Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

William Lane Craig and Paul Helm discuss Calvinism and Molinism on the Unbelievable radio show

I listened to this excellent discussion between Dr. William Lane Craig and Oxford University Calvinist philosopher Dr. Paul Helm. I think this is a useful discussion in general because atheists often bring up problems with Calvinism as objections to Christianity in general, such as:

  • If God exists, then he controls everything and I don’t have free will
  • If God knows the future, then I don’t have free will
  • If God controls everything, then I am not responsible for my sinning
  • If God has to choose me to be saved, then I am not responsible for my damnation

Details:

If God ordains the future, can humans have free will? Are people predestined for salvation? And what does the Bible say on the matter? William Lane Craig is a Christian philosopher and leading proponent of Molinism, a view of divine sovereignty that seeks to reconcile God’s fore-ordination with human free will. Paul Helm is a leading Calvin Scholar. He defends the view that  God predestines the future, limiting human freedom.

MP3 of this show: http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/molinism%20full%20show-1.mp3

For William Lane Craig: http://www.reasonablefaith.org

For Paul Helm: http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.co.uk/ 

I was surprised because my Calvinist friend Dina thought that Dr. Helm won this debate, but I thought that Dr. Craig won. So without further ado, here is the snark-free summary of the discussion. I also sent the summary to Dina to make sure that it was reasonably fair and accurate. She said it was biased, but she was predestined to say that. Anyway, there’s a commentary on the debate over at Michael’s Theology blog.

UPDATE: Remington has a podcast review in parts. Part 1 is here.

Summary: 

JB: Has Lewis had any impact on your apologetics?

Craig: Not as a scholar, but more as a model of a scholar who leaves a legacy through his published work

JB: How did you become interested in Calvinism?

Helm: Starting from childhood, and lately writing more on Calvinism from a philosophical point of view

JB: How do you view God’s sovereignty?

Helm: Strong view of divine sovereignty, God is sovereign over all events, but that doesn’t mean that they are determined by him

JB: What is Calvin’s legacy?

Helm: He amplified an existing concept of predestination, and wrote on many other topics

JB: What is Molinism?

Craig: Molina affirms divine sovereignty as Paul Helm does, but he also affirms libertarian free will

Craig: Every event that occurs happens by God’s will or by God’s permission

JB: What about open theism?

Craig: Paul and I both oppose open theism

JB: How does Molinism reconcile human free will and divine sovereignty

Craig: God has knowledge of what would happen under any set of circumstances

Craig: God has knowledge of everything that COULD happen, and he has knowledge of everything that WILL happen

Craig: God knows what each person freely choose to do in any set of circumstances and he can place people in times and places where he is able to achieve his ends without violating creaturely freedom and creaturely responsibility

JB: How does this apply to the issue of salvation?

Craig: The circumstances in which God puts a person includes God leading people to him and he foreknows who will respond to his leading

Craig: God has ordered the world in such a way that he foreknows the exact people who will free respond to his leading if he puts them in certain circumstances

JB: Does God want to save the maximum of people?

Craig: My own view is that God does order the world in such a way that the maximum number of people will respond to God’s drawing them to himself

JB: Is the Molinist view gaining ground?

Craig: Yes, Calvinists and open theists are both moving towards it, and Molinism is the dominant view among philosophical theologians

JB: Why has Molinism not convinced you?

Helm: It’s an unnecessary theory, God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge covers what middle knowledge covers

Helm: Calvinism has a stronger view of sin, such that God has to act unilaterally and irrestibly to save them

JB: Are creatures free on your view?

Helm: My view of free will is weaker than Craig’s view of free will

Craig: For the Calvinist, grace is irresistible, but for the Molinist, grace is effective when it is met with a response from the creature

Craig: The Bible affirms the strong view of free will, when it says that in certain circumstances people can freely choose to do other than they do

Helm: But if a person is in circumstances X and they are free, then why don’t they choose something that isn’t what God can foresee

Craig: In identical circumstances, a person has the freedom to choose, and God doesn’t determine what they choose, he just foreknows what they choose

Helm: How can God foreknow what people will freely do if people have this strong view of freedom that allows them to do anything? God would not know what people can freely do if they really are free

Craig: God has knowledge of what his creatures would freely do in any set of circumstances, he has knowledge of subjunctive statements

Craig: The Scripture is filled with statements that show that God has this knowledge of what people would do in other circumstances (e.g. – 2 Cor 2:8)

Helm: I am not denying that the Bible is full of subjunctive statements, but if humans have real libertarian free will, then God cannot know what they will do

Craig: I think God does preordain everything, Molinism has a strong sense of divine sovereignty BUT the foreordaining is done with the knowledge of what humans would do in any circumstances, so that what God ordains achieves his ends, but without violating creaturely free will

Craig: I take at face value the passages of the Bible where it says that God wants all persons to be saved

Craig: When the Bible says that God wants ALL persons to be saved (2 Pet 3:9), the Bible means that God wants ALL persons to be saved

Craig: So either universalism is true OR there is something that stops all from being saved outside of God

Craig: the something that prevents all from being saved is creaturely free will

Helm: Most people don’t have the opportunity to hear the gospel, so God doesn’t want all to be saved

Helm: People can still be responsible for what God “fore-ordains”

JB: Can a person really be responsible for wickedness if they didn’t freely choose it?

