God’s Salvific Will: The First Two Options
This week I am continuing with my posts on Molinism based on Kenneth Keathley’s book “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” I am going to skip forward about thirty pages in the book. I have beat the first twenty pages of it to death and I keep worrying that if Dr. Keathly found out how much of it I have copied he might be unhappy with me.
Chapter 2 of the book is titled “Does God Desire the Salvation of All?” and deals with the sticky issue of whether or not God really wants everyone to be saved. This is one of those hotly debated topics that tends to generate more heat than light. I have to admit that I have found many articles on the subject to be both dense and uninformative. However, Dr. Keathly has organized the different views on what God desires regarding salvation into four basic approaches. There are two “one will” views and two “two will” views and his summary has helped me greatly.
I don’t think that his discourse on the subject has changed my beliefs on the matter but now I finally understand why other Christians were saying such seemingly strange things, to me, about what God wants for His creatures. I hold to a “one will” view (a “two will” view is a bit too schizophrenic for me) but I believe in a different version than either of the views Dr. Keathley has listed (my guess is that there are dozens of variations on these themes).
Fortunately I have discovered a paper that Dr. Keathley published in 2006 in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society titled “Salvation and the Sovereignty of God” which is almost identical to Chapter 2 in his book. If my post about this leaves you wanting more then please follow the link and read the whole thing.
In today’s post I am going to provide information on the first two options and follow up next week with a post on the last two options:
1) Universalism—despite present appearances eventually everyone will be saved, either in this life or the next.
2) Double predestination—God does not desire nor has he ever desired the salvation of the reprobate.
3) God has two wills—the revealed will and the hidden will. The Scriptures, in passages such as the Great Commission texts, reveal God’s universal salvific will. But God also has a secret will in which, for reasons known only to him, he has decreed to pass by many.
4) And fourth, God indeed has two wills—anantecedent will and a consequent will.
Those first two options depend on an appeal to God’s character. Those who believe in universalism base this on God’s love and those who believe in double predestination base it on God’s sovereignty:
Those who emphasize the simplicity of God generally argue that there is only one will in God. This approach generally requires that God’s nature is understood with one divine attribute as the controlling motif by which all other attributes are interpreted.
At this point I would like to throw in a fifth option based on the “controlling motif” of God’s justice. Dr. Keathley does not mention this approach but it is the one I was taught growing up and still hold to (see my post “God’s Point of Contact With Us is His Justice”). This is how the pastor I grew up under solved the problem of having one will which allows for human choice. The first two “one will” options don’t really have any choice involved do they? If you are a Universalist then everyone is going to heaven no matter what (no choice there) and double predestination certainly doesn’t allow for choice either. Your eternal destiny depends on your attitude toward the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross: that is justice in action!
Coming back to the main topic, here is what Dr. Keathly has to say about the first “one will” option with the “controlling motif” of Divine love:
Obviously, affirming the universal salvific will of God poses no difficulties for the one who believes “God is love” (1 John 4:8) sums up the divine essence. However, this approach logically seems to require universalism or something close to it. This appears to be true regardless of one’s position concerning the nature of the human response to the Gospel. In fact, because of how Reformed theologians understand grace to work on the human will, those who affirm God’s genuine love and desire of salvation for all tend to embrace universalism even more readily than their Arminian counterparts.
Talbott argues that since Reformed theology teaches God has the ability to bring salvation to all by a monergistic work of regeneration but has chosen not to do so, then Calvinism is guilty of a number of sins. First, Reformed theology commits blasphemy—because it attributes demonic qualities to God; second, selfishness—because it teaches us to care about our election more than the election of others; and third, rebellion— because it fails to obey the command to love our neighbors as ourselves.Talbott concludes that Reformed theology can be rescued only by its adherents combining the traditional doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace with an affirmation of divine universal love. The result would be universalism and that suits Talbott fine.
Now is some of what Dr. Keathly has written regarding the second “one will” option where the “controlling motif” is Divine sovereignty:
Reformed theologians such as Louis Berkhof, Herman Hoeksema, and David Engelsma are called decretal theologians because they see the eternal decrees as the starting point for studying the works of God. Like Truesdale and Talbott, decretal theologians affirm a single will in God, but because they see God’s sovereignty as the defining characteristic of God’s being they arrive at very different conclusions from those surveyed in the previous section. Decretal theology teaches that God, in eternity, decreed the salvation of a select and definite number. Those chosen are the elect while those rejected are the reprobate. This approach to studying salvation produces the distinctives of Reformed theology: election and reprobation, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and faith as the evidence of salvation rather than the condition for it.
According to Dr. Keathly decretal theology produces the following distinctive set of corollaries:
1) Such a view of divine sovereignty requires a denial of God’s universal love.
2) Decretal theology necessitates a reinterpretation of the biblical texts which seem to teach that God loves all humanity and desires the salvation of all.
3) If God loves only the elect, desires salvation only for his chosen, and has provided atonement only for the objects of his love, then a third corollary is inevitable: there is no genuine universal offer of the Gospel.
If you would like to see decretal theology in action you can check out these articles by Dan Phillips and Phil John at the Pyromaniacs blog: “’All’ Always Means ALL. Right?” and “Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials.” I don’t agree with the Pyromaniacs on these topics but they are eloquent defenders of decretal Calvinism.