What Is Molinism?
Molinism is the basic theology formulated by Jesuit theologian Luis De Molina.1 Molina taught that God’s knowledge can be divided into 3 “logical moments”. Natural, middle, and free.
God’s Natural Knowledge is His knowledge of everything that could happen in any given circumstance. It’s His knowledge of all the free choices any creature could make in any given circumstance. It also is His knowledge of all necessary truths such as 1 + 1 = 2.
God’s Middle Knowledge is His knowledge of everything that would happen in any given circumstance. It’s His knowledge of what any free creature would freely choose in any given circumstance. For example, God knows “If Evan Minton were given $2,000 worth of Kindle gift cards, he would freely choose to download all of the books on his GoodReads ‘to-read’ list”, or “If Bob went to Tatsuki’s Japanese Restaurant, he would freely choose to order sushi”.
God had these two logical moments of knowledge logically prior2 to His decision to create any world. Logically prior to His decision to create the universe, God knew everything that could happen in any given circumstance and everything that would happen in any given circumstance.
God’s Free Knowledge is His knowledge of everything that actually will happen. Free knowledge is synonymous with foreknowledge. This knowledge is the knowledge of all future events. The content of God’s free knowledge is a result of the sovereign choice of God to actualize one of the worlds God knew about in His middle knowledge.
On Molinism, Everything happens because God decreed it, yet all of our choices are free. All Molinists agree on these facts. This is “Mere Molinism”.
Let’s take the crucifixion of Jesus as an example. The Bible says “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine). The crucifixion of Jesus was deliberately planned by God, His foreknowledge played a role in the matter, but it was wicked men who put Jesus to the cross. Molinists say that God knew that if Caiaphas was high priest in the first century, then he would freely condemn Jesus on grounds of blasphemy and he would freely take Him to Pilate for execution. He knew that if Pilate was prefect in the first century, then he would freely comply with the demands of the crowd. And God knew that if Judas was born in the time and place that he actually was, then he would become Jesus’ disciple for a while and would freely choose to betray Jesus to the Sanhedrin. God knew how all of these people would behave if He placed them in the time and places He did. God decreed the whole thing, but the libertarian freedom of the actors remained completely intact.
Now, while Molinists agree on the above, they disagree on issues such as soteriology. For examples, some agree that Jesus died for all people while others hold to Limited Atonement. Some Molinists (Luis De Molina included) think Romans 9 is teaching unconditional election while others think it teaches corporate election. (I fall into the latter category). Regardless of these differences, we all agree that God has natural, middle, and free knowledge and that God uses these logical moments in His decision of creation to ensure that His sovereign ends are accomplished without violating human freedom.
In light of what I’ve just said, I will make some soteriological arguments that some Molinists will agree with and others will disagree with. Molinism is not a soteriological view, and I have listed 3 biblical facts that all Molinists do affirm and, in fact, is the reason why they are Molinists. I wrote this in “The Case For Mere Molinism”. However, My argument in this paper is that Molinism and only Molinism can best account for the soteriological facts that I have exegeted from the scriptures. So, even though Molinism isn’t exegeted from the scriptures, it is the only system that I can find that can account for what is exegeted from the scriptures.
The 5 facts below are (1) Total Depravity, (2) Jesus Died For All People, (3) God Sends Prevenient Grace To All People, (4) Unconditional Election, (5) True Christians Can Lose Their Salvation, and (6) True Christians Will Never Lose Their Salvation. Let’s look at each of these 6 biblical teachings.
(1) Total Depravity
The term “Total Depravity” makes it sound like people are as evil as they could possibly be, which obviously isn’t true. The following quotation is taken from The Banner and is found in an article which is explaining the Canons of Dordt, especially Canons III & IV, Article 4.)
“The result of the fall is total depravity or corruption. By this is meant that every part of man is rendered corrupt. The Canons say that man ‘became involved in blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, obdurate in heart and will and impure in his affection.’ There was no part of his nature that was not affected by sin. The word ‘total’ must not be taken in the absolute sense as though man is completely depraved. Man is not as bad as he can be. Article 4, which we hope to consider more fully later in this series, speaks of ‘glimmerings of natural light which remain in man since the fall.” God does restrain the working of sin in the life of man on earth. And sinful man still has a sense of right and wrong. His corruption is total in the sense that there is no part of his being that is pure and holy; and the good he does is done for God and for His glory.’