Helm: Even though God is the only one who can act unilaterally to make save people, the people who act wickedly are still responsible

Craig: Molinism provides an answer to the problem of why not all people have heard the gospel, because by using middle knowledge he is able to know who would respond to the gospel if they heard it and he places those people in the times and places where they will hear it

Craig: That solution means that NO ONE is lost because they have not heard the gospel

Craig: There is Biblical support for (Acts 17:27) God choosing the times and places where people will live SO THAT they will be led by him and be able to respond to his leading

JB: Is God the author of sin, on Calvinism?

Craig: If Calvinists define providence to mean causal determinism, then he is the cause of every effect including human actions, and he is the one who causes people to sin

Craig: This view (determinism) impugns the character of God

Helm: I don’t think that sovereignty requires determinism

Helm: God has mysterious resources – which I cannot specify – that reconcile his sovereignty with human responsibility for wickedness

JB: But if God is the cause of people doing wrong things, then how can they be responsible for it?

Helm: Well, humans do cause their own actions

Craig: Helm is right to say that God has resources to reconcile God’s sovereignty with free will and human responsibility, and that resource is not an unknown mystery, it’s middle knowledge

Craig: I can affirm everything in the Westminster Confession except for the one clause where they expressly repudiate middle knowledge as the mechanism for reconciling divine sovereignty and free will

Helm: Well, Calvinists have a strong view of sin so that humans cannot respond to God’s leading

Craig: Yes, and that’s why humans need prevenient grace in order to respond to him

Craig: God has to take the initiative and draw people to himself or they cannot be saved, but that grace is resistible, and that’s what the Bible teaches (Acts 7:51), so humans are still responsible if they resist God

Helm: My view of grace is that it is monergistic and irrestible, it is a unilateral action on the part of God, like pulling someone out of an icy pond which they can’t get out of

JB: If humans freely choose to respond to God’s drawing and leading, does that diminish grace?

Helm: Many are called but few are chosen

Craig: Molinism does not require synergism – which is the idea that humans are partly responsible for their salvation

Craig: In Eph 2:8, Scripture is clear that faith opposite to works, and responding to God’s drawing is not meritorious

JB: So receiving a gift is not meritorious?

Craig: It’s the passive acceptance of what someone else has done for you

Helm: But doesn’t this mean that you can lose your salvation, because you can accept and resist the gift of salvation?

Craig: That’s a separate question that Christians can differ on, but if the Holy Spirit indwells a person and seals them, then that would argue for the view that salvation cannot be revoked

JB: Doesn’t Romans 8 teach Calvinism pretty clearly?

Helm: This is called the “golden chain”, and it does support Calvinism

Craig: Actually, this text is no problem for Molinists because the first link in the chain is foreknowledge, which, if it incorporates middle knowledge, is no problem for Molinists

Craig: What God is electing in Romans 8 is a specific group of people that he knows in advance of creating the universe will freely respond to his drawing them to him

Craig: In Acts 4:27-28, it is talking about God’s foreknowledge, which involves and incorporates knowledge of what any individual would freely choose if placed in those circumstances

JB: If God actualizes a set plan with set circumstances for everyone, isn’t that very similar to Calvinism?

Craig: Yes! It’s a strong statement of divine sovereignty

Helm: Foreknowledge doesn’t mean that God knows what people would do, it’s just refering to God “knowing his own mind” about what he wants to do

JB: How do you respond to the fairness of God unilaterally and specifically choosing some people for salvation and choosing other people for damnation (because he refuses to act unilaterally for them)?

Helm: God ordinarily bypasses other people in the Bible, like when he chooses the Jews as his chosen people

Craig: The problem with that is that the Bible clearly teaches that God has a genuine will that all will be saved and he makes a genuine offer of salvation to all people

Craig: Also, just being a Jew and a member of the chosen people doesn’t mean you were saved, because some Jews rebelled against God

Craig: And there were also people outside of the Jewish people who were righteous and in a relationship with God, like Job

Helm: “the fabric of our faith” depends on God’s choice and his not-choice, it is fundamental to the Bible and to God’s character, and choosing them “effectively” (irrestibly and unilaterally)

Helm: The idea of God considering “possible worlds”, some of which are feasible and not feasible, with conflicts between the wills of free creatures in different circumstances, and then actualizing one world that achieve these ends is very messy

Craig: Some worlds may not feasible for God to create, for example a world in which everyone is saved – it is logically possible, but may not be feasible

Craig: God will not exercise any divine coercion to force people to go to Heaven against their own will

Helm: If God chooses a world because it is feasible, then he doesn’t love me directly, he is choosing a world, not individuals

Craig: Well, when God actualizes a world, he specifically knows which individuals will be saved within that world, but without disrespecting free will

Craig: The world isn’t primary, the individuals are primary

Helm: I think that middle knowledge can he included in God’s natural knowledge and free knowledge

Craig: The knowledge of what people would do in different circumstances is based on the freedom of the individuals

JB: Make your conclusions!

