§2. Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-willed god’: There is a problem!

I had intended on writing something on Matt Chandler’s conception of God with two wills. My primary means for interacting with Chandler’s view was through two sermons he preached in the past on this topic. As recent as two weeks ago, I had almost finished listening through those sermons, once again; I just tried to find them again, today, so I could finish them up, but instead found this note at Chandler’s ministry website:

Last year we removed all sermons prior to January 2006. Our Lead Pastor, Teaching, Matt Chandler made this request because, in growing in his understanding of the Scriptures, he believed there were some inconsistencies in our past teachings. We pray that the Spirit ministers deeply to you through the teachings now available. (here)

Unfortunately, then, I am unable to finish, and/or then transcribe any of Matt’s own wording on his view. So, I am doing the next best thing; I am appealing to a mentor of Matt’s (the guy who turned Matt on to Five Point Calvinism to begin with), John Piper. I know, for a fact, that Piper has significant influence with Chandler, and that Matt’s views on the ‘two wills in God’ would have originally come from Piper anyway; so maybe it is fortuitous that those sermons from Chandler are no longer available—we are now pointed to Chandler’s source, by looking at John Piper.

I don’t intend, of course, to do an exhaustive piece on this issue; but I do intend to do at least a few things with this short article. 1) I will introduce us to the Piper/Chandler definition and rationale for holding to ‘two wills in God’. 2) I will sketch some historical background to what gave rise to the theological furniture that both Piper and Chandler have arranged in their pastoral living rooms in the way that they have; I will do this by briefly looking at famed  Nominalist theologian William of Ockham’s articulation of a ‘two willed God’. 3) And finally, I will conclude this mini-essay with my critique of the Piper/Chandler and Occamist doctrines of God, respectively; in the process, I will articulate what I think is a better way forward—and appeal to an Evangelical Calvinist thesis, that Myk and I have written for the book. Let me just assert, here; that the primary problem with the Piper/Chandler view is that ‘it gives us a god behind the back of Jesus’.  I will attempt to articulate all of this at a level that is accessible, and primarily aimed at the non-specialist and lay Christian—but you are going to have to work with me.

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John Piper, and by relationship (teacher/student), Matt Chandler, as classic Calvinists (in contrast to ‘Evangelical Calvinism’) attempt to interpret scripture with the supposition that God must have two wills; they are forced to this conclusion because of what appears to them as necessary contradictory teachings in scripture if in fact God is truly ‘sovereign’ in the ways that these two understand sovereignty (i.e. that God is for God, and God’s holiness and justice determine how he must relate to his creation as Creator—that is as a God of power and law, untouched by creation itself). For example, if God is ultimately sovereign over creation, then wouldn’t this demand that what God desires, God gets? And yet Piper and Chandler must deal with passages like this:

4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. I Timothy 2:4 (ESV)

Based on a passage like this, coupled with the kind of sovereignty of God that Piper and Chandler operate with; the obvious conclusion would be—if God always gets what he desires—that since he ‘desires all people to be saved’, that, indeed, all people will be saved! But this cannot work, based on P’s & C’s prior commitment to the Unconditional election in the TULIP. So they have a delimiting mechanism already built into their understanding of the way that God works; one that would seemingly be at odds with a straightforward passage like I Timothy 2:4—the apparent conclusion would be that they have a contradiction between the way that they think about God theologically versus the way that God seems to be acting according to a passage like the one in Timothy. Here is how Piper gets around this apparent contradiction in his view of God:

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. (full argument here)

Here we have the work around that Piper provides for getting out of this apparent dilemma between his commitment to his version of God’s sovereignty, and what scripture ‘apparently’ seems to teach if read in a straightforward fashion. So, for Piper and Chandler; God gives with one hand, and has already taken it away with the other hand. In this scenario, we have a God in eternity acting and willing one way; and then we have an ‘ordained’ way that God has chosen to work in time. So we essentially have a God who is in competition with the other; i.e. the God of eternity versus the way God has chosen to work in time.

I think this will have to do, for now. I will break this series of posts up into three posts; this, of course, being the first installment and section which is to introduce us to a basic view of ‘two wills in God theology’ as understood by John Piper, in particular, and his student, Matt Chandler (and others), in general. The next post will show how Piper’s view did not come out of a vacuum (as he himself notes in the quote I provided from him), and how, in fact, it comes directly from a medieval context (via William of Ockham). Stay tuned for section II, in the days to come.

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20 thoughts on “§2. Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-willed god’: There is a problem!

  1. Ockham, that influential little bugger.

    I was waiting for a post of this nature – what flimsy arguments. Arguments like this would be laughed out of the room anywhere else.

