Abstract: In Matt Slick’s “Why Write About Molinism?” he raises two major complaints. The first is that Molinism is eisegetical. I understand Slick’s second complaint to be that the Molinist hermeneutic undermines sola scriptura. Here I argue that Molinists who are consistently committed to the idea that Molinism is underdetermined by Scripture cannot possibly be eisegeting Molinism into Scripture. I also argue that the Molinist hermeneutic is compatible with sola scriptura so long as we are permitted to use our faculty of reason in a ministerial sense. Along the way I address some minor issues found throughout Slick’s article. I then conclude that Molinists are neither eisegeting Scripture nor are they undermining the Reformation principle of sola scriptura.
On Slick’s Definition of ‘Philosophy’
Slick begins by discussing what piqued his interest in Molinism. He writes,
“What I find interesting is that in all my discussions with [Molinists], I have yet to see a single Molinist appeal to Scripture as the primary source for solutions to [the theological problems Molinism seeks to resolve]. Instead, each one appeals to philosophy first and Scripture second. This is what concerns me the most. And that is my motivation for studying and writing about Molinism.”
Prior to responding to the author’s claim that Molinists appeal to philosophy before Scripture, we should first understand how he is defining the term ‘philosophy’. He defines philosophy in terms of how we deploy it in order to fulfill a particular function. Specifically Slick states that philosophy is “by definition, man’s attempt to apply reason in order to gain knowledge.” While it’s true that philosophy can be used in order to gain knowledge, this isn’t the only function which it can be used for. For example, philosophy can be used in order to increase the psychological confidence a person has in a proposition. This can be done by providing a person with an additional source of warrant or justification in a particular belief, which may be achieved through the feature of philosophical argumentation.
Moreover, philosophy employs the feature of conceptual analysis. Gregory E. Ganssle discusses this in his book “Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy”. Ganssle writes,
“. . . [Philosophers] use conceptual distinctions to maintain rigorous clarity. One of the virtues to which a philosopher aspires is clarity. As a result, philosophers pay a good deal of attention to how they use their words. Philosophers must use words clearly and with precise meanings in mind. We use our words precisely in order to make our concepts clear. One question you will hear a lot is, what do you mean by that.”1
The fact that philosophy employs conceptual distinctions is important because it highlights the fact that philosophy can also function as a means to criticize the assertions and presuppositions of a given subject. To illustrate the point, in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga investigates the claim that evolutionary biology is incompatible with theism. The claim which he investigates is said to be the result of the evolutionary process being random. Upon doing a conceptual analysis of what it means for a mutation to be random Plantinga highlights that those perpetuating the claim he is investigating are defining the term ‘random’ to mean ‘undirected’ and ‘purposeless’. This definition, Plantinga argues, is unwarranted since it begs the question in that it assumes without justification that God does/could not direct or have a purpose in mind for producing genetic mutations in the way that He does. In light of this errant definition, Plantinga then goes on to offer a more appropriate definition according to which a genetic mutation is random just in case it occurs without respect to the benefit of the host organism in the struggle for survival. This definition, Plantinga argues, seems to be compatible with God having a certain telos in mind.2 In short, notice that it is through the philosophical feature of conceptual analysis in making conceptual distinctions which enables Plantinga to criticize the assumptions of a particular subject (i.e. evolutionary biology).
Moving forward, another function which philosophy serve is as a means of stipulating the conceptual boundaries in which a theory can operate. For example, any scientific theory, if it is to commend itself as true, must operate within the boundaries of a certain philosophy of metaphysics according to which the laws of logic obtain. This is so because the laws of logic are plausibly metaphysically necessary truths and so could not possibly be false. So, given the truth of these laws, and given that the scientist intends on demonstrating the truth of a particular theory, she will have to formulate it in such a way so that it is consistent with the truth of the laws of logic. In this way, we can see that philosophy can function as a guide in helping in the formulation of an idea.
In sum philosophy can serve a function beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge. To recap, philosophy can function to (1) increase the psychological confidence a person has in a proposition, (2) make conceptual distinctions in order to criticize the assertions and presuppositions of a given subject, and (3) stipulate the conceptual boundaries in which a theory can operate. This is not even an exhaustive list of philosophy’s potential uses. Notwithstanding, the examples I’ve mentioned demonstrate that Slick’s understanding of how philosophy functions is underdescriptive. Slick’s definition is therefore, at the very least, cursory.