Herman Hanko comments on this Canon article saying “In this quotation the distinction is made between total depravity and absolute depravity. Total depravity means that man is depraved in every part of his being. But while he is depraved in every part of his being, at the same time there remain in every part of his being remnants of good. Absolute depravity means that every part of his being is wholly bad. This distinction therefore is intended precisely to leave room for some good which man is able to perform. And this good is particularly the good of accepting with his will the offer of the gospel. That is precisely what our Canons do not mean by total depravity.”3
Now that we’ve described what the doctrine of Total Depravity is, does The Bible teach it? The answer is yes. The Bible teaches that Humanity was created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 9:6), good and upright, but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience (see Genesis 3), leaving all of humanity under the sentence of divine condemnation. As Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” and Romans 6:23a says “For the wages of sin is death…” and as Ephesians 2:1-3 says “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Romans 3:10-11 says “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;”
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; Colossians 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).
The fallen, sinful state of man even prevents a man from turning to God in repentance (without the aid of divine grace, which we’ll further discuss below). 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.
What Jesus said in John 6:44 and John 6:65 is corroborated by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans. In Romans 8:7-8, Paul wrote “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (emphasis mine). This passage explicitly says that the mind governed by the flesh (i.e the sinful nature) is in a state of hostility towards God. Paul says that not only does it not submit to God’s law, it is unable to do so. It’s not just that the natural man chooses not to submit to God, the natural man doesn’t have the ability to do so. “It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” The NLT renders it this way: “For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.” The ESV renders it as “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”
Much more could be said about this doctrine, but I think enough has been said that we can say with confidence that Total Depravity is a biblical fact.
(2) – Jesus Died For All People
As observed above, due to 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). God has, therefore, not left us to our own devices. He became a human being (see John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8) and died on the cross to take our punishment on our behalf so that we wouldn’t have to endure it (Isaiah 53, 1 Peter 3:18, 1 Corinthians 15:3). God became a human being and took the punishment we deserved. He took it on himself so that He wouldn’t have to unleash it on us.
But who did Jesus die for? Calvinists insist that Jesus only died for a select few; the elect. As Calvinist theologian John Owens put it “And, therefore, seeing he doth not intercede and pray for everyone, he did not die for everyone.”4
But what does The Bible say? John 3:16-18 says “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.” (emphasis mine). The Greek word translated “world” is “kosmos” (κόσμου). Strong’s Greek Concordance defines Kosmos as “the world, universe; worldly affairs; the inhabitants of the world; adornment.”5 The word was most often used to describe either the entire planet, the entire universe, or all of the people in the universe.
John 3:16-18 tells us who God loves: THE WORLD! For God so loved THE WORLD that Jesus became a man (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8) and suffered a horrible death on the cross to take the punishments for our sins, so that if we believe in Him, we will have eternal life. Who is a part of the world? Am I a part of the world? Are you a part of the world? Is Billy Graham a part of the world? Is Hitler a part of the world? What about Osama Bin Ladin? Was he a part of the world? Are all of the members of ISIS a part of the world? Is Richard Dawkins a part of the world? The answer is “yes” to all of those questions. Every human being is a part of the world, and therefore not only does God love every human being, but He died for every human being. He died for “the world”.
In one article, Jim Boucher responded to this argument with “My dog is part of the world too. This chair that I am sitting on is part of the world. Sin is part of the world. Evan’s simplistic argument is quite easily reduced to absurdity, unless you think that Simba (the dog) is going to be redeemed.”6 This response on the part of Boucher is ridiculous. Obviously, John 3 is not talking about inanimate objects or animals, but people in need of salvation. It is the sinners who are in the world that Jesus speaks of when He says “For God so loved the world”. Jim Boucher’s response is a silly misunderstanding at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst.
1 Timothy 2:4-6 says “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. “ (emphasis mine)
The word translated “All people” in this passage is “antas anthrōpous” (πάντας ἀνθρώπους).7 Antas is used in many places in The Bible. It’s used in Romans 3:9 where Paul says “Jews and Greeks are all (antas) under sin;” and in Romans 3:23 where Paul says “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.” Who does God want to be saved? All people (cf. 2 Peter 3:9) Who did Jesus die for? All people. This is in direct contradiction to the L in the Calvinist’s T.U.L.I.P that says Jesus only died for a selected few.
Let’s look at a few more verses that clearly teach that Jesus died for the entirety of the human race.
“[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
“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” – Hebrews 2:9
“The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14; cf. John 4:42).
“That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” – 1 Timothy 4:10
“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” – John 1:29
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51).
