Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Middle Knowledge: Enemy of Divine Simplicity?

"‘The Tractatus’ is a Deistic, not a pantheistic, work, and Spinoza presupposes the traditional understanding of God. In particular, his argument is based on the CLASSIC DOCTRINE OF DIVINE SIMPLICITY, which states that GOD’S KNOWLEDGE, WILL, GOODNESS, POWER, and so forth ARE ALL REALLY IDENTICAL AND ONE WITH HIS ESSENCE. The question Spinoza raises is, in effect, HOW CAN GOD’S KNOWLEDGE BE NECESSARY AND HIS WILL BE CONTINGENT, IF THESE ARE IDENTICAL?

Now contrary to Spinoza, CLASSICAL THEOLOGY DID NOT CLAIM THAT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE IS CHARACTERIZED BY NECESSITY. For example, God knows the truth ‘The universe exists.’ But God was under no obligation to create the universe. Since creation is a free act, he could have refrained from creating anything at all. If God had not created the world, then he would instead know the truth ‘No universe exists.’ Necessarily, then, whatever God knows is true; BUT IT IS NOT NECESSARY THAT THE CONTENT OF GOD’S KNOWLEDGE BE WHAT IT IS. Had he created a different world or no world at all, the content of his knowledge would be different. Hence, just as God is free to will differently than he does, SO IS HE ABLE TO HAVE DIFFERENT KNOWLEDGE THAN HE DOES”
(William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics,” Third Edition. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, page 264).

In two days, I will begin again in my studies for the Spring 2010 semester. In my preparation for a Christian Apologetics class, I have begun reading “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics” by noteworthy philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. For those of you who may not know enough about him, I suggest you read “Reasonable Faith” as well as “Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time” and “The Only Wise God,” all three having been written by Craig himself. “The Only Wise God” is all about middle knowledge and its theological and philosophical role in academic discourse. These three books will give you quite an introduction to the man himself. And then, let’s just say that you will understand the reason why I admire him so much. Thank God for learned men like William Lane Craig!

Today, though, I’m back to address a statement a friend (named Bill) made to me the other day. I met him out at the coffeeshop, while reading Craig’s “Reasonable Faith,” and he and I began to talk about the doctrine of divine simplicity--- the idea that God is “simple” (not composed of parts, not having “constitution” as humans or objects have). The doctrine of divine simplicity states that God is not divided in essence, attributes, etc. According to Norman Geisler, the doctrine of divine simplicity states that

“God is simple, not composed of parts. He is absolutely and indivisibly one in essence” (Norman Geisler and H. Wayne House with Max Herrera, “The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001, page 17).

My dear friend Bill said to me, “Because God is simple in essence, He cannot have middle knowledge. Why? Because if God had middle knowledge, then He would be POTENTIALITY, not PURE ACT. And God is all actuality, no potentiality whatsoever.”

Let’s assess this, though: could God have middle knowledge and still be “pure act”? Yes. And I think this is where Bill’s argument goes south. If God possesses middle knowledge, then He must “have some use for it.” What is that use? To grant free creatures libertarian freedom. As Molina himself notes,

“even though (and I am mindful of this) the holy Fathers did not use the distinction between free and natural knowledge in God in those very terms, and even though, likewise, they did not distinguish a middle knowledge between free and purely natural knowledge, still BY UNANIMOUS CONSENT THEY TAUGHT THAT THOSE FUTURE CONTINGENTS THAT DEPEND ON OUR FACULTY OF CHOICE ARE not going to exist because God foreknows that they are going to exist, BUT RATHER THAT GOD, BECAUSE HE IS GOD, that is, BECAUSE OF THE DEPTH OF HIS INTELLECT SURPASSING THEIR NATURE, knew that they were going to exist because THEY WERE SO GOING TO EXIST THROUGH FREEDOM OF CHOICE...and this, plainly, is nothing other than to affirm middle knowledge—--at least in fact, if not in our very words” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia, Pt. IV, Disputation 53, Part 2, Section 22. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 229).

Molina writes what William Lane Craig affirms: that God possesses middle knowledge “because of the depth of His intellect,” which stretches beyond the intellect of His free creatures. The church fathers themselves (as stated by Molina) affirmed that God possessed knowledge of creaturely actions. In order for God to grant genuine choice, He Himself must “assume” that a choice involves options that will never be realized (since this is the nature of choice: I will choose to go right instead of left on the highway, etc.).

William Lane Craig wrote above (in the beginning quote) that God’s knowledge is under no necessity to be what it is. Since God did not have to create the world and give humans libertarian freedom, He did not have to “know” of their choices---since He could have created a world where man’s every choice would be determined. The fact that God allows such choice must be something that God does not forget(for He is faithful to His covenant and His promises). If He gave man reign over the earth, God must not “forget” that in His relationship with man. And we know that the same God who promised never to flood the earth again is the same God who will not violate creaturely freedom.

If you know of someone who is philosophical in thinking but is not as well-equipped in theology, please take time to show them 1 Samuel 23. In it, we find God telling David that Saul would hand him over---and yet, it does not happen!! How do we characterize God’s knowledge? My friend Bill would advocate that this knowledge of God would be “natural” knowledge, knowledge of all possibilities; however, if that were the case, then the “possibility” of David being handed over would have existed BEFORE God decided to create one world (according to Molinist theology). However, when God decided to select one world out of infinitely many worlds, God was free to select a world where David’s being captured was NOT a possibility.

Secondly, if David being handed over was not going to “actualize” in the current world, why would the Lord have told David this? If David’s being captured was not an actual possibility, then God was telling David of another world He could have actualized (and was thus deceiving David about the world He chose to create). The Lord’s words to David indicate that David’s being handed over was as “actual” a possibility as his escape. Therefore, on the basis of libertarian freedom, I am inclined to interpret God’s knowledge of 1 Samuel 23 as distinct from His “natural knowledge” (knowledge of all possibilities) and “free knowledge” (knowledge of all actualities, or knowledge of all creaturely decisions). Middle knowledge then, provides a way to reconcile God’s exhaustive infallible foreknowledge with genuine libertarian freedom.

Middle knowledge, in this way, is not seen as an “enemy” of divine simplicity---rather, on the basis of logical moments of God’s knowledge (not chronological), we can gain a better grip on the doctrine itself. However we attempt to reconcile truths of Scripture, we cannot do so at the expense of divine foreknowledge.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Molinism: The Alternative

“Most Christians have heard about Calvinism, but not as many are familiar with Molinism. I suspect some who embrace Calvinism do so because they recognize THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT GOD IS SOVEREIGN AND CALVINISM IS THE ONLY THEOLOGICAL SYSTEM OF WHICH THEY ARE AWARE THAT ATTEMPTS TO DO JUSTICE TO GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY. CALVINISM OFTEN WINS BY DEFAULT, especially when Arminianism is understood to be the alternative” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 4-5).

Divine Sovereignty is a huge deal when it comes to deciding on which theology will govern one’s life. If a theology has everything else we find biblical but denies the sovereignty of God, then we tend to look to other theologies which give a major role to divine sovereignty.

However, I think that many times, in our search for a biblical theology, we focus so much on divine sovereignty that we don’t even pay attention to human responsibility (which is an important part of biblical theology as well). In His sovereignty, God has granted man a limited sovereignty (libertarian freedom) over the earth, and this must be affirmed in a biblical theology as well---otherwise, God becomes the author of sin and evil.

In Keathley’s quote above, he tells us that many Calvinists are “Calvinists by default.” They want to embrace a theology that states “God is in control”---and, since they are convinced Calvinism does that, many are Calvinists. In the conversations I’ve had with classmates and students alike, though, most do not share the “cold” five points of Calvin, “TULIP.” Many will say, “I don’t believe God predetermined sin and evil.” And many are “moderate” Calvinists in that, while they wanna agree with Calvin, they are not willing to go as far as Calvin did. One Calvinist I talked to said that she doesn’t believe Jesus just died for the elect---but she calls herself a “Calvinist,” when, at most, she is really an “Amyraldian.”
Why the apparent “infatuation” with Calvinism? Because Calvinism is considered to be the ONLY BIBLICAL THEOLOGY that does justice to the sovereignty of God.

Go back to what I stated above, though: Calvinists want to embrace a theology that states “God is in control.” But just what do we mean by “control”? Moderate Calvinists will say, “I don’t believe God predetermined sin and evil.” And I would agree with them. But you can’t be a hard-core Calvinist and make that claim. To say that “God is in control” but that He does not cause sin and evil is to separate oneself from the Calvinist camp. As Lorraine Boettner tells us,

“Even the sinful actions of men can occur only by His permission. AND SINCE HE PERMITS not unwillingly, but WILLINGLY, ALL THAT COMES TO PASS---INCLUDING THE ACTIONS AND ULTIMATE DESTINY OF MEN---must be, in some sense, IN ACCORDANCE WITH WHAT HE HAS DESIRED AND PURPOSED” (Lorraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1932, page 30).

According to Lorraine Boettner, if sin occurs in the world, it is because “He [God] has desired and purposed” it. In addition, God has not just “permitted” it, but “willingly” permitted it. From Boettner’s own statement, we have a Calvinist confession that “God wills (ordains) sin”---and the “permit” language is just lip service to the idea of human causation (that humans cause sin and evil). Ordination and permission are not the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably when one wants to avoid the theological implications of his or her system.

Ken Keathley, says, though, that Molinism is the sufficient alternative that Calvinists are looking for: “There is an alternative to Calvinism---called Molinism---which provides answers...that are both biblical and logically consistent” (4).
Molinism, then, is to be the solution to the never-ending Calvinist’s search for a viable theological system. But notice how Keathley goes on to describe the Molinist system:

“...Molinism simultaneously holds to a CALVINISTIC VIEW OF A COMPREHENSIVE DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY and to a version of free will (called libertarianism) generally associated with Arminianism” (5).

What is Molinism then? A system that still holds to a Calvinistic view of sovereignty; in other words, Molinism still holds to “Calvinism” in its theology. And Calvinism (according to Boettner) says that God ordains everything that comes to pass. Then, we read these words:

“However, like the Arminian, I am also convinced that the Bible teaches that GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR, ORIGIN, OR CAUSE OF SIN (and to say that He is, is not just hyper-Calvinism but BLASPHEMY)” (7).

