Hey, Evan, Are You An Arminian, Or Not?
I can imagine that there is some confusion among my readers given that I used to call myself an Arminian, and now I don’t. In some of my older blog posts, I labeled myself an Arminian while in more current ones, I label myself a Molinist in some places while still calling myself an Arminian in others. So, what is the deal, you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It was about a year ago that I started investigating the theological view known as Molinism. I browsed many, many articles on www.molinists.com and reflected on their arguments for the view. Eventually, I came to realize that Molinism did a much better job explaining the biblical data on salvation than either Arminianism or Calvinism ever could. I go into this in a good bit of detail on my blog post “Is Molinism Biblical?” So if you want to see how Molinism does a better job of explaining ALL of the soteriological data, go read the blog post “Is Molinism Biblical?” But basically, put simply, I changed views on the basis of Molinism’s exceeding explanatory scope. There are Bible passages that make sense on Arminianism, but not on Calvinism. The are Bible passages that make sense on Calvinism, but not on Arminianism. But ALL the soteriological data makes sense under a Molinist approach.
I’ve been an Arminian for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never been completely satisfied with it. I thought it came orders of magnitude closer to accounting for the soteriological data than Calvinism though.
I see Molinism as a sort of middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism, sort of like how Old Earth Creationism is the middle ground between young earth creationism and theistic evolution. At least my brand of Molinism is. There are exegetical areas where I agree with Calvinists, and areas where I side with the Arminians. I think it’s appropriate to differentiate between the views for the sake of clarity. Just as its prudent to call those who deny evolution but embrace an old earth “old earth creationists” and not call theistic evolutionists by that name, because its important not to conflate the Hugh Ross crowd with the Francis Collins crowd, so it’s important to separate the middle knowledge Arminians (i.e Molinists) from the simple foreknowledge brand. That’s why I stopped calling myself an Arminian and started calling myself a Molinist exclusively. Even though I agree with many, many things Arminians believe, there are a few nuances in my soteriology that separates me from people like Roger Olson and Brian Abaciano.
At the same time, I realize that there’s a sort of spectrum of Molinists. There are Molinists whose line of thinking is very, very arminian (like yours truly), and there are also Molinists whose soteriology is as close to Calvinism as one can get without actually embracing Calvinism (like my friend Richard Bushey of www.ThereforeGodExists.com). This is why I sometimes call myself an “Arminian-Molinist”.
I agree with Arminians on 97% of soteriological issues. That 3 percent has to do with their interpretations of the predestination passages, the eternal security passages, and their inability to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free will.
Let’s take a brief look at how Molinism better accounts for these things than Arminianism does.
It’s indisputable that The Bible teaches predestination. But Calvinists, Arminians, and Molinists all have different interpretations on what it means for a person to be predestined. Let’s take a look at some of the passages that teach predestination, shall we?
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” – Romans 8:29-30
“Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” – Ephesians 1:4-5
“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.”- Acts 13:48
Calvinists say that these passages teach that God simply picks and chooses who he wants saved, he sort of makes a list of who to save and who to damn, and then he sends irresistible grace to those on that list. This is how God elects people on The Calvinist view. I went into the troubling implications this would have on God’s character in my blog post “Why No One Should Worship God If Calvinism Were True” so I won’t rehash that argument here. But basically, a God who would decide to burn people forever before even creating the world, choosing to causally determine that person to do evil things, then punish that person for doing the very evil that he himself made that person do, would not be a god worthy of worship. Such a god would be a moral abomination, and as such could not be the standard of morality (see “The Moral Argument For God’s Existence”) nor would he be a maximally great being (see “The Ontological Argument for God’s Existence”). For this reason as well as others, I reject the Calvinist’s interpretation of the predestination passages.
On the other hand, I was never fully convinced of the Arminian interpretation of the predestination passages either. When I read Arminian commentaries on passages like these, it always seemed like they were trying to shoehorn these passages into their own soteriological view. The Calvinist reading seemed more straightforward than the Arminian reading. I suspected the Arminian theologian was doing with these passages the same thing the Calvinist theologians do with passages like 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4, which state that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” and that He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Just basically reinterpreting the prima facie meaning of these passages to fot their view. I tried to convince myself that their “corporate election” view explained these passages, but I could never quite do it. By the way, the corporate election view is that God has predestined two different groups to salvation and damnation rather than individuals. God decided, on this view, that Christians would go to Heaven and Non-Christians would go to Hell, but everyone can choose whether they want to be in the group of Christians or the group of Non-Christians. As an illustration, let’s say that you’re at a train station. Two trains are about to leave the station, going in opposite directions. The trains’ ultimate destination has been predetermined beforehand but you can choose which train you wish to board. I think that’s a good analogy to the Arminian view of corporate election. Now, I do believe that there is a corporate aspect to election, I just don’t think that tells the whole story. I also believe that this is a plausible reading of the Ephesians 1 passage. I just don’t think that it’s a plausible reading of Romans 8:29-30 or Acts 13:48. I think Ephesians 1 is one of the few places where this view works.
I too believe that our salvation is decreed by God. I believe like the Calvinists that God predestines individual people unto salvation. However, I see individual predestination in a different sense than the Calvinists see it. I believe God decreed to actualize a feasible world where I endured through certain circumstances, and because I ended up enduring through those circumstances, I ended up being saved, because God knew from eternity past that I would make the option to receive Him as my God and Savior if I endured through just those circumstances. I think this is probably how God predestines people.
