Molinism & the Golden Chain of Redemption

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

June 22, 2018

One of my favorite things to do is engage in respectful dialogue with those who disagree. Whether it is a debate with atheists over the existence of God or a debate with a fellow Christian regarding theological issues, I love being challenged to think and to constantly reexamine my views. These conversations have forged my thoughts and provided strong justification for my beliefs.

Indeed, this process has transformed me by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2) and I have changed my mind on many issues. One of these issues in which my mind has been changed is regarding Calvinism. As many know, I used to preach and teach Calvinism on a regular basis. I did not just preach it from the pulpit, I lived it too — even when no one was watching. However, now that I have left the “Calvinist camp,” many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who still reside in that camp are eager to debate their “prodigal theologian” who now identifies as a “Molinist.”

Some of the best conversations between Calvinists and Molinists take place over social media on a private Facebook group started by Eli Ayala called, Calvinism Vs. Molinism: A Respectful Dialogue. Jason McNaughton is a Calvinist and has become a good “Facebook friend.” He invited me to interact with some important passages of Scripture. He said:

//When I listen to Molinists discuss philosophy they are very knowledgeable but when they try and exegete passages that clearly support the Reformed view they either make the passage into mash potatoes (like I have seem many Molinists do with John 6, Romans 8 and 9; Ephesians 1 and 2) or they avoid those passages that clearly are dealing with election, God’s decreed will and predesitination and go to passages that are not talking directly about those things.//

It seems that Jason does not properly understand the thing he attacks — Molinism. This is clear simply by examining his exact words. Every one of the words he appeals to in an attempt to bolster Calvinism and disprove Molinism are terms that the Molinists also affirm. Indeed, Molinists also read the same passages he references and interprets the same “election,” and the same “predestination” as the Calvinist.

So, if our interpretation of Scripture is “mashed potatoes” (as Jason claims) then apparently so is his.

Jason’s misunderstanding is understandable (I did not grasp it myself for the longest time) and seems to be rooted in a philosophical assumption that predestination must mean causal determinism. This is the case because although Molinists affirm things like election and predestination, we reject causal determinism. So, the main difference between Molinism and Calvinists is not that God elects and predestines (we all agree on that)… but the debate is actually quite silly (when one thinks about it). It regards HOW God elects and predestines. Jason seems to be presupposing and assuming that predestination must mean causal determinism.

This is Jason’s philosophy that he is presupposing and imposing upon his reading of Scripture.

Molinists, on the other hand, have written extensively while arguing and demonstrating exactly how all things can be predestined while not being causally determined. With this in mind, Jason needs to:

1: Demonstrate that the Bible teaches exhaustive divine determinism (as opposed to predestination) of ALL things ALL the time.

or…

2: Show that God cannot predestine all things via His omniscience (middle knowledge).

or…

3: Demonstrate that libertarian free will is impossible.

or…

4: Show that predestination can only mean causal determinism.

Jason has noted that his expertise is not in logic and philosophy, but rather, in exegesis. I am thankful to have friends like him because when we join forces our unique and specific gifts can combine to accomplish awesome work for God’s glory. However, Jason’s problems are monumental if he hopes to accomplish his goals of ruling out Molinism via exegesis alone – without swimming in the deep waters of philosophy. This is because we are trying to make logical sense of specific passages in the Bible – and of the entire Bible as a whole.

If one attempts to avoid logic and philosophy while engaged in his or her hermeneutical efforts, one is sure to beg questions and make terrible mistakes. Jason specifically asked for me and said,

//Tim Stratton please exegete John 6, Romans 8 and 9 (and especially the Golden chain of redemption) and Ephesians 1 and 2. If you have already done this on your blog please post a link.//

I told Jason to search my website since this has already been dealt with, but for the sake of convenience I will copy and paste what I have already written. However, before obliging Jason, it is vital to point out two important things:

1: Even if I am incorrect in my interpretation of these specific passages Jason has referenced, it would not rule out Mere Molinism (which is my primary interest).

Mere Molinism simply deals with two things: (i) Humans occasionally possess limited libertarian freedom. (ii) God possesses limitless eternal knowledge (and thus includes Middle Knowledge). Although I disagree with Jason’s interpretation of the passages of Scripture he offers, for the sake of argument I will suppose I am wrong (at least for the moment). What follows? Nothing as far as Mere Molinism is concerned.

The passages offered by Jason are dealing with soteriological issues and Mere Molinism says nothing about salvific choices or lack thereof. So, with Mere Molinism set aside as completely safe from the current assailment against it, focus on the passages Jason offered in an attempt to defeat the idea that the “tool” of Molinism (as Kirk MacGregor puts it) might be applied to soteriological issues. Allow me to reiterate: it is vital to see that Jason does not argue against Mere Molinism but only applying the tool of Molinism to soteriology. Since we can apply the tool of Molinism to soteriology, I will take the bait knowing that even if I am wrong applying Molinism to salvation issues, Mere Molinism still stands strong and is left unscathed.

