Reviewing Piper’s ‘Does God Desire All to Be Saved?’ | Adam Harwood, PhD

August 7, 2014

Does God Desire All to Be Saved? By John Piper.
Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 56 pages. Paperback, $9.99.

A book review by Dr. Adam Harwood, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology
McFarland Chair of Theology
Director, Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry
Editor, Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
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All comments initially moderated.
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(Ed.’s note: This summer, the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at NOBTS released another issue of its journals, backdated to Fall 2013. We deemed the book review to be of value to our readers. Thus, it is posted below. CLICK HERE to download the entire journal for free.)

Prior to being printed in this brief book, earlier versions of this essay appeared in three books and an online article.1 John Piper, it seems, desires all to read this essay.

Piper explains his aim “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” (13). Piper begins by labeling 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Peter 3:8–9, Ezekiel 18:23, 32, and Matt 23:37 as “perplexing texts” (13). He assumes as true the view that “God chooses unconditionally whom he will save” (15). Piper then deduces that, because God desires to save all but elects to save only some, “there are at least ‘two wills’ in God” (16). Known by various terms, these two wills in God are sometimes called God’s secret will and revealed will, or the will of decree and will of command.

Piper then illustrates the two wills in God by citing five biblical examples. First, the death of Christ demonstrates “God’s willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin” (19). Second, in the war against the Lamb mentioned in Rev 17:16–17, “God wills (in one sense) to influence the hearts of the ten kings so that they will do what is against his will (in another sense)” (22). Third, God hardens the heart of Pharaoh. This demonstrates that “God wills to harden men’s hearts so that they become obstinate in sinful behavior that he disapproves” (23). Fourth, various texts are used to argue that God chooses “to use or not to use his right to restrain evil in the human heart” (27). In the case of Eli’s sons, it was the Lord’s will to put them to death (1 Sam 2:25). Coupled with claims in Ezekiel 18 and 32, Piper explains that “in one sense God may desire the death of the wicked and in another sense he may not” (29). Fifth, Deut 28:63 states God will “take delight in bringing ruin upon” Israel. Piper considers this to be an “apparent contradiction” which can be resolved by considering God’s sovereignty (30).

(Ed.’s note: The report of the Calvinism Advisory Committee states: “We agree that God loves everyone and desires to save everyone, but we differ as to why only some are ultimately saved.” Piper’s answer would be two-fold: 1. God desires His glory more than the salvation of all people. 2. God chooses unconditionally to save only some people.)

Chapter three argues briefly that God’s sovereignty involves “human hostilities and cruelties that God disapproves even as he wills that they occur” (32). New Testament verses which state “if the Lord wills” and “if God permits” should be interpreted according to this definition of sovereignty.

In chapter four, Piper concludes the book by addressing various objections to the view that there are two wills in God. Piper appeals to Jonathan Edwards to argue that God orders all things that occur, even sinful acts, without sinning because God does not will it “as an act of sin in himself ” (38). Returning to 1 Tim 2:4, Piper concludes that this “controversial text” does not settle the issues raised by the title of his book. Why? Piper explains, “God wills not to save all, even though he ‘desires’ that all be saved, because there is something else that he wills or desires more” (39). He repeats, “God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.” To what is God more committed than saving all people? Piper answers, “The answer the Reformed give is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom 9:22–23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor 2:9)” (39). Piper prefers this answer to the Arminian reply that what “restrains God from saving all” is “human self-determination” (39–40).

Also, God sometimes wills evil to occur through secondary causes. Piper supports this view by appealing to passages such as God sending an evil spirit in Judges 9, Satan leading Judas to do what God brings about (cf. Luke 22:3 and Acts 2:23), and God’s actions behind Satan stirring David to the sinful action of taking a census (cf. 1 Chron 21:1 and 2 Sam 24:1, 10). Piper paraphrases Edwards by describing God’s view of tragedy and sin through both narrow and wide angle lenses. God is grieved by the narrow view, but rejoices in the wide view (45).

Piper states, “God deemed it wise and good to elect unconditionally some to salvation and not others” (47). Piper then defends RL Dabney’s historical analogy about George Washington to argue that “God has a real and deep compassion for perishing sinners” (48). Drawing from Jer 3:32–33, Piper explains, “God does will the affliction that he causes, but he does not will it in the same way he wills compassion” (48, emphasis his).