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” – Romans 5:18
Emphasis mine in all of the verses cited above. The Bible repeats over and over and over again who Jesus’ death was intended for; “The world”, “The Whole World”, “All People”, “Everyone”, “All”. I don’t know how the authors of scriptures could have made the point any more clear. Yet Calvinists continue to insist that Jesus only died for the elect. Why? Space does not permit a thorough look into all of the reasons various Calvinists have given for why these verses don’t mean what they seem to mean, but I feel that this paper would be incomplete without examining at least a few of them.
Objection 1: “All People” Only Means “All Kinds Of People”
Calvinists argue that what these passages mean when it says that Jesus died for “all people” is that Jesus died for “All types” or “all kinds” of people. By that, they mean some people within every group on the planet. Jesus died for some Israelites, some Americans, Some Mexicans, some Japanese, etc. In every group of people in the world, there are some who are elect and it is these who Jesus died for, argue the Calvinist. These are the “all people”.
It would seem obviously ad-hoc to make such a suggestion unless someone gave some good reason for why this alternative interpretation should be preferred. One attempt to do this is to point to passages where it says that Jesus died for Christians like Matthew 1:21, for example, in which the context is the Annunciation of Jesus’ birth. Gabriel says to Joseph “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Other examples include John 10:11–16 where Jesus says that He will lay down His life for His sheep and Mark 10:45 where Jesus says “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”.
I’ve had Calvinists point me to Matthew 1:21 and say “See? It says ‘his people’ not ‘everyone’! Jesus didn’t come to save everyone!” I’ve had Calvinists point me to John 10:11-16 and say “Jesus clearly said he laid down his life for the sheep, not the goats.” And so, if we’re to let scripture interpret scripture, these Calvinists argue, we see that in light of Matthew 2:21, John 10:11-16, and Mark 10:45 that Jesus only died for those whom would be Christians.
What is the problem with this argument? The problem with these virtually every other proof text for limited atonement that I’ve encountered is that they’re completely compatible with the view that Christ died for all humankind! Think about it; if Jesus died for literally every human being who ever was, is, or will be, wouldn’t that include “the elect”? Wouldn’t that include “His people”? Wouldn’t that include “the church”? Moreover, would the entirety of humankind not be “many” people? Obviously! If Jesus died for everyone, then that includes believer and non-believer alike! For the Calvinist theologian to take scriptures which state that Jesus died for a particular group of people (“His sheep”, “The church”) and conclude based on those texts that did not die for all people is fallacious. In Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In this verse, Paul didn’t say that Jesus died for everybody or even other Christians. Paul said that Jesus loved him and died for him. If a passage only mentions a specific group of people, and this must mean that Jesus only died for that specific group of people, then Galatians 2:20 must be saying that Jesus only died for Paul. The Calvinist’s reasoning is reduced to absurdity.
Objection 2: The Double Payment Argument
Classically formulated by John Owen9, The Double Payment Argument is that if God died for all people, yet sends some people to Hell, then that means that their sins were paid for twice, once in hell, and once by Christ on the cross. This, Owen argued, entails that God has acted unjustly because God has punished sin more than the sin deserved.
When Jesus died, the blood of Christ was not automatically applied to everyone whom it was intended for. If that were the case, then even if Christ only died for the elect, the elect would be born forgiven! They would literally come into the world already saved! After all, Christ died for us long before we were even born. If all that needs to happen for our sins to be paid for is for Christ to die, then all of the elect come into the world already saved. They’re already forgiven, they’re just waiting to be regenerated and sanctified, that’s all.
To ask “If Christ died for all, why aren’t all sins paid for” is like asking “If everyone is given a bar of soap, why isn’t everyone clean?” Because the blood of Christ, like soap, must be applied if it’s to make a difference in our eternity. You can have soap offered to you, but if that soap is left unapplied, you’re not coming clean. If the blood of Christ is not applied by faith, we’re not coming clean.
“The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.'” – Acts 16:29-31
“that if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9
Given that the atonement isn’t applied to a person until that person receives Christ as their personal Lord and Savior by faith, then The Double Payment Argument is fallacious. Suppose this person never receives Christ by faith? Then the blood is never applied. The person goes to Hell and pays for his sins. Christ will only be registered as a person’s substitute if they have faith in Him. In one sense then, the atonement is limited. It’s limited in the actual application, but it’s not limited in the potential application (i.e it’s only applied to the elect, but it could be applied to everyone if everyone would just turn to God). If it isn’t actually applied, then the debt isn’t paid. The person who goes to Hell has their sins paid for once.