Aside from Slick’s inchoate description of philosophy’s function, his definition is also afflicted by ambiguity. Recall that Slick has defined philosophy as “man’s attempt to apply reason in order to gain knowledge”. Notice, however, that Slick withholds defining ‘reason’. Reason can refer to the faculty of reason (i.e. the faculty whereby we see the truth of self-evident propositions and that a given proposition implies or entails another)3, but it can also refer to a mode of knowledge acquisition. Such modes would include discursive and non-discursive reason. Discursive reason refers to the elongated process of arriving at conclusions by inference from premises.4 Non-discursive reason, in contrast, refers to the mode of acquiring knowledge non-inferentially.5 Thus, not only does Slick underdescribe philosophy in terms of its function, but he also defines it ambiguously.
Disambiguating Slick’s Gripes With Molinists
Now return to Slick’s major gripe with Molinists. Recall that he asserts that,
“What I find interesting is that in all my discussions with [Molinists], I have yet to see a single Molinist appeal to Scripture as the primary source for solutions to [the theological problems Molinism seeks to resolve]. Instead, each one appeals to philosophy first and Scripture second.”
What sense does Slick think Scripture should be appealed to first? He doesn’t specify at this point. However, dispersed throughout his article are statements describing the way he perceives Molinists utilizing Scripture. There are also statements describing how he thinks Scripture should be appropriately employed. At this point I shall survey these statements and then synchronize them in order to formulate Slick’s objection more succinctly. Slick states:
“I. . . believe Molinism is a philosophy imposed upon Scripture that elevates man.”
Here Slick states that he believes that Molinism is a view that is forced upon Scripture, that is to say that he takes the Molinist hermeneutic to be eisegetical. Moreover, Slick states that he believes that the way Molinists utilize Scripture “elevates man”. Notice, however, that at this point Slick does not specify the sense in which the Molinist hermeneutic does this and whether or not doing this is logically or morally illicit (or both). For this reason, we will have to confer to other statements made by Slick in order to know whether or not Slick thinks the Molinist hermeneutic commits some error other than eisegesis.
Fortunately Slick does indicate elsewhere in his article that he thinks Molinist are committing some other error. He indicates this by stating that, “[as] Christians, Scripture should always appealed to first.” Since, on Slick’s view, Scripture should be appealed to first and since Molinists, according to him, aren’t fulfilling this duty, then it follows that Molinists are failing to discharge the duty of placing Scripture first. Of note, charity invites me to believe that Slick is being consistent in that he recognizes the implication that he’s made here and so I will assume that he believes this implication. Finally, notice that Slick has still failed to clarify the sense in which Scripture should be appealed to first and so, again, we must look elsewhere for further clarification of what he means.
Unfortunately nowhere in Slick’s article does he make any statement to the effect of “by saying that we should place Scripture first I mean x” (where x specifies the sense in which Scripture should be appealed to first). Moreover, I’m inclined to believe that Slick doesn’t mean to assert that Scripture should be appealed first in the sense that any exegetical argument(s) given in favor of Molinism should be presented chronologically prior to the philosophical argument(s) given on its behalf. I say this because, as we shall see, there seems to be a more plausible way of understanding Slick’s claim given my experience of what Calvinists like Slick typically mean by certain platitudes. In any case, if I’m mistaken and Slick does mean to say that Scripture should be appealed to in the chronological sense I stated above, then Slick’s claim will simply turn out to be question begging since he presents no justification in favor of this assertion.
So, at this point, I will consider other statements made by Slick and will merely assume that they encompass the relevant sense Slick has in mind. Finally, if it turns out that my interpretation of Slick’s claim is incorrect, then I will simply be at a loss in understanding what Slick means to assert since he nowhere provides clarification nor can I think of any other plausible way to interpret him.
Let us now consider Slick’s claim that:
“. . . Scripture is the final authority, not man’s reasoning.”
Here I assume that Scripture being the final authority describes the sense in which Scripture should be appealed to first. More specifically, I am stipulating that when Slick states that Molinists should appeal to Scripture first, that he means to say that they should not utilize Scripture to justify their Molinism in such a way that undermines Scripture’s authority. But notice that Slick fails to clarify what exactly Scripture possesses this authority over. Because of this, we are, once again, left to refer to other statements made by Slick to see if he provides further clarification.
