Are There Two Wills of God?

We have discussed the question of the two wills of God in other blog posts and podcasts, but in this post I want to share with you a book review by my mentoring professor from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Adam Harwood. He provides a cordial but firm rebuke of John Piper’s speculations about God containing two apparently opposing wills.

I would also highly recommend Dr. Harwood’s work on “The Spiritual Condition of Infants.”



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

A Book Review by Adam Harwood, Ph.D.

(published originally in The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry and reposted here by permission)

Untitled-1Prior 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).

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.

– Adam Harwood, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, LA

1 The 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:// (accessed November 29, 2013). Does God Desire All to Be Saved? By John Piper. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 56 pages. Paperback, $9.99. JBTM Book Reviews 100

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

3 See, as examples, David Allen, et. al, “Neither Calvinists Nor Arminians but Baptists,” The Center for Theological Research, White Paper 36, available at 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 pdf#page=90 (accessed November 29, 2013). 102

4 Piper’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).

5 David 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, nonReformed 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 antecedent/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).

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

7 thoughts on “Are There Two Wills of God?

  1. There are at least 6 philosophically/theologically distinct senses of want/will.

    At least 6!

    It requires a boring and thorough semantic exercise to unpack them, but it’s pretty important. Google “stanrock evil” for that exercise, with diagrams.

  2. Those perplexing texts are really only perplexing for people committed to Calvinism as a system. In fact they are pretty plain texts, and if Calvinism cannot deal with them at face value then the system must be broken.

    Reading this review (and other Calvinists), their Calvinism is so embedded in their thinking they seem unaware in how often it is part of their assumptions. The approach to God using wicked men is an example. What is done is of God and thus everything thing is meticulously of God because sovereignty. The concept that God may pervert the goals of wicked men to his own ends while the wicked are trying to do their own thing seems to escape them. God wants something and so finds men rebelling against him and subverts their plans for his own. We understand this as men (we do it ourselves), there is no reason why God cannot do this more so. But sovereignty for them means that absolutely nothing happens outside the direct interventional will of God.

  3. I’m glad this article addresses an important erroneous emphasis of all deterministic flavors of Scriptural interpretation. If I my be permitted to quote myself elsewhere:

    Whose System is more Just?

    Under a deterministic system it’s difficult to even discern a system of justice as being anything other than “that which God desires.” Since without autonomy we intuitively feel there is no “response ability” and thus no option of either/or that would result in response A~ or response B~ in accord with action A or action B. We can be sad or angry, but those emotions are just actors in a play, and the objects they are directed at are always fulfilling the author’s script exactly. Now Calvinists often defend their “two wills” of God system, a secret decree and a decretive (outwardly expressed) will by objecting to the Arminian “Well your God has two wills too! He wants to bless and to punish also!” But there is a fundamental difference between those two different pairs of wills. One is an either/or scenario but the other is a both/and scenario. Thus:

    * Under Calvinism God wills to bless you and wills to judge you simultaneously and both by reason of his decree.
    * Under Arminianism God wills to bless you up until a certain unforced action on your point which God does not desire, at which God wills to judge you.
    * Option one is two unconditional wills and one possible course of action.
    * Option two is one conditional will with two possible courses of action.

    So I don’t think a conditional will of God should be called “two” wills, it’s one will with two conditions, and God urges all men to “choose life that they may live.” Under Arminianism God doesn’t hide a secret will or hide a secret purpose that contradicts what God himself says. God doesn’t hold his hands out all day long begging Israel to return to him, but secretly decreeing and preventing them from doing so. Under Arminianism God actually means what he says at face value, under Calvinism the prescriptive will of God is just a disguise for the ulterior decretal will. Two conditions does not in any conceivable way equal two wills. Whereas if you unconditionally love and hate something you’re both schizophrenic and deceitful. We’re not just another variation of two wills in God. If I tell my child “Clean your room or your grounded” that’s one will not two wills. But if I tell my child “I want you to clean your room but I also don’t want you to clean your room” that’s two wills.

    Ah, the Calvinist may argue. Even so, whatever God does is just and right by fiat. And to that I actually would not argue—but I would respond, how does God reveal himself in his Word? And in that regard I think it’s clear Scripture teaches a real “response ability” system of judgment. But still, the Calvinist may object. You care more about the injustice done to God’s creation than the injustice done to God himself in Christ! And this I also feel is an unfair objection; we don’t deny the injustice of Christ, but we do deny that it was a form of injustice that could be called truly evil. We deny that voluntary suffering harm to save a life could in any meaningful way be an injustice or evil in the truest sense, because of the above aforementioned reasons. In the case of the reprobate, unalterably decreed to be damned due to no choice of their own and no corresponding system of response to autonomous action, we cannot see that as anything but an injustice and evil that has no redeeming values, virtues or results. God has the right to do it—and even to call it good—but it is against how God revealed himself and set up the world. It cannot glorify God when it contradicts the way we see God’s revealed character in his Word as inherently good. God is revealed as someone who does not desire to judge or bring harm, but rather to bless and prosper for his own pleasure and glory. This does not nullify the effect that rebellion against his holiness brings catastrophic and horrific consequences. But for him to create solely for that purpose is to call evil as good and good as evil, for it makes nonsensical the Biblical teaching that Satan is the destroyer but Christ came to bring life.


  4. Calvinists need John Piper because they’re defending the Synod of Dort. Defending “Does God desire all to be saved? ” requires only the Bible. Act 17:11  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Joh 3:17  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. Psa 119:130  The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

  5. I just want to tell you thank you for your clear and respectful way of explaining things. I watch your YouTube videos and you do a fantastic job. Thank you

    1. Thank you so much Stephanie – for your very kind words!
      Dr. Flowers – due to his schedule – is not here very much to interact with posters.
      You may more readily find him on FaceBook if you are an FB user.

      But thank you very much!
      And sincere blessings!

  6. One of the huge weaknesses of Edwards’ and Piper’s arguments is that they make God DEPENDENT upon something within creation, in order for Him to be fully glorified. They make God dependent upon sin, in order for Him to show the full range of His glory in wrath and condemnation. This means that before anyone sinned, God was not fully glorified. He was deficient in some way, frustrated.

    Another weakness in their arguments is that they do not explain why the Calvinist version of God finds it necessary to condemn the vast majority of human beings and only save a minority. It leads them into a numbers game where God is more glorified by condemnation than by mercy, therefore He has to condemn a lot more in order to be fully glorified.

    A third weakness in their arguments is that God’s wrath had already been amply demonstrated by his treatment of satan and his followers. In addition, His wrath against sin was also amply demonstrated on the cross. So Piper and other Calvinists have to logically conclude that the cross was an insufficient demonstration of God’s glory in wrath.

    A fourth weakness is that the Ezekiel 18 passage shows God has a clear PREFERENCE for repentance and mercy over sin and death. Whereas Piper seeks to reverse this preference.

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