Calvinism vs Molinism: Costa vs MacGregor

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

May 25, 2018

Dr. Kirk MacGregor (McPherson College) is one of the leading voices regarding Molinism in the world today and was recently invited into the “lion’s den” to take on three Calvinists during a live radio program called Iron Sharpens Iron. The Calvinists included the host of the show, Chris Arnzen, along with the cohost (my personal friend), Anthony Uvenio from New York Apologetics, and their special guest and expert all things Calvinism, Dr. Tony Costa from Toronto Baptist Seminary.

To hear part one click here, for part two click here.

This writing will specifically focus on the dialogue that took place in part two. I will summarize and quote from the actual conversation and add some personal commentary along the way. I will also occasionally place “time stamps” intermittently for points of reference.

MacGregor begins by stating that Molinism is a view that really only depends on two propositions:

1- “Before God’s decision to create the world, God knew everything that would happen in any possible scenario He might create.”

2- “As beings created in the image of God, humans, like God, possess libertarian free will (LFW).”

Kirk goes on to clearly state the precise philosophical definition of LFW. He also notes that this is the definition in which he will be continually referring (so there is no need for confusion):

LFW = “The ability to choose between various options consistent with one’s nature.”

MacGregor continued and emphasized:

“Libertarian free will does not specify the range of options from which a person can choose. One’s nature fixes the range.”

He offered examples: God can only choose among “spiritually good” options. The unregenerate sinner can only choose between spiritually bad options. The regenerate Christian can choose among alternative spiritually good options — or sin (according to 1 Corinthians 10:13). These are all examples of libertarian freedom, even though each being is limited in their libertarian freedom (See Libertarian Freedom Is a Limited Power).

With this in mind, Kirk makes it clear that one can be both a Calvinist and a Molinist! Kirk says that “Molinism is a tool” and points out that it is not necessarily a soteriological view. That is to say, although it can be applied to salvation issues, it does not have to be.

11:55

MacGregor said, “If God doesn’t decree for something to happen, then it’s not going to happen!” This is true whether libertarian freedom is possessed by humans or not.

He continued: “God has the creative ability (it belongs to His omnipotence) to be able to create creatures who can choose between alternatives consistent with their nature. And that God, perfectly knowing His own imagination, knows how, if those creatures were instantiated… they would act in various scenarios.” (See The Kalam’s Illumination of Molinism).

MacGregor concluded: “God uses the knowledge that He has in issuing the [creative] decree.”

Dr. Tony Costa then summarized Calvinism, but totally missed MacGregor’s point in the process: Molinism is NOT a soteriological view and it CAN be consistent with Costa’s Calvinistic soteriology.

20:00

Both the host and Dr. Costa then implied in a roundabout manner (or so it seems to me) that no one can have assurance of salvation. Costa also confused “an ability to choose between options consistent with one’s nature,” with “an ability to choose God.” MacGregor has already made this distinction clear. This is a vastly different subject and this conflation ultimately leads to many straw man attacks.

MacGregor notes that Book Four of Molina’s Concordia leads to what I have referred to as the two pillars of Mere Molinism. He offers Alvin Plantinga as an example of a Reformed Calvinist who also affirms Molinism. This underscores MacGregor’s point that a Calvinist does not need to reject Molinism. However, as we will see throughout this discussion, Calvinists often do not grasp Mere Molinism and misunderstand. As noted above, this confusion leads to shooting at straw men.

MacGregor also pointed out that the “tool” of Molinism can also be applied to Arminianism. He notes that this seems to be William Lane Craig’s approach. However, it is a mistake to assume that since Molinism can be applied to an Arminian view, that Molinism should be equated with Arminianism.

MacGregor noted that, although a Calvinist might reject Molina’s thoughts regarding prevenient grace, ultimately that is irrelevant and nonessential (Mere Molinism still remains). Similarly, although a Calvinist might reject Calvin’s views of infant baptism, he can still be a Calvinist, as the five points of TULIP still remain.

MacGregor clarified, “I don’t really see the issue as being prevenient grace…I see the issue here as being terminological.” He points out that Dr. Costa seems to mean something different by LFW than do professional philosophers and this mistake inadvertently leads him to attack another strawman instead of the real thing (I sense a pattern developing).

