Molinism is Biblical: A Response to a Calvinist Objector

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

June 15, 2017

I recently published an article entitled, “Molinism is Biblical” the morning of June 8th. That same morning a response article was written, published, and shared on my Facebook wall by Sean Luke, a self-proclaimed Calvinist who took exception to my biblical exegesis. My article referenced several passages of scripture that seem to contradict common Calvinistic thought. Sean objected to my arguments and provided some pushback.

Although I think he is missing some key aspects, I do appreciate the tone of his disagreement and especially his kind words in his opening statement:

//Tim Stratton is an up and coming apologist who has done amazing work for the Christian faith. He’s written countless articles defending the credibility of theism, the resurrection, and has taught class after class arguing for the reliability of our faith. I have the greatest respect for this man.//

The sentiment is mutual; I feel the exact same way about Sean. I want to thank him for the work he has done defending the Christian faith and demonstrating that Christian theism is, in fact, true! On this issue, we stand side by side as brothers in Christ!

Sean continued:

//Nevertheless, as a brother in Christ, I want to provide a response to his recent article on Molinism. Tim argues that not only is the Bible consistent with Molinism–it in fact demands libertarian free will with respect to our choice to know God. I disagree.//

That is not accurate and seems to be a blatant misrepresentation of my argument! While I do affirm that the Bible is consistent with Molinism, I never argued that the Bible “demands libertarian free will with respect to our choice to know God.” No, after surveying Deuteronomy 30, what I specifically said was that this passage of scripture…

“seems to be libertarian freedom regarding an offer to choose God — or at the least, not to reject Him.”

First, I was careful to use the word “seems” as opposed to “demands.” Second, I want to point out that I also distinguished between “choosing God,” and (at the least) “not rejecting God.” Those are not necessarily the same thing. (Stay tuned as I have a soon-to-be-released article on the topic coming out this summer.) With that said, most Molinists do not affirm that they can “choose God”; this prohibition is clearly expressed in John 15:16:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

If one affirms that they can “choose God” thus asserting they can do so without God’s grace, this is Pelagianism. It is clear that unless God chooses them (thus drawing them), they cannot come to Christ as per John 6:44:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

And John 12:32:

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

God does the drawing; the only thing a person can do is resist or do nothing. By doing nothing, God does the work in the individual to regenerate them. This would be the “reception” spoken of in John 1:11-13:

11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

As per Kirk MacGregor:

“Molina agreed that the impact of original sin upon humanity was so great that it incapacitated their mental faculty to choose freely to do spiritual good, including positively responding to Christ’s offer of salvation. As a result, Molina deduced, along with Calvin, that humans left to their own devices could not freely choose salvation. But contra Calvin, Molina believed that God’s sufficient grace for salvation given to all humans by the Holy Spirit — namely, God’s prevenient grace — supernaturally restored their mental faculty to choose spiritual good. Hence Molina’s doctrine of justification maintained that while any human being could freely embrace Christ, this was only possible through the grace of God, without which no one could embrace Christ.”[1]

Accordingly, Molina asserted that, in and of itself, human “free will is not sufficient without grace (liberum arbitrium . . . non sufficere sine gratia)” [2]

Sean attempted to define libertarian free will (LFW):

//Libertarian free will can be defined like this: one is free in a Libertarian sense if and only if one’s choice is undetermined by any external influences. That is, Bob has LFW if Bob makes a choice X, and Bob’s own agency is the decisive and ultimate explanation for his own choice.//

I agree that this is a necessary ingredient of LFW (I discuss this here and here). However, if you read my articles on this matter on the FreeThinking Ministries website, I go further and argue for a second component — “an ability to think and/or act otherwise.” This is vital to understand before objecting to my position! LFW also claims that there are not any internal causal determining factors forcing an agent to think a certain thing or to perform a certain act. Furthermore, although the agent may not have the ability to choose to physically perform ~X, they must have the ability to will to do X or ~X.

