Problems with John Piper’s “Two Wills in God”

If I have misrepresented Piper, I am open to correction.  It has been about 7 years since I have read his stuff.   On the other hand, you will need to show how I have misrepresented him, if indeed I have.  That being said, Piper’s argument (which is also advanced by Wayne Grudem) is fairly simple and consistent, so I do not think I have misread him.

Piper’s argument is this:

Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election ofsome, 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.

I’ve long held that Christology/Trinity should be the ultimate standard of reference for soteriological discussions.  Now, what Piper says above is contradictory–or at the very least he is guilty of sloppy language.   Piper makes the argument that there are two wills in God or two ways of willing.

Here is the simple problem with Piper’s argument:  will is natural, not hypostatic.  In other words, will is a faculty of nature, not person.  This is standard usage of nature/person which all Christians:  Catholics to Calvinists to Orthodox will accept.  Since there is one nature in the Godhead, there must be one will in the Godhead.  (Likewise, there are two wills in Christ because there are two natures in Christ).

I grant that I could be reading Piper wrongly and that Piper actually does seem to come to something similar to St Maximus the Confessor below:

In this chapter I would now like to undergird Marshall’s point that “we must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and [that] both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.”

As it stands no one would really disagree with that statement, Orthodox or Calvinist.  God does will all to be saved yet all are not in fact saved.    If Piper simply stopped there he would be correct, and if he knew Patristic theology he would then conclude, “We see different modes of willing in God.”

But Piper’s claim is a lot stronger than that.  He’s not just making an empirical observation based on several scriptural texts.  He’s going beyond the empirical aspect to a theological conclusion:  I maintain, despite the above quote, he is actually offering something much stronger:  it is not merely two modes of God willing, but two willings itself.

Before I lose the train of thought, I will outline the problem with that:

  • Good patristic theology allows one to say that there are multiple modes of willing in God.  This is pure, undefiled St Maximus the Confessor.
  • If Piper is saying is saying there are actually two wills in God, then he must abandon Nicene Christology and Trinitarianism.
  • If Piper is saying, as I believe he is, that there is one will in the Godhead, yet different willings, I still believe he has problems, but they aren’t as dire.  Here are the problems:

Piper places the willings of God in opposition to one another.  For him, God wills the salvation of the world but also wills that some aren’t saved.  Yet, according to the Gospel of John, the Persons of the Trinity are united in their willing.  However else you interpret that last sentence, the Godhead is united in its willing.

Okay, says the Calvinist, you still have to answer the fact that God willed the salvation of all on one hand, yet clearly willed the situation where not all are saved.  You still have opposition in the Godhead after all.

My response:  even if I have opposition in the Godhead, it’s not as stark.  However, I don’t think I am positing opposition in the Godhead.  God wills the salvation of all–that is granted.  Secondly, God wills that ALL are raised up on the last day. (1 Corinthians 15:22–so in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive).  I am not advocating universalism.  All are raised up on the last day, yet not all participate in the divine energies in the same way.  Some experience it as light and others as fire.

Calvinists love to point out how “world” usually doesn’t mean “world.”  Maybe they should realize that “salvation” (and its cognates) doesn’t always have to mean “ultimate final resting place.”  The Orthodox world has a larger vision of salvation and as a result isn’t plagued by all these tensions.

Even Calvinists agree with me.


One comment on “Problems with John Piper’s “Two Wills in God”

  1. […] Bell, though, the Church has condemned this facet of Origenism (and unfortunately for Calvinists, they are still Origenists).  Here is what Bell should have said:  I reject the theology that God created most of humanity […]

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