Does God Have Two Wills?

Recognizing that the simple and straightforward message of Scripture is that God loves everyone and truly desires for everyone to hear the gospel and be saved by faith in Christ leads some Calvinists like John Piper to postulate that God has a secret will in which He does not desire everyone to be saved.

That is to say, by what we know from Scripture and the good news of the gospel, it appears that God wills that all be saved by faith in Christ, but secretly He wills that His public will, as revealed in Scripture, be superseded by unconditionally electing only some to salvation and choosing to pass over the rest of humanity. Thus, we are to believe that according to God’s revealed will (Scripture), God loves every person and desires that every person be saved (John 3:16; Titus 2:11), but in His secret will He only wills to make salvation actually available to the unconditional elect.

In John Piper’s article, “Are There Two Wills in God,” he says, “My aim here is to show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for “all persons to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved is not a sign of divine schizophrenia or exegetical confusion. A corresponding aim is to show that unconditional election therefore does not contradict biblical expressions of God’s compassion for all people, and does not nullify sincere offers of salvation to everyone who is lost among all the peoples of the world.”[1]

First, I note that this seems to be a rather clear admission that God’s revelation to man does in fact declare that He sincerely desires that every individual believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved, which is the unabashed banner of those who reject Calvinism (Extensivists); the Calvinist attempts to limit verses like 1 Timothy 2:4 notwithstanding.[2] If not such an admission, then the whole development of the two wills seems rather pointless.

In addition, there is no parallel conflict with Extensivism’s claim that God created man with otherwise choice, always desiring that man live holy while knowing that he would sin, and in love, mercy, and forbearance provisioning so that every person may fulfill God’s desire for him or her to live holy forever. Contrastingly, in Calvinism we have God’s desire that all be saved in one place (Scripture), and yet His superior inviolable secret plan to preclude the provision for that to happen while still declaring publicly that He desires all to be saved.

Second, in defense of the two-will salvational theory, Piper draws upon the biblical teaching of God’s holiness and the presence of sin. He says, “The most compelling example of God’s willing for sin to come to pass while at the same time disapproving the sin is his willing the death of his perfect, divine Son.”[3]

This being the most compelling case to demonstrate the cogency of his secret will theory seems to actually provide a glaring example of the weakness of the two-will theory since it relies upon the death of Christ and God permitting the sin of man; both of which are revealed in Scripture. Such a temporary state of affairs is perfectly harmonious with what the Scripture reveals about the nature of God. He is holy, merciful, and longsuffering. If this revealed truth about God was contravened by a secret truth, which revealed that God was not holy, merciful, or longsuffering as portrayed in Scripture, then we would be speaking about a conflict that is analogical to the one in the two-will scenario. For the truth of Piper’s secret will is that it actually, in eternity, trumps the revealed will regarding salvation.

Moreover, the conundrum disappears in light of God’s creative/redemptive plan revealed in Scripture, and man having been created with libertarian freedom. When the full range of God’s attributes and creation/redemption plan are unbiasedly considered, there simply is no conflict. What would be as problematic as Calvinism’s revealed/secret will theory is if God’s revelation taught that His holiness permits sin only for a season and then must be judged, and His secret will precluded the presence of sin for any reason or any time. Alternatively, that He permitted the death of Christ in His revealed will, but not in His secret will. Other than the existence of such irreconcilable ideas, the parallel Piper draws is non-existent.

Relying on examples that are clearly and harmoniously portrayed in Scripture, harmonized by the reality that the Scripture undeniably presents sin as something that God overcomes by His loving redemption plan, which cannot be eternally thwarted by a secret plan, actually undermines Calvinism’s defense of a secret will that eternally supersedes His revealed will.

Rather than the Scripture fostering such an enigma, it is actually Calvinism’s soteriology that provides the dilemma from which the need for a secret will theory emanates since Calvinism’s whole soteriology (theology of salvation) teaches that all those God elects will be saved and those He rejects to elect cannot be saved. This is absolute. God willed this inviolable eternal outcome. Accordingly, the Calvinist’s actual problem is their belief in pervasive determinism, which includes man’s endowment of a compatible freedom because it imprisons God’s revealed desire to save all in the gulag of His determinative desire not to save all.

Third, the two-will concept is not explicit in Scripture; whereas, as cited by Piper, the express will for “all persons to be saved” is (1 Timothy 2:4; see also 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).[4] Both terms thélō, desires,  (1 Timothy 2:4) and boúlomai, wishing, (2 Peter 3:9) are used regarding God’s express desire, will, for all to be saved. Additionally, Calvinism’s reliance upon various vocabulary distinctions (such as, will, desire, wish, permit or predestine) that matter in Extensivism’s soteriological approaches are distinctions without a difference in light of Calvinism commitment to compatibilism.

This is because compatibilism means that God’s will (what will happen) is precisely what He desires or wishes to happen, and there is not the slightest degree of deterministic difference between what God permits and God decrees. Thus, arguments making such distinctions confuse rather than clarify. One simply cannot conveniently deemphasize or elide the micro-deterministic nature of Calvinism; it is always present in unalterable force. Reliance upon secondary, tertiary, quaternary, quinary, or senary causes does nothing to palliate this reality.

