Hey Dr. Stratton,
I love your site and content. I am planning on reading your book soon. In the meantime I need your perspective on something. I love the MMA syllogism and the articles you’ve written on the subject of Molinism making the most sense of all the biblical data. But as someone who doesn’t hold to “once saved always saved” (due to my study of scripture), how can I reconcile the notion of “mere Molinism” with the warnings scripture gives of believers falling away from the faith (ie. All the warnings for example in the book of Hebrews)? I would appreciate any insight you can give.
Blessings to you for all you and your team do.
Dr. Tim’s Response
Great question, Ricky!
I actually have a forthcoming paper (co-authored with Jacobus Erasmus) that touches on this topic. I think salvation is much more than mere repentance. As a former pastor, I can tell you that people repent all the time and then go back to their vomit (Proverbs 26:11) and commit apostasy. So, I am inclined to think that mere repentance is a necessary condition for salvation (worthy of celebration), but it is not sufficient. I believe that the first step is repentance, and then, when one continues to not reject the love, grace, and teachings of Christ, they will ultimately fall into a deep and true love relationship with God.
On my view, these folks who have repented, been baptized, went to church, got involved in ministry, but then rebelled against God and “blasphemed the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3:22-30), were never truly saved. From our limited and finite perspective, it seemed like this person was saved and then lost their salvation. But God middle knew this individual would ultimately rebel after they “said they were sorry” and went to church for a while. Thus, they were never “saved” in the first place.
As explained in Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism, the essence of salvation is a true love relationship with God. Not only is this supported by the “greatest commandment” offered by Jesus (Matthew 22:37-38; Mark 12:29-30), but it seems intuitively obvious once one considers the fact that there is no one in Heaven who does not love Jesus and there is no one is Hell who loves Jesus. Since Paul tells us that “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8) we can know that those who ultimately reject God never truly loved Him even though they could have fooled others. God middle knew better.
Humans often confuse strong emotional feelings with love. Indeed, I would venture to say that the vast majority of marriages ending in divorce began with the man and woman expressing their love for the other. But, since the marriage failed and love never fails, we can know that at least one person who claimed to love the other did not really love the other. God’s love for us is perfect and never fails. As discussed in “Mere Molinism,” Jesus expresses this perfect love for humanity in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31). Thus, when a person leaves the Church and spits in the face of Christ, that person never loved God in the first place. At best, this person simply confused strong emotions with love, just like the man who dated a woman for several years, got engaged to her while expressing his undying love, and then left the woman standing at the alter as he ran off to elope with her bridesmaid in Las Vegas. This man did not love this woman and never truly loved her.
I summarize and affirm the warnings found in the Word of God (Hebrews 5:11-6:20), that one can apostatize and “fall away” after repentance and even “tasting” God’s goodness:
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
Scripture is clear that one can believe in the existence of God, believe that Jesus is the only way (John 14:6), become enlightened, and even taste and experience the Holy Spirit, and still rebel and reject God forever. This seems to be described in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:5-6):
5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
These folks seem to be quite similar to the demons described in James 2:19 who “believe and shudder.” It seems that one can believe and repent, and still not be “secure” in their salvation because “they had no root.” This is because there is another key ingredient in the salvation mix: LOVE (which requires libertarian freedom). Love is the root!
Since “love never fails,” I also affirm “once in love always in love.” Thus, if salvation is properly understood as “a true love relationship with God,” I can and do affirm “once saved always saved” along with the perseverance of free saints (who could but never would apostatize).
It is always vital to define our terms as we seek to infer the best explanation of all the data. This explanation seems to make the most sense to me. It’s all about love.
I leave you with the words of Paul:
“And we know that for those who LOVE God all things work together for good . . .” (Rom 8:28)
“If anyone does not LOVE the Lord, let that person be cursed!” (1 Cor 16:22)
“Grace [and immortality] to all who LOVE our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying LOVE.” (Eph 6:24)
Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),
Dr. Tim Stratton