A Compelling Alternative to Calvinism? You Decide!
“What shall a Christian do who is convinced of certain central tenets of Calvinism but not its corollaries? Specifically, what if I am convinced that God elects individuals to salvation but I am also compelled by the evidence of Scripture to reject the notion that Christ died only for the elect? What if I am also convinced that the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace – that God gives saving grace only to the elect while withholding it from others – has little or no biblical foundation?”
“Calvinism has at least three dilemmas: (1) reconciling God’s sovereign election of individuals with His genuine desire for the salvation of all; (2) adhering to a deterministic view of sovereignty without blaming God for the fall of Adam; and (3) adhering to limited atonement and irresistible grace while also affirming that the gospel is genuinely offered to everyone. There is an alternative to Calvinism – called Molinism which provides answers to these quandaries that are both biblical and logically consistent.”
So begins Kenneth Keathley’s book “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach” I stumbled on to this concept as I was wrestling with some of the weakness of Calvinism and Arminianism. I was having a conversation with another blogger, wondering out loud if God’s choice was the choice to actually make the world that he did. The blogger said, “that sounds a lot like Molinism” ‘Molly what?” So I Googled it and found out that some pretty serious evangelical theologians believe in it. So I picked up this book.
I found this 210 page book truly fascinating. It was easy and enjoyable to read. In fact, I could not put it down. If you are a hard-core, committed 5 point Calvinist, or a hard-core Arminian you may not like the book. It will severely challenge some of the truths you hold dearly. But if you are like me and a lot of other people, somewhere in between, you owe it to yourself to read it. I had no idea there was a viable third option in this debate.
So What is Molinism you ask?
“Simply put, Molinism argues that God perfectly accomplishes His will in free creatures through the use of His omniscience. It reconciles two crucial biblical truths: 1) God exercises sovereign control over all His creation, and (2) human beings make free choices and decisions for which they must give account. In other words Molinism simultaneously hold to a Calvinistic view of a comprehensive divine sovereignty and to a version of free will generally associated with Arminianism.” p. 5
“Molinism teaches that God exercises his sovereignty primarily through his omniscience, and that he infallibly knows what free creatures would do in any given situation. In this way God sovereignly controls all things, while humans are also genuinely free. God is able to accomplish His will through the use of what Molinists label His middle knowledge.” p.5
So why does the author of this book embrace Molinism?
“Because, like the Calvinist, I am convinced the bible teaches that (1) God is sovereign and His control is meticulous; (2) man is incapable of contributing to his salvation or even desiring to be saved; (3) God through Christ is Author, Accomplisher, and Completer of salvation (i.e. salvation is a work of grace from beginning to end); (4) individual election is unconditional; and (5) the believer is secure in Christ.
However, like the Arminian, I am also convinced the bible teaches that (6) God is not the author, origin, or cause of sin (and to say that He is, is not just hyper-Calvinisim but blasphemy); (7) God genuinely desires the salvation of all humanity (8) Christ genuinely died for all people; (9) God’s grace is resistable (this means that regeneration does not precede conversion); and (10) humans genuinely choose, are causal agents, and are responsible for the sin of rejecting Christ (this means that the alternative of accepting salvation was genuinely available to the unbeliever). As we will see, there is only one position that coherently holds to all ten affirmations, and that is Molinism.” p. 7
So did I change my view to Molinism after reading this book? The jury is still out for me on this topic and perhaps it always will be. I sometimes think that God has placed a “No Trespassing” sign in front of this topic. No one side of the issue wraps everything up neatly, they all have their problems. If your mind is not made up, this is an excellent book. I am very grateful I was led to the concept. My gratefulness is the primary reason for this post.
There are other alternatives to Calvinism that you might not be aware of. To go deeper on this issue, check out how the Eastern Orthodox view things. Read about it in our post “Is The Doctrine of Total Depravity Totally Depraved?”
Or too really challenge your thinking, check out my post on “Does God Care About Our Theology?”
Posted on May 12, 2011, in Christianity, Theology and tagged Arminianism, Calvinism, christian education, christianity, faith, God, Gospel, Kenney Keathley, Molinism, Not For itching Ears, philosophy, Radical Depravity, religion, Salvation and Sovereignty, spirituality, TULIP, Unconditional Election. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.
Hey Jim…thanks for sharing. So where does the term Molinism come from? While attempting to bring about reconciliation, it sounds like more messiness added to what are already divisive points for those who are “calvinist” and those who are “arminianist.” Why is this still an age-old-confused focus, rather than us all be Christians and being of one mind on one accord, as Christ has called us and Paul warned us against?
What does the Holy Spirit say about all of this, since He is the only one who teaches, knows the mind of God and gives understanding to us? I look forward to hearing back from you.
I agree with your observation: Why are we still focusing on this? One of the reasons that I have never taken a hard line stance on these positions (I am not a Calvinist and I am not an Arminian. I am a follower of Christ) is that I believe it doesn’t really matter. I enjoy looking at these things, and I think it is good for us to wrestle with the deep things of scripture, but in the final analysis, it doesn’t really change anything. Things are the way they are, and just because these two camps have been arguing about it for 500 years doesn’t mean that the eternal destiny of mankind hangs in the balance. It doesn’t! Should Christ tarry, the church will still be arguing about this in another 500 years!
