Arminius Rejects the Two-Wills-in-God Theory: God in Confliction

This brief piece assumes the reader is familiar with the Calvinistic "two-wills-in-God" theory, prevalent among most Calvinists, and most famously promoted by John Piper. (link/link) Simply stated, this theory holds that God has a decretal will, as well as a wishful-thinking will. The decretal will is the will by which all things are and will be manifested by divine necessity. The wishful-thinking will is what God wishes could be true, but will not be true, because He will not bring about such.

So, for example, when encountering a text which explicitly states that God desires, θέλει, or wills the salvation of all, that they would all come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4), this "will" is interpreted, conveniently, as the wishful-thinking will. God wills, wishes, that all people could be saved. But He has not deterministically willed that all be saved. Though this post is by no means exhaustive, I think there is enough here to challenge the scholar, informing him or her of the degree to which the burden of proof most often proffered for the theory remains inadequate and, hence, unconvincing.

Calvinists are quite universally agreed that God is angry at sinners. From Calvin to Gomarus to Edwards to Piper we have discovered that this God is an angry God. Arminius, in his Analysis of Romans 9, longs to understand "the proper cause of the Divine anger."1 For supralapsarian Calvinists like John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Francis Gomarus, and John Piper, Arminius wonders what possible reason they can grant to warrant God's anger since God, according to their own theology, decreed from eternity past that sinners sin. With such an assumption, "God cannot rightfully be angry with a man for sin; nay, nor can the man commit sin." Arminius explains:
I say this for the sake of those who suppose that God can with good reason be angry with transgressors of the law, even though they could not have obeyed it by the act itself, on account of the decree intervening [that they not obey it]: but they are much mistaken. For an action of this sort, which is unavoidable on account of the determination of some decree, does not deserve the name of "sin."2
In other words, if God has decreed a person not obey His law, and God is supposedly good, righteous and holy, then a person's disobedience of God's law, on account of God decreeing it, must not be named "sin," no matter what one desires to name it. But if someone disobeys God's law, being not decreed to that action but of one's own free will, then "it is apparent with whom God can rightfully be angry."3

Regarding a supralapsarian framework -- i.e., that God first decreed to unconditionally elect and to reprobate or to eternally condemn, and then decreed to create human beings in order to fulfill the prior decrees -- the question begging to be asked is, Why is God angry? For God to decree to eternally condemn, in an abstract sense, and then decree to create human beings to eternally condemn paints a portrait of the character of God as angry without cause. From eternity past, in His righteous, holy, and loving relationship within the Trinity, what cause might God have to be angry? Logically prior to His decree to create human beings to eternally condemn He decreed to eternally condemn. Why?

Calvinists often use St Paul's statement in a decontextualized sense by way of response: "Who has resisted God's will?" (Rom. 9:19) One might snidely reply: Which will? The decretal will or the wishful-thinking will? The most obvious choice is the former: the decretal will. Arminius responds: "But omnipotence," most evidently manifested in the Calvinistically-theoretical decretal will, "does not always accompany God's will in whatever way considered. For God wills that His law should be performed by all; which is not done."4 At this juncture the Calvinist will retort: "But the 'will' purporting that His law should be performed by all is God's wishful-thinking will."

That is a convenient reply but, I think, a rather unwarranted one. Where in Scripture are we taught to view God's will in two entirely different manners: one decretal, by which He brings about all that He in some sense causes to be, and another one that He wishes to be done but will not come to fruition? Arminius responds:
But it does not thence follow that there are two wills in God, contrary to each other; the one willing that His law be performed by all; the other, that it be not performed: for so it would not be wonderful that the law is not performed by many, when this will armed with omnipotence hinders the other from being done.5
But the response from the Calvinist is knotty on this count: "But when some men endeavor to explain how it can be that those wills are not contrary to each other, they say that God's will may be considered in a twofold light -- as it is hidden," or secret, and "as it is revealed -- that the revealed will is respecting those things which God likes or dislikes; the hidden, concerning those things which He simply and absolutely wills to be done or not to be done."6 For Arminius, and all other non-Calvinists, this theory is rubbish.