Sean said,

//This is similar to agent causation, in that agent causation posits an agent who can make a self-moving choice towards one option or another. Calvinists might agree with agent causation with respect to our evil choices (I’m one of those Calvinists); however, Calvinists almost universally deny LFW.//

Sean seems to recognize the ability to will, think, and/or act otherwise with his statement above. Moreover, he seems to affirm that he believes humans possess this kind of libertarian free will (LFW) and ability regarding evil choices. So, if this is the case, then Sean affirms that an unregenerate sinner has the ability to freely choose between evil options consistent within his nature — and this includes the ability to do nothing at all. For example, an unregenerate sinner might choose to rob the bank, but it was also within his ability (his nature) to choose to rob the liquor store instead. That is to say, although the sinner chose to rob the bank, he could have robbed otherwise — or he could have done nothing and just sat at home on his couch! Even with moral and salvific issues bracketed, surely the unregenerate sinner has a free and undetermined choice to make regarding buying the red shirt or the blue shirt.

If this is the case, then it seems that Sean affirms soft-libertarianism (which is still LFW regarding some things even though humans are restricted by their nature just as God is). This pattern is common with Calvinists: they (unintentionally?) utilize libertarian free will language when discussing their choices in things other than choosing God, but if all of these choices are causally determined by God, then there is no “agent causation” going on here unless the agent we are referring to is God Himself! Sean has to make a choice (if that is even possible): if God causally determines all so-called “human choices,” then there is no human agent causation occurring as he claims. However, if any human can or ever has made one libertarian free choice or one libertarian free thought, then the question is raised: How is God sovereign over these libertarian free choices? For example, if a sinner is free to choose between sins that are consistent with his nature — if they are genuinely free and undetermined, and if the sinner could have freely chosen a different evil option — then how does God predestine these evil thoughts and actions that are not causally determined by God? How does God’s sovereignty remain unscathed?

God’s middle knowledge is an excellent candidate (if not the only candidate)! Sure, Calvinists are free (or are they?) to appeal to mystery, but why appeal to mystery when a viable explanation is available?

Although Sean seems to affirm soft LFW, he goes on to say,

//This is because LFW goes against the possibility of there being a sort of divine decree that writes the story of history. A Calvinist of my own stripe would suggest that God does write the story of history without overriding our agency.//

I am happy that Sean affirms the exact same thing as the Molinist: God “writes the story of history without overriding our agency!” We are in perfect agreement on this issue, and thus, this is no reason for him to reject Molinism. However, I disagree with Sean’s assertion (apart from argument) that human LFW does anything to violate God’s “writing” of human history. Sean seems to be making the same error that James Anderson made when he contended that on Molinism, God’s plans can fail. William Lane Craig corrected these errors (click here to read or listen to Craig’s response).

In regards to Sean’s statement, my colleague Johnny Sakr says it is important to note that even if God “writes the story of history,” God does not “write” that sin enters into the world as part of His prescriptive will, but rather, part of His permissive will. God cannot even tempt individuals to sin (as per James 1:13) thus, there is no possibility that God causally determines or even influences people to sin by either placing people in circumstances that will tempt them to sin. Rather, if X is circumstances where temptation occurs, God is faithful by providing a way out of this temptation suffused circumstance. In fact, 1 Corinthians 10:13 declares that because God is faithful He provides a way out of temptation so that one does not have to sin. Thus, if God causally determines man to sin, thereby offering no avenue of resisting temptation; God is NOT faithful!

Sean said,

//I want to deal with Tim’s claim that the Bible supports LFW. But first, I need to make a relevant distinction that will undergird the discussion.

Moral Inability and Natural Inability

These terms are employed by Jonathan Edwards to describe the kind of depravity Calvinists mean when they say “man is unable to choose God”.//

What Sean does not seem to realize is that Molinists affirm the exact same thing: apart from God’s grace — and if left to our own devices — “man is unable to choose God.” Moreover, Molinists can go even further and affirm that God is the author of salvation from beginning to end. In fact, Kirk MacGregor has explained that this was Molina’s view. I encourage all to read MacGregor’s biography of Molina called, Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, from cover to cover before objecting to Molinism.

Sean continued:

//According to Edwards, man’s natural inability refer to some sort of physical inability to perform a task. For example, suppose I invite Stephen Hawking to dinner. I push him down and (like a jerk!) ask him to “get up!” Hawking, of course, wouldn’t be morally obligated to get up off the floor.//

But would Hawking be morally obligated to at least WANT to get up off the floor? How could this be possible if God (or something other than Hawking) causally determines Hawking’s wants, wills, thoughts, and desires?

