Tag Archives: predestination

Unable or unwilling?

A Calvinist friend of mine recently asked me the difference between “unwilling” and “unable” and why I consider the two to be mutually exclusive when talking about mankind’s ability to sin or not. Here’s my reply

If I am unable I cannot be unwilling because my inability precludes my willingness either way. I know you tire of hearing it, but it’s an apt description. If I am unable then I am no better off than a robot preprogrammed to run a certain course and as such I cannot rightly be held accountable for that which I have no control over.

On the other hand, if I am unwilling then I logically have the ability to act in a manner other than that which I choose. That my actions are foreknown is not the same as saying that my actions or choices are less free. In fact, you could even say that my actions are predetermined so long as you account for my freedom to choose at some point (aka, in eternity past as part of God’s omniscience as a brute fact per Molinism).

You see, either I am truly free to choose to sin or not to sin (as the Bible teaches) or else I am unable to choose not to sin (a concept foreign to Scripture).

If I am unable to not sin then I cannot logically be held accountable or responsible for choices that are, by definition, beyond my control.

If I am unwilling to not sin then I am not only responsible for my choice but, in light of the holy standard of God, I am unable to bridge the gap I freely created.

I realize that inability and unwillingness have been tossed around the Reformed world as if they were somehow comparable but the truth is that they aren’t.

The bottom line is that we are either free and responsible or else we are not free and therefore not responsible.

Only one leaves God unstained by the sin and evil that exists in the universe since only one allows for other causal agents who had the ability to freely create and choose to sin against the will of God.

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For Esau I have hated.

One of the most common proof-texts used to show that God arbitrarily elects some to salvation while damning others without merit or cause is Romans 9:13

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Many people have a hard time with this passage as it is often posited as evidence of God’s sovereign choice unto election of Jacob and express damnation of Esau “before he had done good or evil”.

The first thing to note about this section is that the phrase “for Esau I have hated” is derived from the words of the prophet Malachi who, in Malachi 1:2-3, was talking about the nations of Edom and Israel. In the same manner Paul, writing in Romans 9 after a lengthy discussion regarding the need for his fellow Israelites to repent, was discussing the lineage of the chosen Messiah. It is a very large exegetical stretch to come to the conclusion that Romans 9 is talking about individual salvation since the context is the messiah’s lineage. consequently, the pots mentioned in Romans 9:19-26 are not people but nations.

At this point, many (primarily from the reformed camp) will argue along the lines that “nations are made up of people”. While this is true, we are still a long ways away from a particular view of election.

Hebrews 12:16 seems to indicate that Esau was a profane man but you don’t seem to think that God foreknew that or that such a knowledge could have played a part in God’s choosing. It seems plausible that the foreknown, freely made choice to sin was the basis for God’s hatred and condemnation of both the person of Esau as well as the nation that sprung from Esau’s loins; why then would we think that the same sort of freely chosen and foreknown transgressions wouldn’t be the basis of God’s choice to bring the promised seed through one and not the other?

For a more in-depth treatment of this subject I encourage you to listen to:

Molinism: Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony

What if I were to tell you that I had a perfectly rational explanation to the question of free will and predestination that has been ravaging the Church of Jesus Christ for centuries? I bet you would think that I was mad, unlearned (after all, what have all the highly educated theologians been fighting about), and overly simplistic.

Well there is such an answer and many may be surprised to find out that it is fully accepted by Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. In other words, it’s not the sole product of a sectarian group with a vested interest in a particular theological system.

It may also surprise you to find out that you probably already hold to the core tenets of this “magic bullet” system even though you may have never heard them clearly stated as a codified set of doctrines before.

Molinism is a theological system named after a Spanish Jesuit priest, Louis de Molina. In modern times it has also come to be known as “middle knowledge” due, in part at least, to the influence one of it’s most ardent supporters, Dr William Lane Craig.

While many books have been written on this subject (some of which I’ll list below), and many lectures (some of which I’ll link below), I’ll try to summarize Molinism in a few paragraphs.

Before God created he knew all possible worlds and all possible events and all possible interactions in all of the possible worlds (including all possible reactions and outcomes of His direct interactions in all of these possible worlds). Out of all of these possible worlds God chose to actualize or create one of them so that, while all things are effectively determined, they are neither causally determined by God nor is God constrained to the position of merely reacting to the choices of His free creatures. We are indeed free1 and God is indeed sovereign2.

One seminary professor3 put it to his students this way: “It’s up to God which world you find yourself in. It’s up to you what you find yourself doing in that world.”

I’m sure if you are new to Molinism (or if you are like most pastors4 and incredibly confused5 about what it really is6), I encourage you to explore this topic further.7

Here are a few resources that might help (if you know of any more, please let me know!):

divine providenceonly wise godThe Innocence of GodReasonable Faith

I also recommend this article by William Lane Craig as a great primer for anyone looking to delve deeper into this doctrine than my overly simplistic depiction above.
  1. In a libertarian sense. []
  2. It is also helpful to point out that we need not describe sovereignty in the classic Calvinistic terms of causally directing all that comes to pass. An analogy I like to use is that I am sovereign over my children and yet I still have to spank them from time to time. []
  3. This is a seminary professor at Southeastern in case you were wondering. []
  4. There is more to be said here, but a pastor I knew very well once told me he didn’t like Molinism. When pressed as to whether he had even studied it he told me he had “fallen asleep” when someone tried to present it to him and a group of other pastors. With a commitment like that to learning and growing is it any wonder why most Christians are perpetual infants? Situations like this give great weight behind the notion that it is foolish to rely on one man as the source of Biblical learning. []
  5. Here is an example of a recent blog post that completely misses the point of Molisnism and arrogantly assumes it is somehow anti-Biblical simply because it involves philosophy. This is another example of an inherent anti-intellectual bias that has run rampant in the Church since the premise is essentially: anything that makes me think, or runs contrary to my favorite celebrity preachers, like John Piper, is obviously not from God. []
  6. The saddest example of this is this wiki-style site that would otherwise be a very good resource if not for their blatant bias which is particularly obvious in their section on Molinism []
  7. One final example of someone who completely misses the point is James White’s extended tirade wherein he presupposes that the doctrine of middle knowledge is merely philosophical (whereas reformed theology somehow isn’t) and not based on Biblical theology (which is not only a lie, but is intellectually dishonest). []