Is Molinism An Option?

by Phillip on June 2, 2012

“Molinism” is a Christian belief system that claims to be a “middle position” between Arminianism (man has total free-will) and Calvinism (God is sovereign over all including man’s salvation).  It was named after 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina.

In the exceedingly tight conundrum that both Arminians and Calvinists find themselves there has evolved this third option called Molinism.  It is claimed to be a sort of  “balance” between Calvinism and Arminianism.

My first and foremost objection to this view is that no one outside of a theologian or philosophy major could even grasp its most basic definition.  It is the most difficult position to pin down and define. Here are the thoughts of someone who claims to be a Molinist:

“I am more in the line of thinking that God, in His omnipotence and omniscience, created us with Free Will, but KNOWS what we will do and how all decisions affect everything, and plans around it. We have Free Will, but he knows all and controls all too. Our free will only extends so far as that it doesn’t impact God’s desire to do something contrary to it.”

From an explanation of Molinism on Wikipedia:

“Molinists believe that God does not only have knowledge of necessary truths and contingent truths but that God’s middle knowledge contains, but is not limited to, His knowledge of counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a statement of the form “if it were the case that P, it would be the case that Q”. An example would be, “If Bob were in Tahiti he would freely choose to go swimming instead of sunbathing.” The Molinist claims that even if Bob is never in Tahiti, God can still know whether Bob would go swimming or sunbathing. The Molinist believes that God, using his middle knowledge and foreknowledge, surveyed all possible worlds and then actualized a particular one.”

Does the first make sense to you? Does the explanation from Wikipedia sound like Good News? Does it in any way settle the fact that God does not sovereignly actualize a world in which all are saved? According to Molinism, to actualize a world in which all are saved would not have been God’s best possible world. But then, we are told, “God is not willing that any should perish.” The confusion continues and our “sovereign God” appears to be demoted to the impotent Arminian God once again.

Willaim Lane-Craig, the renowned apologist, is the leading voice and defender of the Molinist position. But granted you need a mind like Lane-Craig to comprehend it!

If Molinism has become your refuge against the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism and the “heretical” Evangelical Universalism then I ask you to think again.  It is indeed your last defense and only choice to avoid the three options mentioned.  I guess you are free to believe it …if you can define it.

We actually believe it is the precursor to Evangelical Universalism simply because those who have ended up ascribing to Molinism have done so because they have encountered and experienced the utter dead-ends of Calvinism and Arminianism.  But next comes their inability to explain this so-called middle ground to others…like unbelievers and children.  Remember, the Gospel is Good News which means it must first be coherent and make sense. It must resonate.

We believe as more and more Christians go searching for a “balance” between Calvinism and Arminianism they will find that their only option is to acknowledge that Scripture reveals the vital elements of both: that God is both willing and able to save all …that He is both desirous of all to be saved and powerful enough to make it happen and that He who sent out His word to make “all thing new” and “reconcile the world to Himself” is the same God whose “Word will not return to Him empty and void.” (Rev 21:5; Isa 55:11)

Interestingly here is a post on Molinism and how one blogger (a Calvinist) saw how it was a logical path to universalism:

Dr. William Lane Craig has an article called A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Biblical Inspiration. In this article he offers Molinism as the answer of how God can work with man to write inspired Scripture. This preserves man’s freedom while still giving God a level of control of the outcome. If this position is satisfactory for the inspiration of written Scripture, why is it not satisfactory for other areas in which God works in peoples’ lives?

Taking Craig’s conclusion built upon Molinism of how the Bible was inspired and applying it to salvation seems to offer no valid reason why all are not saved. The first paragraph below are Craig’s actual words. The second is my re-written paragraph using Craig’s position, but applying it to salvation.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the traditional doctrine of the plenary, verbal, confluent inspiration of Scripture is a coherent doctrine, given divine middle knowledge. Because God knew the relevant counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, He was able to decree a world containing just those circumstances and persons such that the authors of Scripture would freely compose their respective writings, which God intended to be His gracious Word to us. In the providence of God, the Bible is thus both the Word of God and the word of man.