Piper concludes by stating, “God is constrained by His passion for the display of the fullness of His glory” (53). Piper affirms that “God loves the world with a real and sincere compassion that desires the salvation of all men.” Even so, “God has chosen from before the foundation of the world those whom he will save from sin.” Piper argues that the reason all are not saved must be located in either the Arminian reply of “human self-determination” or the Reformed reply of “the glorification of the full range of his perfections” (53). Finally, “Christ invites everyone to come” and any who come were chosen from the foundation of the world to be saved (54).

The strength of this book is that it seeks to address an Achilles heel in Reformed theology, namely the charge that affirming unconditional election requires a denial of God’s desire to save all people. The weakness of the book is that it argues against biblical texts which teach explicitly that God desires to save all people by appealing to a theological framework of two wills in God, which is deduced then imported into one’s reading of the Scripture. The result is that Piper favors the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.

Piper is right to raise the biblical texts which provide the strongest objections to his viewpoint. But he waves them off too quickly. For example, Piper cites John Gill’s exposition of 1 Tim 2:4 to suggest “it is possible” that God does not desire to save all people but “all sorts of people” (14). Does Piper want to pin his objection to 1 Tim 2:4 on the conclusion of a man that Michael Haykin called the “the doyen of eighteenth-century hyper-Calvinism”?2

Following Jonathan Edwards (17, 38), Piper wrongly creates a false dilemma by portraying only three theological options, five-point Calvinism, Arminianism, or Open Theism (15, 39, 40, 42, 43, 53). Where does this leave advocates of fewer points of Calvinism or those who identify with a theological tradition which is neither Calvinist nor Arminian––all of whom rightly reject Open Theism?3

Piper’s appeal to the idea of two wills in God, which is central to his argument, has been embraced by some Southern Baptists, such as Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware,4 but rejected by others, such as David Allen, Steve Lemke, Bruce Little, and Ken Keathley.5 Piper commits the error D. A. Carson specifically warned against in his dissertation, pointing to a hidden will to negate God’s revealed will.6

For readers who seek to reconcile unconditional election to salvation with God’s desire to save all people, Piper’s brief treatment provides an argument which may prove satisfying to the already convinced. But readers looking for an unambiguous answer of “yes” to the question in the title of the book are advised to look elsewhere.
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1The essay appears in The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will, edited by Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware (Baker, 1995); Still Sovereign, also edited by Schreiner and Ware (Baker, 2000); The Pleasures of God (Multnomah, 2000); and as an essay titled “Are There Two Wills in God?” (Jan. 1, 1995), available at http:// www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/are-there-two-wills-in-god (accessed November 29, 2013).

2Michael A. G. Haykin, “Hyper-Calvinism and the Theology of John Gill,” 6. Available at: http://www. andrewfullercenter.org/files/hyper-calvinism-and-the-theology-of-john-gill.pdf (accessed November 23, 2013). Haykin concludes, 16, “Gill’s theology did hamper passionate evangelism and outreach.”

3See, as examples, David Allen, et. al, “Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians but Baptists,” The Center for Theological Research, White Paper 36, available at http://www.baptisttheology.org/baptisttheology/assets/ File/NeitherCalvinistsNorArminiansButBaptists.pdf (accessed November 29, 2013), and Eric Hankins, “Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: Toward a Baptist Soteriology,” Journal of Baptist Theology and Ministry 8.1 (Spring 2011): 87–100, available at http://baptistcenter.net/journals/JBTM_8-1_Spring_2011. pdf#page=90 (accessed November 29, 2013).

4Piper’s appeal to two wills in God appears in these volumes edited by Schreiner and Ware, The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will (Baker, 1995) and Still Sovereign (Baker, 2000). See also Ware’s appeal to two wills in God in his article “Divine Election to Salvation,” in Perspectives on Election: Five Views, ed. Chad Owen Brand (Nashville: B&H, 2006).

5David L. Allen, “The Atonement: Limited or Universal?” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical and Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. Allen and Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 92; Steve W. Lemke, “A Biblical and Theological Critique of Irresistible Grace,” in Whosoever Will, 145; Bruce A. Little, “Evil and God’s Sovereignty,” in Whosoever Will, 293–4; Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 52–58. Keathley, 58–62, affirms a different, non- Reformed version of the two-wills paradigm, which he calls antecedent/consequent wills. He writes, “God desires the salvation of all, although He requires the response of faith on the part of the hearer. This ante- cedent/consequent wills approach sees no conflict between the two wills of God. God antecedently wills all to be saved. But for those who refuse to repent and believe, He consequently wills that they should be condemned” (58).

