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 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.

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