Here’s the question that every theologian and believer must ask themselves: if sovereignty comes with responsibility, and man has responsibility (as the Bible teaches), then isn’t it necessary that man also have some limited form of sovereignty (libertarian freedom)? Molinists would hold to libertarian freedom, but it doesn’t factor into the relationship between God and man. While man has all responsibility, God still controls every little single detail of life. But how can man have a limited freedom and yet, God not give man the power to “cause” events and situations in the world? If God maintains “absolute” sovereignty, then God also retains “absolute responsibility.” The Molinist cannot have it both ways.

To give God all the power (and man all the responsibility) is the same thing as a CEO who runs every detail of his company but, when something goes wrong, leaves it to his vice-president to accept the consequences. This type of thinking doesn’t even occur in our legal system. If someone drove the getaway car from a shooting, robbery, or drug deal, that person is still an aider and abetter to the crime---even if his hands never touched the drugs or pulled the trigger. Our legal system realizes that there is a shared responsibility between a killer and his driver (despite the driver’s limited role in the crime itself). But, in Molinist theology, the murderer is to take the slack for everything, even if the driver drove the car: although the driver was hired by the murderer, and the driver WILLINGLY CONSENTED to drive the car, the murderer is the one who actually pulled the trigger...thus making the murderer the only guilty party. And still, after all this, the Molinist would say, “Well, the driver is still responsible.” But how? He couldn’t resist the murderer’s pleas (the murderer held him at gunpoint and made him drive), and the murderer controlled every little bit of the plan...so how does the driver not get off the hook?

Molinism was designed to be an alternative system to Calvinism that wouldn’t “stray” as much as Arminianism. But if God has absolute sovereignty, then He is the SOLE CONTROLLER AND CAUSE of events in the world. And if He is the sole cause and controller of events in the world, then He is the “author of sin and evil.”

It is my wish that Molinism as a system would be reevaluated and seen for the problems it poses. Molinism as a system cannot claim that “God permits evil” when God is the sole controller of events and evil comes about. Using the word “permit” only gives lip service to the idea that God should not be connected with sin and evil. The idea of permission must fit into one’s system. And if Molinists ever decide to account for “permission” in their system by including human causation (and by so doing, integrate libertarian freedom not just in theory but also in practice), Classical Arminians will be more than happy to welcome them into the Arminian fold.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Perseverance: Promise or Requirement?

“Saving faith perseveres or remains until the day when it gives way to sight. Perseverance should be understood as a faith that cannot be annihilated and therefore persists. This persistent faith eventually and inevitably exhibits itself in the believer’s life in such a way as to bring glory to God. The point of Hebrews 11 is that saving faith manifests itself by the journey of discipleship. One may stumble and falter but never leave the trail. Perseverance SHOULD BE VIEWED MORE AS A PROMISE THAN A REQUIREMENT” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 189).

I remembered doing a post on chapter 6 (“E is for Eternal Life”) some time ago. I’m back today, however, to tackle the quote above.

According to Keathley, “perseverance should be viewed more as a promise than a requirement” (189).

Surprisingly though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the words “you will persevere” in Scripture, or even the words “God will persevere you” in the biblical canon. Instead, whenever we see the word “perseverance,” it refers to an action.

In Romans 5:3, Paul states that our tribulations produce “perseverance.” In other words, trials conform us more to the image of God’s Son (Jesus). This is why Paul later tells the Romans in Romans 8 that we are heirs of Christ “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).

In Romans 8:17, Paul makes a profound point: Christ suffered, we must suffer; Christ was glorified, and in the end, we will be glorified and experience the glorification of Christ. This does not sound like a promise to me that I will persevere---but instead, an exhortation to persevere. The text doesn’t give us a guaranteed perseverance, but warns us that we will only receive the inheritance IF we suffer as Christ suffered.

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul tells the Ephesians to

“pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, BEING WATCHFUL TO THIS END WITH ALL PERSEVERANCE and supplication for all the saints” (NKJV).

Paul is telling them to be “watchful,” which is anything but a promise. If someone tells me to watch, he is not telling me that because I’m “guaranteed” to watch; he’s telling me that because there is a danger that, if I do not watch, something terrible may happen that I wasn’t expecting. Jesus gave commands to watch:

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore YOU ALSO BE READY, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42-44, NKJV).

This does not sound like a promise; Christ is not assuring them that they will persevere, but commanding them to persevere. It is after Jesus’ words here in Matthew 24 that in the same chapter, He tells the story of the servant who turns unfaithful while He is away. The servant’s end is tragic: “the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will CUT HIM IN TWO AND APPOINT HIM HIS PORTION WITH THE HYPOCRITES. THERE SHALL BE WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH” (Matt. 24:50-51, NKJV).

Here in Matthew, we find that a servant who has been told to watch has refused to do so and has become complacent, lazy, and slothful. When the master (Lord) returned, that servant was cast into the place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We all know that this is a reference to Hell itself. For those who believe that someone MUST persevere and will not fail in that, take a look at this servant. What are we gonna say to this? That “the servant was never saved to begin with?” that “he never had faith”? If we do so, we are denying that the man was a servant...and by so doing, we are nullifying Jesus’ words. If the servant was not a believer, was not a follower, then he didn’t need to heed Jesus’ warnings and he was rebuked for no reason. Only disciples need such warning and rebuke (not false disciples, those who are not His anyway, according to “Calvinistic” advocates).

Another passage that I think defeats the idea of perseverance as a promise is Hebrews 10:

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. FOR YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36).

My question is this: Why would the writer tell the Jewish believers that they “need” endurance if they do not need it, if it was just a promise? Why does the writer not say “YOU WILL HAVE ENDURANCE, so that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise”? or “YOU WILL ENDURE,” or “God will provide the endurance,” etc.? We are not promised endurance here because endurance is a requirement. When Jesus states that the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10, Matt. 24), He is exhorting us to endure, telling us that only those who do so will receive life eternal.

Finally, James 1 shows us that believers must YIELD to their sanctification:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. BUT LET PATIENCE HAVE ITS PERFECT WORK, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4, NKJV).

Why must we “let patience have its perfect work,” if patience will have its perfect work WITHOUT us? And yet, James states that patience desires to do a perfect work in us...but that it will not do so WITHOUT US! Even in the Christian life, you and I can refuse to yield to the process of sanctification that the Spirit is trying to bring about and frustrate the Spirit. This is why in Eph. 4:30 Paul writes, “Grieve not the Spirit...” In order for patience (perseverance, endurance) to do a complete work, I must choose daily to act in accordance with God’s Word. As Jesus says in Luke, the one who desires to follow Him must “pick up his cross DAILY” (Luke 9:23).

Last but not least, what about 2 Peter 1:6, where Peter tells the congregation, [add to faith] self-control, to self-control PERSEVERANCE”? I’m supposed to add to my faith, one of the additions being perseverance. If perseverance is a guarantee, why then am I being told it is a requirement? Either proponents of guaranteed perseverance are telling the truth (and Peter is lying), or Peter is telling the truth (and those for guaranteed perseverance are wrong). I tend to think that the proponents of guaranteed perseverance are wrong on this one.

To make perseverance a promise is the equivalent of making confession and belief a promise. The Word tells me, however, that confession and belief are requirements (conditions) for salvation (Rom. 10:9)...and perseverance is also a requirement (Hebrews 10:36). God is not going to “believe” for me, and neither is He going to “persevere” me. After all, He has already endured to the end so I can endure (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Foreknowledge and Predetermination: The Exceptional Case of Jesus

“In the Calvinist understanding of foreknowledge and predetermination, the future is the product of the will of God. The Calvinist view clearly presents God as sovereign, but He also appears to be the cause of sin. In the Arminian formulation GOD LOOKS FORWARD INTO A FUTURE MADE BY THE DECISIONS OF FREE CREATURES AND THEN MAKES HIS PLANS ACCORDINGLY. The Arminian model emphasizes that God is a loving Father, but unfortunately HIS WILL HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MUCH THAT HAPPENS. By contrast, Molinism contends that God actively uses His foreknowledge. Among the many possibilities populated by the choices of free creatures, God freely and sovereignly decided which world to bring into existence. This view fits well with the biblical simultaneous affirmation of both foreknowledge and predetermination (Acts 2:23)” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 155-156).

In all the reading I’ve done on the subject of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the case of Jesus from Acts 2:23 (Peter’s sermon) is one of the most (if not the most) provided example of all the various proof texts offered. In this post, however, I want us to examine this proof text and see what it tells us about how foreknowledge and predetermination work.

Let’s look at Acts 2:22-24---

“‘Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—--Him, being delivered by the DETERMINED PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD, YOU HAVE TAKEN BY LAWLESS HANDS, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24, NKJV).

Regarding this text, Keathley writes:

“By contrast, Molinism contends that God actively uses His foreknowledge. Among the many possibilities populated by the choices of free creatures, God freely and sovereignly decided which world to bring into existence. This view fits well with the biblical simultaneous affirmation of both foreknowledge and predetermination (Acts 2:23)” (155-156).

In the above quote, Keathley shows the contrast between Molinism and Arminianism. Arminianism argues that God’s foreknowledge is not causative; but Molinism argues that God’s foreknowledge is causative: that God knows what will happen because God CAUSES the events He foreknows.

However, the passage of Acts 2:22-24 (specifically v. 23) has been misinterpreted and misapplied with regards to the issue of sovereignty/responsibility. My question is, who was “predetermined” to do what they did? Was it Jesus or the Jews?

Scripture reveals that Jesus was predetermined to die:

“All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb SLAIN FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD” (Revelation 13:8, NKJV).

Who was slain from before time? “The Lamb,” that being Jesus Christ, whom John calls “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29; Isaiah 53:7).

Since Christ is the one slain from before the foundation of the world, then Christ was the one delivered up according to the “determined purpose” of God. Christ was ordained to die. The Father foreknew that Jesus would die because He foreknew that man would sin in the Garden (Genesis 3).

