Monday, December 20, 2010

Decrees and the Divine Will: The Activity of God In Salvation, Pt. 1

I have both commended and critiqued Dr. Ken Keathley’s “Salvation and Sovereignty” at the Center for Theological Studies. I know Dr. Keathley personally and respect him greatly for his work on Molinism as a theologically and philosophically robust system. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to study under him in the classroom, and will be blessed to do so again this coming Spring 2011. So, before I get started, let me say that I have great respect for Dr. Keathley and his work. I critique his system only with the utmost respect for him and the utmost respect for Molinism. I would not critique a system that I did not respect.
However, my bias for Dr. Keathley (and yes, I did say “bias”) cannot prevent me from honestly critiquing Molinism. To do so would make me less than a theologian (or, at least, less than “approved” before God). It is with my individual conscience that I make the assessments I do and say the things that I do.
Today’s task will be as robust as many other tasks I’ve tackled in various blog posts: I will deal with the distinctions of the will of God (in regards to salvation) and show how this pertains to the divine activity in salvation. Once we discover what God wills in salvation, then we can get a better idea of what God does, including whether or not God’s role is active or passive in salvation.
In Dr. Keathley’s chapter titled “Does God Desire the Salvation of All?”, he debates four views surrounding the divine salvific will: (1) one will to save all, (2) one will to save only the elect, (3) two wills, hidden and revealed, and (4)two wills, the antecedent/consequent wills. Option #3 can best be explained by stating that God reveals one desire (while secretly holding to another). In regards to the world, God openly expresses His desire that the world be saved---while simultaneously holding to a secret or hidden will that only desires some of the mass of humanity to be saved.
What about option #4, the “antecedent/consequent wills” approach? Dr. Ken Keathley writes:
“The antecedent/consequent wills approach sees no conflict between the two wills of God. God antecedently wills all to be saved. But for those who refuse to repent and believe, He consequently wills that they should be condemned. In this way God is understood to be like a just judge who desires all to live but who reluctantly orders the execution of a murderer” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 58).
Notice that the antecedent/consequent wills approach is a “will of condition”: that is, on the condition that one believes, God wills for that individual to be saved; on the condition that one does not believe, God wills that the individual perish. God is “a just judge” who rewards faith but punishes and curses unbelief.
Dr. Keathley himself believes that the antecedent/consequent wills approach is the best approach:
“The antecedent/consequent wills position seems to be the clear teaching of Scripture. God antecedently ‘loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son,’ that consequently ‘so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.’ Christ antecedently orders the gospel preached ‘to every creature,’ but He consequently decrees that ‘he that believeth not shall be damned’” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” 58).
Arminianism actually agrees with Molinism in this. James Arminius writes:
“The will of God is both correctly and usefully distinguished into that which is antecedent, and that which is consequent. The distinction of the will of God into that which is secret or of his good pleasure, and that which is revealed or signified, cannot bear a rigid examination” (James Arminius, “Work” II: 707).
Arminius held to the idea of antecedent/consequent wills as a way to reconcile how it is that God wills all to be saved but yet, allows many to go the way of eternal damnation.
Interestingly, Dr. Keathley sounds like a Classic Arminian with these words:
“The antecedent/consequent wills approach understands God to be the sovereign Initiator and gracious Completer of redemption. If man is to choose between heaven and hell, it is because the Lord of Creation has placed the choice before him” (“Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” page 60).
In other words, “the sovereign Initiator and gracious Completer of redemption” is God Himself. God is “the just judge” (as Dr. Keathley mentioned in an earlier quote) who offers salvation to everyone. The condition for receiving salvation is faith (Rom. 10:9), and God is just to reprobate those who do not believe because He has told them what He expects of mankind in His Holy Word, the Scriptures. Since both Classic Arminians and Molinists hold to the antecedent/consequent wills approach, both hold to the idea of a sovereign God who is in control of salvation. Man himself is not in control. I am grateful for the fact that Molinists hold to this as much as Classic Arminians do, because this finally (once and for all) kills the attack made against Arminians that we do not hold to the sovereignty of God.
Dr. Keathley does not attack Arminians on the issue of sovereignty per se; rather, he attacks Arminians regarding the nature of divine sovereignty in salvation:
“As we will see, one feature that distinguishes Molinism from Arminianism is the way it understands God’s foreknowledge. Arminianism solves the problem of reprobation by presenting God’s decision concerning individuals as SOMETHING ENTIRELY PASSIVE. God decrees to elect the church as a corporate body, and those individuals who choose Christ are then viewed as the elect, while those who reject Him are reprobate. In this respect Arminianism views God’s decree as the mere ratification of human choices. But the Bible presents God’s electing decision as something much more active and decisive. Unlike Arminianism, Molinism describes God as using his foreknowledge in a sovereign, unconditional manner” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” 142).
Before responding to this quote, let’s recap what we’ve seen in this post. First, we saw that both Molinists and Classic Arminians hold to the antecedent/consequent wills approach and that this approach presents the Sovereign Lord as offering salvation on the basis of faith, and damnation on the basis of unbelief. God is just in His judgments because He has clearly stipulated in the Scriptures just what He requires of every human on the face of the earth. Unlike the “hidden/revealed wills approach”, God has not hidden Himself from humanity but has instead revealed Himself.
What about Dr. Keathley’s quote above?
There are a few problems, however, with his response. What are the problems with it? I will get into them in my next post. Stay tuned...

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