Fourth, I further find Piper’s endeavor to be profoundly puzzling in light of his other writings. Here he says that he is attempting to “show from Scripture that the simultaneous existence of God’s will for ‘all persons to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4) and his will to elect unconditionally those who will actually be saved ….[and] that unconditional election therefore does not contradict biblical expressions of God’s compassion for all people, and does not nullify sincere offers of salvation to everyone who is lost among all the peoples of the world.”

Yet, elsewhere he passionately argues[5] that God’s mission is not to take the gospel to the nations in order to save as many individuals as possible, but rather “to reach all the people groups of the world and thus to gather the ‘sons of God’…and to call all the ‘ransomed from every tongue and tribe and people and nation.’”[6] Accordingly, the argument is that the real meaning of the reading of any and every verse in the Scripture that explicitly says or even graphically portrays God’s salvific love for all mankind (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2) can only be gleaned by knowing God’s secret will regarding unconditional election. Thus, the revealed will (Scripture) is insufficient to know God’s real will, and I would say, it is even torturously misleading.

Last, I do recognize that there are secrets of God not revealed in Scripture (Deuteronomy 29:29), but since they are secret (if the two will secret exists at all), how can Calvinists know what they are? Employing logical deductions in an attempt to reconcile explicit revelatory teaching with Calvinism seems to provide a woefully inadequate basis for a secret will on which so much is at stake and this particularly when it undermines what God has explicitly revealed.

I call this double talk, and more importantly, it leads to an unreliability of the straightforward teaching of God’s revealed will regarding salvation.[7] Furthermore, who is to say that there is not another “secret will” (a third will) that supersedes this second will so necessary to Calvinism?

Logically one may add, if God has a secret will that is contrary to His revealed will regarding salvation, then it seems quite plausible that He may have a secret will affecting other areas like the doctrine of the church, prayer, or possibly every area, thereby making the revealed will of God pervasively untrustworthy.

Moreover, if such reliance upon a secondary will is deemed admissible in order to justify a foundational concept of Calvinism within orthodox Christianity, then who is to say that other groups cannot argue with equal validity for the existence of yet another secret will that conflicts with the clear and ubiquitous teaching of Scripture in order to demonstrate the cogency of their extra biblical essentials? Surely the Calvinists’ endeavor to defend the two wills of God makes their claim of sola scriptura seem a frail stalwart for defending the sufficiency of Scripture against foes who employ the same tactics; an ineffectualness born and sustained by their own forays into the academy of secrecy to bolster their theology when it conflicts with explicit revelation.

David Engelsma, a strong Calvinist, says of this position and the Calvinists who retreat to mystery “that God is gracious only to some in predestination, but gracious to all in the gospel, and that God wills only some to be saved in predestination but wills all to be saved by the gospel, is flat, irreconcilable contradiction. It is not paradox, but contradiction. I speak reverently: God Himself cannot reconcile these teachings.”[8]

Therefore, such esoteric attempts to sustain Calvinism in light of the clear teaching of Scripture once again reveal the biblical bankruptcy of unconditional election.


[1] John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved,” 1/1/1995, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/are-there-two-wills-in-god, accessed 6/26/14.
[2] Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:3–4, NAC notes, “The antecedent of ‘this’ is the reference to prayer for all people in v. 1. Paul stated that God is pleased to see believers earnestly concerned for the salvation of all humankind and not simply for an elitist group….The relative clause of v. 4 provides the basis for the assertion in v. 3 that prayer for all people is pleasing to God. The goal of the prayers Paul urged is that all people be saved. Intercession for all people pleases the God who desires all to be saved. As Jesus did when he prayed for his disciples (John 17:9) and those who would believe (vs. 20) and that the world might believe (vs. 21).
The term “all” in v. 4 must refer to the same group as the reference to “everyone” in v. 1. The petitions of v. 1 are to include all human beings, and the objects of Christ’s death must include the same group. It would certainly include all persons without distinctions of race or social standing, but it also refers to all persons individually.”’ Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 88–89.
[3] “Are There Two Wills in God? Divine Election and God’s Desire for All to Be Saved,” 1/1/1995, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/are-there-two-wills-in-god, accessed 6/26/14.
[4] The Bible Knowledge Commentary commenting on 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The words not wanting (mē boulomenos) anyone to perish do not express a decree, as if God has willed everyone to be saved. Universal salvation is not taught in the Bible. Instead those words describe God’s wishes or desires; He longs that all would be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4) but knows that many reject Him.” Kenneth O. Gangel, “2 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 876.
[5] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001), 204. See also 203, 222–223.
[6] Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, 203. He actually gives ten reasons why Matthew 28:18–20 should not be understood to include every person, 203–204.
[7] Double talk speaks of contradictory language and is not meant pejoratively.
[8] D. Engelsma, “Is Denial of the ‘Well-Meant Offer’ Hyper-Calvinism?” available online at http://www.prca.org/pamphlets/pamphlet_35.html; accessed 45/2/16; also quoted in Allen and Lemke, Whosoever Will, 147.