But what about the men who crucified Jesus? Were they “predetermined” to put Jesus to death? No---for, if their actions were predetermined, then they bear no responsibility for what they did. However, God did foreknow that these men would crucify Jesus...and He used their actions to fulfill His plan, which was to have His Son crucified for the sins of the world.

There is another proof text used by Calvinists and Molinists alike regarding predetermination and foreknowledge:

“And truly the Son of Man goes AS IT HAS BEEN DETERMINED, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22)

“The Son of Man indeed goes JUST AS IT IS WRITTEN OF HIM, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).

In Luke 22 above, we find that “the Son of Man,” Jesus Christ Himself, is the one that “has been determined” to be crucified; however, there is no mention of Judas being “predetermined” to betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus declares doom: “woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” What makes this pronouncement by Jesus severe is that, while Jesus is going a way that is predetermined for Him, something that has been declared before time began, Judas’s betrayal is one that Judas bears responsibility for! There is no predetermination of Judas to betray Jesus. There is, however, a predetermined decree that Jesus would be crucified.

Go back to Acts 2:23. As I stated earlier, Jesus was “predetermined” to die because of the foreknowledge of the sins of man, as well as the actions of all persons involved in Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.

The context of Acts 2:23, once again, gives away that the “supposed” interpretation of this passage is incorrect. In Acts 2:23, Peter tells the men “You have taken [Jesus] by LAWLESS HANDS, have crucified, and put to death” (v.24). Notice that Peter called the men “lawless,” which is “anomon” in the Greek. The Greek word “anomon” comes from the Greek word “anomos,” which literally translated means “WITHOUT(Greek prefix “a-“)LAW (Greek word “nomos”). The New King James translates the word as “lawless,” which means that there was no justification by law for what the Jews did to Jesus. He was an innocent man who had done no wrong (Luke 23:41).

In Acts 2:25, Peter references Psalm 16:8-11, which has to do with the resurrection of Christ (v.31). The crucifixion and resurrection were predetermined, NOT those who betrayed, tried, and condemned Jesus. The actions of those involved were not predetermined by God---which is why these men can be labeled “lawless” and Judas can be condemned by Jesus for his betrayal (Luke 22:22). Last but not least, after Peter preaches, we read this:

“Now then they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, WHAT SHALL WE DO?’” (Acts 2:37)

Peter tells them that they handed over someone they thought was a common criminal; but He turned out to be “both Lord and Christ.” They feel so bad about betraying the Lord of heaven and earth that they ask, “What shall we do?”, dying to correct their grievous sin of condemning Jesus to die.

You do remember Matthew’s account of the crucifixion, don’t you? In Matthew’s account, the crowds press Pilate to crucify him. When Pilate realizes the crowd wants Jesus crucified, he washes his hands before them:

“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.’
And all the people answered and said, ‘HIS BLOOD BE ON US AND ON OUR CHILDREN’” (Matthew 27:24-25, NKJV).

Did you see the words of the crowd? “His blood be on us and on our children.” By their own mouths they claimed responsibility for their actions. There is no “God made me do it” talk; rather, they are more than willing to accept responsibility for what they did. And in Acts 2, Peter throws the blame on them for their actions. They feel so guilty that they wanted to know how to make things right. And all Peter told them was to believe on the Lord and be baptized for the removal of their sins.
That’s all they could do in response to this knowledge of their guilt. While they couldn’t remove the guilt of the crucifixion, they could believe on the Lord---and He would take away their guilt and all of their sins through confession and belief.

I’ve made a case here that the words “determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” do not refer to any but Christ and His Crucifixion. After all, this is the only reason why Christ was “delivered” to the Jews anyway (Acts 2:23). Had God not had a purpose for Jesus being crucified, He would never have been given over in the first place. And although the act of crucifixion was predetermined, the actions of those involved were not.

When we examine Acts 2:23, we don’t find God predetermining the actions of the Jews...instead, we find that God used their actions to work His marvelous plan. The same thing can be said for Joseph’s brothers: although they were guilty for selling him into slavery, God still used Joseph’s circumstances to “save many lives” (Genesis 50). When we look at what happened with our Lord, we begin to see that God is not sovereign when He must “predetermine” everything...rather, He is sovereign when He can take the choices of free creatures and marvelously incorporate them into His plan. Hallelujah to the Lamb of God!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Theodicy in Theology

“MOLINISM DOES NOT PROVIDE AN EXPLANATION as to why God created a world in which it was possible for sin to enter, but IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO DO SO. Molinism is a defense, not a theodicy. A theodicy is an attempt to explain why God ordained the world He did. A defense is much more modest, simply attempting to demonstrate that it is logically consistent to believe that a good and sovereign God can purpose to create a world like ours. Molinism accomplishes this” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 163).

What should a theology include? This is a good question that every theologian, Bible student, and Christian believer should ask themselves. If “theology” really comes from the words “theos” (God) and “logos” (study), then what should we say about “the study of God”?

Clearly, the first obvious answer would be, “The study of God begins with the Bible.” The Bible is considered to be “The Word of Truth” (James 1:18), and Jesus Himself is called “The Word” (John 1:1, Revelation 19:13). Our word “theology” could also mean “the word” (logos, Grk. “logia”)---“of God” (theos, Grk. “God”). So to study theology is to study “the Word of God,” which is the Holy Bible.

Looking at Kenneth Keathley’s quote above, one could easily get the impression that there’s something wrong with Molinism as a theological system. Keathley writes:

“Molinism does not provide an explanation as to why God created a world in which it was possible for sin to enter, but it is not necessary to do so” (163).

Why is it “not necessary” that Molinism provide a theodicy (which is an explanation for the existence of sin and evil)? If we are going to study theology (the Word of God), and the Bible has something to say regarding sin and evil, then, shouldn’t we AT LEAST have a BIBLICAL explanation for the existence of sin and evil? Genesis tells us how sin entered the world: through the rebellion of Adam and Eve. And Paul tells us in Romans 5 that “through one man sin entered the world” (Rom. 5:12, NKJV).

In addition, the Scriptures themselves report of the character of God. The sons of Korah describe God in Psalm 45 as one who “love(s) righteousness and hate(s) wickedness” (v.7) and one who rules with “a scepter of righteousness” (v.6). David wrote in Psalm 25 that “Good and upright is the Lord” (Ps. 25:8); in Psalm 23, David wrote that the Lord “leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (v.3). In Psalm 34, David tells that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous...[but] the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Ps. 34:15-16). In Psalm 37, the Lord “loves justice and does not forsake His saints...but the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off” (Ps. 37:28). James 1:13 tells us that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (therefore, God does not cause sin and evil); and 1 John 1:5 tells us that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”

I provided all the above references to God and evil to demonstrate that the Bible has much to say about God and evil---and, by so doing, SEPARATES God FROM evil! Therefore, to have a theological system that offers no explanation regarding the simultaneous existence of God with evil in the world is, to be honest, to provide a “half-biblical” theology...which is not really a theology (study of God) at all.
Molinism claims to only offer a defense for why sin is in the world; but Molina himself poses the “Greater-Good Theodicy” in his “Concordia”:

“in addition, evil acts are subject to that same divine predetermination and providence to the extent that they cannot exist in particular unless God by His providence permits them in particular FOR THE SAKE OF SOME GREATER GOOD” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia: On Divine Foreknowledge, Pt. IV,” Disputation 53, Section 17. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 252).

Molina clearly believed that God’s “meticulous” (or particular) sovereignty required some explanation for the presence of evil in the same world that contained a “good” God. His answer? That evil served some “greater good,” some special purpose, that good, by itself, was not sufficient to serve. And I’m gonna be bold here and say that, if Molinists desire to have a viable theology, they MUST follow Molina’s path and agree to the Greater-Good Theodicy. If not, then, for all their hardwork, Molinism as a theological system will always be “on the front porch, looking in.”

To use Keathley’s phrase, God is “good and sovereign”; but He is not a good God if He “chooses” a world where some are reprobate, some are elect, and God’s will is responsible for ordaining one person “elect” and another “reprobate” (see MacGregor’s “Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” Chapter 2, page 67). It is this thorny issue in Molinist theology that must be answered (1 Peter 3:14-17); otherwise, Molinism will be just as lost for an explanation of the presence of evil as Calvinism.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Human Choices Approved

“As we will see, one feature that distinguishes Molinism from Arminianism is the way it understands God’s foreknowledge. Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation by presenting God’s decision concerning individuals as something entirely passive. God decrees to elect the church as a corporate body, and those individuals who choose Christ are then viewed as the elect, while those who reject Him are reprobate. In this respect ARMINIANS VIEW GOD’S DECREE AS THE MERE RATIFICATION OF HUMAN CHOICES. But the Bible presents God’s electing decision as something much more active and decisive. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism describes God as using His foreknowledge in a sovereign, unconditional manner” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 141-142).

This post will be a rarity among the work on Molinism that I will do here at the site. Since I’ve read “Salvation and Sovereignty” in its entirety, I can tell you that there will be some posts that reference Molinism vs. Arminianism---but not many. Ken Keathley’s main emphasis throughout his book is how Molinism stacks up to Calvinism and how most Calvinists who desire to be theologically consistent should be Molinists. I applaud him in his efforts, and it is my prayer that many Calvinists would buy his book. Although I am Classical Arminian in my theology (and very content with my theological position), I would rather have the Christian world support Molinism than support Calvinism. At least in the Molinist system, such a thing as libertarian freedom actually exists...

In today’s post, though, I wanna respond to Keathley’s claim against Arminianism. Since I am Arminian, I feel a sense of urgency to take up the attack and provide a rebuttal of my own.

Regarding Keathley’s quote, I’d like to say that it is true only in the sense that some Arminians (preferably modern Arminians) consent to. While I believe that union with Christ is what makes one elect (Romans 5), I also believe in predestination and election as biblical concepts...which means that God’s foreknowledge is not passive. First, let’s take a look at a classic text regarding election and predestination---Romans 8:28-29---

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29, NKJV).