Sean continued:

//Now suppose there’s a man who simply loves floors. Physically, he’s alright. I ask this man to “get up”, and he says “nahhh bruhhh, I love floors. Leave me alone!” This man would be morally accountable, even though his inability stems from desire and corruption of will. In other words, his “corruption” refers to the fact that he actively wills to disobey me and obey his own desires.//

I like this thought experiment because it shows the incoherence of Calvinistic determinism in a multitude of ways. First, it compares the Calvinistic view of God to a jerk (unless Sean affirms that the “floor lover” has a genuine ability to take his thoughts captive about his love for floors and can freely choose to at least try to get up). If God has causally determined the man to have a “floor-loving nature” that guarantees that the man will always choose to lay on floors unless God changes his floor-loving nature to that of one who prefers to stand, then the man is NOT morally responsible for his floor-loving nature — God determined that much! On this view, it is also only “up to” God if a person’s nature is changed from one who prefers to lay on floors to one who prefers to stand.

What’s worse is that on Calvinism, although the man was born with a floor-loving nature (through no choice of his own), God will then torture him for eternity in the fires of hell for not obeying God’s commands that he was impotent to follow. The only way the floor-lover could obey God’s command to stand is if God zapped him with his irresistible grace and reprogrammed his mind. So, the Calvinistic God (“like a jerk!”) tortures this pour soul in the infinite concentration camp of hell for a choice he was powerless to make.

This is not the God I know!

Now, Sean notes this “floor lover” is physically healthy; however, mentally he is ill through no fault of his own. On Calvinism, God may have given this man a healthy body, but his mind is SICK and it is because God caused this man to think this way and to love lying on floors all the time! He is incapable of thinking otherwise unless God steps in and “reprograms” him (which God has the power to do, but chooses not to).

Sean says that this “floor-lover” would still be “morally accountable, even though his inability stems from desire and corruption of will.” I fail to see how one can be held morally accountable or responsible when God is the one who causally determined the man’s thoughts, beliefs, wants, wills, and desires! On this deterministic view, God is the one who causally determined the man’s will to be corrupt!

If the sinful nature determines the will of man and man cannot refrain from the will that said nature inclined it to will, then what inclined the sinful nature to choose to will X or ~ X? If it is self-determined then that means the sinful nature has LFW. If one says God determines what the sinful nature chooses to will then God controls the will of man thereby, determining man to sin (Note Peter van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument). Sakr argues that if Calvinism is true, then:

(1) Our sinful nature determines our desire, our will is determined to act in accord with this desire thus, P must act according to this desire as P cannot “will” another action.
(2) God determines the desire which the sinful nature will desire thus, determining our will.
(3) If our will “wills” to do X, P must do X necessarily.
(4) God determines our desire which in effect determines what our will “wills”
(5) God determines P to do X, necessarily.

If this is true. Then any action P commits is because God determined P to do so, necessarily. If true; then if X is a sin – then God determined P to commit X [sin] and P could not do ~ X [choose to not sin].

So it is not that the fault of our sinful nature that P committed X because God determined the sinful nature of P to desire to commit X. Thus, the will of P cannot choose anything other than X and since P must act according to the will of P, P must perform the act determined by the sinful nature of P which was essentially determined by God.

There is only one so-called “choice,” and that choice is determined by God. God could have determined the sinful nature of P not to “sin” by doing nothing but rather, He determined the sin that agent P could do. If the Sinful nature does have choices to choose from such as (1) Nothing (2) Sin A: Lie (3) Sin B: Steal (4) Sin C: Adultery – then the Sinful nature possesses LFW [as it was not determined to choose either to do Nothing or choose Sin A, B or C].

Sean said,

//In other words, his “corruption” refers to the fact that he actively wills to disobey me and obey his own desires.//

Not at all! The reason why the man is “corrupt” and “actively wills” to disobey (even though he has no ability or power to will otherwise) is because God causally determined this man to always disobey unless God “reprograms” him against his will. This is easy to see in my Star Wars thought experiment. Click here to understand the logical incoherence regarding compatibilism with the help of Yoda and K-2SO.

