Friday, October 15, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. XI-B: The Temporal-Eternal Tension of Molinism

In my last post, I focused on the idea that God’s decrees are made in eternity because they are prior to time. However, what I am not arguing for is the necessity of human actions in the past; rather, as Arminius said (see the end of Pt. XI-A), God wills some things “per accidens”. Such things are “accidental,” contingent or based upon the actions of human beings. All of God’s decrees are not unconditional (without regard to human beings). While they are “unconditional” if by the word one means that God freely decrees everything to exist; if, however, one means that among God’s decrees, God decides to damn people to Hell without the person being the cause of their damnation, then all decrees are not unconditional. I spend time on word definitions because the key to the debate is how one defines terms. It all comes down to nuanced definitions of words. Sometimes I think theologians and philosophers fail to get on the same page because, while both use the same words, they have different definitions in mind (and thus, talk past one another).
Having said all this, it is important to point out that Molinism claims the exact same thing: that is, that some of God’s decrees are conditional. Molinist Ken Keathley writes:
“In other words, the Molinist paradigm explains how it is possible for there to be a decree of election without a corresponding decree of reprobation, which is in fact the biblical witness” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 154).
While I disagree with Dr. Keathley, I want to point out that he is right in affirming that “some” of God’s decrees are conditional upon human decision. Not all of God’s decrees are unconditional; for, if this were true, then God would be damning people to Hell before the foundation of the world was brought into existence.
However, to admit that some of God’s decrees are conditional works against unconditional election, since conditional decrees give way to genuine choice in time. Ken Keathley writes:
“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...and THAT IN CERTAIN WAYS THE FREE CHOICES OF MORALLY RESPONSIBLE CREATURES AFFECTED THE ETERNAL DECISIONS OF GOD” (“Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” page 140).
It’s a pretty big concession for anyone to admit that free creatures can affect the eternal decrees of God. But if this is true, then this means that creatures are given the power of genuine choice by God, that they are not “forced” to make the decisions they do in time. And God decrees that humans can make their own decisions (which means that God freely chooses to grant human decision...nothing is forced upon God).
But how does an “unconditional” election work with an “conditional” reprobation? If the elect are chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; “Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 140) by God Himself, then are not the elect chosen in eternity? I will set up a syllogism:

I.      The elect are chosen before the foundation of the world.

II.    With the creation of the world, time and space appear.

III.  If the elect are chosen before the foundation of the world, and the foundation is created along with time and space, then the elect are chosen before time and space are created.

IV.    Therefore, the elect are chosen apart from time, or “in eternity.”

If this is true, then what about the reprobate? If the reprobation decree is “conditional,” then what does this mean? It means that the person who rejects God is allowed to do so because of genuine choice in time. But, if one is allowed to reject God in time, then why is one not allowed to accept God in time?

This is where singular redemption comes in. According to the Molinist system, singular redemption allows room for conditionality:

“The singular redemption view, held by moderate Calvinists and Reformed Arminians...holds that the atonement was unlimited and universal. Christ provided salvation for all, but the benefits of the atonement are applied only to those who believe. THE KEY DISTINCTION OF THE SINGULAR REDEMPTION VIEW IS THAT IT SEES A TEMPORAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PROVISION AND THE APPLICATION” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 196).

Mark that Molinists note a “condition” placed in the appropriation of forgiveness. What this means is that the “unconditionally elect,” chosen in eternity, must receive the forgiveness itself in time. But, if they are chosen in eternity, then are they not “eternally saved”? How then, can the elect be “eternally saved,” IF they must receive the forgiveness of sins in time? If forgiveness is tailored to time, then, until a certain point in world history, that person is unsaved. But, if they have already been chosen for salvation in eternity, then how can they be an “unsaved elect”?   Are not the elect “saved”? Then, how can the person be both saved and unsaved at the same time? This is an illogical argument.

This is the problem with the Molinist system. It posits that a person is “unconditionally elect” in eternity but must receive the forgiveness of sins in time. But why such an emphasis on action in time? If God chooses a person “unconditionally,” then He chooses them without respect to anything about them (which includes choices in time and therefore, time itself). In other words, not even time is a condition in which the person is elected...rather, they are chosen in eternity, logically prior to time. How then, has the person ever been under the wrath of God, or at enmity with God? How then, has that person ever been guilty of sins committed? And why does that person ever need to ask for forgiveness?

The truth is, we all say, “I got saved,” at some point to mark a time in which we experienced God’s gift of salvation. However, if Ephesians 1:4 is interpreted in Molinist fashion, then a person never “got saved,” but has always been saved.

Molinism is an interesting system to study because I think it struggles to explain how one can simultaneously hold to predetermined decisions in eternity, but affirm genuine choice in time. To me it seems that, for Molinism to be right, genuine choice must be eliminated. The eternally secure have been eternally forgiven and eternally saved; and if the elect are eternally saved, what do they repent of at conversion (since to repent implies committed sin)? Why would the eternally elect need to repent of sin that has NEVER counted against them? It seems that, to hold to genuine choice in time, one must allow more conditionality in God’s decrees in eternity than Molinism will allow...

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