Worse than rubbish, however, this theory is deceptive in nature, an attribute quite unbecoming of a God of holiness, righteousness, integrity and truth. In actuality, the so-called two-wills theory perpetuates an Achilles heel, inherent within its own framework.

If the decretal or hidden will is that will by which God "absolutely wills [all events] to be done or not to be done," in meticulous, deterministic fashion, then the revealed will is not a will at all, at least, not in a proper sense. The alleged revealed will is no higher concept than wishful-thinking: it is entirely benign. The revealed so-called will is not a will at all, as it is in no sense whatsoever causal in nature, as is, allegedly, the hidden will.

Moreover, as Arminius dismantles this inept and God's-character-assassinating theory, the entire concept can be disputed by emphasizing "whether a hidden will can be maintained in God, by which He may will to be done or not to be done what His revealed will wills not to be done or to be done."7 He notes that some Calvinists attempt to wiggle out of this logical necessity using varying means:
And it is wonderful [or something of a wonder to behold] in what labyrinths [think, philosophical and theological gymnastics] they involve themselves, blinded either by unskillfulness or by prejudice, or rather by both. But to those who rightly consider the matter it will be evident that the will of God is one and the same in itself, distinct only in its objects.8
What confliction must the Trinity experience in "willing" what actually occurs in the universe and yet "willing" that events could be different than what the Trinity has "willed" to occur. What inner turmoil must involve God's very being -- having decreed or, rather, having "willed" from eternity past all that shall, by absolute, divine necessity happen, yet also be "willing" that another reality could exist.

This confliction can be termed in the following manner (and this is my impression of John Piper's explanation of this text): "Oh how I 'will,' according to my benign revealed will, that all could be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4 RWT, Revealed Will Translation); but, in reality, God allegedly and secretly claims: "I have 'willed,' according to my hidden or secret causal will, that the unconditionally elect will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4 HWT, Hidden Will Translation) The concept of two-wills in God is an abuse of the Text; it is eisegesis; it is poor scholarship. The theory is a poor attempt at explaining how God can will one reality while, at the same time, exhaustively decreeing and bringing about another reality -- which, we believe, undermines the integrity of our most holy and righteous God.

To this notion Arminius argues that this brand of Calvinism performs "the greatest injustice to God, and will contradict clear Scripture."9 His conclusion regarding the supralapsarian Calvinism of Calvin, Beza, Gomarus and Piper is "absurd" and a "sinister interpretation"10 of St Paul, especially concerning Romans 9. This result comes not at the price of undermining or demeaning Calvinists but of preserving the just character of God. When God is angry at sinners, He is angry not from eternity past but in the moment, because of what a sinner has freely done.11

Arminius reminds us of the apostle's words, that, God "endured with much patience the objects of wrath." (Rom. 9:22, emphasis added) Thus the "mode of hardening" a sinner "is by patience and gentleness, not the omnipotent action of a will which cannot be resisted."12 So, he concludes, "it is one thing for God to use the act of an omnipotent will to effect hardening, and another to determine by that will that He will harden vessels of wrath."13 (emphasis added) The two-wills-in-God theory would have us believe in a conflicted God rather than a harmonious unity in the being of the Trinity.


1 Jacob Arminius, "Analysis of Romans 9," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 3:504.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 3:504-05.

5 Ibid., 3:505.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., 3:514.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 3:518. "For He is not angry with them except when they have already become vessels of wrath; nor, when they by their own deserts are fitted for destruction, does He, as is His right, immediately execute His wrath to their destruction, but bears with them long with great long-suffering and patience, inviting them to penitence, and awaiting their repentance. But when, with a hard heart and one untouched with repentance, they despise that patience and long-suffering of God, it is not wonderful [i.e., it is no wonder] that even the most merciful goodness of God cannot restrain itself from the introduction of anger, lest, whilst demanding everywhere that its own highest dues should be rendered to it by justice, it should seem willing to allow no place at all to justice itself."

12 Ibid. 3:517.

13 Ibid.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.