“Does God Desire All To Be Saved?”
That’s a great question. One that engenders a great deal of controversy not only between those who believe He does in an unqualified way, but also among we in the “Reformed” camp, where issues like election and the nature of God’s sovereignty bring additional complexity to the question.
This recent production from John Piper’s pen is not really new. Originally a much shorter essay on how to understand the nature of God’s will, and whether or not it has only one dimension to it, Piper has expanded it and refined it and much to the better. It is available both in book form, or as a free downloadable PDF here:
I encourage you to take advantage if it.
The original title of the essay was “Are There Two Wills in God?” Aptly so since it is in dealing with that question, that Piper arrives at answering the question posed in the title of the new version. This richly improved new version is only 62 pages long, but it is 62 pages you will want to read slowly and thoughtfully. It is not to be skimmed over lightly.
Refraining from making my review longer than the work itself, let me try instead to give you a very quick glimpse of what I think is so important about the work. Simply, it is an attempt to disabuse believers from both Arminian and Reformed backgrounds from committing the same error, but in two opposite extremes: that of making the will of God so one dimensional as to give each camp a distorted lens through which to interpret all of Scripture on the topic. Let me explain.
Many of our brothers and sisters coming from the Arminian view (if you do not know that term, it refers to a 17th century Dutch theologian by the name of Jacob Arminius who could not reconcile God’s sovereignty with human responsibility and so built a theological system that stressed man’s free will above God’s sovereignty – especially in regard to salvation. Those who know more will please forgive my oversimplification for clarity’s sake in this context) believe that God desires every human being to be saved, but leaves that issue completely up to the fallen will of man to accept or reject. For some, God is even powerless to do so since He counts human freedom sacrosanct. For others, God simply has no power to affect human will, or refuses to do so. In any event, and for whatever reason, God simply WANTS everyone to be saved. That is the extent of His will on the matter. So if any are not, then God’s will is simply thwarted and not accomplished, leaving Him helplessly grieved and frustrated.
I’ve painted with a broad brush there, but hope I’ve not misrepresented any in the process. But the bottom line is that God’s will in regard to saving lost humans has but one single dimension to it – that of desiring it. No nuance. Nothing else to be said or considered. That’s it.
On the flip side is the Reformed camp. Here, the emphasis is upon the sovereignty of God’s will in all things, and especially salvation. When this view is held without nuance, in a completely one dimensional way, other problems can emerge. For some, God then has no desire whatever that any but the elect be saved. His will is one dimensional in its sovereignty, and so whatever happens must be His absolute will. This of course can also breed other tensions. For instance, how do you have a category for true rebellion when everyone is just fulfilling God’s will? How do you have a category for any event being “bad” if God willed it? Truth be told, some of us in the Reformed camp really hit a wall here. Some virtually have no way to pronounce anything as bad, since everything must be God’s will. And there is no room to see anything bad happening to them – even though deep down they know not everything that happens to them is truly “good”. In terms of salvation the reasoning goes: God is sovereign, if anything happens, He did it and it must be good. So if some aren’t saved, God doesn’t give a hoot because it wasn’t His will to save them anyway. And if that’s God’s attitude, why should I give a hoot either?
We know deep down something is wrong with that, but just what and how to set it right, we are at a loss for. The single dimensionality of our doctrine has us boxed in.
That is where this little book becomes so important. As Piper develops his thoughts carefully and Biblically, he makes (what I believe is the proper case) for understanding God’s will as being more than one dimensional. Allowing for Scripture to say that God does NOT delight in the death of the lost, DOES desire the salvation of all sincerely, and yet does not act sovereignly to save all. Then he shows why this stance is not contradictory, a theory of divine schizophrenia or without reasonableness. And no doubt he will take much heat for it. Good for him.
If these are questions you’ve pondered, please take the time to read and consider this excellent piece. No, it does not answer everything. What it does do is allow passages like Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem because of their un-repentance (Luke 13:34) read as they stand, without need to be explained away. He lets a passage like 1 Tim. 2:1-4 (First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.) be read in its most natural fashion as expressing God’s desire without need of jumping through hoops to explain it away.
In short, he presents the Biblical God who is truly sovereign over all things, and yet who can have sincere desires after things which, in the mystery of His being, He does not sovereignly bring to pass. A God to be wondered at and exulted over. Who remains Lord over all, and yet interacts with men and angels in the reality of time and space and accounts for their choices and actions – good and bad. In His divine wisdom, God allows some genuinely bad things to happen, while He Himself is not the first cause of them. And they are truly bad – not good. There is mystery in this I confess. But a reality which cannot be omitted without severe consequences of confusion and a terribly misshapen theology.
Thank you Dr. Piper. We needed this.