Objection 3: The Jesus-Didn’t-Pray-For-The-Whole-World Argument
Tony Lee Ross Jr. of “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Blog” brought this argument up in our 2015 debate on free will. His argument was that in John 17:9, Jesus says “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” Jesus says He’s not praying for the world, but only those The Father has given Him. Ross argued that If Jesus wanted everyone saved, He would have prayed for the world, but he didn’t, which suggests he only cares about the elect.
I don’t think this is any more successful than the previous objections were. The fact that Jesus says He’s not praying for the world in John 17:9 doesn’t necessarily mean He doesn’t desire the salvation of the world. For one thing; one of the most basic rules in biblical hermeneutics is to interpret unclear passages of scripture in light of the clear. We’ve seen over and over and over and over again that The Bible teaches that God loves “the world” (John 3:16). This love for the world is why He is not “…willing that any should perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), and that explains why Jesus became incarnate and die for the sins of “the world” (John 3:16, 1 John 4:14, John 4:42), “the whole world” (1 John 2:2), “everyone” (Hebrews 2:9), which means “all people” (1 Timothy 2:6). Passage after passage after passage expresses God’s universal love for all, God’s universal salvific will, and God’s universal provision in the atonement. Therefore, however we interpret John 17:9, we should interpret it in light of the boatload of passages that affirm that, yes, God does want the world saved.
But how should we interpret this passage? I think that one way to look at it is that Jesus isn’t saying anything about whom He wants saved, but He’s saying that He’s not currently praying for the world. Jesus said, “I am not praying for the world” in the present tense. Not “I have not” or “I will not” or “I have never and will never pray for the world”. We could look at this passage as Jesus saying that He isn’t praying for the world at the moment. For all we know, Jesus might have prayed for the whole world’s salvation on different occasions, occasions we didn’t even know about! After all, scripture doesn’t record every single word that ever came out of his mouth (i.e from the time He was 2-33). Here lately, I’ve been praying for one specific atheist I’ve interacted over e-mail. I don’t pray for the salvation of the souls of “all people” in general. Does that mean I don’t want all people saved? No, of course not! My lack of praying for the world no more indicates that I don’t want everyone saved than it does Jesus.
Moreover, we need to look at the context of the verse. When studying chapter 17, I noticed something interesting; Jesus isn’t praying for the world in verse 9, but neither is he praying for ” the world of the elect”. He’s only praying for the 12 disciples….at least in the portion of the text where this Calvinist prooftext is found. Jesus does pray for all believers in John 17, but he doesn’t do that until we get to verse 20. From verses 1-19, he’s praying only for the 12 disciples. From verse 20 and beyond, He’s praying for all believers. Should we conclude then, that Jesus didn’t want all believers to be saved since He’s not praying for them in verses 1-19? Of course not.
Much, much more could be said regarding the first S in R.O.S.E.S. Much ink could and indeed has been spilled between Arminians and Calvinists who debate this issue. For those wanting to do more study more into the objections Calvinists offer against Unlimited Atonement, check out the following blog posts of mine
*“5 Biblical Texts That Calvinists Can’t Wiggle Out Of”
*“Let The Wiggling Commence: A Response To Kevin Courter”
*“Scripture In The Hands Of A Wiggly Calvinist: A Response To Tony Lee Ross Jr.”
*“Another Unsuccessful Wiggle: A Second Response To Kevin Courter”
*“All Wiggled Out: A Second Response To Tony Lee Ross Jr.”
*Addressing Calvinist Responses To 2 Peter 3:9
(3) – God Sends Prevenient Grace To All People
Prevenient Grace is what God does to address the problem of (1) above. 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.” What did 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 n 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. Andrew Dragos explains that “Broadly speaking, this is the grace that ‘goes before’—that grace which precedes human action and reflects God’s heart for his creation. It testifies to God’s being the initiator of any relationship with him and reveals him as one who pursues us. ….This means the Spirit of God works not just to restore certain faculties of humanity or to limit human sin, but ultimately directs people to the work of Christ.”10
This is in contrast to the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace. Pastor John Piper describes Irresistible Grace as follows; “The doctrine of irresistible grace. … means that the Holy Spirit, whenever he chooses, can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible. …. The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can conquer all resistance when he wills. ….When God undertakes to fulfill his sovereign purpose, no one can successfully resist him.”11
Is Prevenient Grace synergistic or monergistic? While many who hold to a resistible grace are self-proclaimed synergists12, I do not think resistible grace is inherently synergistic. Whether a soteriological view is monergistic or synergistic really depends on how one defines those terms. Monergism comes from the two Greek words “mono” which means “one” and “erg” which means “work”.13 Synergism, by contrast, comes from the two Greek words “syn” meaning “together” and “erg”.14 So Monergism means that only one entity is at work while synergism means that two entities are at work.