Craig: Molinism is a Biblical model for reconciling divine sovereignty with human freedom

Helm: It is intellectually mystifying to introduce this strong view of human freedom and it is not Biblical

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50 Responses

  1. WorldGoneCrazy says:

    The first time I saw anything on Molinism was when you linked to a WLC article or debate on that subject. I find this position highly attractive from what I understand to be a Biblical view. Interestingly, it has given me a better, not worse, appreciation for God’s sovereignty.

    Plus, strict Calvinism just plain creeps me out – even if it turns out to be 100% true. Every Calvinist statement of faith I have read goes something like this: “God is sovereign, God is sovereign, God is sovereign, … God is sovereign, oh, and by the way, we have free will.” I never get an understanding from the Calvinist as to just what sort of freedom I have, under this view.

    I do think that the high view of worship in the Reformed churches is something to be admired – tremendously. And their expressions of God’s sovereignty are so beautiful that I print those out and re-read them from time to time.

    I don’t understand Helm’s last statement “It is intellectually mystifying to introduce this strong view of human freedom…” Don’t humans desire to be autonomous, often in a bad sense, in which case we certainly wish it to be true that we have a strong form of free will? So, introducing a theology (Molinism) which provides a strong form of human freedom (provided it is Biblical, of course) is not, in the least, intellectually mystifying, right? Or perhaps I am thinking of emotionally satisfying. Nevertheless, it certainly appears we have free will, and thus, a free will component would not go against what looks like conforms to reality.

  2. Jordan says:

    Very interesting, I’ll have to download this for later. A friend of mine recently renounced his faith, and as we were talking about it, we got into a discussion on free will. I think this will be highly relevant to that peripheral part of the discussion.

  3. SLIMJIM says:

    I think its ironic when people sometime reject Calvinistic Christianity for unbelief…that ends up being more deterministic and fatalistic than the very theology they rejected on that basis in the first place.

    • WorldGoneCrazy says:

      I’m confused, SLIMJIM: are you saying that there are people who do not believe that Calvinists are Christians?!? If so, why on earth would a Christian reject Calvinists as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? I always thought it was the other way around with Calvinists breaking fellowship with Armenians and Molinists – it sure is where I live.

      • SLIMJIM says:

        Hey there. I do believe Calvinists are Christians. I was merely observing that to depart from Christianity because of Calvinism into unbelief (say atheism) often lead one to embrace a fatalistic worldview (typically hard determinism by impersonal forces). It’s just ironic.

  4. jakecole0171 says:

    Molinism used to appeal to me until I actually began to study the concept of free will and what it actually entails, and discovered that it comes up rather short.
    As much as I respect Dr. Craig, he exults the ability of man in his fallen condition to somehow choose God without God moving to regenerate the being of man that is dead in sin and trespasses against Him. It is not God moving the slider of the will just to medium, to some neutral state, but throws it completely from “dead in sin” to “alive in Christ”.
    Craig seems to miss the focus of passages like 2 Peter 3:9 (which reflects on Romans 2:4) by forgetting to ask the question of consistency: who is the “all” to whom Peter is referring? Craig, as smart and quick as he is, consistently fails that test.

    • Yeah, I think to be a Calvinist, you have to invent new definitions for words. So if you see the word “all” you have to make it say “the elect”. But if you just let the Bible speak, then Calvinism is false. But it’s really up to each person to decide whether to believe the Bible as it is, or to invent their own meanings of words.

      • jakecole0171 says:

        No, WK, that’s not the case at all. You are absolutely correct that you must let the bible speak for itself, but it’s not inventing new definitions, it is letting the writers define the terms that they are using rather than forcing our definitions upon them. It’s about having a consistent understanding that applies in every sense throughout the entirety of the Biblical text.
        I think that to be Reformed is to be able to see the thread of God’s redemptive act in Christ woven through scripture. It is to be able to say that “God knows me, and saved me” rather than saying “God has established a nameless, faceless number and you have to be in it”. The bible, to me seems clear in its assertion that the former is the case and not the latter, because to get the latter understanding one must rip particular verses out of their context and isolate them, and perform terrible acts of eisigesis to get the text to speak in that manner.
        I mean, take Ezekiel 18. There is no way that one can read that passage with a Molinistic interpretation unless they deliberately twist the last half of Romans 8 thru chapter 11 AND Ephesians 1-2, as well as John 3:1-21, one realizes that they simply cannot be consistent with the implications, rather they find themselves consciously flipping back and forth.

        • jmg123 says:

          ” It is to be able to say that “God knows me, and saved me” rather than saying “God has established a nameless, faceless number and you have to be in it”. ”

          I don’t really think that is part and parcel of Molinism. It is something that Craig did mention in the audio piece as the way he would interpret a particular passage, but its not really connected with his Molinist position.