I think these verses have been so misinterpreted and misunderstood in all of church history. Notice that the verses talk about good coming to “those who love God, those who are the called according to His purpose.” The next verse begins with “For whom He foreknew...” Who are those God foreknew in verse 29? If we’re reading Scripture with context in mind, “those whom He foreknew” refers to “those who love God” in verse 28. Every person in the world does not love God, so the words “those whom He foreknew” is a restrictive clause. That clause, however, does not refer to God “picking” and “ordaining to salvation” a certain few; rather, those who love God (in response to God’s love for the world) are those God foreknew. This passage teaches that God has good in store for those who love Him. But this passage is situated within chapter 8; because of its location, the passage is showing us that good will prevail in the end, despite all the suffering that we endure on earth (Rom. 8:17-18).

So, contrary to popular opinion, all Arminians do not embrace only “corporate” election, but also “individual” election.

Remember Keathley’s view of Arminians?

“Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation by presenting God’s decision concerning individuals as something entirely passive. GOD DECREES TO ELECT THE CHURCH AS A CORPORATE BODY, AND THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHO CHOOSE CHRIST ARE THEN VIEWED AS THE ELECT, while those who reject Him are reprobate” (142).

However, Keathley’s view of Arminians as espousing corporate election only is refuted by Classical Arminian theologian Roger Olson:

“Open Theists argue that their view is consistent Arminianism. As they see it, they have fixed classical Arminianism’s logical inconsistency between divine foreknowledge and human free will. But at what cost? Most Arminians have not jumped on the open theist bandwagon because THEY ARE COMMITTED TO THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION! Now, there is an irony! Calvinists accuse classical Arminians of not believing in predestination, but MOST CLASSICAL ARMINIANS REJECT OPEN THEISM PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE IN PREDESTINATION. If open theism is true, election and reprobation can only be corporate. But CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM BASES A GREAT DEAL ON ROMANS 8:29, WHICH SEEMS TO REFER NOT TO CLASSES OR GROUPS BUT TO INDIVIDUALS. God does not just justify and glorify groups, but individuals. Classical Arminian theology INCLUDES CORPORATE ELECTION AND INDIVIDUAL (CONDITIONAL) ELECTION based on God’s foreknowledge of future faith (or lack thereof). Open theism has to reduce predestination (election and reprobation) to its indefinite, corporate dimension; predestination of individuals gets lost” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 198).

Contra Keathley, Classical Arminians hold to individual election. It is our “Open Theist” brothers and sisters who do not. Let this critique serve as a note to “Calvinistic” theologians and supporters: Classical Arminians are quite distinct and separate from our “Open Theist” brothers and sisters...and we should be treated as a distinct group separate from them in theological discourse.

Arminians and Molinists do differ in terms of their view of God’s foreknowledge (in regards to “unconditional” election). However, Arminians have as biblical a theology as Molinism...if not a more biblical one.

Unconditional Election...and "Conditional" Reprobation?

“The question of the reprobate poses a problem. Reprobation is God’s decision to reject or pass over certain ones. If God rejects the reprobate because of his sin and unbelief, then reprobation is based on God’s justice, and His decision poses no moral dilemma. But it would also mean that SOME ASPECTS OF GOD’S DECREE WERE CONDITIONAL rather than unconditional and that in certain ways THE FREE CHOICES OF MORALLY RESPONSIBLE CREATURES AFFECTED THE ETERNAL DECISIONS OF GOD” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 140).

Calvinists have always asserted that “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ORDAIN WHATSOEVER COMES TO PASS; YET SO AS THEREBY NEITHER IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF SIN, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established...although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath He not decreed any thing BECAUSE HE FORESAW IT AS FUTURE, OR AS THAT WHICH WOULD COME TO PASS UPON SUCH CONDITIONS” (Westminster Confession, quoted by Lorraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1932, page 13).

But what Calvinists do not realize is that the Westminster Confession does contain inconsistencies. One of the problems involves foreordination and libertarian freedom. Let me show the dilemma via a syllogism:

I. God has “ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Westminster Confession)

II. Evil comes to pass.

III. Therefore, God ordains evil.

Notice though, that the Westminster Confession contains a blatant contradiction:
“YET SO AS THEREBY NEITHER IS GOD THE AUTHOR OF SIN, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

If God ordains everything (including evil) that happens (and “everything” means “every thing”), then God ordains evil. How then, does this NOT make God “The author of sin”? How then, does this NOT violate “the will of the creatures”? And how is liberty NOT “taken away”? If God decreed sin (in events) from before the foundations of the world, then God is the author of sin (for an “author” is someone who is a source or origin of something). God, then, according to the Westminster Confession, is the One who decrees evil---therefore, God is the “author of sin.”

How then, is it that, if God foreordains evil, that the will of the creatures is not violated? Think about it: a person cannot choose to commit fornication (for example) and NOT commit fornication at the same time. The person will either commit fornication or refrain from so doing. So if the person commits fornication, then God decreed that the person would sin (according to the Confession). God doesn’t foreordain two opposing actions as the “choice” the person makes; He foreordains one. So if the person commits fornication, he does so because God foreordained it” (He decreed WHATSOEVER comes to pass).

Here then, in just the Westminster Confession alone, we find massive inconsistencies. An act cannot be foreordained and yet self-determined. There is no libertarian freedom in a world where everything has been predetermined.

And yet, we find that infralapsarians and Molinists actually affirm the idea of conditional reprobation. As Keathley notes, to make the point that reprobation is conditioned upon the person’s unbelief would be the same as conceding that “some aspects of God’s decree were CONDITIONAL RATHER THAN UNCONDITIONAL and that in certain ways the free choices of morally responsible creatures affected the eternal decisions of God” (140).

But for infralapsarians and Molinists to affirm the concept of conditional reprobation introduces an inconsistency in their system. We have to ask ourselves, how then can a person REJECT Christ but not ACCEPT (receive) Christ? Why is it that the only option the person has is to reject Christ? And how can the Bible compel man to accept a Christ he is unable to accept?

Infralapsarians and Molinists are content with an inconsistent “if-then” proposition regarding the unconditional election of the saved and the conditional reprobation of the unsaved: If some are UNCONDITIONALLY elected to salvation, then others are CONDITIONALLY reprobated to damnation.
In other words, “If some are chosen for salvation because GOD PICKS THEM, then others are chosen for damnation because THEY DO NOT PICK CHRIST.”

Read those last words I wrote: God picks some; but what happens to the others? They go to Hell because “they do not pick Christ.” Does this make any sense at all?

A friend of mine talked to her dad once about the above words (her Dad has Molinist/infralapsarian Calvinist tendencies). She asked her dad,

“So you believe that God picks some to go to Heaven?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And you believe that the others go to Hell because they reject Christ.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, dad, how does that work? If God picks some to go to Heaven, then doesn’t that
mean God picks the others to go to Hell?”

“No. You don’t understand.”

“No, dad, I don’t understand. Those who don’t get picked---where will they go? There are only two places to go, Heaven and Hell. So where will the non-elect go if they are not selected for Heaven?”

And with these words I leave that conversation behind in days gone by. But I ask you, if God picks some for Heaven, where will the others go?

The others will go to Hell, right? Yes. But the next question becomes crucial: “Why will the others go to Hell: because God picks them, or because they so CHOOSE to?” If they choose to go to Hell, then doesn’t this mean that (seeing that “choice” involves two options here), the person could “choose” to go to Heaven? How can that person have exercised their libertarian freedom if they didn’t get but one option to begin with? How does choice constitute just “one” option?

But this is the asymmetry of Infralapsarian Calvinism and Molinism. In each discussion of salvation, they will always insist that “we get picked by God” but “we can choose against God.”

It is this asymmetry that I desire to tackle here. The Bible does not use such asymmetry in its discussion of belief and unbelief. Notice the following:

“HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM is not condemned; but HE WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE is condemned already, because HE HAS NOT BELIEVED in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18, NKJV).

Where is the “asymmetry” here? There is none. Those who believe are accepted, and those who do not believe are condemned. The “if-then” proposition here tells us that belief is what distinguishes between the saved and the damned. There is no “being made to believe” and “not believing”---but instead, “he who believes” and “he who does not believe.” The condition for salvation or damnation regards “faith,” and the responsibility is on the individual to believe.

Here’s what Paul tells us in Romans:

“But in accordance with your hardness and impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’; ETERNAL LIFE TO THOSE WHO by patient continuance in doing good SEEK FOR GLORY, HONOR, AND IMMORTALITY; but TO THOSE WHO ARE SELF-SEEKING AND DO NOT OBEY THE TRUTH, but obey unrighteousness---indignation and wrath...FOR THERE IS NO PARTIALITY WITH GOD” (Romans 2:5-11, NKJV).

Looking at the text of Romans 2 above, we find that for “those who...seek glory, honor, and immortality,” they will receive eternal life; but for those who “seek” themselves and unrighteousness, they will reap wrath instead. The condition seems to be the same for both groups---for the one who reaps eternal life, he must seek the good. The one who does unrighteousness (seeks evil), he will reap eternal wrath and damnation. The condition seems to be “either do good and receive life or do bad and receive death.” The condition is the same. Those who reap eternal wrath did not do what was required...which is seek the good. No one who reaps eternal life is considered as “the one chosen to do what was good,” but instead, “the one who does good.” The person who does good bears responsibility for doing good in the same way that the person who does evil bears responsibility for doing evil. There is no asymmetry here. To reap life, we must do the positive; to reap death requires refusing to do the positive.

Finally, Romans 2 gives us the words, “For there is no partiality with God.” The same God who requires that we be impartial (1 Tim. 5:21, James 3:17) is the same God described in Acts 10:34 as the One who “shows no partiality, but in every nation WHOEVER FEARS HIM AND WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ACCEPTED BY HIM.” If God shows no partiality, then He doesn’t “pick” the saved any more than He “damns” the unsaved. And if Calvinists and Molinists are gonna argue that God does not damn the reprobate, then he has no biblical basis whatsoever to claim that God “unconditionally elects” the saved. As Peter says later in his sermon in Acts 10:
“To Him [Christ] all the prophets witness that, through His name, WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL RECEIVE REMISSION OF SINS” (Acts 10:43, NKJV).

God receives all who come to Him by faith; but faith is the required condition for salvation. If faith is required as the condition for the appropriation of the atonement, then no believer can be “unconditionally” elected---for this would then mean He is accepted by God WITHOUT CONDITIONS (which contradicts faith being a condition for salvation).