25:13

MacGregor made it clear that libertarian freedom and compatibilist freedom are philosophical terms with precise meanings. These terms were developed in the 19th century. He reiterated that which he previously made clear (which the others did not seem to grasp):

Libertarian Free Will: An agent “has the ability to choose between the options consistent with their nature.”

MacGregor added:

“Now, depending on what you think human nature can do, [that’s] going to [define] how far you think that range [of options] is.”

25:58

The host asserted that compatibilist free will (CFW) was established in the 17th century. MacGregor corrected him:

“The term ‘compatibilism’ isn’t there in the London Baptist Confession of Faith. So even though I can look back on Molina and say Molina was a libertarian (which is true)… one could say…”

Kirk interrupts himself…

“I would actually contest this point! I actually think that the London Baptist Confession of Faith and Westminster actually teach a type a libertarian freedom that I’m defending here rather than compatibilism, once one understands what compatibilism means.”

MacGregor, as usual, continues to clearly explain terms:

“Compatibilism means that there is a compatibility between determinism (and if you’re a theist, that would be divine determinism) and free will. And the way that you make that work – if you read the literature on compatibilism – is by cleverly redefining free will to mean ‘everything that you do, you do voluntarily, even though that’s the only thing that you could have done; you could not have chosen otherwise.’”

He continued,

“In any court in the land, if it were shown that you could not do otherwise, that the only option that you could do is what you did, even though you did it voluntarily, that would be sufficient to say that, in fact, you acted under duress, you did not act of your own free choice, and you are not guilty of the crime.”

28:05

The host responds: “How I view that tension, and how Calvinists have historically viewed it, is that men are free to choose according to their own desires, their own desires are determined by their nature, and whatever they do before a rebirth cannot please God.”

Tim: Who or what determines man’s nature, which determines his desire, which determines his so called voluntary actions — let alone his thoughts and beliefs? It makes no sense to say that God ultimately determines the nature of each man, but is not responsible for what necessarily follows based on the nature God determined each human to possess (See A Lesson About Free Will & Responsibility).

31:45

Costa, again attacks another strawman and argues: “I don’t see it as God looking at all possible worlds almost as if God is a mathematician doing probability statistics…”

Tim: Well neither does the Molinist! An omniscient maximally great being does not “look and see” or deal with probabilities. God simply knows!

Costa says that, on Molinism, “God is dependent upon what creatures would do in any given world.”

Tim: This is false. God is not “dependent” upon anything. This is an ignorant objection raised against Molinism because man’s very existence is completely dependent and contingent upon God. However, since God is omnipotent, he possesses the power to create creatures with limited libertarian freedom. If creatures within God’s power to create can occasionally make libertarian free choices (that God does not causally determine the creature to make in some form or fashion), then these creatures will make choices in a libertarian sense and really could have chosen otherwise. Thus, if (and only if) God chooses to be limited by creatures with limited libertarian freedom, then (and only then) God can be limited by human free choices in that contingent sense.


Side note: Perhaps it is God’s greatest desire to limit Himself by creating limited libertarian humans. I have argued that God would desire such limitations because it allows for true love, rationality, and real responsibility.


This is similar to the fact that God is not limited by space. UNLESS God  chooses to be limited by space! The Second Person of the Trinity (Jesus) provides the perfect example. Although God is not limited by spacial coordinates, Jesus chose to be “limited” by spacial coordinates. That is to say, God chose to create the space-time universe and also chose to enter into the space-time universe (Merry Christmas). This omnipotent God can also choose to create human beings who possess the ability to freely choose from a limited range of options, each of which is consistent with human nature in God’s image. Since God is omniscient, he can create this world knowing that libertarian choices — made by free humanity — will line up with His perfect plan and bring him ultimate glory.

That is to say, just as God does not have to be limited by space, but can be limited by space if he chooses to be limited by space (and was limited by space because He chose to be), God can also be “limited” by the LFW choices he knew man would freely choose if he were to use his maximal power to create mankind with limited libertarian freedom. Consider the following argument:

1- If God is omnipotent, he possesses the ability to create a world including humans who possess limited libertarian freedom – even if he never does.