6D. A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 214, in Keath- ley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 55.

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doug sayers

A pair of explicit texts beats a full house of inferences every time. Thanks Adam.

Michael Vaughan

Hi Dr. Harwood,
If you have time, I would appreciate a response to Dr Piper’s arguments in favor of the two wills view. Your challenge to him is that he did not adequately address the arguments against such a view, but you yoursslf did not really address his arguments for it. How do you respond to his arguments concerning Pharaoh and the death of Christ as being willed by God and other such passages? How do you go about reconciling such passages with your Traditionalism?

Thanks,
Michael

Clint Bowman

Seems to me that Piper does a lot of theological gymnastics to find a way to support a man made line of reasoning (full blown Calvinism). Good review.

Adam Harwood

Michael,

Thanks for your question. The first eight paragraphs of the review simply summarized the contents of Piper’s book. To that point, there was no effort to critique its content.

My critique of the two wills view is provided in paragraphs 9 and 11. These are the relevant statements:

“The weakness of the book is that it argues against biblical texts which teach explicitly that God desires to save all people by appealing to a theological framework of two wills in God, which is deduced then imported into one’s reading of the Scripture. The result is that Piper favors the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.”

I try to point out in those sentences that “two wills” is an idea *read into* the Bible, not a view explicitly *drawn out of* the Bible.

“Piper’s appeal to the idea of two wills in God, which is central to his argument, has been embraced by some Southern Baptists, such as Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware,4 but rejected by others, such as David Allen, Steve Lemke, Bruce Little, and Ken Keathley.5 Piper commits the error D. A. Carson specifically warned against in his dissertation, pointing to a hidden will to negate God’s revealed will.6” (See the footnotes, especially 5, which lays out the antecedent/consequent wills distinction.)

A challenge in discussing this issue is that Christians often bring differing definitions to the table of the the same doctrine and its key words, in this case the doctrine of providence and the word “will.” Reformed theologians typically mean that God decrees all events, which implies causation. Other Christians define “will” as does the Abstract of Principles (1858) when it addresses the doctrine of providence, “God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass…” In agreement with the AP, for example, I do not say that God *causes* people to act in sinful ways; I say that God sometimes permits sinful actions and He sometimes uses sinful actions for His purposes. In each of the examples Piper cites, a Christian interpretation can be provided without appealing to a Reformed view of providence. For example, Acts 2:23 ESV states, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Sinful men freely chose to commit sinful actions, which resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus. The Cross of Christ was the plan of God. He knew He would bring it about (foreknowledge means to know in advance). In this way, God used the sinful actions of sinful men to bring redemption. There is no hidden will, which is contrary to a revealed will. And God did *not* cause any person to commit sinful actions.

I hope this helps. Blessings.

Adam

Clay Gilbreath

I became a total, radical, complete un-follower of Piper when I read “Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ.” I believe much of what is in the reviewed article is also in this book… Thanks for the review!

Robert

Hello Adam,

I enjoyed your review. And I am glad you reviewed Piper’s book.

When I came to what I see as one of the key points made in it, it brought back lots of memories:

[[“The weakness of the book is that it argues against biblical texts which teach explicitly that God desires to save all people by appealing to a theological framework of two wills in God, which is deduced then imported into one’s reading of the Scripture. The result is that Piper favors the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.”]]

The reason this quote brought back memories is that I began my Christian experience doing a lot of work in anti-cult ministry. I worked with and knew one of the most effective counter cult apologists, Walter Martin, so I have seen this exact method employed by many non-Christian groups.
Once you have seen this pattern you recognize when Christians engage in it as well. Calvinists do this frequently, start with an idea THEN look for some Bible verse that they believe could somehow support the idea.

What Piper does is to develop a framework (the two wills theory) that can then be used to justify what seems like a clear contradiction in Calvinist thought. The contradiction is between their claim that God only elects some to salvation and the Bible verses that explicitly state that Jesus died for the whole world. This is a contradiction at its face, so how can the Calvinists get rid of it? Why, by constructing and appealing to the two will theory. Yes, the Bible (the revealed will of God) says that Jesus died for the whole world and that God desires for all to be saved. But according to God’s secret will, the will that involves election of individuals to salvation, God chose only some to be saved.

