I want to address the objection that Molinism is unbiblical. Often times both Calvinists and Arminians will accuse the Molinist of interpreting The Bible with philosophy. They’ll argue that studying The Bible won’t cough up Molinist doctrine. But are they right? Is Molinism an idea not found in scripture? Well, the only way to know for sure is to look for the biblical evidence for it. I submit to you that it is very biblical. To do this, I will defend a particular teaching that Molinists believe using the acronym R.O.S.E.S. Just as the Calvinists have their T.U.L.I.P, and the Arminians have the F.A.C.T.S, Molinists have R.O.S.E.S. I did not come up with this acronym by the way, so don’t give me credit for it. Also noteworthy is that when you compare the Molinist R.O.S.E.S to the Arminian F.A.C.T.S, they are similar.
Please Note: That the teachings of the acronym are here presented in logical order instead of chronological order to facilitate explanation more helpfully.
R – Radical Depravity
The First teaching in our R.O.S.E.S acronym is Radical Depravity. Radical Depravity is the same thing as Total Depravity in the Calvinist’s T.U.L.I.P and the Arminian’s F.A.C.T.S but we call it Radical Depravity because it’s a less misleading name than total depravity. Total Depravity makes it sound like a person is as evil as he can possibly be, which isn’t what the doctrine teaches at all. The Bible teaches that Humanity was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 9:6), good and upright, but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience, leaving humanity in the state of total depravity, sinful, separated from God, and under the sentence of divine condemnation (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-3).
Radical Depravity/Total Depravity is the teaching that sin impacts every part of a person’s being and that people now have a sinful nature with a natural inclination toward sin. Human beings are fundamentally corrupt at heart. Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9; cf. Genesis 6:5; Matthew 19:17; Luke 11:13). Indeed, human beings are spiritually dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1-3; Collosians 2:13) and are slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-20). The Apostle Paul even says, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18).
Mankind is completely, 100% unable to come to God all by themselves. Our sinful natures naturally incline us to hate God and His ways (Romans 8:7-8). As a result, people cannot do, think, or say anything good in and of themselves. We are unable to do anything that gains God’s favor.
It prevents us from repenting from our evil deeds. Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.” Later Jesus said “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (John 6:65) Indeed, if God were to leave us to our own devices, none of us would even seek His face (Romans 3:11). Our wills are bound by our depravity.
S – Singular Redemption
As observed above, due to radical/total depravity, no one can be saved unless God takes the initiative. The good news is that, since “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), “His mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9), He loves even his enemies (Matthew 5:38-44). Singular Redemption is essentially the same thing as the A in the Arminian Facts. The majority of Molinists, like Arminians, believe that God wants all people to be saved, because God wants all people to be saved, He therefore sent Jesus to die for all people. Because Jesus died for all people, salvation becomes available to all people.
John 3:16-18 (the most well known passage in the New Testament) states “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. Whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. Everyone who believes in Him will not perish but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the only son of God.” A casual reading of this passage indicates that God loves everyone. Why? Because it says He loves the world. Is Hitler part of the world? Am I part of the world? Are you part of the world? Was Judas Iscariot part of the world? Was Caiphas part of the world? This passage seems to be using the word “World” because Jesus wanted Nicodemus (the person he was speaking to in this chapter) to know that God The Father was giving Him up for every single human being, i.e anyone who is part of the world. He loves everyone who is a part of the world, such that He gave up His only son to die for them.
But then you have 1 Timothy 2:4-6 which affirms not only God’s salvic will, but also whom Christ died for. “This is good and pleases God our savior who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. “
2 Peter 3:9 likewise affirms that God “…is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Ezekiel 18 even seems to say that God takes displeasure when any of the wicked die in their sins. Jesus even wept over the judgments of sinners who rejected Him in Luke 19:41-44.
1 John 2:2, says “[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
You also have Hebrews 2:9 which says that Jesus “tasted death for everyone.”
Indeed, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 11:10). Who would be among “the lost”? According to The Bible; everyone (see Romans 3:23, Psalm 14:2-3). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:9). Who are sinners? Again; everyone (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14:2-3). “The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14; cf. John 4:42), God is “the Savior of all people” (1 Timothy 4:10), Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), who “died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6)
However, even though God wants all people to be saved and became a man a died for everyone, not everyone will be saved because they freely choose to reject God’s gracious gift of salvation for them on the cross. As stated in John 3:18, Jesus, after saying that He came to die for the world, says that only those who believe in Him will be saved and have eternal life while those who do not believe in Him stand condemned before God.
