Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Nature of Compatibilism

Dr. Ken Keathley, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as author of the book “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” will teach a contemporary theology class on “Molinism” this coming June 28-July 2. As you can imagine, I’m pretty excited about this course because I will be a student in the class. You, the readership, can expect some good comments from me regarding the course itself...so be prepared to be amazed!

Along these lines, I talked to a friend of mine yesterday whom I had no idea was taking the course. He is a staunch Calvinist, so he sees problems with Molinism itself.

But his attack of Molinism as a system was not because of the NATURE of the system...but because of the idea that Molinism argues for “compatibilism,” the idea that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility cooperate rather than frustrate each other. Molinism espouses that God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are like a ball in a glove: they just fit well together. Never is there an overpowering of one against the other.

In this post, I wanna deal with the nature of compatibilism. Compatibility is a good thing when it comes to divine sovereignty and human responsibility; but the issue of Molinism itself is not that it argues compatibilism---but HOW its compatibilism comes about.

Calvinism asserts that divine sovereignty rules the day; “God does whatever He pleases,” and, although God performs actions in the world (whether good or evil), man must still pay for what God drove him to do. In other words, in the Calvinist system, God does all the wrong and leaves mankind to take the blame for it. As you can see, there is no need for compatibilism in a system where only one of the two theological concepts exists (that is, divine sovereignty).

In the Molinist and Classical Arminian systems, however, both concepts exist in a real and true way. Molinists and Classical Arminians argue for compatibilism. They do not disregard either concept to make room for the other, but embrace them both in their systems. In the Classical Arminian system, for instance, human responsibility, the idea that humans are “response able” (provided by R.K. McGregor Wright, a five-point Calvinist in his work, “No Place For Sovereignty”), testifies to the sovereignty of God: for humans are unable to respond without the aid of divine grace. The fact that humans are enabled to respond shows that God has so enabled man to respond to Himself. God will not ask us to respond if we cannot, so He has granted the ability of response to every single human individual regarding salvation. The Spirit of grace enables every person to respond to the gospel when they hear the message preached (Romans 10). The Spirit frees the human will from its bondage to sin so that the person can make a genuine decision to either accept or reject the gospel. We cannot please God without faith (Heb. 11:6).

In the Molinist system, divine sovereignty and human responsibility coexist because God has selected a world where humans will make genuine choices. God knows all the genuine choices that can be made, and from the different combinations of possibilities, He selects one world that will bring about the greatest good and the greatest glory to Himself (hence the view of “the best of all possible worlds”). But God’s selection of a world, in Molinist thought, still allows man responsibility for his actions. God’s sovereignty, unlike the implications of the Calvinist system, allows man to make choices that he himself GENUINELY makes. God doesn’t make someone do something against their will. They choose to do what they actually do. It’s just that God knew this all along (because He selected the world).

Now, whenever I attempt to explain what Molinism is to someone, I usually get the response that, if God selects the world, and your choice is to do “X,” then God selects your choice. Why? because, in another state of affairs, you would have committed action “Y”---but that world does not get actualized. Because God selected the world (and thus, action X would infallibly come to pass), then X infallibly happened, without the possibility of failure. And when genuine choice is involved, the person has the possibility of choosing “Y” although they genuinely chose “X.” Most of those I talk to about this seem to think that the Molinist system itself gives too much credit to Calvinism, and thus, rule Molinism as a semi-deterministic system. God’s selection of a set state of affairs (actions) comes before man actually performs them in time. That is basically what Calvinists claim about salvation: in their interpretation of Ephesians 1, God “chose us to be in Christ” (although the text only says “He chose us IN CHRIST”), and when we actually come to Christ, we come not because of a genuine decision---but because it was all predetermined, “before the foundations of the world.”

It is the lack of two options regarding a choice that makes some I talk to rather skeptical of Molinism. The skeptics desire to see a system that accounts for what I call “GCIT,” that is, “Genuine Choice In Time.” And the biblical text provides such examples, like 1 Samuel 23 when David is told he will be captured by Saul but he escapes this divine prediction. So there is good and bad to Molinism (as to every system): while middle knowledge leaves room for possibility of choices (which is good), the arm of determinism really cancels the need for middle knowledge (since the divine has already made the choice Himself).

When it comes to divine sovereignty and human responsibility, we must ask ourselves the question, “Are both concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility emphasized and acknowledged in Scripture?” The answer to question 1 is “yes.” If this question is answered, we must then proceed to the question, “how do they fit together?” Molinism tries to answer both questions in the affirmative. Calvinism, however, answers question 1 in the negative (only divine sovereignty is emphasized) and treats question 2 as if it does not exist. Calvinism, therefore, is far more theologically errant than Molinism.

Molinism has its good and bad points; however, I applaud Luis de Molina for at least arguing the compatibilism of divine sovereignty and human freedom in the Bible. His system was quite an innovation in his time amidst a world of theologians who didn’t see that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are inseparable.

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