A while back, a fellow blogger and friend of mine unfortunately renounced Molinism and is now a full blown determinist. He adhered to Calvinist soteriology prior to this, but he had a middle knowledge view of divine providence and free will. But now he doesn’t even hold to that. I don’t care to address all of his arguments from his articles, but I would like to address one of them; which is that Molinist interpretations are read into the texts. His article in which he gives his reasons for recanting is here.
What should we think of Richard’s criticism here? Is Molinism eisegesis? It would seem to me that Richard is concerned primarily about explanatory POWER of competing views to explain isolated texts rather than the explanatory SCOPE of views to explain the WHOLE of scripture.
Sure, many of the determinism proof texts could be explained by either determinism or by Molinism. But what about explanatory scope? Does it explain ALL of scripture? I don’t think it does. It doesn’t explain places in scripture where God appears to give us a genuine choice between alternatives (e.g Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15), where God gets angry at sin in the OT , where God begs and pleads with people to repent (Ezekiel 18, Ezekiel 33), it can’t explain passages like Isaiah 30:1 and James 1:13 which seem diametrically opposed to any sort of deterministic explanation. Determinism has equal explanatory power to Molinism in accounting for the passages Richard mentioned, but the problem is that it doesn’t succeed in explanatory scope. It doesn’t succeed in explaining all of the data. Likewise, a simple foreknowledge Arminian view can explain God’s anger at sin and lamenting over people not repenting (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, Luke 19:41-44) and so on, but it can’t explain passages like Proverbs 21:1 where it says “In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.” or Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” or Psalm 37:33 which says “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way.” These scriptures state that God has significant control over what humans do and ergo fit uncomfortably within a simple foreknowledge view of divine providence and free will.
It’s not just explanatory POWER of a view to explain isolated texts that the Molinist is concerned about, but the explanatory SCOPE. Does determinism explain all of scripture? No. It fails at many points. But the simple foreknowledge view also fails at many points. That’s why I can’t bring myself to accept either of them. But Molinism has no problem accounting for texts that appear to support determinism as well as texts that seem to be good evidence for free will. It’s explanatory SCOPE is truly remarkable.
Determinism and Simple Foreknowledge fail, not only on exegetical grounds, but also on philosophical grounds. I’ve argued in plenty of places on my blog that divine determinism either impugns the goodness of God or at least renders sin non-existent. On the other hand, simple foreknowledge makes God lucky if history turns out the way that He wants it to. For example, God is lucky that Pontius Pilate chose to free Barabbas instead of Jesus. We wouldn’t have an atonement if Pilate had exercised his will some other way. However, Molinism gives God a significant amount of control without making Him the author of evil. It avoids the pitfalls of both views.
And all that I’ve said thus far is just speaking of the scriptural teachings on meticulous
providence and free will, but it also reconciles soteriological teachings like predestination and
resistible grace, and it reconciles eternal security with the various apostasy-warning texts as I’ve argued elsewhere on this blog.
Now of course,
Richard does not agree with any of the arguments given for free will or
against determinism. He dismisses both the philosophical arguments as
well as the biblical arguments. And he argues tenaciously that God does not want all people to be saved and that God’s grace is irresistible. But my point is that if you agree with
the essential premises that both divine determinism and simple
foreknowledge-+-free will are untenable views, I don’t think you’d be unjustified in becoming a Molinist. Also, if one is not completely satisfied with regular old Arminian or regular old Calvinist soteriology, why not fuse the apparently contradictory beliefs from the 2 camps in a coherent way? The only debate should lie in
whether the reasons to reject all of the competing views are good
reasons. I would say they are, but Richard would say no. For example, Richard might argue that the texts that appear to support free will don’t really teach free will. Richard might argue that in that case, only the determinism scriptures need be considered. That’s ok, but I would hope that Richard realizes that we’re not trying to impose things onto the text, but that we’re trying to harmonize apparently contradictory texts. Richard may, like a lot of Arminians and Calvinists, not think there’s anything there to be harmonized. Again, that’s fine, but the point is that no one is saying the scriptures teach Molinism, but that they teach things that can be best explained by Molinism. This is why I often tell people “The Bible doesn’t teach Molinism, but The Bible is best explained by Molinism.”
My main point in writing this post is to explain the logic behind the abductive argument for Molinism rather then defending the premises, so that to point out that I haven’t proven the scriptures teach resistible grace or libertarian free will will be illegitimate criticisms. My point isn’t to defend the reasons why we should reject divine determinism, open theism, and simple foreknowledge (leaving Molinism the only remaining option), but simply to explain the reasoning of the argument. I’ve given my defense of the premises in posts like “5 Reasons To Believe That Molinism Is True” and in “Is Molinism Biblical?”