To no one’s surprise, nowhere in Slick’s article does he articulate what Scripture possesses this authority over. Because of this, I’m left to guess as to what Slick thinks Scripture possesses this authority over. In my experience, when we Protestants assert that Scripture bares the status of being the final authority, we typically are intending to affirm the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. Hereafter, I shall understand Slick’s claim that Scripture should be treated as a final authority as simply affirming this principle.
In Keith A. Mathison’s The Shape of Sola Scriptura he articulates Scripture’s authority in that it “is the one final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice”.6 In other words Scripture possesses authority over Christians with respect to what we believe as well as how we choose to live our lives. Being the final authority (where I understand ‘final’ to be synonymous ‘ultimate’), this implies there is no other authority to which Scripture is subject. Instead all other authorities (should they exists) which are sovereign over Christian beliefs and practices are subordinate to it.
That said, if I understand Slick correctly, then my interpretation of him will enable me to potentially clarify his previously made statement that the Molinist hermeneutic “elevates man”. Specifically, I could stipulate that the Molinist hermenetic does this in the sense that it illicitly places man’s reasoning in a position of authority over Scripture. In my experience, this is what Calvinists typically mean when we say that a certain hermeneutical method “elevates man” and for this reason I will prefer this interpretation of Slick to my previously suggested chronological one.
In sum, I have understood Slick as making the following two assertions: (1) that Molinism is eisegetical and that (2) the Molinist hermeneutic undermines sola scriptura. On my interpretation of Slick, the Molinist hermeneutic does this by treating Scripture as secondary in the sense that the hermeneutic places man’s reasoning in a position of authority over Scripture. Hereafter, I shall understand Slick’s major gripes with Molinists in the way I have argued for.
Clarifying Points of Disagreement Between Calvinists & Molinists
After airing his gripes with Molinists, Slick states that Molinists are already familiar with his hangups and have attempted to respond to them. In demonstrating this point, Slick appeals to Max Andrews who states,
“Molinism isn’t a philosophical grid being laid over Scripture; rather, it’s a derivation of a commitment to certain principles already obtained from Scripture.”7
In response to Andrews’ claim Slick states the following:
“I appreciate that Max Andrews is trying to assert that Molinism is derived from Scripture. However, with the philosophical foundation of counterfactuals, libertarian free will, the natural, middle, and free knowledge of God all used in an attempt to harmonize God’s Sovereignty and Man’s presupposed Libertarian Free will, I still believe Molinism is a philosophy imposed upon Scripture that elevates man.”
Notice that Slick blatantly misrepresents what Andrews states. Andrews did not claim that Molinism is derived from Scripture. Instead he stated that Molinism is derived from a commitment to certain principles taught in Scripture. Is this a distinction without a difference? Not at all. A doctrine can be derived – either successfully or unsuccessfully – from one’s commitment to certain principles in Scripture without the doctrine itself being derived from Scripture if (1) one is committed to certain principles taught in Scripture (2) one believes those principles to be consistent with (that is, the principles underdetermine) the doctrine purporting to account for those principles being true and (3) one has an argument – either successful or unsuccessful – in favor of that doctrine.
This point is illustrated well when one considers the debate concerning God’s relationship to time. Most Christian theologians are committed to the principle that God is eternal. Despite this agreement, this principle seems to underdetermine whether God is timeless or everlasting throughout time.8 Because of the Biblical underdeterminacy concerning God’s relationship to time theologians are left to do the task of philosophical theology where they must give philosophical arguments in favor of their views regarding it. That said, notice that even if a theologian’s view concerning God’s relationship to time turns out to be incompatible with the Biblical principle she aims to preserve, that she is at least to committed to it in the sense that she believes in it and has attempted to construct a model which best accounts for the principle. Thus, as this example illustrates, one’s views can be derived from one’s commitment to certain principles in Scripture without the view itself being derived from Scripture.
That said, perhaps Slick’s failure to grasp the relevant distinction is what leads him to think that Molinists are undermining sola scriptura. How so? Perhaps Slick is of the belief that the only way we can derive a model purporting to account for some aspect of God’s nature is to derive that model from Scripture itself. Understanding Slick as failing to grasp this distinction would not only explain why he misrepresented Andrews, but it would also explain why he thought it appropriate to presumably criticize Molinists earlier by mentioning that he has “yet to see a single Molinist appeal to Scripture as the primary sources for solutions to [the theological problems Molinism seeks to resolve]”.