Sean said,

//Mankind’s corruption describes humanity’s condition such that we always are bent towards evil in our desires, and we always actively follow those desires. We actively choose to sin every single time.//

As my Star Wars thought experiment (linked above) demonstrates, the reason mankind is corrupt is because God causally determined this to be the case, or Adam and Eve possessed libertarian freedom to corrupt the nature of the rest of humanity. Either way, every person reading this was born with a nature in which they are not individually responsible for possessing. That is to say, our corrupt natures to always think or act sinfully are not “up to us.”

As Lady Gaga sings, “I was born that way!” But as Paul explains in the New Testament, even if you are “born that way” you do not have to act that way!

I also want to point out that Sean’s use of the words “actively choose” is confusing. Instead of saying “We actively choose to sin every single time,” why not simply be clear and state, “We sin every single time.” It is not like a Calvinistic determinist thinks the sinner has the ability to choose otherwise.

Sean complained about my interpretation of Deuteronomy 30:10-20. He says:

//Tim argues from the phrases “it is not too difficult to you” that it is a Biblical example of the choice for God (or the choice not to reject Him). God is addressing unregenerate Israel, after all. However, is this really the case? I don’t think so. Certainly, God issues a command to the Israelites to obey Him. But God’s issuance of a command has nothing to do with why one obeys the command and others don’t. God can say “choose life!” just as I could say to the man who loves floors “get up!” But the fact that an agent issues a command doesn’t relate to the recipient’s moral ability to obey that command.//

This attempt at avoiding the face-value interpretation of the biblical text really makes God look horrible (no wonder there are so many atheists)! This really compares God to the “jerk” of a guy who pushes Steven Hawking to the floor and then commands him to stand up even though he knows Hawking cannot stand up (even if Hawking wanted to)! However, on the Calvinistic view, God causally determines the man’s wants and desires to love floors even though, unlike Hawking, he might have the physical ability to stand up if he could think clearly. God knows that He has “programmed” the man to not think clearly and to always disobey any command to stand up, and only God can “reprogram” the man to not love floors. Yet God continues to make commands to the man to stand who He has programmed to always disobey.

This is ludicrous! Why would God make these kinds of commands to people He knows have no moral, mental, or spiritual ability (without an ability one does not possess respons-ABILITY) to do anything but disobey His commands? Why would God seemingly plead with the unregenerate Israelites and exclaim: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live”?

If God knows it is impossible for them to make this so-called “choice” unless God zaps them with His “irresistible grace” then why plead with them to do so? Why would God taunt them in the same manner of the “jerk” in Sean’s thought experiment who taunts Steven Hawking? I affirm that God is not a jerk! On Calvinism, however, God is a jerk and does not act lovingly to all people. So much for omnibenevolence and the maximal greatness of God!

Thank God Calvinism is false — God is a maximally great being!

Sean said,

//The only thing that would incapacitate them from keeping the command is their own willed rebellion against God.//

No, according to Calvinistic exhaustive determinism, the unregenerate Israelites (and all humans since Adam and Eve) are born “incapacitated” by no choice of their own. Thus, according to Calvinists, the only thing that would keep them from being incapacitated is God’s irresistible “reprogramming.”

It is vital to remember that God has the omnipotent ability to “reprogram” all people, and given His omniscient intelligence, He knows how to accomplish this universal “reprogramming.” If God is omnibenevolent and truly loves all people and desires the eternal best for all people (as the Bible affirms in both the Old and New Testaments), then if God causally determines all things, then nothing can stop universal salvation. So, unless Sean is a universalist and affirms that all people go to heaven for eternity, then he is also forced to affirm (if he hopes to remain logically consistent) that God is not omnipotent, and/or not omniscient, and/or not omnibenevolent. This is demonstrated in the following Omni Argument:

1. If irresistible grace (the “I” of T.U.L.I.P.) is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.
3. There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and suffers eternally in Hell.
4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient (a maximally great being).
5. God is a maximally great being.
6. Therefore, irresistible grace is false.
7. Therefore, divine determinism is false (God does not causally determine all things).
8. God is completely sovereign and does predestine all things (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5,11).
9. Therefore, predestination and determinism are not to be conflated.
10. The best explanation of the data is Molinism.

