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

*To catch up read my first and second installments, 1) here and 2) here.


This is my second installment (well third really) on Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-wills in God theology’. My last post on this sought to introduce us to the way that John Piper, in particular, and Chandler otherwise, understand a concept that they both articulate as ‘The TwoWills of God’. I registered my concern in that last post about where this approach leads, because of where it comes from; and because of what it implies about God’s nature, and how he relates to his creation (us) in what has been called salvation history. This post will briefly sketch the aspect of where  two wills in God theology came from; my next and last post in this mini-series will detail what the implications are of this approach (for Christology, soteriology [study of salvation], etc.), and in this detailing I will offer what I think is a corrective—which of course is what we advocate for as Evangelical Calvinists.

The history of two-wills in God theology can be seen given definition through the thought processes of a medieval theologian named William of Ockham. He believed, in a nutshell, that God was one way in eternity (God’s so called ‘absolute will’), and another way in time-space salvation history (God’s so called ‘ordained will’). What this does is introduce a wedge between the God of eternity and the God of spacio-temporal time; meaning that the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ could potentially be different than the God behind Jesus back up in eternity (understand that I am speaking in oversimplified ways and rather crudely)—or, there is no necessary link between how God acts in eternity, and how God acts in time. The result of this is to place a rupture into the very being of God. Here is how Steven Ozment summarizes Ockham’s view (and he also quotes a bit of Ockham for us); we will quote this at some length:

Ockham’s reputation as a revolutionary theological thinker has resulted from the extremes to which he went to establish the contingent character of churches, priests, sacraments, and habits of grace. He drew on two traditional sources. The first was Augustine’s teaching that the church on earth was permixta, that is, that some who appear to be saints may not be, and some who appear not to be saints may in fact be so, for what is primary and crucial in salvation is never present grace and righteousness, but the gift of perseverance, which God gives only the elect known to him. Ockham’s second source was the distinction between the absolute and ordained powers of God, the most basic of Ockham’s theological tools. Ockham understood this critical distinction as follows:

Sometimes we mean by God’s power those things which he does according to laws he himself has ordained and instituted. These things he is said to do by ordained power [de potential ordinata]. But sometimes God’s power is taken to mean his ability to do anything that does not involve a contradiction, regardless of whether or not he has ordained that he would do it. For God can do many things that he does not choose to do. . . . The things he is said to be able to do by his absolute power [de potential absoluta]. [Quodlibeta VI, q. 1, cited by Dettloff, Die Entwicklung der Akzeptations- unde Verdienstlehre, p. 282, and Courtenay, “Nominalism and Late Medieval Religion,” p. 40.]

Ockham seemed to delight in demonstrating the contingency of God’s ordained power—what God had actually chosen to do in time—by contrasting it with his absolute power, the infinite possibilities open to him in eternity. According to his absolute power, God could have chosen to save people in ways that seem absurd and even blasphemous. For example, he could have incarnated himself in a stone or an ass rather than in a man, or could have required that he be hated rather than loved as the condition of salvation. . . .[1]

In order to keep this brief enough I will not elaborate too much, but let me give some reasons why I think this is important to know; and also for whom I am presenting this in the main:

1)      I am introducing this for folks who have never had a Reformation Theology class in seminary, for example. So this is intended to provide exposure for all of those who have been unexposed heretofore.

2)      My hope is that because of said exposure, the reader will understand that there is something more going on when they hear Piper and Chandler articulate two wills in God theology. In other words, the way that both Piper and Chandler present this, to the uninformed; the parishioner will walk away thinking that what Chandler just said about two wills in God is simply Gospel biblical truth without reservation or anyway to critically consider this. So my goal is rather minimal by reproducing Ozment’s thought for you; my goal is simply to alert the attentive reader and thinker that there is something more than ‘biblical truth’ going on in the in-formation of Piper’s and Chandler’s view on this particular topic.

3)      I want the read to understand that there is a particular problem associated with thinking in these kind of Nominalist ways (which is what the philosophy is called that Ockham articulates) about the nature of God. As I noted earlier, it creates a potential schism (indeed necessary) between the God of eternity and the God of time revealed in Jesus Christ; so as my favorite theologian says (along with Barth before him), we end up ‘with a god behind the back of Jesus’ who is not necessarily the same God we see revealed in Jesus (so when Jesus says in John 14 that ‘when you see me you see the Father’, that may or may not be true according to the implications and logic associated with a two-wills in God theology).


My next and final post in this series will expand on the problems associated with this approach; elaborating upon my parenthetical point in point three in the aforementioned. I will notice how this approach, which is purported by both Piper and Chandler to resolve some apparent tensions in scripture; instead exacerbate things in scripture by undercutting the most important point and touchstone we work from as Christians—that is what has been called a Theology Proper or Doctrine of God. If we get this point wrong—e.g. who God is—then the rest of our theological thinking and biblical interpreting will be found to be built on sandy beaches and not the rocky jetty that will stand under the most tumultuous theological storm waves one could fathom.

[1] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual And Religious History Of Late Medieval And Reformation Europe, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), 18.


§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.


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.

§1. Matt Chandler’s Calvinism Given Historical and Theological Background … Choose You This Day!

Okay, here we go. I am going to get into this issue, this way; i.e. by having you all watch this video interview with Matt Chandler done by John Piper. My point in sharing this video is not to use it as a piece that I critique materially; instead, I want what Chandler says to take up residence in your heart and mind so that you will be able to recall this as a reference point for some of the things I will be getting at later. What I mean is this; Matt Chandler says something very explicitly and up front that I’ve known to be true for along time, but I am afraid that many who listen to, not just Matt Chandler, but many others in his tribe, are failing to realize that the informing theology behind what Chandler & co. communicate to the masses is plain old 5 point Calvinism. Now, some folk are totally fine with this, but other folk didn’t realize this to be the case (until now); and so my motive is to expose where Chandler and The Gospel Coalition are coming from, and then offer an alternative way to approach scripture through a better Christian grammar and theological grid. Watch the video, please spend the time to do that, and then I will close this video with some brief reflections and set myself up for further posts.

Click Here: John Piper Interviews Matt Chandler on Calvinism.

One thing I don’t want this to turn into is another slam-fest on 5 point Calvinism; I want to take us somewhat deeper than that. I want to take us into the Holy of holies, or into God’s life; since this is where it all goes wrong for a 5 point Calvinist (which I will establish in posts to come). This is, as you heard Chandler mention in the interview, where a need for a God with two wills comes into the picture. Let me just assert right now, if you have a god with two wills you don’t have the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus Christ! And if you don’t have the God of the Bible Self-revealed in Jesus Christ; then you don’t have the full bodied version of the Gospel.

Just be prepared to have your thinking piqued, and maybe your beliefs challenged (which I hope is what happens if you appreciate or are a follower of Matt Chandler’s teaching). Just pray that I communicate in a fair, firm, and then loving way…. thank you!