Piper, John, Does God Desire All to be Saved? Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 62 pp. $9.99.
One of the joyous discoveries of church history is that authors used several delivery methods to communicate ideas and doctrinal discussions. One of the means available in that day, albeit less popular in our own, is the writing of doctrinal tracts. These brief booklets are often filled with wisdom and insight, yet lacking in the heft normally associated with theology and church history. Does God Desire All to be Saved? is a modern tract in the same line as the historical doctrinal tracts.
In his new little book, John Piper defends the theological understanding of the two wills of God. In doing so, he defends the Reformed understanding of unconditional election from the critiques that it fails to account for passages such as 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:23, and Matthew 23:37. In various ways, these four passages all speak explicitly to God’s concern for “all,” and that he does not delight in the death of the wicked.
Further, he sets out to “show that unconditional election . . . does not contradict biblical expressions of God’s compassion for all people and does not rule out sincere offers of salvation to all who are lost among the peoples of the world” (13). Piper sees no contradiction between the doctrine of unconditional election and the full and free gospel offer to the lost world.
Piper has always been at his best when, in addition to his Bible, he clings to Jonathan Edwards’ writings. This little book—not much more than a tract—is a helpful exegetical defense of Edwards’ own, “Concerning the Decrees in General, and Election in Particular.” Those who find agreement with Piper on this issue will find no major breakthroughs in the discussion, but a helpful distillation of the discussion. Critics of unconditional election will find a genuine defense—free of unhelpful polemics and rhetoric—that succinctly captures the essence of the position.
Piper spent the overwhelming majority of his work on his first goal—to show that God’s willing that all would come to salvation is not in biblical-contradiction with the reality that only those chosen by God from before creation will be saved. However, his second goal—to show that unconditional election does not place the free gospel offer in contradiction to God’s will—is an extremely short endeavor. He devotes less than two pages to this aim.
Piper’s failure to define what he means by “free and full gospel offer” is the point which should attract the greatest critique. He writes, “we now offer him and all that he has achieved for his elect to everyone on earth. Christ invites everyone to come. And everyone who comes is saved. Everyone who receives Christ has been chosen from the foundation of the world and is an heir of an infinite inheritance” (54). Many critics of unconditional election have argued that those holding fast to such doctrine must present a truncated gospel—void of God’s love to each specific sinner. Another brief chapter detailing exactly what Piper envisions to be a “full gospel offer” would provide greater clarification on one of the more contentious concerns of those in disagreement.
Overall, this is a very helpful little book—perhaps too little—that presents the Reformed doctrine of individual election.
Available in free PDF download here.
This review appears in the Southwestern Journal of Theology 57.2 (Spring 2015): 109-110.
I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.