Sean continued:

//Tim also highlights the ESV’s translation of verse 14, which translates it with a “can”. However, this translation has nothing to do with LWF; it’s rather a subjunctive clause. It means that God placed the word in their midst in order to open up an option of obedience. In other words, it makes obedience possible in the natural sense (as I’ve argued above).//

I take issue with this entire claim, but find the latter part about “subjunctive clause” particularly problematic. I am not a Hebrew scholar, but as I understand it, ancient Hebrew does not even have a “subjunctive clause.” My colleague, Chester Kempston, noted that Sean probably means to refer to the “mood” of the verb in question. If subjunctive is what he actually means, as that is a mood generally used in Indo-European languages (of which Hebrew is NOT a member) to express wishes, imaginary situations, hypotheticals, etc. In any case, Sean seems to be importing grammar that is uncommon even in English into Hebrew.

Kempston noted,

“Even a cursory glance at the LXX also does not seem to support Sean’s assertion. The translated verb is in the imperative mood, NOT the subjunctive (which is available in Greek). The way English translations render it *could* be taken as subjunctive *in mere form*, but it certainly doesn’t carry that meaning. But even if you take a look at the English subjunctive, it just doesn’t make any sense in this passage.”

“The subjunctive mood is used to express a wish or possibility.”
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/grammar/moods

1) This by no means describes what is going on in this passage.
2) There is no subjunctive mood in Hebrew.
3) It is a single word in question, not a “clause.”
4) The LXX even uses the imperative mood.
5) The English subjunctive expresses hypotheticals, wishes, etc., not commands, which this is.

Both Kempston and I admit to not being Hebrew scholars and there is a chance we could be missing something. However, even if our Hebrew is wrong Sean’s objection simply makes no sense! Why would God have Moses go out of His way to express that these individuals can choose life instead of death and choose blessings instead of curses, when they really had no ability to do anything but be separated from God (which is spiritual death) and only the ability to be cursed and nothing but cursed in the first place?

Moreover, the phrase “option of obedience” is quite confusing! If one has no mental or spiritual ability to do other than be disobedient, is it really an “option”? Is it really a “choice”? I fail to see how human respons-ABILITY can be logically grounded if we have no ability to think and /or act otherwise. This is why many Calvinistic theologians believe in the “age of accountability” when it comes to infants who die. Why is this the case? Because babies have no mental ability to think things through. However, if God determines all thoughts and beliefs, and one is not free to ever freely think or believe otherwise about anything, then all people are just as “accountable” for their thoughts as infants! If God causally determines all things — including all of the thoughts, beliefs, wants, desires, wills and inclinations of all individuals all the time — then God is the only being who is genuinely accountable and responsible for anything.

Sean disagreed with my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13,

//Paul says that “God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”. This, however, does not support LWF. Paul’s implicit statement underneath his claim here is “God will not let you be tempted beyond your ability in Christ“–in other words, what you are able to do in the power of grace.//

It beats me how this verse does not (at the least) heavily imply libertarian freedom for Christians. As I said in my initial article, “God has provided (at least some) humans [Christians] with an ability not to sin. We are able to not fall into temptation. Accordingly, whenever one sins, they did not have to as there was a genuine ability to do otherwise (“a way of escape”) available for them to choose. This is exactly what is meant by libertarian free will! Therefore, when someone freely chooses to sin and they were ABLE not to sin, it follows that they are genuinely respons-ABLE for their sin, not God.”

Sean avoided my explanation and offered the following in an attempt to deny libertarian freedom:

//This isn’t eisegesis; this is reading 1 Corinthians holistically. In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul argues that it is “from God that we are in Christ Jesus, who became to us righteousness, wisdom, sanctification, and redemption.” In 15:13, he says “I worked harder than any of the apostles, yet it was not I but the grace of God that was with me.”//

This does nothing to refute the point I made regarding 10:13. It seems to me that the committed Calvinist has three options:

1- Deny biblical inerrancy and affirm that Paul made a mistake when he said that God provides a genuine way of escaping sin whenever we are tempted.
2- Affirm that Christians never sin.
3- Accept a view that makes sense of all the biblical data (“holistically”). That would mean they would have to drop Calvinism and affirm Molinism (or they can simply shrug their shoulders and appeal to mystery — anything but Molinism)!

