Friday, July 2, 2010

Classical Arminianism and Molinism: A Comparison and Contrast Between Two "Mediate" Theologies, Pt. I

Ever since the time of Arminius and his followers, the Remonstrants, there have been five-point theologies. The five points are usually labeled in terms of depravity, election, atonement, grace, and perseverance (not necessarily in this order). With the exception of Pelagian theology, most theologies will agree on depravity; with the exception of Pelagian theology, most will agree on the points of election, atonement, and grace; perseverance, however, becomes the major dividing issue. Within evangelicalism, most theologies hold to an unconditional (guaranteed) perseverance of the saints. Molinism differs in that it does not count perseverance as a requirement, while both Calvinism and Arminianism do. However, Calvinists and Arminians differ on just HOW one perseveres, not the requirement itself.

The problem seems to come in when we take into account that many (if not all) of acceptable theologies in evangelicalism mix views on points: some Calvinists argue for irresistible grace, while some argue resistible grace; some believe that Jesus died for all (I’m thinking of Amyraldians here, a following named after Moises Amyraut) while some believe He died for a select few. With Molinists, some (like William Lane Craig) argue for a conditional election, while some (Ken Keathley, Kirk Macgregor, Molina himself) argue for unconditional election. And then, when you get to Arminians, some argue conditional perseverance (that is, the possibility of apostasy or falling away), while others argue that one is guaranteed to persevere (which sounds Calvinistic and really makes the four-pointer “Molinist”).

With all the differences between those of “similar” theological viewpoints, the question becomes, “What does it take to create a MEDIATE, or middle, theology?” Middle theologies are good. They keep one from being too deterministic, but pull back others from being too man-centered (humanistic). Because most evangelicals desire to uphold both divine sovereignty and human responsibility in perfect balance and harmony, they invest time in looking for a theology that does a good job of that. We do this with a theological presupposition in mind: the Bible tells us that both divine sovereignty and human responsibility exists...and a theology that centers on one of these two concepts will not do!

I’ve been extremely graced by God and privileged this week to spend six hours a day with Dr. Ken Keathley, one of the most gracious and humble professors I’ve ever had (not to mention a dear friend as well). The class has been provided from Monday through Friday. It ended today.

What Dr. Keathley has been attempting to do all week is show my Reformed classmates (I’m outnumbered; I’m the only Classical Arminian in the classroom of about 20 people!!!) that there are problems in Reformed Calvinist theology. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his lectures. I made a statement to one of the guys in that class that Calvinism makes some “heinous” (that’s the word I used) statements about the moral character of God. How can God, who “so loved the world” (John 3:16), damn people to hell from eternity past and yet claim to love them? Calvinist theology, essentially, paints God as one who, as Dr. Keathley said today, “Doesn’t play by His own rules.” To the Calvinist, God makes the rules for humans, but God Himself can break them (for He has no one to answer to).

And the most appealing part about Molinism is that it claims to be the “mediate” (or middle-of-the-road) theology that everyone is looking for. Everyone wants to affirm the responsibility of man in his own salvation, while also accounting for the sovereignty of God and divine grace; in Molinism, it seems that one can find all he or she ever wanted in a theological system.

But I will state this here: Classical Arminianism can stand alongside Molinism as a mediate theology. So, while Molinism does affirm that it is a “mediate” theology, I think Classical Arminianism can make its case as well. To see how the two systems stack up, let’s compare them side by side...

First, there is “depravity.” Molinism argues for “Radical Depravity,” which states that, while man is fallen, he is not as corrupt as he could possibly be. Here is where Classical Arminians would agree: we have been made in the image and likeness of God; although we fell in the Garden, God did not abandon us, neither did He remove the image from us. As a result, we still retain some God-given capacity to do morally good things (even though we are depraved).

Next, Molinists affirm “Sovereign Election,” which states that “God’s decree of election is unconditional while His rejection of the unbeliever is conditional” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 153-154). What does Keathley mean by “unconditional”? According to Greg Welty, new faculty of Southeastern Seminary, Molinism does not adhere to the doctrine of unconditional election. In his “Philosophical Objections to Molinism from a Reformed Perspective,” he writes:

“Molinism doesn’t really preserve the doctrine of unconditional election. On the Molinist view (as I understand it), if election is CONDITIONED ON FORESEEN INDICATIVES ABOUT HUMAN BELIEVINGS, IT’S ‘CONDITIONAL ELECTION’; but if election is conditioned on foreseen subjunctives about human believing, it’s ‘unconditional election.’ I’M NOT SURE ANY TRADITIONAL ADVOCATES OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION ARE GOING TO BUY THAT. IT SEEMS TO BE A DISTINCTION WITHOUT A DIFFERENCE...especially when we realize that standard Reformed confessions like the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)/London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) RULE OUT FUTURE SUBJUNCTIVES AS A CONDITION FOR ELECTION...” (Greg Welty, “Philosophical Objections to Molinism from a Reformed Perspective.” Lecture and lecture notes given at Southeastern Seminary, Patterson Hall 101 on Wednesday, June 30, 2010, from 1-4:15pm).

If Keathley takes “unconditional” to be God choosing certain individuals to be saved, then he remains Calvinistic. If “unconditional” involves for him “foreseen subjunctives about human believing” (which means that there is possibility for the human to believe or not believe), then Keathley holds to “foreseen faith”---this then places him within the Classical Arminian camp. And this philosophical objection seems to stick when you also consider Molinism’s fifth tenet, “Singular Redemption” (sufficient for all, efficient for those who believe).

As we’ve seen in this post, Classical Arminians and Molinists both hold to “Radical Depravity” (RD) and “Sovereign Election” (conditional election), as I’ve demonstrated above. I will continue to square up Classical Arminianism and Molinism in my next post.

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