2 – If God is omniscient, he possesses perfect knowledge of how humans who possess libertarian freedom would choose if he were to create them, and even if he never creates them (this is referred to as middle knowledge).

3 – God is omnipotent and omniscient.

4- Therefore, God possesses middle knowledge.

Costa goes on to say that this is all “unnecessary” and basically asks, why can’t we just affirm determinism?

Tim: Well, for starters, because determinism is logically self-refuting (See A Revised Freethinking Argument) and makes God the author of evil (See Lex Luthor’s Lousy Logic).

Question & Answer

After a short commercial break, the hosts took questions from callers to ask of the guests:

Q- Is there a causal link between circumstances and what creatures do?

MacGregor responds:

A-  “No, there isn’t any causal link between circumstances and God knowing what [free] creatures would do in various circumstances. The way that God can know how creatures—possible creatures—would act in various circumstances is simply because having that kind of knowledge is logically possible for God to have. If God is an omniscient being, then He must have all knowledge which is logically possible to have. And so to deny that God has middle knowledge seems to make God less than omniscient.”

He adds:

“Only by thinking that God is like a human can one deny [that God has] middle knowledge!”

43:00

Costa responds by affirming God’s omniscient knowledge and that God knows all things! He says, “that’s not in dispute at all.”

Tim: Well, yes it is… if you reject God’s “would knowledge” prior to his creative decree. Or, if you deny God’s omnipotence to create other than he did in fact actualize. (See Is God’s Knowledge Like a Box of Chocolates)

44:40

Q- Is God’s will sovereign over man’s will, or vice versa?

Costa responded by talking about synergism (which is not essential to Molinism as I made clear in A Molinistic Model of Monergism).

Kirk waited for his turn and replied: “No! God does not base His eternal decree or plan on what man would do, for the simple reason that if God never makes a decree or plan, man can’t do anything! Man would not even exist. God bases His eternal decree or plan on his sovereign good pleasure. So God authored the script of history. It certainly wasn’t decided for him or dictated to him through his creatures.”

MacGregor notes that one might classify how Molina himself applied his system to soteriology as “semi-Pelagian” — but continued to beat the dead horse: he is NOT defending Molina’s personal application of the tool.

I was honored to hear MacGregor’s next statement:

“I’m only defending the two aspects that I laid out last week and this week. So Molinism understood that way–what’s been called by my colleague Tim Stratton ‘Mere Molinism’ (See Perichoresis 16:2)–what Mere Molinism suggests is that God, in authoring the script of history, reflects on the fact that He could create beings who are determined to do all they do, and that he could create beings who can choose between alternatives consistent with their nature. God, for reasons of his sovereign good pleasure, decides that some of the beings he would create are of this latter kind. Because God perfectly knows his own imagination, He innately perceives all facts about each of these possible beings, including everything they would do in every conceivable set of circumstances. God sovereignly decides to use this knowledge in bringing about his plan.”

He continued: “This is the script God wanted to write. So, in no respect is man’s will sovereign over God‘s will. Rather, God’s will is sovereign over man’s will… God’s willing to create us is necessary for our will to even exist!”

MacGregor concluded, “God can always at any moment override our will and determine us to do things whenever He chooses. And God only allows us to exercise our will to choose between alternatives when He infallibly knows that it will fit within his providential purpose for the world. So, God fine-tunes this world down to the last detail, in accordance with his authorship of the script.”

My friend, Anthony Uvenio, asked a good question in his New York accent:

“Could God’s middle knowledge be after his decree?”

Kirk answered:

“I would not say that simply because if His decree came before middle knowledge… it wouldn’t technically be middle knowledge. Point of terminology: it would just be counterfactual knowledge – it would not be middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is knowledge that God has of counterfactuals that precede his decree. . . We know that counterfactual knowledge exists before the decree because God is omniscient.”

The question is raised: is it logically possible for God to know counterfactuals logically prior to his creative decree? Kirk says:

“Here the answer is yes! There is no rule of logic that would forbid such a thing. And when people ask, “But how could God know this?” — this is the so-called “grounding objection” — two responses could be given:

1- “Molina’s doctrine of supercomprehension, where it’s simply a matter of God perfectly understanding His own imagination.”

2- When the objector says, “‘I can’t picture how God could know it. No human person could know this stuff!’ [We may reply,] but that’s no argument that God doesn’t know it!

