Monday, February 25, 2019

Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom – A Molinistic Perspective (Doctrines Dividing the Church)

            With respect to the salvation of mankind, there exist two major schools of thought within Christianity. They are Calvinism and Arminianism.

            Very minimally, Calvinism subscribes to divine sovereignty to teach that God chooses some people to go to heaven and others to hell. ‘Arminianism,’ which is predicated on human freedom, teaches that man has freewill to either accept God or reject HIM. This action of man will lead him to his eventual eternal destination, namely heaven or hell.

            Predestination is certainly one of the most controversial doctrines of the Christian faith. But the Bible reveals this doctrine. Hence a Christian has no other option but to understand it to the best of his/her ability.

            ‘Predestination’ refers to God’s choice of individuals for eternal life or eternal death. ‘Election’ is God’s selection of some for eternal life, the positive side of predestination.

            A definite tension (as to who is correct) exists between groups subscribing to Calvinism and Arminianism. explains the basic nuances of Calvinism and Arminianism so to understand this tension:1

Calvinism and Arminianism are two systems of theology that attempt to explain the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility in the matter of salvation. Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564. Arminianism is named for Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609.
Both systems can be summarized with five points. Calvinism holds to the total depravity of man while Arminianism holds to partial depravity. Calvinism’s doctrine of total depravity states that every aspect of humanity is corrupted by sin; therefore, human beings are unable to come to God on their own accord. Partial depravity states that every aspect of humanity is tainted by sin, but not to the extent that human beings are unable to place faith in God of their own accord. Note: classical Arminianism rejects “partial depravity” and holds a view very close to Calvinistic “total depravity” (although the extent and meaning of that depravity are debated in Arminian circles). In general, Arminians believe there is an “intermediate” state between total depravity and salvation. In this state, made possible by prevenient grace, the sinner is being drawn to Christ and has the God-given ability to choose salvation.
Calvinism includes the belief that election is unconditional, while Arminianism believes in conditional election. Unconditional election is the view that God elects individuals to salvation based entirely on His will, not on anything inherently worthy in the individual. Conditional election states that God elects individuals to salvation based on His foreknowledge of who will believe in Christ unto salvation, thereby on the condition that the individual chooses God.
Calvinism sees the atonement as limited, while Arminianism sees it as unlimited. This is the most controversial of the five points. Limited atonement is the belief that Jesus only died for the elect. Unlimited atonement is the belief that Jesus died for all, but that His death is not effectual until a person receives Him by faith.
Calvinism includes the belief that God’s grace is irresistible, while Arminianism says that an individual can resist the grace of God. Irresistible grace argues that when God calls a person to salvation, that person will inevitably come to salvation. Resistible grace states that God calls all to salvation, but that many people resist and reject this call.
Calvinism holds to perseverance of the saints while Arminianism holds to conditional salvation. Perseverance of the saints refers to the concept that a person who is elected by God will persevere in faith and will not permanently deny Christ or turn away from Him. Conditional salvation is the view that a believer in Christ can, of his/her own free will, turn away from Christ and thereby lose salvation. Note - many Arminians deny "conditional salvation" and instead hold to "eternal security."
So, in the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, who is correct? It is interesting to note that in the diversity of the body of Christ, there are all sorts of mixtures of Calvinism and Arminianism. There are five-point Calvinists and five-point Arminians, and at the same time three-point Calvinists and two-point Arminians. Many believers arrive at some sort of mixture of the two views. Ultimately, it is our view that both systems fail in that they attempt to explain the unexplainable. Human beings are incapable of fully grasping a concept such as this. Yes, God is absolutely sovereign and knows all. Yes, human beings are called to make a genuine decision to place faith in Christ unto salvation. These two facts seem contradictory to us, but in the mind of God they make perfect sense.

            According to other theologians, this tension need not exist. These theologians subscribe to the teachings of Molinism.

            Dr. William Lane Craig offers an introductory explanation as to how Molinism can help us understand God with respect to man’s salvation:2