Either way, Calvinism as commonly understood, cannot make sense of this human ability to do otherwise taught by the Apostle Paul.

Sean said,

//Tim’s going to have to elaborate on his use of 1 Timothy 1:7, because as I see it “self-control” refers in Scripture to the control of the sinful self by the new man in Christ. It has nothing to do with LWF.//

On the contrary, this has everything to do with LFW! In fact, this is exactly what libertarian free will is — the self is in control and does not have to make sinful choices any longer. God gives us a “spirit of SELF-control” so that now we are free to resist our sinful flesh. We can choose to honor God with all of our thoughts and actions. When we fail to do so, it is because we failed to use our new ability God has given us. We as Christians are therefore responsible for our sinful thoughts and actions — not God!

Sean incorrectly accused me of question begging and then appeals to mystery when his view is left wanting. He said:

//As for the other verses which urge us to “take our thoughts captives” and “fight the fight of faith”, it seems to me that Tim is begging the question. He’s assuming that if the Scriptures issue us a command, then we must be the causal agent which decisively actualizes the command, which is the conclusion he’s trying to prove. In other words, he’s reading the commands with an assumption of “if commanded then responsible in a LWF sense” without proving that to be the case. It seems to me that God works much more mysteriously than that.//

The Molinist thinking on this is not, “if commanded then responsible in a LFW sense,” but rather, “If responsible, then LFW is required!” It seems intuitively obvious that if one is genuinely responsible for not doing x, then they could have done x but failed to do so. That is to say, “ought implies can.” Stephen Hawking, for example, is not responsible for not standing up because he simply cannot stand up. Sean is not responsible for not flying like a bird if he flaps his arms because he simply cannot fly like a bird my merely flapping his arms, and a human is not responsible for thinking correctly if he simply cannot think correctly.

I did not assume; rather, I argued that Paul implies an ability to freely think when he teaches that we can “take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) before they take us (Colossians 2:8). As I noted in my article, “Paul states that “we” — and implies that we ought to — take our thoughts captive to obey Christ. Paul seems to teach that we are responsible free thinkers of the libertarian variety. Accordingly, Paul makes it clear that all of our thoughts are not causally determined and forced upon us from external sources; we possess the ability to think otherwise. That is to say, YOU are responsible for your own thoughts (at least some of them).

Paul is clear that we ought to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ — to obey reality! He also teaches that we can be taken captive by incorrect thinking in Colossians 2:8. It follows that humanity is engaged in a battle. This battle is “not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). No, whether we realize it or not, each and every one of us is in a battle for our mind! [But does it make sense to say that we are in a battle — that *we* are fighting the good fight — if all of our thoughts have been causally determined by God? No, if God causally determines all of our thoughts and actions, then we are not soldiers; we are merely TOY soldiers in the hands of God. Thus, God would be ultimately responsible for all human action. This is why Calvinism crumbles under the problem of evil!]

Paul urges us to take our thoughts captive before they take us captive. We are responsible for our thoughts and thus, we ought to be free thinkers! Which is not even possible on a deterministic view as many Calvinists affirm.”

Think about how meaningless life is if no one ever has the ability to ever think otherwise about anything! If every single thought of every single person is always causally determined by God, nature, or anything else, then you are not even in a position to evaluate your own thoughts as good, better, or probably true. If all of your thoughts are not really your thoughts because they are causally determined by something other than you, and if your thoughts cannot be otherwise, then say goodbye to rationality and any knowledge gained via rational thought. William Lane Craig states the problem:

“There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.”

If God causally determines ALL things exhaustively — from our actions, thoughts, beliefs, wills, wants, desires, and intentions, and even how each individual’s cognitive faculties function — then how could one (the self) stand in an epistemic position to know or possess an ability to evaluate their determined thoughts which are not their own with other thoughts that are not their own? If divine exhaustive determinism is true, and God causally determines all thoughts and beliefs (including one’s thoughts about their beliefs and their beliefs about their thoughts), then there is no escape — you lose the ability to rationally affirm any of your beliefs — including your belief that Calvinism is true!

