It's been about a month since I finally finished blogging on Wayne Grudem's chapter 12 on God's "mental" and "moral" attributes. You can see all of my blogging on Grudem up to this point on this webpage and I've published my edited review of his material on God's word in both print and Kindle form. I hope to do the same for his material on the other sections of the book and then the whole thing together.
So to continue this five year mission...
D. Attributes of Purpose
Grudem discusses God's will in five pages, with three headings. His first heading is "God's will in general." He runs through a number of Scriptures that speak of God's will as the "final authority or most ultimate reason for everything that happens" (211). He sees God's will as a continual activity. All the events in our lives are subject to God's will. It can also be God's will for us to suffer.
The second section makes distinctions between different kinds of will in God. The first is a distinction between God's "necessary" will and God's "free" will. For Grudem, "God's necessary will includes everything he must will according to his own nature" (213). "God cannot choose to be different than he is or to cease to exist."
By contrast, for Grudem "God's free will includes all things that God decided to will but had no necessity to will according to his nature" (213). God did not have to create the universe. God did not have to redeem the universe. For Grudem, these were totally free decisions on God's part.
The other set of distinctions Grudem makes in this section are between God's "secret" will and God's "revealed" will. God's revealed will "is sometimes also called God's will of precept or will of command" (213). This is God's will "concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do."
By contrast, God's secret will refers to "his hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen" (213). We find these things out after they happen. They are not revealed ahead of time.
For Grudem, God's secret will includes the fact that God has chosen to hide the gospel from some people, the fact that God has only has mercy on those he chooses (Rom. 9:18). These are things we had best not pry into (215). "There is danger" in ascribing evil events to the will of God, even though to Grudem this is a biblical understanding. Despite how this understanding of God's secret will sounds, "we must never understand it to imply that we are freed from responsibility for evil, or that God is ever to be blamed for sin" (216).
1. Directive versus Permissive will
As a Calvinist, the big distinction in Grudem's sense of God's will is between God's secret and revealed will. He implies that God's "secret will" is difficult to reconcile with his revealed will.
For Arminians such as myself, a better distinction is between God's directive will and God's permissive will. Because Grudem ultimately believes that God's secret will determines everything that happens, he does not allow for any action to be willed apart from God's specific direction. That is to say, all will for Grudem is God's directive will.
However, as an Arminian, I believe that God has afforded his creation the freedom to disobey his will. When a human being does evil, it must be that God allows it because God is the ultimate authority over everything that happens in the world. But this is not God's directive will, as it is for Grudem. Grudem must warn his readers not to blame God for sin or free themselves from responsibility for sin. The Arminian does not need to worry because we believe such actions are not a matter of God's secret direction.
We will see something similar when we get to Grudem's discussion of God's providence (chap. 16). I do not believe that God directly causes all the suffering in the world. Rather, God has afforded both to humans a freedom of will that often leads to suffering. Similarly, God allows natural laws to play out in ways that can result in catastrophes. Why he does so is somewhat of a mystery for Arminians, just as God's secret will is for Calvinists.
But the Calvinist implicitly gives God full responsibility for such things, while the Arminian distances such events from God. The Arminian considers these things a matter of God's "permissive" will, things he allows for some greater reason. They remain part of God's direct intention for the Calvinist.
2. God's free will
It is deeply ironic that the Calvinist tradition, so bent on the sovereignty of God, is tremendously concerned to make it clear that there are certain things God is not free to do. This perhaps betrays that theologians like Grudem are really more concerned to maintain a certain sense of the order of the world than they truly are to ascribe true sovereignty to God. Nevertheless, the position that says God does not act at variance with his character is fully orthodox.
I would prefer to say, however, that God does not choose to act at variance with his revealed character. That is to say, we only know God as he has revealed himself in this universe. We have no point of reference to say what God literally is like outside of it. It is true that God does not act at variance with his revealed character as a God of love. But it seems best to me to say that God freely acts in this way, not that God himself is somehow a slave to some (inherited?) nature.
God is whom he has chosen to be in this universe. In this way God is free both in relation to what Grudem calls God's free will and in relation to what Grudem calls God's necessary will.
3. God's "secret knowledge"
I have already mentioned above that the Calvinist sense of God's "secret will" is based on a "deterministic" view of everything that happens in the world. How is it that in revelation God considers us morally responsible for our choices yet in other Scriptures seems to claim responsibility for hardening some people's hearts? How can God not tempt people with evil (Jas. 1:13) and yet send an evil spirit into Saul (1 Sam. 16:14)? How can God want everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) and yet most not be saved (Matt. 7:14)?
The Calvinist answer is God's "secret will" and his "hidden decrees," notions that Grudem will play out more fully in his chapter 16. God portrays himself one way on the surface but another in hiding. Congress passes one law into legislation but the President makes secret notes of legal disagreement on the side and then secretly violates those laws. It is thus no surprise that Grudem wants to place verses like 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, which say that God prefers everyone to be saved, into God's revealed will... so he can violate them in his secret will.
A more coherent approach is the Arminian distinction between God's directive and permissive will. God prefers all people to be saved but allows people to choose differently. There is still nuancing that needs to be done--the Bible has both language of predestination and free will. The interpreter's choice is which set should be taken more poetically and which set more literally.
The Arminian must also see God has having "secret knowledge" that leads him not to intervene. He sees a bigger picture than we do. But at least in this perspective, God's will remains constant in character. He doesn't take away with his secret hand what he gives with his revealed hand. He simply acts on knowledge we cannot fully see or understand.