§2. Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-willed god’: There is a problem!
February 9, 2012
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.
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.