Now, philosopher Kenneth Keathley puts forth illustration he puts forth in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach which involves an ambulance.
Keathley writes “Imagine waking up to find that you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the service of the ambulance.”15
Keathley’s point here is that in our salvation, The Holy Spirit is the only one at work, so grace is monergistic, but it isn’t irresistible like the Calvinists argue. We can resist God’s grace until the day we die, and therefore end up eternally damned. We have free will and can choose whether to resist or not resist. If we resist, we will remain unsaved. If we choose not to resist, we will be saved. God does everything in saving us. You don’t do anything to get saved, but you can do something to keep yourself from being saved; namely, resist The Holy Spirit.
Any contribution you give is harmful. It’s the lack of contribution that is required to receive the medical aid. This is the way it is with salvation; any contribution you give is harmful, it’s the lack of contribution or works and submission or faith that is required.
Does scripture teach Prevenient/Resistible/Overcoming Grace though?
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/resistible grace to every single human being so that they can be saved because they are so precious to Him. If the “drawing” of Jesus were irresistible, then universalism would result. However, we know from many passages of scripture that not all people will be saved (see Matthew 7:13-14, Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9, Revelation 21:8), therefore universalism is false. Since universalism is false, the drawing of Jesus Christ cannot be irresistible, but resistible.
John 1, the very first chapter of John’s gospel and the most glaring statement affirming Jesus’ divinity, states in 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 everyone? John Wesley said that this light that John 1 referred to, the light which is given to all men, is prevenient grace.16
In Acts chapter 7, Stephen had just been dragged in front of the Sanhedrin on the accusation that he repudiated the law of Moses and had blasphemed God. Stephen then went through a very long recap of biblical history. At the end of his speech, he rebuked the religious leaders saying “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51). Stephen says outright that the religious leaders were resisting The Holy Spirit! Stephen says outright that the religious leaders were resisting The Holy Spirit! This is not compatible with the doctrine of irresistible grace. According to Irresistible Grace, The Holy Spirit cannot be resisted! As James White put it: “The doctrine of ‘irresistible grace’ is easily understood. It is … when God chooses to move in the lives of His elect and bring them from spiritual death to spiritual life, no power in heaven or on earth can stop Him from so doing.”17 (emphasis mine) and as John Piper said “Their [non-Christians’] resistance to the cross has been overcome because the call of God broke through their spiritual blindness and granted them to see it as wisdom and power. This is what we mean by irresistible grace.“18
No power can stop God’s grace from bringing a sinner spiritual life, James White says. No power on Earth, he says! Piper said our resistance to the cross is overcome because God breaks through our spiritual blindness. But Stephen said explicitly that the religious leaders were resisting The Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51)! How could the Sanhedrin resist that which is irresistible?
In John 16:18, Jesus said that The Holy Spirit has come to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8) Again, who is a part of the world? Me, and you, and every person you’ve ever met and will meet. If it’s a human being and they’re on this planet, they’re a person The Holy Spirit has come to convict. Obviously, this convicting isn’t an irresistible convicting or else, again, everyone would fall to their knees and ask Christ to forgive them.
Titus 2:11 says “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” This passage says that God’s grace has appeared to all men. Not some men, not elect men, but all men. Now, if this grace which appeared to all men were an irresistible grace, then all men would be saved. That’s universalism, but Matthew 7:13-14, Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9, Revelation 21:8 give us reason to believe that universalism is false. While God wants all people to be saved, not all will be saved. Therefore, the grace of God that appeared to all men must be a resistible grace.
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 they would be saved! 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 a hen gathers her chicks under her wings) the only reason Jesus didn’t get what He wanted was that of a free decision on Jerusalem’s part.
(4) – Unconditional Election
Unconditional election is the teaching that before God created the world, he chose to save some people according to his own purposes and apart from any conditions related to those persons. God elects and predestines some individuals to salvation and others to damnation.
