Sunday, January 10, 2010

Achilles' Heel

“Molinism provides a better model for understanding how simultaneously God’s decree of election is unconditional while His rejection of the unbeliever is conditional.
God’s omniscient foreknowledge is THE ACHILLES’ HEEL for most Arminian presentations of election. If God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events, then conditional election does not really remove the unconditional nature of God’s decisions. If God knows that a certain man will freely accept the gospel while the man’s brother freely will not, and yet God decides to create both of them anyway, then this is a mysterious, sovereign, and unconditional determination on the part of God”
(Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pp.153-154).

My former professor provides a very stellar charge here against Arminianism...and for that reason, I have to answer it. After all, I am a Classical Arminian---so I have to come to the aid of the theological viewpoint I hold so dear.

It is my belief that there is an unconditional determination in God that explains why two brothers are created and respond differently to Christ. But the question that we should ask ourselves is, “What is this unconditional determination?” Keathley does not attempt in his work to explain what this possibly could be, but I think that the biblical text shows us what this unconditional determination is.

Let’s look at Psalm 8:

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor: YOU HAVE MADE HIM TO HAVE DOMINION OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET, all sheep and oxen----even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air; and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas” (Ps. 8:3-8, NKJV).

God decided from the beginning to give man dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). Man’s decisions over all of God’s work would be honored. We see this when God gives the animals to Adam “to see what he would call then. AND WHATEVER ADAM CALLED EACH LIVING CREATURE, THAT WAS ITS NAME” (Gen. 2:19, NKJV).

And why did God do this? Because He wanted to. The Trinity decided to give man His image and likeness. There was nothing outside of God that made Him do this; He did it because He freely chose to do so. This is the unconditional determination of God regarding man. Man would have reign over the earth not because he deserved it, or because God was “forced” to give him reign, but because God wanted to!

And the same goes for those who are born into the world, whether or not they accept Him. God has decided to grant them life and the power of choice. God does not discriminate between those who will accept Him and those who will not...this is so everyone can see the goodness of God. After all, this is the same God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

But this unconditional predetermination of God, while truly “unconditional” (disregarding actions of those who believe and those who will not), actually works against Keathley’s statement about the elect and the unbeliever. Why does God allow both the believer and the unbeliever to be born, and not refuse life to the unbeliever? Because God is committed to the free will choices of His creatures. Even in the Garden, when man sinned, God (although He had the power to wipe away the sin in the Garden) refused to do so. And why? there was an unconditional determination in God that man would have dominion over the earth and would be self-determining. If God had stepped in and overturned Adam and Eve’s decision, He would have been “denying Himself,” inconsistent with His own decree of human self-determination. And then, God would be accused of inconsistency and unfaithfulness to His own character and nature.

Think back to the Garden. Was man “unconditionally elected” to remain in the Garden without sin? Nope. Man’s judgment from God (whether good or bad) was CONDITIONAL upon man’s obedience---whether or not he obeyed. Because Adam and Eve disobeyed, they deserved the punishment they received.

But the Bible doesn’t stop there. Paul tells us in Romans that we deserved the same condemnation as Adam and Eve:

“just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because ALL SINNED” (Rom. 5:12, NKJV).

According to Romans, all sinned in Adam. Every human that will ever be born, through biological union with Adam, sinned as Adam did. God’s judgment was just on humanity, since humanity willingly sinned against God and His Law.

So Christ came and died for the sins of the world in order to reconcile us back to God. Paul tells us the greatness of the work of Christ:

“For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more THOSE WHO RECEIVE ABUNDANCE OF GRACE AND OF THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS will reign in life THROUGH THE ONE, JESUS CHRIST” (Rom. 5:17, NKJV).

It is those who receive God’s grace and His gift that receive life. But this undermines Keathley’s view of “unconditional election.” If God’s grace and gift must be received in order to be appropriated, then election to salvation must be “conditional,” based upon the recipient.

