Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Unconditional Determination": The Achilles' Heel for Molinism

The Contemporary Theology class on Molinism started this week at Southeastern. Although yesterday was a hard day for me (it was my mother’s birthday, June 28) I still decided to attend class. I figured that, if mom were here, she’d want me to “be about my Father’s business”---so that’s what I did. I went to class to learn about this theological system called “Molinism.”

Today, however, was the day in which Dr. Ken Keathley explored the details of the Molinist system. One response from a student in the class was worth commenting on here:

“God chooses a world where one believes and the other does not believe. I get that it’s about free will. But in another life, the one who believes may have been reprobate, and the reprobate may have been elect. How does this not come back to God being determinative of all things?”

Steve’s question is one that I have asked much concerning Molinism here at the blog. In fact, it’s the one thing about Molina’s system that I am obliged by conscience to reject (for moral and theological reasons).

Dr. Ken Keathley stated that “We are given control over a lot of things that we do not cause,” and recommended an article for the students to read. I have yet to read the article, but it hit me on the way back to my apartment today that Dr. Keathley actually answers Steve’s question in his book, “Salvation and Sovereignty”:

“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 that 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” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 154).

If God looks at the infinite possible worlds and selects one of those worlds (and that world contains elect and reprobate who will choose to believe or not believe, respectively), then isn’t God the one responsible for what happens in the selected world? How does God "get off the hook" for sin and unbelief and damnation? Here we find that Keathley notes that God has some sort of “unconditional determination” that dictates His allowing even unbelievers to be born, live, and die without accepting Christ. What is the nature of that “unconditional determination?” We are not given an exact answer.

However, this is still problematic. One cannot claim God has an “unconditional determination” for selecting a world that includes reprobates (unbelievers), and yet, throw up his or her hands and say, “As far as what the determination is, I don’t know.” Instead, there has to be an answer for this unconditional determination---otherwise, the answer in the distance is simply “the desire of God to save some and to damn others.”

Roger Olson notes James Arminius’s displeasure with the Molinist idea above as well:

“To those Calvinists who say they do not believe God foreordained the Fall (in disagreement with Calvin!), Arminius objects that they STILL UNDERMINE THE CHARACTER OF GOD REVEALED IN JESUS CHRIST AND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: ‘I should wish it to be explained to me how God can really from his heart will him to believe in Christ, whom He wills to be alien from Christ, and to whom He has decreed to deny the necessary helps to faith: for this is not to will the conversion of any one.’ He based his argument and implied accusation on the clear New Testament expressions of God’s will that no one ‘perish’ but that ‘all’ come to repentance and that all should be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). To those Calvinists who say they believe God did foreordain the Fall but only TO PERMIT THE FALL AND NOT TO CAUSE IT Arminius says, ‘Actually, YOU EXPLAIN THAT PERMISSION OR NON-PROHIBITION IN SUCH A WAY AS TO COINCIDE WITH THAT ENERGETICAL DECREE OF GOD [TO BRING ABOUT THE FALL].’...For Arminius, the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination is shipwrecked on the rock of God’s goodness at every turn” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 182-183).

Now someone would say to me, “But Molinism is not the same as Calvinism.” You would be right; however, Calvinists who do not affirm foreordination of the Fall are, in actuality, Molinists. Molinists believe God permits the Fall, but they also believe that God “unconditionally elects” everyone who is saved. In other words, God “picks” individuals to be saved, but He “allows” individuals to disbelieve and be damned.
How is this consistent? No one knows...

I choose to believe that God’s unconditional determination is His commitment to libertarian freedom and human choice, based on God’s bestowal of dominion over the earth to man in Genesis 1, and the curse of the ground because of the responsibility of man in Genesis 3. Because of this, God will not forego the birth of an unbeliever, even if he or she will rebel all their lives. Instead, God’s goodness to them on earth becomes judgment against them for their decision to not believe in Him. And why is this so? Not because God “chose” one of many possible worlds...but because every world God ever made would be good (by virtue of His nature and character) and never needed to have any amount of evil in it. Because of this, God didn’t need to choose worlds; instead, He decided to make one world and care for that world He made. The sin in the world is due to the sin of the creature (all sinned in Adam, Romans 5).

The class was told today that Romans 9 and 10 confirm the Molinist system, but that remains to be investigated. At the moment, all I can say is that I think the idea of “unconditional determination” has a huge suspicion to it. I don’t know how Molinism as a system can state, “God is not the author of sin and evil,” while turning around and stating, “the unbeliever is born because of some ‘unconditional determination’ of God”---and not be guilty of giving with the left hand what the right hand takes away. The fact that God chooses one of many possible worlds to be actualized is what makes Molinism, as a theological system, so problematic.


The Seeking Disciple said...

Curiously, what book are you guys using in your class?

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


We are using a few books in the class: (1)"Concordia, Pt. IV" by Luis de Molina. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso.

(2) "Divine Providence: The Molinist Account" by Thomas Flint.
(3) "Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach" by Ken Keathley.
(4) "The Only Wise God" by William Lane Craig.

The class meets for about 6 hours a day (8-11am, 1-4pm). In addition, we'll have guest speakers come in everyday. Today's speaker was on the issue of God and Time.

I plan to post on more than just today's lecture in the coming days. Thanks so much for your interest in this week's events.

The Seeking Disciple said...

Thank you. For people like me, I would love to be able to attend a class like that. Be thankful you get to! I will have to check out those books. I have two of the titles you mentioned (Flint's and Keathley).

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thank you again for your interest in the events this week. I can tell you that this class on Molinism has been quite a blessing to me.

Dr. Ken Keathley announced to the class on the first day (to my fear) that I label myself a "Classic Arminian." Needless to say, I don't know if I've been well-received; however, Dr. Keathley has been gracious to acknowledge my presence, my love for theology, and according to him, "she puts me to task quite a bit" [his words :-)].

Pray for me in the class through the rest of the week...and pray for Dr. Ken Keathley, that the Lord would aid him in his task. Hearing his lecture today on the how similar Classic Calvinism is to Islamic Theology was insanely amazing. It was like music to the Arminian ear (smile!)...

Dr. Keathley is doing a good work...please keep him uplifted in prayer before our great God. May the Lord bless him in marvelous ways...and may the Lord bless you for your continued support here at CTS.
God bless.