Now, if Slick is to be interpretated in this way, then Slick will be simply begging the question in favor of his view since he presents no justification in favor of it. Even worse for Slick, the claim that we can derive a doctrine through a commitment through certain principles taught in Scripture without the doctrine being derived from Scripture itself can be demonstrably shown to be compatible with sola scriptura. In order to see why this is the case, we will first need to revisit the concept of sola scriptura.
Recall that adherence to sola scriptura requires that Christians adhere to what Scripture teaches. Notice, however, that this principle does not stipulate that what Scripture teaches is always determinitive with respect to providing an account for how that teaching should be made sense of. Sola scriptura is therefore consistent with the view that Andrews sought to articulate, though obviously sola scriptura does not imply the truth of his view.
Now return to Slick’s complaint. Recall that Slick asserts that he believes that “Molinism is a philosophy imposed upon Scripture”. I maintain that if the Molinist does not assume that Molinism is taught in Scripture or if the Molinist does not give an argument that implies Molinism is taught in Scripture then the Molinist cannot possibly be eisegeting Molinism into Scripture. In order to see why this is the case all one needs to do is understand the concept of eisegesis. Properly understood, eisegesis occurs when one’s interpretation of a text introduces presuppositions into it which are at odds with (or lack regard for) the author’s original intent. That said, a necessary condition for an individual eisegeting their view, V, into a text is that the individual assumes without justification or gives an (unsuccessful) argument that implies that V is taught in Scripture. The Molinist, however, who is consistently committed to the notion that the Bible underdetermines the truth of Molinism can fulfill neither of these conditions. They cannot fulfill the first condition because they do not purport to show or even believe that Molinism is taught in Scripture. Neither can the Molinist fulfill the second condition assuming that their exegesis of Scripture does not imply that Molinism is taught in Scripture.
Here’s an illustration demonstrating how a Molinist might interpret a verse as being evidence of Molinism without their interpretation implying that Molinism is taught in Scripture: consider 1 Samuel 23:11-13 which is perhaps the Molinist’s locus classicus purporting to show that God possesses knowledge of counterfactuals. Although these verses teach that God possesses knowledge of counterfactuals, they nevertheless fail to disclose whether or not this knowledge is pre-voltional. The verses therefore do not imply Molinism since Molinism requires that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals be prevolitional and these verses underdetermine that. Despite this shortcoming, notice that these verses still serve as evidence for Molinism in the sense that they demonstrate that Molinism is consistent with what these verses teach. In this way we can see that Molinists can appeal to certain verses as evidence for Molinism without the Molinist implying that Molinism is itself taught in Scripture.
Next, recall that Slick (presumably) criticizes Molinists for not appealing to Scripture for the solutions to the theological problems Molinism aims to resolve. The reason Molinists don’t appeal to Scripture for solutions to the problems Molinism aims to resolve is because Molinists aren’t of the belief that Scripture provides solutions to the problems Molinism seeks to resolve. So it’s not the case that Molinists are being impious by not having first considered what Scripture states, it’s that Molinists have already considered what Scripture states and have interpreted it to be underdeterminative. This underdeterminacy is what, in turn, has led Molinists to give philosophical arguments in favor of Molinism. So what needs to be understood here is that the point of disagreement between Molinists and Determinist-Calvinists like Slick is not that both parties have conflicting beliefs concerning how Scripture resolves the theological problems both parties aim to resolve. Rather the disagreement between them is if Scripture actually provides a solution to these theological problems. Notice then, that since Molinists believe that Molinism is underdetermined by Scripture, that Molinists can at most be accused of eisegeting certain texts by understanding them as being underdeterminative.
Can we Understand Scripture Without Using our Minds?
Following his response to Andrews, Slick goes on to elaborate how he believes that using our minds isn’t essential to understanding certain aspects of the Bible. Slick states:
“It is true that we sometimes need to use our minds, and even philosophical examination, in order to understand some of the deeper aspects of God’s word. . . But I routinely insist that revelation supercedes [sic] all philosophical assumptions.”
Notice that Slick states that we only sometimes need to use our minds and philosophical examination in order to understand certain aspects of the Bible. If it’s the case that we only sometimes need to use our minds and philosophical examination in the contexts that Slick has specified, then it follows that, it is not always the case that we need to use our minds or philosophical examination in order to understand certain aspects of the Bible. If it’s not always the case that we need to use our minds and philosophical examination in order to understand the Bible, then it follows that, on Slick’s view, there are at least some cases in which we can understand the Bible without needing to use our minds or philosophical examination.
