August 13, 2012

Molinism, Calvinism, and I Corinthians

I just finished Dr. Olson's book Against Calvinism (It is really difficult to find time to read when you have a one year old). In appendix 1, Dr. Olson goes over several attempts by Calvinists to protect God's character despite their theology. One particular argument caught my eye: the use of middle knowledge.
Roger Olson explains:
Molinism... is the belief that God possesses "middle knowledge" -- knowledge of what any creature would do freely in any possible set of circumstances. The creature may possess libertarian freedom -- freedom not compatible with determinism and able to do other than it does -- but God knows what he or she wold do with that ability in an conceivable situation. [Roger Olson, Against Calvinism, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 184]
Molinism wasn't originally conceived to support Calvinism, but Semiaugustian (which similar to Arminianism). However, some Calvinists have attempted to use it nonetheless. Again Olson explains:
In order to assure that the sin God wants to happen does happen without him being its direct cause of responsible for it (in a guilty sense), God simply places the creature in a situation where he knows the creature will develop a controlling motive of his own accord and act sinfully out of it. [Ibid]
None of this is new to me. Olson does a very good job of explaining why this concept doesn't work (essentially no matter how much space you put between the cause and the effect, if the cause makes the effect definite, it is culpable). Still, as I was reading this I remembered this verse:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. -1 Corinthians 10:13
This is exactly the opposite of what a Molinist Calvinist claims. According to Scripture, God will never tempt you beyond what you are capable of resisting. According to the Molinist Calvinist, God determines the limits of what you are capable of resisting, and then intentionally tempts you in that exact way, when that sin would be for His glory of course.

I wonder how regular Calvinism would deal with this verse as well. The very fact God always provides a way of escape strongly implies, if not describes, the concept of contrary choice (i.e. libertarian free will): the capacity to have done other than what you actually do. If God forces you to sin (and yes Calvinists, I said "force". Just own it), then how does He also give you a way out? I don't think it makes sense.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting!
I've not yet had the pleasure of reading Roger Olson's book, but I find the conjunction of Molinism with Calvinism fascinating. I'm not aware of a single theologian who would accept the label of a "Molinist Calvinist." Are you?
Molinism, in fact, is a Jesuit philosophy spawned from the Romish counter-reformation. It was specifically constructed to oppose the monergistic soteriology of the Reformers and the main proponents of Molinism nowadays are Arminians with above-average philosophical training. The Doctrines of Grace are in direct conflict with the sympathies of a Molinist, so I do not understand how the title of "Molinist Calvinist" could be accurate on any level.


Jc_Freak: said...

I have a met a Monlinist Calvinist before, once. I do agree that that most Monlinists tend to be Arminian.

As far as the doctrines of grace being in direct contradiction to the sympathies of a Molinist, I would have to first say that I reject that term for Calvinism. Second, while I do agree that the average Calvinism would see no need for Monlinism (and thus I agree with you), I do not think that the notion of middle knowledge actually contradicts Calvinism at all.

Anonymous said...

The historic use of the term "Doctrines of Grace" is well established. And that is exactly what they are: reformed doctrines pertaining to the grace of God.

The notion of middle knowledge itself does not contradict Calvinism and we do not have a grievance against it other than it is superfluous; all of God's knowledge can be relegated to either being "natural" or "free." The problem lies with the insertion of libertarian free-will into the equation in relation to the acceptance of the gospel, which is precisely what Molinism does. Now you have a system that places God's decree to elect and save any particular individual logically posterior to that individual's choice to accept Christ. This is a flat denial of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace, two of Calvinism's central pillars. At this point the two groups are mutually exclusive. The "Molinist Calvinist" you met must simply have been confused.

I've had time to look at some other blog posts of yours. Quite enjoyable. :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


The Seeking Disciple said...

Good post. I enjoyed Dr. Olson's book though some felt that it was just a repeat of his book Arminian Theology.

Jc_Freak: said...

I agree, though Arminian theology is certianly a better resource for defending Arminianism.

Quartermaster said...

I realize you might consider this a small thing but you've made a misstatement about God and temptation. God does not tempt anyone,

"Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone." James 1:13 NKJV

God will allow us to come under temptation since He does not remove us from the influence of Satan, but He does not tempt us. He does allow testing of our faith, and as such He does make a way to escape those things we can't handle.

Jc_Freak: said...

I see your point. You are absolutely right in pointing this out to me. It should read "God never allows us to be tempted beyong our ability to resist".