I’m back to place an intermission in our series on Classical Arminianism as the mediate theology between Calvinism and Pelagianism.
Today though, I’m gonna take time to investigate the concept of election in the Molinist system, as advocated by Molina himself. I do this because it is my belief that Molinism is a worthwhile system to investigate, and there are some things that even Classical Arminians can learn from Molinism. Arminius himself certainly thought so---after all, he actually read Molina, had his students read Molina while he was professor at the University of Leiden, and borrowed middle knowledge from Molina’s theology (see Richard Muller’s “God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius”). I am extremely sympathetic to Molinism because it affirms that man has genuine responsibility, that he is responsible for his actions. So, there it is---I’ve made it no secret here at the Center for Theological Studies that I tend to have a certain liking to Molinist theology.
But today, I will treat Molinist theology no different than the other systems (which shows that my “liking” of Molinist theology has no bearing on my evaluation of it). Because I critically examine systems, whether or not I like them in no way effects how I judge them. So Molina’s view of election will be presented without preference or partiality. I wanted to take time to examine Molinist theology in its own right without having to place this unique view of Molina’s in a competing position with Calvinism (in my last post on Arminius, Calvin, and Beza on election).
Now, on to the task. Kirk R. MacGregor gives us Molina’s view of unconditional election:
“In book seven of the ‘Concordia,’ Molina queries ‘whether the cause of predestination may be ascribed to the part of the predestinate’ and ‘whether the cause of reprobation may be ascribed to the part of the reprobate.’ Contra those who follow ‘the errors of Origen and Pelagius,’ he answers both questions decidedly in the negative. On the basis of the Pauline statement, ‘Before the twins were born or had done anything good or evil...not by works but by him who calls...[God said], Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’ (Rom. 9:11-13), Molina declares that ‘foreseen faith cannot be the ground of justification or predestination,’ as affirming otherwise would undermine the prima facie implication that God’s decree to elect Jacob and reprobate Esau did not take into account their future good or evil works. Thus Molina deduces that God elects people ‘with his holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus.’
Likewise, the reprobate person ‘is not reprobated because of foreseen sins, and truly he has neither the cause nor the ground of reprobation within him.’ Molina insists that such constitutes the natural reading of Romans 9: ‘Behold in what way Paul teaches concerning Jacob that it was not on account of his works or his merits that he was beloved and predestined by God, so likewise he affirms concerning Esau that it was not on account of his works that he was hated and reprobated.’ For Molina, therefore, THE CAUSE AND GROUND OF ANY PERSONS’S ELECTION OR REPROBATION IS GOD’S SOVEREIGN WILL: ‘The total effect of predestination...depends only on the free will of God,’ such that God could have predestined any ‘of the elect to have truly been reprobate’ and any ‘of the reprobate to have truly been elect.’ Molina proof-texts Romans 9:15-18 to substantiate this conclusion...” (Kirk R. MacGregor, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology.” Lanham: University Press of America, 2007, pages 66-67).
Molina argued that election to salvation was unconditional, which means that God elected to salvation those He desired to save...and reprobated the rest of humanity. Notice above that Molina uses Romans 9:11-13 to explain why he believed that foreseen faith could not be why some were saved and others were not. Romans 9:11-13 states that the twins, Jacob and Esau, had not “done anything good or bad”; Molina took this idea of no work, therefore, to mean that ANYTHING, INCLUDING FAITH, would count as a work. If God elected Jacob to salvation on the basis of foreseen faith, then in Molina’s mind, God would have elected “according to works,” thus nullifying Romans 9 (and the rest of Scripture).
The problem with Molina’s interpretation, however, is that he assumes what most John Calvin assumed, and what most Calvinists assume today: that is, that “faith is a work.” In the minds of Molina, Calvin, and contemporary Molinists and Calvinists, if man is elected on the basis of his faith, then “he has done something to receive salvation,” and therefore, he has merited (or earned) his salvation. The end of Romans 9 shows us what the meaning of the “works” mentioned really is: “Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because THEY DID NOT SEEK IT BY FAITH, but as it were, BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW” (Rom.9:31-32, NKJV).
So the “works” referred to in Romans 9 cannot refer to faith, for faith is not a work. Here we see that faith is in contrast to works. And if Molina had also read Romans 4, he would discover that Paul clearly distinguished faith and works:
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who DOES NOT WORK BUT BELIEVES ON HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, his faith is accounted for righteousness...does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, THAT HE MIGHT BE THE FATHER OF ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also...for the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed THROUGH THE LAW, but THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH” (Rom. 4:4-5,9-11,13).
Righteousness comes by faith, not by “the works of the law.”
And why is it of faith? “Therefore it is of faith that IT MIGHT BE ACCORDING TO GRACE, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham...” (Rom. 4:16)
So faith is the condition, but it is given on account of the fact that grace is given as well (see Eph. 2). This does away with the idea that faith is a work, and it is a shame that so many believers and theologians don’t read “works” in the context of Paul’s argument throughout Romans (both before and after Romans 9) before they conclude that faith is a work.
MacGregor then points out the following:
“Thus Molina deduces that God elects people ‘with his holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus’” (“Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology,” page 66).
As I quoted above from Romans 4, we see that “It is of faith THAT IT MIGHT BE ACCORDING TO GRACE” (Rom. 4:16). This tells us, then, that it is because of God’s grace (and faith given to us, Ephesians 2:8) that we were called by God. We were not called by our works, but by faith; and we had to confess and believe (Rom. 10:9) in order to be saved. Since faith is not a work (Rom. 4; 9:30ff), and salvation is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), it is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:9). Man cannot boast of his salvation because he didn’t produce the grace OR the faith to believe...he simply exercised the gracious gift of faith that had been given to him (along with prevenient grace).
What does Arminius have to say about election? I’ll get to it in my next post.