Moreover, passages like 1 Timothy 4:10 and Titus 2:11 which says that Jesus “is the savior of all people” and “brings salvation to everyone” does not suggest universalism. But rather that God brings the gift of salvation to everyone and is therefore available for them to accept it if they so freely choose. As an analogy, imagine if the president of the United States were to mail a box of chocolates to every single citizen in the United States. However, some people, for whatever reason, choose not to open the box. Only those who actually open the box that arrives on their doorstep will have the chocolate and be able to enjoy it’s sweet taste. In the same way, even though God has made salvation available to all people, only those who choose to accept it will be able to enjoy the benefits of Christ’s atoning death. This is what the “Singular” part of “Singular Redemption” means. Salvation is offered to everyone, but only those who accept it are redeemed. As 1 Timothy 4:10 itself says, “We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” While God is the Savior of all people in one sense or another, He is the Savior of those who believe in a special sense. How? Because those who believe actually enjoy the benefits of God’s efforts to save them while those who don’t believe do not enjoy those benefits. By the way, is a fatal verse for Calvinists who interpret “All” of the “All” passages as meaning only “All Kinds” of people or “All Of The Elect”. If every time a biblical author means “all of the elect” when he says God wants all people to be saved, then what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:10 is redundant. It makes Paul out to be saving “God is the Savior of all of the elect, especially of the elect”.
Wait, what? God is the savior of all of the elect, especially of the elect? This is like me saying “I like hamburgers, especially hamburgers”.
O – Overcoming Grace
The O in our R.O.S.E.S acronym is Overcoming Grace. This is essentially the same thing as Freed Will in the Arminian F.A.C.T.S. Overcoming Grace is what God does to address the problem mentioned in the R of our acronym. As already stated, human beings are fundamentally corrupt at heart. We cannot do, say, think, or will anything good in and of ourselves. We cannot do anything to gain God’s favor, and it’s impossible for us to receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.” Later Jesus said “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” (John 6:65). He said that we can’t come to Him unless He draws us and enables us? What does He mean by “draw” and “enable”? Well, this is where God’s grace comes in. Arminians and Molinists both believe that God sends grace to all humankind (because He wants all people to be saved, see my treatment of Singular Redemption above) in order to both enable them and to persuade them to repent and believe the gospel. There are two facets of this grace; it is both enabling and it is persuasive. Prevenient Grace enables a person to repent and believe the gospel and Resistible Grace tries to pull a person into believing the gospel.
As an analogy, let’s say that your hands were tied behind your back and tape was covering your mouth, because you’re a hostage to a man named Mr. Sin Nature. A hero comes along and offers to take you out of the dungeon this evil man is keeping you hostage in. He offers you to lead you to the exit, but you cannot possibly respond to him because you’re bound and gagged. So what this hero does is to untie your hands and remove the tape from your mouth and then offer to lead you to the exit. If He didn’t untie you, you wouldn’t even be able to respond. Fortunately, He does untie you and then offers to lead you to the exit of the dungeon. But suppose you, for whatever reason, don’t want to leave? You’re comfortable in this prison you’ve been in for so long. You’ve got Stockholm Syndrome. This hero now, in addition to enabling you to leave, has to persuade you to leave. Time is running out though. Mr. Sin Nature is a mad man and has threatened to blow up the dungeon with dynamite! Mr. Jesus has a limited amount of time to persuade you to leave the dungeon before you are destroyed! You can exercise your libertarian free will to either go with this hero or to accept your own demise. This is akin to how God saves people on the Arminian and Molinist views.
Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.” But fortunately for mankind, Jesus also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Jesus is sending prevenient and resistible grace to every single human being so that they can be saved, because they are so precious to Him. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says “(God) has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself….” We could easily interpret this phrase “God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself” to mean that God was sending previenent and resistible grace to draw everyone to salvation, not that God was forgiving every single human beings of their sins, because some won’t believe (see John 3:18).