At the end of the quote I used to begin the post, Keathley states,

“If God rejects the reprobate because of his sin and unbelief, then reprobation is based on God’s justice, and His decision poses no moral dilemma. But it would also mean that SOME ASPECTS OF GOD’S DECREE WERE CONDITIONAL rather than unconditional and that in certain ways THE FREE CHOICES OF MORALLY RESPONSIBLE CREATURES AFFECTED THE ETERNAL DECISIONS OF GOD” (140).

The question is: what IF God has based His eternal decisions on the choices of man? What if God decided that, just as the reprobate would be damned for his unbelief, that the saved would be elected to salvation for his belief? Suddenly, we find that God has not “foreordained” those who will believe and left those who will not believe to themselves; instead, we find that God has foreordained the MEANS to salvation (faith) as well as the TYPE of person who will be saved (the one who believes).

If God bases His decrees on man, does He become weak? Does He “lose” His sovereignty by so doing? To this, I answer a resounding “no.” As Robert Picirilli writes,

“Surely God’s sovereignty means that He acts freely, under no conditions than that He be true to Himself. Neither a priori (from our logic) nor a posteriori (from Scriptural evidence) is there any reason to believe GOD COULD NOT SOVEREIGNLY ESTABLISH ANY CONDITION HE CHOSE (OR NO CONDITION AT ALL, DID HE SO CHOOSE) for salvation. As Arminius put this, ‘The freedom of the goodness of God is declared...when He communicates it ONLY ON THE CONDITION, WHICH HE HAS BEEN PLEASED TO IMPOSE’” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, and Free Will---Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House, 2002, page 57).

The question I leave you with is this: Did God or did God not establish a condition for salvation? If He didn’t, fine. But to affirm no condition for salvation is also to affirm no condition for reprobation (thereby making reprobation unconditional). And yet, the Bible presents us (as shown above) with conditions for salvation and reprobation. What are we to make of this? Suddenly, God’s unconditional decrees don’t look so unconditional after all...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Setting the Record Straight...

“Within orthodox Christian beliefs two approaches consciously attempt to do justice to the twin biblical doctrines of divine sovereignty and divine permission by simultaneously affirming both. They are INFRALAPSARIAN CALVINISM and MOLINISM. Both affirm that GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IS METICULOUS AND OVERARCHING. Both affirm the concept of permission and agree that God did not cause the fall, nor is He the cause of evil, but He permits sin. The real problem is, as always, the problem of evil. As it relates to the issue of election, the question is how humans came to be viewed in the eternal mind of God as sinners in the first place. The debate concerning predestination is over the role that permission plays in God’s decrees” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 140).

Usually when I write a post, the goal is to examine statements and quotes and point out the inconsistencies. Today, though, I intend to talk about “unspoken words” in theology that the average person will hardly (if ever) hear.

In my environment, I’ve observed just how few people know much about theology. At the seminary I attend, those who are Master’s students must take three semesters of theology; yet and still, when some students leave these classes, they know very little about theology at all. One friend noticed I was reading a book on Calvinism and he remarked, “Well, I don’t know what I am, but I’m not Arminian.”

I’ve gotta confess: this statement really shocked me. I’ve heard people “put their foot in their mouths” with their own words...but I’d never heard someone sound so ill-informed about their own conversation before. This gentleman clearly believed he had made a profound statement when he said that he wasn’t Arminian. Now I’ve always been taught that when a person examines an issue, he or she should consider MORE THAN ONE SIDE of the issue itself. Every single voice must be examined (and heard) before the individual comes to a conclusion. For instance, Open Theism is not my cup of tea...but I’ve read John Sanders’ “The God Who Risks” and I’ve read Clark Pinnock’s chapter on “Open and Vocational Election” in Brand’s book titled “Perspectives on Election: Five Views.” I’ve also read a bit of Pinnock in his edited book “The Grace of God and the Will of Man.” Neither is Calvinism my cup of tea, but I’ve read at least twenty books on the subject, and can name some of them here: “The Five Points of Calvinism,” (Palmer), “God’s Greater Glory” (Bruce Ware), “Election and Free Will” (Robert Peterson), “Our Secure Salvation” (Robert Peterson), “No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong With Freewill Theism” (R.K. MacGregor Wright), “Why I Am Not An Arminian” (Peterson and Williams), as well as Luther’s discourse titled “The Bondage of the Will” and the Luther-Erasmus “Discourse on Free Will.” The material supplied here in regards to Calvinism is only a small “snippet” of what I’ve actually read (see my posts under “Theological Readings”). Anyone who examines these posts will find that I’ve done my homework over the last eight months on this issue. In addition, I own a copy of Calvin’s “Institutes” and have read through it quite a bit in regards to the issues of sovereignty and responsibility (free will). I’ve quoted numerous statements here at CTS as proof of my commitment to honest theological investigation and contemplation.

And I sincerely wish with all my heart that those around me would do the same; but I’m very sad to say that I am convinced they have not. And, as a result, such believers will continue to claim that they are “Calvinist” even if they believe much of what Calvinism espouses is unbiblical and against the nature and character of God. And why? Because, “Who wouldn’t wanna be Calvinist,” right?

I think the sad thing is that, at least in Baptist life (since I am Baptist), I’ve found that being Calvinist is the basic position. If a person desires to be considered “orthodox,” they have to hold to some form of Calvinistic theology---otherwise, they are considered to be “evangelical heretics” (however that works) and are told, “I will pray for you about your theology.” It seems as if everyone’s got a bad thing to say about a theology they’ve never studied. How can one claim to be knowledgeable about something he or she is ill-informed about? The only thing such a person can know is that he or she DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING!

I wanna take time here to say that I applaud Dr. Ken Keathley for mentioning the “Reformed Arminian” (Classical Arminian) position in his book (in the chapter on “Singular Redemption”). It is a rarity to find Reformed Arminianism even mentioned in a book that is non-Arminian (whether Molinist or Calvinist). However, Reformed Arminianism isn’t mentioned enough as a viable position. According to Dr. Keathley’s statement above, Reformed Arminianism does not match up to infralapsarianism and Molinism because it is not committed to a God who has meticulous sovereignty over all things. However, I would say that Classical Arminianism is as valid a position as any and should be studied more.

As a Classical Arminian, I have read many works of Calvinists; in fact, today, I spent time searching for books on “Monergism.com,” the site dedicated to Reformed literature (and only Olson’s book on “Arminian Theology”). I added the Reformed website to the links here at CTS in the hopes that you would read Calvinist literature and see for yourself the things that I’ve been discussing here for the last year. I want you, the readership, to become convinced in your own minds that Calvinism is wrong---not because I said so, but because you’ve done your own investigations and come to your own conclusions.

I want theologians and believers everywhere to stop discriminating in their theologies...and sit down and read Arminius’s “Works” and Olson’s “Arminian Theology” and Thomas Oden’s “The Transforming Power of Grace” (a beloved Arminian soteriology). As a Classical Arminian, I have a copy of Calvin’s “Institutes,” but I’ve met maybe one or two proclaimed Calvinists on campus who even own Arminius’s “Works.” I want believers who are Calvinistic in their theology to spend time reading the works of Classical Arminians and show us where we’re wrong. Show us where in our exegesis we falter. Show us why our system is not valid...and please, say anything EXCEPT “your system does not include the sovereignty of God”!

In the next several posts throughout the semester, I will deal with the misconceptions of Arminianism. To sum up though, I want Classical Arminianism to be considered as a viable position at the theological table---not just discarded because it is perceived to take away from the sovereignty of God. And last but not least, Classical Arminianism needs to be distinguished from Open Theism. Many Calvinistic theologians lump both Classical Arminians and Open Theists together; but if Arminius himself was alive, he would be offended...and in the here and now, Roger Olson (and all other Classical Arminians) are just as offended. We are not like them; we are different and should be acknowledged as such.

Luis Molina and "The Greater Good": The Dilemma of Meticulous (Particular) Sovereignty

“From what has been said you can easily see JUST HOW FALSE THE FREQUENT CHARGE MADE AGAINST ME IS, namely, that because I posit in God a middle knowledge by which He foresaw what the created faculty of choice would do on the hypothesis that it should be placed in this or that order of things and circumstances and aids, I AM THEREBY CLAIMING THAT THERE IS ONLY GENERAL, AND NOT PARTICULAR, PROVIDENCE with respect to those things that depend on the created faculty of choice. Nor do those who make this charge against me pay attention to the fact that included in the very being endowed with free choice and in the order of things and circumstances and aids are all the means of divine providence through which God INTENDS IN PARTICULAR all the good things that He foresees are going to exist because of the freedom of such a created faculty of choice. But since I am not concerned with what anyone reports about me---for what I myself have said can easily be ascertained by anyone who reads the first edition of our ‘Concordia’ or this second edition---I will purposely disregard the many opinions that are FALSELY REFERRED TO AS MINE; in addition, there are many other opinions that I find it unnecessary to apologize for” (Luis de Molina, Disputation 53, Part 4 of his “Concordia, Pt. IV.” Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 253).

The great preacher Solomon once stated that “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NKJV). And although I read these words many times, I still don’t ever seem to comprehend the full logic of Solomon’s statement---even in the realm of theology.

Molina provides intimate knowledge in his quote above regarding the opposition he faced in his day. I read earlier today that Molina experienced opposition while attempting to publish his “Concordia” because of some of the supposedly shocking claims he made (theological claims that went against the thought of his day).

I must confess: I am quite sympathetic to Molina. And, as a result, I am quite sympathetic to Molinism. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not reading Molina or paying attention to his theological and philosophical system because I feel as if no one has ever given Molina a voice in our world. Molina himself wrote his “Concordia” and his thoughts were published in a book with an orange cover that I’ve been carrying around with me for the last week or so.

