Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Does God Have "Two Wills"?

Those who hold to the Calvinistic concept of predestination believe that God predetermined everything that would happen. The Westminster Confession of Faith outlined this decree and its ramifications in this way:

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.

V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extends or withholds mercy, as He pleases, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.
In summary, God decreed from eternity which specified individuals He would give faith to and save, and which He would not give faith to and ordain for wrath.

Such a teaching seems to run counter to passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, which say that God desires all men to be saved and is not willing that any should perish. In Calvinistic theology, one way this apparent contradiction is handled is by positing two wills of God. There are different terms used to describe these two wills, but the essential distinction is between God's revealed will and His secret will. In His revealed will, God has declared His desire to save all men. But in His unrevealed or secret will, He has decreed that only certain individuals will be given faith and saved.

One proponent of this explanation is John Piper:

Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least "two wills" in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, 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), etc.
Is this a legitimate argument?

Piper is correct that the phrase "the will of God" can be used in two ways. Sometimes the Bible speaks of the "will of God" in the sense of that which He desires that we do, but permits us not to. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality" (1 Thess. 4:3). God has revealed His desire that Christians abstain from fornication. That is His desire, or His preferred will. But Christians may choose to ignore this desire and commit sin. God does not cause us to sin - we choose to sin (James 1:13). We sin because we choose to ignore God's desired will. The Bible often speaks of God's will in this sense of what He prefers or desires (Mark 3:35; Eph. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:18; Heb. 10:36; 1 Peter 4:2; 1 John 2:17).

On the other hand, the Bible sometimes speaks of the will of God in the sense of what God desires to happen AND causes to happen. These are matters which God not only desired to happen, but actually made to happen. They do not involve human freedom or choice. The classic example of this would be creation. "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). God not only desired for there to be a creation, He caused it to happen. The same is true with God's plan of redemption. God determined to save sinners though His Son (1 Peter 1:20). This was something He desired to do and caused to happen by sending Jesus to die for sinners.

So I have no problem speaking of God having "two wills"- or even using some of the standard theological terms:
  • God's permissive will = God desires but permits man to act otherwise
  • God's efficient will = God desires and God causes to happen
God in His great mercy chose to offer salvation through the death of His Son. He both desired to do this and caused this (His efficient will). God desires that everyone respond to this gift, but He permits us to do otherwise (His permissive will). These two wills are in harmony with each other.

When Piper and other Calvinists say that God has "two wills," they mean something much different. They mean that at the same time God expresses that He desires all men to be saved (His "revealed will") that He does not desire all men to be saved (His "secret will" - the eternal decree).

The issue is not, "does God have two wills?" The issue is, does God express one thing in His revealed will that He has already in His eternal decree specifically foreordained otherwise? This is inherently contradictory!

Many Calvinistic writers acknowledge this, and opt for interpretations of passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 that limit the seeming universal scope of God's saving desire. While I don't agree with those interpretations, they are certainly an improvement over the dubious view of the two wills of God argued by Piper and others.

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