That said, our cognitive faculties partially constitute our minds (where I understand ‘mind’ to be synonymous with ‘soul’). Since our cognitive faculties partially constitute our minds, then Slick’s view implies that we needn’t use our cognitive faculties when understanding “the deeper aspects of God’s word”. But how is this possible and what justification does Slick have for this assumption? Slick, unfortunately neglects answering such questions and so I will take it upon myself to construct a model for him purporting to explain how individuals can only sometimes understand “the deeper aspects of God’s word” without employing their cognitive faculties in doing so.
The only way I can conceive of this as being possible is if God were to strongly actualize an individuals understanding of these “deeper aspects of Scripture”. For those unfamiliar with the concept of strong actualization, it occurs when God causes a state of affairs to obtain through a direct exercise of His causal power. This is opposed to weak actualization which occurs when God causes a state of affairs to obtain merely by placing a creature in circumstances such that God knew how that creature would freely respond.9 Hereafter, I shall refer to the position that we sometimes need to understand certain aspects of the Bible by God strongly actualizing our understanding of those aspects as the Philosophy-Free View (PFV).
Unfortunately, Slick doesn’t provide any justification in favor of the PFV. Therefore, if Slick means to affirm the truth of the PFV, then he will simply be begging the question in favor of it since he merely assumes its truth without providing justification. Additionally, the PFV turns out to be at odds with traditional reformed sympathies. How so? Typically the reformed community has been highly skeptical of those who claim to receive private revelation from God concerning how we are to understand scripture. Despite this reservation, the PFV claims that individuals are to understand “some of the deeper aspects of God’s word” by God strongly actualizing their understanding of Scripture instead of appealing to their God-given cognitive faculties to determine whether or not the interpretation they’ve arrived at is correct. Of course, an individual claiming that God has strongly actualized their understanding of certain biblical texts doesn’t necessarily imply that their claim is false. However, the point is that the reformed community has typically frowned upon those who claim such things. Slick’s view is thus a maverick one within the context of reformed tradition.
Responding to Slick’s “Philosophy-Free” Theology
Let us now turn to the rest of Slick’s statement. He states that he ” . . . routinely insist that revelation supercedes [sic] all philosophical assumptions.” To supersede something means to displace something that was previously in use in favor of something else. By ‘philosophical assumption’ I understand Slick to be referring to those beliefs we hold to which stipulate the conceptual boundaries by which we interpret something. So, for example, the person who accepts naturalism as a philosophical assumption will attempt to interpret any miracle claims within the lens of what their naturalism allows. Similarly, the person who accepts the philosophical assumption that texts should be interpreted according to the author’s intended purpose, will attempt to understand any texts they seek to understand through the lens of that assumption.
Now return to Slick’s claim. Notice that he states that Scripture – presumably what it teaches – supersedes all philosophical assumptions. That said, the belief that we should interpret Scripture according to the author’s intended purpose is a belief that exegetes come to Scripture with prior to interpreting it and so such a belief is a philosophical assumption they make. Moreover, this philosophical assumption cannot be validly derived from Scripture itself since Scripture does not teach how to exegete a text. Therefore, Slick’s view implies that we are not to come to Scripture with the belief that we should interpret Scripture according to the author’s intended purpose. Presumably Slick does not believe in this untoward conclusion and so he has good reason to reject his own claim that Scripture supersedes all philosophical assumptions.
There is, however, a more charitable way of interpreting Slick. Perhaps what Slick meant to say is that Scripture supersedes all bad philosophical assumptions, but not the good one’s we hold to. On this interpretation Slick could grant that our coming to Scripture with the belief that we should interpret it according to the author’s intended purpose is a good philosophical assumption. A bad philosophical assumption, then, would be one which contradicts what Scripture teaches. So, it is only in those cases where our philosophy contradicts what Scripture teaches that Scripture supersedes that philosophy. This thesis I find uncontroversial. The question then is if Molinism contradicts what Scripture teaches. Slick has argued elsewhere that it does and so many of the contributors of FreeThinking Ministries, including myself have provided counter-responses to him, in turn.10
Slick then states the following:
“Is my position a philosophical one? No, it’s not. It’s biblical. Now, I know that people will say that this is my philosophical position to put Scripture over philosophy. I see that as nothing more than a philosophical word game. The fact is that Scripture is inspired and human philosophy is not.”