One give-away that this kind of thing is going on is that: just looking at the Bible you don’t see it. Just looking at the Bible you do not see the two will theory. It has to be read into the Bible (something you see as well: “I try to point out in those sentences that “two wills” is an idea *read into* the Bible, not a view explicitly *drawn out of* the Bible.”) rather than exegeted out of the Bible. Another give- away is that those who really want to hold the false idea are very approving of the suggested framework (it is extremely convincing to those who want to believe it, they think it eliminates the problem in their view so it is very comforting for them). While those who are “outsiders” not part of the group see the framework as being invented by men to justify the errors, make it palatable for the adherents of the idea, when the idea is not true.

Robert

Joel Duggins

There appears to be a problem here.
You attempt a summary in this quote, “The weakness of the book is that it argues against biblical texts which teach explicitly that God desires to save all people. . .”
and repeating and expanding on it, “Piper favors the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.”

This appear to be a straw-man representation.

In brief:
Piper does not state that God does not desire all men to be saved.
Piper states that God also holds a different desire, in addition to his desire for all men to be saved.
One can disagree with Piper’s two wills theory- but the theory includes an affirmation of God’s desire for all men to be saved, not a denial of that desire.
Even if one concluded that Piper’s dual affirmation is logically inconsistent (which would have to be proved), it wouldn’t cease to be a dual affirmation; it would just be wrong.

Adam Harwood

Joel,

Thanks for your note. You charge me with building a straw man, which means you claim I misrepresented Piper’s view. Let us consider your evidence.

You write, “Piper does not state that God does not desire all men to be saved.”
True; and I made no such claim. My two statements quoted above charge that Piper:
1) argues against the meaning of certain biblical texts; and
2) favors a doctrinal construction not found in the Bible (two wills, one which is secret) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.

In the book, Piper:
– affirms that God has a greater desire than to save all people, namely to glorify Himself, following Jonathan Edwards;
– explains God’s desire to save all people could be interpreted as God desiring to save all *kinds* of people, following John Gill;

By these two affirmations, Piper has *not* affirmed that God desires to save each and every person–which is the plain meaning of what Piper refers to as the “problem texts” of 1 Tim 2:4-6 and 2 Peter 3:9. Instead, Piper explains that God has either a different, greater desire (His own glory), which results in Him unconditionally electing only some to salvation, or we have misinterpreted the meaning of Paul and Peter’s writings on the subject if we think God desires to save each and every person.

The two wills view, which is common in Reformed theology, results in a secret will which contradicts the revealed will. I have not claimed that the secret/revealed will is logically inconsistent (although it is). I am simply pointing out that only one of those wills is *revealed* in the Bible (hence, it’s name). In that way, as I wrote (and as you quoted me), “Piper favors the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible) over biblical texts which state clearly that God desires all to be saved.”

As I stated in the review, some Southern Baptists affirm the two wills in God view; others reject it. If you affirm the two wills view, then you will differ with my critique of Piper’s book. Even so, you have failed to demonstrate that I misrepresented Piper’s view. For that reason, your charge that I built a straw man lacks support.

Blessings.

In Him,
Adam

    volfan007

    Where’s the “like” button. Adam, that was so clear and plain that even I could understand it. Thanks, Bro.

    David

    Joel Duggins

    Dr. Harwood,
    Thank you for taking the time to respond. Perhaps this will further clarify my objection:

    You are saying that “Piper’s [favoring of] the two wills view (not explicitly stated in the Bible)” includes a rejection of God’s desire for all men to be saved, correct? Am I misunderstanding you?
    If this is indeed what you are claiming, then you are misrepresenting Piper. Indeed, this seems to be the main element of your critique, that Piper’s two-wills view somehow fails to give “an unambiguous answer of “yes” to the question in the title of the book. . .”
    Since the two wills view itself includes the full acceptance of God’s desire to save all mankind, it could not possibly be a favoring of itself over that acceptance. That acceptance is part of the position itself.

    Lastly, that Piper offers a separate, exegetical argument challenging the interpretation of certain texts in question has little to do with whether he affirms or denies God’s desire to save all. As you quote him, he actually affirms “God loves the world with a real and sincere compassion that desires the salvation of all men,” despite questioning whether we ought to cite certain popular texts to prove the point.

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