Molinism, Calvinism, Apples, & Oranges



(The FreeThinking Theist)


August 20, 2018

The debate between Calvinism and Molinism has consumed much of my time in recent years. I once identified as a Calvinist, but now identify as a Molinist, and my story has provided fuel to this debate’s fire. With that said, however, many who are involved — on both sides of the theological aisle — often make a mistake by simply being involved in the debate. To clarify: to directly compare Calvinism with Molinism is to compare apples with oranges. This is the case because Calvinism is a soteriological system (issues regarding salvation) and Molinism is not.

Molinism is simply a model demonstrating how God can be completely sovereign and exhaustively predestine all things without causally determining all things. This leaves room for human libertarian freedom and genuine responsibility. With this in mind, the “tool of Molinism” is often applied to soteriological issues, but it does not have to be.

In fact, those who are reformed and informed are beginning to see that they can continue to hold to all five points of TULIP (as traditionally defined) while simultaneously holding the two essential pillars of what I have referred to as Mere Molinism: (i) Humans possess limited libertarian freedom, and (ii) God possesses middle knowledge. Kirk MacGregor has nicely “tightened up” these propositions:

1- Logically prior to God’s decision to create the world, God knew everything that would happen in any possible scenario He could create (entails God’s middle knowledge).

2- As beings created in the image of God, humans, like God, possess libertarian freedom.

It is vital to grasp that the two essentials of Mere Molinism do not contradict any of the traditional definitions of the TULIP acronym. Thus, since these two views are not mutually exclusive, one can genuinely identify as both a Calvinist and a Molinist all while maintaining logical consistency (See Are Mere Molinism & Moderate Calvinism the Same Thing?).

The one who sets up the debate between Calvinism and Molinism is not only often confused, but offers a false dichotomy which adds to the already prevalent confusion. Both the Calvinist and the Molinist (including myself) have added to this confusion in the past. We must do better. It is vital to clearly understand that in which the real debate lies.

One motive for many Calvinists who argue against Molinism is not to argue for Calvinistic soteriology, but rather to make a case for exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) — the view that God causally determines all things all the time — and for compatibilistic free will (CFW) — a view that humans are still free/responsible even though God causally determines everything about every human (including all thoughts, actions, beliefs, and behaviors). Although Molinism does not have to be applied to salvation issues (though it can be), when the soteriology of Calvinism is applied universally (to things external to salvation) it leads to EDD. Based on the logical law of the excluded middle, if EDD is true, then human beings cannot be free in a libertarian sense as the Molinist affirms. Thus, it seems that the greatest desire of these extreme EDD Calvinists (some Calvinists reject this EDD view) is to argue against any notion of libertarian freedom.

Libertarian freedom is an accordion term that can have different meanings in different contexts. Libertarian freedom can be most simply defined as the conjunction of a rejection of exhaustive compatibilism along with the claim that humans (at least occasionally) possess free will. That is to say that libertarianism affirms that we possess “freedom of moral and rational responsibility,” and “that the freedom necessary for responsible action is not compatible with determinism” (Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview 268, 303).

I typically argue for a stronger model of libertarian freedom that not all libertarians affirm. When I refer to libertarian freedom, I am usually discussing what most people probably think of when they use the term “free will.” Simply put: Libertarian freedom is the ability to genuinely choose between a range of options, each of which is consistent with one’s nature (See Libertarian Freedom Is a Limited Power).

The salient point is this: The real debate is not between Calvinism vs. Molinism. That would be akin to comparing apples to oranges. No, what most of these anti-Molinists are actually arguing for is that exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) is a “better explanation” than limited libertarian freedom (LLF). That endeavor, as I have argued elsewhere ad nauseam, is self-defeating.

Bottom line: Be cautious of anyone purporting to set up a debate between apples and oranges or between Calvinism and Molinism. They might not properly understand that in which they attack.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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