My version re-written and applied to salvation.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the traditional doctrine of hell and damnation due to free will choices of men outside of inspiration is incoherent, given divine middle knowledge. Because God knew the relevant counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, He was able to decree a world containing just those circumstances and persons such that the “would be” condemned would freely compose their respective free choices, which God intended to be His gracious gift to us. In the providence of God, the choice to believe the gospel is thus both of God and of man.

by Mark of Here I Blog:  http://hereiblog.com/could-molinism-support-universalism/

It is interesting to note how Alvin Plantinga, also a “Molinist,” is naturally moving into a more Evangelical Universalist position:

“Like any Christian, there is therefore an afterlife, and his afterlife goes on indefinitely. Christians sort of, traditionally, classically, think there are these two states after death. There is heaven and there is hell, and the people who are chosen by God or have faith in God or accept what God requires them to, they wind up in heaven, others wind up in hell. I’m not so sure the Bible actually teaches that. There are lots of passages in the Bible that suggest that everybody winds up in heaven. So St. Paul says something like ‘as through one man sin entered the world, so through one man shall all be saved. As the one man all sinned, so through the one man all shall be saved. It is the same word, same greek word in those two occurrences that suggest that everybody will be saved. Maybe people get second chances, third chances, after death, fourth chances, extra chances…(he quotes CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce about posthumous chances).

That’s called universalism. And I don’t myself quite believe it, but I don’t disbelieve it either. I think it’s something that a Christian should at least hope for.”

–Alvin Plantinga.

(This excerpt is from a video that has recently been removed from YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhohcPhMdxs&feature=share)

“Now to the one who can do infinitely more than all we can ask or imagine according to the power that is working among us— to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20,21

We find it interesting that most Christians don’t believe God is going to do that which is “infinitely more than all we could ever ask or imagine.” But  thankfully some like Plantinga admit that Christian universalism is something “we should at least hope for.”

 

UberGenius February 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Gerry,

Interesting post. Do we as humans have hypothetical knowledge? That is to say do we go out and determine say based on the time of day which route we would take to avoid traffic? How to invest our money? What diet to eat? It seems easy to understand a God who knows all true propositions and is not bounded by time (so knows them simultaneously whether those propositions held in the past, present or future) could have knowledge of “all possible worlds”.

Secondly, he could know these propositions without standing in causal relation with them (i.e. events are simply a result of human choices, preceding causes, and physics). On this view God could know that Adam would fall but not predestine him so that he had no free will. On this view God could have “intended” Adam and all humanity to not sin, and Jesus to not have to be sacrificed for our sin. But if future knowledge in inexorably linked to causation then what part has human agency ever played in the human drama?

On Molinism view people “actually” have free will. Not the Calvinistic equivocation which states that God determines everything but notwithstanding people have free will (compatibalism)! Scripture supports a libertarian view as opposed to compatibalistic view:
D. A. Carson identifies nine streams of texts affirming human freedom: (1) People face a multitude of divine exhortations and commands, (2) people are said to obey, believe, and choose God, (3) people sin and rebel against God, (4) people’s sins are judged by God, (5) people are tested by God, (6) people receive divine rewards, (7) the elect are responsible to respond to God’s initiative, (8) prayers are not mere showpieces scripted by God, and (9) God literally pleads with sinners to repent and be saved (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, pp. 18-22).

On Molinism God is not predestining creatures to hell or responsible for their sin (classic conundrums of Calvinism). He maintains his providence over creation by creating a world where people freely choose to follow him.

Finally your appeal to ignorance (asking if people understand or can clearly articulate the view when sharing the “good news”) is just silly.
Did you understand the concept of the Trinity when you were a new Christian? What about dyophosite Christology, or say the level of Kenosis in Phil.2? There are many areas of systematic theology that require philosophical foundations, followed by biblical exigesis and systematic study to understand. Your statements don’t recognize that understanding of aspects of how God works in our world is a thriving field where we are gaining new knowledge.

New knowledge was gained about the Trinity thanks to Tertullian over 100 years after John’s death. Likewise the Church fathers have continued to progress that knowledge. So to the Reformers, and Christian Philosophers like Craig and Plantinga help us increase our understanding today.

Finally, this is the first place I have seen an association between Universalism and Molinism. Craig certainly doesn’t represent that view and neither does Plantinga. In fact on Molinism both have stated that it is unlikely that it is feasible for God to create a world where everyone freely chooses to follow him. The constraint of God’s creation of free agents (agency has no effect under Calvinism) means that God will have to suffer NOT getting his will. Was it his will that Satan rebel with 1/3 of the angels? Seems like this issue will remain open for awhile longer.