This brings me to my second point…

2: If one believes the best interpretation of a biblical passage – or the proper exegesis of Scripture – is one that is logically impossible, then they are necessarily incorrect regarding what they assume is the best interpretation of Scripture – at least if the Bible is true. Why is this? Because truth and logic are inextricably linked. You cannot have one without the other. So, logically incoherent interpretations of Scripture – even if one is convinced it is the best interpretation of the original Hebrew or Greek – must be false and ought to be rejected by any sincere seeker of truth (especially Christians)!

For more on the importance of logic and hermeneutics see Extrabiblical Data & Hermeneutics.

John 6

With hermeneutics in mind, now we can begin to logically interpret God’s inspired word. Jason asked me to focus on five specific passages of the New Testament. I will copy and paste from what I have already offered on the FreeThinking Ministries website. Begin with 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.”

Notice the word “can.” Can implies an ability and thus, implies free will. So, the Molinist agrees — no one can come to Christ unless provided proper “drawing.” This drawing can be as simple as natural revelation which Paul says is available to all people and thus “no one has an excuse” (Romans 1:20). So, all have been drawn and *can* freely come to God [or at least freely NOT resist what God has made clear to all men] — but they do not have to; they are free to resist His revelation.

Further, if it is true that all those who are drawn must — “irresistibly” — come to Christ, then this would logically lead to universalism. Consider the words of Jesus as we read John 12:32:

“As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to Myself.”

The key thing to remember is that “can” does not imply necessity. That is to say, “can” and “must” are two extremely different things.

Ephesians 1

Next consider Ephesians 1:4-5:

“For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will”

Molinism solves the problem once again! On Molinism, God predestines all things (as the Bible makes clear), but does this without causally determining all things. Consider the words, “before the foundation of the world.” On Molinism, God possesses middle knowledge (part of His omniscience), and knows with perfect certainty who will freely choose to follow and love Him if He actualizes this particular world. God knew logically “before the foundation of this world” who would freely and eternally love Him in this world if He actualized it. It follows that when God actualized this world (instead of another or none at all), He then predestined all who will freely choose to follow and love Christ eternally.

Predestination ≠ Determinism

Many incorrectly assume that if God predestines all things then it logically follows that He determines all things. This is a false and hasty conclusion because although this is possible it is not necessary. In fact, a longer version of the Omni Argument logically proves this to be the case:

1. If “irresistible grace” 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 (a maximally great being), 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 will suffer eternally in hell.

4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is 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 predestines 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 all the data is Molinism.

Consider step (9): “Predestination and determinism are not to be conflated.” This logically deductive conclusion provides evidence that human libertarian free will and responsibility over some things is fully compatible with God’s predestination of all things. We are chosen along with the world God chooses to actualize. In fact, YOU are a special part of this world and part of the reason that God chose to actualize it! (How awesome is that?!?)

However, it does not logically follow that you do not possess an ability to reject Christ. There were no causal strings forcing you to be a Christ follower. You freely responded to [or rather, freely chose not to resist] His drawing and revelation in a libertarian sense. Thus, you are a responsible agent and so are those who reject Jesus Christ eternally — they do not have to reject Christ — that is why hell makes sense.

Romans 8

With John 6 and Ephesians 1 out of the way, move on to Romans 8 and Ephesians 2 as we deal with what Jason refers to as “the Golden Chain.” Again, allow me to copy and paste that which I have already offered with the help of Johnny Sakr on the FTM website. This was an answer to a similar question (See Confusing Bible Verses Part 2). Here is part of the original question offered to FreeThinking Ministries:

“[T]he Bible definitely does use the language of ‘calling’ in a way that implies a certain response, at times. For example, Romans 8:29-30 [the “Golden Chain”]:

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

This passage makes it clear that all who are called are also eventually glorified (saved). That is, if God chooses to call you, then you are chosen to be saved. This seems to debunk the interpretation you argued for in the article. What say you?”

The response from Stratton & Sakr:

“Thanks for the question, guys. The first step in response is to point out that you seem to agree with me in that no one can come to Christ unless they are called. You said, “those who come to Jesus (believe in him) are able only to do so because the Father draws them.” This is exactly the point I am making — if one is able to do x, then they can do x. If one can do x, then they are able to do x.

As I noted in (part 1), just because one is able to, or can do x, it does not logically follow that he or she will do x. The following syllogism reflects your case:

(1) If God gives Person (P) the ability to do X, P can do X
(2) God gives P the ability to do X
(3) Necessarily, P will do X.

This performs a fallacy in Modal Logic – much like the syllogism regarding theological fatalism. The fallacy here is in the conclusion – (3) – because it does not follow from the two premises. A correct construction is as follows:

(1) If God gives Person (P) the ability to do X, P can do X
(2) God gives P the ability to do X
(3) Necessarily, P can (or may) do X.

Although P ‘can’ do x – that is, as per John 6:44 – to believe – it does not follow that Person (P) necessarily will do x – P could choose to do otherwise. Just because one has the ability to do x, does not mean they cannot refrain from doing x. They could very well perform not (-x) and refrain from using this ability. For example; God has the ability to destroy all evil right now at this point in time. However, just because God does not use this ability at this present time, does not mean that He does not possess this ability. So, logically speaking, “can” does not necessitate “will.”

