Some Necessary Definitions to Understand What is Different About Molinism

This week’s post is one that I have been dreading since I started my posts on Molinism. Today I need to define some basic philosophical terms that Ken Keathly uses when building his case for Molinism. Both Molinism and Calvinism can be very philosophical in how they approach theology. In fact I have never read any theology that isn’t quite philosophical at its core, some pastors and theologians are more adept at hiding it than others. For those of you who have ever argued theology these concepts should sound very familiar even if the terms do not.

When I read the two different definitions of “freedom” in the quote below it was one of those “eureka!” moments. My guess is that most people have never really thought about what it means to be free to make a decision. I know that until a few years ago I never had. I have participated in arguments with five point Calvinists who claim that all mankind is given the offer of salvation which the elect desire to accept and the reprobate desire to reject. These desires, according to the five point Calvinist, were decreed by God in eternity past and we cannot change them. How is that free you may ask? Well if you define freedom as the “freedom of inclination” then it is a free decision and you are responsible even though God decreed it. On the other hand if you believe that freedom is defined as the “freedom to refrain” (as I do) then the five point Calvinist definition of freedom is lacking to the point of being nonsensical.

If I would have known these definitions a while ago it would have saved me a few headaches. The “debates” that I have been involved with on this topic have quickly devolved into a children’s fight with one side yelling “can too!” and the other yelling “can not!” I “can now” ask my opponent which kind of freedom they believe in and, if they believe in a different kind of freedom than I do, just let it go.

I am going to provide links within the quote so you can read a bit more in depth on these definitions if you like. Then I will provide a quote from a famous Calvinist theologian which should demonstrate that this material makes it into mainstream sermons every Sunday.

Necessity, as it relates to the matter of human choice, is the notion that since God knows beforehand whatever decisions a person will make, the possibility of choosing otherwise is never available. Causal determinism is a specific type of necessity that argues that the choices made by a person are determined by his particular make-up and his given setting. In other words, a person’s choices are determined by his nature and environment, so he does not have the ability to choose otherwise. This work will argue that God’s omniscience does not forbid contingency, and in fact, the concept of “possibility” is clearly a biblical notion. In addition, the Bible teaches that because we are created in the image of God, we are causal agents – we are the origin of our respective decisions for which we are morally responsible.

The reformed view of providence which embraces causal determinism has been given the (rather misleading) label of compatibilism (also often called soft determinism). Compatibilism views human freedom as compatible with causal determinism (hence the term “compatibilism”), but only after redefining free will. Human freedom is understood merely to be the freedom of inclination (i.e., the freedom to do what you want). Therefore many Calvinists argue for causal determinism, through which God’s will is the cause of all things.

Against compatibilism, I argue for a Molinist understanding of the interaction between God’s sovereignty and human choice. Molinism understands God to carry out His sovereign plans through His exhaustive foreknowledge. It views man’s freedom as the freedom to refrain (i.e., the freedom to choose something or refrain from choosing that thing) and sees him as the causal agent of his decisions. This is known as soft libertarianism or concurrence.

Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach
pp 8-9

Did anyone make it through that? If you did all of this probably sounds a bit academic and detached from anything you can actually use in your day to day life. To show that this type of thought influences sermons here is a quote from R.C. Sproul who is a very influential Calvinist theologian:

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that one maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plans that God has made and promised to us. If a grain of sand in the kidney of Oliver Cromwell changed the course of English history, so our maverick molecule could change the course of all redemptive history. Maybe that one molecule will be the thing that prevents Christ from returning.

Chosen by God
by R.C. Sproul
pp. 26-27

Can anybody say causal determinism?

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2 Comments on “Some Necessary Definitions to Understand What is Different About Molinism”

  1. jeff Says:

    And, in so saying, there is no need to pray for the Father’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven since every molecule is already doing God’s will. It also points out that God has a pretty sick will, seeing the sick things that molecules do here.

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Jeff,

      I totally agree with you. I have always thought that Calvinism can’t make up it’s mind about how things work. They want God to be absolutely sovereign and mankind to be responsible for all of the evil. If you bring up molecules bouncing around the universe then God is absolutely sovereign but when it comes to evil then not so much.

      I have come to believe that what Calvinists actually want is for God to choose the winners and losers (elect/reprobate) in the world but they don’t really care about the other questions that raises. Some Calvinists believe that hate is a divine attribute which solves the philosophical problem. I don’t think that ascribing hate to God is a good solution but when all you’ve got is a hammer then everything looks like a nail.

      Glenn


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