The Will of God: Does God Desire the Salvation of All?

August 19, 2015

by Ron F. Hale

I never grow weary contemplating the joy of God’s great and glorious salvation! This article will deal with the significant work of Dr. Kenneth Keathley (SEBTS) in his book entitled: Salvation and Sovereignty released in 2010. In Chapter 2, Keathley poses this question: Does God Desire the Salvation of All?

Historically, four probable answers have been put forth in various theological camps and Keathley deals with each view. I will mention each view while sharing some of Keathley’s thoughts, as well as my own; therefore, this piece is far from a review of Keathley’s great work.

The first two views that Keathley shares posits that God has a singular salvific will, while the last two views hold that God has two wills.

Universalism – holds that God is love and His salvific will is that everyone will be saved.

Scriptures like I John 4:8 seem to sum up and define the undivided essence of God by simply saying, “God is love.” The Universalist pushes aside the individual’s moral responsibility and personal response to God’s genuine offer of salvation to finely focus of God’s love being His all-encompassing character; therefore, the damnation of any soul becomes unreasonable.  

Keathley reminds us that the church has historically rejected universalism but it has gained new adherents in recent days.

Modern day spiritual freelancers will quickly move the essence of “God is love” away from the historic bedrock belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. This seems too constraining and unsympathetic to the Universalist. They may add a little “God Within Me” spirituality, maybe some Deepak Chopra, a tad of Celestine Prophecy, and topped off with some Oprah-ianity and come up with a big helping of “choose your own Jesus.” Very quickly the place called hell—save the one we create for ourselves on this planet– is morphed into a universal divine consciousness where everyone will eventually experience the Eternal Spirit in becoming “One” with God and the mystery of His love. Even Hitler, Stalin, and Mengele get saved in universalism.

Double Predestination — in this singular salvific view explored by Keathley, he shows how this position teaches that God only desires to save some.

While Unitarians focus on the love of God, decretal theologians focus on the sovereignty of God.   They see God’s sovereignty as His defining characteristic. All other attributes are to be understood through the prism of God’s sovereignty and that He decreed certain things from eternity. This includes the belief that God decreed the salvation of a select and definite group of individuals (the elect) while actively passing over some (supralapsarianism) or passively passing over some (infralapsarianism). Those whom God passes over are the reprobates and reprobation declares that there is no saving inward call for the nonelect.

Either way, decretal theology teaches that God has only one salvific will and that His intent is to save only His chosen. The doctrines of limited atonement, irresistible grace, reprobation, and “regeneration before faith” are born out of decretal theology.

To escape the conclusion of reprobation, many Reformed and non-Reformed theologians look to a two-will option.

The Hidden/Revealed Wills Paradigm – is the third option mentioned by Keathley and it postulates that God has two wills.

The revealed will of God proclaims that the good news is through Jesus Christ and He is graciously for us. For instance, the Great Commission reveals the universal salvific will of God.

On the other hand, this option suggests that God also has a hidden (or secret) will in which, for reasons known only to Him, He has decreed to pass by many, leaving them to determine their own destiny out of a heart enslaved to sin.

Alas, the hidden/revealed will of God has deep-rooted problems. The preacher may silently harbor conflicting angst (even feelings of hypocrisy) while strongly adhering to the hidden will of God but preaching the revealed will of God’s redemptive love for all and Christ dying for them. Keathley mentions a quote by D. Engelsma regarding the preacher hearing an inward whisper that says, “But He will actually save only some of you and He will not save others of you according to His own sovereign will.”

Even worse, the hidden/revealed wills approach appears to make God out to be hypocritical. If God (on the surface) truly offers everyone salvation, but secretly wills the reprobation of many, then one has to conclude that God never had an honest intention to make a genuine offer of salvation to all.

The question is not “Why are the lost lost?” but “Why aren’t the lost saved?” Keathley borrows a thought and phrase from Walls and Dongrell in their book Why I Am Not a Calvinist (186-187) by saying, “The nasty, awful, ‘deep-dark-dirty-little-secret’ of Calvinism is that it teaches there is one and only one answer to the second question, and it is that God does not want them saved.”

The Antecedent/Consequent Wills Paradigm – is the fourth option mentioned by Keathley. This view finds no conflict between the two wills of God. For God is seen as “antecedently” willing all to be saved. But for those who refuse to repent and believe He “consequently” wills that they should be condemned.