As the Christian philosopher John DePoe said to me:

“Given that the nature of justification requires some sense of freedom or autonomy, I agree with you that exhaustive divine determinism is incompatible with humans possessing knowledge.”

I thought it strange that although I did not appeal to Philippians 2:13 to make a case for LFW, Sean added it and argued that it does not imply LFW. However, since he brought it up I will consider it:

//In Philippians 2:13, Paul says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. LWF, right? Nope–the next clause: “FOR it is God who works in you, both to work and to will for His good pleasure.” The Greek is more stunning–it literally says that “it is God who is bringing about the bringing about and the willing for the sake of His good pleasure.” God is bringing about the bringing about and the willing–namely, ours.//

A good theological system needs to make sense of ALL the biblical data. Molinism can do this seamlessly, while Calvinism is left with Bible verses contradicting its core. This forces Calvinists to retreat to “mystery.” However, consider what Sean thinks the above verse implies. He says that “God is bringing about the bringing about and the willing–namely, ours.”

So what follows from this? Unless Sean is going to affirm universal salvation, then (as my syllogism above demonstrates) it follows that if even one person suffers eternally in hell (which makes Hitler’s Holocaust look like a summer picnic) for a will that they are not responsible for because God causally determined it, then since God has the power to “bring about” and change the person’s will — but chooses not to — then God is much worse than the jerk who shoved Stephen Hawking out of his wheel chair and then commanded him to stand back up! This is not how a perfectly good and maximally great being would behave. Thus, if one believes that God is a maximally great being, then they must reject 5-point Calvinism (namely the “I”), or any view that affirms that God exhaustively causally determines all things!

Sean says,

//Paul undergirds His command to us in God’s sovereign act of bringing about our good and our willing for His glory.//

Amen to that! The Molinist affirms the exact same thing! God chose to create a world in which He perfectly knew how all people would always freely choose. This was God’s sovereign act of actualizing the best of all feasible worlds with eternity in mind (or “tied for the best” possible world). This world created by God is the world that brings about the ultimate human good (eternal true love and flourishing) and the world in which God receives the most glory.

Although Molinism can easily make sense of how this works, Sean attempts to make this “work” on a Calvinistic schema:

//How does that work? As I’ve suggested above, the “natural” and “moral” inability distinction is helpful here. God can command us to do thus and such an action because we are naturally able to do so. The only thing keeping us back is our own depravity and willed rebellion.//

This Calvinistic explanation does not accomplish anything or “work” at all! If God gives humans physical bodies that can move in certain ways (a natural ability), but causally determines our thoughts to never choose to move our bodies in a certain manner, then say goodbye to anyone’s rational or moral abilities — those are illusions if God causally determines all thoughts and beliefs of all people all of the time.

I have written on the problems that come along with the failure to make the critical distinction between the ability to act otherwise versus the ability to think otherwise. The conclusion of my “Semi-Compatibilism & Responsibility” article makes it clear:

“The problem many [Calvinistic] compatibilists make is found in that they are so focused on the ability to DO otherwise, that they forget about the ability to THINK otherwise. Are all of our thoughts causally determined? If so, “guidance control” is not ultimately under our control — God determines how we want to guide our actions. However, if our thoughts are actually free in a libertarian sense (and we are really free thinkers), then exhaustive determinism is false.”

Sean points out some points in which we seem to have some agreement:

//I’m also one of those Calvinists that believe that Jesus bore the sins of all people everywhere, so as to express God’s willingness and desire to forgive everyone should they believe.//

Amen to that! I wish more Calvinists would follow Sean’s lead on this point! However, the question is raised, if the atoning life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was sufficient to make universal salvation for all people possible, then why are not all people saved? If one affirms that humans can freely (in a libertarian sense) reject the “I” (“irresistible grace”) of the Calvinistic acronym TULIP, then there are no problems. However, if one is committed to the five points of Calvinism, then it seems one has two options from which to choose:

1- Affirm universal salvation.

or…

2- Affirm that God is not a maximally great being who either does not love and desire the best for all people, is not powerful enough to save all people, or simply is not smart enough to figure out how to pull it off.