John 1, the very first chapter of John’s gospel and the most glaring statement affirming Jesus’ divinity, states in verse 4 that “In Him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” Verse 7 says that John The Baptist “…came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through Him all might believe.” and in verse 9, The Bible says “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” What type of light is being given to every man? Well, many Arminian theologians will say that this light is prevenient grace. The word “Light” is used to refer to Jesus, obviously. But it’s also used to describe something that Jesus give to people (i.e “The true light that gives light to everyone”).
God offers his amazing saving grace in his Son to sinners, but allows them to choose whether they will accept it or reject it (read Deuteronomy 30:14-19, Joshua 24:15). Hence, in the case of Israel, the God who loves all and works for the salvation of all says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21).
The Bible also says that The Holy Spirit has come to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8)
This grace is “Overcoming Grace”, not “Overwhelming Grace” or “Irresistible Grace”. Stephen said to his fellow Jews, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51-53).
Jesus laments in Matthew 22:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” This verse and it’s parallel in Luke’s gospel clearly state that Jesus wanted to save Jerusalem but that they were not saved because they “were not willing”. This also hints at the resistibility of God’s grace. Such lamenting over the non-salvation of anyone on God’s part doesn’t make any sense if God’s grace is irresistible. If the Calvinist view is correct, If Jesus wanted these people saved, all He would have to do is zap them with irresistible grace and BOOM, salvation! But here, it seems that the people of Jerusalem have a choice as to whether they accept Christ or not. Even though Jesus wanted these people saved (he wanted to gather them together as hen gathers her chicks under her wings) the only reason Jesus didn’t get what He wanted was because of a free decision on Jerusalem’s part.
S – Sovereign Election
The 2nd S in the R.O.S.E.S acronym is not like the C in the Arminian Facts. Ken Keathley explains that “Sovereign election (instead of unconditional election): is an old term is presented in such a way as to give the impression that those who die without receiving Christ did so because God never desired their salvation in the first place. The new term affirms that God desires the salvation of all, yet accentuates that our salvation is not based on us choosing God but on God choosing us.”
I’m kind of anxious about writing about this one, since it overlaps with a blog post I’ve already addressed on this subject, namely the question “Why Isn’t Everyone Saved On Molinism”. The blog post was titled “Molinism: Why Isn’t Everyone Saved?” It also falls under the content of my blog post titled “Molinism and Divine Foreordination”. Not to mention the fact that as I type this blog post, it’s already getting kind of long. I’m not sure if I want to go into this in great detail or not. In any case, I think I will type a brief explanation of what this acronym means.
Let’s get one thing straight, no Christian at all believes that we can choose to be saved UNLESS God takes the initiative (see my treatments on Radical Depravity and Overcoming Grace above). If God didn’t want anyone saved, then no one even could be saved. However, Arminians and Molinists do believe that since God has taken the initiative (see Singular Redemption and Overcoming Grace above) that therefore it is possible for us to freely choose to become Christians. We can either accept God’s offer of salvation or reject it. However, the Molinist affirms that God has such a thing called Middle Knowledge.
According to the Molinist, God has 3 types of knowledge. The first is God’s knowledge of necessary truths or natural knowledge. These truths are independent of God’s will and are non-contingent. This knowledge includes the full range of logical possibilities. Examples include statements like, “All bachelors are unmarried” or “X cannot be A and non-A at the same time, in the same way, at the same place” or “It is possible that X obtain” or “It is impossible for squares to be triangular”. The second is called “middle knowledge” and it contains the range of possible things that would happen given certain circumstances, for example “If Evan Minton chooses to eat fish at this particular restaurant rather than a burger, he would get food poisoning and have a miserable weekend.” or “If Evan’s dog breaks his leash and starts running after a squirrel, he would chase after it”. The third kind of knowledge is God’s free knowledge. This type of knowledge consists of contingent truths that are dependent upon God’s will; that is to say, truths that God brings about. Examples of this would include “God becomes incarnate in the first century A.D” or “God created the universe”. This is knowledge that God has because He has chosen to bring it about.
So, according to the Molinist, God not only knows what will happen and what could happen, but also what would happen. God literally knows everything there is to know about everything. He even knows counter-factuals (“If X happens, then Y would happen after it”). This is was beautifully illustrated in the moving Christmas film “It’s A Wonderful Life” In which God shows George Bailey what the would would have been like without Him. It’s A Wonderful Life shows God’s middle knowledge in that, while God knew that George Bailey was indeed going to be born when he was, He nevertheless knew what the world would have been like without Him.