The second step in response to your objection is to ask a simple question: “Is everyone who is called chosen?”

Nope — at least not according to Jesus! Consider what the second person of the Trinity has to say in Matthew 22:14:

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

When we take the other words of Jesus into account we see that the “many” referred to in Matthew seems to mean ALL people. Consider the words of Christ again in John 12:32:

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

So, Jesus is clear that many/all are called or drawn to Him, but not all are chosen or saved. From the words of Jesus we can logically infer that one can be called or drawn, hear His voice, and yet still not be saved. For further biblical support, consider Hebrews 4:5-7:

And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

The warning offered in this passage of Hebrews is consistent with the idea that one can be called and still choose to reject the call and harden their own hearts through disobedience! So, according to the biblical data I have offered it seems that anyone who is saved must be called and drawn, but not everyone who is called or drawn is chosen or saved. Why? It seems to be the case because they freely chose not to respond to the calling/drawing. On the contrary, if one responds positively [or simply does nothing], then they are chosen/saved. That is to say, God chooses to save those who respond to His call. He is not required to, it is by grace alone that He calls and loves all people and chooses to save those who respond to His call by placing their faith in Christ and loving Him in return (Ephesians 2:8).

Ephesians 2

William Lane Craig discusses the proper interpretation of this often cited Bible verse:

“Ephesians 2:8 emphasizes that this setup, this arrangement, is by God’s own choice. . . “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.” . . . The word “this” [in Greek] is neuter whereas faith is feminine. So “this” doesn’t refer to the faith, this refers to this arrangement of salvation by grace through faith. That arrangement is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God. It is God’s sovereign choice to save people in this way by grace through faith.”

So, what do we do with Romans 8:30 and the “Golden Chain of Redemption?” The passages of scripture I have offered seems to appear contradictory to this verse at face-value — at least if we assume that Paul is offering an exhaustive list of all that occurs in the salvation process. With that in mind we have a couple of options: (1) affirm that either Paul or Jesus got it wrong and there is an error in the Bible, or (2) infer that Paul’s intention was probably not to provide an exhaustive list regarding an Ordo Salutis (order of salvation).

Considering all the biblical data logically, the inference to the best explanation is that this is no error, but rather, Paul was not intending to be exhaustive in his writing and Jesus knew exactly what He was talking about.

Romans 9

With four of the five passages of Scripture dealt with, Romans 9 remains. I have written at least two articles on Romans 9 on the FreeThinking website. The first thing I like to point out is that Romans 9 should never be appealed to in an attempt to refute libertarian free will – in fact, it seems that Romans 9 actually implies libertarian freedom.

Here is a segment of one of the Romans 9 articles referenced above:

“So, before engaging your question regarding Romans 9:20, examine the text:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

The first thing I ask the Calvinist objector is whether or not they affirm exhaustive divine causal determinism. Many Calvinists do affirm that God causally determines all things. Thus, this would even include God causally determining the human being to “talk back” to Him. This is absurd! This is akin to me putting my hand in a sock puppet and making the puppet talk back to me and making it say disrespectful things that question my authority. Now how silly would it be for me to then become enraged at the sock puppet and scold it for talking back to me (as if it could have done otherwise)? Moreover, does it make any sense to throw the sock puppet into the fireplace (for all eternity) because I caused it to reply in a disrespectful tone? This interpretation of Romans 9 is absurd.

With this is mind, contrary to the popular opinion of many Calvinists, this passage of Scripture actually supports the Molinist’s view that humanity does possess libertarian free will (at least in regards to mental states and thinking). [As Kirk MacGregor has noted, Paul is being sarcastic in this passage and it is an error to miss his sarcasm.] Even if one is not free to act otherwise, Romans 9 seems to imply that human beings are free to think otherwise! Moreover, it implies that one “ought not” talk back to God and that this person is genuinely responsible for this behavior (at least if they do not want to affirm that God causally determined the person to “talk back” like a puppet).

If God causally determines ALL things, then that would include every single thought, action, belief, and behavior of every single human being all the time (See my Response to John Piper). It logically follows that if God causally determines all things, then this would include the “back talk” of humanity referenced in Romans 9. Thus, God would be responsible for this back talk, not the human puppet.

However, if man is genuinely responsible for talking back to God in this passage, then God does not causally determine all things. I have demonstrated this fact already via the Freethinking Argument and the Omni Argument. As the latter shows, since the Bible is clear that God does predestine all things, we can see that determinism and predestination should not be conflated. The Calvinist and the Molinist both affirm that God predestines all things; the disagreement regards HOW God predestines all things. The Calvinist asserts divine causal determinism (glorified puppeteering); the Molinist appeals to God’s omniscience and middle knowledge.”

Conclusion

If one is free to choose between options consistent with one’s nature, then I ask one to freely choose the inference to the BEST explanation of all the biblical and logical data we have considered. However, if one rejects libertarian freedom, then actually making an inference to the BEST explanation is impossible. But that is an argument for another time.

Bottom line: Molinism is not at odds with Scripture. Indeed, the best interpretation of the biblical data as a whole is Molinism.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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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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