God antecedently “loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son.” That consequently “that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Christ antecedently orders the gospel preached “to every creature,” but He consequently decrees that “he that believeth not shall be damned.”

On the antecedent side—this view is universal (desired for all, provided for all, and offered to all). It is impartial for Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Also, this view sees God’s will to save all as sincere; there is no hidden or secret will or reprobation. The antecedent will to save all is the basis of God’s actions to provide the means of grace to sinners through Christ.

On the consequent will side—this view is consistent with the qualities with which God has endowed His creatures. Humans are fallen, but they are still in the image of God. God’s grace is not coercive and can be resisted and refused. When the sinner encounters the gospel, he is graciously enabled by the Spirit to respond freely; and to accept or reject the gospel is genuinely, terrifyingly, his (the hearer).

God holds the unbeliever accountable because the sin of unbelief truly belongs to the unbeliever (John 3:18). Those condemned by God are justly condemned because receiving Christ was a choice genuinely available. Therefore, the antecedent/consequent wills position brings glory to God by maintaining that His dealings are just and consistent with His holy nature.

For the recap and closing, four options concerning God’s salvific will are presented and discussed by Dr. Keathley; they are:

  • God has one will that all are saved.
  • God has one will that certain ones are saved.
  • God has two wills – one hidden and the other revealed.
  • God has two wills – an “antecedent will” for the salvation of all and a “consequent will” that  faith is the condition to salvation.

 

Until reading Dr. Keathley’s work several years ago, the only “two will” approach that I knew about was the hidden/revealed wills paradigm and I disagreed with it. I concur with Keathley that the antecedent/consequent will best captures the testimony of the Scriptures and the Great Commission.

 

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Les Prouty

Thanks Ron. I need to get his book. It looks like one I would be interested in.

God bless.

Ron F. Hale

Les,
Dr. Keathley has a great chapter in the B&H Academic book: A Theology For The Church; his chapter is The Doctrine of Salvation.

Blessings!

Bill Mac

I have read some of Dr. Keathley’s work and find it fascinating. I appreciate that he remains orthodox without being in lockstep with what many might consider to be approved SBC doctrine.

Robert

Hello Ron,

Historically the “antecedent/consequent” will is an Arminian doctrine, espoused by and promoted by Arminians.

Ron you wrote:

“Until reading Dr. Keathley’s work several years ago, the only “two will” approach that I knew about was the hidden/revealed wills paradigm and I disagreed with it. I concur with Keathley that the antecedent/consequent will best captures the testimony of the Scriptures and the Great Commission.”

I agree with you that the antecedent/consequent will “best captures the testimony of the Scriptures and the Great Commission” (while the Calvinistic two will view contradicts scripture and leads to problems in regards to evangelism).

I have Keathley’s book and have read articles he has written and find him to be very interesting and usually correct because he honestly appears to be trying to be a “Biblicist” (i.e. going by what the Bible teaches correctly interpreted rather than one specific theology). In attempting to do so Keathley ends up taking the best ideas and doctrines from various positions so you find some Molinism in his thinking (appeals to middle knowledge) and some Arminianism (the antecedent/consequent distinction), etc..

Instead of being concerned about labels or trying to defend only one system of theology despite its errors, he seems to be an eclectic taking the best and most biblical ideas from various theologies (he wants to hold the truth first and is concerned about labels secondarily).

This also appears to be what many Baptists who are also biblicists end up doing. So they will hold “Arminian” ideas without viewing themselves or calling themselves “Arminians”. This is fine as long as people do understand where their ideas historically have come from (e.g. don’t rail against Arminians when you hold the Arminian distinction between the antecedent and consequent will: instead it would be more appropriate to say something like “I hold to the Arminian idea of the antecedent and consequent will, I also hold some other ideas in common with Arminians such as unlimited atonement, but I am primarily a Baptist”).

    Ron F. Hale

    Robert,
    Thanks for your comments — I always enjoy reading what you have to say in the blog world. I think you have described Dr. Keathley and his work fairly. I enjoy reading his work and pointed a number of people to it. I really like his chapter in the large B&H Academic edition of A Theology For The Church. His chapter is entitled The Work of God: Salvation. One professor called the antecedent/consequent will view “a non-Calvinist view, which includes Arminianism.” If it is clearly a historical Arminian view — then I like it while holding to the notion that I am primarily a Baptist. Blessings!