But I am sympathetic to Molina (and thus, Molinism, his system) because he articulates very clearly the ever-present idea that humans have libertarian freedom. Humans are allowed to make choices (none of them lying outside of God’s power and control), choices that they are responsible for. God does not create us as “puppets,” make us do things, and then throws responsibility on us in order to escape what He has caused. We make choices, and our actions have consequences. And any theological system (Calvinism particularly) that does not acknowledge this (or, as in the case of Bruce Ware, attempts to minimize freedom to “freedom of inclination”) is, in the words of Arminius, “injurious to the nature of God.” To accuse God of creating a distinct “reprobate” portion of humanity in order to display His glory more fully is ridiculous and absurd. More importantly, I do not think such a view will win the world to Christ; and winning the world to Christ is the believer’s God-given task. Any theology that goes against that (no matter how enthusiastic its advocates are) is still an affront to the nature of God and an impediment to the plan of God.

Now, on to the task at hand. In Molina’s quote above we find that he is charged with holding to a “general” view of sovereignty, which he openly opposes. Molina believes that he holds to a very meticulous (particular) sovereignty of God, that God either causes directly or permits every single act for a purpose.

Molina’s quote above then, sounds like meticulous sovereignty, right? Well, yes and no. While God oversees every little action, God only “intends” the good; He only “permits” evil, which prevents God from being dubbed “the author of sin and evil.”

But this poses a problem. Let’s look at the words “intention” and “permission.”
The word “intention” refers to “goal, meaning, purpose, etc.” According to the Cambridge Online Dictionary, an intention is “something that you WANT and PLAN to do; an aim” (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=intend*1+0&dict=a).

When a person “intends” to do something, he or she makes plans. There is a deliberate planning process that occurs. The person planning will see to it that every little detail is laid out, all bases covered. If a family plans to go to Disney World for a family vacation, then the family will plan every step of the way. It is important to plan trips in this manner---that way, the family can spend more time enjoying Disney World and less time worrying about things like money, hotel reservations, etc. God intends that we do what is good. God specifically created the world “good”: Genesis tells us that “God looked upon all that He had made and it was VERY GOOD” (Gen. 1:31, NKJV). From the beginning of time as we know it, God intended nothing but good towards His creation. And in the end, all things God will bring to a good end for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).

But “intention” is different from “permission.” The Cambridge Dictionary Online offers the following definition:

“the act of allowing someone to do something, or of allowing something to happen” (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/define.asp?key=permission*1+0&dict=A).

In the case of evil, however, to “permit” takes on a somewhat different idea; Cambridge’s dictionary provides the following idea for “permission” as “allowing a wide range of choices, especially in an area where there have traditionally been rules that had to be obeyed.” What this definition shows us is that sometimes, against the will of say, our parents (for example), we are given the right to go on a school trip or go to a movie, etc. Although our parents do not want to see us make certain bad choices (whether it be investing in a bad car or dating someone they think is wrong for us), they grant what we want. Why do they do it? Because, in most cases, they want us to be able to make choices, to help us mature in life and be able to discern good from bad, right from wrong, truth from error. If our parents disapproved of our every action and never granted us power to make any choices, they might get what they want (which is to make sure every choice we make is good)---but their constant oversight in every little decision will hurt us later in life, as someday, we will find ourselves in life without them and have to make our own decisions without their influence. God is no different: when He permits evil, He does it in order that we would grow to discern good from evil. He doesn’t desire that we sin (He desires the opposite!), but, because He has granted us free creatures libertarian freedom, He will not rescind the power He gave us (even if He knows we’re making a bad choice).

As we’ve seen, when God intends something, He specifically designs it with a purpose; when He “permits” evil, however, He doesn’t design it with a purpose; rather, despite His reluctance to see us sin, He will allow it because He has granted choice to His human creation. To take it back would be to renege on His Word. And God is faithful, even if we aren’t---because His nature demands it (2 Tim. 2:13).

If evil is against God’s plans for us, and He doesn’t do anything evil or give us evil (James 1:13-14), then He cannot “design” evil with a set purpose. And yet, this is what we find Molina saying in his “Concordia”:

“in addition, evil acts are subject to that same divine predetermination and providence to the extent that they cannot exist IN PARTICULAR unless God by His providence permits them in particular FOR THE SAKE OF SOME GREATER GOOD” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia,” Disputation 53, Part 3, Section 17).

What Molina has admitted to here is that God has a “greater good” in mind for these evils that He supposedly “allows.” But if God has a greater good in mind for these “evils,” then He “needs” evil in order to bring about something greater than what He could have brought about if He just prevented the evil altogether. And this is problematic because God’s essence is good; in Genesis, God made everything “good”---and He didn’t need evil in creating the world. If God didn’t need evil when everything began, why does He now need evil in our world? If every good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:15), then how can we turn around and claim that God gives evil to bring about greater good?

When we use the “Greater-Good” argument, we make evil more important in God’s plan than good is. And in God’s eyes, there is nothing good about evil. Scripture tells us that the Lord does not do evil (James 1), the Lord punishes the ungodly (Psalm 1), and the Lord’s death on the cross was to take away our sins and make us righteous (2 Cor. 5:17). The Lord’s only concern through the history of the world has been to take away sin and do away with evil, not keep it around for some “grand design.”

It’s obvious why (looking back to our beginning quote of Molina’s) that he is labeled as holding to a “general view” of divine sovereignty. How can one hold to meticulous sovereignty (where God directs every itty bitty single act of life) and yet, claim that God “permits” evil? Calvinists here are truly consistent: if God “plans” every little event in the world, then God “plans” evil (and thus, the Greater Good argument, at least to them, works beautifully); but if God does not plan evil (He is not the author of sin and evil), then God cannot possess “meticulous” sovereignty over the world. The only “meticulous” sovereignty God can have is the kind where He is the one who allows man to make decisions that often go against His desires for them.

When we claim the Greater Good argument, we must understand that God is being implicated in evil (He plans evil, gives it purpose). If God doesn’t however, then we must hold to a general sovereignty. After all, God has decided of His own good pleasure that He not be the only determining moral agent in the universe...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Basis for Assurance

“The only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ. Any doctrine of assurance that includes introspection as a component will produce anxiety in the hearts of the very people it is intended to encourage. Barth is right when he points out that no system THAT HAS A CHRISTOLOGICAL BEGINNING AND AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ENDING can provide genuine and sustained assurance” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 188).

What is the basis for assurance in the Christian life? According to the words above, “assurance is the objective work of Christ.” I would agree; and so would the writer of Hebrews:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and HAVING A HIGH PRIEST OVER THE HOUSE OF GOD, let us draw near with a true heart in FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22, NKJV).

Because of Christ’s work on the cross (“by the blood of Jesus”), we are to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Notice that “faith” and “assurance” are linked together---“assurance of faith.” This tells us that faith in Christ is our assurance. If we believe that He died and rose for our sins, then we have faith in Christ. And this faith assures us that we belong to Him. And this is why the Hebrews writer continues:

“LET US HOLD FAST THE CONFESSION OF OUR HOPE without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).

Because of what Christ has done, we are to cling to Christ with everything we have, “holding fast the confession of our hope [faith] WITHOUT WAVERING...”

My question is this: why does the writer talk about holding the “confession of faith” WITHOUT WAVERING? Because the faith of the Hebrew believers, scattered throughout the world, was wavering (shaky) at this point in time the writer sends the epistle. He reminded them to hold on to their faith, since Christ is faithful and promised them eternal life. In other words, Christ can be trusted. Christ is true to His Word. This is why the Hebrews writer states that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). God is truth (John 14:6), and so is His Word (John 17:17).
But the writer links assurance to endurance with these words:

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and GOOD WORKS, NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLING OF OURSELVES TOGETHER, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING” (Heb. 10:24-25).

The writer tells them to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” which indicates that the Hebrew believers were refusing to gather together because of the ongoing persecution they were facing (Heb. 12:3-4). The writer encouraged them to gather together and build one another up in the faith. This is how they would demonstrate they were “holding fast the confession of their faith”---they would continue to meet, despite the persecution. Their faith, then, would be demonstrated by their efforts to continue meeting and praising God in the midst of their struggles. Assurance then, would show up BY THEIR ENDURANCE. Assurance and endurance, then, go together---they cannot be separated.

Finally, the end of Hebrews 10 is where I think the writer shows us how assurance and endurance are inseparable:

“Therefore DO NOT CAST AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE, WHICH HAS GREAT REWARD. FOR YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:35-36, NKJV).

The Hebrews are not to “cast away” their confidence (assurance); and why? because their assurance would bring great reward---ONLY THROUGH ENDURANCE. The writer states, “For you have NEED OF ENDURANCE...” Endurance was not optional in the faith; it was necessary, and would be necessary, to receiving eternal life. Assurance by itself would not be enough. If assurance by itself was enough, why would the writer say “you have need of endurance?” If all the Hebrews needed was to believe that Christ died and rose for them and would grant them eternal life, then what need was there to mention endurance? It was necessary to mention because it is necessary for eternal life.

I wanna end this post by discussing some of the quote with which I began this post:

“Any doctrine of assurance that includes introspection as a component will produce anxiety in the hearts of the very people it is intended to encourage. Barth is right when he points out that no system THAT HAS A CHRISTOLOGICAL BEGINNING AND AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ENDING can provide genuine and sustained assurance.”

Barth notes that many believers have a view of salvation that involves “a Christological beginning and an anthropological ending.” But I think Barth is mistaken here.

Let’s look at salvation. The work of salvation is accomplished by Christ alone, for salvation is not of works (Eph. 2:8). However, in order for me to “receive” the work that Christ did into my life (to receive salvation), I must repent and believe the gospel (Romans 10:9). So while the work of salvation is Christological (Christ-centered), the work of salvation REQUIRES a response of confession and belief from me (anthropological). Christ has given me the atonement I need; once I understand this, it becomes MY RESPONSIBILITY to accept the work by confession and belief.
And this is no different when it comes to leading a godly life that is pleasing to the Lord. The Lord has given us believers “all things that pertain to life and godliness, THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3); as a result, we are to RESPOND to what God has given us with a life of faith demonstrated by good works.

