God’s Salvific Will: The Last Two Options

This week I will present the last two options (options three and four) regarding God’s salvific will towards mankind provided by Ken Keathly in chapter two of his book “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” And I am going to once again quote from his paper “Salvation and the Sovereignty of God” which was published in 2006 in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society which is almost identical to chapter two from the book. This way we get the best of both worlds: you can read the entire paper at the link and I don’t have as much to type.

These final two options are the “two will” options and, to be honest, the concept of God having two wills seems to be a self contradiction. What does it mean for God to have two “wills”? I believe that it makes God appear to be erratic and I have always suspected that it is more a symptom of erratic theology. Doesn’t two “wills” make Him to be a God of confusion?

For clarity here is the definition of “will” per the The Free Dictionary:

1.
a.
The mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action: championed freedom of will against a doctrine of predetermination.
b. The act of exercising the will.

2.
a.
Diligent purposefulness; determination: an athlete with the will to win.
b. Self-control; self-discipline: lacked the will to overcome the addiction.

3. A desire, purpose, or determination, especially of one in authority: It is the sovereign’s will that the prisoner be spared.

4. Deliberate intention or wish: Let it be known that I took this course of action against my will.

5. Free discretion; inclination or pleasure: wandered about, guided only by will.

6. Bearing or attitude toward others; disposition: full of good will.

7.
a.
A legal declaration of how a person wishes his or her possessions to be disposed of after death.
b. A legally executed document containing this declaration.

To be fair about this it is option 3 below (the “hidden/revealed” wills paradigm) is the option that is really inconsistent to me. The fourth option (the “antecedant/consequent” wills paradigm) may just be suffering from poor labeling.

I will start by quoting Dr. Keathley’s introduction to the “two will” theories:

Most theologians, Reformed or not, have recognized that, in John Piper’s words, “God’s intention is not simple but complex,” or if God’s will is simple, it is “fragmented.” If the sovereign God desires the salvation of all, provides a redemption sufficient for all, but all are not eventually saved yet God’s will is ultimately done, then God’s will displays a complexity that requires understanding it in stages or phases. Theologians have employed a number of categories to describe God’s two wills: God’s will of precept, command, or permission is often contrasted with his decretal, sovereign, or efficient will. Most positions are variations on one of two paradigms: either the hidden and the revealed wills approach (option three), or the antecedent and consequent wills view (option four). Generally, Reformed theologians opt for the revealed/ hidden wills paradigm while non-Reformed theologians take the latter.

Salvation and the Sovereignty of God
p 12

About option 3, which is the “hidden/revealed” wills paradigm, Dr. Keathly writes:

Piper argues that God genuinely wills the salvation of all, but this desire is trumped by the even greater desire to be glorified. In order for his grace to receive the fullest expression of glory, it is necessary that he also display his righteous wrath against sin. The full glory of his grace is properly perceived only when seen alongside his holy judgments. Some have been selected by God to be trophies of grace while others are chosen to be examples of his just damnation. Why God selects certain ones for salvation while consigning others to perdition is a mystery hidden in the secret counsels of God.

Salvation and the Sovereignty of God
p 14

Dr. Keathly finds at least six serious problems with this paradigm:

  1. Too often theologians use the hidden will to negate the revealed will.
  2. Christ manifests the revealed will of God, but the revealed will is not always done because it is supplanted by God’s secret will which lies hidden in the Father. This leads to the disturbing conclusion that Jesus does not present God as he really is.
  3. Luther describes the secret will of God as “dreadful” and then urges his reader to look to Christ alone. But as Barth points out, one cannot teach the hidden will of God and then tell people not to think about it.
  4. It seems to make the preacher appear to be hypocritical. Engelsma highlights this problem when he scolds the Reformed pastor who preaches the revealed will while quietly adhering to a hidden will.
  5. Worse yet, the hidden/revealed wills approach appears to make God out to be hypocritical.
  6. It fails to face the very problems it was intended to address.

Salvation and the Sovereignty of God
pp 14-17

That is a very thorough list and I recommend that all interested readers go to the paper and read it. There is really nothing I can add.

About option 4, the “antecedent/consequent” wills paradigm, Dr. Keathly writes:

Throughout church history both the Eastern and Western Churches have taught that God desires the salvation of all, but he requires the response of faith on the part of the hearer. This antecedent/consequent wills approach sees no conflict between the two wills of God. God antecedently wills all to be saved. But for those who refuse to repent and believe, he consequently wills that they should be condemned. In this way God is understood to be like a just judge who desires all to live but who reluctantly orders the execution of a murderer. The antecedent and consequent desires are different but they are not in conflict.

Salvation and the Sovereignty of God
p 18

That really isn’t self contradictory but it still seems like an abuse of the word “will.” I also think that there is an issue here in that it treats these wills as if they are separated in time: first comes the antecedent will and then the consequent will. It makes it appear that God changes his mind which isn’t true. Wouldn’t it have been better to call this the “antecedent will/conditional consequences” paradigm?

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3 Comments on “God’s Salvific Will: The Last Two Options”

  1. jeff Says:

    “God genuinely wills the salvation of all, but this desire is trumped by the even greater desire to be glorified.”

    I find this trumping of one part of God over another messed up.

    Your statement “It makes it appear that God changes his mind which isn’t true.” Caught my attention. God does change His mind based on the response of people. Most uses of the word “repent” in the OT are talking about God repenting, changing His mind on his stated course of action. His change of mind is still consistent with who He is, it is merely His change of course based on people’s response to what He says/does. Or no!?

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Jeff,

      These are all good points. You are correct that the Old Testament does speak of God repenting of things such as repenting of destroying Israel in Exodus 32:14.

      If God is truly omniscient, which I believe He is, then He had to know He was going to repent of destroying Israel. If He knew that He wasn’t going to destroy Israel all along did He really repent? On the other hand I don’t think that God makes idle threats. This has always been very difficult for me to resolve.

      I was always taught that the word repent when used of God is an anthropopathism which is assigning to God feelings/emotions that He doesn’t actually possess in order to explain a course of action. Maybe that is a dodge but it does make sense to me.

      I would have to say that if God does change His mind it isn’t like we do. I’m pretty confident about that. Phrasing this in terms of contingency like you have is probably the best way of doing it. That’s what Molinism is all about isn’t it?

      I hope I answered your questions.

      Glenn

      • jeff Says:

        THanks for he reply. I have heard the anthropowhateverthewordis thing too and was never comfortable with it. I like to take the Word for what it says. I don’t mind God changing His mind, as long as this change does not involve change of character, which I don’t read the Bible implying to any extent.

        It could also be because in those instances in the OT God ahs broken in on history, He’s active in the timeline before/during/after sequence so this “change” is seen in action. Or something!


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