To say that it is idolatrously makes God in our own image! The only limits on God‘s knowledge are logical limits, not the limits of what we finite creatures can understand.”

MacGregor continued: “So I think there are plenty of scriptures where we find that God makes creative decisions – the sum total of which are included in His decree – on the basis of counterfactual knowledge. So when Dr. Costa said, ‘Well, why don’t we just stick with the Scripture?’ – I don’t think his view really does stick with ALL of the Scripture. It sticks with SOME. I think adding what I’ve said actually allows you to stick with ALL of the Scripture.”

MacGregor offers a few passages to consider and adds commentary:

Exodus 13:17 – “God decides not to lead the children of Israel on the road through the Philistine country on the explicit rationale that if they face war, they would change their minds and return to Egypt.”

Exodus 34:15–16 – “God decides to command the Israelites to tear down and destroy the idols of the Canaanites on the explicit rationale that if they did not, they would make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land.”

Mark 4:11–12 – “Jesus decides to explicitly explain his parables to his disciples and only use parables to everyone else on the explicit predestinary rationale that [if they hear a clear message], they would turn and be forgiven” (See Confusing Bible Verses: Matt Slick & Mark 4)!

52:20

MacGregor clarifies: “Here, Jesus is making a salvific choice which is part of [God’s] decree based on the knowledge that if they got the explicit teaching, they would be saved. But if they lack the explicit teaching, they would be lost.”

Kirk noted that Matt 11:20-24 supports this passage.

A long break ensued in which Dr. Costa had plenty of time to prepare a thoughtful response.

1:10:35

Costa claims: “Calvinism doesn’t have a problem with counterfactual knowledge. This has even been affirmed in the Westminster Confession of Faith. . .”

Consider the relevant passage:

  1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
  2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

Costa affirms that God possesses all of this knowledge – all the “could” and “would” knowledge – but then oddly implies that God does not use this knowledge to inform his decree.

Costa claims: “God possesses counterfactual knowledge, because God has determined everything!”

Tim: I would love to ask Dr. Costa some clarifying questions: Does God have the power to create agents possessing libertarian freedom? If so, does God possess the knowledge of how these LFW agents would freely choose if God creates them (even if he never does)?

If Costa answers in the affirmative, then God possesses knowledge of things in which he has not causally determined! If Costa answers in the negative, then he denies either God’s omnipotence or omniscience. On Costa’s Calvinistic view, it seems that God is either not powerful enough to create this kind of creature (in his own image), or God is not intelligent enough to know how this free agent would think, act, and behave.

1:14:30

Costa asserts: “Calvinists have engaged these texts, but they see that these events [described] in these texts happened because God decrees to create them – not because he foresaw what free will creatures would do.”

Tim: If I had a dime for every time a Calvinist misconstrues Molinism as “God foreseeing.” That’s not how it works! Once again, to sound like a broken record, Costa attacks a straw man.

Costa also conflates “decree” with “determinism.” We all agree on the decree – the argument is over if the decree implies determinism. Molinists provide arguments demonstrating that God’s decree does not necessarily entail exhaustive divine determinism. Costa, however, begs the question and assumes it does.

Another question was offered:

Q- Doesn’t Romans 9 rule out LFW?

MacGregor responds and says that he agrees with Molina and that…

A- “Molina actually agreed with Calvin’s exegesis of Romans 9. . .  Molina thought he taught a form of unconditional election.”

MacGregor added that Calvin’s exegesis of Romans 9 does not “rule out libertarian freedom for the simple reason that libertarian freedom means the ability to choose between various alternatives consistent with your nature some of the time. There’s nothing in Romans 9 that says that this individual was compelled to do this particular sin or that this individual was compelled to act this particular way. So, what Romans 9…says is that God does sovereignly choose some to be saved, some to be lost. He could’ve chosen any of the lost to be saved, He could’ve chosen any of the saved to be lost, or He could’ve decided that they didn’t exist at all and other people would. This is all up to God!”

Kirk followed with this:

The tension here is in the Westminster Confession…I think it’s odd…How do we know that Westminster is right about [both halves of what it says]? When it [first] says “God doesn’t decree it because He foresaw it as future,” of course I agree with that. God doesn’t look ahead down the corridors of history – that’s an anthropomorphic, perceptual way of viewing God‘s knowledge.