I recommend you check out this link for more info on the topic
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism

Also there is a book worth reading called The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge & Human Freedom

UberGenius February 17, 2014 at 12:31 pm

What I didn’t represent in my earlier reply is that I am currently undecided about the issue. I would enjoy reading a point counter-point 3-views on divine foreknowledge and sovereignty type of book. Molinism seems to be gaining steam in philosophy departments and theological seminars (not that that mean it is correct). And it is hard to find better Christian philosophers than Craig and Plantinga, I would like to hear a dialog on the matter. Paul Helm and William Lane Craig had a discussion recently on Unbelievable: the radio program. But Helm seemed to be dodging every issue with classic Calvinism. Helm failed to address Craig’s points against Calvinism’s lack of human free will and bailed out with the old “Its a mystery” ploy. Further Craig’s strong view of sovereignty seemed to catch Helm by surprise. Helm summed up “Molinism is not biblical” at the end though unfortunately he gave no support for his summation during the previous hour. Perhaps one could find a better supporter of Calvinism than Helm the next time as well a philosopher who supports the Armenian view.

Gerry February 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for the comments UG, I read the material by William Lane-Craig. Again Molinism appears to be a philosophical hybrid form of Armininism, which is why it can’t avoid being included in the Calvinist/Arminian monergism vs synergism debate. The integrity of pure grace remains the issue. I found that to be the case with “Evangelical Calvinism” as well (the name is misleading IMO). Evangelical Calvinsim challenges both classical Arminianism and the neo-Reformed positions. But as theologian Roger Olson pointed out in his review of their book, The Evangelical Calvinist, it is little more than a tweaked form of Arminianism.

But I find both Molinism and Evangelical Calvinism better theology than neo-Calvinism or popular Arminianism and I am always encouraged by theologians, as you say, “gaining knowledge” as they move us forward. The intellectual and philosophical underpinnings of developing theology I fully realize and accept. If you take a look at the material developing EC it is extremely scholarly. But I am able to understand and share its essence with others, even my grandkids.

However, in all my conversations with Molinists their explanation always defied a comprehensible presentation. What I am most passionate about is people getting the gospel so they can get to know Jesus. I believe the really good news is accessible to all. It is a truth that will resonate as “All the ends of the earth will remember and return to the Lord.” (Psa 22)

I would appreciate hearing how you would present Molinism to an unbeliever or child as the good news of the gospel. Please distill it as you understand it.

Regarding the “free-will” of man that is championed by Molinism, I see our freedom as real but it is a “freedom” to live out any and all the alternatives to our only Source of true freedom-God Himself. In other words it is a freedom to live in the bondage of our choices until we have exhausted all the alternatives and finally only God (true Love and Freedom) remains. We are not robots but we are allowed to live in non-freedom (Adamic mindset) for as long as it takes to “come to our senses” and find True Freedom personified in Christ Jesus. We are not moving from freedom into salvation. We are moving from bondage into the salvation that finally sets us free.

Ultimate Reconciliation believes God our Father has enough time and patience along with the sheer beauty and glory of His love and grace to draw each and every person out of their bondage into His ultimate freedom. How long and what it will take for us to respond to His perfect love is His prevenient “knowledge.” He happens to have real faith in His own salvation. This leaves no mystery except the mystery of how “his mercies never come to an end.”

I did not say that either Lane-Craig or Plantinga were supporting universalism. I was making the point that the search for a middle ground is magnifying the conundrum of the monergism/synergism contradiction within the Arm/Cal camps of the Body of Christ.

You said that both Lane-Craig and Plantinga have voiced, “…it is unlikely that it is feasible for God to create a world where everyone freely chooses to follow him.” And why not? On what basis are they making that call? Perhaps we have found our mystery. The mystery is neither contained within the sovereignty of God nor the stubbornness of sin but in the power and glory of God’s love.

Über Genius June 19, 2014 at 8:15 am

Gerry,

I should have started my original post with my extreme dislike for the most recalcitrant fact of Biblical Cristianity , namely the problem of hell. I find the idea of purgatory appealing, or the Mormon Celestrial, Telestrial, Terestial distinction to be much more appealing than the data found in scripture. But just as the Calvinists have some explaining to do about passages of God loving all people and not just the “Elect” as they claim. So to Universalists must explain why Jesus spends so much time telling people not to damn themselves to hell by their actions. He gives them alternatives of how to live properly and trust in God but seems to take their free will to damn themselves very seriously. It is hard to find a a NT author that deals wi the subject who doesn’t believe people will ultimately go there by their own free will as a result of God’s judgement.

As to presenting Molinism to a non-believer. I don’t spend time on that or diohpocite nature of Christ, or perichoresis in the Trinity. These don’t come up and seemed to put the cart before the horse. Where did we come from? How do we live our lives? How do we get meaning in life? Where will we go when we die? These are the questions I focus on. I don’t often refer to scripture at all as most in our current culture don’t consider it to have any authority.

