Why I Chose to Learn About Molinism
I have been thinking a lot about what topic I should post on next and I have decided to begin posting a series of excerpts from ““Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach” by Kenneth Keathley along with some of my commentary. It may be a bit arrogant on my part to comment on someone’s work who obviously has studied this topic in so much more depth that I have but I do think there is merit in adding my two cents worth. I will let any readers decide for themselves if I succeed.
There have been several instances over the past four or five years that have pushed me to learn more about Molinism. Strangely enough these “pushes” have come from very different directions. The first push came during some of the debates I witnessed between Calvinists and non-Calvinists over how a person is actually saved. Don’t get me wrong, the debaters all agreed that salvation is gained by faith alone in Christ alone. The difference between the two camps boiled down to Calvinists asserting that no person could put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ of their own “free will.” The Calvinist position was clear: God has to regenerate the person first and then faith will follow. Of course the non-Calvinists rejected this as being unjust. This pattern was never broken with one side always advocating the “absolute sovereignty” of God versus the other side always advocating the justice of God as being, for lack of a better phrase, the controlling principle.
During all of this I believe that Molinism was brought up as a way to preserve both principles but is was never developed in depth. As opposed to Molinism, Calvinists hold to what are called the divine decrees. There are several versions of the divine decrees (supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism, and Arminian lapsarianism) but the version that the Calvinists I interacted with allows for no true free will on humanity’s part. The Reader’s Digest version of what they believed was that God knows everything that ever has, or will, happen because He decreed everything in eternity past. Their position seemed to teach that God has scripted everything in the past and we cannot deviate from the script. Molinism rejects that view.
The second push came as I would read Tom Gilson’s Thinking Christian blog. From what I have gleaned from that blog I believe that Tom Gilson’s specialty is Christian Philosophy which I don’t know a lot about. What I can say is that I always find his articles to be logically tight and well thought out. There was one article a few years ago where he was recounting an e-mail debate with an atheist over whether God is responsible for the evil that is in the world (the technical term is theodicy). The logic that Gilson used really caught my eye since he used God’s attributes in ways that most Christians don’t. Here is a sample:
There is a problem with your definition of “all-powerful” here, at least as it applies in biblical theism. God’s omnipotence is defined as his being able to do anything that is consistent with his own character. One implication of that is that he cannot contradict himself, and as a corollary, he cannot defy the logical law of non-contradiction. In other words, if by “power over reason itself” you mean he can make anything whatever to be true, that is not the case of the biblical God. He cannot, for example, make 2+2=5, and he cannot make himself to be faithless. Omnipotence does not mean God can do just anything that can be stated in a grammatically correct sentence.
I recognized this as being very similar to the logic I had been taught in the church I grew up in but I doubt that Tom Gilson has ever heard of that church, that caught my attention. God has many attributes that have been revealed to us and He cannot violate any of them. God cannot violate any of His attributes such as love, righteousness, sovereignty, etc. That is a concept that just seems foreign to many Christians today and it speaks poorly of our training.
To be fair to the Calvinists I have met they would say that God’s sovereign choices are always fair by definition (which is true but doesn’t really answer any questions). There are also Calvinists who reject the idea that God is bound by the Law of non-contradiction (followers of Cornelius Van Til hold this belief). However I haven’t found any Calvinist teaching on the topic that doesn’t leave me confused.
Circling back to Tom Gilson, it turns out that after a while I figured out he holds to Molinism! A theology that can reason while holding all of God’s attributes as inviolate is worth learning more about.
So, I decided that I had to learn more about this Molinism and I am glad I did. I don’t agree with everything in Kenneth Keathley’s book on Molinism but that’s okay. He provides a good explanation of what it is and how it works. I will begin quoting from the book next week and I hope to do so in a way that does the subject justice.
I have been trading some comments with Rikki who recently found my blog. In one of those comments he mentioned Romans chapter 9 (a favorite of five point Calvinists) and how to interpret it. Below is a quote from William Lane Craig’s (a leading proponent of Molinism) web site regarding Romans 9. This is the type of question and answer that has drawn me to learn about Molinism.
An atheist asked Dr. Craig this about Romans chapter 9:
Many Reformed think this passage shows double-predestination and unconditional election, and I am forced to agree with them – as is Christ Himself in John 6:65! The Reformed God is something I view as tyrannical and unworthy of worship, and indeed it is tough for someone outside the faith to respond to the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 with anything but hatred: as the prominent Reformed scholar James White describes this very chapter, “I understand that the only way one can believe this is by an act of grace.”
To which Dr. Craig responds:
The problematic, then, with which Paul is wrestling is how God’s chosen people the Jews could fail to obtain the promise of salvation while Gentiles, who were regarded by Jews as unclean and execrable, could find salvation instead. Paul’s answer is that God is sovereign: He can save whomever He wants, and no one can gainsay God. He has the freedom to have mercy upon whomever He wills, even upon execrable Gentiles, and no one can complain of injustice on God’s part.
So—and this is the crucial point—who is it that God has chosen to save? The answer is: those who have faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul writes in Galatians (which is a sort of abbreviated Romans), “So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3. 7). Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter: God has sovereignly chosen to save all those who trust in Christ Jesus for salvation.
Please read the entire article: Molinism and Romans 9.