  2. I’m always amazed when humans try to put God in a box of our own understanding. The Creator of the universe, heaven and earth, and every sub-atomic particle, has ways not small enough for our finite thinking, so we can’t accept Him at His word and therefore must force Him into mutually exclusive catagories that we can comprehend. How grand of us!

    A God of two-wills is not only Biblical, but logical. Any other reasoning forces God into a box of “one or the other”, instead of realizing and accepting that He is a Being of multiple emotions, purposes, and levels of reasoning, much like humans.

    Humans operate in the same complexity of “wills” every day. For example, I love humanity and do not “will” or desire to kill anyone. Yet, if someone were to break into my home one night and threaten the lives of my family, I would not hesitate to respond to the situation using force that would take their life from them (my 9mm). My “will” to not kill anyone is superseded by my “love” for my family and what’s right. I am simultaneous “loving” and “just”, and had I not stopped that intruder to protect that which I love, then I am actually neither loving NOR just. So it is not at all unreasonable to see that a loving God can not “desire” to see anyone go to hell (yet save some), while preserving His holiness and love for His glory and perfect righteousness, and not be contradictory in any way.

  3. @WF,

    Yes.

    @Bri,

    I’m left wondering if you read my post? Maybe my next post will help clarify things further for you; i.e. the history and PHILOSOPHY used to come to the conclusion that there are two wills in God. Let me ask you a question; as a Christian, I’m assuming you are, do you believe in ONE God or TWO Gods? If the former, then how do you have two different wills in God without rupture God’s person into at least a bynarian situation. The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate how you end up with two wills in the Christian God, when orthodox biblical teaching has always held to One God (which logically would mean one will, since God is only one Being by three persons). In other words, I would like you do more than make an assertion for an argument; and I would also like you to not appeal to humanity as an analogy for how God could work. God cannot be taken captive by human analogies, this would be to place God into a human box; and yet that is the crux of your suggestive like argument thus far. Hence, it seems that your own argument is internally inconsistent; given your initial charge of humans trying to fit God into a box; you just did when you tried to explain God’s two wills by using yourself (a human) as an analogy for God (which actually makes me shutter, not kidding!).

  4. I’m not smart enough to know what the word “bynarian” means, or even where to find it in the dictionary, so pardon my ignorance in that arena. But, thankfully, I’m minimally intelligent enough to realize that a being can have more than one “will” in operation through the course of his/her existence without having multiple personalities, as humans experience this complexity on a regular basis (example given in my previous comment). For some reason, I’m not perplexed that God forbids and abhors murder, yet “wills” or decrees the most violent and unjust murder ever committed: the death of His son on a cross. A God that both does not “will” or desire that anyone goes to hell, yet justly condemns sinners, has never been a contradiction for me as I’ve studied Scripture. Plus, I would never force God into one “box” at the expense of another, as He does not present Himself in this dichotomy either. He is both/and, and we should learn to be comfortable with the tension He describes Himself in. That’s not putting God in a box, that’s letting Him out and accepting Him for who He is (and who we are to a lesser degree).

    As I mentioned, it’s really not a stretch to see God in this light. A court judge does not “will” or desire (take pleasure in) sentencing criminals to incarceration, yet does so without reserve because there is a greater will (justice) at play. To say a judge “wouldn’t” or “cant” sentence criminals just because he claims to have no desire to, is an absurd dichotomy.

    Strange you should ask for the burden of proof, and then hand it to me by mentioning our one God who exists in three persons. Even if you’re still at a loss for how one human could operate on multiple levels of will and desire, what if we now had three “persons” operating simultaneously, each distinct in their own personality, but as one unit? Because that is exactly what we do have: one God, yes. But one God made of three distinct persons, each relating to one another, which means they are noticeably different and distinct from one another. So when one person of the Godhead says to the other “Not my WILL, but your WILL be done”, we instantly recognize that one God who exists as three persons could and does have multiple “wills” in play simultaneously.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain this very difficult and challenging doctrine. I pray that as we continue to pursue knowing the infinite and awesome wonder that is our God, and as we come to the end of our limited understanding, we’d humbly fall to our knees in worship.

    Blessings

  5. Bobby,

    I look forward to your series on this topic. I have honestly always considered that God has both a determinate will and a permissive will but I’ve never found His determinate will to contradict His permissive will (He is not schizophrenic). Upon further consideration here it seems rather that God’s permissiveness is evidence of His determination.

    I think Hypostasis clarifies the ambiguity regarding Bri’s contention concerning Christ.

  6. @Bri,

    You are ignoring the Tradition, and history of interpretation on this.