We must understand that endurance is not a matter of “works-salvation”; in the same way that faith is not a work, neither is endurance. Faith is a response to the work of Christ on the cross, and endurance is a response to the gracious salvation that God has granted. It is our responsibility to believe, and it is our responsibility to endure. If Christ will not give me salvation WITHOUT faith, then neither will He grant me eternal life WITHOUT endurance. Christ took the initiative in salvation and I respond in faith; the Lord took the initiative in sanctification, and I am to respond with endurance. I can live a life pleasing to the Lord because His Spirit lives within me; but the presence of His Spirit does not provide me with an excuse to be slothful and lazy about living in accordance with the Spirit within.

The same Lord who let the wilderness generation die off because of their failure to believe and endure (Exodus 32:31-34) is the same Lord who will punish His Church if she fails to believe and endure (1 Peter 4:18). After all, it is not our assurance of Christ’s work on the cross that will be judged on Judgment Day; rather, we will be judged for everything we have done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Molinism In The Great Debate (Molinism 101)

“Middle knowledge also provides the key to God’s providence. Indeed, one of the most helpful consequences of the doctrine of middle knowledge is the reconciliation of divine sovereignty and human freedom...Given middle knowledge, THE APPARENT CONTRADICTION between God’s sovereignty, WHICH SEEMS TO CRUSH HUMAN FREEDOM, and human freedom, WHICH SEEMS TO BREAK GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY, is resolved. God is able to plan a world in which his designs are achieved by creatures acting freely. Praise be to God!” (William Lane Craig, “The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom.” Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999, page 135).

This post will begin the new series on “Molinism 101.” As I promised my readership, we would embark on a serious theological journey for the next few months. As Scripture tells us, “Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober” (1 Pet. 1:13)!

I begin today with William Lane Craig’s quote above. I decided to start with this quote because it situates Molinism within a given theological context. The divine sovereignty-human responsibility debate has existed for over a millennium within the church, and continues to be debated amongst theologians and believers everywhere in the present day.

What is the nature of the debate, you may ask? Well, it comes down to this: If God is sovereign, and sovereignty implies control, then how can God be in control of everything (including our choices) and yet, man be responsible for his choices? If God has all control, then how can man be responsible for “that which is beyond his control” (i.e., his choice)?

I wrote a paper regarding this debate for Dr. Ken Keathley this past Fall Semester in his Theology I class. I spent a lot of time defending my view scripturally, but I want to engage the reader in some of my undergirding philosophy (and theology) as well. Doing this is important because it will give us a standard by which to measure the Molinist system, and to see whether or not it matches up.

Let’s place the problem of sovereignty and responsibility into a formal layout:

I. God is sovereign.

II. Man is responsible.

The two propositions above make believers uneasy. D.A. Carson calls the two “biblical tensions” in his book titled “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension.” Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are labeled “in tension” because it seems illogical that man could seemingly, on the surface, have all responsibility but no sovereignty whatsoever!

But this idea of responsibility without sovereignty leads to a third proposition that we’ve yet to acknowledge:

III. With sovereignty (power) comes responsibility.

If proposition III is correct, then we have the following:

I. God is sovereign.

II. Man is responsible.

III. With sovereignty (power) comes responsibility.

But now, we have a dilemma on our hands: if sovereignty entails responsibility, how then, can man be responsible for his actions without some form of sovereignty? If God is sovereign, and with sovereignty comes responsibility, then God should be responsible, right? Well He will be---unless we revise our propositions above to the following:

I. God is sovereign.

II. Man is responsible.

III. With sovereignty (power) comes responsibility.

IV. Man is responsible because he has limited sovereignty.

The only way that God avoids responsibility here is if we grant that man has some limited God-given sovereignty (power) over his actions. In order to take the heat off of God and avoid making Him the author of sin and evil, we must revise our propositions to the following:

I. God is sovereign.

II. God, in His Sovereignty, has granted man a limited sovereignty (libertarian

III. With sovereignty comes responsibility.

IV. Therefore, while God is sovereign, man has been given a limited sovereignty over his actions and thus, man has responsibility.

God has given man control over his individual actions---which means that, upon giving control, God has forfeited His responsibility for the actions of man. The only responsibility God maintains is the fact that He chose to give His creatures libertarian freedom. What His creatures choose to do with their libertarian freedom, however, is up to them...and they individually bear blame for their actions (actions have consequences).

If what I’ve said above makes any sense, we can affirm that man has limited sovereignty (libertarian freedom) over his actions. But this entails keeping in mind that God cannot perform logical impossibilities. For example, a logical impossibility would be a “square circle” or a “round square.” God cannot do those things because they are contradictory. In addition, He cannot be unfaithful because, to do so, He would deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). If these things be true, then God cannot give me the power of choice and then dictate or determine my choice. There is no such thing as a “determined choice.”

If choice is not determined, then this means that God’s sovereignty CANNOT be exercised in such a way (in every little choice I make) that He decides my choices. However divine sovereignty and human responsibility will be reconciled, they will not be reconciled in a system where God manipulates my decisions. If He has given me genuine choice, then this means that in every thing, I could choose what He wants...but also, I could choose AGAINST what He desires. For that is the meaning of choice: to choose between two things, one that is right and one that is wrong.

As we’ve seen in this post, man has a limited sovereignty, called libertarian freedom, over his choices. But what exactly IS libertarian freedom? And how does this libertarian freedom affect God and man in relationship? I will cover more on libertarian freedom (limited sovereignty) in my next post.

Scientia Media (Middle Knowledge) According to Arminius

As I stated in my last post, Classical Arminian scholar Roger Olson fears that acceptance of middle knowledge necessarily forces one to embrace determinism; however, as I stated in that post, Olson’s claim is not necessarily true: Arminius himself embraced middle knowledge, but was never a Molinist (despite many claims to the contrary).

Kirk R. MacGregor, in his “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” emphasizes the distinctions in the affirmation of middle knowledge between Arminius and Molina:

“Profoundly trouble by Calvin’s doctrine of double predestination, the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) formulated an alternative theological system of creation and providence which he claimed was rooted in the theory of scientia media. Such an allegation is highly ambivalent, FOR IT DEPENDS UPON THE NARROWNESS OR BREADTH OF DOCTRINAL SUBSTANCE ONE ASCRIBES TO THIS THEORY. On the one hand, if the theory simply denotes THE DOCTRINE OF GOD’S PREVOLITIONAL COUNTERFACTUAL KNOWLEDGE, then Arminius’ system is undoubtedly based upon scientia media. On the other hand, if the theory is taken as shorthand for the full range of divine cognitive activities posited by Molina from God’s counterfactual knowledge to his creative decree, then Arminius’ system is not grounded in scientia media, as it deviates quite sharply from MOLINA’S DEPICTION OF GOD’S COMPLETE AND UNLIMITED DELIBERATION. This is a fact not sufficiently appreciated (if appreciated at all!) in the philosophical academy, which is all too quick to generalize that Arminius was a Molinist simply from his appropriation of middle knowledge, despite his severe but little-known departure from Molina on the immediately ensuing issues of election and reprobation...” (Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2007, pp.64-65).

According to MacGregor, whether or not Arminius was Molinist depends on how one defines “middle knowledge.” From what I’ve read of the literature, it seems that even modern Calvinists such as Terrance Tiessen (“middle-knowledge Calvinism”) and Bruce Ware (“compatibilist middle knowledge”) incorporate middle knowledge into their theologies. In my last post, titled “The ‘Paradox’ of Classical Arminianism,” I noted that Thomas Flint (“Divine Providence: The Molinist Account”) believes that middle knowledge is not native to the system we call Molinism---but that middle knowledge (God’s knowledge of counterfactuals) is something that every believer in Classic Theism(as opposed to Open Theism)should affirm. As a result, to affirm middle knowledge is not necessarily to affirm Molinism. That point needs to be made clear. So, Classical Arminians who affirm middle knowledge would still be in the Classical Arminian tradition. The Molinist system is “middle knowledge” PLUS unconditional election (which is something Arminius himself never affirmed). He considered the doctrine of unconditional election to be “repugnant to the nature of God,” “hurtful to the salvation of men,” and “injurious to the glory of God” (Jacob Arminius, “Declaration of Sentiments,” in “Writings,” 1:221-22, 230, 228).

For Molina, scientia media was predicated upon God’s unconditional predetermination of states of affairs, God choosing to do whatever He pleases. For Arminius, God’s scientia media (God’s knowledge of counterfactuals) was predicated upon man’s choice: “That ‘middle’ kind of knowledge must intervene in things which depend on the liberty of created choice or pleasure” (Arminius, “Public Disputations, 1:449; Arminius, “Private Disputations,” 2:39).

As we’ve seen, middle knowledge was utilized by both men, but differently. For Arminius, middle knowledge was “simple” knowledge---simple in that God “knew” (but did not determine) the future actions of His creatures. With Molina, however, God’s middle knowledge was “proactive” knowledge---God used His middle knowledge to meticulously plan every little detail of life as we know it.

It is at this point that someone may ask, “Well, how does Arminius’s view of scientia media fit into his system?” Arminius, like Molina, believed that God had three logical moments to His knowledge before creating the world. MacGregor shows us the details of Arminius’s system:

“First, not surprisingly, is God’s scientia naturalis (natural knowledge), which he [Arminius] defines as the knowledge ‘by which God understands himself and all things possible’ (Arminius, “Public Disputations,” 1:448). Having perceived all possible free individuals he could create, in his creative decree God chooses a particular subset of these individuals which will, at the moment of creation, comprise the actual world [creation decree]. At this point God lovingly decrees to appoint Christ as Redeemer, Mediator, and Savior of all future created persons. Then God decrees both to save anyone who will receive Christ and to minister sufficiently and efficaciously the means (i.e. the Word, sacraments, etc.) for human appropriation of Christ. Next comes God’s scientia media (middle knowledge), by which He apprehends who would make good use of these means by freely receiving Christ and who, contrariwise, would freely reject Christ. Consequently, God decrees to save or damn particular persons based on his middle knowledge of who would or would not believe. Finally, simultaneous with the moment of creation is God’s scientia libera (free knowledge), by which his logically prior knowledge of all individuals in the actual world and his freely decreed dealings with them are now converted into foreknowledge. It is noteworthy that for Arminius, there is no divine deliberation (let alone Molina’s ‘absolutely complete and unlimited deliberation’) between God’s scientia media and scientia libera, as the rubric for the intervening predestinary decree has already been determined by God’s pre-counterfactual decree to elect believers and reprobate unbelievers. Rather, the divine deliberation transpires between scientia naturalis and scientia media, as it is there that God carefully ponders and decides upon which subset, if any, among the infinite range of possible individuals he wishes to actualize, the plan of salvation and the involvement of the second Trinitarian person within, and the means by which humans can appropriate his saving grace” (MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” page 72).

