Are Mere Molinism & Moderate Calvinism the Same Thing?

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

June 18, 2018

Question

Dear Dr. Craig,

Greetings! I am an avid fan of yours. Your brilliant and faith-saving/empowering writings have been very impactful in my Christian life. I praise the Lord Jesus Christ for your life and your ministry as well.

I have a growing interest in Molinism because it seems to me that its tenets are biblical and pretty much logical. However, my Christian worldviews are largely anchored on the doctrines on Moderate Calvinism. Dr. Craig, I would like to be enlightened with the major differences between Molinism and Moderate Calvinism (by Dr. Geisler). I haven’t done much readings about these two (especially Molinism) but so far it seems to me that they don’t contrast each other in relation to man’s free will and God’s sovereignty, omniscience, and omnipotence.

It dawned on me after reading some articles about Molinism that the “God” that it appears to represent is “kinder and more compassionate” as compared to the “God” that Calvinism represents (I could be totally wrong with this assumption though.). [What do you think?]

Thank you very much. God bless.

Sincerely, Gillian
Philippines


Tim’s Response 

Hi Gillian!

First things first: I am sorry that I am not Dr. Craig! I agree with you that Craig is brilliant. His work will have a lasting impact that echoes into eternity! Since Dr. Craig is flooded with so many questions (and he only responds to one per week) many of the good questions are handed off to Reasonable Faith Chapter Directors. Since I am pursuing my PhD in systematic theology with a focus on God’s middle knowledge and human libertarian freedom, I was asked to interact with your question regarding Molinism.

You are correct to point out that the tenants of Molinism are biblical. In fact, Molina himself came to his conclusions simply by beginning with studying the whole of Scripture. Molina’s “theological philosophy” was primarily based on scripture. That is to say, for Molina, it was Bible first, philosophy second. This is made clear by the fact that the entire first volume of his Concordia was comprised of 150 pages of biblical data providing the foundation of what has come to be known as Molinism.

Although I am no expert on Geisler’s views, it appears that he does not hold to the five points of TULIP Calvinism. While he seems to hold to modified versions of the “T” (total depravity) and the “P” (perseverance of the saints), it seems that he rejects the tenets of unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. Many Calvinists would exclaim that this “Modified Calvinism” is not Calvinism at all. Be that as it may, I contend that one can hold all five points of “Classical Calvinism” and simultaneously affirm Molinism. In fact, I argue that a five point Calvinist should also affirm what I refer to as “soft” or “Mere Molinism” (See The MMA: Mere Molinism Argument).

With that said, I personally reject the “I” of TULIP for biblical, theological, and philosophical reasons (you are right to point out that this view makes God “unkind” to say the least). However, through the lens of God’s middle knowledge I affirm the other four points of the TULIP acronym. This can be demonstrated by way of another easy to remember acronym: T.R.U.M.P. (click here for more).

Be that as it may, it is vital to note that unlike Calvinism, Molinism is not necessarily a soteriological system… but it can be. That is to say, even if salvation is causally determined by God, Molina simply provided a model demonstrating how some human thoughts and actions could be free in a libertarian sense (which he argued was supported by Scripture) and how God could predestine all things (which he argued was supported by Scripture) — which included libertarian free thoughts and actions.[1]

The salient point is this: Even if a Calvinist wanted to keep each of the five points of TULIP, they do not have to affirm exhaustive theological determinism or reject Molina’s model. This is the case because Molinism explains how God can predestine, ordain, and elect all things without causally determining all things. That is to say, God can be in sovereign control over all things without causally controlling all things. Simply put: Molinism affirms and explains exactly how God predestines all things while humans are genuinely free and responsible for some things.

This point was affirmed after recently engaging in a conversation with a well-known Reformed theologian who has been adamant in his condemnation against Molinism. In just a few short minutes, this ardent Calvinist affirmed Molinism after taking what I refer to as the “Calvinist Quiz.” The questions I asked were the following:

1- Did Satan possess the limited libertarian freedom to rebel or not rebel against God?

2- Did Adam and Eve possess the limited libertarian freedom to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit?

3- Do unregenerate sinners have limited libertarian freedom and an ability to choose between a range of sinful thoughts and actions?

4- Do Christians possess the ability to either sin or to resist temptation in thought and action as per 1 Corinthians 10:13?

5- Do Christians have the limited libertarian ability to choose between reading a red Bible or a blue Bible? (If John Piper chose to read a red Bible, could he have genuinely chosen otherwise and read the blue Bible?)

6- Do Christians possess the libertarian freedom to deliberate and rationally think things through to reach conclusions like, “Calvinism is a better explanation than Molinism,” or “Molinism is the inference to the best explanation”?

After quizzing the Calvinist, I noted that he answered in the affirmative to all of the questions I offered (affirming only one is sufficient). The dialogue that followed went like this:[2]

Stratton: “So, with this quiz in mind, you do believe creatures possess limited libertarian free will at least in some issues not pertaining to salvation, right?”

Calvinist: “Yes! I do believe that humans have limited libertarian free will — just NOT when it comes to salvation.”

Stratton: “Cool, okay, let’s bracket soteriological issues for a moment. Since you affirm that some humans possess libertarian free will at least some of the time, how would you answer the following?: When did God know how humans would freely choose? Did God gain this knowledge or has God always possessed this knowledge without beginning?”

(I think I also asked: “How is God sovereign over these libertarian free choices?”)

Calvinist: “God is necessarily omniscient; He always knows all things perfectly.”

Stratton: “Exactly — I thought you would respond that way! So, God knew how you would freely choose in these circumstances (not related to salvation) logically prior to His creative decree?”

Calvinist: “Yes.”

Stratton: “Then you are a Molinist!”

Calvinist: “How did you reach that conclusion?”

Stratton: “Well, Molinism is not necessarily a soteriological view. It simply offers a model as to how some human thoughts and actions can be free in a libertarian sense — so responsibility entails — and also how God can be sovereign over these free thoughts and actions by choosing to create a world in which He knew how people would freely choose. You just affirmed the two essential pillars of ‘Mere Molinism’: 1- Humans occasionally posses libertarian free will and 2- God possesses Middle Knowledge (knowledge of how humans would freely choose logically prior to His creative decree).”

This theologian paused for a few moments and then offered a response that I will never forget…

Calvinist: “Well if that’s what it means to be a Molinist, then I guess I’m a Molinist!”

Stratton: “I already knew you were!”

I believe this Calvinist felt rather liberated after seeing how he can affirm all five points of TULIP and simultaneously reject the exhaustive divine determinism of all human thoughts, actions, beliefs, and behaviors. Although I do think the idea of “Irresistible Grace” is logically incoherent when held along side of essential Christian doctrine (See The Relevance of Irresistible Grace), I am more than happy to let Calvinists disagree with me on that point, keep their TULIP, and also affirm the two essential pillars of Mere Molinism. That is to say, the five points of Calvinism are not mutually exclusive with the two essential pillars of Molinism.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton


Notes

[1] For an introduction to the Biblical data in which Molinism is based, consider Stratton’s article, Molinism is Biblical, at www.freethinkingministries.com.

[2] See Tactics & Theological Disputes, for more regarding this particular exchange.

 

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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