Kirk hammers his point home:

“But why does it go on to say, ‘or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions’? I find that odd because Scripture teaches that God is all-wise, and it seems the essence of wisdom is applying knowledge. So why would an all-wise God say, “Ah, well, I’ve got this knowledge, but I’m not actually going to use it?

To me, that’s absurd!”

1:18:45

At this point the host continued to harp on Romans 9. MacGregor, however, seemed to affirm my view that Romans 9 actually implies human libertarian freedom (See But Who Are You O Man?)

MacGregor said,

“The questioner in Romans 9 who asks ‘who can resist God’s will’ is resisting God’s will by asking the question! Thus, who can resist God’s will? – Humans!”

Tim: By the way, if “no one can resist God’s will” — if that is to be taken literally (in a wooden sense) — then no one ever really “misses the mark.” Everyone thinks and behaves exactly the way God wants them to think and behave. If this is the case, sin becomes illusory.

MacGregor pointed out that “what is merely molded won’t say back to its molder, ‘why have you made me like this?’ It can’t! But notice, you just asked that question ‘why did God make me like this?’ Something that’s merely molded cannot do such a thing.”

MacGregor makes a fantastic point:

“Oftentimes people miss Paul’s sarcasm in 9:20 trying to show that what the objector is saying undermines his own question.”

Costa asserts otherwise: “I don’t see any libertarian free creatures having anything to do with this!”

Tim: Costa’s assertion does not address Kirk’s point. However, suppose he’s right regarding what he refers to as “this.” Does this disprove the libertarian sense to choose between any range of options consistent with one’s nature? Of course not!

Anthony Uvenio asked another question:

Q- Where do man’s choices come from? Are they determined, ex nihilo, arbitrary?

MacGregor responds:

A- “None of the above. The power to make choices comes from God (in other words, God allows us to do it—that’s the doctrine of divine concurrence), and the choices come from human will. Just as God’s choice of who to elect and who to reprobate comes from him (it’s not determined, ex nihilo, or arbitrary), so the choices God empowers us to make come from us. This is called agent causation.

1:33:40

Dr. Costa surprisingly agrees with Kirk! But then goes on to say that man’s choices (apart from God’s grace) “will always be evil.”

Tim: Costa seems to assume a binary option: good or evil, yet fails to comprehend that there are often multiple good or bad options from which to choose. There are a range of bad things a person can do, and perhaps a range of good options available from which to choose. For example, an unregenerate sinner might not be able to choose to love Jesus, but they can choose to rob the bank OR rob the liquor store, OR stay home and do nothing at all (See Questions For Calvinists).

The host interjects to ask a question of his own:

Q- How do you [Molinists] make sense of God’s restraints and God’s hardening?

MacGregor responds:

A– “Two options:

1- God does determine if Pharaoh’s heart will be hard or soft. [Perhaps sometimes] God does not let people choose among the various options compatible with their nature. Perhaps sometimes God just steps in and says ‘this is what is going to happen.’ Remember: the doctrine of libertarian freedom holds that sometimes humans are able to choose between options compatible with our nature. So, I think the mistake here is to say that because *this instance* might be determined, then EVERYTHING we do is determined! And that’s a far exegetical overreach.”

Kirk makes it clear (for the sake of argument) that even if God does determine Pharaoh’s heart in this particular instance, it does not logically or exegetically follow that humans NEVER have an ability to choose between a range of options consistent and compatible with our nature.

MacGregor offers a second option from which to choose (if one is free to choose between a range of options consistent with one’s nature):

“2- The Molinist can offer an account of how God could do this indeterministically. What I find more attractive myself, is in Exodus it both says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.”

The host interrupts and exclaims: “Calvinists have no problem with sinners hardening their own hearts! Haha!”

Kirk patiently continues:

“Right, so, because I believe in biblical inerrancy, what I would be inclined to say is that the way that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart – so as not to be the author of sin – is by knowing that if Pharaoh were confronted with this overwhelming display of God’s glory, then Pharaoh would harden his own heart. God, knowing that this is what Pharaoh would do, decrees to place Pharaoh in those circumstances. And so, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart by doing this — and it is simultaneously true that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.