          [Revelation 17:8b KJV] … whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

          Surely if the actual names of certain people are written in the Lambs book of life and have been so since before the foundation of the world, then election has to be focused upon individuals, not just upon a generic / corporate group. Names in a book can only mean individuals that together make up the corporate group, but they are still actual names of actual individuals if the verse is to have any rational meaning at all.

          I can be (and am) a Molinist, and I can say this without any compromise to my Molinist viewpoint.

          And this actually fits Molinism quite well with the verse I have cited, for if God has written actual names of actual individuals in a book, then He could not have done so without foreknowing that those individuals would come to exist in the world He was about to create (note the verse says that the names were written in the book antecedent to, or at least commensurate with, the creation of the world in which those people would eventually come to be). It is also part of the Molinist position that He based His creative choice on this particular world that we find ourselves in based on His choice of those who are listed in His book. In other words, it was actually His choice of the individuals that are in the book that dictated which world He would create in the first place.

          • jakecole0171 says:

            I noticed something about that verse, and I wonder if you noticed it: ” whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world”. Now, I find it interesting that you are using the same verse that a person who believes in divine freedom and the doctrines of grace would use to defend that position to defend your own. Especially considering the fact that most bibles have a reference at that point to Matthew 25:34.

          • The middle knowledge view is that God knows who will be saved before he creates the world. So the book of life is written first. The difference is that he foreknows who will be saved because he knows where to place them in time and space so that they will respond to his drawing them to him. So before creating, he looks at what conditions they need to be in over the course of their lives, and sets them up to freely respond. If he does not place them and then draw them to him, they are dead in their sins. But for those who are not saved, it’s their free choice that is to blame. And he knows who they are and creates them anyway, because he can use them as “vessels of wrath” to draw in the ones who will respond to him.

          • jakecole0171 says:

            It seems that you’ve stopped arguing the Molinism of Dr. Craig, which argues the feasability of worlds, and are attempting to smuggle in a Reformed argument about election.
            The problem with middle knowledge, the problem I found when I held a more Arminian position, is that dead people can’t choose (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13).

          • No, the elect are in Dr. Craig’s view:

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s11-03

            There is a whole body of thought on the notion of corporate election, and this is Craig’s view. The people are saved are known and definite, but it respects free will.

          • jakecole0171 says:

            First, what “free will” is must be defined, AND evident from scripture to support it.
            Philosophically, there is only support for libertarian free will in only one being, that being God, because multiple beings with such wills cancel each other out, which is why monotheism is the only logically consistent belief system. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that human will is limited to his state, and is not libertarian, but rather compatibalist in its nature, best explained by this: before the fall, man was free to sin, after the fall man was free to do nothing but sin, after his redemption man is free to choose not to sin–this is the consistent message of scripture.

          • jmg123 says:

            I think its merely an indication that many of the verses used by extreme Calvinists to defend their position are not well thought out and can often be turned around upon them to demonstrate their assumptions are questionable. In the verse cited, it only stands to reason that if God is writing names in a book, and this writing precedes the actual existence of those whose names He has written, then it demands that God did indeed know that those individuals would come into being. The outfall of this is that God does foreknow personal details of the future since He knows what these individuals will be named by their parents. As for the Biblical cross-reference to Matthew 25, I think that is just because both verses mention the phrase “the foundation of the world”.

          • jakecole0171 says:

            Actually the problems seem to stem not from what God knows, rather “those whom He foreknew”, and what that means.

          • jmg123 says:

            “dead people can’t choose (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13).” Quite right. And dead people according the the classic Calvinist interpretation of this passage, dead people can’t do ANYTHING. “Dead in sins” here is made equivalent to a corpse. And we are told that, of course, a corpse cannot do anything, it is a picture of total inability. However, there is a problem, for those who are “dead in sin” do not really act in a corpse-like fashion. A corpse cannot commit a sin, can it? Yet, those who are “dead in sin” can and do sin. Therefore the idea of them being in a corpse-like state of total inactivity doesn’t wash. The idea here is death as a separation, not as total inability or inactivity.

            Besides as I have pointed out, the idea of “choosing” is irrelevant to belief. We do not choose what we will believe, we believe what we are persuaded is true. Jesus doesn’t say “choose me”, He says “believe me”.

            A question for you. Is the choice of a regenerate man any less meritorious (or even commendable) than the choice of an unregenerate man if were able to choose? The idea of choice itself is incongruous with belief whether regeneration precedes (Calvinism) or follows (Arminianism) that choice.