God predestines people by means of His middle knowledge. God knew, for example, that if Bob ended up in circumstance U. God, in His middle knowledge knew, “If Bob were in circumstance U, he would choose to action A over action B”. So in order to get Bob to freely choose action A, all God has to do is actualize a possible world where circumstance U is actualized, 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 to do such. God’s 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”. I believe God does this with salvation. God elects individuals by means of creating them in circumstances where God knows they would freely choose Him if put 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 U and so Bob chooses A. It’s a free decision because God didn’t decree the proposition “If Bob were in circumstance U, He would freely choose A over B”. Bob made that proposition true. All God did was act on His knowledge of that proposition. This is what William Lane Craig means when He says “It is up to God whether we find ourselves in a world in which we are predestined. It is up to us whether we are predestined in the world in which we find ourselves”. For more on this, see my blog post “Molinism and Divine Foreordination”
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 (see 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 to create. If God could have His way, He would predestine everyone to salvation via His middle knowledge. But for some reason or other such a world is not a feasible one for God to actualize. This may be die either to the fact that those who are damned in the actual world WOULD be freely damned in any possible world that God were to actualize, or it may be the case that in any feasible worl God could actualize, some people would inevitably end up in situations where God knew, if they were to end up in those circumstances, they WOULD freely reject God. That any feasible world God could actualize, some would freely accept Him while others freely reject Him. Since God wants everyone to be saved, He chose a world with an optimal balance of saved over lost.
It should also be said that just because God chooses a possible world where some would have been saved if He had simply placed them in a different circumstance, that doesn’t mean their damnation was inevitable or that God was somehow giving them the short end of the stock. Remember, God does not choose what counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true and which ones are false. The humans he creates choose which counterfactuals are true and which ones are false. All God does is act on His knowledge of the counterfactuals in order to achieve His ends. For example, let’s say”If Bob were in circumstance S, he would choose action A over action B”. And God wants action A to occur. God actualize a possible world where circumstance S is instantiated, and lo and behold, Bob chooses A over B. True, Bob chose A, but he did not have to choose A Bob could have chosen B instead. If Bob had chosen B, God would have known ”If Bob were in circumstance S, he would choose action B over action A” instead.
Since we have libertarian free will, and our circumstances don’t causally determine us to do what we do, no human being has an excuse for not repenting. Everyone can be saved. People can do differently in the situations they’re placed in. It’s just that God knows that we won’t do differently. It’s a would do/would-not-do differently situation rather than a can-do/cannot-do-differently situation. As such, no man can stand before God on judgment day and say “If only you had placed me in a particular situation, then I would have repented. But because you did not place me in that particular situation, I did not repent, and now I stand here before you condemned. So this is all your fault, God.” God will say “No, you had the freedom to choose me or reject me. It was possible for you to do either no matter what situation I placed you in.”
God gives resistible grace to every single individual (As Jesus said in John 12:32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”). This overcomes their inability to come to Him mentioned by Jesus in John 6:44 and John 6:65. So even though there may be a possible world where say, Richard Dawkins is a born again Christian, it’s entirely possible for him to be that in any world God creates. It’s up to him whether he is or is not.
I’ve never been completely satisfied with the Arminian position of apostasy, but I never found the Calvinist view that you couldn’t lose your salvation very satisfying either. It seemed to me that an overwhelming case could be made that Christians could indeed forfeit their salvation after receiving it, but I also thought a compelling case could be made for the doctrine of eternal security a.k.a perseverance of the saints a.k.a once-saved-always-saved. I had a terrible time figuring this out.
I think I’ve found a good solution to my dilemma, however.
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 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.
I often call this view “The Keathley/Craig Model Of Eternal Security” because I first learned about it from Kenneth Keathley and William Lane Craig.
*Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom
I actually now think that a simple foreknowledge view combined with libertarian free will (Arminianism) can't account for sovereignty and providence.
Imagine God creates the world, and he only knows the actual future, but he doesn't know counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. What if Judas, Pilate, or Caiphas didn't make the choices required for crucifying Jesus? What if Judas freely chose not to betray Jesus? Or what if Pilate didn't bow to the pressure of the crowd to crucify him? Sure, God would be able to foresee their free choice, but He wouldn't be able to do anything about it without violating their freedom. And in this case, no atonement would be made because Jesus wouldn't be crucified. So much for receiving atonement for our sins. On Arminianism, it seems God is just lucky that these events went the way that He wanted them to.
Now, if God has middle knowledge, then he knows which person to put in those positions in the first century to get Jesus crucified. He knew that if Caiaphas was high priest in the first century, then he would freely condemn Jesus on grounds of Blasphemy and 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 He 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. If these characters had chosen differently, then God could have put a different set of people in these guys’ shoes so they could get Jesus crucified.
The more I think about it, the more I think the Calvinist has a point in saying Arminianism undermines God's sovereignty. On the other hand, universal divine determinism is unacceptable. Why? Because it would render God morally responsible for every evil act ever committed! Not to mention that major chunks of The Bible make no logical sense unless you presuppose libertarian free will when reading the text (like all those times God gets angry at people disobeying Him, for example).
Divine providence only works with libertarian free will if you throw middle knowledge into the mix, which is Molinism.
I’m mostly Arminian in my soteriology, but the nuances I expounded above separate me from the Rodger Olson crowd. For that reason, I only call myself either a Molinist or “Arminian-Molinist”.