    I hold (as do all theologians who work within the Christian tradition) that a will is the property of a Single Subject. If this is the case, and it is—if we are going to have an intelligent discussion on this—then to assert that God has two wills requires, at least, the idea that there are two separate centers of consciousness’, or two distinct Single Subjects—since there can be only one will as the necessary property of a single subject. This is the necessary consequence (logical) of your thinking; and I reject it because it denies what orthodox Christianity affirms of our Triune God—i.e. that he is a Single Subject (Being) given definition by the Three Persons interacting/interpenetrating each other (known as perichoresis)—so this, we could say (and should), is God’s Subject-in-Being. This way we only have One Subject (i.e. One God), and thus One Will, given shape by the Three Persons of the (God-head, Monarchia).

    If we follow your logic out, Bri, we by your definitions, have Three Distinct Subjects (versus my subjects-in-being); which then is what allows for and indeed necessitates Three Wills (per each single subject (based on your definition). So really your view leads to what has been called Social Trinitarianism, and/or tri-theism.

    You are equivocating with your usage of will and desire (you need to be more precise); and you are also confusing will with the capacity for subjects to have multiple attributes (but this is only given shape by the Single Subject/Single Willed Being).

    You ought to stick around, and finish this series with me before you jump to too many other conclusions too quickly; which I would suggest you have done thus far.

    PS. Remember, in my post I said you would have to work with me; so work with me, Bri, don’t move too quickly.

    @Kc,

    Thanks. See my response to Bri :-) .

    @WF,

    See my response to Bri.

  7. Bri, the kind of “two wills” in view here are like the fact that God does not will (present tense) that any should perish, and yet (so goes the argument) He decreed (presumably in agreement with His will) that many would not be saved. This goes so far as to imply that God is internally conflicted expost facto, after the fact of His original decree. This seems way far fetched to me.

  8. Good stuff as usual Bobby.

    Bri,

    I might just add that the two wills spoken of here are both simultaneous and eternally unchanging. God wills that all people be saved while simultaneously decreeing that some of that “all” not be saved. The point is that it would be disingenuous for God to claim that He desires everyone to be saved when He has already decided in eternity past that He will not save everyone.

    Also, just because someone rejects this view does not mean that they are trying to put God in a box. Just because something appears irrational does not make it biblical…it might actually be irrational. If I were to claim that God and the devil were ruling the universe together, and then argue that all people who disagreed with my apparently illogical viewpoint were putting God in a box, and motioned them towards the Trinity in order to justify the supposed rationality of my claim, would you buy it?

  9. Bobby, I believe you are drawing some erroneous conclusions from my statements, and thus confusing the issue and avoiding a resolution. “Two separate centers of consciousness” as you assert, does not automatically result in “two distinct Single Subjects”. Because the reality is, within the Godhead there are indeed THREE separate centers of consciousness, all in relationship and yielding their “wills” and desires to one another to form One. Your line of reasoning is taking you someplace that I did not assert, similar to those who would hear of God being “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and erroneously conclude there must be “Three gods”. As theologians pontificating on an incalculable God, we agree that lines must be drawn and submission to God’s word are a part of our basis of doctrine, do we not?

    It would seem that most of you would like to dance around the seemingly obvious, so for the sake of simplicity, let’s cut to the chase and get some simple answers to some simple questions regarding the different “wills” of God:

    1. We likely agree that there is one God comprised of three “persons”, each distinct and co-equal, together forming the Godhead. Please explain rationally how one Being can be comprised of three persons, and how this is logically possible (short answer: you can’t). So, if we accept mystery and paradox in the nature of God, how are we so quick to dismiss mystery and paradox in the nature of His will, finding it “logically” impossible? Or if you choose, in simpler terms, please explain how Jesus (God) could speak to the Father (God) and say “not my will, but your will be done” without there being two distinct and obvious wills being at work here.

    2. Is it logically inconsistent for a judge to not “will” or desire to incarcerate anyone, yet sentence people to prison on a daily basis, as part of His duties? Is it inconsistent for a parent to say to their child prior to disciplining them “I don’t want to do this”, yet simultaneously proceed with the punishment? How would God be any different, considering He is the ultimate parent and ultimate judge?

    3. How could a God who does not “will” or permit murder, ordain and “will” the death of Jesus on a cross at the hands of brutal men, and not be “inconsistent”?

    4. If God does not “will” or desire anyone to perish, and this is His only position on the matter, then who is it who actually and eventually condemns men and angels to hell?

    Your simple answers to the above questions will be helpful to me in understanding more the supposed “impossibility” and “inconsistency” of a God who I believe and the Bible teaches operates on multiple layers and complexities of “will” and/or desire. Your direct and simplified answers are appreciated, and will help me find confidence in your understanding of the matter (Those who truly know what they are talking about are typically able to communicate it in a way a child could understand, am I right?).

    Thanks!