          • jakecole0171 says:

            You are conflating types of activity by failing to ask the questions that the texts raise: what did they mean, how did they understand what this meant in light of the evidence they had?
            Also, are you saying that what we believe isn’t based on a choice? I would assert, based on John 8:37-47, that God exercises choice by enabling specific persons to believe. While we may be able to choose, limited to our nature and available choices, there are certain choices that we are unable to make based on our location, which leads me to your last question.
            Who does the regenerating? Is the regeneration merited by something? The answer is in question.God either regenerates the being of man fully, or not at all, not based on merit but on grace. I think a good example of this is David Berlinsky, think about what he had to do before God saved him. He committed terrible crimes, and he freely admits this and reveled in them until he became a believer in Christ.
            And i think that is an important point. I didn’t choose to believe, I BECAME a believer, something inside of me changed. Something went from “off” to “on”, and for me it was a terrible, painful experience, because it wasn’t what I wanted. If I say, or anyone says “I chose to believe this”, I don’t think that the evidence from scripture can at all support that conclusion, much less any philosophical argument.

  5. jmg123 says:

    I see the whole question of human free will versus divine sovereignty as wholly irrelevant to the question of belief / unbelief. Belief is simply not a choice that one makes. One can only believe something if one has been persuaded that it is true, or ,in the case of believing a person, one has been persuaded that what the person has claimed is true. The reasons for the persuasion can be varied, some better than others, and, therefore, more “durable” shall we say in the public forum.

    The Calvinist / Arminian debate tends to assume that there are only two options: Calvinism or Arminianism, and that, if you are not one, then you, by default, are the other. The Molinistic viewpoint is a refreshing departure from the WWI-like theological trench warfare that has amounted to each side hunkering down in their theological breastworks, lobbing their own scriptural grenades back and forth, and generally ignoring what the other side has to say. Yet the Molinist who tries to carry the “belief is a choice” baggage (whether it is the choice of a man first regenerated by God’s sovereign will, or it is the choice of a man who desires to become regenerate) into his theological frameworks has taken a very fruitful concept and married it to a very flawed definition.

    That which lead to belief is the convicting / convincing work of the Holy Spirit combined with the presentation of the gospel and its supporting evidence, especially that concerning the resurrection of Christ as a real historical event.

    Evangelicals need to go beyond asking some one whether or not they have believed in Christ. They need to ask the person who says “yes” to that first question, to explain or give the reason(s) why he or she does believe. If the person cannot do that, then I would be concerned that perhaps they had not really “believed” anything at all, but rather simply affirmed something that they still harbored significant doubts as to whether it was really true or not, and that is not belief.

    • TMD says:

      If belief is not a choice, what then is wishful thinking?

      • jmg123 says:

        Wishful thinking?

        I don’t think that anyone wishes or even supposes that God would bestow upon them forgiveness as a free gift. Like a jury member who must be presented evidence in order to reach a conclusion as to whether a claim is true or not, each person who does come to belief, must undergo the persuasive ministry of the Holy Spirit as He moves to convince the individual that Christ’s promise of eternal life on the basis of His death and resurrection is true. Once the juror has been persuaded yea or nay, at that very point he has been brought to a belief about the claim.

        Yet, on the other hand, a jury member may choose to actively resist the evidence by closing his eyes and ears to it and thereby rendering it ineffective. Grace is resistible in that persuasion is resistible by those who purposely refuse to honestly interact with the evidence.

        In this way, belief is not a choice because it is the evidence that compels one to come to be convinced that a claim is true. There is therefore no merit in the process to the individual. He is merely a passive subject acted upon by the evidence. However, if he actively chooses to close his eyes and ears to the evidence, thus resisting the pull to belief, he is culpable for his choice to do so. Belief / faith then is the result of evidence acting upon a passive subject, whereas unbelief is the active resistance of an individual against the evidence.

        That’s my 2 cents.

      • TMD says:

        I meant that the definition of wishful thinking “I want P to be true. Therefore, P is true.” is nonsensical unless belief is a choice.

        • jmg123 says:

          Yes, I would agree that desiring something to be true or choosing it to be true does not make it true. It is true regardless of how we see it. We believe it to be true when we have been made to recognize that fact via the evidence in its favor.

        • Remington says:

          Even in the case of wishful thinking, belief may not be a choice. After all, your own definition of wishful thinking doesn’t entail that a choice is made anywhere in that process. One could find themselves simply desiring that P is true, just like one could find themselves desiring sex without making a choice. And having found themselves with the desire they find themselves believing P.

          • TMD says:

            Now you’re just desperately trying to rescue your pet theory. If belief based on wishful thinking was not a choice, we could not fault people for doing so. The fact that we clearly can and do shows that we do believe it to be a choice.

  6. WorldGoneCrazy says:

    This makes a lot of sense to me, what you say here, JMG. I don’t understand how, under Calvinism, we are supposedly completely inert, and yet so alive in our actions, and so dead in our sins – that is, that we are sinners not only by nature but by PRACTICE, yet occasionally do good in spite of this. But, even if we merely practice sinning, how can we be so inert? And, your “death as separation” seems to fit the Biblical model much better, JMG.

    • jmg123 says:

      Thanks, WGC. I see the concept of death when applied to the unregenerate as parallel to the way the concept is used by the father of the prodigal when he says to the older brother in Luke 15:32:

      “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

      Obviously the younger brother was not totally incapacitated on the order of a corpse. The idea was that he had been gone, separated from his family, living in a location far away, far removed from his home.