But either option is available to the Molinist.”

With that Chris Arzen, the host, demands a response from Tony Costa and says:

“Tony, you need to respond because Dr. MacGregor clearly said that God does NOT decree everything that happens!”

MacGregor rightly interrupts:

“No! I said God does not determine… God does not causally determine everything that happens!”

Host (completely confused): OK… Tony, how strong of a difference do we have here between the two concepts?”

Tim: Tony is the last guy who the host should be asking! These folks all seem to confuse and conflate decree/predestination with determinism. The debate between Calvinism and Molinism is NOT over exhaustive divine predestination of all things — we all agree on that much! The debate, although important, is really kind of silly when you think about it. The debate is over HOW God predestines all things.

Be that as it may, Costa offered a confused response to the host’s question and admits that he is “not exactly sure of the difference.” Indeed he affirms: “I’m a little hazy there.”

Tim: With all due respect, this is the main issue. I contend that if one is “a little hazy” on the main issue of a debate, then one should not be taking part in the debate.

Host: “God does not force people to do things against their will!”

Costa: “It’s the old stereotype that God is a puppet master… That God is just playing the strings. That is not true at all. The Westminster confession put it this way: ‘God does not do violence to the creature.’ In other words, He doesn’t force him or coerce him to do things that they would not naturally be predisposed to do as totally depraved sinners…”

Host: (Bad comments regarding the fact that “some Arminians” hold a ridiculous view).

Tim: Well, so do some Calvinists!

1:41:29

MacGregor asks: “Does God’s decree causally determine what a person will do?

He answers his own question:

“It doesn’t need to. But it does if one is a compatibilist. So what I’m trying to say is that a Calvinist should be a libertarian in order to get their “secondary means” that the Westminster Confession talks about to work. It doesn’t work on compatibilism! So, just as ‘libertarian’ is a precise philosophical term meaning the ability to choose between alternative options consistent with your nature, compatibilism is a precise philosophical term meaning the compatibility between determinism (for the theist, divine determinism) and human free will. And the way you accomplish that alleged compatibility is by redefining “free will” as the ability to act voluntarily even though one cannot do otherwise.

So if I voluntarily go to McDonald’s and get a chicken McNuggets meal, but I could not have gone to Burger King, Freddy’s, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, or abstained from eating at all, then I am, in the compatibilist’s sense, free! The only thing that I am “free” to do is what I actually do, which I would say is freedom in name only.

True freedom requires the ability to choose between alternatives. If we are in the image of God, and the essence of God’s freedom is choosing between alternatives, then we can as well. So I see compatibilism as nothing more than philosophical double-talk from which theologians should abstain.”

Host: “After that I need a response from Tony Costa – after that little dig there…”

Tim: It’s not “a dig.” It’s what logically follows.

Costa: Asserts that compatibilism (as the WCC says) “does not do violence to the creature.”

Tim: What one merely asserts is often vastly different than what is entailed from one’s assertions. Consider the “violence” the creature – whose nature was ultimately determined by God to guarantee their infinite suffering – consider the violence he or she experiences for eternity…

Costa: “I don’t think it’s double-talk at all, as it says of Joseph’s brothers. What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”

Tim: This verse is perfectly “compatible” with libertarianism and Molinism. This verse does absolutely nothing to get the Calvinist out of the hot water MacGregor has pointed out they are boiling in.

Costa: “God works all things together for good [according to] Romans 8.”

Tim: Yep… God created the world in which He knew that ALL things – including the evil actions of sinners – would be used for the eternal good. Again, this verse does not rule out Molinism. In fact, it makes better sense on a Molinist framework.

1:44:50

A questioner named Tyler calls in to ask a question:

Q- “How can Molinism be biblical when clearly the first four verses of the Bible say that God is independent and not depending on the contingent will of human beings?”

Tim: Consider the first four verses of Genesis:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 

Kirk answers the question:

A– “Because Molinism doesn’t teach that God is dependent upon the contingent will of human beings. It’s only by shooting down a straw man that this question even gets off the ground.”

Costa: Adds some irrelevant comments regarding irresistible grace – unrelated to the question.

Anthony Uvenio: “Would you say that God elects a group of people, or does God elect a world?”