The biblical worldview involves a strong conception of divine sovereignty over the world and human affairs even as it presupposes human freedom and responsibility (cp. the accounts of Saul’s death in 1 Sm 31:1–6 and 1 Ch 10:8–12). An adequate doctrine of divine providence requires reconciling these two streams of biblical teaching without compromising either. Yet this has proven extraordinarily difficult. On the one hand, the Augustinian-Calvinist perspective interprets divine providence in terms of predetermination, God choosing in advance what will happen. It is hard to see how this interpretation can preserve human freedom or avoid making God the author of sin, since (for example) it would then be He who moved Judas to betray Christ. On the other hand, advocates of revisionist views (e.g., open theism) freely admit that as a consequence of their denial of God’s knowledge of future contingent events a strong doctrine of providence becomes impossible. Ironically, in order to account for biblical prophecies of future events, revisionists are often reduced to appealing to the same deterministic explanations that Augustinian-Calvinists offer.
Molinism offers an attractive solution. Luis Molina (1535–1600) defined providence as God’s ordering of things to their ends, either directly or indirectly through secondary causes. In explaining how God can order things through secondary causes that are themselves free agents, Molina appealed to his doctrine of divine middle knowledge.
Molina analyzed God’s knowledge in terms of three logical stages. Although whatever God knows, He knows eternally, so that there is no temporal succession in God’s knowledge, nonetheless there does exist a sort of logical order in God’s knowledge in the sense that His knowledge of certain truths is conditionally or explanatorily prior to His knowledge of certain other truths.
In the first stage God knows all possibilities, not only all the creatures He could possibly create, but also all the orders of creatures that are possible. By means of this so-called natural knowledge, God has knowledge of every contingent state of affairs that could possibly be actual and of what any free creature could freely choose to do in any such state of affairs.
In the second stage, God possesses knowledge of all true counterfactual propositions (statements of the form “If x were the case, then y would be the case”), including counterfactuals about what creatures would freely do in various circumstances. Whereas by His natural knowledge God knew what any free creature could do in any set of circumstances, now in this second stage God knows what any free creature would freely do in any set of circumstances. This so-called middle knowledge is like natural knowledge in that such knowledge does not depend on any decision of the divine will; God does not determine which counterfactuals are true or false. By knowing how free creatures would freely act in any set of circumstances He might place them in, God thereby knows that if He were to actualize certain states of affairs, then certain other contingent states of affairs would be actual as a result. For example, He knew that if Pontius Pilate were the Roman procurator of Judea in A.D. 30, he would freely condemn Jesus to the cross.
Intervening between the second and third stages of divine knowledge stands God’s free decree to actualize a world known by Him to be realizable on the basis of His middle knowledge. By His natural knowledge, God knows the entire range of logically possible worlds; by His middle knowledge He knows, in effect, the proper subset of those worlds that it is feasible for Him to actualize. By a free decision, God decrees to actualize one of those worlds known to Him through His middle knowledge. In so doing He also decrees how He would freely act in any set of circumstances.
Given God’s free decision to actualize a world, in the third and final stage God possesses so-called free knowledge of all remaining propositions that are in fact true in the actual world, including future-tense propositions about how creatures will freely behave.
Molina’s scheme effects a dramatic reconciliation of divine sovereignty and human freedom. In Molina’s view God directly causes certain circumstances to come into being and brings about others indirectly through either causally determined secondary causes or free secondary causes. He allows free creatures to act as He knew they freely would when placed in specific circumstances, and He concurs with their decisions in actualizing the effects they desire. Some of these effects God desired unconditionally and so wills positively that they occur. Others He does not unconditionally desire but He nevertheless permits due to His overriding desire to allow creaturely freedom, knowing that even these sinful acts will fit into the overall scheme of things, so that God’s ultimate ends in human history will be accomplished. God thus providentially arranges for everything that happens by either willing or permitting it, and He causes everything that does happen, yet in such a way as to preserve freedom and contingency.

            To conclude, divisions among Christian churches over doctrinal matters are rather unfortunate. If we are one in Christ, then much could be achieved in Christendom with the pooling of all resources.

            It is with this objective that these systems of thought are presented here. The hope here is that if Christians subscribing to Calvinism hear and study the Molinistic school of thought, then it is quite possible that they may appreciate the Molinistic perspective. This could then bridge the divide between Calvinists and Arminians.




Websites last accessed on 25th February 2019. 


Sam Harper said...

I think much more is needed to win Calvinists over to Molinism. Calvinists have amore robust view of God's sovereignty than Molinists do. Whereas in Calvinism, God can do anything he wants, in Molinism, there are possible worlds that are not feasible for God to actualize due to the counter-factuals of human freedom. Calvinists typically think this undermines God's absolute sovereignty.

Also, it would follow under Molinism that God doesn't have a purpose in everything that happens, which is also contrary to the Calvinist view. In Molinism, since God can't actualize just any possible world he wants since not all of them are feasible, there are going to be things that happen in the actual world that are just baggage. There are going to be events without a divine purpose that God has to live with because it's part of a world that contains other things he values and desires. In Calvinism, God has a purpose in everything. He even has a purpose in the damnation of sinners--to be glorified by the expression of his wrath against sin.

Libertarian free will, especially in the context of whether people accept or reject the gospel, is at odds with the Calvinist notion of total depravity and irresistible grace. Most Calvinists do not limit their view on the nature of the will to accepting and rejecting the gospel. Most Calvinists are compatibilists in all choices. But libetarian freedom is an essential part of Molinism, so I don't think the two views can be reconciled.

Raj Richard said...

Sam, thank you for your valuable thoughts.

I agree with you that this is a very deep subject and that one blog cannot win Calvinists over. But I do believe that there needs to be a starting point for everything, hence I compiled this blog.

I recollect WLC saying that many in the Calvinistic camp have not heard of Molinism and that those who were introduced to Molinism were appreciative and even had quite a bit of their questions answered. Hence, I thought of introducing Molinism to my 'reformed' readers.

Yes, there are possible worlds that God cannot / will not actualize. One such world is a world where evil rules and goodness is largely depleted. Not actualizing this world is a function of God's sovereignty, goodness, justice etc. Hence, in this case, God's sovereignty is not undermined, rather it is accentuated. Similarly, I wonder whether we can offer such reasonings for God not actualizing other worlds.

With regard to your point about Calvinism's teaching that God has a purpose in everything even in the damnation of sinners, one can always raise an objection as to the perfect-goodness or the perfect-righteousness of that purpose. God's purpose ought to be perfectly righteous, to say the very least. So with regard to the damnation of sinners, much can be offered to question God's righteousness.

Yes, I agree that determinism, compatibilism, and libertarian free will cannot be reconciled. That's fair enough. But I also believe that there is a possibility of bridge-theories (theories that would act as a bridge between two contradictory positions) to be developed.

I am also of the opinion that there are subjects in theology that finite human beings cannot or are not capable of understanding the infinite wisdom of God. So we can always agree to disagree without causing major divisions in the Church of the Lord Jesus.

However, what we have seen until now, with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism is the major division.

So I wonder whether expanding the horizon of our knowledge could lead to some healing. Hence, I gave it a shot!!