      Blessings to you as always,

      JMG

  7. jmg123 says:

    @Jakecole (sorry I could not reply directly to your last comment, so see below)

    On the contrary, I think I have asked and answered the question of what the texts mean. As WK has already said in this thread, Calvinists (extreme one, by and large) have a tendency to re-define biblical words in order to bring them in line with their theological constructs, rather than allowing the normal-use definitions of the words themselves to form their constructs.

    No, I’m saying that belief is not synonymous with any choice made by US. It does not involve the concept of human choice at all. Human choice is irrelevant to the definition of belief. That’s why the incessant back-and-forth between Calvinists and Arminians regarding divine sovereignty versus human free will is little more than a tiresome trip down an empty rabbit hole. As a Molinist, I did specifically say, however, that God did indeed choose us in the fact that He chose to create the world that we would come to exist in, and that His choice of this particular world was dictated primarily by His choice of us.

    As to the passage in John that you refer to, while it may be clear that the people Jesus is speaking to are unregenerate, nowhere in the text is there any indication that the reason this is so is because God simply has chosen to refrain from regenerating them. The guilt is clearly upon them for stubbornly choosing to remain in an unregenerate state, and not upon God for choosing to keep them there. Its one thing to say that the were unregenerate, but its simply a theologically motivated leap to read into the text a Divine modus operandi as to why this is so.

    One of the chief arguments that Calvinists will pose against the Arminian position is that man cannot be active in his choice of God, for if he is, then he will have reason to boast in that he has done a commendable thing by choosing God (as opposed to other who reject God) and is therefore saved, at least in part, on the basis of his own meritorious (good) act. And as a Molinist, I would heartily agree with this point. However, the Calvinist solution for eliminating merit does not accomplish what he might think it does. It falls to the same charge of merit on the part of the one who believes. I think this is quite evident in your very own statement as follows:

    “… God exercises choice by enabling specific persons to believe.”

    These are your very own words. Read them carefully and realize what you are saying. You claim here that God “enables” persons to believe. He provides an ability to them, in other words, yes? Yet it is up to them to avail themselves of this ability and to DO SOMETHING, namely “to believe”. Therefore, although God provides assistance in the form of an enabling, it is still up to the individual to use this new ability and believe (choose God?). Human activity still comes into play (an assisted activity to be sure, but an activity or effort nonetheless) and merit rears its head, like it or not. Unless you want to say that God actually does the believing for the individual, I don’t know how you can say anything differently. However, in that case, its not really an “enabling” you are talking about, its actually someone else doing the believing for them (call it substitutionary belief?).

    “I didn’t choose to believe, I BECAME a believer, something inside of me changed. Something went from “off” to “on”, and for me it was a terrible, painful experience, because it wasn’t what I wanted. If I say, or anyone says “I chose to believe this”, I don’t think that the evidence from scripture can at all support that conclusion, much less any philosophical argument.”

    I agree completely with that first sentence and the concluding one. I did not choose to believe either, but not because God made the choice for me nor because He enabled me to make it, but because belief is simply not a choice, anymore than believing that 2+2=4 is something I chose. My point in the closing question of my previous comment was not an attempt to say that the Arminian position regarding regeneration is as valid as the Calvinist position, but to say that BOTH are disqualified because they BOTH erroneously regard belief as a choice (somewhere along the line), whether a divinely enabled choice (Calvinism) or a largely human one (Arminianism). Belief is persuasion plain and simple, and when the evidence considered is compelling enough, one is persuaded of the truth of a claim whether he originally desired it to be so or not.

    • jakecole0171 says:

      Only thing that I can say to that: prove it.
      Prove it consistently from Genesis to Revelation that it is the case. That is the test. You can’t. The Bible will not let you unless you twist it out of its context, it is the hard lesson that I learned as a former Arminian.

      • jmg123 says:

        Jake, you don’t seem to get my point. I am not an Arminian. I have faulted both systems as erroneous. What you don’t seem to want to recognize is that Calvinism and Arminianism are not the only two options available. Molinism, with an accurate definition of belief / faith is a viable third option, and one that avoids the significant scriptural and logical problems faced by each of the other two systems.

        Now, of course, in the context of this thread I obviously cannot conduct a detailed examination of the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and I’m sure you know that. What I can do is to offer a verse or two to illustrate my point.

        Note for instance the passage describing Paul’s arrival in the area of Rome near the end of the book of Acts. Upon Paul’s arrival, he calls together the local Jewish leadership to explain why he has been brought there under house arrest. The leaders claim no one has sent word to them any words of condemnation towards Paul, and that they wish to hear exactly what he has said that has led to his arrest and transport to Rome, so they set a date with Paul to come back together and hear him out (Acts 28:16-22). The next two verses tell us what happened at this meeting once it had taken place:

        [Act 28:23-24 KJV] 23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into [his] lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and [out of] the prophets, from morning till evening. 24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.

        First of all, note that verse 23 describes Paul as making an effort to “persuade” them of various claims he held about Jesus. He spent an entire day (“morning to evening”) on this effort.