Tim: Just to clarify, if God elects a group of people then He also elects a world simultaneously! A “world” simply refers to a hypothetical situation within God’s power to create. This includes the exact people in this situation.

Kirk: “I wouldn’t say that God elects a world. Molina himself held to individual election. But it’s really up to the individual Molinist as to what they will do with the tool of Molinism as I have presented it.”

Costa: Asserts that scripture is clear that God elects people.

Question from Eric: “What does Kirk mean by ‘blasphemy of the Holy Spirit’?”

Kirk made it clear that he was presenting a mere possibility earlier and said,

“If we are going to let Scripture interpret Scripture, Mark 3 says that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. 1 John 5 describes an unforgivable sin. Hebrews 6 describes an unforgivable sin. To put that together logically, it means that 1 John and Hebrews are also describing blasphemy against the Spirit.

But, in the case of the audiences of 1 John and Hebrews, they could not Spirit-blaspheme in the same way that the Pharisees did. They did not have Jesus standing there doing a miracle and then attribute it to the power of Satan. There had to be other ways to do it. So from these three texts we may generalize that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the deliberate and the irrevocable rejection of the being of God – not merely the saving grace of God – but the being of God as absolute evil, resolving to permanently reject God as such!”

Costa does not reject MacGregor’s claims regarding 1st John or Hebrews 6, but retreats to “it’s debatable“ if these passages are referring to a sin that cannot be forgiven. He continues and asserts that Saul of Tarsus must have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Host: “I used to recoil every time I heard Hank Hanegraaff tell people when they would ask the question: ‘Well since you are worried about it, that means you didn’t commit that sin.’ I don’t buy that at all! There are reprobate people who worry about hell all the time, they just have it wrong and damning solution to the situation.

Tim: Well, if God causally determines all thoughts of all people all the time, then a human is in no position to know if they are really saved or not — even if they think they are. I have the assurance of salvation because I am in a true love relationship with God through Christ. That is exactly what salvation is — a true love relationship with God (and true love never fails according to 1 Corinthians 13:8).

If one really loves Jesus, but they are worried that they might have committed the “unforgivable sin” in the past, then Hank Hanegraaff is right, they need not worry.

Finally, Kirk is asked to summarize his view in three minutes. His summary is on point:

“Well, I think that given my defense of what Tim Stratton nicely calls ‘Mere Molinism’ — the notion that before God’s decision to create the world He knew everything that would happen in any possible scenario He might create — I think, as Dr. Costa pointed out, the Westminster Confession actually affirms that God has this knowledge. It very strangely says that God doesn’t use it, but it does affirm that God has it!

And so, if God has this knowledge, then the Calvinist should concede that, yes — God does have middle knowledge. And so, I agree with those contemporary Calvinists like Bruce Ware, who say even though the Calvinist might reject libertarian freedom, they should not reject middle knowledge.

Secondly, as beings created in the image of God, humans – like God – possess libertarian free will. And the thing that I’ve been struck with is, given what libertarian free will means in the philosophical literature — and I’ve always come back to this precise definition — that in some circumstances you are able to choose between options consistent with your nature, I don’t see that as different than what Dr. Costa is presenting. He calls it compatibilism, but I don’t think it really is philosophically what the term compatibilism means. I think that compatibilism is just philosophical double-talk because it says that no person can choose otherwise then what they voluntarily do. If I go to McDonald’s, that’s what I had to do. I couldn’t have done otherwise. That is not real freedom.

And so, I think that if you say human beings do have the freedom to choose between various options consistent with their nature, that the person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit didn’t have to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit – they could have done some other sin instead — but they voluntarily chose to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. If one believes that, one isn’t really a compatibilist according to the precise philosophical definition of that term — one is a libertarian! And so, I don’t see any problem (besides taking offense that the Westminster Confession claims that God doesn’t use his middle knowledge – which seems weird) but I don’t see why the Calvinist can’t use and shouldn’t use, the way Alvin Plantinga does, those two facets of Mere Molinism [Plantinga claims to be a Calvinist AND a Molinist].

See Kirk MacGregor’s article Can One Be Both a Calvinist & a Molinist? MacGregor answers in the affirmative and offers an explanation.

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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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