Now, in light of all that I’ve said about God loving all people, Jesus dying for the world, and sending grace to all the world’s inhabitants, that I include this as a soteriological fact will strike Arminian and Calvinist alike as bizarre. However, while I agree that there is a prima facie contradiction between the Arminian tenents of my soteriology with this Calvinistic tenant, later in this paper I will argue that Molinism resolves the apparent conflict. The contradiction only exists on the surface. It’s more of a paradox; an apparent contradiction rather than a real one. For now, let’s look at whether the doctrine is biblically supported.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” – Matthew 11:27
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” – John 6:37
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” – Romans 8:29-30
“When the Gentiles heard this [The Preaching of Paul which was recorded in the preceding verses], they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” – Acts 13:48
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” – Ephesians 1:4-12
These 3 texts are some of the passages that teach predestination. Now, classical Arminians interpret Ephesians 1 as teaching, not individual election, but a corporate election. Corporate Election can be understood by means of the following illustration. There’s a train station with two trains scheduled to go in opposite directions, one red train and one blue train. The destinations of both trains were predetermined and fixed prior to anyone arriving at the station. However, even though the destinations of the trains were predetermined, the destination of the individual passengers were not. The passengers can freely choose which train they board. It is the trains that were predestined, not the individuals. Likewise, on corporate election, God has predestined two groups: those who are In Christ and those who reject Christ. You can choose whether you’re inside the body of Christ or outside, but God has predetermined that the group of people who have faith in Christ will go to Heaven and the group of people that reject Christ is the group that goes to Hell. However, He has not determined which individuals comprise each of the groups.
I do think that election does have a corporate aspect to it. I think that this is probably what Ephesians 1 is talking about, but I don’t take a hard stance on that. The language of Ephesians 1 is ambiguous enough to support individual election or corporate election. I definitely think that this is what Romans 9 is talking about. However, I don’t think the corporate election is the whole story. The reason I think that is that some passages just don’t seem to mesh well with a corporate understanding of election. Take Matthew 11:27 for example. In this verse, Jesus said that no one can know the Father except the son and to whomever, the Son chooses to reveal Him. This sounds like The Son will reveal The Father to some individuals and not others.
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 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.”19
It is my conclusion that while Romans 9 teaches corporate election and while Ephesians 1 may or may not be, the corporate election interpretation just won’t work with Matthew 11:27 and Acts 13:48. Election is both a corporate and an individual aspect. Moreover, there is no apparent reason why some should be “ordained to eternal life” and others aren’t.
(5) – True Christians Can Lose Their Salvation
Can someone, after getting saved, turn their back on Christ and go back to living a life of unrepentant sin? Could a true Christian apostatize? The Bible certainly seems to suggest so. Passages such as Hebrew 2:1-3, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrew 4:14, Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-31, 2 Peter 2, 2 Peter 3:17, Colossians 1:21-23, Colossians 2:8, Galatians 5:1-4, and Romans 11 become unintelligible if apostasy was impossible. If Apostasy is impossible, then the aforementioned passages warn against something that could never occur. In that case, why are they in scripture? If falling away is really impossible, why would The Holy Spirit repeatedly inspire The New Testament authors to guard against it?
Calvinist attempts to make these passages something other than what they appear to be aren’t very convincing. For example, some try to make these warnings against Nominal Christians (i.e those who affirm that Christianity is true but haven’t entered into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and haven’t been born again). GotQuestions.org writes “The Bible’s warnings against apostasy exist because there are two types of religious people: believers and unbelievers. In any church there are those who truly know Christ and those who are going through the motions. Wearing the label ‘Christian’ does not guarantee a change of heart. It is possible to hear the Word, and even agree with its truth, without taking it to heart. It is possible to attend church, serve in a ministry, and call yourself a Christian—and still be unsaved (Matthew 7:21–23). As the prophet said, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ (Isaiah 29:13; cf. Mark 7:6).
God warns the pretender who sits in the pew and hears the gospel Sunday after Sunday that he is playing with fire. Eventually, a pretender will apostatize—he will ‘fall away’ from the faith he once professed—if he does not repent. Like the tares among the wheat, his true nature will be manifest.”20
While I don’t dispute that there are people like GQ described above (I actually used to be one of them), I don’t find this explanation very plausible. One reason is simply a logical one; since these people aren’t saved, they really aren’t worse off if they stop believing Christianity is true. They’re on their way to Hell either way. Wouldn’t it be better to exhort pretenders to actually make a commitment, to say something like James does in James 2:19 about even the demons believe that God exists?
But, more fundamentally, the way some of these warning passages are worded makes me doubt that they’re aimed at the Nominal Christian. Just take Hebrews 6:4-6 for example: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss, they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
For one, there’s the fact that the writer says that once they fall away, it is “impossible… to bring them back to repentance”. If these people “weren’t truly saved to begin with”, then it makes no sense to say that they can be “brought back to repentance”. If they weren’t truly saved, then they never really repented in the first place! There can’t be a second repentance unless there was a first repentance!
