will. For example, God’s perfect will would not be for me to sin, but in His permissive will He does not strike me dead at my first infraction. However, even if those two did exist in that tension, it would not create a contradiction.

But in the Calvinists model a contradiction does occur, and as I’ve written in previous articles I believe it does an injustice to the character of God.

Piper states God has two wills and that explains,

“This distinction in the ways God wills is not a new contrivance. It has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries.”

John Piper – Does God Desire All to be Saved

However, just because it is not new, does not mean that it is true.

What are some of the names given to these two wills they attribute to God?

  • Sovereign will and moral will
  • Efficient will and permissive will (not used in the same sense as I used it above)
  • Secret will and revealed will
  • Will of decree and will of command
  • Decretive will and preceptive will
  • Voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure)

The difference between these two wills is that one is actionable and results in the salvation of a soul, the other desires something, but takes no action to accomplish it.

It is curious to me that Calvinists often wrongly accuse non-calvinists of creating in their minds a wishy-washy God who wants to save, but is thwarted but the will of a puny human. They depict this God as wringing His hands in Heaven as He powerlessly looks on, unable to act. Yet, how much worse does it look if there is a God who has two groups in front of Him and says to one,

“I really want to save you, really I do, but I’m not going to. Why? Just because. But take heart, I really do want to.”

What then is the difference between the two? How can they both exist in truth and yet not contradict one another? Piper writes,

“God’s will is not his sovereign purpose that he infallibly establishes, but rather ‘the desire of the lover for the beloved’.”

The difference, then, seems to be that while they believe God’s desire is for all to be saved, however, to serve His purpose He will only save some. As has been asked by others, “What love is this?”

In the closing paragraphs of this chapter Piper writes,

“But in spite of these criticisms, the distinction stands, not because of a logical or theological deduction or necessity, but because it is inescapable in the Scriptures.”

I would agree, it is neither logical not a theological deduction. But I disagree that it is inescapable in the Scriptures. The necessity to see two wills comes about from the presuppositions that Calvinism brings to the text.

As with the whole of the Calvinistic position, it relies heavily on certain on presuppositions, and with those firmly in place the rest of the edifice is constructed.

In the second chapter Piper will use illustrations of “Two Wills in God” to prove His assertions. However, they again rest on certain presuppositions.

In my next article in this series we will look at those in turn.  

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