        Now note particularly here verse #24. It describes two outcomes of the meeting in regards to the Jewish leaders who had been in attendance. In the KJV, which I have quoted above, it simply says “some believed” and “some believed not”. Yet, there is more here than meets the eye. The underlying words are not simply “believed” and ” believed not”. The usual word for belief in the NT is pisteo. The phrase “believed not” is indeed pisteo with the negative prefix “a” added to it, meaning “no belief”. However, the word here in the KJV translated as “believed” is not simply pisteo, but peitho.

        Here is how Vines defines the word peitho:

        be persuaded
        to be persuaded, to suffer one’s self to be persuaded; to be induced to believe: to have faith: in a thing
        to believe
        to be persuaded of a thing concerning a person

        Note carefully how most modern translations catch the difference:

        [Act 28:24 NASB] 24 Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.
        [Act 28:24 ESV] 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.[Act 28:24 NIV] 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.

        The upshot of the verse is this: Belief is equated with being persuaded of the truth of a claim or claims (the act of evidence and argument upon a PASSIVE subject) and unbelief is equated with an entrenched refusal to obey (a subject who ACTIVELY refuses to heed any evidence or arguments presented). Check it out for yourself. The voice of the verb for those who were persuaded is PASSIVE, while the voice of the verb for those who did not believe is ACTIVE. Therefore, those who believed can claim no merit for persuasion is something that was done TO THEM (by the testimony of Paul and the activity of the Holy Spirit) while those who did not believe are culpable because they actively have refused to be persuaded and remain willingly entrenched in their unbelief. They effectively closed their eyes and ears to all that Paul had to say (note verse 27).

        This is but one example, but hardly the only one that could be offered.

        Not only does such a view accomplish what the Calvinist position would like to do (and attempts to do by positing that faith is the enabled action of a regenerated man), but it actually succeeds at the goal by cutting the actions of man completely out of the picture. In other words, man does not need to be regenerated in order to be enabled to believe precisely because belief is not something that he does, its something that is done to him (i.e. persuasion).

        Think about it.

    • Remington says:

      I haven’t read all the back and forth here. I will comment on a few things though.

      >>nowhere in the text is there any indication that the reason this is so is because God simply has chosen to refrain from regenerating them. The guilt is clearly upon them for stubbornly choosing to remain in an unregenerate state, and not upon God for choosing to keep them there.<>its simply a theologically motivated leap to read into the text a Divine modus operandi as to why this is so.<>One of the chief arguments that Calvinists will pose against the Arminian position is that man cannot be active in his choice of God, for if he is, then he will have reason to boast in that he has done<<

      That's not a *chief* argument, but it is often pointed out that if Arminianism is true then it seems man has a reason to boast. However, your attempt to turn this back around on the Calvinist evidences a lot of confusion. Suppose, for sake of argument, that you're correct and God's regenerative work which secures faith still makes man morally praiseworthy for his faith. In that case, Arminians who argue for incompatibilism must be wrong! And surely incompatibilism is one of, if not THE major objections to Calvinism. So if your argument succeeds, those who object to Calvinism on the basis of incompatibilism fail!

      But does your argument succeed? No, I think it misses the mark. Under Calvinism, the reason one man has faith and another man doesn't is ultimately grounded in God's unconditional election. Under Arminianism, the reason one man has faith and another man doesn't is ultimately grounded in man's will. That's a fundamental difference that you can't try and twist your way around. The Arminian must say "At bottom, I had the final vote. I provided the sufficient conditions for my salvation." Under Calvinism, that's clearly not the case: God provided the sufficient conditions (and this is, after all, exactly what many Arminians are objecting to).

      If you think that Calvinism leaves the ultimate cause up to man, such that man could be regenerate and resist faith, then you simply don't understand Calvinism.

      • jmg123 says:

        Ok, I won’t call it a “chief” argument, but as you say, it is “often” (and I would add VERY OFTEN) pointed out that anything less than 5 point Calvinism allows merit to creep into the justification picture. 5 pointers often refer to their doctrinal position as “the doctrines of grace” indicating that those who do not hold them have departed from grace into some form of meritorious justification. So, I think my vocabulary is not that far off the mark here.

        “Suppose, for sake of argument, that you’re correct and God’s regenerative work which secures faith still makes man morally praiseworthy for his faith. In that case, Arminians who argue for incompatibilism must be wrong! And surely incompatibilism is one of, if not THE major objections to Calvinism. So if your argument succeeds, those who object to Calvinism on the basis of incompatibilism fail!”

        Fine, but in case you haven’t noticed, that really doesn’t concern me much because as I have clearly stated, I am not an Arminian. As I also mentioned (and this is a perfect example it), ANY argument that does not espouse Calvinistic principles to the letter is by default labeled Arminianism, and the person holding it is then hastily tossed in front of the bullseye so that the pre-aimed theological guns of the Calvinist can begin to blaze at the one target that they have become trained upon, namely Arminianism.

        Like you, I too believe Arminianism to be in error. Just as I do Calvinism. That is precisely why in several of my previous comments I have faulted both systems as flawed. I am a Molinist, not an Arminian.