William Lane Craig calls Molinism “one of the most fruitful theological ideas ever conceived. For it would serve to explain not only God’s knowledge of the future, but divine providence and predestination as well”. Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering humanity’s freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent would freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, if placed in circumstance C, would freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A’s choice and God’s purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled. Molinists believe that God uses His middle knowledge also in achieving a person’s salvation. He places them in a situation where He knows that they, if placed in that situation, would freely choose to accept Him as their Lord and Savior.
This is a pretty profound view of how God can achieve His ends without violating our free choices. God can get us to do what He wants us to do without causally determining us to do it. Given God’s middle knowledge, we can very plausibly take some of the predestination passages in scripture like Ephesians 1-2 and Romans 8:28-29 to mean that He does predestine individuals to salvation. I agree with the Arminian that a few of the predestination passages could be interpreted corporately, such as Ephesians 1-2. These passages could plausibly be interpreted corporately. But there are some passages that cannot fit within a purely corporate election view. I say this on the basis of passages like Acts 13:48. Here Luke is describing the response to the apostles’ preaching, and he says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” What a remarkable statement that is. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
As William Lane Craig comments in his Defenders 2 class “That can’t plausibly be construed corporately. He is talking there about individual people who responded to the preaching of the Gospel. As many as were ordained to eternal life believed in the Gospel.
The verb here is the past-perfect of the word tasso in the Greek which means “to appoint” or “to designate” or “to set aside.” It indicates that those whom God has set aside or appointed or designated to salvation or eternal life will be saved. The Arminian attempts to interpret this passage by saying what it means is as many as were disposed to eternal life believed. So if you had the disposition that was right for eternal life then you believed. Therefore, it was of your own free will.
But I am not persuaded that that is a plausible interpretation of this passage. Let me give two reasons why I think that that is incorrect. First, as I say, the form of the verb there is in the passive voice. That indicates that God is the subject. That is to say, it is all of those whom God had ordained to eternal life. The use of the passive voice is indicative that God is the active subject of the verb. He is the one who has appointed or set aside certain people to eternal life.”
This passage has always troubled me, because I find the Calvinist view of predestination to be abhorrent. It essentially means that God, before He ever created the world, was just making a list of who world burn in Hell for all eternity and who would not. Then He causally determines people to sin and then He refuses to save them. God cannot be good if He behaved this way. However, the Molinist version of individual predestination is different from the Calvinist’s and actually speaks to God’s middle knowledge of what we would do in any possible world.
On the Molinist view, God chooses to actualize a world in which some individuals are saved, and some are lost. God does not want anyone lost (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, Ezekiel 18:23), but according to the Molinist, it’s very likely that a world in which universal salvation takes place is unfeasible. A world with universal salvation may be an infeasible world for God. If God could have His way, He would predestine everyone to salvation via His middle knowledge. But such a world is not a feasible one for God to actualize.
E – Eternal Life
The E in our R.O.S.E.S acronym is for Eternal Life. Ken Keathley writes “Eternal life (instead of perseverance of saints): old term leads to the notion that a believer’s assurance is based on his ability to persevere rather than on the fact that he is declared righteous in Christ. The new term stresses that believers enjoy a transformed life that is preserved and we are given a faith that will remain.”
The issue of eternal security has been one of the most difficult issues for me theologically. I just could not seem to come to a firm conclusion on whether or not a believer could forfeit their salvation. There seemed to be an overwhelming number of Bible passages that pointed to apostasy of true believers being a genuine threat while other Bible passages seem to suggest just the opposite (that a person cannot lose/forfeit their salvation). I won’t go into all of the details here for the sake of brevity, but I will briefly describe the conclusion that I’ve come to. My position is exclusively a Molinist position although one does not have to hold this position if they want to be a Molinist. Restated, one has to be a Molinist in order to adhere to this view, but a Molinist does not have to adhere to this view.