Molinism is a case of systematic theology. Just like how we believe the Trinity is the best explanation of 5 biblical teachings, I believe in Molinism on the basis of the aforementioned biblical teachings. I believe the Trinity because The Bible teaches (1) There is only 1 God, (2) The Father is God, (3) the Son is God (4) The Holy Spirit is God, and (5) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons. The doctrine of the Trinity best explains these 5 different biblical facts, ergo, it doesn’t matter if The Bible never explicitly says “God is 3 persons is 1 divine essence”. We can infer that “God is 3 persons in 1 divine essence” on the basis of the 5 aforementioned teachings. Now of course, Jehova’s Witness and Mormon theology can explain points 1, 2, and 5, but not points 3 and 4 which it rejects. Modalism can explain points 1, 2, 3, and 4, but not 5, and in fact modalists reject point 5. Jehova’s Witness theology and modalism can explain some aspects of scripture, but not others, and the adherents in fact reject that there are any “others” to be explained. A JW or Mormon would deny that The Bible even teaches points 3 and 4, and a modalist would deny that The Bible teaches point 5. Similarly, determinism, open theism, and simple foreknowledge can explain some aspects of scripture, but not others, and the adherents in fact reject that there are any “others” to be explained. I think that in both cases there are “others” to be explained. A determinist would deny The Bible even teaches that humans have free will while an Arminian or Open Theist would deny that God meticulously controls what happens in the world. So a detractor of Molinism might say “What’s there to reconcile?” and we (i.e Molinists and non-Molinists) can debate whether scripture really teaches the things we Molinists believe are otherwise in tension. So when Richard says “All
of the premises of the trinity are exegeted from Scripture. The other
passages are interpreted in light of that exegesis. But in the case of
Molinism, there just are no passages upon which one can base their
interpretation.” he’s really just denying that there’s anything in tension to be explained and that ergo, there’s no need to jump to Molinism to ease said tension, just like how Modalists, Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormons, Arians etc. reject “the premises of the trinity [that] are exegeted from Scripture.” and they therefore don’t believe God is 3 persons in 1 divine essence.
I think Richard has a point that the authors of scripture didn’t have Molinism in mind when they penned their texts, but one could just as well argue that the Old Testament authors didn’t have the Trinity in mind when they penned texts like Psalm 10 or Psalm 45. Yet the NT authors tell us that The Holy Spirit had that view in mind. Now, of course, we have additional revelation to tell us that these Old Testament scriptures had a different meaning, and one may object that we have no additional revelation to shed light on the OT and NT scriptures to affirm a Molinistic interpretation ), but my point is that just because a biblical author didn’t have something in mind when he wrote something down, that doesn’t mean The Holy Spirit who inspired them didn’t have that in mind. The psalmists likely didn’t have a triune God in view when they penned Psalm 10 and Psalm 45, but The Holy Spirit did. Isn’t it possible that God believed Molinism before it was cool?
I don’t believe one is an eiesegete if they interpret predestination or seemingly deterministic texts in a Molinistic way. The Molinist is merely trying to hold a high view of sovereignty and libertarian free will in harmony. Most Molinists, myself included, would gladly adopt some other view if it better explained the data contained in scripture. As someone who wasn’t completely satisfied with any non-Molinist view of divine providence or soteriology for a long time, I’m grateful that I discovered this gem of Luis Molina’s.
Molinism is not an exercise is eiesegesis. Molinism is a conclusion we come to after we’ve already exegeted the scriptures. It’s a conclusion of how to coherently explain exegeted parts of scripture that, sans Molinism, appear to be at odds.
William Hasker (an open theist, and no friend of Molinism) once wrote
“If you are committed to a strong’ view of providence, according to which, down to the smallest detail, “things are as they are because God knowingly decided to create such a world,” and yet you also wish to maintain a libertarian conception of free will—if this is what you want, then Molinism is the only game in town.”
That is what I want because I think that’s what scripture tells us. That’s why I’m a Molinist. Scripture tells us that God meticulously orchestrates what goes on in the world, yet is also presupposes in many places and explicitly states in some that we are free and morally responsible agents. This is what scripture tells us. What scripture doesn’t tell us is how both of these can be true at the same time. This is where I believe Molinism comes to the rescue.