Rather than arguing that his position is a good philosophical assumption, Slick instead denies that his view is a philosophical position altogether. Since all philosophical assumptions are philosophical positions, then it follows that if Slick’s view isn’t a philosophical position, then neither can it be a philosophical assumption. This would thereby imply that Slick’s view isn’t superseded by Scripture. The problem is that Slick provides no justification for the claim that his view isn’t a philosophical position. Instead, Slick just asserts his own position and dismisses critics accusing them of engaging in philosophical word games, pointing out no logical fallacies any of these critics allegedly commit.
That said, Slick’s view is demonstrably a philosophical position. To demonstrate the point, consider the branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. According to William Lane Craig and JP Moreland “Metaphysics is the philosophical study of being and reality”.11Since metaphysics as a discipline studies claims about reality, and Slick’s view asserts that reality is a certain way (i.e. it is such that Scripture supersedes all philosophical assumptions), then it follows that Slick’s view would qualify as being a metaphysical, and by extension, a philosophical claim.
To make matters worse for Slick, it turns out that he’s special pleading for the view that his position isn’t philosophical. To prove the point, as of this writing, there is an article on Slick’s website in which he states, “If we realize that the scientific method is a way of attaining truth, then it falls under the definition of philosophy.”12 Does Slick believe that our interpreting Scripture without making any philosophical assumptions is a way of attaining truth? If so, then, by Slick’s own lights, it “falls under the definition of philosophy”.
But let’s not end there. Recall that earlier Slick quoted Max Andrews concerning how Andrews believes Molinism is derived. As it turns out, in the same book that Slick quotes Andrews from Andrews actually provides an argument explaining why coming to Scripture with philosophical assumptions is an indispensable feature of exegesis. Here’s what Andrews states:
“When students studied in school or university, theology was the last thing they learned. Students learned philosophy, art, biology, chemistry, physics, literature, math, etc. first and then learned theology. Why is that? Because all of these disciplines are essential for learning about God and exegeting the Scriptures.
For example, it’s necessary to have a scientific understanding of nature and agency prior to interpreting Scripture. In order to know a miracle has happened one must know that liquid water is less dense than the human body, or that water doesn’t normally undergo chemical reactions to become fermented wine, or that dead bodies don’t normally undergo a natural biological resuscitation or resurrection.”13
Slick nowhere interacts with Andrews’ claim that it’s essential to have an understanding of other disciplines in order to learn about God and exegete the Scriptures. So, as it turns out, not only does Slick misrepresent Max Andrews as we saw earlier, but Slick also fails to interact with the arguments of those who separate from his own view.
Magisterial vs Ministerial Uses of Reason
Moving forward, so far we’ve seen that one of Slick’s primary concerns with Molinists is that he believes that they are using their reason in such a way that undermines sola scriptura. Slick, in turn, has provided no account as to how we can understand Scripture without using our reason. For this reason I will appeal to Martin Luther’s distinction between magisterial and ministerial uses of reason, arguing that the deployment of the latter use of reason is compatible with adherence to sola scriptura.
William Lane Craig has explained the differences between magisterial and ministerial uses of reason. He has also noted his belief in the legitimacy of reason’s latter use. He states,
“The magisterial role of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the Gospel14 like a magistrate and judges its truth or falsity on the basis of argument and evidence. By contrast, the ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the Gospel message. . . I would say that only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Reason is a God-given tool to help us better understand and defend our faith”15
According to Craig we are permitted to use our reason to help us understand what Scripture teaches, but we are not to use our reason to judge the truth or falsity of what Scripture teaches. I think Craig is correct here concerning the legitimacy of the ministerial use of reason. Recall that sola scriptura only requires that we believe and conform our lives to what Scripture teaches we should believe and conform our lives to. Furthermore, we are to do this by virtue of Scripture being authoritative. That said, notice that our employing the ministerial use of reason does not necessarily imply that we are not submitting to what Scripture teaches. After all, there is no logical contradiction between the claim that one has interpreted Scripture and the claim that one believes and has conformed their lives to what Scripture teaches concerning what we should believe and conform our lives to. Moreover, Scripture itself does not teach that we shouldn’t interpret it. Thus, there is a sense in which we can employ our reasoning in interpreting scripture in such a way that compatible with sola scriptura.