Moreover, it says that these people “have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in The Holy Spirit” How can a nominal Christian or a false convert be the type of person being described here? Are false converts spiritually enlightened? Have false converts tasted the heavenly gift? If Hebrews 6 is talking about false converts, then why does it say that they’ve “shared in The Holy Spirit?” A person who (1) has been enlightened spiritually, (2) has tasted the heavenly gift, and (3) shared in The Holy Spirit, sounds like a genuinely born again believer to me! That does not at all sound like the description of a nominal Christian!
(6) – True Christians Will Never Lose Their Salvation
So, once again, I’m going to sound like I’m contradicting myself. Stay with me. I will all make sense in good time. While The Bible warns against apostasy in a variety of places, there are also passages that seem to suggest that true Christians will persevere in their faith.
One passage that comes to mind is John 10:27-29. In this passage, Jesus says “My sheep here my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can pluck them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
Romans 8:38-39 says “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jude 24-25 says “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”
Ephesians 1:13 says “having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise…” The word translated into “sealed” indicates full security. The believer has full security for their inheritance when they receive the Holy Spirit.
1 John 2:19 says “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”
Philippians 1:6 says “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
John 6:39-40 says “. . . this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Molinism can account for all 6 of the soteriological facts. As a Molinist I hold that God wants all people to be saved so He became a human and died on the cross to atone for the sins of every person in the world. However, due to our totally depraved nature, we cannot repent on our own. We need God to enable us and draw us to repentance. We can exercise our libertarian free will to resist this drawing. And even after we get saved, we can freely choose to abandon Christ. These are soteriological facts (1), (2), (3), and (5).
But what about Unconditional Election and Perseverance Of The Saints (facts 4 and 6)? How does this work? If God really loves all people and wants all people saved, then how can he actively decree that some individuals go to Heaven and others go to Hell? Moreover, how can it be the case that can lose your salvation yet are eternally secure? Isn’t that a clear-cut contradiction?
This is where Molinism comes to the rescue. God, in His middle knowledge knew, “If Bob were in circumstance X, he would freely choose to do action A instead of action B”. So in order to get Bob to freely choose action A, all God has to do is actualize a world where circumstance X obtains, and as a result Bob chooses action A instead of action B. God’s purpose (the actualization of Bob choosing action A) is realized but God did not have to force or causally determine Bob. God achieved His purpose through His omniscience rather than His omnipotence.
In the above scenario, you could let “Action A” stand for “choosing to accept Christ’s offer of redemption”. God elects individuals by means of creating them in circumstances where God knows they would freely choose Him if put them in those circumstances. God chose which possible world He wanted to actualize from eternity past. So it could be said that God predestined Bob since He chose “from the foundations of the world” (see Ephesians 1:4-5) to create a world where Bob is in circumstance X and so Bob chooses A. It’s a free decision because God didn’t decree the proposition “If Bob were in circumstance X, He would freely choose A instead B”. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom that exist in God’s middle knowledge are contingent facts. This means that different counterfactuals could have existed in God’s mind than what actually do. If they did, then God would know different counterfactuals from eternity past. This means that Bob’s action is truly free. Bob could have chosen B instead of A, but if Bob had chosen B instead of A, then God’s middle knowledge would not have contained the proposition “If Bob were in circumstance X, he would freely choose A instead of B”. No. If Bob had made a different choice, then logically prior to God’s creative decree, God would have known instead “If Bob were in circumstance X, he would freely choose B over A.”
On Molinism, we can consistently hold that God foreordained our salvation before He even created the universe, and yet we still came to Christ of our own free will, choosing not to resist The Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). Predestination and libertarian free will are not incompatible.
However, while libertarian free will and predestination are compatible on the Molinist view, the next question that is bound to arise is “If God can get people to do things by placing them in the right circumstances, then why doesn’t He do this with all people so that all people can be saved?”
So, it very well could be the case that any world God actualizes which contains people with free will, there would always be some saved and some damned. God double predestinates simply by choosing to create a world of free creatures! God desires all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) but it is infeasible for God to actualize such a world because in any feasible world, there would be some who are not willing (Matthew 22:37) and God takes displeasure at that fact (see Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11).
But, middle knowledge is a type of foreknowledge. It isn’t knowledge of what you actually will do in the future, but it is knowledge of what you would do in the future if, in the future, you found yourself in a particular circumstance. Perhaps this is why Peter chose to use that word. Foreknowledge not of what you were actually going to do, but foreknowledge of what you would do.