      Robert

      Hello Ron,

      “Thanks for your comments — I always enjoy reading what you have to say in the blog world”

      Thanks for the kind and encouraging words.

      “I think you have described Dr. Keathley and his work fairly.”

      I hope so, I really like and respect Dr. Keathley. Again, he puts out some very good stuff.

      “I enjoy reading his work and pointed a number of people to it. I really like his chapter in the large B&H Academic edition of A Theology For The Church. His chapter is entitled The Work of God: Salvation.”

      So we are both fans of Keathley! :-)

      “One professor called the antecedent/consequent will view “a non-Calvinist view, which includes Arminianism.” If it is clearly a historical Arminian view — then I like it while holding to the notion that I am primarily a Baptist.”

      Well, that distinction historically has been held and promoted by Arminians for centuries, so it is an Arminian belief. I wouldn’t let that be much of a problem however because the truth is Baptists hold some Arminian beliefs whether we recognize or acknowledge it or not.

      To use myself as an example. I have been a Baptist as long as I have been a believer (completely convinced that Baptist beliefs are the most biblical set of beliefs that any one denomination or group holds to). In seminary and through prior independent study I learned about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. It is sometimes simplified to the point that people ask what do you think of the elements of the TULIP acronym so they can pigeonhole you! :-)

      I hold to Total depravity if it is defined carefully as meaning that sin has effected every aspect of mankind (our minds, our wills, our bodies, our cultures) **everything**, hence the “total” refers not to us being as bad as we can be but to the extent of sin (it has effected every part of us, hence “total” refers to the extent of sin). I reject the Calvinistic conception of depravity that presents us as being like a physically dead corpse incapable of responding or understanding spiritual things under any circumstance (I reject this because the Holy Spirit in His preconversion work can and does change the hardest hearts). I affirm original sin, but deny that the guilt of Adam is imputed to all of us.

      I reject unconditional election (I favor corporate election a view well known among Baptists and held by many Baptists).

      I affirm unlimited atonement (that Jesus died for the whole world). The atonement has two aspects the provisional aspect (it is provided for all because God loves all and desires the salvation of all) and the applicational aspect (it is only applied to those who have faith).

      I reject irresistible grace, the grace of God enables but does not necessitate a faith response. People can and do resist the grace of God (e.g. as believers we disobey the Spirit’s leadings at times).

      I believe that a genuine believer can never be lost and that a genuine believer will produce fruit (the fruit does not save them, but it invariably accompanies genuine salvation).

      Now I share these things with you Ron, because people hearing my beliefs in regards to TULIP will say that I must be an “Arminian”. That does not bother me as I know that historically, Arminians have held the same beliefs that I hold in regard to TULIP (except for “P”, many Arminians, though not all, believe that you can lose your salvation). I don’t mind being called an Arminian at the same time, I prefer to be called Baptist.

      If I were to describe myself, my self-description is that I am first Christian, second Baptist, and if you want to label me Arminian that is OK. Or you could say that I am a Baptist who holds some Arminian beliefs (including the antecedent/consequent distinction). It is more important that we are clear on our beliefs and that our beliefs are biblical, than what our labels are. I also consider myself “Biblicist” (i.e. if you show me that it is derived from the Bible I will believe it, which is again why I believe Baptists are closest to having proper biblical beliefs, more so than any other group).

        norm

        Well, as for Robert’s response I will say … “What he said!”
        I appreciate the exacting nature of your analysis, Bob. — Norm

        Andy

        Excellent response! I think we would do well to remember that most of the people who comment on this site are either:

        Christian Baptists who hold some Arminian beliefs, to varying degrees.
        Christian Baptists who hold some Calvinist beliefs, to varying degrees.

        So, (1) don’t forget those first 2 distinctions when interacting with our fellow brothers. (2) If we agree with a recognized historical theolgoical framework on SOME points, don’t deny it.

Dennis Lee Dabney

Great post!

    Scott Shaver

    Why is Arminian thelogy as an historical/theological influence (partial or whole-hog) any more of a liability than full-blown 5-point Calvinism is an asset/true estimate (so some say) in our finite apprehension of God?

    Only thing going for us (collectively and individually) as well as ONLY DIVINER OF TRUTH FUNDAMENTALLY NEEDED IS HOLY SPIRIT.

      Andy

      So what is happening when Christians disagree?

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