How do I answer the question “can A Christian lose their salvation?” My answer to that question is “Yes, they can”. But “will they lose their salvation?” My answer to that is “No, they won’t”. The first question is a modal question; a question about what can and cannot happen. “Is it possible for a Christian to fall away?” “Is apostasy something that has the potential to come about?” The next question is de facto question – is it in fact the case that any elect people will fall from grace and lose salvation? will that happen? That is a de facto question. Maybe some will, maybe no one will. The de facto question is “Is this potential for apostasy something that will actualize in the future?”
So there is a difference here. A difference between the modal question and the de facto question. My view is that Christians can become apostate, this is something that has the potential to come about. But I don’t it will come about. I don’t think God would allow His elect to end up in situations where He knew that, if they ended up in those situations, they would freely reject Christ.
God uses means to keep the elect persevering. Christians have the ability to exercise their free will to turn their backs on their Lord, but God gives plenty of warning passages (Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2 Peter 2, 2 Peter 3:17, etc.) because He knew before creating the universe that if He put plenty of warnings in scripture not to fall away, then those who are truly saved would freely persevere in their faith. It’s like a mother who warns her child not to touch the top of a stove because he would be burned if he touched the stove. As a result of the warning, the child is fearful of being burned and chooses not to touch the top of the stove, and hence, he never gets burned. I see these warning passages in scripture (Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 6:4-6, 2 Peter 2, 2 Peter 3:17, etc.) in the exact same way. As a result, we can make sense of these passages telling believers to be careful not to turn their backs on Christ while at the same time, we can make sense of passages like 1 John 2:19, which essentially says that anybody who abandons the Christian faith never belonged to Christ in the first place. And also passages like Ephesians 6:24 which says that a Christian’s love for Christ is an “undying” love (meaning it will never end). And several other passages indicating the eternal security of the believer that I won’t get into here.
Molinism Is The Best Explanation
For me, Molinism is not a biblical doctrine per se. Molinism, rather than being something taught in the scriptures, is instead a philosophical hypothesis to help provide a coherent explanation between portions of scripture that appear to contradict each other. These would be portions of scripture that the Arminians emphasize to support their view, and the portions of scripture that the Calvinists use to support their view.
For me, I’m a Molinist because I’m impressed with it’s explanatory scope. There are passages that makes sense on Arminianism, but not on Calvinism. There are passages that make sense on Calvinism, but not on Arminianism. But I think both sets of scripture make sense coherently when viewed through the lens of Molinism. It’s more appropriate to say that Molinism isn’t a biblical teaching in it’s own right, but that’s a philosophical hypothesis that makes sense of the teachings found in scripture.
For example, It can explain how God wants all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4), how His grace is resistible (Acts 7:51), how we have a genuine free choice between God and sin (Deteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15), AND YET He predestines individuals to salvation (Romans 8:29-30). It can explain how we’re eternally secure (Ephesians 1:13, 1 John 2:19) and yet God warns us in His Word repeatedly not to fall away (e.g Hebrews 6:4-5). It can explain how God determines the number of days we live in this world (See Job 14:15, Psalm 139:16) even in cases where human free agents are involved in bringing about the death (e.g Genesis 4). It can explain how God providentially orders and directs human history, and yet every choice we make is completely free.
Molinism is similar to the Trinity in that while The Bible doesn’t explicitly state the doctrine of the Trinity, The Bible does teach several truths can only make sense in light of Trinitarian doctrine. In the same way, The Bible doesn’t talk about “possible worlds”, “feasible worlds”, “middle knowledge”, or anything like that. Nevertheless, The Bible does teach several things that I think can only make sense under a Molinist interpretation
The difference though, is that one is NOT a heretic if one denies Molinism. One IS a heretic if they deny the Trinity.
In science, one should go with the hypothesis that has the greatest explanatory scope of the data. I think the same should go for theology; the “mother of all sciences”. Molinism far exceeds Arminianism and Calvinism in explanatory scope.
Molinism not only reconciles divine providence and human free will, God’s will for all to be saved with individual predestination, and the apostasy passages with the security passages, it presents an exalted view of God’s omniscience (we know The Bible teaches that God knows all things) because God not only knows what you will do (free knowledge), but what you would do in any given circumstance (middle knowledge). If you deny that God has middle knowledge, it seems to me that He isn’t truly omniscient, because there’d be things God didn’t know. Namely what you would do in any given circumstance.