Friday, July 9, 2010

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

In this third part of our mini-series on the similarities between Classical Arminianism and Molinism, we have seen that both systems are similarly “mediate” (the middle ground) in three points. First, “Radical Depravity” is the middle ground between the Calvinist “Total Depravity” and the Pelagian view of “Total Ability.” The CA (Classical Arminian) and Molinist view of depravity is that man is tainted with sin in every part of his being, but he is not completely abandoned by God, since he still retains the image of God and is able to do good deeds (like pay taxes, help an elderly person across the street, donate to charity, and so forth).

We’ve also seen that both systems share the same view of election: while God was not bound to receive us by faith, we are bound to receive Christ by faith (the “law of faith,” Romans 3:27). Last but not least, in my last post, I showed the reader that Classical Arminianism and Molinism share “Singular Redemption” in common as the “middle” atonement view: while there is an “unlimited” element (Christ died for every person, 1 Tim. 2:4), there is a “limited” element as well (“only those who believe will be saved,” Romans 10:9). John 3:16 is another example of singular redemption: while God loved “the world” (every person, unlimited element), He gave His Son so that “whoever believes” (limited element) will have eternal life.

But now we arrive at the issue at hand. While Classical Arminianism and Molinism have been alike in three of five points, both systems will differ in the last two: the issues of grace and perseverance. I will start with the issue of grace(which will go right along with the doctrines of eternal and conditional security)and then we will encounter the issue of perseverance (security itself).

Now before I get into the contrast of the two theologies, let me provide some words from the founder of Molinist thought, Luis de Molina:

“...let us take as our example an action that is supernatural and extremely difficult, namely, A CONFESSION OF FAITH UNDER TORTURE ALL THE WAY UP TO THE END OF ONE’S LIFE, A CONFESSION THAT MAKES THE PERSON IN QUESTION A MARTYR; and let us assume that this confession is elicited from an unbeliever, who is justified through it. Clearly, for an action of this sort it is not only necessary that there should exist all the divine predeterminations spoken of above with reference to the aforementioned indifferent or morally good action, but it is also required that there be a predetermination to call, assist, and comfort the man at the time in question by means of the extraordinary aids of PREVENIENT AND COOPERATING GRACE, without which the man’s faculty of choice would be unable to persevere. STILL, THESE AND THE AFOREMENTIONED PREDETERMINATIONS LEAVE HIM ABLE, AT THE INSTANT AT WHICH HE IS CONVERTED, NOT ONLY NOT TO BE CONVERTED BUT EVEN TO DISSENT FROM THE FAITH AND TO REPUDIATE IT; AND THEY LEAVE HIM ABLE AFTERWARD, AS LONG AS HIS TORMENTS LAST, ALL THE WAY UP TO THE END OF HIS LIFE, TO SUCCUMB AND TO REPUDIATE THE FAITH...otherwise, such a conversion to the faith and such perseverance in confessing it would not be meritorious---indeed, they would not even constitute a morally good act, since there can be neither merit nor moral goodness in any act unless there is freedom...with respect to the opposite” (Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge” (Pt. IV of the “Concordia”), Disputation 53, section 8. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988, pages 245-246).

Simply put, Molina believed that, although a person could have evidence of salvation, up to their last breath, he or she could walk away from the faith, apostatize (or apostasize), “divorce” Christ. I use the word “divorce” here because in the Gospels, particularly Matthew, the Greek word translated “divorce” is “apostasiou” (referring to the “writ of divorce”). To apostasize then, is to “divorce Christ.”

It is at this point that contemporary Molinists part ways with Molina himself. For one, notice that, in the quote above Molina mentions “prevenient and cooperating grace.” Contemporary Molinists would never hold to such a view of grace. This is what Ken Keathley writes in his historical survey of divine and human agency about “Molina’s concept of grace”:

“Unfortunately, Molina holds to the COUNTER-REFORMATION, rather than the Lutheran, understanding of grace. HERE THE EVANGELICAL MOLINIST WILL HAVE TO PART COMPANY WITH MOLINA. Rather than view God’s grace as God’s unmerited favor, Molina saw grace as divine assistance or power that enables persons to merit salvation” [Ken Keathley, “Divine and Human Agency: Historical Survey.” Lecture given on Friday, July 2, 2010 @ Southeastern Seminary. Lecture given in Patterson Hall, room 101 (from 8-11am) in the class “Contemporary Theological Perspectives: Molinism.”]

As is shown above, Molina’s view of grace has been altered to fit contemporary, evangelical Molinists. But this alteration is unfaithful to Molinist theology. What’s the explanation behind this? Well, for one, Molina’s view of theology does not fit the Calvinistic mindset. Dr. Keathley is not “Calvinist,” but “Calvinistic,” and he shares the Calvinist view of grace (while he labels his view “overcoming grace,” another name for it could be “ultimately irresistible grace”). Because of the irresistible nature of grace in that theology, prevenient grace doesn’t “go far enough”---it enables persons to believe, but allows them not to. In the Molinist mindset, God is the one who “causes” a person to be saved. Who makes the difference in salvation? God. It’s not that God offers salvation to everyone with the genuine chance of being rejected; no---God is the one whose grace “irresistibly” draws those He has “unconditionally elected.” In the end, the elect person, although resisting throughout life, will ultimately come to Christ. In his words:

“By contrast, the overcoming grace model understands God’s grace to operate in terms of PERSUASION. The Holy Spirit appeals, persuades, and WINS. AND THE ELECT FIND THE DRAWING ‘IRRESISTIBLE’” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 107).

So this seems to give lip service to the idea of resistible grace. In the end, divine sovereignty wins the day and the resistance (or acceptance) has meant little if anything at all.

What will be surprising to much of my readership here is, that Arminius held to Molina’s view of prevenient and cooperating grace. In his “Works” he cites Augustine:

“Subsequent or following Grace does indeed assist the good purpose of man; but this good purpose would have no existence UNLESS THROUGH PRECEDING OR PREVENTING GRACE. And though the desire of man, which is called good, be assisted by Grace when it begins to be; yet it does not begin without Grace, but is inspired by Him, concerning whom the Apostle writes thus, ‘Thanks be to God, who put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you.’ If God incites any one to have ‘an earnest care’ for others, He will ‘put it into the heart’ of some other person to have ‘an earnest care’ for him’” (Arminius, “Works” (The London Edition) 2:196. Translated by James Nichols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996.

Arminius held to prevenient grace and following (or cooperating) grace, just like Molina did. It is here that we see why contemporary Molinism departs from prevenient grace: to affirm it means that “evangelical Molinists” would have to concede to a possible label of “modern-day Classical Arminians,” which is not what they desire to do in the least.

In this post, I demonstrated that Classical Arminianism and Molinist (currently) disagree on the issue of grace. While Classical Arminians affirm Molina’s view of prevenient and cooperating grace, contemporary Molinists do not. In my next post, I intend to show how Classical Arminians and Molinists differ in their views on perseverance. Stay tuned...

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