As to your point about why God chooses not to create a world where everyone freely chooses to follow him, I have no idea. He certainly could under all three view of omniscience and providence. He also could, on Molinism, choose not to create those individual who he knew would not follow him. So the molinist view doesn’t help much with the problem of hell in my opinion. It just helps resolve “how” God maintains his sovereignty and allows people libertarian free will that they perceive they have and that the data from scripture seems to represent.

I do not believe that depravity is such that men are not able to understand the rational claims about Christ. I think that the HS works with individuals through presentation of lifestyle evidence much more effectively than rationality alone. You seem to have passion for the lost unlike many in Christian circle today. I hope you are right about Universalism but I represent a traditional view until I here a more nuanced armument.

I spend little time on hell with non-believers. Other than to inform them of it as a potential defeater (along with evil and suffering).

Also on divine justice I don’t see how creating a world where God actually implements his just damnation of souls to hell is greater than if that capability was never actualized. I do think that molinism helps with the question of people that never hear the gospel. By explaining that God sends missionaries to people he knows will respond and put souls who would not. Respond to the gospel in places where they would not hear the gospel. But this still becomes a problem in that why would he create people that he knows would reject him in the first place.

If you have some good resources on view of hell by scholars in dialog please share them as this is my next area of study.

mathew galante June 22, 2014 at 6:06 pm

I believe the premise that God knows what free will beings will do is what leads to wrong theology and the ignoring of what should be apparent in the scriptures. God seems to operate in real time and interacts throughout the narrative of the bible as if He doesn’t know what people will do unless and until He decides to make something happen or make someone do something.

The Calvinist holds a theory that is both consistent and logical. He sees the “Predestination” verses, he believes God knows even the future but mainly because He micro manages it. This would work if the predestination verses apply to all believers and God in fact chooses to arbitrarily pick the saved.

The Arminianist agrees that God knows the future but holds that it is something within man of his own volition that effectuates that salvation. This creates a conundrum because it implies that God’s foreknowledge can coincide with man’s free will. He doesn’t know what to do with the “Predestination” and “election” passages because if they apply to all believers they contradict this view.

The philosophical Christian then seeks to go further and explain how this works by applying molina’s idea of God’s middle knowledge. Supposedly God does predestinate but it’s according to His knowledge of what free will beings will do in any circumstance.

Neither Arminianism nor molinism makes logical sense. And though Calvinism does make sense, it is not biblical.

If we remove the erroneous idea that God knows the unknowable, namely the future actions of free will beings, and we find that the predestination and election verses are describing only a small group, then the confusion is dispelled and we gain a right understanding of God.

Gerry June 25, 2014 at 9:59 pm

You cover a lot of ground in your comment UG! I do not have enough time to fully respond at this time but let me say first of all that how you perceive hell and judgment is the result of the lens you have been given. If you remove the possibility of a non-redemptive retributive punishment in light of the true character of God as love then all the “hell” and “judgment” passages suddenly are understood as remedial. There are many scholarly works on this subject. See Thomas Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God as well as John Kronan and Eric Reitan’s God’s Final Victory.

I have found that the unbeliever, like you said, really does not want to engage in a Scripture debate. And as far as God loving all and securing the good of all most unbelievers already assume that of a good Creator far from being irrelevant the Perichoresis, which is the interpenetrating life and fellowship of the Father, Son and Spirit (the Divine Dance), make up the foundation of our very identity and existence. It was from within this community of love that we were each conceived, birthed and redeemed. The Incarnation answers all the questions mankind has: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Please check out Andre Rabe’s “Does God Have a Clue What It’s Like to Be You?” For further study on the centrality of the Incarnation see HearHim.net

Phillip April 19, 2016 at 9:32 am

Here is an interesting comment found at the Evangelical Universalist Forum on the topic of Molinism:

“And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” (Matthew 11:23)

One of the strengths of universalism is that not only does it work with just about any form of Christian thought, but it also prevents these forms of thought from being absurd.

Assuming that God knows counterfactuals (which I think the above verse teaches), it would be preposterous and monstrous for God to say to Himself, “Hmm. If I create the universe in such-and-so way, some creatures will be everlastingly damned. Oh, what the Hell. I’ll do it anyway!”

God would never create such a universe. Instead, He would (and did!) create a universe in which all attain salvation.

In a nutshell, Molinism requires universalism.

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