Friday, October 7, 2011

Can a Calvinist be a Molinist?

The following is not meant to be combative, but analytical. Can a five-point Calvinist be a Molinist? Not consistently. Molinism is the framework dealing with omniscience and free actions of God’s creatures. Calvinism is the framework dealing with God’s sovereignty and his glory. Hence, there is nothing directly incompatible with these two concepts. Indeed, Bruce Ware has attempted a Molinist understanding of omniscience from the standpoint of a compatibilist free will. Nonetheless, I think this attempt, though noble, falls short of Molinism and fails to escape the logical implications of Calvinism.
First, five-point Calvinism, traditionally, affirms that man cannot respond to God without his active calling. Many, if not nearly all, Molinists would agree. The man in this position will then say God’s movement upon men’s hearts is irresistible, so that man cannot refuse. Because man is determined either way (whether or not he is saved), this is at odds with Molinism.
Molinism is predicated on the twin ideas of God’s omniscience and man’s free will. It was designed in part to solve the “problem” of how it was God could be said to be sovereign and yet man be truly free. Let this “true” freedom mean that in any given situation a creature is the originator of his own choice, and could have refrained from performing the action were he to decide to do so. We will also call this “libertarian free will.” Compatibilist free will, by contrast, suggests that man is free to perform some action by virtue of not being constrained by any outside factors.[1]
Molinism is also based on the idea of middle knowledge. The knowledge is said to be “middle” because they are contingent truths, the truth-value of which God does not control (as opposed to natural knowledge, which is necessary, and free knowledge, which is contingent knowledge of the actual world that God does, in fact, control the content of). Now libertarian free will fits in nicely here. Compatibilism does not quite make it.
By definition, compatibilism means freedom is compatible with causal determinism. Further, compatibilists want to say it is God who causes one to freely accept Christ and be saved. In this case, then, I do not see how the knowledge of these truths can truly be middle. If the truths that are of the saved are contingent, they are only contingent upon God’s choice; hence, they belong to God’s free knowledge. If the truths of the unregenerate are contingent, they can only be so on God’s choice, which again conflates middle knowledge into free knowledge. Only by postulating these are necessary truths can one escape this. But in that case, compatibilism does not lend itself to middle knowledge.
Now, can one be a five-point Calvinist and be an incompatibilist? Absolutely. He may hold to a view of the will as not free given causal determinism (a bit how Luther or Edwards came off in their writings on the subject). But that won’t lend itself to Molinism either. What about those who accept libertarian free will? If there are any five-point Calvinists who also accept libertarian free will, this would at least be sufficient to accept Molinism. However, as we have pointed out, if one is a five point Calvinist, then she cannot accept libertarian free will as defined! So it seems that even though the attempt is commendable,  five-point Calvinists can not, with any consistency, be called Molinists.


[1] This applies to our situation since it is man’s unregenerate nature that makes him incapable of a good response, and thus is a factor within himself. When he does respond, it is only due to his regenerate nature (regenerated by God), and hence is a factor within himself.

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