  10. Bri,

    Not trying to be disrespectful or anything, but; you’ve convinced me that you haven’t spent enough time reading, and/or don’t have enough exposure to particular theologians in order to engage this discussion with that kind of precision. So in order to move towards remedying that—and as a condition for you and I to discuss further—I want you to watch this whole lecture, given by Dr. Bruce McCormack from Princeton Theological Seminary (it is his recent Kantzer Lectures). In it, he develops the very issue that is under discussion here—in regards to Piper’s understanding of the Trinity—and will demonstrate for you how what I am saying is not formed by a paper cut theology, but instead, that it has substance and reality (and history) to it. As you watch this lecture, there will be a Q & A session at the end; you’ll notice that not one of the many many prominent Evangelical theologians in the audience (many who disagree with McCormack on other other things), challenges McCormack’s delineation of the problem of three wills/three subjects. You need to really grapple with this, Bri; thus far you haven’t, and so I’m not willing to engage you further until you’re careful enough to do that! Here’s the link; watch it in full, or I won’t be willing to discuss with you further: http://www.henrycenter.org/media/player_video.php?id=319 (it’s in and around 23 minutes into the video that McCormack starts to get into the discussion about Social Trinitarianism … what I would say that you hold to, Bri—but you need to listen to this whole video).

    You also need to read directly on this; here are a couple of excellent resources:

    1) T. F. Torrance: Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons

    2) Lewis Ayres: Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology

    Spend the time, at least, watching that whole video by McCormack; then, when you get the chance read the above books noted.

    In order for our discussion to move forward; I want to know that you’ve watched the whole lecture given by McCormack; I want to know who you are (I don’t usually invest this much time interacting with an anonymous person like you have remained thus far, Bri); and I’d like to know which theologians you’ve read on this issue (this is an important piece).

    As far as your comment: “Your direct and simplified answers are appreciated, and will help me find confidence in your understanding of the matter (Those who truly know what they are talking about are typically able to communicate it in a way a child could understand, am I right?).”

    NO, you’re not right. What gave you this idea? You also need to look up what the Reformers referred to as the perscipuity of the Scriptures; both the inner and outer clarity. The simple Gospel message is easy enough for a child to understand, but the depths and profundity of it are in fact deep and even technical. The Church has wrestled through this for us way back in the Patristic era and especially in the ecumenical church councils at Nicaea and Constantinople in particular; so we don’t have to fall off into mystery as you continue to quickly do, Bri (which is one of the things that tips me off that you haven’t spent enough time with this subject to come to the bold conclusions you have thus far).

    So meet the conditions that I have laid out above, Bri; and then if you are willing to work through that with me, I will continue to dialogue with you. If not, I won’t.

    pax.

  11. I’m not Bri in this post, but I commented on another post. I now understand what you are saying about the doctrine of the two wills of God (I was the one that thought you were Arminian at first because I was being clumsy). Thank you for being clear about your definitions. I didn’t realize there was a conflict in my own theological conclusions. PS-Torrance is one of my favourite writers. I’m no PhD, but I have a couple of his books (The Trinitarian Faith and The Word Became Flesh), and they’ve really enriched my life. You’ve made me want to study this in more detail.

  12. Sorry, just the Trinitarian Faith. Now that I think about it, The Word Became Flesh might have been by Millard Erickson.

  13. If He said He desires all be saved, but some won’t be because others are elect, than thats it! There is nothing else. Its a human weakness stemming from a lack of trust screaming “Not enough, not enough! Must find a more suitable answer!” No, must find a stronger trust. Its good that there are mysteries, because the pride within a person roars every time its allowed to believe it has an equal footing. Our pride should be drug out back and shot, cus its gets us all killed.

    It should be a set in stone rule, that every theological insight be immediately placed against the biblical verse it comes from, and if a disparity exists, chuck it. When people start to ADD in their own interpretations to make THEIR overall logic more tenable, thats when we arrive with traditions that have nothing to do with God or scripture. Tradition does not have the authority of scripture, and its…just very odd that anyone would try to manipulate a tradition here, a tradition there, to circumvent the bible everywhere. If your theological insight doesn’t completely jive with all of scripture, then its no good. Thats really simple, and there is no situation where its not true. Why? Because all of scripture jives with itself – Jesus, Paul, and the author of the letter to the Hebrews perfectly explain the relationship between OT and NT, and thats that.

    There is no possible way that any definition a man gives will contain or exhaust the fullness of God’s Nature, and should a man think that he has done that, he has seriously misunderstood “the Living God”.

    The words to be trusted are the ones that will “endure forever”.

    My two cents :)

  14. My two cents,

    Use your name next time or don’t comment.

    Nobody reads scripture in a vacuum. Everyone reads scripture through an a priori commitment to a certain theological framework. Election etc. is read through a certain metaphysical schema (or postmetaphysical as the case may be). I wish it was as simplistic as you suggest, but it is not, so your points are non-starters. peace.

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