I’d rather be a Molinist and affirm the maximal greatness of God (but Sean probably just thinks God determined me to be a Molinist and that I have no ability to think otherwise)!

I digress; Sean also says:

//I also believe that Jesus died in a unique way for the elect, so as to secure their salvation. As such, I affirm most of Tim’s exegesis for the rest of his article. I also agree that God possesses counterfactual knowledge.//

So basically, the only thing Sean really disagrees with is that I affirm the Bible either teaches, implies, rationally infers, or is at the least consistent with the proposition that humans possess libertarian freedom (at least some of the time regarding some things). Sean makes some confusing statements in which he seems to affirm soft libertarianism (which is a form of LFW), but then says that he does not believe in LFW. Timothy Fox recently published an article entitled “The Price of Denying Free Will.” I recommend spending some time considering all of his points before paying that hefty price tag!

I have made many philosophical objections and provided many logical arguments against Calvinism over the past few years. Be that as it may, the focus of my “Molinism is Biblical” article was merely examining Biblical data supporting Molina’s views. Interestingly, this Calvinist now resorts to an odd philosophical objection — not biblical — to affirm his commitment to divine determinism as opposed to simply dealing with scripture:

//What Calvinists disagree on is the source of that knowledge. For Tim, the source of that knowledge is determined by the creature. For the Calvinist, the source of God’s knowledge of creaturely freedom flows from His divine decree of those counterfactuals.//

No, this is false. The source of what God knows is grounded in His omniscient nature! That is to say, the source of God’s eternal knowledge is God Himself! The “creature” is not eternal without beginning; God’s omniscient nature, on the other hand is eternal without beginning. The creature is a contingent being who God created and did not have to create. The creature does not have to exist (unless one affirms that even God does not possess LFW). However, via God’s omniscience, God knows that *IF* He were to create libertarian free creatures (an omnipotent being would have the power to do such a thing) — whom He did not causally determine — God knows how these creatures would freely choose to think and act *if they were to exist* (a perfectly omniscient being would know such things). If God is eternally omniscient, then He knows this logically prior to His creative decree to actualize this world along with all of the free creatures that dwell within. Thus, God can freely choose exactly what possible/feasible world He wants to make the actual world. By God’s divine decree, then, He predestines and elects all things that actually come to pass without causally determining all things (such as the free choices of mankind).

Sean offered a challenge:

//Because Molinism is the becoming the up and coming philosophy of Christian apologists, I want to offer a challenge. Compile every single philosophical/theological objection you have to Calvinism, and over the next two/three weeks I’ll compile a response.//

I appreciate the offer, but my website is already replete with objections to Calvinism. I encourage Sean to spend ample time reading all of my articles on the topic and the articles from contributing authors such as Timothy Fox and Jonathan Thompson and guest writers like Johnny Sakr, Shannon Byrd, Randy Everist, and Kirk MacGregor (click there names for some great reading)! A good place to start is with the “Petals Drop” series:

Why Calvinism is Impossible

Why I am Not a TULIP Kind of Calvinist

Calvinism Implies Atheism

Piper’s Problems

After that, I recommend reading my responses to Greg Welty’s tu quoque critique of Molinism:

Death of a Gunslinger

Gunslingers & Guilty Minds

There are so many more articles found on the FreeThinking Ministries website, but these are good ones to begin with along with the others that I have hyperlinked throughout this response.


Notes

I want to thank Johnny Sakr and Chester Kempston Jr. for contributing greatly to this response. Iron sharpens iron, and these guys sharpen me in a powerful manner!

[1] Molina, Commentaria, 14.13.6, 38. See also; Kirk R. MacGregor, Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge (Harper Collins, 2015) 71 – 72.
[2] Molina, Commentaria, 14.13.3.4..
[3] Molina, Commentaria, 14.13.6, 38. See also; Kirk R. MacGregor, Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge (Harper Collins, 2015) 137.
[4] Molina, Concordia, 3.13.13.39.1 – 8.

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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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