Keathley believes that election is “unconditional,” but look at all the references he makes to faith as the condition for salvation:

“The overcoming grace model is consistent with the CONDITIONALITY OF SALVATION...the convicting work of the Holy Spirit accompanies the preaching of the gospel and ENABLES A RESPONSE that a lost person does not intrinsically have the ability to give. THIS INCLUDES THE ABILITY TO ACCEPT THE GOSPEL” (129).

“Sometimes Scripture simply says that SALVATION ITSELF IS OBTAINED BY FAITH. Jesus told the woman who washed His feet with her tears, ‘YOUR FAITH HAS SAVED YOU’ (Luke 7:50). Paul told the Philippian jailor, ‘BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS, AND YOU WILL BE SAVED’ (Acts 16:31). He declared, ‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED’ (Rom. 10:9; cf. 1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 2:8-9). EXERCISING FAITH ‘RESULTS’ IN SALVATION...In these verses Paul...plainly states that THE CONDITION TO SALVATION IS FAITH” (120, 121).

“In addition to teaching that the benefits of Christ are conditional, the Bible also spells out that the various aspects of salvation ARE NOT RECEIVED UNTIL WE PLACE OUR TRUST IN THE SON OF GOD. For example, Scripture declares that A PERSON IS JUSTIFIED UPON BELIEVING IN CHRIST...and the Bible does not teach that only justification is contingent upon faith. It teaches that all aspects of salvation ARE RECEIVED THROUGH THE INSTRUMENT OF FAITH” (120).

“...the Bible does not merely present faith as the evidence of regeneration or effectual call but AS THE CONDITION TO RECEIVING SALVATION. SALVATION IS BY FAITH...Scripture repeatedly presents the benefits of Christ as CONTINGENT UPON FAITH...why isn’t Paul a universalist? Because in the preceding verse (Rom. 5:18-19) he declares that THERE IS A CONDITION FOR RECEIVING SALVATION----THE CONDITION OF FAITH. The benefits of Christ are bestowed on ‘those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness’ (Rom. 5:17)” (119).

All through the last few quotes, I have shown you that Ken Keathley argues for faith as the condition for salvation. Why then, would he turn around and argue that election to salvation is “unconditional”?

Let me set up a syllogism for the dilemma here:

a. Election is unconditional (Keathley’s view).
b. Salvation comes by faith.
c. Therefore, faith is unconditional.

In this system, faith cannot be a condition for salvation; but this contradicts Keathley’s statements above---that “there is a condition for receiving salvation---the condition of faith” (119).

The only way for faith to not be a condition is for faith to be a “result” of salvation. If faith is a result of salvation, then faith comes AFTER salvation---which means that REGENERATION PRECEDES FAITH. The idea of regeneration before faith is something Keathley strongly disagrees with:

“One of the strongest indications that conversion precedes regeneration is the fact that the instrument used by the Holy Spirit to bring about regeneration is the Word of God. Peter declares that believers ‘have been born again---not of perishable seed but of imperishable---through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23; cf. Jas. 1:18, 21). How is this accomplished? Paul explains in Rom 10:17, ‘So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.’ Jesus teaches that it is the one who ‘hears My word and believes’ that ‘has passed from death to life’ (i.e., that one who believes the gospel is then born again, John 5:24)...regeneration is the act of the Holy Spirit whereby He imparts eternal life into a person, and the apostle John repeatedly declared that ETERNAL LIFE IS RECEIVED BY FAITH. THIS MEANS THAT ETERNAL LIFE (i.e., REGENERATION) IS NOT PRIOR TO CONVERSION” (121, 122).

The Molinist view of unconditional election of the saved and conditional election of the reprobate is inconsistent. If the reprobate are rejected because of their unbelief, then the elect must be accepted BECAUSE OF THEIR BELIEF (which makes election to salvation conditional). If Molinism intends to survive as a viable theological position, then it will need to incorporate libertarian freedom into its view of election---the same way it has incorporated libertarian freedom into its view of grace (overcoming, yet resistible) and redemption (atonement is efficacious for those who believe).

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