1: Molina delineated the doctrine of middle knowledge and its logical implications for divine providence and predestination in his 1588 magnum opus, the Concordia (full title Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia, translated The Compatibility of Free Choice with the Gifts of Grace, Divine Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination, and Reprobation)
2: The word “prior” obviously means “before”, but people have a tendency to think of “prior” as something occurring in time prior to something else. Just as it’s dark outside “prior” to the sun’s rising. However, temporal “beforeness” or priority isn’t the only kind there is. There is also logical priority or “beforeness”. When I say that God’s natural knowledge is “prior” to His middle knowledge and His middle knowledge was “prior” to His decision to create and His free knowledge, I don’t mean that God first had natural knowledge and then gained middle knowledge, and then he decided to create a possible world thus imbuing His mind with free knowledge. No. I simply mean that God’s natural knowledge is the logical basis on which he has middle knowledge. And these two types of knowledge provide the basis for his free knowledge based on which of the possible worlds God knew about in his natural and middle knowledge to create. For something to be “logically” prior to something else simply means that the former thing is the explanation for the latter thing.
3: “The Five Points of Calvinism” by Herman Hanko, Homer Hoeksema, and Gise J. Van Baren, Copyright 1976 by Reformed Free Publishing Association.
4: John Owen, The Death of Christ
9: See John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”
10: Andrew Dragos, “What Is Prevenient Grace?”, April 12 2012, https://www.seedbed.com/a-primer-on-prevenient-grace/
11: John Piper, from the online article “What We Believe About The Five Points Of Calvinism”, March 1st 1985, — https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism
15: Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach”, B&H Publishing Group, Page 104
16: See “What Is Prevenient Grace?”, PursuingGod.org, http://www.pursuegod.org/what-is-prevenient-grace/
17: James White, “Debating Calvinism”, p. 197-198
18: John Piper, from the online article “What We Believe About The Five Points Of Calvinism”, March 1st 1985, — https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism
19: William Lane Craig, “Defenders Podcast: Series 2 > Doctrine of Salvation (Part 4)
Doctrine of Salvation (Part 4), February 02, 2014″ — https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-salvation/doctrine-of-salvation-part-4/
20: GotQuestions.org, “If our salvation is eternally secure, why does the Bible warn so strongly against apostasy?” https://www.gotquestions.org/apostasy-salvation.html
21: Martin Glynn, “GUEST POST: How Is Arminianism Different From Pelagianism?”, February 19th 2016, — http://cerebralfaith.blogspot.com/2016/02/guest-post-how-is-arminianism-different.html
22: William Lane Craig, Defenders Podcast: Series 1 > The Doctrine of Salvation (part 5), June 14, 2009
23: Reasonable Faith Podcast > “What About Those Who have Never Heard?” March 09, 2008, — https://www.reasonablefaith.org/media/reasonable-faith-podcast/what-about-those-who-have-never-heard/
24: MacGregor, Kirk R.. Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge (pp. 27-28). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
25: Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach”, page 7, B&H Academic.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Thank you for your thoughts. Yours helped me make progress identifying the right questions to ask for myself. Of the many thoughts which occurred here are a few.
It seems to me that the methods by which god chooses to employ his plan hardly matter. Whether through omniscience or omnipotence he has made his decision. It looks to me like you are getting around the issue by deciding that other choices ought be considered before considering wether something is predetermined or not. If free will is first considered then we have your thesis. However, if the first question considered is the existence of predestination then we are still left with the paradox. Either something is predetermined or something is not. The other truths follow from there.
One other point.
‘Moreover, there is no apparent reason why some should be “ordained to eternal life” and others aren’t.’
That is the heart of the matter is it not? In the face of everything you have said in your paper you have just come down firmly on the side of predestination and against free will for you offer us no counter to this conclusion in the quote. It seems we are both left with the same basic contradictions in our search for an answer.
My starting point is scripture. What does scripture teach? From there, I go on to assess which view has the best explanatory power and scope. It should be noted that I’m coming to doubt this uniquely Molinist flavor of soteriology after several conversations with David Pallmann. I think if I get back to studying soteriology, I’ll end up on the side of some ordinary form of Arminianism whether Wesleyanism, Classical, or what have you. But I certainly would still hold to Molinism as a model of divine sovereignty and human freedom. I would still hold that middle knowledge is the best theory as to how God expresses His sovereignty in a world of free creatures. Because The Bible teaches that God is both meticulously sovereign over all events and that human beings are genuinely free and are responsible for their actions.
I’m not, as you suggest, starting with free will as opposed to predestination. And I’m not even sure what you’re trying to say here? When you say “In the face of everything you have said in your paper you have just come down firmly on the side of predestination and against free will for you offer us no counter to this conclusion in the quote.” It shows me that you don’t understand Molinism at all.