Since the ministerial use of reason is compatible with sola scriptura, the question then is if the deployment of this type of reason is necessary in order to understand Scripture, since, recall that Slick asserts that we only “sometimes need to use our minds. . . in order to understand some of the deeper aspects of God’s word”. It seems to me that employing the ministerial use of reason isn’t necessary for understanding Scripture. This is so because I take it to be possible that God can strongly actualize our understanding of Scripture. However, as we’ve already seen, no reason has been given to believe that God actualizes our understanding of Scripture in this way. So, in other words it would seem to be necessary that we understand Scripture by employing reason in a ministerial sense given that God doesn’t strongly actualize our understanding of Scripture.
In conclusion, I think that it is evident that Matt Slick has not even begun to understand sola scriptura or the points of disagreement between Determinist-Calvinists and Molinists. For if he did, he wouldn’t have accused Molinists of eisegeting Molinism into Scripture. Neither would he have accused Molinists of undermining sola scriptura. As we have seen, Molinists who are committed to the idea that Molinism is underdetermined by Scripture cannot possibly be eisegeting Molinism into the text given that (1) they do not purport to show or believe that Molinism is taught in Scripture and (2) their exegesis of Scripture does not imply that Molinism is itself taught in Scripture. Further, I provided an illustration demonstrating how Molinists can fulfill both of these conditions.
Concerning sola scriptura, we saw that Slick believes that Molinists fail to respect this principle when we appeal to our reason in order to understand Scripture. As we have seen, sola scriptura is compatible with the ministerial use of reason since there is no logical contradiction between employing reason in a ministerial sense and adhering to the requirements of sola scriptura. Additionally, because the ministerial use of reason is permitted we need not be compelled in to Slick’s radical position that implies that we needn’t use our cognitive faculties at all in order to understand certain aspects of Scripture.
Also, throughout this essay I’ve addressed more minor issues appearing throughout Slick’s article. Such issues included Slick’s use of ambiguous terms of phrases, his unargued assertions, his failing to engage the arguments of those he disagrees with, inter alia. Thus, I take it to be the case that I’ve provided a more comprehensive treatment of Slick.
On a more personal note, elsewhere in his article Slick notes that he isn’t opposed to philosophy. Good for him. Slick, then, should attempt to follow the model of analytic philosophers and learn how to express his ideas more clearly and succinctly. Slick should also cultivate his understanding of concepts with their nuances. As this essay made evident, Slick neither understands the Molinist hermeneutic or the reformation principle of sola scriptura. Those who’ve read the other essays Free Thinking Ministries has written in response to Slick will know that he also fails to comprehend Molinism, middle knowledge, (possibly) free knowledge, libertarian free will, the Molinist distinction between strong and weak actualization, his own compatibilist position, prevenient grace, total depravity, and divine aseity. That in mind, the ancient stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca once stated that “Often an old man will have nothing but the calendar to prove that he has lived a long time.”16 I fear that this lack of wisdom Seneca seems to be warning against may apply to CARM as an organization, since, in twenty-two years of their existence they still haven’t moved past the point of raising objections which betray sheer incompetence. In a word, Slick’s article is painful to read and it’s shameful that a Christian ministry would produce this sort of rubbish against its own.
8In William Lane Craig’s Time and Eternity he has a chapter titled Two Views on Divine Eternity in which he dedicates a section to surveying the biblical data concerning God’s relationship to time. Craig concludes from his survey that the relevant biblical data seems to be underdeterminative.
9For more on this distinction, check out William Lane Craig’s “Q&A #498”.
10 We’ve responded to Slick in the following places:
(1) An Unfortunate Appraisal of Molinism: A Response to CARM.org’s “What is Molinism and is it Biblical?”
(2) A Biblical Bungle: A Response to CARM.org’s “What is Libertarian Free Will and is it Biblical?”
(3) You’re Holding the Gun the Wrong Way!: A Response to CARM.org’s “Can God Cause a Person to Believe in Him?”
(4) An Unfortunate Evaluation of Compatibilism: A Response to CARM.org’s “What is Compatibilism and is it Biblical?”
(5) Let Him Not Be Confused Forever: A Response to CARM.org’s “Prevenient Grace Fails as a Valid Option for Molinism”
(6) CARM Fails Yet Again: A Response to CARM.org’s “What is Middle Knowledge and is it Biblical?”
(7) CARM is at it again!