Calvinists and Arminians both believe that at the end of the line, those who are saved, will be the ones who have exercised faith in Christ. Period. Who cares if the grace that enabled them to accept Christ was irresistable or not? Who cares if mankind actually has a free-choice and can choose or reject Christ? What difference does that actually make in the end? None. In the final analysis, both camps believe that the atonement will not be applied to every person who ever lived. In that sense, the antonement IS limited. Both camps get to the same point, via different roads (yes, I am over-simplyfing things.)
In all the time I was a senior pastor (10 years) and the time I have spent helping plant churches, this issue was NEVER important to anyone truly trying to follow Christ. The only time it comes up is with other pastors, in the blogoshpere and with theologians. I respect many of those who have planted themselves firmly in one camp of the other. At the end of the day, we both believe in the Savior and what He accomplished for us on Calvary. That should be what binds us together. You are right, many allow their particualr view to become “the real Gospel”, and dis-associate with those who don’t hold that view. That is quite unfortunate. I see this more with my Calvinist friends than I do with my Arminian friends. AND this is the main reason that the statement of faith for The Church Up The Street excludes these things. We refuse to let these issues divide the church for whom Christ shed his blood.
Molinism was first introduced by a man named Molina.
Was he a catcher in the MLB?? Sorry…I couldn’t resist. Interesting topic. I might want to read the book, although I find some problems already, just in the brief excerpts that you quoted. I have a serious issue with the “He chose because he knows” stance. And yeah, I’m pretty hardcore TULIP, and have no Biblical problems with any of them. But just like anything else we believe, there’s always a need to do some “explaining” when certain Scriptures seem to point in a different direction. The bottom line, though, and you are very correct about this, is that it’s not going to make a difference in the end, whether we were Calvinist, Arminian, Molinist, or whatever. What matters is that we have trusted in Jesus Christ for our salvation. And I’m not one of those who is going to separate fellowship with someone just because they believe that their “decision” was made of their own free will. Thanks for writing stuff that makes us think!
Hi Jim! Thanks for the comment over at my site. I had to come check you out!
I’m glad to see you studying and reading on these very deep subjects. Luis de Molina was quite an interesting figure. Ultimately, I strongly disagree with him, but he had a keen intellect. Here are some resources for thinking about Molinism and “middle knowledge” from a Reformed perspective.
I think you have pastored longer than I have, so take this with a grain of salt, but let me just say that I find Reformed and Calvinistic theology to be incredibly relevant for pastoral ministry! I am constantly consoling those who have lost loved ones through evil acts, encouraging struggling saints to persevere in their faith, counseling couples to stay true to their marriage vows, answering people wondering about God’s sovereignty, and dozens of other scenarios. And yet in each of these various situations, the biblical truths of Reformed theology assist me time and time again. As I said, I’m still relatively new at this, so I might be wrong, but I have found Reformed theology to be far from abstract dogmatics, and instead to be relevant to every aspect of life. As the Reformed theologian William Ames said: “theology is the science of living blessedly before God.” Amen!
Thanks for the comment! I agree with you about how our theology helps us pastor. What I meant in my comment is that I have rarely had a situation where the discusison or debate of these kinds of issues was a high priorty for regular church people. Of course, the theology of the pastor shapes HIS ministry and how he approaches the things you’ve mentioned.
I now understand what you mean, and I agree. Blessings!
Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
As an Arminian, I’m not sure I understand the distinctives that you say Molinism draws between itself and what Arminians believe. For example, you say that Molinism agrees with the Calvinists that “(1) God is sovereign and His control is meticulous; (2) man is incapable of contributing to his salvation or even desiring to be saved; (3) God through Christ is Author, Accomplisher, and Completer of salvation (i.e. salvation is a work of grace from beginning to end); (4) individual election is unconditional; and (5) the believer is secure in Christ.”
Arminians believe that God is entirely sovereign, though they reject what Calvinists term “meticulous control”. You maintain that Molinists believe in God’s meticulous control, but deny that God is the author of sin (btw, so do Calvinists). Unfortunately, to believe in meticulous control by definition makes God the author of sin. He cannot “want all people to be saved” and exercise total “meticulous control” over their lives, even through perfect foreknowledge, without also being the author of sin. If God exercises meticulous control, and people still sin and go to hell, and God also wants everyone to be saved, then God either “failed” to save some through his meticulous control, or designed that they would be lost.
Likewise, Arminians believe that man cannot contribute to his own salvation, which is why we believe in prevenient grace. We believe that God is the author, accomplisher, and completer of salvation through Christ alone. We believe that election is unconditional in the sense that you could be Hitler himself and yet, if you are hearing the gospel, God’s offer of salvation is genuine and provided exclusively in the sacrifice of Christ; it is not dependent upon you. God supplies the necessary grace to be saved. We believe he does this through the gospel to everyone who hears the gospel, but those who hear the gospel and reject it do so by their own designs, having rejected the sufficiency of God’s grace to believe. And we believe that we are secure in Christ, but do not take this to mean that we cannot depart from Christ by apostasy (i.e. by rejecting the faith of our own free will). No one can “take us” from Christ, but we can betray and reject Christ.
I would be interested in hearing you explain the distinctives between these two positions in greater detail. 😀
Thanks again for your work!