        I have had the term “monergism” thrown into conversations by Calvinists time and time again, yet they violate this term by their very own position when they say that man must first be regenerated “so that he is able to believe”. The problem in point is that man is provided “enablement” by God so that he can then DO something. My point was not to say that a regenerate man could then possibly refuse to believe and thereby create a problem for the Calvinist position (although logically this is possible and is a point that I have known some Calvinists to openly acknowledge by saying that after regeneration, it might take a considerable amount of time for the person to actually believe, possibly even years), my point was that it matters not whether a man is regenerate or unregenerate when he believes if belief is actually a choice. In either case, the fact that belief is made a choice makes it a meritorious act because its something that the individual does whether through divine enablement or not.

        Therefore, although the Calvinist will often posit pre-belief regeneration as a grand solution to his understanding of a person’s state as being “dead in sin”, it actually creates a brand new problem for him in that the act of a regenerate man is just as much a meritorious act as the act of an unregenerate man would be. This would tend to undercut the “doctrines of grace” whether it is realized or not.

        “Under Arminianism, the reason one man has faith and another man doesn’t is ultimately grounded in man’s will. That’s a fundamental difference that you can’t try and twist your way around. The Arminian must say “At bottom, I had the final vote. I provided the sufficient conditions for my salvation.””

        And as I have said (several times at this point), the issue of free will versus divine sovereignty is a moot one in regards to belief. It only becomes a relevant question if belief is erroneously defined as a choice, but as I have indicated, the concept of choice is not, nor cannot be equated to belief lest merit enter into the picture. As someone who is not an Arminian I don’t intend to try and twist anything.

        On the contrary, I would have to ask the question: “who is twisting what here?”

        Please check out the previous “back and forth” and I think you will see what I mean.

        JMG

    • WorldGoneCrazy says:

      JMG, your last sentence seems to be what happened to me. I know the Calvinist will say my intuition is off, but it seems to me that after 42 years, God had lined up enough dominoes for me to “topple over.” Does the Calvinist just say that this is God’s irresistible grace? Or, was the evidence merely sufficient for me to repent? Is the statement “I chose to believe at this point in time” proper under Molinism or Calvinism, or both, or neither? If not, what is the more proper way of communicating what happened to me. I’m just curious, because it “felt” like that’s what happened.

      Jake, I’m interested in your view on this question too. And, in addition, how do I have the assurance of salvation under Calvinism? Couldn’t I just be someone who THINKS he is written in the Book of Life, but actually not be, because I was not “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world,” and I am just fooling myself?

      Sorry to both of you for asking you to answer this Calvinism-Molinism 101 question, but I am not in either of your leagues, theologically, on this issue. Thanks much for your instruction!

      • jmg123 says:

        WGC, I can’t say specifically that Molinism dictates a passive understanding of belief as I have described. Note in an earlier post I mentioned that Molinism is best in my view when it is combined with a more accurate definition of belief / faith. Molinism itself does not require faith to be defined as I understand it to be.

        Having said that, I would say that an accurate (read Biblical) way to describe what happened to you was that “you were brought to belief” (you were the passive subject, acted upon by the convicting of the Holy Spirit) after those 42 years. Prior to that you had been the active one, resisting Him each step of the way. I don’t see belief / faith as a second step that you must decide to make once you have been persuaded of the truth of the gospel. In my view, the moment of your persuasion of its truth is the moment of your belief / faith. They are one and the same. Of course, once you reach that point and pass it, you can then as a regenerate and redeemed individual willingly choose to obey Christ and follow Him, but that’s sanctification, not justification.

        Hope this is clearer than mud. ;)

        JMG

        • WorldGoneCrazy says:

          Oh, wow – thanks, JMG! That actually clears up some confusion I have had the past 10 years over what seemed to be to be a time interval justification, which did not seem right to me at all. That actually explains a LOT and fits my particular situation much better. I have always thought my justification was a bit mystical and was not comfortable with that until you put it that way. Yes, belief happened instantly due to the long-running power of the Holy Spirit, but getting my ducks in a row in terms of discipleship took some time to get the ball rolling.

          I wonder if Jake would go along with your post on this? This does not seem to be at odds with Calvinism, perhaps in its softer forms?

          Thank you again, and God Bless you, JMG!

  8. Remington says:

    For some reason my post above is chopped up and it leaves out about half of what I wrote. I’ll not bother repeating myself, but just an FYI.

    • I just clicked approve!!! I didn’t even read it, today is biceps, back and forearms day so I raced right down to the gym for some beasting.

      • Remington says:

        I didn’t mean to imply that it was chopped up by you or anything. It appeared chopped up the moment I hit “post comment” so I knew it must have been some other error… Make sure you take your protein.

        • I drank 5 grams of Optimum nutrition creatine and 2 BCAA caps 30 minutes before the workout. I drank 23 grams of Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Protein during, and another 23 grams right afterwards, along with 8 ounces of grape juice for the glucose. Now for the post-workout meal!

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