Arminius’s system, then, incorporated middle knowledge as a way for God to predestine to salvation those who would believe (with libertarian freedom) and to reprobate those who would not believe (with libertarian freedom). One will not find in Arminius’s system of pre-creation what Molina contained: in other words, Arminius didn’t believe that middle knowledge was used by God to “select” a particular world containing divinely predetermined actions; no---instead, the world created was a world where humans would make their own choices and “not be placed into situations where they would freely choose what God had predetermined.” If God really predetermined that humans would have libertarian choice (according to Arminius), then God could not “pick” the choices of His human creation---for then, God’s granting of “choice” would be anything but free...

We’ve looked at Arminius’s system and how middle knowledge fits within it. However, we have not looked at Molina’s system and how it incorporates middle knowledge. I will begin wholeheartedly to examine Molinism as a system in the coming days.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The "Paradox" of Classical Arminianism

“The upshot is that classical Arminianism may involve a PARADOX: God’s exhaustive and infallible foreknowledge (simple foreknowledge) together with libertarian free will” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, 198-199).

I stumbled over Olson’s quote above a few days ago while rereading through some of Olson’s “Arminian Theology” once more. And then, on the same pages as the labeling of Classical Arminianism as “paradoxical,” came these words in a footnote:
“Some readers may wonder if I am affirming a logical contradiction here. I am not intentionally and certainly not comfortably doing so. I acknowledge a difficulty but am not convinced it is a sheer contradiction... I FEEL THE WEIGHT OF THE OPEN THEIST CRITIQUE OF CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM...” (199).

Olson states that to some, the idea of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and man’s libertarian freedom seems to be a “logical contradiction,” although he doesn’t seem to believe it is. And secondly, Olson also notes that he is quite aware of the Open Theist attack of Classical Arminianism.

Bruce Ware gives an example to show what he perceives to also be the Classical Arminian dilemma:

“For example, if God knows that later today Carl will take his family to the Oyster Bar restaurant for dinner and order a shrimp salad, then it must be the case that Carl will do just this and he may not choose differently. That is, because God knows this to be the case, and because GOD’S KNOWLEDGE BY DEFINITION IS INFALLIBLE, it follows that Carl will choose and do precisely and only as God knows he will. BUT IF THIS IS SO, THEN CARL IS NOT IN A POSITION IN WHICH HE COULD CHOOSE CONTRARY TO GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE. That is, he is not in which he could choose instead to eat by himself, or to take his family to Rose’s, or to eat leftovers at home and save the money. In other words, it appears that Carl is not able to choose differently than he will in fact choose, and if this is the case, then he does not choose freely. TRUE FREEDOM IN THE CLASSICAL ARMINIAN MODEL REQUIRES THE ABILITY, all things being just what they are, TO CHOOSE DIFFERENTLY THAN ONE DOES. But all things being just what they are, including God’s foreknowledge being just what it is, Carl must choose what God knows he will choose. Hence, he is not able to choose differently. And hence, he is not free. The challenge from open theism to other Arminians is simple: COMPREHENSIVE DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE AND LIBERTARIAN FREEDOM ARE MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE NOTIONS. YOU CANNOT HAVE BOTH TOGETHER. So, if you value libertarian freedom (as classical Arminianism clearly does), then you must be willing to give up your commitment to comprehensive divine foreknowledge” (Bruce Ware, “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000, page 36).

In bold terms, Ware comes right out and states the problem Open Theists have with their fellow Arminian (Reformed) brethren: “Comprehensive divine foreknowledge and libertarian freedom are mutually exclusive notions.” And this is what Roger Olson labels as the “paradox” of Classical Arminianism.

But what would you, the reader say, if I told you that both exhaustive foreknowledge and libertarian freedom are not “mutually exclusive notions”? To see this truth, let’s look at the story of David, Saul, and the men of Keilah again in 1 Samuel 23:10-13.

I wanna take some time to point out the features of this passage that are pertinent to our discussion.

First, notice that the Lord’s words to David indicate foreknowledge. The Lord told David, “He will come down”(1 Sam. 23:11), referring to Saul (v.13), and “they will deliver you” (v.12), referring to the men of Keilah. Saul had indeed planned to enter Keilah and get David, which is demonstrated by the fact that “he halted the expedition” (v.13). This eliminates the validity of the Open Theist position, which states that God doesn’t know something before it happens. Here, God knew what Saul was doing before Saul even did it (that is, before Saul came to Keilah).

Next, look at how real David’s libertarian freedom is: even though God tells him that he will be handed over to Saul, he escapes and Saul doesn’t even arrive in Keilah (v.13).

But this last statement poses a problem for those who believe divine foreknowledge and true libertarian freedom exists. God reveals His foreknowledge to David, but David is allowed to act AGAINST that which God has told him. God tells him that he will be handed over to Saul, but David ends up hiding in such a manner that Saul cannot find him.

How do we account for God’s foreknowledge here? The Open Theist would say, “See, God doesn’t get everything right. He forecasted the future wrong on this one.” However, I would disagree. Because the Bible seems to affirm God’s exhaustive foreknowledge everywhere (cf. Psalm 139), I would say that God’s words to David here are correct. What God tells David is true (Saul really is looking to make his way to Keilah and capture David). And Saul would have done that very thing---IF God’s words to David revealed a PREDETERMINED action! However, they do not, for David is allowed to escape the hand of Saul. David gets to exercise GENUINE CHOICE here; libertarian freedom, as a result, is not an illusion---but a very present reality. Therefore, any theology we hold to must emphasize true, genuine choice, not a choice that turns out to be “predetermined.” It is for this reason that many theologies are wrong. If we are gonna hold to a truly biblical theology, we cannot undermine true libertarian freedom in order to uphold what we believe to be God’s sovereignty. If God is sovereign, surely He can be sovereign DESPITE our choices---and He doesn’t have to “manipulate” us in any situation whatsoever to have His purposes accomplished.

Now, to the paradox. According to Bruce Ware’s comments above regarding the Open Theist critique of Classical Arminianism, we find that there seems to be some “tension” between God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and man’s true libertarian freedom. If God foreknows everything, and what He knows will happen, how is it that man can do OTHER THAN what God already knows? If God already knows what a person will do, aren’t that person’s choices predetermined? The Open Theist tells us, “if you wanna hold on to freedom, get rid of God’s foreknowledge.”

But there is a problem with the Open Theist’s answer. If God is all-powerful, and gives man power to make decisions, then to take away sovereignty from God (foreknowledge) means to take away responsibility from man. Man doesn’t have more responsibility without God’s foreknowledge---but less. This is why taking away God’s foreknowledge is not a good idea. Our power of choice is derived from God. If God is not sovereign, then man does not have free choice (and therefore, he has no responsibility as well). To use the Open Theist attack against the Open Theist, “Open Theists cannot have it both ways.”

Looking at 1 Samuel 23, we find then, that God reveals what He knows to David regarding his immediate future. However, how do we handle the fact that God tells David something that DOES NOT COME TO PASS? God has to be telling the truth, right? Yes. God is telling the truth. But if He’s telling the truth regarding David and yet, David ends up in a different scenario, then God must know that too, right? Yep. So God then possesses two different types of knowledge--- He knows what does happen, as well as “what COULD happen.” “Could” is a conditional statement, which means that true libertarian freedom is present here. When God tells David “He [Saul] will come down” and “they [men of Keilah] will deliver you,” the Lord is saying that, BASED ON DAVID’S ACTION, either Saul could get David or not. It wasn’t of necessity, but certainty (a contingent certainty depending on David’s action in the situation). At the moment God told David, David had a real genuine choice and could make a real, genuine decision about what to do. 1 Samuel 23, then, presents us with not only genuine choice of human beings (David specifically here), but also God’s exhaustive foreknowledge.

But what about Olson’s label of Classical Arminianism as containing a “paradox”? The paradox involves divine foreknowledge. The paradox is solvable, but Olson denies help when he writes the following:

“MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE IS NO HELP because it assumes the possibility of counterfactuals of freedom and leads to determinism” (“Arminian Theology,” page 199).

How else can we explain 1 Samuel 23? Both God’s foreknowledge and human libertarian freedom were demonstrated. We can’t explain away the "seeming" determinism if all God knows is exactly what happens. 1 Samuel 23 does not lie under the label “David experiences EXACTLY WHAT GOD FOREKNOWS.” In fact, David does not experience what God foreknows; rather, he is able to change the course of events and make a choice that denies God’s prophecy from coming about. To account for God’s foreknowledge (His knowledge of David’s future was contingent knowledge based upon David’s choice), we must affirm middle knowledge---which is the very thing Olson denies!

In addition, Olson notes that “middle knowledge...leads to determinism.” I think this is a problematic statement for the simple reason that if you talk to any Molinist, they will tell you that Christians can affirm middle knowledge WITHOUT being Molinist in their theology. Thomas Flint affirms the same:

“Though the terminology of natural and free knowledge is Molinist, it is important to remember that we have thus far said nothing with which any traditionalist could reasonably take issue. No sensible proponent of that view could deny that some truths are necessary, and hence not such that God could choose to make them false; therefore, no such proponent could deny that some of God’s knowledge is natural. Nor could any such advocate plausibly deny that some truths are contingent, and that their truth is dependent upon God’s having freely chosen to act in a certain way; hence, no such advocate could deny that some of God’s foreknowledge is free. Our employment of Molinist language...should not mislead one into thinking that anything thus far affirmed would be controversial within the traditionalist camp” (Thomas Flint, “Divine Providence: The Molinist Account.” Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998, page 38).

Therefore, one can be Classical Arminian and still affirm middle knowledge---without leading to determinism or even Molinism. Arminius himself held to a certain Middle Knowledge. With regards to Arminius, I will discuss his view of scientia media (middle knowledge) in my next post.